Yellowstone National Park includes so many things to see and do including viewing wildlife, visiting geysers, and seeing spectacular waterfalls and canyons.
With the park being the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined, figuring out how to see the whole thing can seem daunting.
In this article, you’ll find our recommendations and useful tips for the following.
- General things to know
- 2023 Updates
- When is Yellowstone open?
- When to visit
- How to get there (& which entrance to use)
- How to get around
- The weather
- Where to stay and when to book
- How long you need to see the park
- What to see
- Where to eat
- What to pack
- What to do outside the park
- Other handy tips
General Things to Know About Yellowstone
You have to see Yellowstone on its terms. Yellowstone is BIG. You will drive a lot and walk a lot. You generally can’t go back to your hotel in the middle of the day because you’ll be far away. You may get stuck in traffic. Honestly, it can be exhausting.
But animal sightings and geyser eruptions make every trip to Yellowstone a new and different surprise. We’ve designed our travel guide to reduce your driving time and maximize your chances of seeing animals and geysers.
There is no cell connection in the park, so hang onto the map they provide when you enter the park.
Always check the official park website for updates before you travel — there might be fires, snow, pandemics, or other things that will affect your trip. Here is what has changed for 2023:
- All roads that were damaged in the 2022 floods have now been repaired or rerouted.
- The north entrance road that leads from Gardiner, MT, to Mammoth Hot Springs was washed out in the floods. The park created a replacement by paving an old stagecoach road. This road is currently a “temporary” road while they investigate reconstruction of the damaged road. The new road is a winding road for 4 miles – annoyingly circuitous if you’re using it every day. But, we’re thankful they completed it so quickly!
- Yellowstone’s roads have a gradual opening in the spring, so always check for road updates.
- We never know what COVID measures will look like, so always check the current conditions for updates.
- Yellowstone has 12 campgrounds; almost all are reservable now, but they use two different reservation systems depending on which campground you’re trying to book! See our Guide to Camping at Yellowstone for more information.
Overview & Layout of Yellowstone
There are five entrances to Yellowstone, and each one has something to offer! In order of most traffic, they are:
I’ll cover the entrances in more detail below.
Yellowstone is laid out in a figure 8 pattern called The Grand Loop Road.
But we just call it the Upper Loop and the Lower Loop. It takes about 2 hours to drive around the Upper Loop and about 2.5 to drive around the Lower Loop if you don’t stop to see attractions and IF you don’t run into traffic jams. “Bison Jams” and “Bear Jams” are common.
Most of the natural attractions are located on the Lower Loop (such as Old Faithful and Yellowstone Lake). Wildlife can be found all over the park, but the top of the Upper Loop (also called the Northern Range) has a lot of wildlife, including most of the wolves.
Not sure which Yellowstone entrance is right for you? Download our Free Quick and Easy Guide to Yellowstone's entrances. Guide includes 7 pages of maps, driving times to popular sites, and the pros and cons of each Yellowstone entrance. Visit Yellowstone with Confidence that you picked the right entrance for you!
When is Yellowstone Open?
Yellowstone gradually opens in the spring as they get the roads plowed.
The park almost completely closes in the fall so that the roads can build up snow, at which point it becomes a snowmobile park (except for the northern road from Mammoth to Cooke City — it’s always plowed and always open).
NOTE: ALL DATES are subject to weather conditions!
2023 Opening and Closing Dates
Open year-round: North Entrance to Northeast Entrance
Open April 21 – November 1, 2023: West Entrance to Madison Junction, Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful, Norris to Canyon
Open May 5 – November 1, 2023: East Entrance to Lake Village (Sylvan Pass), Canyon to Lake Village
Open May 12 – November 1, 2023: South Entrance to West Thumb, West Thumb to Old Faithful (Craig Pass), West Thumb to Lake Village, Tower-Roosevelt to Tower Fall
Open May 26 – November 1, 2023: Canyon to Tower Fall (Dunraven Pass)
TBD: Beartooth Highway (US-212), Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (WY-296)*
When is the Best Time to Visit?
May and October are the least crowded times to visit, but you’ll be gambling with the weather. Snowstorms are common in each of those months. Animals are active in May and there are a lot of babies being born.
June, July, and August are the main visitation months. They offer gorgeous weather but heavy crowds due to kids being out of school. Wildflowers are out and the daytime temps get up to around 80 degrees.
September has traditionally been our favorite time because kids are back in school so the crowds are decreasing, yet the weather is still nice. Also, the Elk are in the rut (mating season), so they are very active and aggressive; people gather in Mammoth to watch the Elk show.
However, in recent years, baby boomers have taken over the park in September, so it can still feel crowded.
NOTE: There has been a lot of discussion lately about the national parks being overcrowded. This IS a problem, but keep in mind that people have ALWAYS thought this was a problem. I visited the park twice last year and it was just fine. It wasn’t as bad as Disneyland! LOL.
The winter visitation months tend to be December, January, and February. Common activities are taking a slowcoach to Old Faithful, skiing, and wolf-watching in Lamar Valley.
See our full post, When is the best time to visit Yellowstone? for more detailed information.
How to Get to Yellowstone
There are five entrances to the park, so your entry point will be determined by the airport you fly into or the road trip you’re taking.
NOTE: Most of the major attractions in the park are located on the Grand Loop Road. Depending on which entrance you use, you could have a 15-45 minute drive just to get to the Grand Loop Road. See below for more details.
What are the five entrances to Yellowstone?
There are five entrances to Yellowstone, and each has something to offer. Here they are, in order of traffic (highest to lowest):
- West Entrance (West Yellowstone, MT). The most popular entrance due to many people visiting from California and Utah. It’s an easy drive up I-15 to get to West Yellowstone. It probably has the least charm, but it offers many activities, such as rodeos, horseback riding, Bear World, and the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. It’s also only 15 minutes or so to the Grand Loop Road.
- North Entrance (Gardiner, MT). Before the automobile, this was the main entrance to the park. It’s still the second most common entrance because it’s closest to the Bozeman airport. It’s also very close to the Grand Loop Road. It offers activities like hot springs and river rafting. It also has the famous Roosevelt Arch, a common photo op.
- South Entrance (Grand Teton & Jackson Hole, WY). This borders Grand Teton National Park, a must-do if you’re coming all the way out to Yellowstone. We cover Grand Teton and Jackson, WY at length on our site. We also have a travel guide to Grand Teton in our store.
- East Entrance (Cody, WY). This is a gorgeous area and an amazing drive into the park! The closest city is Cody, WY. Cody is a wonderful town to visit on the way into the park, but it’s a long drive into the park, so we don’t recommend using Cody as a base. Visit Cody for two days, if possible, but then try to stay inside the park.
- Northeast Entrance (Cooke City-Silvergate, MT). The least visited entrance is also probably the best. First, you’ll drive the amazing Beartooth Highway from Red Lodge, MT, to Cooke City, MT. Then, you’ll enter through Lamar Valley, the best place in the park for wildlife. However, Cooke City isn’t a good base to see all of Yellowstone because it’s far away. Enter through the Northeast entrance if you can, but then stay somewhere in the park.
Find out more in-depth information in our article Which Yellowstone Entrance is Right for You? to help you decide which entrance to use.
If you’re flying to Yellowstone, you’ll likely fly into one of these airports (with the closest entry):
- Bozeman, MT (North Entrance; Gardiner, MT)
- Jackson, WY (South Entrance; Grand Teton)
- Salt Lake City, UT (West Entrance; West Yellowstone, MT)
Other airports you might look at are Idaho Falls, ID, and Las Vegas, NV. Yes, some people fly into Las Vegas and drive up I-15, seeing places like Zion National Park, Salt Lake City, UT, and Grand Teton National Park on the way.
I also talked to someone who flew into Seattle because the car rental was so much cheaper from there than it was from one of the three airports above.
If you are coming from points south (California, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City), it’s common to come through West Yellowstone. West Yellowstone is the most traveled of all the entrances to the park and is the biggest hub with the most restaurants, hotels, and tourist attractions. There is also a seasonal airport (not a very big one) that flies into there as well. From the West Entrance of Yellowstone, you have a 20-minute drive to the Grand Loop.
If you are coming from points north (Glacier National Park on a road trip or flying into Bozeman, MT), you will enter through Gardiner at the North Entrance. Gardiner has fewer hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions and they are ok with that. People love the charm of this small town. They have a small airport as well that is open year-round. Gardiner is minutes away from the North Entrance. Once you enter the park, it’s a five-minute drive to the Grand Loop.
If you are coming from the southeast (Denver, Texas), you have two choices: the South Entrance (through Grand Teton first), or the East Entrance (Cody, Wyoming). Cody is an hour and a half away from the East Entrance and has a lot of cool things to do! Cody is named after the famous entertainer, Buffalo Bill Cody, and there are some amazing attractions out there but I wouldn’t recommend making Cody your home base, it’s just too far away. Perhaps a 2 day stop on your way into the park and then stay somewhere else closer to the Grand Loop.
If you are coming from the east, you’ll likely enter through either the East Entrance (Cody) or the Northeast Entrance. The Northeast Entrance is closest to Lamar Valley in Yellowstone. Lamar Valley is not part of the Grand Loop but is one of the best places to see wildlife in the park. The closest towns to the North East Entrance are Cooke City, MT, and Red Lodge, MT. The other perk to using this entrance is you’ll get to drive the AMAZING Beartooth Highway!
How to Get Around
The main sites in Yellowstone are located on the Grand Loop Road. If you drove around the entire Grand Loop Road, it would take around 5-7 hours. The variation is due to wildlife traffic jams (often called Bear Jams or Bison/Buffalo Jams).
DON’T DRIVE THE ENTIRE GRAND LOOP ROAD IN ONE DAY.
Instead, look at it as two loops: the Upper Loop and the Lower Loop.
Most of the attractions are located on the Lower Loop. It’s larger, and it takes about 2.5 hours just to drive it with no stops).
The Upper Loop generally has more wildlife, and Lamar Valley is an offshoot of the Upper Loop. It takes about 2 hours to drive around the Upper Loop with no stops and no detour into Lamar Valley.
Lamar Valley takes about 45 minutes to drive from Tower to the end of the valley.
You’ll notice there are 5 main stops (sometimes called Villages) on the Lower Loop and 4 on the Upper Loop. Generally, plan on 30 minutes between major stops.
The speed limit in Yellowstone is 45 miles per hour. PLEASE follow this for the animals’ sake.
There is no cell connection in most of Yellowstone, so don’t rely on GPS. Use the map they give you. We include very detailed maps of the park to orient you in our travel guide, and even give you step-by-step instructions for which places to stop at and what to see at each stop.
Yellowstone is high in the mountains and the weather can be crazy; sometimes it snows in June! But generally, the busy summer months provide daytime temperatures in the 80s. Mornings and evenings can still get down into the 30s and 40s. Dress in layers. Find out more about the weather here.
Where to Stay
There are so many choices when visiting Yellowstone! The most popular places to stay outside the park are Gardiner, MT, and West Yellowstone, MT. Some people stay in Cody, WY, or Jackson, WY, but they are much farther away; we don’t recommend it.
If you’re visiting for the first time, we recommend staying inside the park if you can. You’ll be closer to the action and you won’t have to worry about waiting in line to enter the park each day.
- Canyon Village is the most central location and a great place to see both loops. It has the least charm but it also has the most rooms and is next to the famous Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
- The Old Faithful Inn (see above) is an unforgettable experience, but far away from Lamar Valley.
- Lake Village and Grand Village offer lakeside hotels and cabins but can be more difficult to get to the Upper Loop.
- Mammoth Hotel is frequented by elk, but again, is far away from the Lower Loop.
- If you have to stay outside of the park, we recommend staying in Gardiner, MT for a few nights to see the Upper Loop and Lamar Valley, and West Yellowstone, MT for a few nights to see the Lower Loop.
If you are looking to stay in a hotel or vacation rental, the best selection is in West Yellowstone near the west gate. You can plan on spending between $150-$300 a night for typical lodging. Staying at a hotel is the best option if you are doing a last-minute trip as the other options such as camping or staying in a lodge inside the park can fill up as early as a year in advance!
Our #1 choice for West Yellowstone is the Days Inn. Their suites are roomy and reasonably priced and come with a small fridge and microwave. 2 daily breakfast vouchers are included for the restaurant next door, and the hotel has a pool with a water slide! My children love to swim after sightseeing all day and the water slide makes it even better.
If you want another option on the west side of the park, Island Park is not far away. It has a wider variety of vacation rentals but not as many hotel choices. Vacation rentals average from $250-$350 per night. It’s a 32-minute drive from the west entrance and has multiple adventure companies that will rent ATVs, snowmobiles, and other adventure gear as well as offer guided tours.
Gardiner, near the north entrance, is a quaint town that people love to stay in with quite a few nice hotel options.
We actually made a pretty comprehensive video on where to stay in Yellowstone. Watch it for more details and our top picks.
There are 9 lodges in Yellowstone National Park with a combined total of 2,300 rooms. They range in price from $100-$300 a night per room and come with very basic amenities. Here are a few things to know about the lodges in Yellowstone.
- Most are open June- November 1st
- Not all of them have a private bathroom
- Mammoth Lodge is the only one that has TVs in the rooms
- No air conditioning in any of them (though rarely needed as it doesn’t get that hot in Yellowstone)
- Cabins are more affordable than the inns
- They fill up quickly. You can make reservations in June for the following year. Go to yellowstoneparklodges.com to book your room.
- Canyon Lodge is the newest. It also is the most central in the park.
This is my favorite way to stay in Yellowstone. Even though it can get really cold at night, it is so wonderful to walk out of my trailer in the morning and breathe in that cool, crisp mountain air, hear the birds chirping, and watch the chipmunks and squirrels scurry around. We have a complete post about all the campgrounds, making reservations, and other hand tips. Here is a brief pros and cons list of camping.
- Cheap- $15-80 a night, max charge in the park is $32
- Less driving if you are in the park
- Fewer crowds if you camp outside the park
- Ranger programs
- First come first serve sites fill up really early- like 6:00 or 7:00 am. Many people line up and just wait for the campground to open at 10:00 am. If you wait until later in the day, there is a good chance you will find yourself without a place to stay.
- Bridge Bay, Canyon, Madison, Fishing Bridge RV, and Grant campgrounds are the only ones that take reservations. 1,759 total.
- Limited RV sights and most have a maximum of 40 ft total length (that includes the vehicle you towed your RV with )
- Generators generally need to be turned off by 8:00 pm.
- Campgrounds in the park are pretty small and you are close to other campers.
If you want to reserve a spot, you must go through https://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com, or by calling 307-344-7311 (307-344-5395 for TDD service).
Here are some resources we put together for you:
- Where to stay when visiting Yellowstone (article & video)
- The Complete Guide to Camping at Yellowstone (article & video)
If you’re using our travel guide, we recommend allotting four days to see the park, staying two days on the upper loop and 3 days on the lower loop.
How Long Does it Take to See the Park?
Geysers, canyons, waterfalls, wildlife…… where do I begin? You aren’t going to see everything in the park. The place is bigger than Rhode Island!
I’ve been to Yellowstone many, many times and still manage to see new things every time I go. However, I believe that you can have an incredible trip and get the full Yellowstone experience if you stay there for 4 days.
Four days will give you two days to spend on each loop, including Lamar Valley on the Upper Loop.
If you visit for two days, the rule of thumb is to spend a day on each loop.
If you visit for three days, spend a day on each loop. Spend the last day on the Upper Loop if you like to sit and look for wildlife, or on the Lower Loop if you’d rather sightsee more of the park’s natural wonders like geysers and canyons.
- Need a plan? Check out our must-have travel guide, which comes with a 3-hour audio guide!
What to Do Inside the Park
There are books written about this. Matt and I have written several articles and shot many YouTube videos on this as well that I will link to as we go over what there is to do inside the park.
Here are some of my favorites:
Old Faithful Geyser Basin
Estimated time: 3-4 hours
Old Faithful is famous and fantastic. Plus, it erupts around 20 times a day and the park rangers can predict the next eruption pretty accurately give or take 10 minutes. It’s close to the parking lot and has seating surrounding it.
But did you know that Old Faithful is not the only predictable geyser in the park? In fact, there are actually others. Our travel guide gives you a plan for how to see these geysers erupt!
|Geyser||Erupts how often||Erupts for how long||Eruption height|
|Old Faithful||1.5 hours||5 min||110-180 ft|
|Castle Geyser||14 hours||20 min||75 ft|
|Grand Geyser||6-7 hours||9-12 min||200 ft|
|Daisy Geyser||2 hours||3-5 min||75 ft|
|Riverside Geyser||6 hours||20 min||75 ft|
Estimated Time: 15-45 minutes
Hayden Valley is located on the lower loop between Fishing Bridge and Canyon. There isn’t a parking lot for you to get out and sightsee. People just pull off on the side of the road when they want to look at something, usually an animal. You will most likely drive through it at some point on your way to somewhere else in the park, but make sure you do it.
Hayden Valley is home to many of the park’s animals, especially bison, deer, elk, and bears. The bison are one of the reasons the time to see it varies so much. They are known to cross the street often and will even just walk right down the middle of the road. They weigh 2,000 pounds – who’s going to stop them? It is really neat to see it at first but if you are a Yellowstone regular, you may find yourself getting annoyed at the inconvenience.
If there is a bear in the area, everyone will pull over to get out and look at it. You’ll want to do the same because seeing a bear in the wild is awesome! Rangers are usually on the scene and will be making sure everyone stays 100 yards away. All the vehicles pulling off and on the road can make for slow going but just be patient. You’ll love the wildlife you’ll see at Hayden Valley.
Brink of the Upper Falls
Estimated time: 45 minutes
Although Yellowstone boasts of having more than 45 waterfalls and 6 incredible ones right off the main road, my very favorite is the brink of the Upper Falls.
It is 109 feet tall, not the tallest in the park, but in my opinion, the best one to see. The trail takes you right to the brink, where the water from the river is about to go over the fall.
It’s incredible the power of water rushing to the edge and the sound of it crashing to the bottom. A fenced viewing area keeps you safe but puts you right next to the edge to view the water as it plummets to the rocks below.
There is a road called the Upper Falls Road on the lower loop that will take you right there. From the parking lot, it’s an easy, paved .3 mile out and back trail.
- Our travel guide gives you a detailed plan for how to visit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Estimated time: 1 hour
Artist Point is where you will get the best views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The wow factor of this place is so powerful that we visit it Every. Single. Time. We are in Yellowstone. You’ll want to too. My words won’t do it justice so watch our video, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
It is a .2-mile out-and-back paved trail located on the east side of the middle of the Grand Loop. Since this place is so beautiful and accessible, you’ll want to plan for crowds if you are there from June to August. You can get an amazing view even if you are sharing it with hundreds of others, the trick is finding a parking space. If you get there before 9:00 am or after 4:00 pm that shouldn’t be a problem.
Mammoth is both a town and a hot spring inside Yellowstone Park. Although the Mammoth Hotsprings are past their glory days, with very little geothermal activity going on, don’t let that stop you from visiting them at least once.
It’s like being on the inside of a cave except minus the dark nothingness, cold, and stinky smell- ok Mammoth stinks too but it’s a different kind of stink. The point is, it’s really, really cool and you won’t see something like it anywhere else.
Mammoth Hotsprings is located at the top of the Grand Loop. It is divided into an upper and lower terrace and the mostly flat boardwalk trail is a 1.75-mile loop.
The town of Mammoth is not as crowded as the rest of the park and is a great place to stop for lunch. I love the giant trees at the grassy park in the middle of town. Just watch out for elk, they tend to like hanging out there as well.
Since Mammoth is a town, albeit a small one, there are a few amenities like gas stations, a medical clinic, and a general store.
Mammoth is also home to Fort Yellowstone. After Yellowstone was deemed a National Park in 1872, many self-serving people exploited the land. It basically took stationing some of the army in Mammoth to get the situation under control. While being stationed there between the 1890s and early 1900s, the US Army built 35 structures and began the framework for running the national parks. Most of these buildings are still there and they are so cool to look at.
The Boiling River is located in Mammoth as well. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s not even close to feeling like a hot tub. Anyone who has ever put a toe in any body of water at Yellowstone National Park will tell you it is C.O.L.D. Because some heated geothermal water flows into the Gardner River, it heats parts of it up enough to be tolerable to soak in.
Grand Prismatic Spring
If you want to see a football field pool of the clearest, bluest blue you’ll ever encounter, go see the Grand Prismatic Spring located on the Lower Loop just above the Old Faithful Geyser Basin.
Hot springs are cool because of the color changes. Where it is more shallow, you’ll see orange and yellows but as it gets deeper the color becomes more rich by going from green to light blue to deep blue at the deepest part.
You can view the Grand Prismatic up close by walking out onto the Midway Geyser Basin. It’s a .8-mile boardwalk loop that is an easy trail. However, the very best way to see this marvel is from the overlook a mile south of the Midway geyser basin at the Fairy Falls parking lot. From there you’ll hike a moderate .6-mile trail to the overlook. A little extra effort but it’s worth it! You can see the entire Midway Geyser Basin from there and get a real feel for how big Grand Prismatic actually is.
- Read our blog article about Grand Prismatic Spring.
This is my favorite way to end a day of sightseeing and hiking. If you are staying inside the park during the tourist season, there is a good chance one will be happening every night close by.
Just check the visitor center or look at the schedule in the newspaper they give you when you enter the park to see where the closest amphitheater is and what the presentation will be about. You can also see it here on the Yellowstone website.
The programs generally start at 9:00 or 9:30 and are 45 minutes long. Amphitheaters are outdoors, have a giant fire pit, seat between 100-200 people, and have a big screen for the ranger to show pictures and movies.
Topics range from wildlife to geysers, to history, to forest fires. Dress plenty warm, bring blankets and hot chocolate, and snuggle up with the people you love. Campfire programs were a real highlight for me as a kid when we would visit and I love them just as much as an adult.
List of Attractions on Each Loop
Here is a list of all the main attractions in Yellowstone, starting at Mammoth in the North, working south around the Grand Loop Road, and returning to Mammoth.
- North Entrance. 2nd most common entrance, located next to Gardiner, MT, about 10 min away from Mammoth.
- Mammoth. Elk roam through this little village next to cascading hot springs located on the nearby hillside.
- Norris. Huge geyser basin with a variety of interesting geysers and hot springs.
- Madison. Not a major site, but a junction with a campground, visitor center, river access, and wildlife.
- West Entrance. Most common entrance, located next to the small city of West Yellowstone.
- Old Faithful & the Geyser Basins. There are three geyser basins in this area, and Old Faithful is the most popular attraction.
- Grand Prismatic Spring. The most impressive formation in the Midway Geyser Basin.
- West Thumb & Grant Village. Beautiful geyser basin on the shores of Lake Yellowstone, camping, lodging, and restaurants.
- Yellowstone Lake Area. Lodging on the lake as well as boating access.
- East Entrance. Beautiful drive but far away from the main sites. Located near Cody, WY.
- Hayden Valley. Huge wildlife-filled valley with the Yellowstone River running through it.
- Canyon Village. Services located near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
- Mount Washburn. Tallest peak in the park, this is accessed from Dunraven Pass.
- Tower-Roosevelt. Junction where Teddy Roosevelt once camped, Tower Fall is located here.
- Lamar Valley. Remote wildlife-filled valley. Camping, hiking, and a scenic drive.
- Northeast Entrance. Least-used entrance, it is sandwiched between Lamar Valley and the Beartooth Highway.
- South Entrance. Entrance connecting Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
Where to Eat
There are restaurants in the park at Old Faithful, Grant Village, Lake Village, Canyon Village, Mammoth, and Roosevelt. You’re never far away from food! Note that you’ll need dinner reservations at some of the places.
Our favorite food experience was eating at Roosevelt Lodge (for lunch), and then doing the Roosevelt Chuckwagon Dinner (called the “Old West Dinner Cookout“). They gave us a horse and carriage ride into Yancey’s Hole, where they fed us steak. Mmmm.
Our travel guide plans for you to arrive at these places at mealtime. HOWEVER, it can be difficult to arrive somewhere at a pre-determined time.
We highly suggest packing a lunch and snacks to eat. It’s a nice backup plan in case you’re stuck in traffic or you just want to watch that bear longer. There are beautiful picnic places all over the park, and we usually enjoy eating our meals in nature when visiting Yellowstone. An added bonus is we don’t have to waste time waiting in line at a restaurant.
- Please see our more detailed post: The Best Dining Guide to Yellowstone (with map) for more.
- We also have a post all about Where to Get Groceries and Eat Picnics In and Around Yellowstone.
What to Pack
Aside from your normal vacation needs, we recommend:
- Chairs to sit while watching animals
- Swimsuit for getting into the boiling river
- Water shoes for walking in the boiling river
- Camcorder/camera with a zoom lens
- Bear spray (only if doing a longer hike).
- If you like to bike, you may also consider bringing your bike or renting one at Old Faithful.
See our Ultimate Packing Guide for Yellowstone & Grand Teton for more.
Things to Do Outside the Park
There is plenty to do inside Yellowstone National Park, but sometimes a break is nice from all the sightseeing.
The areas surrounding Yellowstone offer a wide variety of activities from playhouses to zipline courses, to an indoor gun range, to river rafting.
Located an hour away from West Yellowstone, this is a delightful place to visit for kids and adults.
You begin your experience by entering a drive-thru zoo. Black bears, grizzly, bison, and elk roam through this large and natural-looking habitat. The black bears are not shy and will be very close to the road. One actually started licking our family van once! They will be roaming, sleeping, or chilling in the pond.
Once you complete the drive-thru (which you can do as many times as you want with your paid admission). You will walk through a gift shop, which has amazing fudge, into a photo area that has all sorts of cool photo ops. You can also pay to have your picture superimposed of you riding a bear.
Next is the enclosure of bear cubs. They are seriously a 10 on the cuteness scale and you’ll love watching them wrestle around. For an extra fee, you can even bottle-feed one of them.
A petting zoo filled with chickens, goats, sheep, baby deer, and pigs is next. There is also a moose nearby to view.
Lastly, there is a small amusement park with about 10 kiddie rides. It’s in a pretty small area with a grass courtyard in the middle with picnic tables and the rides surrounding it so you can sit and relax and still keep an eye on your kids while they ride. Or….. you could go on those rides yourself. It’s kind of fun!
Bear World is in Rexburg, Idaho, 80 miles from the West Entrance of Yellowstone. If it’s on your way driving to Yellowstone, you ought to check it out. It’s a great half-day excursion. You can pay by the carload for nearly $100, max 7 people, or pay per person $25 for adults and $13 for kids. You can save $1 per ticket if you buy online. Open May through September. Click on this link for more information: Bear World.
Located right in West Yellowstone, this place has been in business for over 50 years!
If you want an evening full of lively musical numbers and humor, look no further than the Playmill Theater of West Yellowstone.
The season runs June-Labor Day and tickets sell out quickly. They produce 3 family-friendly shows a year and prices for shows range from $17-$27 per seat. Click on this link for more information: Playmill Theatre.
West Yellowstone Rodeo & Creekside Trail rides.
We did this last summer and it was a huge hit! For $50 for adults and $40 for kids, you can go on an hour-long sunset horseback ride through the forest of West Yellowstone and then catch the rodeo when you return. Can you think of a better way to connect with the West than that?
I love that the rodeo is only about an hour and a half long. You get your fill of broncos, bulls, barrel racing, and even a fun calf chase for the kids. I liked how they did a special tribute to our country and the veterans who have defended it. All around great experience.
Runs from late June to August. If you just want rodeo tickets, they are $15 for adults and $8 for kids. Click here for more information: Wild West Rodeo and Creekside Trail Rides.
Yellowstone Big Gun Fun
If you like shooting guns, or if you just want to try your hand at it, check out Big Gun Fun. Matt shot an AK-47 here last year and had a blast!
Gardiner, MT is known for Yellowstone Hot Springs, a developed place to soak (unlike the Boiling River, which is in Yellowstone and isn’t developed).
About 40 minutes to the north, Chico Hot Springs is a very popular resort with hot springs, dinner, and many other guided activities.
River Rafting is another popular adventure in Gardiner. Many companies offer guided rafting adventures.
Finally, taking pictures at the Roosevelt Arch or the Yellowstone Entrance sign in Gardiner are popular things to do.
There are so many amazing things to do in Cody that we’ve created its own post and video. Cody is really a special town to a lot of people, and we can’t wait to get back.
Other Helpful Tips
Hopefully, you are getting pretty excited to visit this incredible place and I hope you get the opportunity soon. Here are a few last tips to really help you get the best experience.
- Have a plan. If you are reading this, I bet you are working on this right now. Yellowstone is so big with so many things to do, you want to know exactly what you are doing each day, so you don’t miss anything. How about you enjoy watching some movies, looking at pictures, reading a bit, and basically daydreaming about your trip to Yellowstone and let Matt and I do your planning? We’ve created multiple itineraries that will get you to the places you want to be without the hassle of trying to find a parking spot, fight crowds, and do a bunch of unnecessary driving around. Our step-by-step guide includes maps, daily itineraries, easy-to-follow directions, and information on what to pack, where to stay, and where to eat. We know the best places to go and when to go to them. All you need to do is buy, print, and go! Click here for more information.
- Book accommodations early. As soon as you know you are going, get somewhere to stay. Lodges in the park book out a year in advance in many cases and the campgrounds inside the park typically fill one to two months in advance although you can make your reservation up to 6 months in advance. You can book a hotel room last minute but plan on paying a pretty penny. Don’t wait, click here.
- Dress in layers. Every day in the summer in Yellowstone, the temperature will swing 30-40 degrees. The mornings and evenings are very cold, sometimes getting into the 30s. On the other extreme, when you are out on those boardwalks looking at geysers and springs, it gets hot! Be prepared for both extremes and you’ll be comfortable and able to enjoy the beauty around you.
- Be an early bird and a night owl. You’ll have the easiest time getting around, see the most wildlife, and have the least crowds in the mornings and evenings. The park never closes so you are free to check things out at your leisure.
- Go with the flow. You’ll want a plan but don’t be afraid to wait a few extra minutes to watch a geyser go off or observe a momma bear with her cubs from the road if an opportunity arises. You can’t plan these experiences but they will be your best memories.
Not sure which Yellowstone entrance is right for you? Download our Free Quick and Easy Guide to Yellowstone's entrances. Guide includes 7 pages of maps, driving times to popular sites, and the pros and cons of each Yellowstone entrance. Visit Yellowstone with Confidence that you picked the right entrance for you!
Visiting Yellowstone and need a plan?
Yellowstone is BIG and COMPLICATED. We have been visiting Yellowstone our entire lives. We know how to plan out a daily itinerary.
So we did it FOR YOU! Do yourself a favor and check out our Yellowstone Travel Guide which includes audio. With a plan in hand, you’ll have an efficient and successful trip! With that peace of mind, you can sit back and listen to Matt tell you all about the park as you drive around.
Matt’s 15-20 minute stories will tell you all about the bears, bison, and wolves of Yellowstone. You’ll learn about how it became a national park, how a guy survived alone in the park for 37 days, and about the dumb things people do in Yellowstone!
Matt’s audio guide is the most complete and interesting audio guide created for Yellowstone. It comes with the itinerary. Get them today!
- Our Yellowstone travel guide is the most affordable and educational tour there is!
- Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on all the places we are covering.
- Our YouTube playlist of Yellowstone videos will get you excited and prepared for your trip!
- Visiting Grand Teton as well? See our Grand Teton trip planner.
- Which Yellowstone Entrance is Right for You?