yellowstone lake
Yellowstone Lake

by Matt, July 2022

Perhaps you’ve looked at the map of Yellowstone National Park and noticed the massive Yellowstone Lake and wondered, “What can I do at Yellowstone Lake?”

Yellowstone Lake is NOT a place to swim; it’s too cold and dangerous for that. But it is a place to boat, fish, and have your own little resort experience within Yellowstone by driving, lodging, or eating on the shores of the lake.

Keep reading for all you need to know about visiting Yellowstone Lake!

The Lake Area

There are two main areas you can experience Yellowstone Lake: Lake Village and Grant Village. I cover Grant Village in another article, so in this article, I’ll only focus on Lake Village.

There are additional areas near Lake Village, such as Bridge Bay and Fishing Bridge. Collectively, Yellowstone refers to all of these as the Lake Area.

map of lake area

Yellowstone Lake

yellowstone lake

Yellowstone Lake is the largest high-elevation lake in North America (over 7,000 feet in elevation). It is about 20 miles long and 14 miles wide.

It freezes over every winter and usually doesn’t thaw until June. Its average temperature is about 40 degrees. It is NOT a place to swim. If you happened to fall into the lake, your estimated survival time is 20 to 30 minutes.

But it is a place to boat, fish, and enjoy views and wildlife!

Driving along Yellowstone Lake

The Grand Loop Road hugs the lake between Grant Village and Fishing Bridge. From here, you’ll get great views of the lake, blocked occasionally by some forested areas.

yellowstone lake

There are places along the road where you can pull over and walk along the lake shore. Also, it’s common to see elk along this stretch of road, and in Grant Village and Lake Village as well.

The East Entrance Road begins at Fishing Bridge and extends to the East Entrance, where it turns into the Buffalo Bill Highway and leads all the way to Cody, Wyoming. This entire road is a gorgeous scenic drive with beautiful mountain scenery.

East Entrance Road

But the initial stretch extends along the north side of Yellowstone Lake, passing Fishing Bridge RV Park along the way. This area has multiple hiking trails as well as some geyser areas along the way. It’s interesting seeing steaming geysers along the edge of the very cold lake!

Lake Village

Lake Village (from NPS)

Lake Village is the centerpiece of the Lake Area. It offers lodging and dining. It does NOT offer lake access. For that, see Bridge Bay, below.

There are three main places to visit in Lake Village: Lake Hotel, Lake Lodge, and Lake General Store. All are located on the shore of Yellowstone Lake.

Lake Yellowstone Hotel

While it’s possible to walk to all three, it’s not really a “village” you walk around. Drive to your destination and park there.

Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins

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Lake Yellowstone Hotel is referred to as the Grand Lady of the Lake. It was constructed in the late 1800s and added on multiple times over the years.

It was constructed in the colonial style with three large porticos in front. This design was used to appeal to attract easterners with money by providing them a sense of elegance and familiarity.

lake hotel

Its bright yellow paint is obviously a nod to the park’s name.

What I love about the Lake Hotel (as well as the Old Faithful Inn) is that it’s a trip back in time. The interior has an early 20th-century feel to it.

lake hotel cabins
Lake Hotel Cabins

Behind the hotel is a series of yellow cabins, a slightly more affordable option for lodging.

Lake Hotel has an upscale dining room (reservations required for dinner) as well as a deli for quick eats. To book a hotel room, a cabin, or reservations for dining, visit Xanterra’s website or call them at 307-344-7311. Their telephone service is superb.

Lake Lodge Cabins

lake lodge
Lake Lodge
lake lodge
Lake Lodge interior

Lake Village also has the more rustic Lake Lodge. This is a log cabin with a large seating area and fireplace for relaxing. It also has rocking chairs on the deck, from which you can sit and look at the lake and the mountains.

lake lodge porch
Lake Lodge porch

Lake Lodge has a series of cabins behind it for lodging.

restaurant

You can also eat at Wylie’s Canteen, a cafeteria-style restaurant with a very nice dining area.

dining room

To book a cabin, visit Xanterra’s website.

Lake General Store

lake general store

In between Lake Hotel and Lake Lodge is the small but charming Lake General Store. Here, you’ll find souvenirs, some grocery items, and a cute little grill where you can eat. A large, fancy chandelier, donated from France, is the centerpiece of the interior.

gift shop

I ate here and the food wasn’t very good (I had chicken and nachos). However, the ice cream is really good. My recommendation: get the huckleberry and eat it outside by the lake!

grill
ice cream
Huckleberry Ice Cream

If you’re in the Lake Area, any of these three buildings are worth a stop to eat, get a treat, or just sit and enjoy the lake for a bit.

Hiking

There is one hike in this area that may interest you. Elephant Back Trail is a 3.5-mile loop that leads to an overlook of Yellowstone Lake. I haven’t done this one yet, so I’ll save my review of it until I do!

Bridge Bay

Bridge Bay area (from NPS)

The boat marina used to be located right by Lake Hotel. But the water is much too choppy and rough, so they moved it to nearby Bridge Bay.

Bridge Bay Marina

people waiting in line at the bay

Bridge Bay Marina is the only place you can access Yellowstone lake by motorized boat. (You can kayak from Grant Village as well as Bridge Bay). You can do this in a few ways:

Yellowstone Lake Scenic Cruise

boat at dock

I did this and as someone who has NO desire to rent my own boat, this was a nice way to get out on the water for a short time. It lasts about 1.5 hours, and they show you Lake Village, Stevenson Island, and Dot Island.

From the lake, you can get views of the surrounding mountain ranges that you can’t get from the shore. They also tell you all about the history associated with the lake (though if it’s Yellowstone history you’re looking for, make sure to check out my audio guide, in which I also cover Yellowstone Lake).

Watch the video below for a quick overview of the boat ride!

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Advanced reservations are highly encouraged. Book a reservation or learn more about the Yellowstone Lake Scenic Cruise.

people on a boat tour

Guided Fishing/Sightseeing Charters

For a more customized and personalized tour, consider doing a guided cruise. You can fish or just sightsee. They offer much longer tours than the Scenic Cruise above, from 2 hours to 12 hours long.

Of course, it will cost a lot more as well — over $200 for a 2-hour block of time. Advanced reservations are highly encouraged. Book a reservation or learn more about Guided Fishing/Sightseeing Charters.

Boat rental

Want to get out on the lake on your own? Bridge Bay offers walk-up rentals (no advanced reservations) from 1-8 hours. It will cost over $60 per hour.

Learn more about Yellowstone Lake boat rentals.

Backcountry Shuttle Boat

This is for the more adventurous! They will drive you to a secluded area along the shore of Yellowstone Lake and drop you off for the day. From there, you can canoe, hike, or just hang out in total solitude.

They’ll return to pick you up at 5 pm.

Learn more about the Backcountry Shuttle Boat.

Dock Slip Rentals

boats

Did you know you can stay in Yellowstone the entire summer by renting or bringing your own boat?

Until I visited Bridge Bay recently, I had NO IDEA something like this existed.

Even the campgrounds have limits on how long you can stay in the park. But not at the boat dock! You’ll need to work it out with Xanterra by contacting them. Longer stays get higher priority.

Learn more about Dock Slip Rentals.

Bridge Bay Campground

You can camp at Bridge Bay, a really nice campground that receives a lot of wildlife visitors.

I camped here in 2022 and I really enjoyed it. Unlike a lot of other Yellowstone campgrounds, it had some open areas. This invited wildlife such as bison and elk to frequent the campground.

Some people like more forested campgrounds because they provide a more secluded feeling.

Bridge Bay has over 400 campsites, as well as an amphitheater for evening ranger programs. To book a site or learn more, visit Xanterra’s website.

bison grazing
Huge shout-out to this guy for visiting me at my campsite!

Hiking

There is one hike in this area that may interest you.

natural bridge
Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge is a 2-mile (round trip) hike that is flat and paved. In fact, it’s one of the few trails in the park where you can ride a bike. At the end, you’re greeted by Natural Bridge, an arch formation with a creek running under it. You can even climb to the arch and walk over it!

I did this by bike and really enjoyed it! I camped in Bridge Bay and took a connecting trail from the campground to the hiking trail.

Gull Point Drive

yellowstone lake

This is a little side road that feels like a hidden passageway to solitude. Most people just drive along the Grand Loop Road and don’t think to take side roads like this!

This hugs the lake and offers picnic areas and places to get out to view the lake and hear the water.

sunset

It’s only a slight detour, so I highly recommend taking this little drive. I did so at sunset and it was beautiful!

Fishing Bridge

Fishing Bridge area (from NPS)

Fishing Bridge is located where the Grand Loop Road and the East Entrance Road meet. It is a bridge that spans the Yellowstone River, right where it exits north out of Yellowstone Lake.

It’s called Fishing Bridge because it used to be a very popular spot to fish for Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. However, due to overfishing and invasive species, the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout’s numbers diminished significantly, and fishing was banned at Fishing Bridge.

Fishing Bridge (via Canva)

It’s now jokingly called No Fishing Bridge.

Today, it’s a small roadside attraction where you can park and walk over the bridge to get scenic views of the lake to the south and the river to the north.

Fishing Bridge Service Station & General Store

general store

Located near the bridge are a gas station and a place to get some small groceries or even a meal. This is one of 7 gas stations in Yellowstone.

Fishing Bridge Visitor Center, Amphitheater, and Picnic Area

Across the street from the gas station and general store is a parking lot. From here you can visit the small visitor center, eat a picnic (we highly recommend picnics!), or attend a ranger program at the amphitheater (inquire at the visitor center).

Visitor centers in Yellowstone are typically small. The park decided early on that it was too large to have a central visitor center, so it created multiple “interpretive centers” all over the park.

Fishing Bridge RV Park

Fishing Bridge RV Park (via NPS)

Fishing Bridge RV Park is the only RV Park inside Yellowstone. It does NOT allow tent camping.

Due to the number of grizzly bears in the area, you must have a hard-sided trailer or RV to camp here.

Fishing Bridge RV Park has over 300 campsites available, and just completed a major multi-year renovation to add sites, make some sites larger, and add more amenities. It offers dump stations, showers, and much more.

Hiking

There are two hikes near Fishing Bridge that may interest you. I haven’t done either of these yet, but they’re on my list, which is still enormous even after visiting the park dozens of times!

Keep an eye out for birds (so common in Yellowstone) while on these trails!

East Side of Yellowstone Lake

East Yellowstone Lake (from NPS)

If you continue to drive towards the east entrance, you’ll have a few nice opportunities to get out for views, hikes, or picnics.

The Lake Butte Scenic Drive is an easy way to get to an overlook of Yellowstone Lake. There are also multiple backcountry hikes in the area, such as Nine Mile Trail, and Pelican Valley Trail.

West Thumb & Grant Village

West Thumb & Grant Village are also located along Yellowstone Lake, but I cover them in my West Thumb & Grant Village article.

Where to stay at the Lake Area

There are two hotels in the Lake Area.

For more about lodging in Yellowstone, see Where should you stay when visiting Yellowstone?

Where to camp at the Lake Area

As mentioned above, there are two campgrounds in the Lake Area. Both offer a great chance to see wildlife within your campground!

Both of these are administered by Xanterra, but not all campgrounds in Yellowstone are administered by Xanterra, so make sure to check out our Yellowstone camping guide if you’re thinking about camping in Yellowstone!

Where to eat in the Lake Area

Wylie’s Canteen

There are four places to eat in the Lake Area.

Most restaurants in the park, including Lake Hotel and Wylie’s Canteen, are managed by Xanterra. See Xanterra’s dining page for hours and more details.

Can you help me with a game plan for visiting Yellowstone?

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What’s more, we provide 3 hours of stories and fascinating information about Yellowstone’s best sites, including Yellowstone Lake.

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Yellowstone Resources to Read