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Planning a Trip to Yellowstone National Park

Do you love to spend time in nature, enjoying our national parks? Why not visit Yellowstone National Park? Here are my tips for planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park. 

Are you planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park? We're sharing tips and ideas to help your trip be fun and memorable.

Over 3 million people visit Yellowstone National Park every single year! Two million of these visitors visit during the summer months alone!

Yellowstone is a popular destination. For many people, vacationing in Yellowstone is at the top of their bucket list and for good reason. My husband and I stopped at Yellowstone on a cross country road trip from Ohio to Oregon a couple of years ago.

Even though we didn’t have a lot of time in the park, and we were there in high season with the highest crowds, we managed to see a lot of the park and have a few tips to share from our experience. 

driving-yellowstone

Yellowstone is hands down one of my favorite parks. It’s so diverse! From open fields to forests, to geothermal fields, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the views can change. While we were only able to spend 24-hours in Yellowstone, we covered a lot of ground and I didn’t feel cheated when we left to continue our road trip. 

Yellowstone National Park Facts and History

The river is located near the Grand Canyon of YellowstoneYellowstone National Park was established on March 1, 1872, by President Ulysses S. Grant as the first national park in the country. The area had already become famous throughout the world for its stunning scenery and amazing natural wonders such as Old Faithful, the always popular geyser that is one of the things that Yellowstone National park is most famous for.

Watching the Old Faithful erupt is a highlight when visiting Yellowstone. Did you know though that Old Faithful is not even the biggest geyser in the park? It’s regularity though is quite unique though and people know that they will get to see it erupt during their visit so that’s where they go.

Now that you know a couple of the details about the park, are you ready to start planning a trip to Yellowstone?

Planning a Trip to Yellowstone

Walking along the Mud Flats Trail.
Best Time to Visit Yellowstone

view from the top of the artist pots

Yellowstone National Park is open year-round to visitors. However, the majority of visitors arrive in the months of June, July, and August. For many people, this is the best time to visit Yellowstone because the have a break from school, and Yellowstone weather is at its best in summer. Summer in Yellowstone is also when the most attractions and facilities are open. 

Spring and Fall are also great times to visit Yellowstone. The autumn months of September and October are popular with international travelers, so you won’t find solitude as easily as you might expect. However, the cooler nights and warm days of fall are perfect for exploring the park. In the Spring, you may encounter snow, but you might also get to see newborn animals. 

Winter in Yellowstone is a magical time and is the least crowded time to visit Yellowstone. Facilities and access are limited, so you really need to plan ahead to secure tours and lodging. 

Plan Out a Yellowstone Itinerary

open-spaces-yellowstoneYeah, I know that making a plan seems redundant when visiting a national park. If you’re like me, you want to be spontaneous and enjoy a leisurely visit. But the thing is, Yellowstone National Park covers over 3,500 square miles. There’s no way you can see the whole park in one trip. 

When you are planning a trip to Yellowstone, you should focus on a couple of areas that you really want to visit and plan accordingly. You can always add on to your itinerary after you’ve seen the attractions that appeal to you most.

taking-walk-yellowstone

The best way to plan your Yellowstone itinerary is to sit down at home with a map so you can maximize your time in the park and minimize your time spent driving around.

Yellowstone National Park is divided into eight main areas, each with their own attractions and services:

  • Canyon Village
  • Fishing Bridge
  • Lake Village & Bridge Bay
  • Madison & West Yellowstone
  • Mammoth Hot Springs
  • Norris
  • Old Faithful
  • Tower-Roosevelt
  • West Thumb & Grant Village

Deciding which areas of Yellowstone to see can even help you plan your route to Yellowstone.

Best Places to Stay in Yellowstone

When planning a trip to Yellowstone, the first thing you need to do is secure your lodging. If you want to stay in the park, you will need to plan up to 12 months in advance, especially if traveling in the summer. Yellowstone lodging options will vary depending on the season that you visit as not all areas of the park are accessible during the winter.

roughrider-cabins-yellowstone

We’ve mentioned it before but Yellowstone National park is massive and covers a lot of ground. If you only want to see the geothermal area, the Old Faithful Inn would be a great fit, but driving to the Roosevelt Lodge & Cabins would be out of your way. My husband and I stayed in the Roughrider Cabins and LOVED our experience.  

roughrider-cabins-streamYellowstone has 12 campgrounds and only five take reservations. If you’re traveling with an RV, reservations are imperative. Without a camping reservation, you may be able to get a spot upon arrival but keep in mind that those spots often fill up early in the day- even first thing in the morning. Also, if you book a campsite, make sure that you know which campground it is. There are quite a few in and around the park and it’s not like you can just show up anywhere in the park to find your spot.

You may also plan to stay outside the park, which leads me to my next point. 

Places to Stay Near Yellowstone National Park

Not all the wildlife in Yellowstone are large. You'll spot a few chipmunks too.

There are several towns near the various entrances to Yellowstone National Park. If you are unable to stay in the park, then you will need to first build out your Yellowstone itinerary and then figure out which nearby towns work best for your plans.

Many people will book rooms outside of the park to save a bit of money but if you go that route, know that many “Yellowstone” hotels can be a bit of a drive to the park so be sure to plan ahead for travel time each day. Here are some of the most popular places to stay near Yellowstone National Park

  • Gardiner, Montana
  • West Yellowstone, Idaho
  • Cooke City, Montana
  • Moran, Wyoming
  • Jackson, Wyoming

Each of these towns is heavily focused on tourism, with plenty of accommodation and dining options, plus additional activities to enjoy outside the park. 

Beat the Yellowstone Crowds

Once again I am going to mention that each summer, Yellowstone National Park gets over 2 million visitors. That means that there will be crowds. Yes, you are going into the wilderness, but you wouldn’t guess it in some areas of the park because of how crowded it gets.

Plan to wake up early so you can cover a lot of ground before the crowds arrive and keep in mind that the most popular attractions in the park fill up quickly. (Old Faithful, I’m looking at you.) One advantage you will have by staying in the park is that you can enjoy some of the attractions before and after the day trip crowds have left.

You can learn more in this post——–> Visiting Yellowstone National Park in One Day

Yellowstone Tours

Bison standing along the road in Yellowstone National Park.

There are millions of wild animals in Yellowstone National Park, but just because you are there doesn’t mean you will see one. If you want the best possible wildlife experience as part of your trip, consider hiring a Yellowstone Tour Guide.

Bison can be spotted first thing in the morning in Lamar Valley in Yellowstone.

Guides offer many wildlife tours through the park and they know where the more likely locations will be for you to get lucky enough to see one of your desired majestic creatures.

Best Yellowstone Itinerary

In-yellowstoneIt doesn’t matter if you have a day or a week- any amount of time at Yellowstone is awesome. I’ve been told four days is the sweet spot but that really depends on your interests and what you want to experience in the park.

geothermal pools in YellowstoneYou could spend weeks and won’t be enough time to see everything but even with a day or two, you can hit the most popular attractions. More time would allow you to leisurely explore. Although, on our one day trip we managed to take a couple of short walks and enjoy a picnic along the lake. 

Have you been to Yellowstone National Park before? What did you find to be beneficial when planning your trip?

 

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