by Matt, June 2022
Popular national parks can get crowded during their busy seasons, so it’s important to make the necessary reservations before embarking on your trip. Not all parks have the same requirements when it comes to bookings and reservations, so it’s important to do the research for that specific park.
If you’re planning a trip to the beautiful Yellowstone National Park, you may be wondering: do I need a reservation in advance in order to enter Yellowstone?
Yellowstone does NOT require a timed reservation ticket in advance to enter the park. Reservations are, however, required for most campsites, all hotels, and many restaurants in the park! And although you don’t need a timed entrance reservation for Yellowstone, you will still need to purchase a park pass for entry.
The park does get big crowds during the busy season, so it’s important to plan ahead and make the necessary preparations before arriving.
So, keep reading for the things you need to know about planning a successful trip to Yellowstone!
- For packing ideas, check out our recommended gear page or our article The Ultimate Packing Guide for Yellowstone & Grand Teton
How Many Entrances Does Yellowstone Have?
- North Entrance. This entrance is open all year round and will bring you to the lovely Mammoth Hot Springs right upon your entry. This entrance is great for those coming in from Bozeman, from the Pacific Northwest, and even for many coming from the east through Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills.
- Northeast Entrance. This is a great entrance for those wanting to see lots of wildlife during their visit to the park or drive the hair-raising Beartooth Highway.
- South Entrance. This is the entrance to take if you are coming in from Jackson, Wyoming, and will also allow you to hit two parks in one day. You can visit the Grand Teton National Park on your way up to Yellowstone when you take the South entrance.
- East Entrance. The East entrance will take you right to Yellowstone Lake upon your entry to the park. If you’re wanting to spend some time at the lake, this is the entrance for you.
- West Entrance. This is the park’s busiest entrance, and the one to take if you’re wanting to see lots of geysers during your visit to Yellowstone.
The best entrance for you to enter the park through will depend on two main questions: what direction you’re coming into the park from, and what you’re wanting to see and do first once you enter the park. We cover more about how to get to Yellowstone and which entrance to use in our Yellowstone Trip Planner.
We also offer a self-guided travel guide that will give you a game plan and daily itinerary for seeing the park. It is helpful to purchase our travel guide before acquiring lodging because once you see our game plan, it will help you decide where you want to stay and what entrance you want to use.
- Sign up for our Newsletter to stay up to date on all the vacation destinations we’re covering!
What are Yellowstone’s Hours?
Yellowstone is open all year round, but only the north entrance is open all year. The park’s visitor center at Mammoth Hot Springs is open every day all year round. Not all of the amenities or campgrounds are open all year round, but you can check the hours on the national park website.
The busy season for Yellowstone is June-September. If you’re thinking about visiting any other time, you must read about when the roads open and close in our article When is the best time to visit Yellowstone?
What happens if I arrive before Yellowstone opens for the day?
Yellowstone is also open 24 hours per day. So if you arrive at the park entrance when the ranger booth is closed, you can just drive into the park.
If you haven’t paid for a park pass yet, just pay when you stop at a visitor center or the next time you pass through the booth when it’s open.
Does Yellowstone Require Reservations for Anything?
Although you do not need a reservation ticket to enter the park, that does not mean there are no reservations required anywhere in the park. There are several activities and amenities the park has to offer that will require you to make a reservation beforehand. Also, note that they will not charge you a booking fee for making reservations at the park.
Most Yellowstone campsites have moved to a reservation-only system, though some are still first-come, first-served.
Some campgrounds are reservable a year in advance and some only 6 months in advance. If you try to get a first-come, first-served campsite, you’ll typically need to arrive extremely early in the morning.
There are also many campgrounds nearby Yellowstone.
Campsites inside Yellowstone are managed by TWO different websites, so it’s important to understand how they work. Luckily for you, we produced an article and video all about camping in Yellowstone to help you out!
You can book your lodging up to 13 months in advance inside Yellowstone, so if there’s a certain place you’d like to stay inside the park, it’s best to book as early as possible.
- Here again, we’ve got you covered with all you need to know about where to stay when visiting Yellowstone.
- If you’re staying outside the park, use booking.com to acquire your lodging accommodations. We use them and often find great deals.
Dinner reservations are only required at certain restaurants in the park during certain seasons. For hotel restaurants, priority is given to guests but visitors not staying at the hotels may make dinner reservations up to 60 days in advance.
Dinner reservations are not accepted at any of the park’s other restaurants, and breakfast and lunch do not require reservations.
There is one unique dining experience in the park, and that’s the Roosevelt Old West Cookout, which you do need reservations for! (But nearby Roosevelt Lodge does NOT accept reservations).
- Read our guide to dining in Yellowstone for more!
There are several businesses you can book a horseback-riding trip with during your stay at Yellowstone, so if you’re lucky you may be able to score some reservations on short notice, but there is no guarantee that this will be the case during your stay.
It’s best to make a reservation as soon as you decide that horseback riding is an activity you would like to experience on your trip, so spots don’t fill up completely before you book.
Does it Cost Anything to Enter Yellowstone?
You must pay a fee to enter the park. The minimum fee is $35 per vehicle for a 7-day pass. For $80, you can buy an America the Beautiful Pass that will allow you entry to any other U.S. national park, forest, or monument. This pass is good for 1 year after purchase.
Those 62 years of age and older can purchase a Lifetime Senior Pass for $80. This pass provides access to all national parks and public lands in the U.S. and does not need to be renewed.
How to Get in for Free:
- Those with a military ID can get into any national park or public land for free, including any dependents.
- Those with permanent disabilities can also get in for free when they show proper documentation. Those eligible will also get a discounted price on any campsite reservations. If you are disabled, please watch my video about Yellowstone for the impaired.
- Families with children in the fourth grade can also get into the park for free. Just visit this website to get a pass for you and your family to enter certain U.S. parks.
Can you help me with a game plan for visiting Yellowstone?
Yes! That’s what we’re here for. Our Yellowstone Travel Guide is the BEST way to see Yellowstone efficiently. We provide you with a daily step-by-step itinerary to get you to the best places at the best times.
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!
What’s more, we provide an audio guide, which includes 3 hours of stories and fascinating information about Yellowstone’s bears, bison, wolves, and geysers. Get your itinerary and audio guide now!
- Don’t forget to sign up for our free newsletter!
- For great deals, use booking.com for all your outside the park lodging accommodations.