I’m sure you’ve heard of Yellowstone and its most famous resident, Old Faithful, but if you haven’t seen it yet, this summer is a great time to mark it off your bucket list! With dramatic peaks and pristine lakes, Yellowstone National Park is a hiker’s paradise.
Yellowstone National Park is Open!
As of May 18th, Yellowstone is phasing out reopening after the pandemic, while some visitor services may stay limited for the 2020 season. See more updated information here.
Why Go To Yellowstone?
The park is indeed extraordinary: as you hike its 3,000-plus square miles of mountains, canyons, geysers, and waterfalls, you will surely meet buffalo, elk, and sometimes even grizzlies on your way. Not only is it very unique, but Yellowstone also offers thousands of miles of untouched land from the northwest corner of Wyoming to the edges of Idaho and Montana.
Know Before You Go:
There’s an entrance fee
Entry to Yellowstone is $20 for visitors ages 16 and older who enter on foot or by bike, $30 for those arriving by motorcycle or snowmobile, and $35 per car. All park passes are valid for seven consecutive days. See more pricing information here.
Services are limited in winter months
The majority of Yellowstone’s facilities and roads close during the winter and don’t reopen until mid-May. Check more about road conditions and what’s open on their website.
Reserve your lodging or campsite early
Yellowstone is one of the top US summer destinations, so if you’re planning a trip, start thinking about your accommodations early on. You can rent a car a few weeks in advance, but hotels and campsites fill up quickly!
Beware of wild animals
While at Yellowstone, stay a safe distance from animals at all times. To avoid an attack, make plenty of noise when hiking to avoid surprise encounters, and secure any food items before leaving your campsite or going to sleep. The National Park Service suggests putting at least 100 yards between you and wolves and bears, and about 25 yards or more between you and all other wildlife.
If you are hiking by yourself, make plenty of noise to warn animals of your presence and avoid exploring areas with low visibility since bears have bad eyesight. And yes, don’t forget bear spray.
Best Way to Get to Yellowstone
The best way to get to Yellowstone is by car. But if you can’t plan a road trip from your location, you should fly into one of the nearby airports (Billings, Salt Lake City, or Jackson WY) and rent a car. Yellowstone is pretty easy to drive and you can stop whenever you want!
How to Save Money in Yellowstone
- Choose camping over staying at a lodge. A space in a campground is much cheaper than a room at one of the park’s lodges. Many campgrounds come equipped with showers, flushing toilets, and even laundry facilities. Use this camping packing list if you’re planning to camp!
- Go in the off-season. Not only summer has many tourists, but the hotel and campground prices also go up (the whole supply-demand story). You can save money by going in the fall or spring.
- Save on food. Yellowstone has a few restaurants, but they can get pretty expensive. Bring snacks for your hikes and cook at the campsite.
- Buy a pass. If you’re planning a road trip and plan on seeing three or more National Parks, it will be best to pay $80 for an annual pass.
Best Things to Do in Yellowstone
Old Faithful is the world’s most renowned geyser and is a must-see for every Yellowstone visitor. Although it isn’t the tallest or the largest geyser in the world, its eruptions are breathtaking and averaging around 130 feet high. Like its name suggests, you can count on Old Faithful erupting approximately every hour and a half, which is one of the reasons it’s so popular. For a more accurate schedule, check with the nearby visitor’s center or online.
Travel Tip: If you watch the eruption in the recreation area, visit the historic Old Faithful Inn, a log hotel built in 1904. Join a tour of the hotel, or grab a snack from the Bear Paw deli and sit and gape at the multi-storied log lobby.
Location: Old Faithful is located west of Yellowstone Lake (easily accessible from the West Entrance) by Highway 191. Surrounding Old Faithful are several hotels, dining areas, and a visitor center.
Grand Prismatic Spring
Just a few miles from Old Faithful, in the Midway Geyser Basin, you should see the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest and one of the most photographed hot springs in the park. Just look at it magnificent rainbow colors!
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Formed over thousands of years of erosion caused by wind, water, and other natural forces, this 20-mile canyon is one of the park’s most popular hiking spots. (If you’re planning a day hike or two here, check out my hiking printable packing list)!
Travel tip: Get to the canyon early in the day to avoid crowds and have the trail to yourself. How early? You can start right around sunrise and get amazing views
Location: The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is located about 40 miles southeast of Yellowstone’s North Entrance and roughly 15 miles northwest of Yellowstone Lake. Canyon Village, which features a visitor center, a lodge, and several dining facilities, can be found about 1 mile northwest of the canyon’s North Rim Trail.
Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high elevation lakes in North America. While the water is too cold for swimming, you can enjoy a boat tour, kayaking, and canoeing.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
Located along the shores of Yellowstone Lake, West Thumb Geyser Basin is one of the main beauties in that half of Yellowstone National Park. There are some beautiful pools along the boardwalk, such as Collapsing Pool and Blue Funnel Spring, whose impressive pastel hue makes it an absolute stunner.
Alongside West Thumb Geyser Basin, Mud Volcano is the other major geyser area on the east half of Yellowstone National Park.
Lower Geyser Basin
Yellowstone’s Lower Geyser Basin is a highly active geothermal area that is located halfway between the West Entrance and Old Faithful. For more information about this area, read a great blog post by Inger and Tor here.
Best Time to Visit Yellowstone
The best months to visit Yellowstone National Park is from April to May and between September and October. These months offer nice weather and fewer crowds. July and August are the most popular, and while it’s convenient to visit during these months, you might end up like Nik and Dusty, cutting their trip short and writing negative reviews about one of the most unique places on earth. If you’re planning a summer trip, see more ideas to add to your road trip in my blog post of the best summer vacations in 2020.
If you’re thinking about visiting the park during the winter, be prepared for really low temperatures and road closures. But hey, it can be done!
The park is truly magnificent, so here are a few more of my favorite pictures from the trip! Are you planning to go to Yellowstone? Please let me know in the comments below!