Impressive in its vastness and natural preservation, Yellowstone is truly a remarkable destination to visit. Here are the basics to remember on your first visit.
Early Native Americans lived in the region for over 10,000 years prior to the colonization of European explorers. In 1872, Yellowstone became the first of its kind. As the world’s first national park, it is older than the three states it occupies. Most of Yellowstone sits in Wyoming’s northwest corner, and parts of the park spill over into Montana and Idaho. Home to hundreds of species of animals and with over 3,000 miles to explore, a week’s stay might not be enough. Here’s our first-timer’s guide to Yellowstone National Park.
Traveling by plane will take you to Bert Mooney Airport, Bozeman International Airport, and Jackson Hole. Traveling by bus is available all year-round from Bozeman. Services from Idaho are limited to summer months.
To maximize your stay, you can take your car, or rent one on the way there. Fees will be around $35 for a week-long stay. While there are no options for you to stay one day, they offer free entry on some occasions each year. Our advice is to get a one-year national pass. Costing only $80, the pass grants you unlimited access to every park in the United States for a full year.
If you plan on getting there via car, you can come in through five entrances.
At the Southern entrance, you will find yourself a few miles away from Grand Teton, another beautiful destination. Options for lodging and dining are limited here.
The Western entrance provides the most lodging and dining and is only a short drive away from the airport.
The farthest away from the main attractions and access to amenities, the Eastern entrance, is only an hour away from the airport in Cody, Wyoming. Heading inside, you will find campgrounds in the area, which are scenic in their own right.
Meanwhile, the Northeastern entrance is near Silver Gate-Cooke City, which offers a few hotels. Going through here, you will drive through Lamar Valley, which is optimal for watching wildlife.
The North entrance gets you directly to one of the most popular destinations in the park, which is Mammoth Hot Springs. Only an hour away from Bozeman airport, you can find a variety of lodging options in this part of the region.
Timing the visit
Expect thousands of tourists during the summer and fall. Between April and May and September and October, there are smaller crowds. Winter season from December to March can be frigid, with temperatures from 0-25 degrees Fahrenheit. Nonpeak hours are before 9 am and after 3 pm.
Yellowstone’s must-see attractions
With a wealth of natural beauty, visitors will be hard-pressed to choose which ones to fit into their week-long stay. Here are 5 of the most popular destinations.
On the west side, go 16 miles south of Madison or 17 miles west of West Thumb, and you’ll find yourself in the area of the park’s most iconic attraction. Old Faithful erupts in a 150-foot geyser with an average of 90 minutes. You can check the time of its next eruption at the visitor center. In the words of travel journalist Lesley Murphy, Old Faithful may not be the biggest or most regular geyser, but it is the biggest regular geyser in the reserve.
Stay: The Longhorn Ranch Lodge and RV Resort, Dubois, WY: Day trip to the tourist attractions & relax among cottonwood trees. Enjoy fishing, trail rides, ATVing, dog kennel service & horse corrals.
Grand Prismatic Spring
In Midway Geyser Basin, the vibrance of the Grand Prismatic Spring’s blues and oranges makes it stand out from the rest of the hot pools. You will find a mile-long boardwalk loop that lets visitors observe the springs from a safe distance.
Depending on the temperature of the water or the direction of sunlight, the color of the pool changes dramatically. Bacteria that reside in the pool are responsible for giving it its prismatic color.
Mammoth Hot Springs
At the headquarters 5 miles south of Gardiner, Montana, you can find the gorgeous stone-tiered staircase made up of limestone. Thermophiles in the rock formations have formed the colorful stripes of the travertine terraces. For all its beauty, Mammoth Hot Springs is the result of the underground volcanic forces at work, which are the same magmatic system that fuels the thermal areas.
Not many people know that the springs are part of a historical site that dates back to the 1800s. The national army protected the place from poachers who were vandalizing the area.
Grand Canyon and the Lower Falls
In the Canyon District, you will find another geologic feature in the park, but this time, it bears similarities to an attraction in Arizona. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is 20 miles long, measured from the two waterfalls at each of its ends.
At the lip of the falls, catch the beautiful view of the waterfall that stands 308 feet high. The Lower Falls can be seen from Artist Point, Inspiration Point, Lookout Point, and Red Rock Point.
On the northeastern part are the natural habitat for wolves, bears, elk, bison, eagles, and other animals. As the prime location for watching wildlife, Lamar Valley has earned its nickname of “America’s Serengeti.” Fly fishing is also a popular choice for outdoor activities apart from hiking and cycling.
A word of caution, however: Do not approach the creatures. Wildlife may become more aggressive when approached. There are coyotes in the area that have adapted to begging for food to passersby, even inside their cars. Read the guidelines and follow the advice of the rangers. Instead, opt for a zoom lens and binoculars for viewing.
Now that you know the basics, do more research and remember to book reservations ahead of time. We, therefore, conclude the fundamentals with a piece of advice: First-time visitors have often toured the park on their own and without a guide to make room for more exploration, which allows them to roam around freely at their own pace. For a reserve as stunningly gorgeous as Yellowstone, you need to take your time to savor the experience.
Stay: Ponderosa Campground, Cody, WY: Trolley tours, chuck wagon dinner & show, nightly rodeo, golf course, rafting trips, trail rides & more. Ponderosa is located just over a 2 hour drive from Yellowstone.