Yellowstone Travel Tips to Know Before Visiting
Yellowstone has been one of my favorite National Parks to visit! From an abundance of wildlife to geothermal features, you’re in for a treat! After our Yellowstone road trip through Montana and Wyoming, there were definitely a few travel tips we picked up. In this guide, I am sharing Yellowstone travel tips to help you have the best trip!
Below you will find 16 travel tips for visiting Yellowstone along with helpful links to my Yellowstone itinerary, top attractions, and more!
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Best Time to Visit Yellowstone
The best time to visit Yellowstone really depends on when you have time to take your vacation. With that being said, the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park, in general, is from Spring until Fall.
While you can still visit in the Winter, many of the roads including the Grand Loop Road are closed due to very heavy snowfall. If you really want to visit during the winter, the best way to do it is with a guided tour. Usually, winter is the best time to see wolves.
The Summer is when most Yellowstone attractions are open, but also the busiest time. We visited during the 4th of July and while packed, we avoided tons of traffic by starting our days early.
September through October in Yellowstone will see fewer crowds. You will have an opportunity to experience Yellowstone’s Elk rut (mating season).
Yellowstone is Best Explored by Car
When planning to visit Yellowstone National Park, having or renting a car is the best way to see the park. There are companies that offer tours in Yellowstone, however, by having your own car, you can explore the park at your own pace. If you are flying into Montana/Wyoming, you can find Rental Cars here!
The park has 6 gas stations/service stations located at Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful (Lower and Upper), Fishing Bridge, Canyon, Grant Village, Lake Village, and Tower. With that being said, you should fill up your gas tank whenever possible, make sure to have a spare tire and first aid kit.
Lodging Travel Tips For Yellowstone National Park
Generally, I have always been a last-minute planner. If you’re like me, this is one of those Yellowstone travel tips you will really want to take into consideration.
Because Yellowstone is such a popular park (especially now), lodging is known to be booked up inside the park a year in advance! Crazy right?
Even outside the park, many of the best lodges by the gate entrances will be booked up too, so if you haven’t booked your lodging yet, this is your sign!
Yellowstone Lodges inside the Park
Yellowstone has 9 lodges and 12 campgrounds. Some of the most popular lodges are Old Faithful Inn, Canyon Lodge and Cabins, and Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cottages. All Yellowstone Lodging can be booked directly from Yellowstone’s Official Website.
Keep in mind that many of the campgrounds and lodges close in the fall/winter. Generally, the month of October is when everything starts to close. The only campground that is open all year is Mammoth Campground.
Alternatively, you can book Vrbo or hotel accommodations outside the gate of Yellowstone. This is what we did.
West Yellowstone Accommodations
We chose to stay at the West Gate of Yellowstone which is the closest entrance to Grand Prismatic Springs and Old Faithful. This makes the West gate very popular to stay around.
Crosswinds Inn: The lodge features a pool, complimentary breakfast and is located .9 miles from the West Yellowstone Entrance. This is about 30 minutes from Old Faithful. As a bonus, they are also pet-friendly.
Kelly Inn West Yellowstone: Another top-rated hotel located in West Yellowstone. This hotel offers complimentary breakfast, an indoor pool, a hot tub, and a sauna. Kelly Inn is pet-friendly and 3 minutes from the Yellowstone entrance.
Best Western Weston Inn: This property is also .9 miles from the West Yellowstone entrance. It has a pool and hot tub, complimentary breakfast, and is pet-friendly.
You will also find Vrbo properties in the area.
Yellowstone North Entrance
Another popular entrance is the North Entrance by Gardiner, Montana. It is located North of Mammoth Springs and is a good option if you are coming from Glacier National Park. If you are visiting Yellowstone during the winter months, this entrance tends to be open all year. View available lodging at:
Yellowstone South Entrance
The South Entrance is popular for those going to or coming from Grand Teton National Park and Jackson hole.
Therefore, this makes the Yellowstonestone South Entrance a hot commodity. If you are planning on doing a West Coast Road trip through the parks, you might want to also book your lodging at the South Entrance as well.
Yellowstone East Gate Entrance
You might consider the East Gate Entrance if you are coming cross-country from Wyoming. This entrance will put you near West Thumb Geyser Basin and Yellowstone Lake. From Yellowstone lake, you can head North to Canyon Village, or head West to Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Springs.
Yellowstone Northeast Entrance
This entrance in Cooke City, Montana will bring you through tons of wildlife as you make your way through Lamar Valley.
There is Very Little Cell Phone Reception in Yellowstone National Park
Planning on using trusty Google Maps, think again! We were a group of 4 families and all had different cellphone providers. That being said, it was pretty rare for any of us to have service.
Therefore, another one of my top tips for visiting Yellowstone includes investing (or looking through your garage) for one of those old-school GPS.
Not only does the app allow you to download maps beforehand so you can use them offline, but it also alerts you of road and attraction closures and more! Just make sure you download the app before you get in the park.
Since we are on the topic of maps and GPS, if you plan on doing any hiking in Yellowstone, you might also want to consider downloading All Trails app as a backup. We did very light hiking in Yellowstone and found the trails were marked very well, but it never hurts to have a backup.
Plan Your Yellowstone Itinerary Ahead of Time
Yellowstone is not the place I’d recommend just winging it. Having a thought-out itinerary will help you in the long run. You can use this detailed 2 day itinerary in Yellowstone to start planning your trip.
In this Yellowstone Itinerary, I have split the days by doing the Bottom Loop on day 1 which has most of the attractions, and the Upper loop section for your second day. The Yellowstone Highways are in the shape of an 8, which is what is meant by the upper and lower loop.
It is a very busy itinerary that can be spread into 3 or 4 days in Yellowstone depending on how fast you plan on driving through Yellowstone.
Alternatively, if you are only planning 1 day in Yellowstone, I’d suggest doing day 1 (lower loop) or checking out this guide of the best Yellowstone attractions.
Plan to Start Your Days in Yellowstone Early and End Your Days Late
Yellowstone is almost 3,500 sq miles and includes the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. There is tons of ground to cover, so starting your days early is best (8 am- 9 am should be ok).
Moreover, the earlier you get into the park, the less crowded the attractions will be. This means you won’t have to tirelessly look for a parking spot!
So, if you start your day early, why should you end the day late? Because golden hour (right before the sun is setting) is quite magical. One of our favorite places to see the sun start to set was at Canyon Village by the Lower Falls (known as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone).
Pack Your Clothing layers
It may be summer in Yellowstone, but we were very shocked to find out the mornings and nights were in the 30’s! Yep, basically below freezing. Therefore, you will want to make sure you pack layers in the car.
During the afternoon, it gets hot. Shorts, tank top, and sunburn hot. This is why you should bring easy-to-throw-on layers. A sweater/jacket and sweat pants should do the trick.
I’d also recommend keeping an eye on the weather for Yellowstone a week out before packing. This will help give you an idea of what the temperatures might be.
If Boiling River is open which is a swimmable hot spring, also consider packing your bathing suit.
See my full Yellowstone Packing Guide here!
Plan for Traffic Jams
Besides Yellowstone hitting all-time highs for park visitors, Yellowstone has been doing road work for the past couple of years. This will alter traffic, so you will always want to check road conditions and closures before you visit. Current Yellowstone road conditions.
Many times traffic jams are actually caused by animals either crossing, hanging out in the road, or being close by the road. If you see a lot of cars pulled over, there is probably an animal sitting nearby.
Depending on how long it takes the animals to move, will determine how long you are “stuck”. Recently there was even a video that went viral of a bison calf deciding it was time to take a nap in the middle of the road. It was quite adorable if you were close enough to see!
Yellowstone Travel Tips: Animals cross the road all the time, so please keep a close eye on the road and don’t go over the speed limit. We are in the park enjoying their land, not the other way around.
Best Time To See Wildlife in Yellowstone
Besides waterfalls, picturesque landscapes and geothermal features, one of the main reasons people love coming to Yellowstone National Park is for the Wildlife. Therefore, you should know when the best time to see it.
The best time to see wildlife in the park is generally in the early morning and in the late afternoon when it’s not as hot. This is when animals tend to be more active.
That is not to say you won’t see wildlife during other hours of the day. We saw bison just about everywhere we went throughout our hold time in Yellowstone.
Some of the main wildlife you can expect to see in the park includes are American Buffalo (bison), Elk, Big Horn Sheep, Black Bear, Grizzly Bear, Coyotes, an abundance of birds, and Wolves.
And if you are specifically on the search for wildlife, some of the best places to spot animals are at Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley.
Bring Binoculars or a Good Camera
Another one of my top Yellowstone travel tips is to bring binoculars or a good camera. You should always view wildlife at a far distance, therefore, you will need something with some zoom! For cameras, I’d recommend a lens that can reach at least 100 mm. Check out my updated photography gear here!
Speaking of photography, you are not allowed to fly drones in National Parks. Yellowstone is no exception.
If you are not a photographer or photography enthusiast, consider a pair of binoculars. This is one travel tip I wish I knew before visiting Yellowstone. I only had a 50mm lens at the time, so having a pair of binoculars (which is way less than a new lens) would have been very helpful!
Wildlife at Lamar Valley. Binoculars or a zoom lens would be great here.
Keep a Safe Distance from Wildlife
This is one of those Yellowstone travel tips you need to follow. Of course, we want to see wildlife up close, however, keeping a safe distance is VERY important.
I know it can be tempting to take selfies with wildlife and maybe you saw someone else who did it, but the reality is that these animals weigh hundreds, if not thousands of pounds. Many people have lost their lives from animal encounters gone wrong. This is why the park and rangers have set rules on safe distances.
If you plan to do a lot of hiking, you may also want to get bear spray. You will find both Black bears and Grizzly bears in Yellowstone. Here is Yellowstone bear safety tips.
If you do get bear spray, DO NOT bring it on the plane. They are highly flammable.
Grizzly bear spotting on the East side of the upper loop heading towards Lamar Valley
Don’t Forget to Pack Snacks & Water
I never leave for a road trip without snacks & my reusable water bottle and Yellowstone is no exception. My go-to is wheat thins (don’t laugh), but you will be in the car for a long time. So whatever kind of snack you prefer, pack it!
Just make sure not to leave these snacks in your car at night. Bears can be quite mischievous.
Make Sure You Leave No Trace
Please remember to leave the park as you found it; clean, beautiful, and full of nature. If you bring snacks or any types of perishables, I beg you to please properly dispose of them. Not only does this keep Yellowstone beautiful for other guests, but also helps protect the animals.
Learn About Yellowstone’s History
Another travel tip to consider is learning a little about Yellowstone National Park history to enhance your trip. Archeologists have traced people living on these lands for over 15,000 years. Before Yellowstone was ever thought to be a park, Natives used these lands for hunting, performed rituals, and used the thermal springs.
In fact, 27 Native American tribes can be traced back to the lands of Yellowstone including the Cayuse, Coeur d’Alene Nez, Shoshone, Blackfeet, and Perce tribes.
Europeans first started exploring Yellowstone in the 1800s and on March 1, 1872, Yellowstone became the first National Park in the United States!
Did you know Yellowstone got its name from the Yellowstone River, which was the name given by the Minnetaree Tribe?
The park also has a lot of geologic significance and history! For example, the park has more than 10,000 hydrothermal features which are the most undisturbed hydrothermal features left in the world! Yellowstone is also a supervolcano and is known to be one of the largest eruptions to ever happen in the world!
Stay on Path and Follow the Rules
This is one of those Yellowstone travel tips I think goes without saying, but here it is. Not to scare you, but Yellowstone can be dangerous. Remember, Yellowstone National Park is in fact a supervolcano meaning that these geysers and pools of water can be scorching hot.
Therefore, please stay on the designated trails. If you accidentally drop something and it falls off the path, get help from a ranger. Do NOT attempt it on your own.
Moreover, please make sure you are following all the other rules of the park. This allows future generations to enjoy the first National Park in the United States! And if you see something, please say something.
Consider Doing Other Activities in Yellowstone Other Than Sight-Seeing
Since we only had 2 days in Yellowstone, we drove to see the top sites and look for wildlife, however, there is more to do in Yellowstone than just driving, stopping, and looking.
If you have a considerable amount in Yellowstone, here are some other activities you can do other than driving around the park.
- Ride Horses with a or even bring your own to ride. Learn more.
- Go fishing for trout (lead-free tackle only).
- Enjoy Kayaking or Canoeing. If you bring your own, you’ll need a permit and a Yellowstone aquatic invasive species inspection.
- Ski, snowshoe, or ride snowmobiles in the winter!
- Ride bikes, go hiking, or camp a night. See where to rent bikes and go biking here.
Getting Your Yellowstone Entrance Ticket
Yellowstone National Park comes with just a small price tag. It costs $35 USD per private vehicle for a 7-day pass.
Note: If you are planning on also visiting Grand Teton, this ticket does not cover you. Tickets can be given upon entrance.
If you plan on visiting Yellowstone more often, you can also get an annual pass for $70 USD. However, for $80 USD (purchased annually) you can get the America the Beautiful Pass. This will allow you entrance into all national parks and federal recreational land for one year. Furthermore, the pass works for up to 4 adults in one car.
Purchase America the Beautiful passes here, or at your local REI. If you are over the age of 62, you can actually get a lifetime National Park Pass. This will be good for everyone in your car (I believe).
Moreover, there are some free national park days. Keep in mind these will likely be the busiest days to visit.
Getting to Yellowstone Travel Tips
If you are not planning on doing a cross-country road trip, your next option would be to fly.
Depending on where you are located, getting to Yellowstone can be tricky. We came from New York, so it was easiest to fly into Bozeman, Montana (BZN).
Other airports to fly to include Cody, Wyoming(COD), Billings, Montana(BIL), and Jackson, Wyoming(JAC). You can also a limited seasonal service to West Yellowstone, Montana(WYS).
Check Skyscanner for your best options to fly into for the most reasonable price.
Travel Tips for Visiting Yellowstone: Wrap-up
This covers my top travel tips for visiting Yellowstone National Park! I hope you have the best time exploring this incredible park.
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below and I will get back to you!