National Parks: Yellowstone

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February 7, 2009

This week’s National Parks Blog is dedicated to Yellowstone National Park, America’s oldest national park (est. 1872) and the first national park in the world. The park covers 2.2 million acres in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. A large number of wildlife makes their home here: bison, elk, moose, black bears, grizzly bears, wolves and various other critters (and maybe even Yogi and Boo Boo).

More people are killed by bison than bears in Yellowstone Park.

Watch videos about park wildlife safety!

I’ve never been to Yellowstone, but my grandpa has been 35 times. I’ll share some of his insider tips to supplement the National Park Service information.

Park Overview
Some of the best geysers and hot springs in the world are preserved here (including Old Faithful), and there are several rivers with phenomenal fly-fishing spots (more on that later). Since most of the park is at least 7500’ in elevation, weather can be unpredictable. It is wise to bring clothing and equipment for changing temperatures, storms and other emerging conditions.

Gallatin Mountains and Swan Lake flatsan interactive map of Yellowstone National Park

{Photo: View of the Gallatin Mountains}

Yellowstone offers loads of fun activities: backpacking, bicycling, bird- and wildlife watching, boating, bus touring, canoeing, camping, cross-country skiing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, photography touring, picnicking, snow-coach touring, snowmobiling, wildlife and nature touring.

My grandmother says: For the women in your life who can only handle so much nature (and fishing!) in one stretch, there are even a few shops full of jewelry and other items made from silver and stones, as well as hand-made Native American cultural items.

Campsite Info
At least a dozen RV parks ring the edge of Yellowstone National Park, and there are several within the park itself. View camping information.

Be warned—campsites fill up fast in the peak season (early July-late August) so make reservations or plan to get there early in the morning to get a spot. RVs longer than 30’ should make a reservation because there are a limited number of sites that can accommodate that size. These larger sites are located in Flagg Ranch, Fishing Bridge RV Park, West Yellowstone and Gardiner.

Fishing Bridge RV Park is the only campground in the park with full water/sewer/electrical hookups but it is for hard-sided vehicles only. No tents or tent trailers.

Under no circumstances is any kind of camping allowed outside of designated camping areas! This is for both the safety of park visitors and to preserve the park’s natural splendor.

RV Parks Near Yellowstone
North Entrance: Rocky Mountain RV Park is a Good Sam Park 4 blocks from the north entrance in Gardiner, Montana. Pull thru sites are limited, 60 sites offer full hookups and max length is 45’. They have ice and propane on site and offer complimentary maps.

Northeast Entrance: Yellowstone’s Edge is a Good Sam Park near Livingstong, Montana. Pull thru sites are 32’x 60’ or 32’x 90’ and have full hookups and 30/50 amp power. The store carries snacks and limited groceries along with clothing and souvenirs.

South Entrance: Grand Teton Park RV Resort is 32 miles from the south entrance in Wyoming and is a AAA-approved campground. Gas, diesel, propane, groceries and ice on site with full hookups and 50-amp pull thrus.

East Entrance: Ponderosa Campground is a Good Sam Park/Woodall’s Park/AAA-approved campground located 53 miles from Yellowstone in Cody, Wyoming. There are full hookups at each site and many long pull thru and back in sites. It offers a well-stocked convenience store and is near many shops, restaurants and attractions.

West Entrance: Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park is a Good Sam Park and AAA-approved campground 4 blocks from the west entrance in West Yellowstone, Montana. Pull thru sites are 30’x 80’ with full 30/50 amp hookups. There is a convenience store, gift shop and game room on site.

There are dozens of dining facilities of varying degrees within the park. From sit-down, formal dining to snack shops and cafeterias, you’ll never be hungry for long. Reservations are required for the fine-dining restaurants. For details, inquire with any lodging front desk staff or dining room host station.

The park also features 8 general stores for buying groceries and other sundry goods: Bridge Bay, Canyon, Fishing Bridge, Grant Village, Lake, Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful, Towel Fall.

Pets are allowed under certain circumstances and only in specific parts of the park as follows:

  • You must pick up after your pet, regardless of where it takes care of business.
  • It is prohibited to leave pets unattended and/or tethered to an object.
  • Pets are allowed in the front areas, as long as they are under physical control.
  • Pets are prohibited in the backcountry and on trails and boardwalks.

Pets running at large may be impounded and the owner charged for the care and feeding of the animal. By law, any domestic animal observed by authorities to be molesting or killing wildlife may be destroyed if necessary for public safety or the protection of wildlife.

Read the full details about park pet policies
Read about horse regulations and horseback riding information

There are dozens of “blue-ribbon” rivers, streams and creeks for great flyfishing. Yellowstone Lake harbors six fish species: cutthroat trout, longnose dace, redside shiners, lake chub, long nose suckers, and lake trout.

There are so many places to fish you may find you’re often the only person around. However, the most popular spots can get crowded—as the saying goes “If you want to fish the Yellowstone River on opening day, bring your own rock to stand on.”

A park biologist shows off one of the park's prized cutthroat trout.Fishing season runs from the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend to the first Sunday of November. Fishing permits are required for all persons 16 and older; children 15 and under can either fish under licensed adult supervision or can obtain a free license (signed by an adult) to fish on their own. Adult season permits costs $35 each, but short-term permits are available for a reduced fee. Get your fishing permit at any ranger station, visitor center or Yellowstone Park General Store (or at many businesses in the greater park area).

Grandpa’s Tip: Be aware of your surroundings, as wildlife is apt to sneak up on you—from a cow/calf moose pair to grizzly bears. But don’t panic; just try to move down the river a bit to give them some more space!

Warning: Two main problems threaten native fish populations in the park: non-native lake trout and whirling disease brought by New Zealand mudsnails. Before coming to Yellowstone, clean your boat and clean your gear! Clean and dry everything that comes into contact with water before entering a new body of water. Don’t transport harmful aquatic species into the park—the future of the park’s fisheries depends on it!

Park Safety Tips
It may be thrilling to watch rare wildlife up close, but remember to keep a safe distance. Obey park regulations to stay 100 yards away from bears and wolves and 25 yards away from all other large animals. If you’re like me and aren’t much good at estimating distance, remember this hint: if you cause an animal to move, you are too close!

Also, never, ever feed the wildlife, no matter how cute or small they may be. They are still wild animals that need to survive on their own in winter without relying on humans for food. This brings me to another tip: stay away from carcasses and other tempting treats that are likely to lure predatory animals nearby.

High Altitude: Remember that much of the park roads are between 5,000 and 8,000 ft. Drink plenty of fluids and keep in mind any physical limitations you may have. It may be best to contact your doctor before your visit if you have any respiratory or cardiac issues.

Thermal pools: Use caution around the many thermal pools and springs. Water is at or near boiling and can cause severe or fatal burns. Swimming in these thermal features is forbidden for good reason.

Be alert and cautious around dead trees. Since the fires of 1988, many dead trees, or “snags” were left standing and are very unstable. These snags can fall with little warning and there is no guarantee for your safety. It’s best to avoid areas with a lot of dead trees.

fire facts

Road Conditions: Most park roads are narrow, rough and busy. Speed limits are 45 mph unless posted otherwise and there is a mandatory seatbelt law for all passengers. Watch out for ice (yes, even in July) and road damage. Look out for bicyclists and wildlife that may be in the road ahead.

If you keep these safety tips in mind you should have a pleasant visit. For a more complete list of safety guidelines, see the “Your Safety” page and the “Rules and Regulations” page.
That’s it for this week’s post. I hope this gave you a good start in planning your trip to Yellowstone (“Jellystone”—don’t forget to look out for Yogi and Boo Boo)! See you next week when I post a “Top 10 North American National Parks” list for’s Top 10 Month.

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  404. I wish I could visit again. Last time I was there was 1986. My youngest daughter was only 1 1/2 what a great and my favorite park.

  405. Bob & Becky

    The best viewing of wild life is at Yellowstone. Been there several times. The RV park in Yellowstone is very crowed and close together. We like the northern campground the best.

  406. Jack & Linda

    From someone who is a national park addict—I am thrilled to see this section added to your blog. Yellowstone is my favorite park for wild life viewing. We have taken our rv there in 03-05-07-and will be in the yellowstone eco system the entire mont of June 09. For all who are interested in much detailed info about the park forum is unequaled.

  407. In 1832, Hot Springs Reservation was formed. It was made a national park in 1921. In a sense it did predate Yellowstone, but not as a national park.

    I’ve been going to the Park, as Yellowstone’s known here in the mountain west, since the early ’50s and perhaps longer, The first trip I remember was about the time I was 9. Back then you could actually fish from Fishing Bridge or rent a boat and fish around the outlet. And you could count on seeing 25 or more bears every day.

    We still try to start or end every trip with a visit to the Park and it’s still as new and wonderful today as it was when my grandmother visited it in the 1920s.

  408. jim Rose

    I beg your pardon! Yellowstone is NOT the country’s oldest Natioanl Park. I happen to live in the oldest which predates Yellowstone by 12 years: Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas. Come see us!!

  409. Just spent a week there at the end of the season (one week before they closed the roads). Stayed at the Mammoth Hot Springs (just inside the North Entrance) camp ground. It was dry camping and due to the end of the season, only 6 other RV at the campground. The town was closed up including the gas station. We walked the hot springs with no one else around – it was great.