Tips For Planning a Trip to Yellowstone National Park

Year after year, tourists from all over the world flock to Yellowstone National Park in search of grizzly bears, wolves, bison, elk, geysers, waterfalls, hot springs and Old Faithful.

Established in 1872, Yellowstone is the world’s first national park.  With 2.2 million acres spawning over three states, YNP offers its visitors more than 300 miles of paved roadways leading to all the most popular attractions within the park.

Where are the Entrances to Yellowstone National Park?

Yellowstone can be accessed through five separate entrances:

  • North Entrance: Gardiner, MT
  • Northeast Entrance: Silver Gate/Cooke City, MT
  • East Entrance: Cody, WY
  • South Entrance: Grand Teton National Park, WY
  • West Entrance: West Yellowstone, MT

Important Summer 2022 Update: Please be aware that the towns of Gardiner (by Yellowstone’s North entrance) and Cooke City/Silver Gate (by the northeast entrance) have been massively impacted by unprecedented flooding. Mammoth Hot Springs and Lamar Valley are also heavily impacted and damaged. Expect road and entrance closures in this area throughout the summer.

Choose Your Route Wisely

Within the park there are two main loops.  Personally, I’ve done the main loop only once (though I plan on making the trip again this summer) and we were able to complete it in a day.  We entered through the North entrance and hit all the main pull outs along the way: Norris, Madison, Old Faithful, West Thumb, Canyon Village, Tower Roosevelt; then left the park through the Northeast access point.  

Mother and Baby Bison in Yellowstone National Park
Mother and Baby Bison in Yellowstone

It was a long day in the car, but we saw SO much along the way!  In addition to Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, and the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River; we saw tons of bison, a grizzly bear, a black bear cub, and elk.  Luck was definitely on our side that day.  I’ve been to the park plenty of other times and only saw bison and elk.  Granted, the routes we chose were typically shorter during those visits.

Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park
Norris Geyser Basin

What YNP Sites Need to Be on Your Must-See List?

I’ll be honest: the crowds can be a bit overwhelming in July and August, but you really don’t want to miss out on the popular spots – they’re famous for a reason.  

Therefore, I recommend not missing Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, Norris geysers, and the hot springs at Mammoth.

No matter how old you are or how many times you’ve seen it, Old Faithful is an incredible eruption to witness and the magnitude of Yellowstone Lake, the North America’s largest high-altitude lake, is impressive as you travel along the shoreline.   Plus, the geysers at Norris and the hot springs at Mammoth are just so cool and unusual.  

Yellowstone National Park is an active volcano and is one of the world’s largest calderas.  There truly is nowhere else in the world that offers such an experience.

What to Know if You Journey Off the Beaten Path

Yellowstone National Park is 80-percent forest, which means there are miles and miles of trails and areas to explore.  

Yellowstone National Park offers more than 1,000 miles of backcountry trails and 92 trailheads. With 300 backcountry campsites, feel free to pack a bag and stay for awhile. J After all, exploring the world’s oldest and first national park without the traffic jams on the main route is bound to provide a unique, one-of-a-kind experience.  

Here’s the deal though: As I’ve mentioned… there are lot of grizzly bears in Yellowstone.  And when I say “a lot” I mean it.  

Yellowstone National Park is home to approximately 500 grizzlies.  It is critical to be prepared when venturing into the backcountry of YNP, even if you’re on a well-traveled path.  Bear spray costs about $30 and can save your life in the event of a grizzly bear encounter.  

A young grizzly bear soaking in the sunshine near the road in Yellowstone National Park.
A young grizzly bear soaking in the sunshine near the road in Yellowstone National Park.

Where to Stay in Yellowstone National Park  

If you have a few days to spend in Yellowstone National Park, they won’t be wasted.  In fact, that’s probably the ideal way to see the park.  Within the park there are plenty of options when it comes to lodging or camping.  YNP has nine hotels/lodges, offering more than 2,000 hotel rooms or cabins throughout the park.  If you’re looking for a more inexpensive and a “getting back to nature” type of stay, consider one of the five concession-operated campgrounds within the park.  In total, YNP offers 1,700 campsites.  Be sure to plan ahead, during the peak season rooms and sites tend to book up quickly.

If you would rather make day trips into the park, all gateway communities leading into Yellowstone offer various types of lodging accommodations.  In fact, the local economies of those towns depend heavily on tourism dollars, so feel free to splurge on souvenirs and such. 😉

From grizzlies and wolves to steaming geysers and bubbling mud pots, Yellowstone National Park offers a spectacular, up-close-and-personal wilderness experience.

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