Ten Quick Tips For Visiting Yellowstone National Park
Here is my list of ten quick tips that I hope will be helpful to you as you plan your trip to Yellowstone National Park. The following are in no particular order, as I believe they are all important to consider in planning your trip.
1. BOOK LODGING IN ADVANCE.
I cannot tell you how quickly Yellowstone lodging fills up. Especially the lodging deep inside the park, like Old Faithful, Canyon Village, Grant Village, and Lake Village. These fill up quickly because they are the closest to the main attractions of Yellowstone. I would suggest booking lodging SIX MONTHS TO ONE YEAR ahead of your intended travel date.
You may have a bit more time than this to book camping sites inside the park, but again, you should book early. As soon as you start planning your trip, book your accommodations.
I have read other websites that suggest that staying in Gardiner or West Yellowstone is not ideal because they are farther from the main attractions. While this is true, nothing is really that far apart in Yellowstone. (For example: From Canyon Village to Lake Village is only 16 miles.) Each distance between the main attractions is actually very short. What can slow you do down is two things: 1) animals in the road (bison love to walk down the middle of the road), and 2) traffic. Cars can get backed up due to animals, slow drivers, etc. In order to avoid these problems, if you stay in Gardiner or West Yellowstone, enter the park early and get to the main attraction areas before everyone else. Also, West Yellowstone and Gardiner are both beautiful towns that have a lot to offer to visitors.
2. CARRY BEAR SPRAY.
Carry bear spray with you everywhere. While even I have been guilty of not carrying it, especially when we don’t plan on doing much hiking, it is better to be safe than sorry. Bear spray is easy to find, and it is the best way to protect yourself if you come upon a bear that is afraid and may get aggressive toward you.
Also, do not put your bear pepper spray into your pack. If you come across a bear, it will probably be to the surprise of both you and the bear. You will not have time to get into your pack to access the spray. Have it on your waist at all times, so that it is there when you need it.
3. ARRIVE TO THE PARK EARLY IN THE MORNING.
Entering Yellowstone National Park in the afternoon in summer is generally a nightmare. I call it this because this is the prime time for everyone to drive into the park, which equals major traffic. There are only so many booths open at each entrance to the park, so it can be slow going trying to get through the entrance with all the other vehicles. Especially when the person in front of you asks a ton of questions of the park ranger at the booth.
I would recommend getting up and into the park before ten a.m. if you can, to beat the traffic. There will also be less traffic inside the park early in the mornings.
You will be given a park map, and the entrance fee will give you a 7-day pass into Yellowstone, so that you are able to come and go as you please. This is especially important if you are staying outside of the park boundaries, in Gardiner, West Yellowstone, or Jackson Hole.
4. DUSK AND DAWN ARE BEST FOR VIEWING ANIMALS.
Animals are most prevalent during the early morning and evening hours in Yellowstone. They tend to disappear in the heat of the day, and reappear as evening approaches. Your best bet for viewing animals is traveling the park during these times of day. (Exception: Bison. Bison are out and about all day, so they can be seen throughout the afternoon.)
5. BRING BINOCULARS.
If you own a pair of binoculars, I would recommend bringing them so that you can see animals that are not directly off the road. There is a great opportunity to see amazing wildlife in Yellowstone, and you don’t want to miss it, just because it is just a little too far to really see clearly with the naked eye.
Binoculars is an item we often forget, and are usually disappointed when we don’t have them with us. If you can remember them, bring them!
6. BRING THE NECESSITIES.
I would highly recommend carrying several necessities with you in your vehicle. This includes:
- Hiking Boots
- Cooler (for food/drink)
- Air conditioning in your vehicle
Of course, you should bring a camera to capture the memories you will want to remember forever. I would also suggest bringing a cooler, and carrying food and water with you. You can get stuck in traffic quite often, and in the heat of the summer, you will want to have access to food and water. Hiking boots will also be nice for any walking around and/or hiking.
7. GIVE ANIMALS THEIR SPACE.
Contrary to what some may believe, a national park is not a petting zoo. The animals are wild animals, fending for themselves. It does not help them to feed them. It does not help them to intrude on their space, and to get too close. This especially goes for bison. Every single time we travel to Yellowstone National Park, we always see people trying to get extremely close to bison, usually to get a photo taken near the animal. Bison are very dangerous. They seem harmless, but they gore people a lot more than you would think.
8. DO NOT GET TOO CLOSE TO THE GEYSERS.
Geysers are hot. There are warning signs all over the park instructing you to not leave the designated walking areas, but people do not always listen. Listen. The warnings are there for a reason.
9. STOP AT THE YELLOWSTONE ASSOCIATION.
The Yellowstone Association is a stop I never miss when I go to Yellowstone National Park through Gardiner, Montana. Just before you go under the Roosevelt Arch, you will see their building on your right hand side. You can’t miss it.
The guys inside will fill you in on anything you want to know, and my favorite thing to see is their current interactive board that shows where animals have recently been sighted. It will show you what area you should head to if you want to see animals. There is also a gift shop which goes to help this Yellowstone nonprofit!
Just take my word for it, and stop in. I don’t think you will be disappointed.
10. AVOID POPULAR AREAS IN THE PARK IN THE AFTERNOON.
The afternoon in Yellowstone National Park is the time to be where you want to be — such as hiking, or enjoying a nice lunch.
I would avoid popular areas during the afternoon. The main two places I would avoid during this time would be: 1) Old Faithful Geyser, and 2) Hayden Valley. Why?
It gets hot in Yellowstone National Park in the summer, particularly in the afternoons. Everyone seems to congregate at Old Faithful in the afternoons. So, you will have a hard time getting a seat up front to view the action and get great photos. (Unless you sit in the hot sun — there is no shade in the rows of seats that surround Old Faithful — from the time the geyser erupts and the crowd has cleared, until the next time it erupts. This can be (and usually is) over an hour in between eruptions. Currently, I believe that it erupts approximately every 90 minutes.
I just personally don’t think it is fun sitting and waiting in the heat. One year Matt and I sat and waited, and waited, and waited. We got there right after it had erupted, and wanted to be sure to be in the front, so we sat until it erupted again. In the sun. We were both dripping in sweat and getting pretty antsy by the time the crowd started to gather in anticipation of the next eruption. Even the people that sat around us long after we had arrived were checking their watches, and cracking jokes about Old Faithful never erupting again. Now that we have a baby, it would be impossible for us to sit and wait.
Do yourself a favor, and visit Old Faithful in the morning. There won’t be a crowd, and the weather will be nice and cool.
I list Hayden Valley as the second place to avoid in the afternoon, because Hayden Valley is overrun with bison. A great place for viewing these large, amazing animals, but not in the heat of the day. Especially if your car doesn’t have air conditioning! This is because the bison are on their own time. They don’t care about you (unless you get in their way, then they may have a problem). So they will cross the road, at a snail’s pace, back and forth, back and forth, and they can hold up traffic for several miles. Vehicles stuck in a line on the two lane road, waiting for the bison to cross the road.
I would not want to spend my Yellowstone vacation sitting in traffic, waiting so far back you can’t even see the bison that are crossing. Especially with kids that do not want to be in the car. The traffic jams can seriously get horrendous. I would suggest driving through this valley earlier in the day or later at night, when there is less traffic. That way, if a bison gets in your way, you are the one taking the photos through the windows and only waiting for a few minutes. (Side note: I would be afraid of the bison on a motorcycle! They come right at the vehicles when they want to.)
Anyway, I hope this list helps your plan your trip to Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is seriously one of my favorite places on the planet. No matter what you do, you will have a great time on your Yellowstone vacation.
Warmest Wishes from Big Sky Country,
Montana Vacation Blog