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  • Trevor Perkes

Top Things to do in Yellowstone National Park During the Month of September

Updated: Oct 29, 2019

In our series of articles dedicated to the unique happenings and goings on in Yellowstone National Park we decided to present the information by month, and not necessarily by season, knowing full well that there will be some overlap from one month to the next, especially if two different months fall within the same season. This article is dedicated to the month of September, of which there are some unmistakably unique events that take place in this month.

Hike the Wilderness Trails of Yellowstone

Yellowstone has more than 900 miles of hiking trails that allow park visitors to literally journey through one of America’s most celebrated wilderness areas where wildlife roam freely and the diversity of natural features is unmatched anywhere. Yellowstone has 14 road sections and each section has multiple trails that originate along the way. There are easy short hikes that can be enjoyed by the whole family to long hikes that require overnight camping along the way, and multiple hikes that fit in between these two extremes. While most of these trails are open during the summer season in Yellowstone, September is a great time to hike these trails as the weather has started to cool down for a more pleasant experience, especially if the hike you are taking is a vigorous one, and the summer crowds of visitors have significantly cut down after Labor Day for a more private experience.

Before venturing out on one of Yellowstone’s beautiful trails it is important to be prepared for what you might encounter, knowing that Yellowstone weather can change abruptly and dramatically, and in September the temperature tends to drop rapidly with sundown. For helpful information and recommendations on hiking in the wilderness of Yellowstone click HERE.

The Yellowstone Explored Interactive Map of the 14 road sections of the park offers summary information of many of the most popular and accessible trails to help you plan your adventure. To learn more about various trails by specific road section in the park click HERE.

Enjoy the Fall Colors of the Changing Yellowstone Landscape

As you can imagine, the fall colors in Yellowstone can be quite spectacular as the grasses in valleys and along waterway edges start to turn yellow, only to be matched by the turning of leaves to vibrant orange and yellow colors painting picturesque landscapes throughout the park. Many of these views can be seen from your vehicle on any of the park’s road sections. The contrast between the yellows, oranges, and reds of the leaves of trees, and the green of pine trees and darker colors of mountains rising above them all provides for some incredible views.

To enter the South Entrance of Yellowstone National Park you travel through Grand Teton National Park where the brilliance of fall colors seems to be accentuated with the backdrop of the Teton Mountain Range providing a more majestic contrast.

Photograph Fall Landscapes and Nature at its Best

As discussed in the previous section, the diversity of color schemes that play out during this time of year throughout the park can provide some unique photograph opportunities. Many photographers love this time of year for capturing the beautified and colorized landscapes of the park, others the unique spectacle of the fall elk rut and bison migrations, and others the grandeurs of night photography of star covered skies to the capturing of geothermal features from either natural light or artificial illumination from nearby lights or portable panels. Those who truly know the ins-and-outs of photography can capture or create some awe-inspiring photographs for all to enjoy.

Experience the Sights and Sounds of the Autumn Elk Rut

September, or usually mid-September, marks the peak of the elk rut or breeding season, when bull elk are forced to protect their harem of female cow elk for breeding rights. It is one of, if not the most, anticipated autumn experience in the park. The velvet has been shed form the elk’s antlers and readied for combat, and the sounds of bugling elk pierces the air with an intensity and eeriness that will sure to create a memorable experience for anyone who is fortunate to hear the sounds. These powerful and heart-pounding sounds can be heard at all times during the day and even into the night. For me it is impossible to properly describe in words what the bugling sounds like, and so I won’t even try. However, click HERE to listen to an elk bugling in Yellowstone National Park.

The bugling is one facet of the rut, and another is the head-to-head or antler-to-antler combat for breeding rights that may take place between the herd bull and any challengers. The rut is a difficult time for a bull guarding his harem. Often times the bull will simply run off a challenger without any contact in a no harm, no foul encounter. However, if a battle ensures, where two bull elk that can weigh up to 1,000 pounds, the resulting head-to-head bulldozing match can sometimes become a bloody, injurious, or even fatal encounter.

During the season of the rut, a bull elk may be so preoccupied with protecting his cows that he will fail to eat or will only consume on a fraction of what is needed to sustain his energy and weight. The other side of this two-edged sword is that the energy a bull will spend in protecting his herd, whether that be chasing off challengers or the actual high-calorie burn activity of fighting other bulls, can leave the bull undernourished at a time when most other animals are preparing for the coming winter by conserving energy and fattening up for the hard-to-get food months that lie ahead. If he is not able to replenish his energy stores before an early winter hits he may succumb to the elements or become easy prey for wolves.

Mammoth Hot Springs is a good place where you very likely could witness the spectacles of the rut up close and in person. During the rut the grounds around the various housing and administration structures are often the sites for these bull elk encounters, even to the point that human onlookers, on foot or in their vehicles, have become the targets of hormone jacked up bull elk, leaving some very undesirable marks in cars and even in some persons.

The Annual Bison Migration for Milder Wintering Grounds Begins

With winter in Yellowstone just around the corner, many of the bison will start their migration trek to lower elevations in the park in September in anticipation of the severe winter temperatures and snowfall that occur in Yellowstone. This provides pockets of concentrated numbers of bison often found in Lamar Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs, and the Old Faithful area. Because the bison rut is over by this time, enjoyment is simply seeing large numbers of this powerful animal.

Fall Fly Fishing and the Migrating Brown Trout

Something fun and exciting happens in the fall when brown trout of larger size and a more aggressive posture seeking to fatten up for winter become the main target of most anglers in the park. Water temperatures have dropped, and the browns are looking for larger food than they were during the summer months. In fact, nearly all rivers and streams in the park are fishable during the month of September.

Let’s look at the rivers that are most often fished during the month of September.

· Gardner River: Rainbow, brown, cutthroat and brook trout inhabit the stretch of the river near and below the Gardner Canyon Bridge. September can bring migrating brown trout up from the Yellowstone River providing the opportunity to catch some browns that are 20+ inches in length. For details on the flies to use on the Gardner River in the fall click HERE.

· Yellowstone River (Black Canyon area): While the major salmon fly and stonefly hatches have ceased by September, there are still certain hatches that provide good fishing and streamers can draw the attention of trout. For details on the flies to use on the Yellowstone River in the fall click HERE.

· Lamar River: From the confluence of the Lamar and Yellowstone Rivers upstream to the entrance to Lamar Valley, and from here to its confluence with the Soda Butte River this river offers good fishing in the fall with a focus on small terrestrials and some mayfly hatches. For details on the flies to use on the Lamar River in the fall click HERE.

· Slough Creek: Fishing the upper Slough Creek in the upper meadows is a good option in the fall. For details on the flies to use on Slough Creek in the fall click HERE.

· Soda Butte Creek: Ants and hoppers on warm days and mayfly hatches on cloudy days are your best options for this river. For details on the flies to use on Soda Butte Creek in the fall click HERE.

· Firehole River: When this river water temperature cools down as it does in September, the fishing heats up again after being quite slow during the summer months. For details on the flies to use on the Firehole River in the fall click HERE.

· Madison River: In the fall, large migrating brown trout return from Hebgen Lake to spawn in the Madison River providing some great fishing on this gorgeous park river. For details on the flies to use on the Madison River in the fall click HERE.

Planning a trip to Yellowstone? Click HERE for the Yellowstone Interactive Map to help customize your own Yellowstone experience. It provides detailed information of things to do and see specific to each of Yellowstone’s 14 road sections.

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