Yellowstone National Park is one of the National Parks System’s most famous as well as the world’s first national park. Located in the northwestern corner of Wyoming, with portions in Montana and Idaho, the enormous park covers more than 2.2 million acres, featuring a wealth of natural wonders, most notably the world famous Old Faithful geyser. But with nearly 70 animal species, more than 300 geysers, an abundance of petrified trees and 290 waterfalls, there is so much more to see and enjoy in this amazing geological wonder. This travel guide is packed with important information for visitors, including dining, lodging and tours, and can serve as the perfect introduction to the world’s oldest national park.
How to Get There
Yellowstone National Park is served by airports in Cody and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Idaho Falls, Idaho and Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport and Billings Logan International Airport in Montana. Car rental companies are available at all Yellowstone-area airports. Hotel shuttle service and taxis are available at most locations.
Year-round bus service is available from Bozeman Airport to West Yellowstone via Karst Stage. Salt Lake Express provides seasonal service from several locations, including Salt Lake City Airport, Idaho Falls and Jackson Hole to West Yellowstone. Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the official park provider for lodging, also offers bus tours. Yellowstone also has a list of other transportation providers offering tours.
Yellowstone National Park has five entrance points.
- Canyon Visitor Education Center
- Fishing Bridge Visitor Center
- Grant Visitor Center
- Madison Information Station
- Mammoth Temporary Visitor Center
- Norris Geyser Basin Museum and Information Station
- Old Faithful Visitor Education Center
- West Thumb Information Center
- West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center
- Private, noncommercial vehicles – $25
- Each snowmobile or motorcycle – $20
- Each visitor arriving by foot, bike, ski – $23
- Annual pass – $50
Visitors must stay on designated trails and boardwalks. Toxic gases do exist in some areas and visitors are advised to leave immediately if feeling sick. Swimming is not allowed where water flows entirely from a hyrdothermal spring or pool. Visitors must not approach or feed wildlife. Information centers provide up-to-date information on bear activity. Visitors are advised to not run away in the case of a bear encounter and instead, slowly back away. Other safety information is available at the visitor centers. Visitors must observe all park rules and regulations.
Where to Stay
Yellowstone has nine lodges with more than 2,000 rooms, including the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins and Old Faithful Inn, five reservation campgrounds and seven first-come, first-served campgrounds with more than 450 sites. Each of the nine lodges has a separate online reservation system and has separate closing dates, some into mid-October. All campsites offer RV parking but reservations must be made by phone for any of the five reserved campsites.
Rates for camping range from $21.50 at Madison Campground and Bridge Bay Campground to $26 at Canyon Campground and Grant Village Campground to $47.75 at Fishing Bridge RV Park. Mammoth is the only campground open all year and Madison Campground is the last site to close for the season through October 19.
- Canyon Lodge and Cabins
- Grant Village
- Lake Lodge Cabins
- Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins
- Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins
- Old Faithful Inn
- Old Faithful Lodge Cabins
- Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins
- Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins
- Bridge Bay Campground
- Canyon Campground
- Grant Village Campground
- Fishing Bridge RV Park
- Madison Campground
First-Come, First-Served Camping
Where to Dine
Dining options can be found at each of the six villages – Grant Village, Canyon Village, Yellowstone Lake, Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful and Roosevelt Lodge. Among the dining options are delis and cafeterias at Canyon Village, Yellowstone Lake and Old Faithful and moderately priced to upscale dining at all villages with a casual dress code. Roosevelt Lodge offers an Old West Dinner Cookout, with a horse or covered canyon ride to Yancy’s Hole and features steak, all-you-can-eat items like coleslaw and potato salad and baked beans and a vegetarian option. Yellowstone also hosts a number of special dining events, including Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day.
Things to Do
Yellowstone is world renowned for both its summer and winter activities. Summer activities include horseback trail rides, stagecoach adventures, picnicking, wildlife viewing, hiking, cycling, fishing and a host of tours on land or water. Yellowstone also offers bike and boat rentals and a shuttle boat service to Yellowstone Lake’s backcountry. Custom guided tours and rentals, guided snowmobile tours, ski rentals, instruction and shuttles and wildlife tours are among the favorite winter activities.
- Backcountry Camping and Hiking
- Day Hiking
- Horseback Riding and Llampa Packing
- Ranger-Led Programs
- Wildlife Viewing
What to See
The most popular attraction at Yellowstone National Park is, of course, Old Faithful. The most famous and recognizable geyser in the world, Old Faithful isn’t the highest or largest geyser in Yellowstone. But it’s the most consistent, spewing bursts of water up to 130 feet high about every 92 minutes. Old Faithful is located between Old Faithful Inn and Old Faithful Lodge, off U.S. Highway 287.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Yielding some of Yellowstone’s most spectacular views, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is generally considered the park’s second best attraction. About 20 miles long, up to 1,200 feet deep and up to 4,000 feet wide, the enormous canyon features three of the park’s nearly 300 waterfalls, most prominently the 308-foot Lower Falls, tallest in the park. The best spots to enjoy Lower Falls are the Brink of Lower Falls platform, Artist Point , Brink of the Lower Falls Trail and Red Rock Point.
Located in the northeastern corner of Yellowstone, Lamar Valley is considered the park’s best spot for wildlife viewing. The expansive valley is home to large herds of bison and elk, in addition to wolves, grizzly bears, Bighorn sheep and other native animals. Yellowstone offers guided tours and picks up guests at four locations with reservations available through September 13.
There are more geysers in Yellowstone National Park than any other place in the world. Featuring a number of geyser basins, most are located north of Old Faithful on U.S. Routes 287 and 89. Points of interest include Upper Geyser Basin, with a concentration of geysers in the park; Midway Geyser, featuring the Grand Prismatic Spring, the nation’s largest hot spring; and Norris Geyser Basin, home to the world’s tallest active geyser – Steamboat Geyser. Midway Geyser features a half-mile boardwalk, allowing visitors to walk over a portion of the basin. Visitors must pay special attention to the park’s safety rules at any geothermal area.
The largest body of water in Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone Lake is North America’s largest lake above an elevation of 7,000 feet. Frozen up to three feet deep during the winter, the lake has a surface area of 132 square miles and is approximately 20 miles long and 14 miles wide. While the lake is the most popular spot for fishing and boating, visitors must be aware of park regulations.
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Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.