5 Reasons West Yellowstone is the Place for Fall Family Fun
West Yellowstone trips offer amazing foliage views. Photo Credit: Carolyn Fox
West Yellowstone in the fall offers fantastic fly fishing; foliage you’ll want to be sure to photograph and post on social media; and elk bugling across the countryside. You can also donate to worthy causes by taking part in the West Yellowstone Old Faithful Cycling Tour (hurry, spaces are filling fast) that, park pass in hand, has you and your family speeding by famous geysers and glowing aspen. You might also visit the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center to safely view these amazing predators while enjoying the playful show at the new riparian otter exhibit slated to open this fall.
1. You’ll never forget your first elk bugle
Elk number in the thousands here, and belong to what biologists call the Northern range herd, which spreads out across Yellowstone National Park, roaming the 2.2 million acres at will during the warmest months, when Indian paintbrushes dot the landscape. Rangers estimate that 10,000-20,000 elk use the park for summer grazing. You’ll know that the bull elk are in rut when they begin to bugle—an eerie
sound that resembles whale songs recorded deep under the sea and then morphs into high-pitched grunts.
From September to mid-October, it’s mating season for these majestic males, who sometimes even engage in head-to-head battle along the Madison River right here in West Yellowstone. Stay safe when encountering these creatures, who often top out at 700 pounds. For one, it’s illegal to try to get within 25 yards of them—and please do refrain from approaching them in your vehicle—they’re extremely aggressive during mating season and may charge people or even their cars. North American elk are split into six subspecies by some biologists, and all have two, top canine teeth called ivories, that scientists believe are remnants of saber-like tusks ancestral elk used in battle. Modern bull elk bugle to tell other elks that they are ready—to fight, mate or defend their territory or “harem” of females.
2. Fall foliage in full fire
Visit West Yellowstone in the fall and you will beat the summer crowds as well as be treated to the bright fiery foliage the area is rightfully famous for this time of year. From mid-August in 7,000 elevation areas and higher to about the first week in October, the colors will be the brightest and West Yellowstone offers some of the best lodging options available for your colorful stay. With fewer crowds, the shyest animals come out as you trod the area’s many aspen groves and enjoy the flaming beauty of mountain maples and the golden bursts of cottonwood trees as they welcome the season.
While you’re in the car, wow them with some fun foliage facts: Our famous aspen grow from 20 to 80 feet in height and are part of the willow family. They produce cylindrical, clusters of flowers called, “catkins” that bloom during March and April. As a dioecius plant, male and female aspen develop different flowers on separate trees. Aspens grow in “clones” attached by an extensive root system.
3. Fly fishing is fierce in the fall
For those in the know, “big browns” are brown trout that spawning in the fall in West Yellowstone’s blue-ribbon trout streams like the Gallatin River, Yellowstone River,. You can also cast in the Madison River, along popular (and in the autumn, far less crowded) Barn’s Hole and Baker’s Hole to grab these fellows in your nets as they’re “running.” A short hike from downtown, fishing in the South Fork of the Madison in autumn is comfy in waders, but remember, temperatures drop to freezing later in the fall, so be sure to dress in lots of layers. You might be in the mood for stillwater fishing, so be sure to visit Hebgen Lake just north of town for some classic casting for rainbow, brown and brook trout possibilities.
4. Unforgettable photo opportunities
Make sure to book one of the town’s famous photography tours from a local photographer for an unforgettable outing through the end of October. You can catch bison, bighorn sheep and smaller critters like birds or fox against the delightful colors of fall.
Between sparkling brooks and other outdoor adventurous sights, you might also love to snap pictures at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, where a brand new riparian otter exhibit is opening soon—they’re open seven days a week all year long. And as an added attraction, the facility tests bear-resistant containers for the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) –if you’re lucky, you can get a photo of one of them getting the reward from inside the container or, for certified products, having a fun time trying.
5. West Yellowstone Old Faithful Cycle Tour
Benefits from this supported, sixty-mile-round-trip tour go to several philanthropic causes so you can participate for your fitness and do-gooder goals. The ride is encouraged for all but the youngest kids in your family; is open to small groups and recreational riders; and gets high marks from cyclists of all levels. You may see bison, thermal features, elk and geysers all along the course—but, presumably, not all at once. The organizers recommend hybrid bikes for the varied terrain you will encounter—you will also encounter a fun community meal with delicious food, after the tour.
There’s still time to register but if you don’t want to ride, come out to cheer them on. If you are registered, you’ll have to bring your Yellowstone National Park pass with you. If you’re coming and not riding during the tour, you still can donate to help defray costs or to contribute to the worthy organizations that the race benefits and hike, fish or cycle the course or another great course in the region on your own the day after the tour.