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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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 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 has a series of cabins behind it for lodging.
You can also eat at Wylie’s Canteen, a cafeteria-style restaurant with a very nice dining area.
To book a cabin, visit Xanterra’s website.
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.
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!
- Here’s what you need to know about food in Yellowstone.
- Check out where to get groceries and eat picnics in Yellowstone.
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.
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!
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
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
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!
Advanced reservations are highly encouraged. Book a reservation or learn more about the Yellowstone Lake Scenic Cruise.
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.
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
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.
- See our Yellowstone camping guide for more about campgrounds in Yellowstone.
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.
There is one hike in this area that may interest you.
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
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.
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 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.
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
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 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.
- To book a campsite, see Xanterra’s website.
- New to camping in Yellowstone? Make sure to read our complete Yellowstone camping guide.
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!
- Pelican Creek Nature Trail is a short .6-mile loop that takes you to the lake and back! A great trail to take the kids, or just get out of your car and stretch your legs a bit.
- Storm Point Trail is a 2.3-mile loop that goes by Indian Pond, along Yellowstone Lake, and some forested area.
Keep an eye out for birds (so common in Yellowstone) while on these trails!
East Side of Yellowstone Lake
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.
- Lake Yellowstone Hotel (often referred to as Lake Hotel) offers lodging within the hotel, as well as cabins behind the hotel. Rooms start at over $300 per night.
- Lake Lodge offers cabin lodging that is a little cheaper than Lake Hotel, starting at over $200 per night.
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!
- Bridge Bay has a slightly more open feel than many of the forested campgrounds in Yellowstone. What’s great about this is the bison and elk come to graze! I was visited by both when I stayed in Bridge Bay last time.
- Fishing Bridge RV Park is great for those who want more amenities. Since it’s an RV park, it has a little more to offer than most of the other campgrounds in Yellowstone. Keep in mind, you must have an RV to stay here; tents are not allowed.
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
There are four places to eat in the Lake Area.
- Lake Hotel offers a dining room for fine dining, as well as a deli for grab-and-go.
- Lake Lodge has Wylie’s Canteen, a cafeteria-style restaurant.
- Lake General Store offers a sit-down grill as well as delicious ice cream. It also sells groceries and picnic items.
- Fishing Bridge General Store also has a small grill, as well as some groceries and picnic items.
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?
Yes! That’s what we’re here for. Our Yellowstone Itinerary is the BEST way to see Yellowstone efficiently.
Yellowstone is a big place with MANY attractions. If you wing it, you’ll be bombarded with a series of signs and you’ll find yourself wondering “should I stop here?” Be prepared!
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Yellowstone Resources to Read
- Visit Yellowstone with confidence with our Yellowstone Itinerary.
- See our Ultimate Guide to Yellowstone
- 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.
- 21 Tips for visiting Yellowstone
- Driving in Yellowstone: 8 things you need to know
- The ultimate packing guide for Yellowstone & Grand Teton
- When is the best time to visit Yellowstone?
- Where should you stay when visiting Yellowstone?
- Where are the best places to eat in Yellowstone? We’ve Got You Covered.
- Where to Get Groceries and Eat Picnics In and Around Yellowstone & Grand Teton