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Yellowstone National Park, Montana

The first of its kind in the world, Yellowstone National Park is a designated World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve.

Situated mostly in Wyoming, the massive and world-famous terrain also stretches into Montana and Idaho. Carpeted by lush forest and wide expanses of grassland, the park is larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

Yellowstone National Park is characterized by iconic geological features, from the colossal Yellowstone Lake to Old Faithful—one of more than 300 mesmerizing geysers erupting on schedule.

The park also houses other natural wonders, including stunning waterfalls, an active volcano, and a sea of petrified trees.

Visitors to the park can expect to observe countless species of wildlife thriving in their natural habitat.

There are 67 species of mammals in the park, including two species of bears. Guests also enjoy rare sightings of threatened and endangered animals, from the Canada lynx to the gray wolf, and over 300 species of birds.

The park is steeped in a rich history shaped by human stories, many dating back thousands of years. Prior to the arrival of the first Europeans, the area was home to or frequented by peoples from the Salish, Kiowa, and Lakota Sioux tribes. Ancestors of the Crow may also have traveled into Yellowstone during the 17th century.

Between 1804 and 1806, the Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled within 50 miles of the park’s boundaries. A gold strike northwest of Yellowstone attracted more activity in the area in 1862, and it was established as the world’s first national park in 1872 by the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act.

Today, Yellowstone National Park finds its way onto the bucket lists of hikers, nature-lovers, and adventure-seekers from all over the planet.

The majestic landscape now draws in nearly 5 million annual visitors. Park guests bask in the natural allure of the area and enjoy a range of other activities, from cycling and mountain biking to horseback riding.

Those seeking a thrill relish ziplining, white-water rafting, and a range of winter sports in the park. There are also plenty of opportunities to relax and connect with nature in the way of fishing, stargazing, swimming, boating, and simply walking through areas of abundant beauty.

The park has a selection of accommodation choices to suit every style, itinerary, and budget, along with select dining outlets and other park facilities.

Whether you’re staying for days or weeks to explore the wilderness in all its magnificence, or popping in to see the main sights only, Yellowstone National Park is a life-changing experience.

Yellowstone National Park Everything You Need to Know

yellowstone national park stats

Yellowstone National Park Stats

  • Size: (2,221,766 acres/898,317 hectares)
  • Season: All year round (with restrictions in winter and early spring)
  • Highest mountain: Eagle Peak (11,358 feet/3,462 meters)
  • Tallest waterfall: Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River (308 feet/94 meters)
  • Largest lake: Yellowstone Lake (20 miles long, 14 miles wide, 141 miles of shoreline, maximum depth of 410 feet)
  • Number of campsites: 12 (more than 2,000 campsites)
  • Number of picnic areas: 52
  • Number of trails: More than 900

Main Attractions

Old Faithful

old faithful

Yellowstone is brimming with natural wonders, but the single most legendary is Old Faithful. The cone geyser erupts every 40 minutes to two hours and is found in Yellowstone’s Upper Geyser Basin, in the southwest of the park.

The viewing area is extremely visitor-friendly and features bench seating, a ranger station that predicts the next eruption, and a large parking lot. Eruptions usually last anywhere from 1.5 to 5 minutes and can reach heights of 180 feet.

There are also hundreds of other geysers and geothermal phenomena to witness in the park, including Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, and the iconic Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, which is the largest hot spring in the United States.

For more information about Old Faithful Geyser, please visit the National Park Service official website.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

grand canyon of the yellowstone

Stretching across 24 miles, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a national treasure, complete with otherworldly colors and geothermal features.

Several trails and walkways line the perimeters and even take park guests down partway into the canyon.

Located in Canyon Village, the canyon can be viewed any time of day, at any time of the year. Most of the trails surrounding the canyon have either steep inclines or stairs.

There are some wheelchair-friendly viewing points, including the sidewalk along the Brink of the Lower Falls parking lot and the sidewalk out to the second viewing area at artist point.

Visitors can also tour the borders of the canyon by car, driving along the North and South rims. Along with the striking colors of the rocks and magnificent power of the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, there is also the chance to spot wild ospreys in the canyon.

For more information about the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

lower falls at yellowstone

Tower Fall

Along with its phenomenal geysers, Yellowstone is a haven of waterfalls. The Upper Falls of the Yellowstone is the tallest in the park, found at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

However, there are also endless other examples of grandiose waterfall beauty, including Tower Fall.

Located in the northeast of the park, Tower Fall cascades 132 feet and is easily recognizable thanks to the rock pinnacles at the top.

The vista has even inspired the work of notable artists, including Thomas Moran, whose painting of the falls contributed to the establishment of the park in 1872.

Other must-see waterfalls in the park include the thundering Gibbon Falls, the idyllic Mystic Falls, and the postcard-ready Firehole Falls.

For more information about Tower Fall, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Yellowstone Caldera

Yellowstone is famously home to an active supervolcano known as the Yellowstone Caldera. Found in the northwest section of the park, the caldera is a piece of living history, having formed over the past 2.1 million years.

It currently measures 43 by 28 miles (70 by 45 kilometers) and is easily viewable from many of the surrounding alpine mountains.

The eastern part of the caldera is filled by the famous Yellowstone Lake, which provides wonderful opportunities for boating and other water sports.

An active volcano, the caldera is monitored closely by the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

For more information about the Yellowstone Caldera, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Hayden Valley

hayden valley

Opportunities for wildlife viewing are abundant in Yellowstone. One of the best places to witness flourishing flora and fauna is the Hayden Valley, located in the heart of the park north of the Mud Volcano thermal area and Lake area.

Guests in the vicinity are likely to observe herds of bison and scattered elk.

Grizzly bears, coyotes, and wolves have also been sighted in the area. In the Yellowstone River flowing nearby, there are likely to be Canada geese, pelicans, and ducks.

The park road offers several overlooks where guests can stop and take in the glorious wildlife.

The best times for wildlife viewing in the Hayden Valley are at dawn and dusk between spring and fall. It’s a good idea to pack binoculars to properly see the animals in the expansive valley.

For more information about the Hayden Valley, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Recreation Activities

Yellowstone National Park is a paradise for lovers of the great outdoors.

Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie seeking a thrilling white-river rafting experience or are craving a steady hike where you can stop at your leisure and take Instagram-worthy photos, Yellowstone has something for everyone.

Camping

Yellowstone is simply too big for most people to stay for less than a few days. Camping is not only one of the most popular accommodation choices, it’s also a recreational activity in itself that allows park guests to truly get in touch with the natural environment.

There are a total of 12 campgrounds in the park, many of them boasting convenient amenities such as RV sites, dump stations, shower facilities, and toilets.

Quiet hours are put in place so that all campers will have the rare chance to hear the distinct sounds of the wilderness at night, from roaming wildlife to rushing streams.

Some campgrounds also offer group camping, which allows larger families, educational groups, youth groups, and other groups the chance to bond in a unique setting.

Fishing

With more than 100 lakes and 1000 miles of streams in the park, Yellowstone is a gem for those looking for their next catch.

There are seven types of gamefish in Yellowstone, including trout in the cutthroat, rainbow, brown, brook, and lake varieties. There are also grayling and mountain whitefish.

The best time for lake fishing in the park is August, and most rivers also yield plenty of catches throughout the month, with the exception of the Firehole and Madison.

The Yellowstone Angler highlights some of the best fishing destinations including portions of the Yellowstone River, the Lamar River, Soda Butte, and Slough Creek.

Fishing permits are required for anyone over the age of 12 in the park. Size and possession limits are in place to protect the flow of the natural ecosystem.

For more information about fishing regulations in Yellowstone, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Hiking

Hiking and walking are natural pastimes in Yellowstone. There are trails for all skill and fitness levels, from easy, family-friendly routes to moderate trails to difficult paths that only seasoned hikers should attempt.

Many visitors spend their days hiking to the park’s most beautiful destinations and sights.

Park guests are welcome to hike on their own, but there are also ranger-led hikes available.

Typically running in summer, these take participants to remote areas that other visitors might not venture to and explore exciting wildlife habitats. Ranger-led hikes come in a range of difficulties, from easy to hard.

For more information about hikes and other Ranger Programs on offer in the park, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Winter Sports

winter sports

In winter, Yellowstone becomes a white wonderland bordered by snow-capped mountains. The park receives 150 inches annually, and up to 300 inches in the high country, which paves the way for winter activities like skiing, snowshoeing, and traversing the landscape in a snowmobile.

There are both groomed and ungroomed ski trails available, while the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel both offer ice skating rinks.

Snowshoers are welcome along the marked ski trails and unplowed roads, while snowmobiling tours also run for those who aren’t able to get a permit to plan private snowmobiling trips.

Snowcoach tours run in the winter, and safely take participants across the snowy landscape in heated vans and buses.

Biking

With so many tempting mountain ranges waiting to be explored, Yellowstone is a natural destination for mountain biking enthusiasts.

Cycling along the path’s flatter roads is a wonderful way to take in the scenery and cover more ground in less time than walking.

Park guests can bring their own bikes or can rent bikes from the Yellowstone National Park Lodge at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Other equipment and safety gear is also available for hire, including helmets, racks, and trailers.

Bikers are not permitted on the hiking trails, but there are several other roads, as well as multi-use paths. Yellowstone Park recommends the West Yellowstone to Madison Junction path, which is a 28-mile round trip.

For a shorter ride, the end of Fountain Flat Drive to the Midway Geyser Basin is also recommended, which is a 3.2-mile round trip.

For more information about rules and tips for bikers in the park, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Horseback Riding

Horseback riding in Yellowstone honors an age-old tradition. The trails in the park have been crossed by riders for decades, and even today, this is still sometimes the best way to see major sights and absorb the surrounding beauty.

Guests may bring their own horses to Yellowstone, provided they follow all stock packing regulations.

Alternatively, several licensed outfitters operate in the park, running guided tours on horseback. Single-day and multi-day trips are offered.

For more information about horseback riding in Yellowstone, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Water Sports

water sports

Home to North America’s largest freshwater lake above an elevation of 7,000 feet, Yellowstone offers plenty of opportunities to have fun in the water.

While Yellowstone Lake is arguably the most popular, there are countless other bodies of water just perfect for aquatic sports and activities.

In summer, boating and other water activities are always in high demand at the park. Visitors can explore miles of shoreline via kayak or canoe, through a boat tour or private boat, or even rafting.

There are also a few hot springs where park guests can soak, relax, and swim in the geothermal waters.

For more information about boating in Yellowstone, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Trail Routes

Mt. Washburn

The Mt. Washburn Trail takes hikers up an old road to a lookout with sweeping views of the park. Along the way, they will pass grassy meadows and fascinating rock formations.

Mt. Washburn extends for approximately seven miles and the trail starts at Dunraven Pass. As this is a high-elevation trail, it is considered difficult and is not recommended for those with heart or respiratory problems.

The best times to hike this trail are June through October when hikers will get the clearest 360-degree views of the stunning surroundings.

North Rim Trail

Bordering the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the North Rim Trail offers some of the most mesmerizing vistas with unbeatable views of the gushing Yellowstone River below and the multicolored rock of the canyon.

The trail is 6.8 miles long and is one of the most popular in the park due to the views it provides of the canyon.

Traveling parallel to the road in some areas, the trail also crosses lush pine forests, where visitors may catch a glimpse of roaming wildlife.

The North Rim Trail is generally considered to be quite challenging and takes, on average, three hours to complete.

It is best visited from May through October, and although it can get quite busy with hikers, walkers, and runners, it can still provide tranquility early or late in the day.

Fairy Falls

fairy falls

As the name suggests, Fairy Falls is a family-friendly hike that park guests of all ages can enjoy.

It features some exceptional views of Grand Prismatic Spring, the Firehole River, and of course, the trickling Fairy Falls. On the hike, participants will also cross pine forests and open meadows.

The trailhead is found on the Grand Loops Road between Midway Geyser Basin and Old Faithful. Stretching for 6.5 miles, the trail is located in a bear management area and remains closed until Memorial Day weekend.

The loop also boasts picnic tables along the way and can generally be completed in two hours. The trail is generally flat and easy-going, making it an ideal relaxing trek.

Storm Point Nature Trail

For those wanting on spot wildlife, Storm Point Nature Trail is a wonderful route that offers both exquisite scenery and the opportunity to observe animals in their natural habitat.

The loop begins by Indian Pond and its nearby large meadows, where bison are frequently seen.

The path travels through rugged pine forest and onto Storm Point, where hikers will likely spot yellow-bellied marmots.

Sometimes closed in late spring and early summer due to bear activity, Storm Point is a family-friendly trail that is only 2.4 miles in length.

An easy and pleasant hike with varied scenery, Storm Point finishes at the shore of Yellowstone Lake, where many hikers enjoy picnic lunches.

bison paradise in yellowstone national park

Beaver Ponds Loop

Beginning in Mammoth Hot Springs, Beaver Ponds Loop cuts through dense forest and open meadows.

The nearby ponds are stunning and often brimming with wildlife. Hikers on this trail have been known to spot elk, mule deer, pronghorn, moose, beaver, and waterfowl.

Extending for 5.9 miles, the trail can be challenging in places but is still widely considered to be family-friendly. After an initial incline, the walk is mostly flat and leisurely.

The trail is particularly beautiful in fall, with shades of red and orange coloring the scenery.

Best Tours

A guided tour in Yellowstone National Park can take the pressure off. Leave the planning to your guide and simply relax as they make sure you get the very best experience.

Yellowstone National Park: 2-Day Guided Tour With Lunches

This two-day tour travels along both the Upper and Lower loops of Yellowstone National Park. Participants have the option of staying overnight in Gardiner or at the iconic Chico Hot Springs Resort.

The tour covers several points of interest in the park including the Old Faithful area, Gibbon Falls, Firehole River Canyon, The Golden Gate, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, The Boiling River, Hayden Valley, Sulphur Cauldron, and Lake Yellowstone.

In between sightseeing, the tour allows for several short hikes through geyser country.

Lunch and snacks are provided on both days, however, breakfast, dinner, park entrance fees, and overnight lodging are not included in the tour price.

Lamar Valley: Safari Hiking Tour With Lunch

large cinnamon-phase black bear

The Lamar Valley is a hotspot for wildlife viewing, and this six-hour tour gives participants the best chance of spotting bison, bears, wolves, and more.

Experienced guides run the tour, which takes participants to the best viewing locations in the valley.

A trekking pole, binoculars, and a group spotting scope are provided, along with bear spray, morning snacks and drinks, and a picnic lunch.

The tour isn’t suitable for children under eight years old, people over 80, wheelchair users, or people with heart problems. The hike will take place no matter the weather and includes up and downhill terrain along six miles.

From Gardiner: Yellowstone Wildlife Watching Tour With Meals

watching bison

A private guided experience for up to eight people, this tour leaves from Gardiner and takes participants into the park with the aim of seeing rare wildlife.

The live tour guide is a wildlife expert and helps participants spot bears, wolves, moose, bison, and more.

The tour starts early in the morning, the best time for observing wildlife. Pickup and drop-off are included, and participants are also supplied with binoculars and spotting scopes.

Breakfast pastries, hot drinks, snacks, cold drinks, and a full picnic lunch spread are also provided.

During the tour, the guide also facilitates discussions about the local wildlife, making it as much a learning experience as it is an adventure.

From Gardiner: Yellowstone, Old Faithful, and Hot Springs Tour

hot springs tour

Old Faithful is the world’s most famous geyser, a must-see highlight in Yellowstone.

This tour, departing from Gardiner, takes participants to the geyser and other hot springs to watch nature do its thing through boiling waters and shooting eruptions.

The tour also visits the Yellowstone volcano and features hikes that travel off the beaten track. Wildlife is commonly spotted on the tour, with the experienced guide pointing out signs of bison and elk.

Participants travel in a touring vehicle with large viewing windows, and breakfast pastries, hot drinks, snacks, and a full picnic lunch are provided.

The tour departs from Gardiner and entrance fees into Yellowstone are not included.

Grant Village: Yellowstone Lake Guided Sea Kayak Tour

kayaking in the river

A morning kayak tour is one of the best ways to explore the famous Yellowstone Lake. Running for four hours, the tour gives participants the chance to observe wildlife on the lake before the afternoon crowds scare them off.

The tour is run by a local naturalist guide and allows participants to view the lake from a unique vantage point, away from the crowded boardwalk. Participants will also paddle beside unique hot waterfalls and gas bubbles.

A picnic lunch is provided, along with a single kayak and safety life vest.

Participants will paddle for approximately five miles and the tour is not suitable for those who don’t know how to swim, children under 15, people over 80, or those with mobility impairments.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone: Loop Hike With Lunch

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is one of the highlights of the park. This tour takes participants on a loop hike that shows them the best views of one of the most wondrous sights in the country.

Participants will walk approximately six miles of trail, stopping along the way for photo opportunities of the famous canyon.

Lunch and snacks are included in the price, but participants are encouraged to bring their own water and rain gear. And wear comfortable shoes!

Jackson: Private Yellowstone Snowmobile Tour To Old Faithful

Snowmobiling is one of the most exciting ways to cross the snow-covered winter landscape in Yellowstone. This private tour takes participants to Old Faithful and offers plenty of opportunities to stop and view wildlife.

Drivers must be at least 16 years old with a valid driver’s license. Child passengers must be at least eight and younger than 12, and all participants are advised to wear warm clothing.

A unique way to explore Yellowstone, the tour also provided breakfast and lunch and snowmobile gear.

Yellowstone National Park Lodges Saddle Up Tours

roosevelt arch north gate to yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park Lodges runs several tours for those who’d like to see Yellowstone on horseback.

There are Canyon one and two-hour tours, which travel adjacent to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and Roosevelt one and two-hour tours, which travel along Garnet Hill.

Riders will be immersed in magnificent scenery as they take in the park the traditional way.

All riders must be older than 8 years, a least 48 inches tall, less than 240 lbs, and understand English.

Yellowstone Open Air Tour

yellowstone canyon

Running for 12 hours, this tour features an open-air vehicle that allows participants to feel the wind in their hair as they see the best sights of Yellowstone.

Departing from Cody, Wyoming, the tour visits Mammoth Springs, the Lower Falls, and the Old Faithful Geyser. The knowledgeable tour guide will give participants tips and insights into the local history along the way.

The tour leaves at 7 a.m. and includes lunch, bottled water, a spotting scope, and binoculars.

E-Bike Tour In Yellowstone National Park

This tour takes participants off the beaten track to explore the wild backcountry of Yellowstone.

Moderately challenging, the tour traverses varied trails and allows riders to take in breathtaking sights such as Golden Gate Canyon and the wildlife around Swan Lake Flats.

Running for 3-4 hours, the tour is ideal for travelers with strong physical fitness. The ultimate adventure, the tour offers one of the most thrilling ways to discover the rugged beauty of the park.

Places to Stay

The full list of lodges at Yellowstone:

The full list of campgrounds at Yellowstone:

There are additional accommodation options for those staying in one of the cities just outside the main entrances into the park.

FAQ

Is there an entrance fee?

Yes. Fees provide visitors with seven-day entrance permits into Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

The entrance fees are:

Public, non-commercial vehicles: $35

Motorcycle or snowmobile: $30

Visitors entering by foot, bike, ski, etc. (under 16 years of age): $20

Additionally, visitors can access annual passes for non-commercial vehicles for $70.

Where do I get a park pass?

The most common place to purchase your park pass is at the entrance gate upon arrival. But it is possible to purchase your pass beforehand.

Yellowstone-only annual park passes can be purchased online here and here. Either bring a hard copy or digital copy to present at all times when in the park.

How many entrances are there?

There are five entrances to Yellowstone National Park. They are:

  • North Entrance – Gardiner, MT

This park entrance remains open all year to wheeled vehicles and brings visitors to Mammoth Hot Springs. The closest airline service is in Bozeman, MT.

  • West Entrance – West Yellowstone, MT

This entrance takes visitors straight to geyser country. It is open to wheeled vehicles in the warmer months only, from April 20 through November 4.

It is also open to tracked snow vehicles from December 17 through March 12. The closest airline services are West Yellowstone, MT, Bozeman, MT, Idaho Falls, ID, and Salt Lake City, UT.

  • Northeast Entrance – Silver Gate and Cooke City, MT

This entrance offers one of the best locations to see wildlife in the Lamar Valley. It is open year-round for vehicles accessing Cooke City through the North Entrance. However, opening dates for roads east of Cooke City are weather dependent. The closest airline service is Billings, MT.

  • South Entrance – Jackson, WY

This entrance is open to wheeled vehicles from May 11 through November 4, and to tracked snow vehicles from December 17 through March 12.

The closest airline service is Jackson WY. Visitors using this entrance can easily access Grand Teton National Park.

  • East Entrance

The East Entrance brings visitors directly to Yellowstone Lake. It is open to wheeled vehicles from May 11 through November 4, and to tracked snow vehicles from December 17 through March 12.

The closest airline service is Cody, WY, which is 53 miles from the entrance.

Is the park open year-round?

Yes. Every season in the park offers something unique.

  • Summer: Sunny weather and lots of crowds.
  • Fall: Stunning colors paint the landscape and fewer crowds.
  • Winter: Some areas are restricted, but this time of year offers peace and quiet in the park.
  • Spring: Thriving wildlife and unpredictable weather.

Should I book accommodation in the park very far in advance?

If you are staying in Yellowstone during the most popular months, June through September, it is advisable to book your accommodation nine months to one year in advance.

For stays in the park during spring and fall, it’s best to book three to eight months in advance.

All the accommodation inside the park is full! Where should I stay?

There are several accommodation options in the communities near the entrances to the park. All of the nearby towns have their advantages and disadvantages, and the best place to stay will be the one that suits you the best.

Generally, West Yellowstone, MT, has the most hotel rooms and cabins while Cooke City/Silver Gate has the least. Cody and Jackson, both in Wyoming, are each about an hour away from Yellowstone, so staying there may significantly slow down your itinerary.

What should I pack for a trip to Yellowstone?

Regardless of the itinerary, you plan to follow while in the park, there are a few common items that you should bring with you to ensure you’ll have a good time and stay safe:

  • Binoculars
  • First-aid kit
  • Daypack
  • Park maps
  • Multiple water bottles
  • Bear spray
  • Bug spray
  • Clothing layers for warm and cold temperatures
  • Sun protection
  • Rain protection
  • Headlamp
  • Hiking boots
  • A tablecloth
  • Plastic bags

Is there cell and Wi-Fi service?

There is cell and Wi-Fi service at all gateway communities surrounding the entrances to the park, but service within the park itself is limited (it is available in some areas, such as the Albright Visitor Center in Mammoth).

If you are relying on a service to use maps or the Yellowstone National Park app, it’s advisable to take screenshots or notes of vital information beforehand.

Are pets allowed in Yellowstone National Park?

Technically, yes. But there are a lot of restrictions in place, and in most cases, it’s advisable to leave all pets at home.

While in Yellowstone, pets must stay within your private car, at a front country campground, or within 100 feet of roads and parking lots. Leashes are mandatory.

Pets can never be left unattended outside and are not permitted in any hotels within the national park.

Is there a chance that the supervolcano in the park will erupt?

Research shows that since the supervolcano’s formation millions of years ago, it has erupted every 600,000 years. Therefore, there is no reason to believe it will erupt anytime soon!

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