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Which Yellowstone Entrance is Right for You?

Buffalo in the road at Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is huge! In fact, it’s larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. It’s so big that there are 5 entrances to the park.

My husband and I have been helping people visit Yellowstone for the last few years, and we’ve learned some of the challenges people face when planning their trip.

One of the most common questions we receive is: “What is the best entrance to Yellowstone?”

The Yellowstone entrance with the most services and closest to the common highlights of the park is the West Entrance located near West Yellowstone, MT. It is also within 2 hours of the Bozeman airport. Yellowstone has 4 other entrances including the North Entrance (located near Gardiner, MT), the East Entrance (located near Cody, WY), the Northeast Entrance (located near Silvergate), and the South Entrance (located near Jackson, WY). Each entrance to Yellowstone has advantages and disadvantages, but visitors should select the entrance that is the most convenient for their travel route if they are staying within the park. If they are staying outside of the park, there are more factors to consider including what activities they want to do within the park and the driving time needed to get to the Grand Loop.

I’m Cheryl and have stayed near each of the Yellowstone entrances both inside and outside the park. In fact, I love Yellowstone so much that I go there every year. My husband Matt and I write travel guides to help people like you have amazing vacations to the West.

If you are visiting Yellowstone, keep reading to learn about all the details of each entrance to make the best decision for you.

How Many Entrances are there to Yellowstone?

Map of the 5 entrances of Yellowstone

There are five entrances to Yellowstone. As you can see from the map, the main portion of Yellowstone is located on the Grand Loop, the figure 8-shaped road located in the center of the park. This loop can take 4-7 hours to drive around, without stopping! Each of the entrances varies in its distance to the Grand Loop.

Although the park is almost entirely in Wyoming, three of the entrances are located in Montana. The North Entrance, the Northeast Entrance, and the West Entrance.

Two are located in Wyoming, including the South Entrance, which is essentially (not technically) connected to Grand Teton National Park. The other is the East Entrance

What is the Most Common Entrance to Yellowstone?

The West Entrance (West Yellowstone) is the most common entrance. Yellowstone is surrounded by mountain ranges on 3 sides: the north, south, and east.

Because the west side isn’t blocked by a mountain range, it’s easier to get to.

Also, the West Entrance is closest to the Lower Loop (part of the Grand Loop), which has most of the park’s attractions including Old Faithful Geyser, Grand Prismatic Spring, and Norris Geyser Basin.

Visitors from larger population centers like Utah and California usually come through the West Entrance because it’s an easy drive up I-15.

Colorado may have more population than Utah, and it’s nearly as close as the bird flies, but the roads to get there wind through the mountains and are much slower.

Chart on entrances to Yellowstone and how busy they are
Pie chart of percentage of people that use each entrance to Yellowstone.

Where to Enter if You’re Flying to Yellowstone…

There are multiple airports that you might fly into to get to Yellowstone, so your entrance will depend on the airport you choose.

The three most common airports are Bozeman, MT, Jackson, WY, and Salt Lake City, UT.

Lesser-used airports include Idaho Falls, ID, Cody, WY, and Billings, MT.

AirportEntrance/Driving Time
Bozeman, MTNorth Entrance (1 hr 30 min)
West Entrance (2 hrs)
East Entrance (3 hr 10 min)
South Entrance (3 hr 30 min)
Jackson, WYSouth Entrance (5 min)
West Entrance (2 hr 30 min)
Salt Lake City, UTSouth Entrance (4 hr 40 min)
West Entrance (4 hr 50 min)
Idaho Falls, IDSouth Entrance (1 hr 45 min)
North Entrance (3 hr 15 min)
Billings, MTEast Entrance (2 hrs)
North Entrance (2 hr 30 min)
NorthEast Entrance (2 hr 50 min)
Driving times from popular airports to Yellowstone entrances

In general, the most often used and affordable airports are Bozeman MT, and Salt Lake City, UT.

Where to Enter if You’re Driving to Yellowstone…

It all depends on where you are driving from and where you are going. Of course, you will want to consider what you want to do within Yellowstone but below are the most convenient entrances depending on where you are driving from.

Yellowstone EntranceWhere People are Coming From
West EntranceUtah, Idaho, Bozeman, MT, or people coming from the Pacific Northwest
South EntranceGrand Teton National Park or Colorado
East EntranceColorado, or people on a road trip to Mt Rushmore/Black Hills
Northeast EntrancePeople traveling from the East, or people on a road trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park
North EntranceUtah, Idaho, Bozeman, MT, or people coming from the Pacific Northwest
Best entrance depending on where you are driving from

Many people visit Yellowstone as part of a greater Western Road Trip (which I totally recommend). Yellowstone can most easily be paired with Grand Teton National Park– it’s only 2 hours away from the South Entrance. Glacier National Park is 6 hours away and the Black Hills (Mt. Rushmore, Windcaves, Badlands, and Custer State Park) are 7 1/2 hours away.

What Yellowstone Entrance is the Most Scenic?

Honestly, all the entrances are scenic, and I’m not just saying that. But part of this depends on whether you’re talking about scenery on the way to the park, or after you enter the park.

Let me break it down for you by the entrance.

West Entrance- The drive to the actual entrance from the closest city, West Yellowstone, is not that long (only 5 minutes) nor very pretty. You mostly drive through a small town and then some forest. Once you get in the park; however, you will get to drive through the beautiful and under-rated Madison Valley. Our family loves to look for animals here. Plus, the river running through the valley with fly fishermen in their waders trying to catch a trout is one of my favorite sights of Yellowstone. Some other things you’ll see include:

  • Madison Junction. This is a major intersection in Yellowstone. It has a campground and a small visitor center.
  • Gibbon Falls. A beautiful waterfall.
  • Lower, Midway, and Upper Geyser Basins. These geyser basins hold most of the geysers in the park, including Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring.
  • The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Although it’s on the East side of the park, it’s still probably a little closer to the West Entrance than the East Entrance.
Gas station in West Yellowstone, MT

South Entrance- Not only will you get to see the unique and magnificent Grand Teton mountains, but when you enter the park, you will see/pass by the following sites.

  • Moose Falls is an unmarked waterfall. The pullout is on the north side of Crawfish Creek. Park and walk east for about 100 yards to see a 30-foot waterfall.
  • Lewis Falls is a roadside stop with a short walk to a waterfall. As mentioned above, Lewis Lake is a place for canoeing and kayaking.
  • The Continental Divide is like the rooftop of the country. From here, water either flows south to the Pacific Ocean or Northeast and eventually out to the Pacific Ocean. It’s just a roadside sign. There isn’t really anything to see, but you can take a picture of yourself standing on the point of the continent’s rooftop!
  • West Thumb is one of the more popular geyser basins in the park. It has deep blue hot springs and it sits right alongside Yellowstone Lake. It’s just a delightful place to visit with beautiful views.
waterfall in Yellowstone

East Entrance- You’ll most likely pass through the charming, very Western town of Cody, WY. It’s a destination unto itself. We love the Buffalo Bill Cody Center of the West with its 5 Smithsonian-quality museums. Plus the Irma Hotel is not to be missed.

As far as the drive, you’ll get to pass by the Buffalo Bill Dam and drive beside the shoreline of the stunning Yellowstone Lake. Here are a few other sites you can experience on your way in.

  • Avalance Peak Trail. This is a challenging 4.5-mile out-and-back trail that gets to a peak with 360-degree views.
  • Picnic areas. There are many picnic areas along the East Entrance Road heading into the park. These are located in really gorgeous areas, often near ponds and lakes, such as Sylvan Lake.
  • Yellowstone Lake. This isn’t really “close” to the East Entrance, as it is about 45 minutes away. But it’s the closest major attraction. There are trails overlooking the lake and some geyser formations bordering the lake. There are also hotels and restaurants located on the other side of Yellowstone Lake, which is a massive lake.
  • Fishing Bridge. This is a common spot to get out and look at Yellowstone Lake. People used to fish from the bridge, but it’s not allowed anymore.
View of the road driving in Yellowstone

Northeast Entrance This small and mighty entrance is surrounded by beauty on the way to the entrance as well when you enter the park!

  • The Beartooth Highway is a 69-mile road that connects Red Lodge, MT to Cooke City-Silvergate. It’s an intense driving experience with steep cliff ledges and many switchbacks. It reaches an elevation of over 10,000 feet, climbing more than 5,000 feet from Red Lodge that just feels like you just keep driving into the sky! There are scenic viewpoints throughout, offering views of lakes, glaciers, the Beartooth Formation, wildflowers, and wildlife. You can also hike and camp along the way.
  • The Chief Joseph Highway is a different route with a lot of switchbacks. The road follows the path the Nez Perce Indians used as they were fleeing from the US Army in 1877. The Army waited for them in present-day Cody, thinking they had the Indians trapped. But Chief Joseph led the Nez Perce through an impossible pass in the mountains and escaped. You can drive this road today!
  • Lamar Valley- Once you enter the Northeast Entrance, you will be treated to some of the best wildlife viewing in North America. People from all over the world come to watch the wolves and other wildlife that live in this fascinating valley.
View of lake in Yellowstone

North Entrance– This entrance is super close to the grand loop of Yellowstone (5 min) as well as to the closest town, Gardiner, MT (5 min). Because of that, there isn’t much scenery. But, you do get to drive through the most historic of all of Yellowstone’s entrances, the Roosevelt Arch. It was constructed in 1903 and named after President Theodore Roosevelt because he happened to be visiting the park while it was being constructed, and he gave a speech from the arch.

Plus, once you enter the park, you are well on your way to seeing cool things like Tower Waterfall and Mammoth Hotsprings. And… the charming town of Mammoth that the elk of Yellowstone seem to own. They are everywhere.

Entry arch in Yellowstone

Best Yellowstone Entrance if You are Staying Outside the Park

The best entrances to stay if you will not be staying within Yellowstone National Park are the West and North Entrances. This is because these entrances are close to the Grand Loop within Yellowstone, as well as their gateway towns enabling visitors to get to the heart of Yellowstone with the least amount of driving. The Northeast Entrance is also a good option if Lamar Valley is your priority.

Due to the large size of Yellowstone, visitors can end up spending a lot of time driving from sight to sight, even if they are staying within the park. Staying outside of the park can add even more to that driving time.

When deciding your lodging, it’s important to not only look at your time to get to the closest Yellowstone entrance but also how far that entrance is from the Grand Loop. You will also want to look at the lodging and amenities available so you can find the best fit for your travel group. I’ll break this down by entrance for you.

West Entrance-If you are looking to stay in a hotel, the town of West Yellowstone, MT has several options including locally run hotels as well as some popular chains. If you are looking for an Airbnb (and a little recreation as well like ATVing and snowmobiling) Island Park, ID is a good choice.

There are also campgrounds about 40 minutes from the entrance, including one of our favorites, Rainbow Point Campground.

West Yellowstone really is one of the best options if you are staying outside the park. It has one of the shortest driving times to some of the best sites within the park and so many lodging options. If we aren’t able to stay within the park, this is where my family has stayed the most often.

Map of distance from Yellowstone West entrance

South Entrance– This is the entrance that is closest to Grand Teton National Park. We love this entrance and use it to begin our trip to Yellowstone or as we are leaving the park but we don’t use this entrance as a jumping-off point because it is too much driving to do on a daily basis.

Plus, the gateway town, Jackson, WY is EXPENSIVE… including the nearby camping. We often combine Yellowstone and Teton in one road trip and switch locations to save driving time and money.

Map of distance from Yellowstone South Entrance

East Entrance-Much like the South Entrance, the East Entrance’s gateway town, Cody, WY, is too far away from Yellowstone and the Grand Loop to make it a practical jumping-off point. It’s a beautiful drive and there are camping and ranch options along the way but this entrance is best accessed either at the beginning of your trip as you are heading into Yellowstone or at the end as you leave to a new location.

Give Cody and Yellowstone the proper attention they each deserve by changing locations and staying close to each of them. You’ll have a great experience.

Map of distance from Yellowstone east entrance

Northeast Entrance– This is by far the best entrance to stay near if you are a wolf-watcher or wildlife enthusiast. It’s the closest entrance to Lamar Valley. Unlike most of the famous sights in Yellowstone, Lamar Valley is NOT on the Grand Loop and is pretty far out of the way unless you are staying at the North or Northeast entrance.

Our family once stayed at the Grizzly Lodge in Silvergate, the gateway town to the Northeast Entrance, because we wanted to get to Lamar Valley early in the morning when the animals were most active. We were grateful to get to wake up at 4:30 am. We would have had to wake up an hour or more earlier had we been staying near another entrance.

Map of distance from Yellowstone Northeast entrance

North Entrance– This entrance has the 2nd most lodging options plus is the closest to the Grand Loop of all the entrances of the park. There are private campgrounds with hook-ups, first come-first serve Forest Service campgrounds, and some dispersed camping as well.

The gateway town, Gardiner, MT has a lot of services and amenities without the tourist-town feel of West Yellowstone, MT. We have loved our stays at the Yellowstone Gateway Inn (book here) and the Absoroka Lodge (book here). We love how the Gardner River runs through town and that we often see deer right from our room.

Map of distance from Yellowstone North entrance

Best Yellowstone Entrance if You are Staying in the Park

The best entrance to use if staying within Yellowstone is the one that is most convenient from the direction you are traveling from. There are essentially 5 areas of Yellowstone National Park: Canyon, Old Faithful, Mammoth, Yellowstone Lake, and Tower-Roosevelt. Each of these areas has similar services and most include campgrounds, lodges, gift shops/ groceries, and gas stations so where you enter makes little difference in having access to these amenities. It is shorter to reach where you are staying driving through the park than driving around it.

Map of entrances and sites in Yellowstone

Canyon

The most central area of Yellowstone to stay in is Canyon Village. It’s great if you want to see all the areas of Yellowstone and don’t want to switch locations.

It gets its name because it is closest to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, although you won’t have canyon views if you stay here. Below is a quick and dirty list of the pros and cons of choosing to stay in the Canyon area.

ProsCons
Canyon Village has the most services in the park including bear spray rental, an auto shop and gas station, a medical clinic, stores, excursions, a visitor center, and several food choices from a coffee shop, to a cafeteria or grills.No fine dining
Newest of the lodges in YellowstoneMost expensive lodging
Best spot to stay if you don’t want to change locations on your tripRoute 66 theme, kind of weird for a national park
Located right in the center of the Grand Loop
Pros and cons of staying near or in Canyon Village of Yellowstone

Lodging:

Map of Canyon Village
Image from Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful

There is a lot going on at the Old Faithful area of the park. It’s close to most of the geyser basins and there are even a few hotels and lodges to choose from.

Some may say it’s too crowded and touristy, but watching Old Faithful (the geyser) erupt never gets old and it’s nice to be close by where you will have the opportunity to see it several times. We’ve stayed at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge in a cabin and loved it.

ProsCons
The Old Faithful area has lots of services including gas stations and an auto shop, stores, a visitor center (the best in Yellowstone-in my humble opinion), a medical clinic, and several food choices from coffee shops, lounges, grills, a cafeteria, and fine dining.Crowded and feels the most like a city
Check out the Old Faithful Inn (the largest log cabin in the world!) You don’t have to stay her to enjoy the lobby.Expensive
It’s not as central as the Canyon area but is the 2nd most central
Open year-round
Pros and cons of staying near the Old Faithful area of Old Faithful

Lodging:

Map of Old Faithful area of Yellowstone
Image from Yellowstone National Park

Mammoth

Mammoth makes me think of Yellowstone back in the day. Early visitors used to soak in the hot springs and dump soap in the geysers to make them even more exciting when they erupted. It’s also where the US Army was stationed when they were given the assignment to protect Yellowstone, the world’s first national park.

Mammoth is a town, in a good way. The old buildings are classy and the elk grazing on the lawns adds a lot of charm. The only problem with Mammoth, in my opinion, is that it’s far away from my favorite parts of Yellowstone.

ProsCons
The Mammoth area has lots of services including gas stations, an auto shop, a medical clinic, stores, a visitor center, and several food choices including a bar, dining room, and grill.Far away from the heart of the park.
Check out the very cool Map Room at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabin. Has a very cool map of the United States made out of 15 types of wood. Drinks are served here.
Yellowstone headquarters and archives are located here as well as the buildings the army stayed in. There is even a cemetery.
Open year-round
The cabins are one of the more affordable in-park lodging
Pros and cons of staying near the Mammoth area of Yellowstone

Lodging:

Map of Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone
Image from Yellowstone National Park

Not sure which Yellowstone Entrance is right for you?

Download our Free Quick and Easy Guide to Yellowstone’s entrances!

Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake is the biggest lake I’ve ever seen. It’s about 20 miles long, 14 miles wide, and has 141 miles of shoreline.

It’s wicked cold with an average water temperature of 41° but I love driving alongside it and even taking a kayak tour to see some underwater geysers. I spent lots of time fishing there as a kid. There are lots of trout but we usually had to release them because there are some strict fishing regulations.

ProsCons
The Lake area has lots of services including gas stations and an auto shop, stores, a visitor center, and several food choices from coffee shops, lounges, grills, cafeteria, and fine dining. Plus, eating fish tacos and nachos at the Grant Village Lake House Restaurant is pretty fun and cost-effective. Love the view.Far away from the heart of the park
The Lake Hotel is very cool to look at and beautiful lake viewsExpensive
Access to the marina
Lots of lodging/camping options
Pros and cons of staying near the Lake area of Yellowstone

Lodging:

Map of Fishing Bridge, Lake village and Bridge Bay in Yellowstone
Images from Yellowstone National Park
Map of Wet Thumb and Grant Village in Yellowstone

Tower-Roosevelt

Tower-Roosevelt is the most remote of the park and the closest to Lamar Valley. We see lots of wildlife here and it’s close to one of our favorite activities, the Yellowstone Old West Cookout

Although the cabins in Roosevelt are the cheapest option for lodging within Yellowstone (besides camping) they are very rustic and old and not in a charming way according to Google Reviews!

ProsCons
The Tower-Roosevelt has some services including a gas station, a general store, and a few food choices like the Roosevelt Lodge Dining Room and Ice cream shop at Tower Waterfall. They also have horseback riding and a cookout.Accommodations are too rustic for some
Remote. You are more in natureRemoved from the heart of Yellowstone
Inexpensive cabins
Pros and cons of staying near the Tower-Roosevelt area

Lodging:

Map of Tower-Roosevelt area of Yellowstone

Conclusion

The entrance best for you to use when entering Yellowstone National Park depends on whether you are staying within the park or at a gateway town or campground. If staying within the park, choose the entrance that is most convenient for your travel route because driving time will be shorter going through the park than around it in most cases.

If you are staying outside the park the most important factor is not necessarily the distance from the city or campground to the entrance station, but the distance to the Grand Loop within the park and the proximity to the sights that are most important to you.

Still not sure which entrance is right for you? Download our Quick and Easy Guide to Yellowstone’s 5 Entrances.

We also have detailed posts on each of the Yellowstone entrances:

Are you ready to visit Yellowstone? Yellowstone is confusing because it’s huge and there are so many things to do!

Need a game plan so you don’t miss out on the best things to do? Check out our itinerary

Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites and still avoid the crowds. We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to the best places at the right times!

But that’s not all! Our itinerary includes a free audio guide to listen to while driving with over 3-hours of stories about the park!

MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO YELLOWSTONE

YELLOWSTONE TRIP PLANNER: To read or watch all of our content about Yellowstone National Park, check out our Yellowstone Homepage

ENTRANCES: Yellowstone has 5 entrances: The West Entrance, the East Entrance, the Northeast Entrance, the North Entrance, and the South Entrance. Learn which entrance to Yellowstone is right for you with our Free Quick and Easy Guide

THINGS TO DO: Don’t miss all that Yellowstone has to offer including Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone Lake, Norris Geyser Basin, Mammoth Hot Springs, and West Thumb and Grant’s Village

GREAT CITIES TO STAY OR CHECK OUT: Learn all about where to stay and where to camp when visiting Yellowstone and things to do in Cody, Wyoming, and other areas surrounding Yellowstone

WHERE TO EAT: Check out the best places to eat including the Old West Dinner Cookout and also where to get groceries and eat picnics in Yellowstone National Park

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Find out if you need a reservation or bear spray and binoculars, as well as tips for driving in and flying to Yellowstone 

WATCH: Enjoy videos of gorgeous Yellowstone National Park while learning our best tips for visiting by watching our Yellowstone YouTube Playlist

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