First trip to Yellowstone, early May 2019. Thoughts?

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CANMAN

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Fellow travelers and hiking lovers,

I am in search of some feedback from people who have been to Yellowstone and are knowledgeable with our tentative plans and itinerary, and am open to all suggestions if our plan isn't feasible.

Myself and a friend are meeting up in Salt Lake City and will be driving up and staying in West Yellowstone on 5/1, anticipating an early start the next morning. We are both fairly experienced hikers and campers however, this will be out first time in Yellowstone. Unfortunately due to some obligations that came up we had to cut our time a bit short, but we didn't want to cancel and rescheduling wasn't an option.

On the morning of 5/2 we had planned to have a shuttle service take us to drop a vehicle at the Blacktail Deer Creek trailhead, and then drop us at the Hellroaring trailhead to hike and back country camp along the Yellowstone/Black Canyon. We are planning to split this into a two night camping trip (camping 5/2 and 5/3) and exit early on Saturday 5/4. That day we plan to do maybe a shorter day hike on our way exiting the park and heading back to Salt Lake City Saturday night.

Gear wise we will be pretty much prepared for anything and know that the conditions are going to vary widely and are prepared to camp with cold and snowy conditions.

My questions are:

1. Is this a decent plan and trail for this time of year?

2. Will we be able to access this from the West Yellowstone gate area and they drive north and then east over to the trailheads? It looked like in reviewing the information the routes will be open.

3. Is shuttle service the easiest/more cost effective way if doing a point to point hike?

4. Should we stick to this plan, or maybe alter and spend our time in Grand Tetons instead?



Open to all suggestions! I know it's a really short amount of time, but we are really just looking to spend a few nights in the park and relax and enjoy some solitude early in the season.

Thanks in advance for any advice.
 

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Jackson

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Personally, I'd avoid backpacking in Yellowstone in very early May. It's likely that it will be quite snowy, and in many places where the snow has melted, it will be very wet. If you insist on going to Yellowstone, it could be much more manageable to do it car camping and dayhiking. May can also still be pretty rainy and snowy as far as precipitation.

They have had a very slightly below-average season for snow up there so far, so it may melt out slightly earlier this year than in recent years, but it's just tough to plan a trip there this far in advance. It'll be good to have a contingency plan, whether that's staying in hotel up there, car camping, going somewhere else entirely, etc.

Now if you're looking for an early-season trek through snow and mud, then disregard what I just said. I don't mean to harp on things you are already well aware of. You'll have so much solitude, and I don't think you have to pay for a permit if it's before Memorial Day (check me on that though).


I don't mean to derail your plans, but have you considered heading down to southern Utah instead? If you're going to be flying into Salt Lake, the drives to get down to places like Moab, Canyonlands, Escalante, Capitol Reef, Zion, etc. are just as long as the drive to Yellowstone, and early May is as good as it gets in many places down there.
 
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Reef&Ruins

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I've been to the Tetons in early May and it was pretty snowy as well. I'm with @Jackson that heading south to the Colorado plateau in Utah would be a less snowy choice.
 

CANMAN

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Thanks for your replies guys. It seems like all the information I am getting has everyone in agreement that it's likely a little early to have a really enjoyable trip out to Yellowstone. Our timeframe isn't flexible unfortunately for this trip, and we just did Arches, Canyonlands, and Zion last time which was beautiful. I think in talking with my buddy we might check into The Great Smoky Mountains, as May seems like a good time to go there and have more favorable conditions.
 
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Outdoor_Fool

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If you really are desiring a Yellowstone trip, and depending on how late you can wait to make arrangements, I'd still hold out hope for a May trip in the low elevations that you plan to visit. Otherwise, I'd hold off on plans for the overnighter. I agree with the above commenters that it may be snowy/muddy/etc, but if an early spring shows up, the low elevation areas may be nice and quiet. I have hiked in the past in that country in early May with success, but also been frustrated by snow/mud(!). A call to the central backcountry office could provide some good intel as May approaches -->307-344-2160

The Tetons (even the valley floor) typically receive a lot more snow than Yellowstone's Northern Range. Looks like another good snow year around Jackson.

Info on roads: https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/parkroads.htm
 

Venchka

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GSMP? Early May? Not! You'll have a zillion thru hikers and another zillion day trippers clogging up everything.
We were in GTNP & YNP in late May 2018. Yellowstone was snow free at elevations below Canyon Village, Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Junction, Norris Geyser Basin & campground and Old Faithful. The pass between Canyon and Tower Junction had 3-4 feet of snow where the road topped out. Stream crossings of any size will be bank full or higher. The Gibbon River through Gibbon Meadows was a lake.
Gibbon Falls. May 22, 2018. An idea of runoff last year.
Gibbon Falls
GTNP: We rode the tram at Teton Village to the top. Lots of snow up high, but everything below about 8,000' was snow free. You could backpack the low level trail that connects the front country lakes. The Valley Trail. Call the backcountry desk and see where you can get to without being washed away or too much snow.
Cheers!
Wayne
 

LarryBoy

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GSMP? Early May? Not! You'll have a zillion thru hikers and another zillion day trippers clogging up everything.
We were in GTNP & YNP in late May 2018. Yellowstone was snow free at elevations below Canyon Village, Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Junction, Norris Geyser Basin & campground and Old Faithful. The pass between Canyon and Tower Junction had 3-4 feet of snow where the road topped out. Stream crossings of any size will be bank full or higher. The Gibbon River through Gibbon Meadows was a lake.
Gibbon Falls. May 22, 2018. An idea of runoff last year.
Gibbon Falls
GTNP: We rode the tram at Teton Village to the top. Lots of snow up high, but everything below about 8,000' was snow free. You could backpack the low level trail that connects the front country lakes. The Valley Trail. Call the backcountry desk and see where you can get to without being washed away or too much snow.
Cheers!
Wayne
Not to discount your experience in any way, but late may and early may are two completely different balls of wax. The snowpack generally peaks about April 1, so you're o ly talking a month after peak snowpack, often with storms bolstering the pack. Early may is still a borserline winter trip, conditions wise
 

CANMAN

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GSMP? Early May? Not! You'll have a zillion thru hikers and another zillion day trippers clogging up everything.
We were in GTNP & YNP in late May 2018. Yellowstone was snow free at elevations below Canyon Village, Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Junction, Norris Geyser Basin & campground and Old Faithful. The pass between Canyon and Tower Junction had 3-4 feet of snow where the road topped out. Stream crossings of any size will be bank full or higher. The Gibbon River through Gibbon Meadows was a lake.
Gibbon Falls. May 22, 2018. An idea of runoff last year.
Gibbon Falls
GTNP: We rode the tram at Teton Village to the top. Lots of snow up high, but everything below about 8,000' was snow free. You could backpack the low level trail that connects the front country lakes. The Valley Trail. Call the backcountry desk and see where you can get to without being washed away or too much snow.
Cheers!
Wayne
Thanks again for all the information and replies guys. Wayne, we aren't going to be on the AT at all (so I think will miss alot of the thru guys & gals), and are looking into the Big Creek Loop Trail in GSMP. Looks like a solid trip for what we are looking to do and will give us some extra time to not be rushed since we are from MD and Ohio. Travel time is significantly less and the sights in May look like they will be great there.
 

wsp_scott

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Thanks again for all the information and replies guys. Wayne, we aren't going to be on the AT at all (so I think will miss alot of the thru guys & gals), and are looking into the Big Creek Loop Trail in GSMP. Looks like a solid trip for what we are looking to do and will give us some extra time to not be rushed since we are from MD and Ohio. Travel time is significantly less and the sights in May look like they will be great there.
The Smokies in May are great. Once you get a couple miles down the trail you don't see many people. The Big Creek trail is an great hike, you will see dayhikers for the first couple of miles and there will be other backpackers at Site 36, but it is a beautiful area. The climb up to Mt Sterling is steep, but the view from the firetower is great. If you want a longer and wetter hike, take the Gunter Fork Trail up to the ridge, the cascades are really neat and there is a nice waterfall as well.

If you want more solitude, check out the Lakeshore Trail (need a shuttle), one trip in Sept we saw more bears than people except for the last day. Lots of history in the area as well.

Let me know if you have any questions about the Smokies
 

CANMAN

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The Smokies in May are great. Once you get a couple miles down the trail you don't see many people. The Big Creek trail is an great hike, you will see dayhikers for the first couple of miles and there will be other backpackers at Site 36, but it is a beautiful area. The climb up to Mt Sterling is steep, but the view from the firetower is great. If you want a longer and wetter hike, take the Gunter Fork Trail up to the ridge, the cascades are really neat and there is a nice waterfall as well.

If you want more solitude, check out the Lakeshore Trail (need a shuttle), one trip in Sept we saw more bears than people except for the last day. Lots of history in the area as well.

Let me know if you have any questions about the Smokies
Awesome man, thanks for the information. I will look into both of those add on's. One question if you have alot of experience there. Bear spray yes or no?
 

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wsp_scott

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Awesome man, thanks for the information. I will look into both of those add on's. One question if you have alot of experience there. Bear spray yes or no?
no need for bear spray, the bears always run when they see you. I've probably seen about 20 bears over the last couple years, usually all I see is their butts as they crash down the hill as fast as they can.
 

SteveR

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I'll add my 2 cents regarding Yellowstone, with the caveat that I have only been there once. We spent two very full days there hitting pretty much all of the so-called "tourist" sights and geyser basins on our way home from our mid-September 2011 Colorado road trip. We found it truly amazing and worthwhile despite our usual aversion to crowds, boardwalks etc. So, I'd leave some time for that if you go.
 

Scott Chandler

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Yellowstone in May can be amazing! The crowds are far less.

Based off my experience working in Yellowstone, May is a great time for the touristy things and low elevation adventures. We did all the geyser basins and Grand Canyon (touristy) visits before people arrived after Memorial Day. We also made a lot of trips to the Mammoth area early on because it is lower elevation and the snow melts off there earlier. That said, I could have been there in a bad snow winter, so it could be possible that a trip through the Black Canyon when you visit is less feasible, it depends on the snowpack and how quickly things dry off. At the least, I imagine you could scrap your backcountry plans and day trip aplenty.
 

John Goering

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If you need accurate current snow depth info over most of the western US, https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/wcc/home/quickLinks/imap/!ut/p/z1/04_Sj9CPykssy0xPLMnMz0vMAfIjo8ziPY0sHD0sgg283Z1NTAwcLZ3NQ3yCzQ28g0z1w_EqCDHTjwJKW1g4mxj6mxj4GHgbOBoEOlt4h5l5hBn6BxgR0O9kQJx-AxzAEaKfoPvxWBBFif-BCqLwOy9cP4qQkii8bnAipAAUB3gVGBvqF-SGAkGEQaZnuiIA34kK8g!!/dz/d5/L2dBISEvZ0FBIS9nQSEh/#version=102&elements=&networks=!&states=!&counties=!&hucs=&minElevation=&maxElevation=&elementSelectType=all&activeOnly=true&activeForecastPointsOnly=false&hucLabels=false&hucIdLabels=false&hucParameterLabels=false&stationLabels=&overlays=&hucOverlays=&basinOpacity=100&basinNoDataOpacity=100&basemapOpacity=100&maskOpacity=0&mode=data&openSections=dataElement,parameter,date,basin,elements,location,networks&controlsOpen=true&popup=&popupMulti=&base=esriNgwm&displayType=station&basinType=6&dataElement=PREC&depth=-8&parameter=PCTAVG&frequency=DAILY&duration=mtd&customDuration=&dayPart=E&year=2019&month=2&day=7&monthPart=E&forecastPubMonth=2&forecastPubDay=1&forecastExceedance=50&seqColor=1&divColor=3&scaleType=D&scaleMin=&scaleMax=&referencePeriodType=POR&referenceBegin=1981&referenceEnd=2010&minimumYears=20&hucAssociations=true&lat=44.661&lon=-108.622&zoom=7.0

It would appear that most of Yellowstone is way ahead of normal snowpack this year.

no need for bear spray, the bears always run when they see you. I've probably seen about 20 bears over the last couple years, usually all I see is their butts as they crash down the hill as fast as they can.
Even black bears are just like people. No two are the same. If you happen to bump into one having a bad day, you will need that can of bear spray. It is really cheap insurance. I've had face to face meetings with black bears a half dozen times and all but one ended without indecent. That other one was a bit tense-----
 

wsp_scott

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Even black bears are just like people. No two are the same. If you happen to bump into one having a bad day, you will need that can of bear spray. It is really cheap insurance. I've had face to face meetings with black bears a half dozen times and all but one ended without indecent. That other one was a bit tense-----
That is true, you never know what you are going to get with any wild animal. But, the bears in the SE Appalachians are pretty conditioned to run like hell away from people. Attacks do happen, but they are rare and seem to involve someone doing something stupid like eating candy in a hammock. I came across two bears in Big South Fork a couple years ago, one immediately ran down the hill and the other one stood up to see what I was. The minute I yelled and clapped, he took off down the hill. That was the only time (out of about 20 bears) that a bear has not immediately ran away.

I've never seen anyone carrying bear spray in the park, but if you already have it, carrying it might make sense.
 

wsp_scott

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Thanks again for all the information and replies guys. Wayne, we aren't going to be on the AT at all (so I think will miss alot of the thru guys & gals), and are looking into the Big Creek Loop Trail in GSMP. Looks like a solid trip for what we are looking to do and will give us some extra time to not be rushed since we are from MD and Ohio. Travel time is significantly less and the sights in May look like they will be great there.
It occurred to me that you might be interested in this trip I did last Spring. There would be more people in May, but this would be a great trip as the weather warms up and would show you an awesome part of the park.

https://backpackandbeer.blogspot.com/2018/03/forney-and-hazel-creeks-gsmnp.html
 

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