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4 Day Yellowstone Itinerary for First Time Visitors

Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook at Yellowstone

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Yellowstone National Park is America’s first National Park, and it’s one of the most popular US National Parks to visit. In fact, Yellowstone gets over 3 million visitors each year. And if you’re one of these many people looking to visit Yellowstone, this 4 day Yellowstone itinerary will help you plan a perfect trip, especially if it is your first time to travel to Yellowstone!

Yellowstone National Park Statistics

Here are some facts that might help you during your trip to Yellowstone!

Annual Visitors: 3 to 4 million
Visitation Ranking: 3rd most visited US National Park
Peak Season: June-September
Known For: Geysers, volcanic landscapes, and wildlife

Park Hours: All day, every day (but areas can be closed seasonally)
Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle
Location: Wyoming (with small portions in Montana and Idaho)
Accommodations: Lodges, cabins, and campgrounds

Size: 2.2 million acres
Year Established: 1872

Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park

Summer in Yellowstone is peak season. Weather-wise, this is a great time to visit, but the crowds can be frustrating. So if you can, visiting during shoulder season (late spring and early fall) could be a good choice.

Yellowstone, which sits in the Northwest corner of Wyoming, has a harsh winter. In fact, many of the park rangers and other staff we talked to on our Yellowstone trip mentioned how inhospitable Yellowstone is during the winter. But winter in Yellowstone can offer its own unique experiences.

Here’s what you can expect during each season in Yellowstone.

Winter

During winter, Yellowstone is completely covered in snow and most of the roads in the park are closed. However, Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Old Faithful Inn are open for visitors. One popular activity to do in the winter is guided snowmobile tours.

Spring

During early Spring, many of the park roads are still closed, so access to attractions is limited. Usually these roads, along with most of the park’s visitor services, open up by the end of May. Spring is a popular time to visit though, because many of the animals are having babies, which makes for some amazing wildlife spotting.

Summer

Summer is BY FAR the most popular time to visit Yellowstone. The weather is great, everything is open, and of course, the kids are out of school, which makes it easy to take a family trip to Yellowstone. But this also means summer can get extremely crowded. Expect traffic, lines, and full parking lots. (See more tips about avoiding crowds later in the post, but for now let’s just say that you should plan to arrive early at your destination within the park!)

Fall

Fall can be a nice time to visit because the crowds decrease significantly. The weather does start to cool down though. By November, winter has usually fully set in, so roads and park services will close accordingly.

Calcite Springs Overlook
Calcite Springs Overlook

How Many Days Do You Need in Yellowstone National Park?

The truth is that you could spend *weeks* in Yellowstone National Park and never run out of things to do. I think ideally 4-5 days is a good amount of time to see the highlights of Yellowstone without feeling rushed, which is why we’ve made this a 4 day Yellowstone itinerary. However, you can definitely spend less time here and still see some amazing things! (We’ll cover some alternate itinerary plans for shorter trips later in this post.)


Check out these books set in Wyoming as you are planning your Yellowstone trip!


How to Get to Yellowstone National Park

Before we talk about how to get to Yellowstone, we have to mention one transportation necessity: A CAR. Unless you have booked some kind of prearranged tour that provides all transportation, you will absolutely need a car to explore Yellowstone.

So if you are flying in, plan to rent a car. And definitely rent one in advance, because there are A LOT of people coming in looking for a finite number of cars.

Driving to Yellowstone

First, let’s start with the Yellowstone entrances. Yellowstone is a HUGE national park, so where you are coming from will determine what entrance you use. Note that not all of these entrances are open year-round.

Yellowstone Entrances

  • West Entrance — This is the most popular Yellowstone entrance. It’s in West Yellowstone, MT. It is open mid-April to early November.
  • South Entrance — Located between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. It is open mid-May to early November.
  • East Entrance — This is the entrance you would use if you are coming from Cody, WY. It is open mid-May to early November.
  • Northeast Entrance — Located near Cooke City, MT. It is open year-round.
  • North Entrance — Located near Gardiner, MT. This entrance is open year-round. This is also the entrance where the Roosevelt Arch is located.

Driving Distances to Yellowstone National Park

Since visiting Yellowstone is so popular for road trips, here are some driving distances from popular cities in the surrounding states.

  • Boise to West Entrance — 387 miles (about 5 hours 40 minutes)
  • Jackson to South Entrance — 57 miles (about 1 hour, 15 minutes)
  • Idaho Falls to South Entrance — 146 miles (about 3 hours, 10 minutes)
  • Salt Lake City to South Entrance — 335 miles (about 5 hours, 50 minutes)
  • Cheyenne to South Entrance — 429 miles (about 7 hours)
  • Cody to East Entrance — 52 miles (about 1 hour)
  • Buffalo to East Entrance — 220 miles (about 4 hours, 10 minutes)
  • Denver to East Entrance — 544 miles (about 8 hours, 30 minutes)
  • Bozeman to North Entrance — 78 miles (about 1 hour, 20 minutes)
  • Glacier National Park to North Entrance — 375 miles (about 6 hours)

Flying to Yellowstone

There are several airports you can choose to use if you are flying to Yellowstone. Remember that these airports will be near different entrances, so plan accordingly. These are also mostly regional airports, so you will likely need to take a connecting flight to them.

Here are the airports you can use closest to Yellowstone:

  • Yellowstone Airport — WYS is only open seasonally and is closest to the West Entrance (just about 10 minutes away). Most flights are Delta flights from Salt Lake City and United flights from Denver.
  • Idaho Falls Regional Airport — IDA is about a 1 hour 45 minute drive to West Yellowstone. They offer flights with Delta, United, American, Alaska, and Allegiant.
  • Jackson Hole Airport — JAC is located inside Grand Teton National Park, so this is a great airport to use if you also plan to visit the Tetons. It is about a 1 hour drive to Yellowstone’s South Entrance. They have flights with Delta, United, American, and Alaska.
  • Yellowstone Regional Airport — YRA is located in Cody, WY. It’s about a 1 hour 15 minute drive to the Yellowstone East Entrance. Most of their flights are operated by United.
  • Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport — BZN is the most robust airport, with 9 different carriers and flights to at least 30 cities. It’s about a 1 hour 30 minute drive to the North Entrance.

Pro Tip: You can use Skyscanner to search for the best flight deals.

Jackson Airport Mountain Views
Views of Grand Teton National Park from Jackson Airport

Yellowstone National Park Regions

Before we get to our 4 day Yellowstone itinerary, we need to get a better idea of the layout of the park. Yellowstone is HUGE, so you can’t just go into it blindly. A plan and an understanding of the basic geography is a MUST.

Remember that it can take a good amount of time to drive between these regions and even within these regions! All of the regions can be found along the Grand Loop Road, which, if you were just driving it all the way around, could take 6-8 hours.

Northwest Yellowstone (Mammoth) — This is where you’ll find Mammoth Hot Springs and the North Entrance.
Northeast Yellowstone (Tower Roosevelt) — Here is where the Tower-Roosevelt area is and the ever popular Lamar Valley.
Central West Yellowstone (Norris) — This is where you find the Norris Geyser Basin and the popular Artist’s Paintpots Trail as well as the Madison area.
Central East Yellowstone (Canyon) — Here you’ll find the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Hayden Valley.
Southwest Yellowstone (Old Faithful) — The most popular area of the park! This is where Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring are located as part of the Upper, Midway, and Lower Geyser Basins.
Southeast Yellowstone (Yellowstone Lake) — This is where you’ll find Yellowstone Lake, the Fishing Bridge area, and the West Thumb area (home to my favorite geyser basin!).

Best Things To Do at Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is so big and has so much to do that it can sometimes be hard to figure out what your priorities should be. Here are a the top five things to do in Yellowstone to help you better plan.

Old Faithful

You truly can’t go to Yellowstone and not see Old Faithful. This geyser erupts on a relatively regularly schedule, which is why it’s called Old Faithful. Eruptions take place every 60-90 minutes, and you’ll find the next eruption time posted in the Old Faithful Visitors Center. (If you pick up a free Junior Ranger Guide in the Visitors Center, there’s a really interesting activity to show you how they predict the times!)

When Old Faithful erupts, it shoots out over 8,000 gallons of water over the course of several minutes. It really is amazing!

Remember: since it is so popular, the crowds will be plentiful. Plan to arrive early and wait. There are benches surrounding the viewing area, but if you are up for a hike you can also view it from above via the Observation Point Trail.

Old Faithful in Yellowstone
Old Faithful

Grand Prismatic Spring

About a 15 minute drive from Old Faithful is Grand Prismatic Spring, one of the other most popular spots in the Old Faithful area of the park. This multi-colored prismatic spring can be visited via a boardwalk. It’s pretty cool, but on cooler days it will mostly be a lot of steam coming off the spring, which is still very cool in it’s own right.

BUT it really has a wow factor when you view it from the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook which you can access on the Fairy Falls trail. This is a separate parking lot from the main Grand Prismatic Spring parking lot, and it can get very crowded, but it is SO worth it.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Did you know that Yellowstone has its own Grand Canyon?

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was formed by the Yellowstone River. You can drive along both the North Rim and South Rim and make stops along the way for different view points and hiking trails. You’ll be able to see not just the Canyon, but also the massive Upper and Lower Falls.

The most popular view point (and my favorite) is Artist Point along the South Rim.

Lamar Valley (Wildlife Spotting)

Lamar Valley is the best place in Yellowstone to spot wildlife, including wolves, bison, pronghorn, and more. Plus, it’s just absolutely gorgeous! Even if there was hardly any wildlife to see, I’d still say it is worth it just to drive through this beautiful area.

Bison will be visible all day. But if you want to see wolves, you will need to get to Lamar Valley early in the morning, usually at sunrise.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs is located near the North Entrance of Yellowstone and is definitely on the list of must-see attractions. (I’ll be honest here though, if I was writing about *my* personal favorite sites at Yellowstone, I would put West Thumb Geyser Basin here. But generally most people think you should see Mammoth Hot Springs, so I’ll go along with the crowd on this one.)

This hot spring area is full of otherworldly formations made of travertine, and you can walk the boardwalks and trails to see them. My favorite though is the most easily accessible: the Palette Hot Spring.

4 Day Yellowstone Itinerary Overview

So now that you know the general layout of Yellowstone and the most popular sights, lets do an at-a-glace look at our 4 day Yellowstone itinerary.

  • Day 1: Grand Prismatic Spring, Old Faithful, and other Upper, Middle, and Lower Geyser Basin sites
  • Day 2: Yellowstone Lake and Hayden Valley
  • Day 3: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Norris Geyser Basin
  • Day 4: Lamar Valley and Mammoth Hot Springs

4 Day Yellowstone Itinerary

Ok, now that we’ve got the general overview, lets’ get to the details of our 4 days in Yellowstone!

Yellowstone Itinerary Day 1: Upper, Middle, and Lower Geyser Basins

Morning: Grand Prismatic Spring

I know the temptation to get to Old Faithful first thing in morning may be strong, but I suggest you start your morning at Grand Prismatic Spring. This spot is incredibly popular and parking is much more limited than at Old Faithful.

Start out in the Grand Prismatic Spring parking lot and walk the boardwalk. The whole boardwalk is less than a mile and super easy. Be sure to follow the directional signs, because this boardwalk is supposed to have one-way traffic!

Then drive about 5 minutes south to the Fairy Falls parking lot. Here you’ll start on the Fairy Falls trail before cutting uphill to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook. This is really where the true magic of Grand Prismatic Spring is! So if you only have time for one view of it, make it this one! However, if you get there too early in the morning, it will still be covered in mist. So try to to time the Overlook hike for at least mid-morning.

If you have time before lunch, you can keep hiking the Fairy Falls trail. The total roundtrip distance from the parking lot is 5.4 miles, and aside from the hike up to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, it’s mostly flat. If you choose to take the Fairy Falls hike, maybe do the hike first and stop by the overlook on your way back. The colors will be better the later in the morning you visit!

Grand Prismatic Spring

Early Afternoon: Lower Geyser Basin

For the early afternoon head to the Lower Geyser Basin area. Confusingly, this is the northern most part on the map of the geyser basins in the Old Faithful area.

It’s about a 5 minute drive from the Fairy Falls parking lot to the Fountain Paint Pot Trail parking lot. This half-mile boardwalk takes you around the Fountain Paint Pots. There are four main geothermal features you can see in Yellowstone, and Fountain Paint Pots has them all: geysers, mud pots, hot springs, and fumaroles (steam vents).

After the Fountain Paint Pot Boardwalk, take the Firehole Lake Drive. This is a 3 mile drive that connects to the Grand Loop Road and has lots of pull-offs to view geysers. There are also a couple of short boardwalk trails you can take along it.

Important Geyser Safety! Geyser, mud pots, hot springs, and steam vents can all be extremely dangerous! Be sure to stay on the path, and don’t reach out to touch anything.

Late Afternoon/Evening: Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin

For the late afternoon and evening, head to Old Faithful! The later in the afternoon the less crowded it should get, and if you hang around until evening you should have less crowds trying for a view of this famous geyser.

First, stop by the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center to see what time the geyser will be erupting. Then, depending on your time you can either wait for the next eruption or walk some of the Upper Geyser Basin Loop.

The Upper Geyser Basin Trail is a series of interconnected looping boardwalks, so you can make your hike as short or as long as you’d like. The boardwalks end at Morning Glory Pool, which is about a 1.5 mile walk from the Old Faithful Visitor Center.

Also be sure to explore Old Faithful Inn next to Old Faithful. It’s a National Historic Landmark and you definitely have to see the inside! You can also eat dinner here (reservations are recommended).

Upper Geyser Basin
Geysers in Upper Geyser Basin

Yellowstone Itinerary Day 2: Yellowstone Lake and Hayden Valley

Morning: Hayden Valley and Mud Volcano

Start your morning with a drive through Hayden Valley. This is the second best place in Yellowstone for wildlife spotting, and earlier in the morning will see more active animals.

In Hayden Valley you can see bison, elk, bears, and wolves. Know that bear and wolf spotting is more rare though. (Fun fact: We saw lots of bears on our trip, but NONE of them were in the popular wildlife spotting valleys!)

IMPORTANT ANIMAL SAFETY! Every year, people are injured by animals in Yellowstone. It is critical that you give wildlife their space! Remember, you are in their territory! Stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves and 25 yards away from all other wildlife. Also, always carry bear spray with you.

At the south end of Hayden Valley, you can stop at Mud Volcano. This area has a short boardwalk trail that takes you around area of mudpots, including Mud Volcano. There is also a loop that is about 1/2 mile that will take you uphill to more geothermal features, including Sour Lake.

One thing to know about Mud Volcano: this area STINKS! It is one of the most acidic in the park, so be prepared for that rotten egg smell.

Mud Volcano Boardwalk
Mud Volcano Boardwalk

Afternoon: Fishing Bridge and Storm Point

From Mud Volcano, keep driving south toward Yellowstone Lake and stop at the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center. It’s about a 10 minute drive from Mud Volcano to Fishing Bridge.

Fishing Bridge has a small museum inside along with an amphitheater where they sometimes have programming. But the real attraction here is that they have a great beach area that goes right up to Yellowstone Lake, so you can walk along the shore and enjoy the view.

From Fishing Bridge, drive east to the Storm Point hiking trail. The Storm Point Loop is a relatively easy 2.3 mile trail that takes you along Yellowstone Lake and through forests. It’s a great family-friendly hike that gives you fantastic views of Yellowstone Lake.

Late Afternoon/Evening: West Thumb Geyser Basin

For the late afternoon and evening, head to West Thumb Geyser Basin. This is probably my favorite geyser basin in Yellowstone (at least of the ones I’ve visited) because it combines the beauty of Yellowstone Lake with the geyser features.

The trail at West Thumb is an easy 1/2 mile boardwalk that goes through geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles. One of the coolest things to see here is Fishing Cone. This geyser sits in Yellowstone Lake, and a long time ago people used to catch fish in Yellowstone Lake and then just lower them into Fishing Cone to cook them. Hence, the name.

After your time at West Thumb Geyser Basin, you can drive back through Hayden Valley (if it makes sense depending on where you are staying). Evening is another great time to visit Hayden Valley for active wildlife sighting!

West Thumb Geyser Basin
West Thumb Geyser Basin with Views of Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Itinerary Day 3: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Norris Geyser Basin

Morning: North Rim

Start your morning by exploring the North Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Your first stop is probably the hardest hike of the day: Brink of the Lower Falls. It’s a half-mile hike down through switchbacks to the top of the Lower Falls. And it’s so incredible! It’s hard to comprehend the power of the water rushing down, even while standing right next to it.

From there, keep driving along the one-way North Rim Drive. There are lots of stops you can make along the way to see different views of the canyon and the falls. I recommend stopping at Lookout Point, Grand View, and Inspiration Point. All have parking areas and are just short walks to the lookout area.

Afternoon: Brink of the Upper Falls and South Rim

Consider grabbing lunch in Canyon Village, and then head to Brink of the Upper Falls. Here you can take a short trail and some sets of stairs down to the top of the Upper Falls.

Then get back in your car and cross the bridge over the Yellowstone River to drive the South Rim Drive. Just like on the North Rim, there are lots of stops you can make to view the Canyon. Although, if you’re like me, you’ve already seen a lot and you don’t necessarily need to see it all. So I recommend stopping at Upper Falls View and Artist Point. (Definitely don’t miss Artist Point!)

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Late Afternoon/Evening: Norris Geyser Basin

When you’re wrapped up at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, drive west to Norris Geyser Basin. It’s about 15 miles or 25 minutes.

Norris Geyser Basin is another geyser area with lots of boardwalks and trails along geothermal features. There are two main areas: Back Basin and Porcelain Basin.

Back Basin is a longer trail (about 1.5 miles, although you can make it shorter) and through more wooded areas. It’s home to the unpredictable Steamboat Geyser, which rarely erupts but is the world’s tallest geyser when it does.

Porcelain Basin is a shorter boardwalk trail (about .75 miles) and takes you across more geysers and hot springs. This includes Whirligig Geyser and Crackling Lake. However, if you are a little….done….with hiking for the day my favorite view of Porcelain Basin was the view you get from above as you finish up Back Basin.

Yellowstone Itinerary Day 4: Lamar Valley and Mammoth Hot Springs

Morning: Lamar Valley

Start your morning as early as you possibly can in Lamar Valley. The earlier you are, the better chance you will have of seeing wolves! Although I fully admit that in the summer, I chose NOT to get there are 4:00 a.m. for wolf spotting.

While bison will be abundant, keep your eyes peeled for pronghorn, bighorn sheep, elk, bears, and coyotes too. And honestly, even if the only wildlife you see are bison, just driving through Lamar Valley is worth it. It is an absolutely gorgeous area of sagebrush, streams, and rolling hills.

Lamar Valley in Yellowstone
Lamar Valley

Afternoon: Tower Fall

From Lamar Valley, drive to the Tower area and make a stop to see Tower Falls. You can stop at the Tower Falls General Store and see the falls from the Tower Fall Overlook. But there is also a hike down to the bottom that’s moderately difficult and is 1 mile out and back.

An alternative to this would also be a stop at the Calcite Springs Overlook just north of the Tower Falls stop. You can’t see the falls from here, but it has great views of the canyon and the Yellowstone River. It also has a very short paved walkway.

Late Afternoon/Evening: Mammoth Hot Springs

From Tower Falls, drive about 40 minutes west to Mammoth Hot Springs. Be prepared — this area can get VERY crowded and has limited parking! So pack your patience.

Start with the walk along the Lower Terraces. There are boardwalks that can take you uphill to different parts of the terraces. But my favorite was at the beginning, the stark white Palette Spring.

After exploring the Lower Terraces, walk over to Fort Yellowstone and go to the Albright Visitor Center. Fort Yellowstone is where the US Army stayed when they were managing the park, but is now home to park employees and offices.

You can then drive over to the Upper Terraces. Theoretically, you are supposed to be able to drive through the Upper Terraces and make pitstops to view the springs. But when we were there, this wasn’t an option (my guess it because of the high crowds) and you had to walk to see the features.

You can also drive from here up to the North Entrance and see Roosevelt Arch. Don’t feel bad if you don’t have time, but if you do it’s a pretty cool thing to see at Yellowstone!

Mammoth Hot Springs
Palette Springs at Mammoth Hot Springs

4 Day Yellowstone Itinerary Map

Use the map below to see where all the sights are for each day. Click the button in the top left corner, and you’ll be able to see the details for each day (they are all color coded too!).

What To Do with Less Time in Yellowstone

Traveling to Yellowstone but don’t have four days? Here’s what we recommend doing with less time.

3 Days in Yellowstone Itinerary

If you only have three days in Yellowstone, cut a few of the less popular things out of your itinerary so you can still see the highlights. Well nix Norris Geyser Basin and spend less time at Yellowstone Lake.

Follow the tips in the above itinerary for these spots.

Day 1: Upper, Middle, and Lower Geyser Basin (including Old Faithful)
Day 2: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Hayden Valley, and West Thumb Geyser Basin
Day 3: Lamar Valley, Tower Falls, and Mammoth Hot Springs

2 Days in Yellowstone Itinerary

Two days in Yellowstone is a bit tricky, but you can still see a good amount if you are efficient with your time. We’ll cut out Yellowstone Lake entirely (which makes me sad because I love it!), but if you’re in Yellowstone you really don’t want to miss this other sights!

Day 1: Upper, Middle, and Lower Geyser Basin (including Old Faithful)
Day 2: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (make less stops though!), Lamar Valley, and Mammoth Hot Springs

1 Day in Yellowstone Itinerary

While I definitely recommend spending more time in Yellowstone than just one day, you can still hit some of the highlights with limited time. We’re going to cut out Mammoth Springs and Lamar Valley here though, because they are so much further north and involve so much more driving. Here’s how we recommend going through the park:

  1. Start at Grand Prismatic Spring (choose either the boardwalk or the hike to the overlook), and then go see Old Faithful.
  2. Drive south to Yellowstone Lake and make a stop at West Thumb Geyser Basin.
  3. Drive north along Yellowstone Lake and go through Hayden Valley for some wildlife spotting. If you are doing good on time you can stop at Mud Volcano.
  4. Visit Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Skip the Brink of the Lower Falls, but make stops at the other scenic overlooks along the North and South Rims.
  5. If you have time, end your day with a stop at Norris Geyser Basin.

More Things To Do in Yellowstone

Have more than 4 days in Yellowstone? Here are some ideas of more things to do!

Hike Mount Washburn

If you are up for a long moderately difficult hike, you can hike to the top of Yellowstone’s Mount Washburn. This is an extremely popular hike that offers amazing views of Yellowstone.

It’s an out-and-back trail that is 6 miles round trip. And because of the elevation (and the fact that bears love this area during the Fall), this is definitely one you’ll want to save for summer.

Find More Hiking Trails

Yellowstone has over 1,000 miles of hiking trails! So get out and find another hike! If you aren’t sure where to go, one of the best ways to do this is to talk to a park ranger. They are always happy to give you hiking recommendations!

Go Horseback Riding

Enjoy horseback riding through Yellowstone! You can take guided one or two hour horseback riding trips that depart from either the Canyon Lodge Corrals or the Roosevelt Corrals.

Enjoy an Old West Cookout

One of our favorite things we did in Yellowstone was the Old West Dinner Cookout!

Ride in a covered wagon through a sagebrush valley and arrive at the site of an old hotel. Cowboys cook a steak dinner and there is music and games to enjoy, all while sitting in the most picturesque setting. There is also an option to do a horseback ride to the cookout.

Kayak on Yellowstone Lake

Get out on Yellowstone Lake in a kayak! There are several companies that offer kayaking tours on Yellowstone Lake. Note that if you choose to bring your own kayak or boat, it must have a Yellowstone National Park Aquatic Invasive Species inspection and permit before you can launch.

Visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discover Center

While it’s not technically in Yellowstone National Park, the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center sits right outside the park gates in West Yellowstone. And this was another favorite from our trip!

This small animal park houses rescued grizzlies, wolves, otters, and raptors. This center is AZA accredited and you can tell the animals are SO happy and well-cared for. I’ve honestly never seen such active animals at a zoo before and the keepers gave us lots of information about them. We LOVED it here! And if you are traveling to Yellowstone with kids, I think a stop here is a must!

Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

Where to Stay in Yellowstone

Ideally, staying inside Yellowstone National Park is what you want to do. BUT those reservations can be hard to get (you really need to book 13 months in advance when they open). So, a lot of people also stay outside of Yellowstone.

During our trip to Yellowstone we stayed in West Yellowstone as our home base, and then just drove to the section of the park we were going to be in each day. This could be anywhere from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours each day. So it wasn’t too bad. And to be honest, every part of a drive through Yellowstone is beautiful, so that’s part of the fun too!

Lodging Inside Yellowstone National Park

There are 9 lodges and/or cabin areas in Yellowstone National Park with more than 2,000 rooms. If you want to stay at one of these inside the park, reserve it exactly 13 months out from your arrival date for the best chances of getting what you want.

Old Faithful Inn

This historic inn opened in 1904 and offers standard rooms with and without bathrooms (the without bath rooms have a shared bath on the hallway) and suites. This is the most popular lodging at Yellowstone, so if you want to book this you will need to be ready with your reservation early.

Old Faithful Lodge Cabins

The Old Faithful Lodge Cabins offer small hotel-room style cabins with or without bathrooms. This is another option in the popular Old Faithful area.

Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins

The Snow Lodge opened in 1999 and is another option in the Old Faithful area. It offers standard rooms as well as small cabins. All rooms and cabins have their own bathroom.

Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins

The Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins is a National Historic Landmark that sits on the shores of Lake Yellowstone. They offer suites, deluxe rooms, standard rooms, and cabins. All rooms have a private bath.

Lake Lodge Cabins

The Lake Lodge Cabins are located at Yellowstone Lake. They offer Western Cabins and Frontier Cabins, each with private baths.

Grant Village

Grant Village is located in the West Thumb area of Yellowstone Lake. They offer deluxe rooms with private baths.

Canyon Lodge and Cabins

Canyon Lodge and Cabins is the largest lodge at Yellowstone, with over 500 rooms. It’s located near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. They offer suites, deluxe rooms, standard rooms, and cabins, all with private baths.

Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins

The Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins are located near the Roosevelt Corrals in the Roosevelt/Tower area. They offer rustic cabins, some with private baths and some without.

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins

The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins is located…near Mammoth Hot Springs in Fort Yellowstone. They offer suites and deluxe rooms as well as a variety of cabins. There are cabins with and without baths, cabins with hot tubs, and some two room cabins.

Upper Geyser Basin with Old Faithful Inn in the distance
Upper Geyser Basin with Old Faithful Inn

Camping In Yellowstone National Park

There are 12 campgrounds in Yellowstone with over 2,000 campsites. But considering how many people travel to Yellowstone, you still need to get a reservation!

For the five biggest campgrounds, you can make reservations 13 months in advance:

  • Bay Bridge
  • Canyon
  • Fishing Bridge RV Park
  • Grant Village
  • Madison

The other campgrounds in Yellowstone take reservations either six months or two weeks ahead of time:

  • Indian Creek
  • Lewis Lake
  • Mammoth
  • Norris
  • Pebble Creek
  • Slough Creek
  • Tower Fall

Here’s more information on camping in Yellowstone, including which campsites have bathrooms and showers and what the dates are for the season they are open.

Lodging Outside Yellowstone National Park

Because Yellowstone National Park is SO busy and lodging and campsites in the park can be limited, many people choose to stay outside of the park. Here are some options.

West Yellowstone — This small town sits right outside of the West Entrance to Yellowstone. There are hotel options in West Yellowstone or choose a West Yellowstone VRBO to share with a larger group.

Gardiner — Gardiner, MT is located just outside the North Entrance to Yellowstone. This is another small town, but there are still plenty of hotel options in Gardiner and Gardiner VRBOs.

While there are other towns within driving distance of Yellowstone, these are really the only two towns close enough to stay in if you plan to commute daily into the park.

Where to Eat in Yellowstone National Park

Because attractions in Yellowstone are so spread out, it’s important to plan out your meals. You don’t want to get stuck somewhere without food options! (At least you don’t if you are like me and get easily hangry.)

During our trip, we ate breakfast most days at our VRBO before heading out. Then we packed one picnic for the day and planned one meal at a restaurant each day.

Most of the major lodge areas have restaurants or dining rooms you can eat in. Some require reservations, while some will be delis or order-at-the-counter places.

While you can find a restaurant list on the National Parks site, here are some of the highlights you’ll want to know about:

  • Old Faithful Inn Dining Room — Dine in the Old Faithful Inn. This is probably the most popular place to eat in the park! Breakfast and lunch are first-come-first-serve (and be ready to get in line early!), while dinner requires a reservation.
  • Canyon Eatery — This lunch counter restaurant is a fun place to eat if you are in the Canyon area.
  • Lake Hotel Dining Room — A nice restaurant in the Yellowstone Lake Lodge. Breakfast is a first-come-first-serve buffet, while dinner requires reservations.
  • Old West Dinner Cookout — A super memorable experience for the whole family where you ride in a covered wagon to a steak dinner cooked up by cowboys.
Old Faithful Inn Dining Room
Old Faithful Inn Dining Room

What to Pack for Yellowstone

While you’ll obviously need to pack your trip basics (like, you know, a toothbrush) for your trip to Yellowstone, here are the more specific items you will want to bring with you.

  • Clothing Layers — Weather in Yellowstone can vary widely, so bring layers to wear. During our trip in late June, the temperature ranged from the 40s to the 60s. I wore hiking leggings, a long sleeve shirt, a fleece jacket, and a rainproof/windproof jacket. I also had a knit hat each day.
  • Hiking Boots — If you plan to hike, you’ll definitely want hiking boots. If your hiking will lean more toward the easy side, you’d probably be okay in sturdy tennis shoes.
  • Sun Protection — You’re going to be outside, so you’ll definitely need sun protection. Bring sun glasses, a hat, and sunscreen.
  • Bug Spray — There are bugs in Yellowstone. (Although, being from Alabama, they definitely weren’t as bad as home!). But be prepared with bug spray.
  • Bear Spay — You definitely need to carry bear spray with you in Yellowstone! Remember though that you cannot fly with bear spray in your bag. There are places in the park (several of the service stations) where you can rent bear spray. We flew into Jackson Hole and rented and returned ours at the airport.
  • First Aid Kit — Always make sure you have a first aid kit ready when traveling, especially when enjoying outdoor activities!
  • Hand Sanitizer — Not all the bathrooms in Yellowstone have sinks to wash your hands, so have some hand sanitizer with you!
  • Reusable Water Bottle — Always carry water with you!
  • Cooler — For picnic lunches, you might consider getting a cooler that’s easy to pack in your suitcase like this cooler.
  • Flashlight — Another necessity for hiking…just in case!
  • Whistle — If you are hiking on longer hikes or in the back country, it’s a good idea to have a whistle with you so you can be located in an emergency.
  • Walkie Talkies — Cell service in Yellowstone is almost non-existent. So if you are traveling with a larger group that may get split up, consider bring walkie talkies to communicate.
  • Binoculars — You’ll likely be viewing wildlife from a distance, so you’ll definitely want some binoculars!
Bison viewed through binoculars
Bison Viewed Through Binoculars

How to Avoid Yellowstone Crowds

During the summer, Yellowstone National Park sees high crowds. And I’ll be honest, it can definitely make the trip a lot less enjoyable when you;re circling parking lots like a hawk and staring at the same beautiful views with tons of other people.

If you are going to Yellowstone in the summer, there will no avoiding the crowds completely. But here are some tips to help you avoid them as much as possible.

  • Arrive early. Get up and get out the door early, and you’ll find less crowds at popular spots.
  • Arrive late. Later in the afternoon and into the evening, crowds at popular spots will also start to thin out.
  • Plan a trip for shoulder season. Avoid visiting in July and August if possible!
  • Find less popular attractions. While you definitely want to see the highlights, there’s also so much more to see in Yellowstone! Find the lesser known hiking trails and enjoy some time with nature and less crowds.
Crowds lining up to view Old Faithful
Crowds Lining Up for Old Faithful in the Rain

Yellowstone National Park FAQs

Do I need a reservation for Yellowstone?

No, you do not need a reservation to enter Yellowstone National Park. You only need a park entrance pass. You can purchase this either at the gate, or purchase it online ahead of time.

Where are bathrooms in Yellowstone?

Yellowstone is big, and you probably want to avoid going to the bathroom in the woods if you can! The lodges, restaurants, visitors centers and gas stations in Yellowstone all have restrooms you can use.

There are also restrooms in most of the parking lots for major attractions and scattered throughout the park near major roads. Know that many of these are primitive toilets that don’t flush though.

Can I bring my dog to Yellowstone?

While you can bring your dog to Yellowstone, they will be restricted in what they can do. Pets are not allowed on boardwalks, trails, or in the back country. They are also not allowed in any Yellowstone Lodges, however some cabins do allow them.

So while you *could* bring your dog with you, this is a trip where I’d recommend leaving your dog at home.

Is there cell service in Yellowstone?

Cell service in Yellowstone is very sparse and almost non-existent. Most lodges also do not have WiFi. So be prepared to be disconnected from the world (which can be great in a National Park!). And if you need WiFi access during your trip, consider staying outside of the National Park.

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