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Yellowstone Travel: The Ultimate Guide To The World’s First National Park

March 26, 2016

With gorgeous, pristine lakes and dramatic peaks, Yellowstone is truly a playground tailored for outdoor enthusiasts. Billed as one of North America’s greatest assets, this UNESCO World Site wows its visitors with expansive meadows, verdant forests, incredible wildlife, multicolored pools and volatile geysers that launch streams of piping hot water toward the heavens. With so much beauty and unspoiled natural splendor, it’s no surprise Wyoming’s flagship attraction attracts over a couple of million visitors each year.

Want to experience an epic and memorable Yellowstone vacation? Here’s a detailed Yellowstone National Park travel guide, rounded up by Trekeffect, to make your travel planning a breeze.

 

Why visit Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone – the world’s first ever national park – encompasses over 2 million acres of land, and provides a perfect vacation destination for families and thrill seekers alike. A United States National Park, this living museum boasts more geothermal wonders than the rest of the planet combined, with the Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful as favorites. With forested groves, volcanic formations, gurgling mud-pots, cascading waterfalls, rushing rivers and gushing geysers, the park offers photographic gems and scenic phenomena at every turn.

In addition to its awe-inspiring natural beauty, Yellowstone offers wildlife viewing and bird watching opportunities near each major attraction in the park. From the safety of your vehicle, watch as bison, bighorn sheep, moose and elk roam the range.

 

When to visit it

The best time to go on a Yellowstone vacation is from September to November or from March to May. These seasons have fewer crowds as well as offer a mild weather.  The most popular months to visit Yellowstone are August and July, when the climate is warm enough to sleep outside, and the children are out of the school.

But, make no mistake about it – this beloved destination is no stranger to cold weather. Temperatures may drop into the 30s, even during summertime. When winter sets in, expect a broad range of temperatures that span from 25 degrees Fahrenheit to subzero digits.

March to May

The weather is fairly brilliant during these months. As an added bonus, you won’t have to share Yellowstone with dense crowds of travelers and tourists. To top it all off, there are quite a few key events during this time of the tear, including Wine and Food Festival, Montana Beer Festival, and World Snowmobile Expo.

But, never underestimate the park’s unpredictable weather. Just be sure to pack some warmer layers, in case the weather goes below freezing.

June to August

With average highs hovering in the 70s, these months indeed offer great hiking opportunities to its visitors. What’s more, all the facilities in Yellowstone will be open in this time of the year. On warmer months, the park welcomes more than 25,000 visits a day, which means accommodations will quickly fill up. If you are planning to visit the park during the high season, we strongly recommend that you make reservations as early as possible.

September to November

Autumn is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best times to explore this world-famous national park. The weather is relatively mild, offering plenty of opportunities for wildlife-watching. Not to mention, almost all of the crowds from summer have diffused, leaving behind tons of more reasonably-priced campsites and hotel rooms.

December to February

Winter in this park is, by no means, for the fair of heart. Yellowstone experiences extreme snowfall during this time of the year, and the daytime temperature rarely goes above freezing. If, however, you decide to visit it during winter, be prepared for perilous driving conditions, and always bring safety gears, such as extra food, flashlights and sleeping bags.

 

How to get in

Fly

The Jackson Hole Airport (JAC), Wyoming’s largest airport, in Grand Teton National Park is the main airport serving the world’s first national park. Delta and United offer flights to this airport year round, from Salt Lake City and Denver respectively. These airline companies, together with Frontier and American, offer seasonal flights from these cities as well as eight others across the United States.

You can also fly to these nearby commercial airports:

  • Billings Logan International Airport in Montana
  • Bozeman Yellowstone Airport in Bozeman
  • Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody
  • Idaho falls Regional Airport in Idaho Falls
  • Yellowstone Airport in West Yellowstone

 

Land

Yellowstone has 5 entrances, namely

West – It can be accessed from West Yellowstone through US Route 20/191/287. This entrance, however, is closed during winter.

South – It can be accessed from Grand Teton National Park through US Route 89/191/287. This entrance is also closed during winter.

East – It can be accessed from Cody through US Route 14/16/20. Unfortunately, this entrance is closed during winter.

Northeast – It can be accessed from Cooke City and Silver Gate via Beartooth Highway – US Route 212. The road and entrance to Cooke City are open year-round, but Route 212 is closed during winter.

North – It can be accessed via US Route 89 from Gardiner in Montana. The entrance is open year-round and leads to Yellowstone’s HQ at Mammoth Hot Springs. The famous Roosevelt Arch can be found at this entrance.

 

Permits and fees

Every individual and vehicle is required to pay an entrance fee, which is valid for 7 days. The entrance fee will give you access to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Fees are $20 or snowmobiles and motorcycles, $12 for cyclists and hikers, and $25 for non-commercial cars.

There are a few passes that give free entrance for individuals on bike or foot as well as groups that travel together in private vehicles. These passes can be used to access all national parks like Yellowstone National Park.

  • Permanent residents and citizens of the United States, with permanent disabilities, may get an access pass, which is valid for the holder’s whole life. They may get it for free at a federal recreation site or via mail for $10. The applicant must provide documents of permanent disability and citizenship. In addition, the pass gives the holder a 50-percent discount on some amenities in the park.
  • Permanent residents and citizens of the United States, who are 62 and above, can get a senior pass. They may get it for $10 at a federal recreation site or via mail for $20.  The applicant must provide documents of age and citizenship.  The pass also gives the holder a 50-percent discount on some amenities in the park.
  • For $80, you may get an interagency pass, which is valid for 1 year from the date of issue. This pass provides free entrance to national wildlife refuges and national parks. Likewise, this pass covers the standard amenity fess at grasslands and national forests as well as at lands managed by the Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Land Management. Military personnel can get this pass, without spending a dime, by showing a Military ID or Common Access Card at a federal site.

 

How to get around

Car

The best way to travel around the park is through a car, especially since there’s no public transportation system there. You may rent a car at any of the airports nearby, including the Jackson Hole Airport and Yellowstone Regional Airport.  But, it does not mean that you to spend your entire Yellowstone trip behind the wheel. There are, after all, a lot of areas to park within the park, allowing you to leave your vehicle behind, and explore it on foot or by bike. Additionally, guided tours are available.

Roads are often close for construction and heavy rainfall, so it is best to check out the advisories shared on National Park Service, before hitting the road. Also, take note that GPS devices may sometimes be unreliable, and provide inaccurate directions around the national park, so don’t forget to grab the park road maps at all the entrance stations.

Shuttle and bus

There are many trustworthy companies that provide guided van and bus tours of the national park from visitor areas as well as gateway communities of the park, such as West Yellowstone. Moreover, there are shuttles from and to nearby communities like Jackson Wyoming and Bozeman.

 

Lodging  

Where to stay

As far as your accommodations go, it really depends on what you want to see, and how much time you have. If, for instance, you plan to visit the park for just a few days, and you only want to hit its main attractions, then the West Yellowstone would be a great base. From there, it will only take a short drive to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Old Faithful and geyser basin. But, if you want to get a full Yellowstone experience, staying at the Old Faithful makes a logical and excellent choice. For those who want to view some wildlife, the Northeast Entrance can be an ideal base.

Budget

There are many campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park. The price for these campsites ranges from $12 to $18. The more expensive sites have running water and toilets, while the cheaper ones are more basic. Here are some campgrounds in the park that we recommend:

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

 

Check out their official site, for more information about camping in Yellowstone National Park.

Upscale and mid-range options

Of course, there are a number of mid-range and upscale options for accommodations within the park. Visit Yellowstone National Park lodges for information regarding their rates and locations.

 

Other Yellowstone travel tips you must know

1Book your accommodations in advance

Do you need to book a reservation in advance? Absolutely! Showing up at the park, without a reservation, is definitely a bad idea, and you might end up sleeping in your own car, or paying $450 a night for a room at the town’s most expensive hotel.

2Cook your own food

Although the park features several restaurants, they can end up putting a serious dent in your travel budget and savings. It’s ideal that you bring your own food.

3Skip summertime

Summer not only witnesses the largest influx of visitors, but the rates of campground and hotels tend to skyrocket during this season as well.

4Bring your own bed

A space in a camp site is so much cheaper than any room in one of Yellowstone’s lodges. Furthermore, most campgrounds are equipped with flushing toilets, showers and even laundry facilities.

5Beware of the not-so cuddly bears

The park is essentially a prime habitat for bears. To prevent bear attacks, secure any food before sleeping and make a lot of noise when hiking. Learn more about safety in this park with this guide.

6Don’t forget to secure a permit

If you’re planning on camping outside the park’s designed camp areas, don’t forget to secure a permit from one of the ranger stations or visitors centers.

 

Things to do in Yellowstone National Park

1Old Faithful

The most renowned geyser in the world is an absolutely must-see for every visitor in Yellowstone National Park. While it isn’t the world’s largest geyser, the eruptions of Old Faithful are nothing short of amazing, averaging at 130 feet high.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

It is the main tourist draw in Canyon Village, and one of the park’s most popular hiking areas. Breathtaking and grand, this natural wonder truly inspires awe.

2Yellowstone Lake

Not only it is a popular destination among boaters and anglers, but it also gorgeous backdrops that will give you the urge to snap a jillion of photographs. Furthermore, a visit here will give you a chance to come face to face with some of the animal residents of the park, including grizzly bears, bald eagles and bison.

3Grand Prismatic Spring

It’s grand and prismatic, and it’s an extraordinary natural phenomenon that will give you a little artistic inspiration. Know as the largest hot spring in the US, this unique sight will awestruck you with its sheer size and fascinating deep cerulean hue.

4Mount Washburn

If you are looking for some serious hiking in the park, Mount Washburn is the right place to be. The summit of Mount Washburn towers around 10,000 feet over the northern side of the park. Aside from the tough challenge, the mountain also offers magnificent panoramas of the Teton Mountains.

5Hayden Valley

A layover to Hayden Valley will give you a glimpse of the park’s wondrous wildlife. Located a few miles north of the beloved Yellowstone Lake, this lush valley is a highly-visited place for numerous species of birds, the occasional grizzly bear, coyotes, elk and bison.

6Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

Want to learn more about the wildlife in Yellowstone in a more controlled environment? Then, take a break from the sprawling park, and make your way to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. A non-profit center, he Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center offers a detailed history of wolves and bears in the area as well as an insight into the park’s conservation tactics.

 

Before hit the road, don’t forget to plan your Yellowstone vacation for FREE with Trekeffect!

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Ashley Thompson
A fun size lass born in rock and roll who dreams to become a rock star, or a world traveler, or both.