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Yellowstone Visitors Guide

A trip to Yellowstone National Park can be the adventure of a lifetime, but it takes a little bit of planning. We have put together some resources that will make your trip easy to plan and help you to avoid some of the pitfalls that befall the unsuspecting visitor. This includes commonly asked questions and questions that should be commonly asked. We highly recommend that you read our Recommendations Page before planning your trip.

For campers, please visit our Yellowstone Camping Guide.

Most important, download the following trip planner from the National Park Service.

Trip Planner

About this Guide

This guide was put together for our clients and our potential clients, so obviously it is going to push our horseback rides, pack trips and our iPhone app Ultimate Yellowstone. But even if you are not planning to ride horses in the park or if you don't have an iPhone/iPod Touch, you will find this information very useful.

Traveling to Yellowstone

I am flying to Yellowstone. To which city should I fly?

There are multiple airports. The cheapest is usually to fly to Jackson Hole. It is best to determine where you are flying to before deciding where you are going to stay. If you are going to fly, if is necessary to also rent a car when you arrive to tour the park in. See our Flying to Yellowstone page for more detailed information.

I am driving to Yellowstone. What is the best way to get there?

There are many different routes, but generally speaking, if you are coming from the East, we suggest you follow I-90 across South Dakota so that you can see the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore on your way. Take I-90 all the way to Livingston and drop south to Gardiner at the North Entrance. Be sure that you either exit the Park or take a detour through Jackson Hole so that you get to see the Grand Tetons. If you are coming from the West, your best option is to take I-15 into Idaho and head to West Yellowstone at the West Entrance, or, if coming from the Northwest, follow I90 to Livingston, Montana and head south on Hwy 89. From the South, travel up I-25 and then cut cross-country to Jackson Hole and enter through the South Entrance.

We are traveling in a RV. What do we need to know?

You can drive and camp in Yellowstone with a RV. Those driving vehicles over 30’ are recommended to make a reservation since there are limited sites within the park. Fishing Bridge RV Park is the only campground in Yellowstone with water and sewer, but does not currently offer electrical hookups. Large RV sites with full hookups are located at Gardiner, West Yellowstone, and Flagg Ranch. Read more in our Frontcountry Camping Guide.

Lodging in Yellowstone

Do I need a reservation?

Absolutely. Showing up at Yellowstone without a hotel reservation is a really bad idea, and you may find yourself sleeping in your car or paying $400 per night for a room at the most expensive hotel in town. Taking a little time to at least loosely plan your vacation (where to stay and when) will make your trip much less stressful.

How long should I stay?

You will need a bare minimum of three days to see the sights along the Yellowstone road system. Extending your stay to a week will allow you to take your time and see a variety of Yellowstone sights. Realistically, a week will only scratch the surface of the park. Many people come to Yellowstone year after year to continue exploring the 3,749 square miles. Obviously, we think the best way to begin seeing it is to join us a backcountry pack trip.

Where should I stay?

The most important piece of advice that we can give you is to spread your stay around the Park and the Park's periphery. Yellowstone is huge, and if you book all of your nights in the same location, you will find yourself traveling the same road again and again to see different sights, and you will not be able to see all of the park. Visit our hotels page, where you will find a link to a map and hotel booking information. Look at the map and note the mileage between locations. Remember that you will be driving very slowly and stopping constantly. We recommend that you stay in three different locations around the Park. In addition to staying in the Park, there are towns on the Park's periphery where hotels are available. Take a look at the bottom of our recomendations page for an example of how to spread your stay around.

Can I camp?

Yes, there is frontcountry and backcountry camping and all sites require reservations. Some campgrounds operate on a first-come, first serve basis and it is recommended to secure you campsite as early in the day as possible. During peak season (July and August), campgrounds may fill by early morning. Visit our Yellowstone Camping Guide for more information.

Park Admission

How much does it cost to get in?

Way too much. Just a few years ago, it was $10.00 per vehicle, and this got you into both Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks for seven days. Now it is $75.00 for only Yellowstone..

When does the Park open?

Yellowstone is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, all roads and facilities are subject to temporary closures due to weather and construction. The road across the Northern Range, from Gardiner to Cooke City is open year-round, as is the Mammoth Hot Springs Visitor’s Center. The interior park roads typically begin opening the third week in April and close the first week in November. They then reopen for the winter season from mid-December to mid-March. The park is never fully open until the third week of June, and depending upon snowfall, some roads may close before the first week of November. Watch for campgrounds and other interior facilities to begin closing in September. For winter road conditions updates and the status of open roads, call the Road Condition Hotline at 307-344-2217.

When to Visit

When is the best time to come?

Travel to Yellowstone is possible year-round. Each season has something different to offer. Most visitors come to Yellowstone from June through September, with July and August being the busiest months.

Wildflowers are abundant in June at lower elevations and in July at higher elevations. June is is great month for wildlife. September brings fall colors and the elk rut. The shoulder months of May and October can be beautiful seasons in the Park with few visitors (it can also be winter).

If you want to take a pack trip, July, August, and September are the months to go. There may be crowds along the roads, but not in the backcountry where we will go.

During the winter (November through April), the roads through most of the park are closed. The road across the Northern Range, from Gardiner to Cooke City is open year-round to visitor traffic. Travel to the interior of the park is possible with guided tours by snowmobile and snow coach from mid-December until mid-March.

How can I avoid the crowds?

The months of May and October can be beautiful seasons in the Park with few visitors (be aware of the chance that the weather may still qualify as winter).

Sign up for a pack trip with Yellowstone Wilderness Outfitters! Trips are available during the months of July, August, and September. There may be crowds along the roads, but not in the backcountry where we go.

Take a hike! Only 3% of Yellowstone’s visitors ever venture more than 100 yards from the road! Getting out of your car and taking even a short walk will show you what Yellowstone is all about - explore a thermal area, take photographs of the breath-taking scenery, and or a new wildflower. Everyone should visit Old Faithful, but after watching the geyser, head out to one of the lesser known boardwalks to wait for your favorite geyser to explode.

Pack a breakfast to go and hit the roads early for some wildlife watching. The roads and popular boardwalks will be less crowded in the morning hours. There is also a greater chance of seeing wildlife during the cooler, quieter early hours of the day.

Preparing your Yellowstone Visit

What should I know before I come?

Most of the park is located above 7,500 feet. Make sure to allow time to acclimate and drink plenty of liquids to avoid dehydration.

Yellowstone’s weather is unpredictable and varies across the park. Being prepared for anything by carrying adequate clothing and gear will make your trip enjoyable in spite of any weather changes. Our iPhone app Ultimate Yellowstone offers an apparel list for each season and gives you weather forcasts for 18 locations around the park.

Roads are busy, narrow and rough; some are steep with sharp drop-offs. Pull into turnouts to let other cars pass. Always wear your seatbelt and be on the lookout for cars stopped in the road, people crossing, bicyclists and motorcyclists, trucks and trailers, and, of course, wildlife! (Note that car accidents are the number 1 cause of death in Yellowstone.)

What should I bring?

Obviously, your camera. Binoculars or a spotting scope can be helpful for spotting wildlife along the road. Also, bring a heavy jacket even for mid-summer. It can snow any day of the year in Yellowstone. Warm clothes are essential. You will also want summer attire, as it can get quite warm in the summer. No matter what, bring rain gear. Additonal items include maps, sunscreen, bug spray, notebook, field guides (Audubon).

In Yellowstone Park

What are the most popular destinations/must-see sights?

Old Faithful: High concentration of geysers and other thermal features in one place.

Old Faithful Inn: Robert Reamer's masterpiece. (Have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in the lobby and take in the grandeur.)

Grand Canyon: Yellowstone River winds through a magnificent canyon with breath-taking scenery.

Yellowstone Lake: Largest freshwater lake above 7,000 feet with mountain views.

Lamar Valley: Great for early morning wildlife viewing.

Will I see wildlife?

You are nearly guaranteed to see some sort of wildlife on your trip. In fact, if you want to know where to see different types of wildlife, visit our Wildlife Guide. It will point to you toward to the best places to search for your favorite wildlife. The iPhone app Ultimate Yellowstone offers a wildlife guide with information on where to find the park's major wildlife and a tracks and scat guide for each.

Can I bring my pet?

Yes, pets are allowed in frontcountry areas within 100 feet of roads, parking areas, and campgrounds. Pets must be kept under physical control at all times - caged, crated, or on a leash shorter than six feet in length. Pets are not allowed in the backcountry, on trails, boardwalks, or in thermal areas. You must also clean up after your pet. Pets should leave no traces other than footprints. If you plan to hike, leave Fluffy at home, because he cannot join you on the trail. Generally speaking, bringing a pet will greatly limit the activities that you can do. Kennels are available outside the park.

Will my mobile phone work in the Park?

There are four cell towers within Yellowstone, and whether you have service will depend upon your carrier. Verizon has the best coverage, and AT&T has coverage in the southern part of the park and Gardiner and West Yellowstone. If you have a different cell phone provider, it will depend upon your companies roaming agreements with these two companies. Our app Ultimate Yellowstone offers maps of cell phone coverage and helpful hints for where to go to make a call.

Yellowstone Activities

What types of activities are there?

Obviously, we offer horseback riding. There is also hiking, camping, geyser gazing, hot potting (soaking in designated thermal hot springs), white water rafting, museums, wildlife and photography tours, and educational courses at the Yellowstone Institute. The iPhone app Ultimate Yellowstone has an complete section devoted to activities and information for booking.

Any suggestions for keeping kids engaged or entertaining grandparents?

Horseback riding and rafting are great activities for children. The Junior Ranger and Young Scientist Programs are specifically geared toward children and promote involvement in and understanding of Yellowstone.

Active grandparents will enjoy riding and hiking. Wildlife van tours are also a good idea for older folks. Interpretative Park Ranger Programs range from short walks to evening campfire programs and are located throughout the park. Plan a picnic along the Yellowstone River for a quiet afternoon. Most walkways and self-guiding trails have at least one wheelchair-accessible walkway. Wheelchairs can be rented. For a detailed guide to accessibility at each of the park’s locations, see the Park Service guide.

Yellowstone Bears

Do I need to be concerned about bears?

Yes! Yellowstone is home to both grizzly and black bears. Although in Yellowstone you are statistically more likely to be in a car accident, encounters with bears are possible. Following these guidelines will help to minimize your risks.

Hike in groups and make loud noises to warn bears of your presence. A surprised bear is more likely to attack. Do not hike after dark. Avoid carcasses (a bear will defend his food).

Proper food storage is essential in bear country. Odors attract bears, so avoid carrying around odorous foods. Do not cook or store food in your tent. Do not ever leave food unattended in camp or on the trail. All items used for preparing or cooking food must be secured from bears. In the frontcountry, store these items in your vehicle. In the backcountry, hang all odorous items (this includes anything that smells, even toiletries) on the food pole and be sure to pitch your tent at least 100 yards from the fire pit and food pole.

Yellowstone Guides