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    Yellowstone’s West Entrance (West Yellowstone, MT): Everything you need to know

    image of gas station in west yellowstone

    by Matt, Jan 2022

    Visiting Yellowstone and don’t know what entrance to use?

    If you’re wondering about the West Entrance, you’re in luck, because I’ll cover the pros, cons, and many more things you need to know about the West Entrance to Yellowstone.

    How many entrances to Yellowstone are there?

    There are five entrances to Yellowstone. Although more than 90% of the park is in Wyoming, three of the entrances are located in Montana.

    5 entrances to Yellowstone

    What is the most popular entrance to Yellowstone?

    The most popular entrance to Yellowstone is the West Entrance in West Yellowstone, MT. Yellowstone receives over 4 million visitors per year.

    Regarding entrances, the park provides traffic counts (number of vehicles, not people).

    Here they are, in order of popularity (most to least):

    EntranceClosest Outside CityTraffic Count (2021)
    West EntranceWest Yellowstone, MT833,709
    North EntranceGardiner, MT482,467
    South EntranceGrand Teton/Jackson, WY326,068
    East EntranceCody, WY210,612
    Northeast EntranceCooke City-Silvergate, MT130,248

    What is the closest city to the West Entrance?

    West Yellowstone, Montana, is the closest city to the West Entrance to Yellowstone. In fact, it is so close that it borders the park.

    West Yellowstone is a little town of 1200 people; the entire town is basically dedicated to Yellowstone tourism.

    Because West Yellowstone and the West Entrance to Yellowstone are right next to each other, the terms are often used interchangeably.

    If you stay in West Yellowstone, it’s only a 5-minute drive (max) to the park entrance, and then about 15-20 more minutes to the Grand Loop Road, where most of the attractions in Yellowstone are.

    What attractions in Yellowstone are close to the West Entrance?

    One of the reasons why the West Entrance is the most used is that it’s the closest entrance to the Lower Loop in Yellowstone, where most of the big attractions are.

    Some of those popular attractions include:

    • Madison Valley. A great place to see wildlife like elk and bison.
    • Madison Junction. This is a major intersection in Yellowstone. It has a campground and 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.

    Please watch the video below to get a better idea of these attractions, as well as others, in West Yellowstone.

    14 Things to do in West Yellowstone, MT

    How do I get to West Yellowstone?

    One of the reasons West Yellowstone is the most-used entrance to the park is due to its accessibility.

    Yellowstone is surrounded by mountains on three sides, forcing you to drive through the mountains to enter the park — except for West Yellowstone.

    For those coming from points West, the easiest route is on I-15 through Salt Lake City, Utah, and from there it’s a 5-hour drive to West Yellowstone — a straight shot on I-15 and Route 20.

    From those coming from points Northwest, they can choose the West Entrance or the North Entrance. To get to the West Entrance, they’ll drive through Idaho Falls, ID, which is about an hour away from West Yellowstone.

    Many people fly into Bozeman, MT to get to Yellowstone. From Bozeman, it’s about an hour and 30 minutes to the North Entrance, and about an hour and 45 minutes to the West Entrance. I believe most use the North Entrance, but you do have a choice.

    It’s also possible to fly into Salt Lake City, UT, and drive 5 hours to West Yellowstone. For some, the flight and/or rental car may be cheaper.

    Another popular airport is Jackson, WY. If you use this you’ll drive through the South Entrance.

    What is there to do around the West Entrance?

    There are many things to do around the West Entrance! I’ve listed a few things below but make sure to check out the video as well.

    Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

    image of grizzly bear

    This is the number one thing to do. This wonderful nonprofit center provides a home to grizzly bears, wolves, otters, and raptor birds who otherwise couldn’t survive in the wild.

    I know, I know: you’re coming to Yellowstone to see wildlife in the wild. But don’t sleep on this wonderful treasure!

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    Playmill Theater

    image of playmill theater

    This theater has been around for over 50 years!

    The owners really care about providing family-friendly entertainment, and it gets very high reviews online.

    We haven’t done it yet, but it’s definitely on our list.

    West Yellowstone Rodeo

    image of woman on horse holding flag in rodeo grounds

    This little rodeo is quite a hoot! It’s as small-town as it gets, and every seat is basically a front-row seat.

    The riders can rarely ride the bucking broncs, but the rodeo clown and announcer are a lot of fun, and they even invite the kids into the arena for a game!

    Recreational Activities

    There are many opportunities for recreation around West Yellowstone:

    • Horse riding. The entire area is full of horse-riding companies, so google it to find one. We used Creek Side Trail Rides, and they were great for kids and first timers. They also run the West Yellowstone Rodeo and offered a package deal.
    • River Rafting. This is another popular activity with many companies available for guided rafting tours. We did our own rafting on Henry’s Fork near Island Park. It was a nice float (not whitewater rafting).
    • Fly Fishing. This entire area is known for its fly fishing. Ennis, MT is about an hour away and is well-known for its fly fishing.

    Tours

    Most tour companies operate out of West Yellowstone because it’s such a great jumping-off point to see the Lower Loop.

    Most people who purchase a tour do so because they don’t have the time to research or maybe trying to figure out how to visit Yellowstone is daunting (MANY people tell me this!).

    DON’T WORRY: We have you covered. I’ve created a great travel guide that will give you a game plan for seeing Yellowstone. AND I tell you all about the park through my audio guide. Basically, it’s like having me as your personal tour guide — only much cheaper than an actual tour.

    What is the West Entrance like?

    image of west entrance
    West Entrance Pay Booth

    There are park ranger toll booths at the West Entrance, just like the other entrances. Only this one has more booths to move people through more quickly.

    Still, long lines do form at the entrance, so you want to avoid entering the park between 9 am and noon usually.

    You can pay your park entrance fee here — $35 gets your entire car into the park and it’s good for a week, or you can buy the $80 yearly pass that is good for any park for the entire year.

    If you’re disabled, military, or have a 4th grader, you get the yearly pass for free.

    You can also buy your pass online before you go.

    West Entrance to Yellowstone
    30-second clip of us driving through the entrance, in case you want to see exactly what it’s like

    Is there a Visitor Center in West Yellowstone?

    Yes, there is a small visitor center near the entrance. Unlike most national park visitor centers, this is not located in the park.

    In fact, it’s run by the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce, but the National Park Service uses half the building. So, if you go in there, you’ll see park rangers staffing the desk on one end, and local employees staffing it on the other end. It’s a little different than most national park visitor centers.

    West Yellowstone Visitor Center
    18-second clip of the visitor center if you want to see what it’s like

    It has none of the special charm of most national park visitor centers. National parks usually have very nice exhibits, but not this one.

    However, the nice thing is you can stop in here the night before you enter the park to buy your park pass, get a map, and ask questions so you’re prepared before entering the park the next day.

    What if I get to the entrance before the booth opens?

    Yellowstone is open 24 hours per day. If you get there before the booth opens, you can just drive into the park.

    If you haven’t purchased your park pass yet, just purchase it later when you see another booth or visitor center.

    Please be honest and purchase your pass at some point. Yellowstone is one of the wonders of the world and it’s an honor to visit and only have to pay $35 for a carload for a week.

    Is the West Entrance open in winter?

    Yes! There are four entrances open in the winter: North, Northeast, West, and South. However, the Northeast is effectively closed because the Beartooth Highway is closed in winter.

    Yellowstone shuts down in November to allow snow to build up on the roads. From December to February, it mostly becomes a snow park.

    To access the park in the winter from West Yellowstone, you can book snow coach tours of Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. For a list of companies and details, see the park website.

    The park then closes again in March so they can plow the roads. This remarkable process takes 2 months, during which the park gradually opens as the roads are plowed.

    See my video below to learn about the seasons of Yellowstone, as well as the incredible snowplowing operation each spring.

    When is the best time to visit Yellowstone?

    Where should I stay in West Yellowstone?

    Let’s cover this by area.

    Inside the park

    The closest park lodging is at Old Faithful, where there are three hotels:

    West Yellowstone

    There are plenty of hotels in West Yellowstone. Here are some suggestions:

    • Kelly Inn. This hotel has a pool, seems very family-friendly, and it’s right across the street from the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center and IMAX theater. It’s also pet friendly.
    • Days Inn. We have stayed here before, and we loved it. They gave us a HUGE suite for our big family. And they have a pool with a water slide, which is a HUGE hit with our kids. After a long day of driving and hiking, a water slide really makes it worth all the effort.
    • 1872 Inn. This one is not kid-friendly, which might appeal to many adults! It is a boutique hotel, which means each room is different. It’s more of a luxury hotel, with fewer than 100 rooms. Rooms are typically over $350 per night.
    • Under Canvas. This is glamping at its finest! You stay in the outdoors, covered with a canvas tent, but you get to sleep in a real bed. Costs $150-$300/night.

    We usually use Booking.com to find our accommodations (we always find better deals than on Airbnb).

    Island Park

    Island Park is a popular “cabin” area. We know so many people who have cabins in Island Park!

    I’ve also spoken to many visitors who chose to stay in Island Park. I’m assuming some of these are Airbnb or VRBO locations (cabins being rented out?), or maybe there are resorts there.

    My suggestion is to stay in West Yellowstone because it’s closer to the park. Seeing Yellowstone already involves a lot of driving and long days; no reason to add an extra hour of driving each day.

    In fact, driving in Yellowstone is one of the main things you need to know about if you’re visiting.

    Where should I camp in West Yellowstone?

    There are MANY campgrounds around West Yellowstone.

    Inside the park

    The closest campground to West Yellowstone inside the park is Madison Campground. Madison is a really nice campground to stay in because it’s centrally located in the park.

    We’ve stayed here multiple times and really enjoyed it. It’s a short walk into Madison Valley for nice views. Also, it’s one of the campgrounds that offer a Campfire Ranger Program.

    NOTE: most campsites in Yellowstone have a 30-foot RV limit (combined length of truck and trailer).

    Outside the park

    Most of the campgrounds outside the park are run by the Forest Service. There are a lot, especially around the Hebgen Lake area.

    Hebgen Lake and neighboring Earthquake Lake are absolutely beautiful areas to camp. We’ve stayed in Rainbow Point Campground and Beaver Creek Campground. These campgrounds are really beautiful, and they are more spacious than the campgrounds inside the park.

    Rainbow Point is on the south side of Hebgen Lake so it’s closer to the Yellowstone entrance.

    They also offer larger RV sites than the campsites inside the park.

    Still, I suggest staying inside the park if possible because it will save driving time.

    Make sure to read my full Yellowstone camping post for all the details you need to know.

    Some good areas for camping in West Yellowstone (not a complete list)

    Resources

    ABOUT US

    We’re Matt and Cheryl, and we’re in the Rockies. :) We are both teachers. Cheryl teaches special ed, and Matt teaches American history. We love the American West and the national parks. We want to help you have a great vacation on your next trip to the Rockies.

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