In a national park larger than the state of Rhode Island, Yellowstone National Park embodies the spirit of the West. Primarily located in Wyoming, Yellowstone oozes into Montana and Idaho as well. With that much land to cover, a guide to Yellowstone National Park is essential.
Our Guide to Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the world, protected in 1872. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it attracts visitors worldwide. In addition to over 3,400 square miles to explore, Yellowstone offers some of the best outdoor recreation in the U.S. It is one of the reasons Yellowstone is a top national park. Travelers can enjoy different activities on the same trip, with hiking, biking, boating, fishing, and wildlife viewing all popular pastimes.
A trip to Yellowstone National Park can be ideal for learning a new hobby or rediscovering an old passion. Visitors can arrange guided tours of historic lodges, take a photo safari, or participate in a wildlife viewing tour.
Top Places To Explore in Yellowstone National Park
- Old Faithful Geyser and Old Faithful Inn
- Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
- Yellowstone Lake
- Wildlife Viewing in Lamar or Hayden Valley
- Mammoth Hot Springs
Old Faithful Geyser
Approximately two million years ago, a supervolcano erupted in Yellowstone, forming a caldera, or basin. This entire area is part of the Yellowstone caldera from Old Faithful to Yellowstone Lake. Old Faithful Geyser is the star; however, this area offers more to see. Old Faithful is so predictable that it is one of the top things to see in Yellowstone National Park.
The Upper Geyser Basin is home to Old Faithful and the world’s largest concentration of geysers. The supervolcano keeps magna close to the surface, so visitors can see the water bubble and boil in the Upper Geyser Basin. The best way to explore this area is on foot, and there are a lot of paved hiking trails. In addition to several named geysers, visitors can see other geothermal features.
- Hot Springs—Pools of hot water in an array of colors
- Fumaroles—A steam vent without a lot of water
- Mudpots—Hot sulfuric acid breaks the rock into a smelly clay that bubbles on the surface.Tip: The approximate geyser eruption times for Old Faithful, Castle, and Grand geysers are posted in the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center and the lodges in the area.
Old Faithful Inn
Opening its doors on June 1, 1904, Old Faithful Inn is made of local forest products. Architect Robert Reamer wanted to bring the forest indoors. Old Faithful Inn is an Architectural landmark and one of the top notable buildings in the U.S. It’s seven stories tall and is the largest log cabin hotel in the world. Inside, the lobby rises to the roof's peak and offers several dining venues.
The Old Faithful Inn is the most requested lodge inside Yellowstone National Park. Reservations are tough to secure, though visitors can walk through the building or reserve dinner in its dining room. Free tours are offered during the summer season.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park boasts a canyon more than 1,000 feet deep. In addition, this Grand Canyon has a pair of waterfalls, which is a must-see in the National Park. The 308-foot Lower Falls and the 109-foot Upper Falls are spectacular and popular spots in Yellowstone.
The easiest way to see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is by driving the North Rim Drive or the South Rim Drive. Both are good viewing choices. It's over 20 miles long and over 4,000 feet wide. Both rim drives feature numerous pull-outs for viewing, like Artist Point and Grand View. Keep a lookout for osprey and other birds of prey that frequent the area.
Top Things To Do at Yellowstone Lake
As the largest high-elevation lake in North America, Yellowstone Lake is one of the best areas to fish in Yellowstone National Park. There are even fishing charters to take anglers to all the best spots. Another summertime favorite activity is a boat cruise on Yellowstone Lake.
The grand, historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel opened in 1891. It remains the oldest hotel in the National Park Service. As the most luxurious property in Yellowstone, its rooms cater to adults. There is a free tour of the property available during the summer months. Like most lodging areas, the Lake Village also offers family-friendly cabins. Camping is also available nearby.
Best Wildlife Viewing in Yellowstone National Park
Some visitors enjoy the geothermal features, while others want to see animals. Yellowstone National Park offers some of the best animal viewing in the U.S. These are Yellowstone's most common wildlife species.
- Grizzly Bear
- Black Bear
- Bighorn Sheep
- Mule Deer
For the best wildlife viewing, we recommend Hayden Valley or Lamar Valley, both in the eastern portion of the park. Dawn and dusk are the best time for spotting wildlife, and binoculars are helpful. Guided tours are also popular. Check in with Park Rangers for the latest wildlife sightings. They know where animals frequent and are up-to-date on bear jams or traffic caused by a bear sighting.
Remember, wildlife is unpredictable, so visitors should stay 25 yards away from all wildlife in Yellowstone. For bears and wolves, visitors should stay 100 yards away.
Mammoth Hot Springs
In the Northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park, visitors can see the best-protected travertine-depositing hot springs in the world. Hikers can explore the terraced limestone at Mammoth with a series of overlooks and boardwalks. Mammoth offers offers more than the hot springs. This area houses the headquarters of the park and the site of Fort Yellowstone, constructed by the U.S. Army.
After Yellowstone’s creation in 1872, poachers and rogue campers used the area illegally. The U.S. Army patrolled the area for 32 years, creating Fort Yellowstone as its headquarters.
Top Things To Do at Mammoth
- See Liberty Cap and the other features of Mammoth Hot Springs
- Tour the Albright Visitor Center
- Walk through Historic Fort Yellowstone
The Mammoth area is at a lower elevation, so it is open year-round.
Where To Stay In Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone’s lodging and camping are clustered in villages, each offering travelers services like dining, laundry, groceries, and sometimes gas stations. Reservations are a must for any trip at any time of the year. Lodging, camping, dinner reservations, and tours fill up quickly.
This park is immense, so consider dedicating at least four days to your time in Yellowstone. To keep the driving to a minimum, move around the park, staying in a couple of areas during your getaway. Yellowstone offers a range of lodging options, from basic cabins to luxury suites. With nine properties and over 2,000 rooms, visitors can enjoy the best of Yellowstone.
- Canyon Lodge and Cabins
- Grant Village Lodge
- Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins
- Lake Lodge Cabins
- Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins
- Old Faithful Inn
- Old Faithful Lodge Cabins
- Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins
Developed Campgrounds in Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park offers over 2,000 established campsites in 12 campgrounds. All summer campsites are by reservation only through Recreation.gov or YellowstoneNationalParkLodges.com. Prices start at $20 a night.
Campgrounds Reserved Through Yellowstone National Park Lodges:
- Bridge Bay
- Grant Village
- Fishing Bridge RV Park
Canyon Village, Grant Village, and Lake Village areas provide the services campers need. There are self-serve laundries, general stores, gas stations, and cafes.
Campgrounds Reserved Through Recreation.gov:
- Indian Creek
- Lewis Lake
- Slough Creek
- Pebble Creek
- Tower Fall
How To Get To Yellowstone
As the largest regional airport in the Greater Yellowstone Region, many use Bozeman as their gateway town. It is about 90 miles north of the Mammoth Springs area. Bozeman is the best option for winter and early spring visits, as the northern part of Yellowstone’s Grand Loop Road is open year-round.
Located east of Yellowstone, visitors can fly into Cody, Wyoming. The northeast and eastern entrances are open from May until the roads close in the fall to snow.
For visitors who want to see Grand Teton National Park on their Yellowstone trip, Jackson, Wyoming, is about 89 miles south of Old Faithful. Yellowstone National Park is open 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. Visitors can use a National Parks Pass annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $35 per vehicle.
Yellowstone National Park has five entrances. Seasonal closures affect Yellowstone National Park and the opening of its entrances. July and August are the only months that all roads and facilities are open.
- West Entrance—Closest entrance to Idaho
- North Entrance—Closest entrance for Bozeman, Montana
- Northeast Entrance—Scenic highway to Billings, Montana
- East Entrance—Scenic highway to Cody, Wyoming
- South Entrance—The busiest entrance and gateway to Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming