Yellowstone is the grandaddy of the US National Parks! It is also one of the most visited parks which means that is also one that gets exceptionally busy! As such I have rounded up our best tips and tricks to make the most out of your visit to Yellowstone!
When to book a Yellowstone trip
The key to this is as far in advance as possible – says the woman who booked her trip six days in advance! Accomodations get booked up quickly and early so to have your pick of the best spots you need to be
Where to Stay in Yellowstone
The Yellowstone lodges and campgrounds open up for bookings 18months in advance. There are nine lodges within Yellowstone itself and while it is not essential that you stay on site it would greatly help reduce your time taken to get to the major sites and allow you to be on the park very early and in the evening – peak wildlife watching times and least busy in terms of tourists.
Perhaps the most central lodge if you only want to stay at one lodge is the Old Faithful Inn with great views of the Geyser! However to make the most out of being on site you may want to consider staying a couple of nights at two or three different lodges depending on your itinerary length!
Best Places to Stay Near Yellowstone
If you haven’t booked far enough in advance or you decide not to stay in Yellowstone National Park itself you will need to stay in one of the towns just outside of the park. The closest town is West Yellowstone with most of the hotels only a few minutes drive from the entrance to Yellowstone! However please note that from the West Yellowstone entrance it is still around a 40 minute drive to Old Faithful Geyser.
While we were in West Yellowstone we stayed at the Days Inn West Yellowstone. While the rooms were nothing fancy they were clean and spacious and the hotel had a pool with a good slide which is great for littles that need to blow off some steam at the end of the day! It is also conveniently located at walking distance from everything in the centre of West Yellowstone itself!
Other Choices in West Yellowstone:
For those wanting a more outdoors experience outside of the Park should consider Under Canvas Yellowstone!
Other nearby towns are Cooke City and Gardner.
Cooke City is closer to the the Beartooth Highway and the Lamar Valley so you may want to consider staying here if you want to get into the Lamar Valley (known as the best wildlife spotting area) very early in the morning.
The best place to stay in Cooke City: Super 8 by Wyndham
Gardiner on the other hand is closer to the entrance near the Mammoth Hot Springs.
The best place to stay in Gardiner: Comfort Inn
What is the best Yellowstone Entrance?
There are five entrances to Yellowstone National Park. They are:
- closest to the Mammoth Hot Springs. The nearest outside town is Gardner. It is the closest entrance for those considering entering from the Pacific North West. The bonus to this entrance is that it is open year round. The closest big attractions of Mammoth Hot Springs and the once hidden gem Boiling River.
North East Entrance
- Closest town – Cooke City! It is the perfect entrance if you want to enter the Lamar Valley early for wildlife spotting! You can also Drive the world renown Beartooth Highway, into the Park from this entrance. This is the best entrance for those entering the park from Red Lodge and Billings Montana!
- The biggest attraction nearby is Lamar Valley. Please note that this entrance is closed during the winter and it is worth checking before you start your drive as the Beartooth Highway can be closed during bad weather at any time of year!
- The closest entrance to Lake Yellowstone. The closest town is Cody, Wyoming, one of the bigger towns located conveniently near to Yellowstone however saying that it is 53 miles from the entrance! However saying that Cody has more touristy attractions that any other entrance having been founded by Buffalo Bill!
- The best entrance for those coming from or wanting to stay in Jackson or Jackson Hole! Coming from here you can tackle both Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Park. Jackson offers the most luxurious of accommodations but is further from the Yellowstone entrance!
- the closest town is West Yellowstone and is mere minutes from the entrance itself. This is the best entrance for those wanting to get to the geysers quickly. The town also has a reasonable amount of amenities.
Best time to visit Yellowstone National Park
I’m going to be honest with you – while I did love seeing Yellowstone – it is impossible not to enjoy the stunning scenery and amazing wildlife I didn’t LOVE our time there as much as I have other national parks! And there is one reason and one reason alone for this – it was so just busy! Even when we were in the one before 5am sun up we were always with another car and we were visiting in September! Therefore if I had to do my trip again I would definitely visit in low season and avoid the summer school holidays like the plague!
If you have no choice but to go during peak season or can’t face the colder weather then make sure you are up and in the park very early or for sunset to try and avoid the crowds and maximise your chances for seeing wildlife!
Yellowstone Packing List
As the drive into Yellowstone and between the sites are so big, you need to make sure that you are correctly packed for the day! Here is what we found to be essentials for our days in Yellowstone!
Clothing Yellowstone Packing List
Layers are absolutely key! If you are trying to get up and into the park early you will definitely feel cold in the morning!
Hiking boots with a good sole
Whether you are going on long hikes or perhaps just sticking to the boardwalks, it is essential to have good hiking boots with a good non slip sole!
Essential for keeping everything you need for your day in the park!
The weather can change quickly, especially if you are heading into the park at sun up. A light compact waterproof is an essential
Yellowstone Packing List for Kids
I know people hate them but for me they are an essential at Yellowstone. There are so many dangerous spots near geysers etc so you need to make sure you keep a good hold of your kids. For me the reins were a must! We had backpack reins which my toddler calls her adventure pack!
Other Yellowstone Packing List
Lunch, Snacks & Water
Though there are fuel stops, cafes etc at some of the lodges you want to make sure you have the provisions for the day!
Flask of coffee
Getting into the park early is an essential for those prioritizing wildlife views but if you are like me you will need some caffeine to keep you going!
Other things to consider:
If staying in the park in campground or rv please make sure you food is in sealed containers to not attract bears
If you are going on any hike you should be taking bear deterrents with.
With cell phones constantly searching for signal, and especially if you use your iPhone for photos and videos you will need to have a car charger!
Tips for viewing the main Yellowstone sites
Tips for viewing geysers!
Make sure you have checked the website for timings of geysers! Contrary to popular belief old faithful actually erupts every hour and twenty minutes (plus minus ten minutes either way)! You need to know times to plan your day! As this is one of the most popular stops in the whole of Yellowstone I recommend planning to do this in the early morning.
If you forget to check the website or find yourself in the many areas without service be sure to call in at one of the lodges as they will have latest geysir info for all of the parks geysers due to erupt that day!
Tips for viewing the Grand Prismatic Lake!
If want to see colours go in the afternoon when less steamy otherwise all you’ll see is this! It is best viewed from the Fairy Falls trail that runs above the lake for the best views.
Tips for viewing Wildlife in Yellowstone
Best areas to see wildlife in Yellowstone
This is undoubtedly the Lamar Valley and the Hayden Valley! You are pretty much guaranteed to see bison but you are also having a better chance to see wolves and bears in this area too!
Safety tips for Yellowstone wildlife viewing
Don’t stop on road (unless there is animal blocking the path)- this causes traffic jams and you will be everyone’s least favourite person! There are loads of pull ins along the road so make sure you use them!
Don’t touch, get out of your car or get too close to wildlife
Wild is in the name – don’t be that person!
Ones are marked by person on boardwalk on map! All of the walls around the geysers and prismatic lake are boardwalks and therefore easy to do for those with kids or having accessibility issues! However please note these get busy
Other things to know before visiting Yellowstone
No cell service so make sure you have maps, or anything else you are going to need for day printed or pre loaded on your phone!
Have you been to Yellowstone? What are your top tips and tricks?