The Best Areas To Stay In Yellowstone – Tips, and Advice
- The best base to explore Yellowstone National Park: Is obviously within the park itself! Canyon Village is the most central of all, but trying to book accommodation within the park is extremely competitive. If you are planning a year ahead – and not on too strict a budget – the lodges are perfect.
- The best town outside of Yellowstone: West Yellowstone has great facilities, and isn’t hours away from the main attractions in the park; it’s only 45 minutes to the Grand Prismatic Spring from West Yellowstone.
- Staying near Yellowstone on a budget: Yellowstone can get pretty expensive, especially during the high season. The limited accommodation in the park drives prices up, but Cody and Gardiner just outside Yellowstone have some cheaper options.
- The best base to see the Mammoth Hot Springs: The small town of Gardiner sits to the north of the park, a few minutes from the Northern Entrance. It’s the closest entrance to the Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley, and the Norris Geyser Basin.
Yellowstone is one of the most popular National Parks in America and the largest outside Alaska. The geological marvel showcases millennia of the Earth’s history in its formation, and has a unique beauty; it’s easy to see why the area was made the first national park in the world.
As the park is so huge, it can be difficult to know where to stay. This of course depends on what you would most like to see, your budget, and how far ahead you are booking your trip!
1. Inside Yellowstone National Park
Best overall for people planning in advance
Staying inside the park may seem like the obvious choice – and it is, if you are lucky enough to get hold of a reservation. Resorts, hotels, campsites; accommodation within the park is notoriously difficult to book. For the lodges, think planning a year and a half in advance levels of difficult.
It’s hard to argue against the convenience of staying in the park – and the beauty of being immersed in the stunning scenery, of course.
The striking canyons, swooping rivers, powerful geysers, dense forests, and hot springs all contribute to the dramatic landscape of Yellowstone. The dusky reds and vibrant greens and blues clash beautifully; hikes through Yellowstone are some of the world’s most scenic routes. The wildlife in the park is also rich and varied – bears and wolves are commonly spotted around the park, as well as bison and elk.
Yellowstone is huge, spanning three states and covering 2 millions acres of land, so you really need to plan your location well according to what you would most like to see (unless you don’t mind hours of driving every day). Canyon Village is the most centrally located of all – you can get to the Mammoth Springs and Lamar Valley to the north of the park, while also being an easy distance from Old Faithful and the unmissable Grand Prismatic Spring.
Old Faithful Geyser is, funnily enough, the most reliable of Yellowstone’s geysers, erupting regularly between every 44 minutes and 2 hours. You can stay in one of the lodges in Old Faithful as a base for your vacation, or just drive down from one of the other towns or villages. It’s not one you would want to miss!
There are nine accommodation options – outside campsites – inside the park:
- Roosevelt Lodge Cabins
- Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins
- Old Faithful Lodge Cabins
- Old Faithful Inn
- Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins
- Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins
- Lake Lodge Cabins
- Grant Village Hotels
- Canyon Lodge and Cabins
You can book directly through the Yellowstone National Park website.
2. West Yellowstone
Best base outside Yellowstone National Park
For those that don’t want the stress of finding accommodation inside Yellowstone – or haven’t thought to book a year in advance – West Yellowstone is the best area to stay outside the park itself.
The traveling distances are easily doable – the Grand Prismatic Spring is 45 minutes away, Old Faithful an hour, while Hayden Valley and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone are roughly an hour and ten. Since West Yellowstone sits right at the entrance to the park, it saves you from driving for hours and hours to start each day in Yellowstone.
The town has great facilities, with dozens of restaurants, cafes, and shops to explore. Entertainment options include the Playmill Theater and the Wild West Yellowstone Rodeo, which runs from June to the end of August. For the more adventurous, you should try out the Yellowstone Zipline Adventure Park close to the town.
The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center is a large wildlife park for bears and wolves unfit to survive the wild – it’s a great way to see the animals in a controlled environment, and a fun day out (especially for the kids). If you would prefer a more peaceful pastime, fly fishing is popular in the area; and there are several blue-ribbon fisheries close to West Yellowstone.
The town has a few museums and art galleries, as well as a few options for the evening like music venues and bars – or saloons. With a good balance between facilities and proximity to the park, West Yellowstone is a great base for a vacation in the area.
Best Hotels in West Yellowstone:
($$$) • 1872 Inn – Adults Exclusive • 0.6 miles from the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
($$) • Clubhouse Inn • A 3-minute drive to Yellowstone National Park
($) • Stage Coach Inn • 0.7 miles to Yellowstone National Park West Entrance
Best Airbnbs in West Yellowstone:
The best base to explore the north of Yellowstone National Park
Gardiner sits just above the North Entrance of Yellowstone, making it an ideal base for those focused on the northern sections of the park.
At over an hour’s drive from each, the town is quite far from Yellowstone Lake, Old Faithful, and the Grand Prismatic Spring. But Gardiner is a great base to explore the north of the park, which has some incredible views and attractions of its own.
Pass through the Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance of Yellowstone, and it’s only a short distance from there to Lamar Valley, the Mammoth Hot Springs, and the area up to Norris Geyser Basin.
These are all unforgettably stunning landscapes and spectacular natural phenomena and are most easily accessible from Gardiner. The main attractions of Yellowstone are a little further, but the distance isn’t insurmountable – you can still do day trips to the likes of Old Faithful and the lake from Gardiner.
As for the town itself, Gardiner is only small. But thanks to its close proximity to the park and the ensuing tourism, there are plenty of shops and restaurants to keep you entertained. You can head up the mountains to Big Sky and try your hand at whitewater rafting, or relax in the Yellowstone Hot Springs only 10 minutes away. Luckily, you can bathe in the natural, mineral-rich waters all year round.
All of Yellowstone is famous for its natural beauty, but Gardiner feels particularly immersed in it. It’s a great base for visitors – and one that won’t cost a fortune.
Best Hotels in Gardiner:
($$$) • The Ridgeline Hotel at Yellowstone, Ascend Hotel Collection • 1 mile from Yellowstone National Park North Entrance
($$) • Super 8 by Wyndham Gardiner/Yellowstone Park Area • Close to local amenities
($) • Absaroka Lodge • 5-minute drive to Roosevelt Arch
Best Airbnbs in Gardiner:
($$$) • Yellowstone Lodge • A few minutes from Roosevelt Arch
($$) • Roosevelt’s Riverview Lodge at Yellowstone • Across the street from Yellowstone Park North Entrance
($) • Yellowstone room #2 • 15-minute drive to the Mammoth Hot Springs
4. Cody & Wapiti
For road trips and people traveling from the east.
Perfect for people traveling in from the east, Cody & Wapiti make a particularly good pit stop for road trips.
Realistically, Cody is a little too far away from the main attractions within Yellowstone to make a good base – it’s 1 hour from the East Entrance, which is, in turn, a little way away from the most popular spots like the Grand Prismatic Spring.
There are quite a few options for accommodation right by the East Entrance – and Wapiti, which is about halfway in between – that may be a bit more plausible, but generally, this entrance to the park works better as an overnight pit stop.
It’s a lovely little pit stop though, and fantastic for anyone on a road trip passing through. Cody has theatres, restaurants, cafes, and a number of attractions of its own. You can visit art galleries, museums, stop at a bookstore, or even buy cowboy boots from Wayne’s on the main street through town, Sheridan Avenue.
There are a few music venues – specializing in country music, of course – and theatres in the town, which packs as much culture as it can into such a small space.
You can live out your Wild West dreams at a day ranch or the famous Cody Nite Rodeo – or learn the history of Cody at the Old Trail Town. Visiting this attraction is like taking a trip back in time; the faithful recreation of the original 1890s layout of Cody actually uses materials from the time of Buffalo Bill. You can find out more about the legendary founder of the town at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center!
Cody isn’t lacking in natural beauty either, standing in the shadow of Cedar Mountain and Spirit Cave. Cody and Wapiti both sit along the stunning Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway which leads to the park. You will drive alongside the Shoshone River, passing through lush forest and by the Buffalo Bill Dam on the way to Yellowstone.
Best Hotels in Cody & Wapiti:
Best Airbnbs in Cody & Wapiti:
($$$) • Brand New Luxury Mountain Modern Near Yellowstone • 30 minutes from Yellowstone National Park East Gate
($$) • Cody History on 13th • Easy walking distance to downtown Cody
($) • Cozy Sheepherders Wagon • Six miles from Cody