Alright, Outsiders. Do you want the good news or the bad news first? There’s plenty of good news in our exclusive chat with Yellowstone National Park Ranger Tara Ross. But there’s also a bit of bad. Let’s start there.
The bad news: America’s brilliant national parks are currently bursting at the seams. So much so, in fact, that The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is moving to a reservation-only system for parking at Laurel Falls. Th move comes alongside many others, with plenty more to come.
To put these types of decisions into perspective, it’s important to note that The Smokies, alongside The Blue Ridge Parkway and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, all saw more than 12 million guests in 2020, the the NPS cites. That’s a lot of people. Yellowstone just set their own summer attendance record in 2021, too.
This isn’t all bad news though, right? Surely a mass return to the outdoors is an excellent thing; especially when it involves our incredible national parks system. So what’s the real bad news then, you ask?
“I tell you what, if you’re planning a trip to Yellowstone, don’t plan a trip in the fall,” Tara offers as part of our fantastic chat. “Even though it used to be a really great time to come, our skies are just so smoky and hazy now from the wildfires.”
In short: if you’re planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park this Autumn, you may want to wait. The season of many colors is upon us, yes. But we don’t make the bad news. We just report it.
Tara’s Tips: When and How to Get the Most out of Yellowstone National Park
“We just don’t have those blue skies again until winter or spring,” Ranger Ross continues. She’s adamant that Outsiders looking to visit her breathtaking park wait until the skies are radiant once more.
Which brings us to that promised good news. Tara shares quite a few tips and tricks to help fellow Outsiders looking to plan a trip to Yellowstone. The first?
“Come in June!” she says enthusiastically. “You’ll see the babies, and the skies are blue again.”
Those babies are newborn elk and bison, and they are worth the price of a trip to the national park alone. Tara and I discuss Yellowstone’s incredible native bison population at-length here – but today is for another story.
Tara Ross has been a NPS ranger with the park for over three decades. So she is, by default, one of the most knowledgeable people on Yellowstone in existence. As such, she advises that “you can’t see it all in a day.”
Her advice for Outsiders, she says, would be to “set as much time aside as you can to go on some amazing hikes. You don’t have to go on grueling 10 or 20-mile hikes. There’s plenty of local trails that most people don’t know about that are just so beautiful. And if you’re not familiar with these, please ask a park ranger! Tara says she and her staff are beyond happy to point enthusiastic visitors to paths less followed. Park rangers are a wealth of information and they love what they do.
“You have to go see the Tetons, too. Don’t come here without seeing the Tetons!” Tara emphasizes (check out our visual history of the remarkable Grand Tetons here). “And keep in mind, too, that it’s all just such big country out here. It will take an hour to get from one thing you want to see to the next. So be sure to come when you have plenty of time to see what you want to see. Definitely can’t do it in a day.”
But if your focus is wildlife, like this wildlife tech, be sure to visit in late May to early June, Tara says. “That’s when the mother bison start having their little red dogs,” as bison calves are affectionately known. “And they’re as cute as they make ’em.”
We’ll have plenty more from Tara Ross on Yellowstone for our National Parks Journal soon, alongside other leading authorities on our incredible National Park System. In the meantime, start planning your trip to Yellowstone with the park’s Plan Your Visit directory here.