Yellowstone National Park - Trip Planner
Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is the oldest and one of the most-visited national parks in the USA. The iconic park encompasses an area of around 2.2 million acres and is majorly located in Wyoming with small portions spilling over into Montana and Idaho. The massive park boasts of amazing ecological diversity and captivating panoramic views.
The park’s USP is the awe-inspiring geothermal wonders – a fascinating collection of countless geysers, mud pots, hot springs, and fumaroles. The Yellowstone National Park sits on the top of a large active volcano making the park a hotbed of unpredictable geothermal activity. As you drive through the massive park, you are treated to an amazing display of dramatic, dynamic and vivid landscapes – lush green valleys, snow-clad mountains, serene lakes, thundering waterfalls, deep canyons, and gushing rivers. In fact, you will be amazed by how quickly the view changes.
Planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park can be tricky – the park is huge, there are five entrances, accommodations are limited, there is so much to explore, the park opens/closes in phases, and, most importantly, it is changing constantly. So, I have put together a list of all you should know before planning a trip to Yellowstone national park.
When is the best time to visit Yellowstone national park?
Yellowstone national park is open all year-round, but access and facilities are limited in fall, winter, and spring. The park is fully functional from late May/early June till late October. Higher elevation roads start closing late October due to snow-fall. Cleaning of snow begins in late April and facilities like hotels, restaurants, visitor centers, and trekking trails start opening in a staggered manner.
Summer is the best time to visit as all the amenities and attractions are open and you can enjoy trekking, biking, camping, and wildlife to the fullest. The days are long and pleasant but it can be crowded with traffic jams. June-July-August are the busiest months. September is a good month to visit as you get to see the park’s enchanting fall foliage and avoid the rush.
In winters, frosted forests and snow-covered mountains provide a striking backdrop to the steaming vivid hotpots. Many of the roads, entrances, sights, and amenities are closed and it is bitterly cold. Lakes and rivers are frozen giving ample opportunity for snowmobiling, ski skating, and skiing. If you are up for an adventure, go for it. You get an opportunity to appreciate the stunning park without the crowds.
How to reach Yellowstone National park?
The park has five entrances making it accessible from different directions. The North Entrance is open to wheeled vehicles all-year-round whereas the Northeast, South, West, and East gates are open from April/May to November. Your preferred entry and exit gate will depend on your flights, hotels, itinerary, condition of roads, and the weather.
The biggest airport is at Salt Lake City, but you have to drive for about 5 hours to reach the south entrance of the Yellowstone National Park. Jackson Hole Airport (Grand Teton) is the closest airport to the south entrance and Yellowstone Regional airport (Cody) is closest to the east entrance. There are small airports in Idaho Falls and Bozeman too. The entrance must be chosen after thorough research as it takes hours to drive between different gates. Public transport in the area is not very efficient and driving is the best option to reach the national park and to travel within the park.
If you are entering from the south, you must stop at Grand Teton National Park– it is amazing.
Where to stay in Yellowstone National park?
Yellowstone National Park has several options to stay overnight. There are 9 lodges/hotels which include the iconic Old Faithful Snow Inn, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, and Mammoth Springs Hotel. The park also has 12 campgrounds, out of which 5 take reservations and 7 work on a first-come, first-serve basis. Staying in the park has its own charm and is much more convenient as you save lots of traveling time. The lodges in the park do not come cheap and are always in short supply, especially in summers. So, book months in advance if you want to stay within the park, as rooms fill up pretty fast. The cost of lodging start from $100 (basic ones with shared toilets) to $700 (Old Faithful Inn). You can opt for budget-friendly hotels in periphery towns like Jackson, West Yellowstone, Gardiner, and Cody. Reaching the park without reservations may prove to be disastrous.
The hotels are placed in strategic locations within the park and you can decide which location will be most convenient for you. Some of the lodges are closed during the low season. If you are plan to visit all the major attractions, you can enter the park from one gate, stay at 3 different lodges as you keep moving, and then exit from another gate. Or leave from the entrance gate after covering the entire Grand loop. It can be bothersome to change hotels, but you don’t limit yourself to any particular area and waste valuable time on back-tracking. Many restaurants, shops, and cafes can be found in the park especially near the lodges and attractions.
How many days are needed to visit the Yellow National park?
Yellowstone National Park is huge and you can easily spend a week there. Unfortunately, most of us have time constraints and can spare limited time for vacations. However, you need at least three full days if you plan to see all the noteworthy landmarks without being rushed. Visitors who want to go for long hikes and explore off-beaten tracks will have to extend their stay. If you only have a day to spare, it would be better to join an organized day trip instead of exploring on your own. The local guides know their way around and will utilize the time efficiently so that you cover the highlights.
What are the must-see attractions in Yellowstone National Park?
The size and diversity of Yellowstone Park can be intimidating for visitors. You can see rugged wilderness, colorful attractions, dramatic landscapes, and abundant wildlife wherever you go. However, there are a few must-see attractions in the park which you must not miss.
- Grand Prismatic Spring – The largest hot spring in the USA will dazzle you with its enormous size and vivid rainbow colors.
- Old Faithful Geyser – World’s best-known geyser known for its frequent and predictable eruptions. The eruption height varies from 100-180 feet and the average interval between two eruptions is around 90 minutes.
- Lamar Valley – The wide and remote valley is the best place in the park to spot the diverse wildlife – bison, elk, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, deer, eagles, etc.
- Grand Canyon – The 20-miles long and 1000-foot deep Grand Canyon is one of the most breathtaking sights in the park. Multi-hued rocks walls, spectacular views, cascading waterfalls, countless hiking trails make this unique national treasure a must-visit.
- Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces – One attraction which you must not miss, however short your stay, is the Mammoth Hot Springs. It is a brilliant collection of hot travertine deposits left there by dozens of hot springs. The picturesque Terraces with its colorful steps and intricate travertine formations are unique and spectacular. A personal favorite.
What is Grant Loop Road?
It is a 142-mile-long-road that takes you past most of the park’s noteworthy attractions. The drive on the figure-eight-shaped road can take you 4-hours to 7 hours depending on the traffic.
Hiking in Yellowstone?
The park has 900 miles of hiking trails with options for every skill level. You have short easy hikes, moderate day hikes and overnight backcountry excursions. If you really want to experience the sprawling park, you have to hit the trails. Check with the rangers about the condition of the trails and the difficulty level.
$35 per private vehicle, $30 for motorcycle, and $20 per person – the pass is valid for 7 days.
The park is open 24 hours a day for the entire year. However, all entrances may not be open due to weather conditions or construction activities. Once the ‘Entrance’ to the park opens, the gates remain open 24/7. There may be a temporary closure due to some special conditions.
Can we see wildlife?
You will definitely see herds of bison, elks, and deer. The sighting of bear depends on the season, location, and duration of your stay. Having said that, it is not so difficult to sight bears in the park if you are willing to wait patiently. In our short stay of four days (mid-May), we were able to spot black beer with cubs a couple of times. Carry a good binocular if you want to spot a wolf.
Do cell phones work in Yellowstone National Park?
Cell phones work in most of the park. However, internet service is negligible. Some hotels provide paid wi-fi but the speed is just enough for basic mobile browsing. Albright Visitor Centre is the only place offering free wi-fi in the park. Advisable to download the Yellowstone App before you reach the park for the map and the all the latest information.
Need more information? You can use the comment section for your queries.