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Yellowstone in May: A Family-Friendly Guide to the Great Outdoors

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

Yellowstone National Park is an excellent place for the family to experience nature and wildlife outdoors. Visiting Yellowstone in May has its perks and downsides, but the perks outweigh the negatives by far. There are so many things to do and see with the family, and no one will forget the time well spent in Yellowstone.


It is hard to see everything in one trip because Yellowstone is enormous, but some activities families can enjoy are viewing different hot springs and geysers, taking advantage of hiking trails, viewing wildlife, and more. Let's begin with the pros and cons of staying in Yellowstone in May.


Pros of Staying in Yellowstone in May

One of the best benefits is that you have better chances to see the wildlife that is out and about in the springtime. Some of the wildlife seen in May are bison, elk, bears, badgers, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and more. This is the best time to meet the next generation of these animals, as babies pop up all over Yellowstone in May.


Most scenic roads begin to open back up in May from the frigid and snowy conditions of the winter months. Some are still closed due to weather conditions, but you can check road opening dates and current conditions on Yellowstone National Park’s website.


Many hiking trails are open in May, particularly in the northern sections of the park. Those who enjoy fewer people on the trails will find a more peaceful stay during May because the peak season is during the summer months. Some hikers find it is better to visit Yellowstone toward the end of May instead of the beginning as more hiking trails open. Check trail conditions online at Yellowstone's Backcountry situation report or at any Visitor Center.



Setbacks of Staying in Yellowstone in May

As good as it can be, weather in Yellowstone in May can put a damper on some of the things expected to do during your vacation. All four seasons can collide without much of a warning within 24 hours. It is hard to prepare when deciding how to dress in the ever-changing weather conditions. It is wise to pack warm jackets, hats, and gloves, along with layers for warmer mid-day weather in May.


The weather can be a hindrance in going to Yellowstone in May because not everything is available to experience. Some lodges, roads, and facilities don’t open till later in the month, or even into June. Certain trails remain closed, and open trails can be muddy or even snowy into May. Also, wildlife with young can be even more dangerous than adults. They are fun to view from a safe distance, but close encounters are to be avoided. Park regulations require visitors to stay 100 yards from bears and wolves, and 25 yards from all other wildlife. However, even if you're further than that distance, if you're altering their behavior (they stop eating, or nursing, or look your way) then you're too close.


Things to Experience in Yellowstone in May

If you’re willing to plan ahead and live without every amenity open, you’ll experience a quieter, more peaceful Yellowstone. Guided tours are available for those who want to make the most of their time, and get a more in-depth, insider view of the park. Others can go off on their own to seek their adventures. Here are some things to enjoy experiencing in May:


  1. Grand Canyon of Yellowstone: While not as well known as THE Grand Canyon in Arizona, Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon would make a National Park on its own anywhere else in the world. The Yellowstone River carves its way through colorful lava flows, spilling hundreds of feet in two major waterfalls. The Lower Falls is almost twice the height of Niagara Falls! Visitors can walk on rim trails to experience both sides of the Canyon. Check trail conditions at the Canyon Visitor Education Center. Expect snow and mud on trails through May.

  2. Old Faithful Geyser: This is the world's most iconic and famous geyser. Erupting roughly every 90 minutes, with an average height of 130 feet, this natural waterworks entrances spectators. Hundreds of other geysers and springs are nearby, connected by a network of boardwalks and trails. Also, visit the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center for an understanding of how the Yellowstone volcano created the landscape before you.

  3. Lamar Valley: Located in the northeast section of Yellowstone, Lamar Valley is one of the lesser visited parts of the park. Here you will find the most concentrated and diverse population of wildlife in the Lower 48.

  4. Yellowstone Lake: The largest alpine lake in North America (above 7,000 feet) Yellowstone Lake is ringed with snow-capped mountains, and often still iced-over in May, making for incredible scenery. By mid-May, roads are open to Yellowstone Lake and the historic Lake Hotel, though hiking trails will still often be snowy or muddy. This is one of the most peaceful areas of Yellowstone, a place to pause and wonder at the beauty of the natural world.

  5. Grand Prismatic Spring: Take the boardwalk at Midway Geyser Basin to enjoy an up-close look at Grand Prismatic, the largest hot spring in Yellowstone. The microbes that give the spring its rainbow of colors can be observed at close range (but never touched!)

  6. Photography: Many people who come to Yellowstone use photography to capture wildlife and incredible scenery. During the day, there are many natural attractions worthy of a photographic capture, and at night, Yellowstone’s dark skies offer an unrivaled look at our universe. Try your hand with night sky photography, but be aware of your surroundings.

  7. Hiking and Backpacking: Many trails, especially at lower elevations, are available for hiking in May. A guided hike with a guide trained in bear safety and wilderness first aid is a great option for a family hike. We can help you choose the ideal trail for your group. All paths lead to lasting memories.

  8. Other Miscellaneous Things to Enjoy: Kids can become Junior Rangers at any of the park’s Visitor Centers, engaging in nature journaling, animal tracking, and art. Horseback riding is offered inside Yellowstone. Other activities in Yellowstone’s border towns outside the park include whitewater rafting, soaking in developed hot springs, ziplining, and visiting the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, MT.

  9. Places to Stay in Yellowstone: Canyon Lodge is centrally located within the park and is one of the best choices for those with kids. Old Faithful Inn, Snow Lodge, or Lodge offers a chance to stay in the world’s largest geyser basin and avoid the crowds during early and late day exploration. Park lodges are rustic, with limited wi-fi. Border towns offer more amenities, but increase drive times to primary attractions.


Sign Up for a Family Stay in Yellowstone National Park Today

There is much to do and see in Yellowstone in May, despite limited access in some areas. Consider a guided day to take the guesswork out of planning your itinerary, while providing a kid-friendly trip. We will help create a memorable and meaningful experience for your family in Yellowstone!


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