What’s May like in Yellowstone?

What is it like during May in Yellowstone? When is the best time to see Yellowstone? These questions regularly arise when people plan their vacation to Yellowstone. This post is the first of a series that will cover what it’s like in the park during different months. Today, we look at May.

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Average High Temperature F/C

Average Low Temperature F/C

Average inches of Snow

Average Hours of Daylight

(info from NOAA)

Here in Wyoming, to fully appreciate the landscape, you need to get beyond the color green. That said, we do get some time thoroughly enjoying the color green, and May is the month it arrives.

Through April, we still have snow showers and storms that come through regularly in Cody, but by May, the chances of snow start to dwindle as it shifts to rain. In Yellowstone, though, snow showers still come through in May, but usually, the intense storms that leave a lot of snow are behind us. It’s genuinely spring – that time when winter and summer have their alternating dance and slowly shifts from winter, leading to spring in control. Snowstorms come, but the snow is spring moisture greening up grasses. In May, the park comes alive.


In May, we start to see babies of all sorts. Grizzly bear boars (males) have been out for a while. But in April and May, the sow grizzly bears begin to come out of hibernation to show us their cubs. “Red dogs” (bison calves) punctuate the landscape in more numbers. Wildlife that migrates follows the snow lines back into Yellowstone. The bison bulls and bighorn sheep that wintered on the North Fork between Cody and Yellowstone start to make their way back up and over Sylvan Pass.

Grizzly bears are digging up hillsides as they dine on the tuberous roots of the Spring Beauties that blanket the open spaces freshly free of snow. Boreal chorus frogs call from the areas full of snowmelt; the earliest ones sing in areas with a bit of thermal energy that warms the ground a bit more. Tree Swallows return, and the Ravens seem almost like welcoming door attendants at the various pullouts and picnic areas – glad to look for food that inevitably drops from people who stop there. Wolf pups may start to make their debut to the world, having sheltered in their dens for a month or more.

Other signs of spring

The ice on Yellowstone Lake begins to break up, and suddenly we start to have “ice out” when the ice starts to flow in chunks past Fishing Bridge and down the Yellowstone River. The spring flowers (dominantly yellow ones) bloom. In particular, I take delight in watching the progression of the Glacier Lilies from lower elevations to the higher ones on Sylvan Pass as I travel to and from Cody.

Thermal features are not at their prettiest yet. The colorful microbes that grow in the overflow of the springs cool with winter temperatures, and the colors become dull. While still very pretty, they have not yet attained the vibrancy they show with summer warmth. Also, the cooler temperatures mean more steam. While that’s lovely for some photography, it’s more challenging to see them.

How to pack for Yellowstone in May

LAYERS. Bring lots and lots of layers of clothes. One day might be winter and the next a warm spring day. Heavy coats and light jackets combine with multiple layers beneath to keep you comfortable in all sorts of weather and temperatures.

OPTICS. Spotting scopes and binoculars are essential as wildlife is usually out farther than you’ll expect.

SELF-SUFFICIENCY. Services in the park open in a staggered fashion, so not everything is open yet in May. Check to see what’s open when before you go. Bring what you’ll need rather than relying entirely on the services in the park.


May in Yellowstone is a glorious month to be there, but expect weather from snow to rain to warm days. Not everything is open yet, but that also means there are usually fewer people in the park. If you’ve visited the park in the summer, visiting in May, you’ll find Yellowstone to show a completely different and delightful side.

Be Outside • Take Notes



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