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Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872 and not only is it the first national park in the United States but also the first in the world. The large park is spread out over 3,500 sq mi (9,065 sq km) and while it’s mostly located in the northeast corner of Wyoming, it spills into Montana and Idaho as well. Roughly 4 million people visit Yellowstone each year, making it one of the country’s most popular parks. It’s known for its incredible geothermal activity and plentiful wildlife. The landscapes are stunning and vary greatly. There are canyons, rivers, waterfalls, and geysers. Yellowstone is full of breathtaking viewpoints and there are plenty of things to do. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by everything it has to offer, especially if this is your first visit. The following guide will provide you with everything you need to know before your visit and covers the top ten attractions in Yellowstone National Park:
How to Get to Yellowstone
Yellowstone is fairly remote; however, there are several airports to choose from. The closest airport is Yellowstone Airport. It offers seasonal flights from early May to mid-October and is located near the town of West Yellowstone, Montana. It’s just ten minutes from the West Entrance. Other options for accessing the park from the West Entrance are Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport and Idaho Falls Regional Airport. Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is two hours from the park and Idaho Falls Regional Airport is about two and a half.
Yellowstone Regional Airport is near Cody, Wyoming and is roughly an hour from the East Entrance. Jackson Hole Airport is located near Grand Teton National Park and is a great option if you plan on spending time in both parks. It’s about an hour from Yellowstone’s South Entrance. Flights into these small airports can be expensive. If you’re interested in doing a bit of a road trip, you can save money by flying into one of the larger nearby cities. Nearby options include Salt Lake City, Utah; Denver, Colorado; and Billings, Montana. The drive to Yellowstone from Salt Lake City is just under five hours. Denver is nine hours and Billings is about three hours.
Getting Around Yellowstone
The best way to get around Yellowstone National Park is by car. A car can be rented at any of the above-mentioned airports. There is no public transportation system within the park and while commercial tour buses are allowed inside, many of them only run during the summer months. If you are interested in seeing Yellowstone with a tour group, I recommend reserving a spot well in advance. Many of them tend to book up quickly.
Driving through Yellowstone is easy as long as there is not excessive snowfall. The park has five entrances. The entrance you will use is determined by what airport you are coming from and what you wish to see within the park. The main road within the park is called Grand Loop Road. The 142-mile road is constructed in the shape of a figure-eight and hits all the major sights. Although it is technically possible to drive the entire loop in a day, it’s not recommended. Each side of the loop can be driven in three to four hours but you will want to take your time. There are designated parking areas throughout the park, allowing you to stop and explore on foot.
How Many Days in Yellowstone?
This really depends on how much you want to do and see. If you’re quickly stopping at the major sights along the main road then you can complete about half the loop in a day. Three days will allow you to see the major sights and it’s possible to do the following top attractions in Yellowstone within this timeframe. If you wish to do some additional exploring and venture off the beaten path, I recommend 5-7 days.
Best Time to Visit Yellowstone
The mountainous region of Yellowstone and its high elevation can make for unpredictable weather. It greatly varies from season to season with each season offering something different and special. There really isn’t a “best” time to visit Yellowstone and when you go will greatly depend on what kind of activities you are interested in. The summer months between July and September are the warmest and driest. These months are also the most popular. The park is most accessible during this time but you can expect large crowds. Children are out of school and families flock to the park. Early June and late September are great times to visit. The weather is mild and it’s not nearly as crowded.
During winter months temperatures are usually below freezing. However, there are still plenty of activities to partake in. You’ll be able to experience a snow-covered park and frozen waterfalls. There’s also cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing. It can be a great time to visit since it’s so quiet. Starting in November there will be road closures and limited access to certain areas of the park. It’s a good idea to call ahead or visit the website for the National Park Service. Spring remains chilly and there may still be snow but not enough for winter activities.
Wildlife can be viewed year-round but some months are better than others. The spring and fall are great for viewing animals around the valleys. In the spring, the bears start to come out of hibernation and are visible around the park. You’ll also likely see a lot of baby animals during this time. In the summer months, many of the animals retreat to higher elevations in search of cooler temperatures. In the winter, it’s still possible to see wildlife and it is an especially great time for wolves.
Where to Stay in Yellowstone
There are lots of options when it comes to lodging in and around Yellowstone National Park. No matter what you choose though, you’ll want to book well in advance, especially if you’re visiting during the high season. Many park-goers choose to camp. Yellowstone offers 12 campgrounds with over 2,000 sites. Five of these take reservations and the rest are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. If you are not a camper then your next best option is to stay at one of the hotels or lodges within the park. Canyon Lodge and Old Faithful Inn are Yellowstone favorites and are the two best options for sightseeing. To book or find more information regarding accommodations in the park, visit the official lodging website of Yellowstone National Park.
Accommodations within the park often sell out quickly and can be costly. There are plenty of lodging options right outside the park as well. The best area outside of the park to stay in is the town of West Yellowstone. Staying in West Yellowstone will make your daily commute to the park easier. During summer months, there can be a lot of traffic and the closer you stay to the park, the better. The following are great options in West Yellowstone:
Explorer Cabins at Yellowstone
The Explorer Cabins are located just half a mile from the West Entrance. The cabins are charming and even offer pet-friendly lodging. The community has outdoor fire pits and complimenta