With 2.2 million acres of rugged wilderness spread across 3 states, there's nothing quite like visiting Yellowstone National Park. Established in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, Yellowstone is the world’s first national park and one of the most iconic symbols of the American West.
Inside Yellowstone National Park, you’ll find some of the most beautiful nature and diverse wildlife that America has to offer. The park’s wild landscape boasts over 500 erupting geysers, pristine lakes, rugged backcountry trails, and even its very own ‘grand canyon.' It's also a great place for those looking to spot wildlife, as Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states. From bighorn sheep and bison to grizzly bears and gray wolves, this park is nature in its purest form.
With a seemingly endless amount of things to do and see, it's no wonder that over 4 million visitors pass through Yellowstone every year. In fact, you could spend weeks in Yellowstone and still not see it all. So before you start planning your trip, read on for everything you need to know about visiting Yellowstone.
Yellowstone National Park: Know before you go
Cell service is limited throughout the park
Sometimes, cell service is virtually non-existent in Yellowstone. Plan to not be able to access calls, texts, or the internet for a while and be sure to download anything you may need (maps, information) for offline use.
Don't underestimate Yellowstone's size
Yellowstone is a massive park, so the time it takes to drive between locations can really add up. Plan your trip itinerary accordingly by giving yourself plenty of time to see attractions and spreading your trip out over multiple days.
Yellowstone gets cold. Even in the summer.
Due to the park’s high altitude, Yellowstone National Park gets chillier than you might expect. Come prepared for the weather by packing layers and a windbreaker. Even in August, when the nighttime temperatures can still dip into the 30’s.
Download the Yellowstone app
You can download the Yellowstone National Park app to help plan your trip. It has interactive maps, geyser prediction timers, and more. Just be sure to download the app contents for offline viewing before venturing too far out.
Staying safe in Yellowstone
Yellowstone is bear country
Yellowstone National Park is home to both Grizzly and Black bears. Be sure to carry bear spray (and know how to use it), make noise, and never hike alone. You can buy bear spray at various shops around the park or you can save money by renting it from Bear Aware. Learn more about bear safety in Yellowstone from the National Park Service here.
Stay on the boardwalks
Yellowstone’s famous geysers and hot springs, while safe to visit, injure and kill more visitors each year than any other natural feature – including animals. With waters that reach up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit, wandering off the path can not only be damaging to the park’s ecosystem – it can also be deadly. In some areas off the trail, the ground is so thin that you could break through the thin earthen crust and right into boiling water.
Remember that the animals are wild
No matter how cute or friendly the animals in the park look, they’re still wild and unpredictable animals. Do not approach touch, feed, approach, or attempt to take a selfie with them. It could put both you and the animal at risk. Follow NPS guidelines by staying 100 yards away from bears and wolves, 25 yards away from other animals.
Best time to visit Yellowstone
Yellowstone is an ever-changing place with every season offering a different reason to visit. Summer brings phenomenal weather for hiking, biking, boating, and other activities, making it the most popular season to visit by far. However, this also means that crowds are bigger, traffic is worse, and accommodation prices are at their highest in the summer.
Spring and fall offer good weather and thinner crowds. The park stays open in the winter and can offer some one of a kind experiences for those who hop on a snowmobile and brave the low temperatures. However, travelers should be aware that many of the park’s roads and stations close in the winter. Planning ahead is a must.
Things to do in Yellowstone
When most people think of Yellowstone, they immediately think of the world-famous Old Faithful. True to its name, this world-famous geyser erupts every 1-1.5 hours (the on-site ranger station can give you a more accurate time prediction), blasting water an average of 130 feet in the air! Old Faithful is easily accessible by road and has a large parking lot and benches.
Grand Prismatic Hot Spring
Known for its signature bright colors, the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring is the most photographed thermal feature in Yellowstone. It’s also the largest hot spring in the entire United States. This massive hot spring is not characterized by its size, but rather by its bright blue center encircled by vibrant orange, yellow, and red rings. These colorful bands are made up of pigmented bacteria that live and thrive in the mineral-rich water around the spring.
For the best views of Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, don't waste your time competing for space with other tourists. Instead, take the Fairy Falls trail hike for incredible views of Grand Prismatic from above.
Mammoth Hot Springs
In a park teeming with one-of-a-kind sights, Mammoth Hot Springs still stands out as one of Yellowstone’s most unique attractions. These ascending terraces formed from boiling water cracking through the earth’s surface and depositing calcium carbonate over millions of years. Today, these deposits have come to resemble cascading steps of salt or ice in some spots and a sort of burnt orange lava flow in others. Be sure to visit both the upper and lower terraces, as they offer distinctly different but equally magnificent views.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
That’s right, Yellowstone has a Grand Canyon of its own. Formed over thousands of years when the Yellowstone river eroded rock that had been weakened by gases and hot water, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is an absolute must-see. The canyon is roughly 20 miles long, 1,200 feet deep, and almost 4,000 feet across in some places. There are ample hikes around both canyon rims that allow visitors to appreciate each element of this spectacular attraction. There are also overlooks that can be accessed by car.
Flying to Yellowstone
The most convenient major airport to Yellowstone is Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) in Bozeman, Montana. The airport is about 2 hours from the park, depending on traffic and which part of the park you're planning to visit. You can also fly into Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) in Jackson, Wyoming.
Yellowstone Admission Fee
Entrance fees to enter Yellowstone National Park are $35 per private vehicle, $30 per motorcycle or snowmobile, and $15 per person if entering by bicycle, foot, skis, etc. The park also offers several free admission days throughout the year.
Where to Stay in Yellowstone
Camping in Yellowstone
If you’re visiting Yellowstone on a budget, camping is a great way to save money. The park offers 12 campgrounds with over 2,000 campsites and fees start as low as $15 per night.
Five of Yellowstone’s campgrounds can be reserved ahead of time, and the rest are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. Be sure to bundle up if you’ll be camping, as even summer nights can be quite cold.
To save even more money, consider bringing some snacks along and cooking at your campsite. Just don’t forget to bear-proof your food before storing it.
Old Faithful Inn
Right alongside Old Faithful sits the iconic Old Faithful Inn, the largest log structure in the world. In fact, the Old Faithful Inn is so close to the action that some of the rooms offer a limited geyser view.
Inside, the more than 300 rooms are straight forward, combining modern and old-fashioned characteristics. But it’s not the rooms that people come for. The real action is in the hotel’s magnificent lobby, featuring a massive stone fireplace and a hand-crafted clock. This is where travelers from all over the world come together to swap travel tips and share stories over live music.
The Cody Hotel
Staying outside of Yellowstone will save you a lot of money on accommodation.
The Cody Hotel is located just 50 miles from the East entrance to Yellowstone, so it’s still convenient for park-goers. The Western-inspired rooms here are clean, comfortable, and perfect for unwinding after a long day of exploring Yellowstone. The hotel also boasts free parking, an indoor pool, gym, and complimentary breakfast.
Plan your visit to Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park is one of America's greatest treasures and one that everyone should try to visit at least once. So whether you want to explore the millions of acres of pure wilderness, you've got Old Faithful on your bucket list, or you just desperately want to see what those technicolor thermal pools look like up close, be sure to save this budget guide, sign up to receive cheap flight alerts, and start planning your visit to Yellowstone.
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BY: ZACH ANDERSON, CONTENT MARKETING & FLIGHT EXPERT
Zach is a digital marketer, copywriter, and flight deal expert at Dollar Flight Club where he helps 1 million people travel more. As a digital nomad, he is deeply passionate about location independence, Thai food, and helping others see the world affordably.