Plague is a flea-borne zoonotic bacterial disease caused by Yersinia pestis. It has caused three historical pandemics, including the Black Death which killed nearly a third of Europe's population in the 14th century. In modern times, plague epizootics can extirpate entire susceptible wildlife populations and then disappear for long time periods. Understanding how Y. pestis is maintained during inter-epizootic periods and the factors responsible for transitioning to epizootics is important for preventing and controlling pathogen transmission and ultimately reducing the burden of human disease. In this review, we focus primarily on plague in North American foci and discuss the potential adaptive strategies Y. pestis might employ to ensure not only its survival during inter-epizootic periods but also the rapid epizootic spread and invasion of new territories that are so characteristic of plague and have resulted in major pandemics and establishment of plague foci throughout much of the world.