Yellowstone National Park is the oldest and probably most famous US National Park. This article is a great guide for a perfect Yellowstone vacation.
What is Yellowstone National Park?
Yellowstone National Park is one of the largest National Parks in the United States. It became a National Park in 1872, and it was the very first National Park in the world. Why? Because Yellowstone is located in a volcanic hotspot and they even call it a supervolcano.
In the park (that largely consists of a forest) you can see more than 200 geysers and over 10.000 hot springs. The park is also known because of all the animal species you can see here. For example, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, moose, and bison. Every year, Yellowstone has millions of visitors from all over the world.
How to get to Yellowstone National Park?
Most tourists visit Yellowstone during a road trip in Northwest USA. If you plan just a Yellowstone vacation, it might be smart to pick Salt Lake City (Utah) as a starting point. From here, it’s a six-hour drive to Yellowstone. Salt Lake City has a large international airport, which makes it a convenient place to start for travelers from all over the world. Check Skyscanner for the cheapest plane tickets. Here you can also subscribe to alerts, so you get an email when prices drop during the dates you’d like to go on your Yellowstone vacation.
There is no public transport or shuttle bus service in Yellowstone, so the best way to visit the park is by car. If you don’t have your own car, you should get a rental car. For Europeans: reserve a rental car before you arrive through a European website. In that case, all the insurance you’ll need is included and prices are lower. I usually rent my cars for a road trip in the US through AutoEurope and Alamo.
Yellowstone has five different entrances:
– North Entrance near Gardiner (Montana). This is the only entrance that’s open all year round.
– Northeast Entrance near Silver Gate (Montana).
– East Entrance near Cody (Wyoming).
– South Entrance, when you come from Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming).
– West Entrance near West Yellowstone (Montana).
Because of snow and construction work, not all entrances are open all year round. Check before you go which entrance you can use. You can find the most up to date information on this website. Given the size of the park, I would recommend always checking which entrances are open because it will cost you hours to get from one entrance to another.
How much does it cost to visit Yellowstone National Park?
When you visit the park by car, it will cost you $35. Your ticket is valid for seven days. If you plan to visit more National Parks in the US, it might be cheaper to get an annual America the Beautiful pass. This will cost you $80 and is valid for a year in all the National Parks in the United States.
Check the official website for prices.
Best time to visit Yellowstone
You can go on a Yellowstone vacation all year, but during winter months most of the park is closed and you won’t be able to see lots of the must-sees because it’s covered with snow. The best time to visit Yellowstone is between June and Oktober and it can be very busy during July and August. On this website, you can find an overview with all the activities and must-sees in Yellowstone per month.
How much time do you need for a Yellowstone vacation?
Yellowstone is enormous and there are lots of things to see and to do. Don’t underestimate this when you plan to visit the park, you can’t see it all in one day. To see most of the highlights in Yellowstone, I would recommend staying for at least five days, even more, if you plan on doing some day hikes. If you have less than three days, I would save Yellowstone for another visit.
Where to stay in Yellowstone National Park
There are many options for accommodations in and around Yellowstone.
Lodging in the park
In the park, there are many lodges to be found. From basic to very luxurious. Most of these lodges are located near a visitor center, where you can get lots of information about (that area in) the park. One of the most popular places to stay in is the Old Faithful Inn. From here you can see the famous geyser Old Faithful erupt every 90 minutes. To find affordable lodging in the park, you have to make reservations as early as possible, usually, you can book a year ahead on this website.
Camping in Yellowstone
The cheapest option for a vacation in Yellowstone? Go camping! There are many campgrounds in the park where you can stay in a tent or an RV. There are a couple of campgrounds where you can reserve campsite (check this website) and the other campgrounds are first come, first serve.
There are screens in the visitor centers in Yellowstone that show which campgrounds are still available. Before I visited Yellowstone (June 2019), I made campground reservations beforehand. It turned out not to be essential because there were plenty of campgrounds still available during my visit.
Accomodation outside the park
When sleeping in the park is too expensive for you, and you don’t mind driving a couple of hours to see the highlights, there are also a couple of towns outside the park where you can book a room. Locationwise, these are your best options: West Yellowstone and Gardiner. It’s easy to book a room through Booking.com. In most cases you can cancel last minute if needed.
You can also check Airbnb for special places to stay, like Bed and breakfasts and cabins. Have you never used Airbnb before? Use this link for a discount on your first booking.
Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park
There are many large mammals living in Yellowstone, and this is also one of the main reasons why the park is so popular. Chances are high that you will see many bison, but also bears, wolves, pronghorns, and elk.
The animals can be dangerous, so don’t get too close. Make sure to keep your distance, at least 25 yards (23 meters) from bison and elk, and 100 yards (91 meters) from bears and wolves.
For your own safety, you can buy bear spray in every visitor center. This is a really strong pepper spray that can keep bears (and other large animals) at a distance when they attack you. Ask the rangers in the visitor center how to use the bear spray.
Keep your food and drinks close or put it away in a spot where the animals can’t smell it. On the campgrounds, you’ll find bear boxes, but you can also stow away your food in a car (preferably in a closed bin).
Hiking in Yellowstone National Park
There are many great hiking trails to be found in Yellowstone National Park. From short hikes that are less than a kilometer to long day hikes. Every region in the park has it’s own popular hikes, so check at the visitor center which hikes are recommended in that area. I really liked the trails around Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
The most beautiful places in Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park is gigantic and because of that, there are many must-sees. If you’re short on time, I would recommend visiting at least these five highlights.
Old Faithful is the most famous and most active geyser in the park. Unlike the other geysers, you can actually predict when Old Faithful is going to erupt again, which is usually every 60 to 80 minutes. At the visitor centers, you can see exactly at what time the next eruption is expected. An eruption takes a couple of minutes.
Grand Prismatic Spring
The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the United States of America and well-known because of the bright colors. You can see the spring from two different views: walk right next to it or climb on a hill to see it from above (highly recommended)! To get to the viewpoint, you can park your car at the parking lot for the Fairy Falls Trail and walk to the platform in 30 minutes.
Do you want to see wildlife in Yellowstone? Go to Lamar Valley early in the morning and take binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens. When you see multiple cars parked on the side of the road, this is a sign, there’s something to say. Make sure to park safely. During my visit to Lamar Valley, I saw many bison, wolves, bears, pronghorns, and a fox. And I was only there for one hour!
Mammoth Hot Springs
There are many hot springs in Yellowstone. Usually, it’s a hole in the ground with a bright color, but at Mammoth Hot Springs it looks like the earth is turned inside out. A very cool thing to see!
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a large canyon with pink and sand color cliffs. The canyon has a depth of 240 till 370 meters and is breathtakingly beautiful. Especially from Inspiration Point, from here you can also see the famous Lower Falls.
Interested to see more highlights? Check this post: The 10 most beautiful places in Yellowstone
Do you need more information for your Yellowstone vacation
These are all my tips for a trip to Yellowstone! Would you like to read more about the park or do you need some extensive information? Check the offical website. Or get one of these travel guides:
Would you like to read more about the beautiful parks in the US?
Check out one of these articles: