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A Complete Guide to The 5 Yellowstone Entrances

Sprawled across 3500-square miles, Yellowstone National Park is a haven of geothermal wonders, dense forests, and rocky canyons.

There are five entrances to the park, each one bringing guests to the many landmarks within. Read on for our rundown of the five Yellowstone entrances, and which one you should use.

The 5 Yellowstone Entrances

inside yellowstone national park

East Entrance

east entrance

The East Entrance to Yellowstone National Park is one of the least-frequented of the park’s five entrances due to its remote location.

However, it offers breathtaking mountain views, brings guests to Yellowstone Lake, and can fit nicely into a Wyoming-based itinerary. 

Where is it?

The East Entrance lies in Wyoming, in a remote area around 50 miles from the nearest town of Cody. It takes about an hour or so to reach the park from Cody via the Buffalo Bill Highway. The drive takes visitors through the scenic Absaroka Mountains.

When is it open?

The East Entrance remains open through the summer and generally closes around November, before opening again in May. Because it is not the most popular entrance, this is usually the last road to be plowed in the park.

What is it best for?

As Travel in USA explains, the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park is best for those who are traveling from Cody or would like to pass through the town on their way to or from the park. It is also ideal for travelers heading from Eastern Wyoming in general, Western South Dakota, or Eastern Montana.

Those who are combining their trip to Yellowstone with some of the landmarks in South Dakota, including Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park, may also prefer to use this entrance.

The entrance is close to some of the park’s greatest attractions. Yellowstone Lake, the largest mountain lake at an elevation of more than 7,000 feet, is 28 miles away, while the Hayden Valley is 31 miles away. The latter is one of the park’s most popular destinations for wildlife viewing.

Near the East Entrance, you will also find the trailhead of Avalanche Peak Trail and a selection of picnic areas, such as those near Sylvan Lake.

If you are staying inside the park at Lake Yellowstone Hotel or Lake Lodge, it may make sense to enter via the East Entrance as both accommodations are 28 miles from the entrance.

Nearby towns

  • Cody, WY

What attractions are outside the entrance?

Another reason to enter or exit the park via the East Entrance is to include some of the nearby attractions outside the park’s borders in your itinerary. The Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway, a stunning stretch of road, is less than a mile away from the East Entrance.

An old western town, Cody itself is a popular destination as it was founded by the iconic Buffalo Bill Cody. It is the closest town to the East Entrance, despite being 53 miles away. The city hosts daily rodeos in summer and is also home to several museums and historic sites.

Cody is famously home to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, which can easily take two days to see completely. This center, and the Old Trail Town, both give visitors insight into the town’s fascinating history and continuing legacy.

North Entrance

north entrance

Marked by the iconic and original Roosevelt Arch, the North Entrance is the entry point of choice for those traveling from the Pacific Northwest.

It gives park guests close access to Mammoth Hot Springs and is only minutes from the small western town of Gardiner, MT.

Where is it?

The North Entrance is located on the northern side of the park in Montana, less than a mile from the town of Gardiner.

When is it open?

Unlike the other Yellowstone National Park entrances, the North Entrance is the sole entry point that remains open year round. It’s important to note that the road between the North Entrance and the Northeast Entrance is plowed regularly during winter.

Though you can travel east to Silver Gate, MT, and Cooke City, MT, from the North Entrance, you cannot travel east of Cooke City via vehicle as the road is closed for winter.

What is it best for?

The North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park is the best entry point to reach Mammoth Hot Springs, one of the park’s most in-demand destinations. The hot springs are only five miles from the entrance and boast one of the park’s two swimming areas.

The Fort Yellowstone District is only five miles away from the North Entrance, while Tower Fall is another relatively close attraction and is 25 miles away.

This is usually the best entrance for visitors staying at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins, which is only five miles away, or the Roosevelt Lodge Cabins, which is 23 miles from the North Entrance. It is also ideal for park guests traveling from the Montana city of Bozeman. 

Nearby towns

What attractions are outside the entrance?

There are several opportunities for outdoor recreation in and around Gardiner, with a particular focus on river rafting, fly fishing, and horseback riding.

Visitors can find outfitters and guides offering these experiences near the city, which is set against a backdrop of magnificent scenery.

The Paradise Valley, a major river valley in southwestern Montana, is 15 miles away from the North Entrance and serves as one of the closest attractions beyond the park’s borders.

The Yellowstone River winds through the scenic valley, where visitors can often catch glimpses of roving wildlife.

Northeast Entrance

northeast entrance

Minutes from the Lamar Valley, the Northeast Entrance is perfect for those who are looking for the best wildlife-viewing opportunities while in Yellowstone.

This entry point also offers spectacular views as it’s fed by the iconic Beartooth Highway.

Where is it?

The Northeast Entrance is situated in Montana, less than five miles from Cooke City. Park guests can access the Northeast Entrance via the stunning Beartooth Highway.

When is it open?

As is the case with the majority of the Yellowstone National Park entrances, the Northeast Entrance is only open seasonally. It remains open from the end of May through the middle of October, though this may change due to unforeseen weather.

What is it best for?

The Northeast Entrance is a great point of entry into the park for those who will be visiting the Lamar Valley.

Only nine miles from the entrance, the Lamar Valley is sometimes called the ‘Serengeti of the United States’ because of the abundance of natural wildlife. Here, visitors can see everything from wolves and black bears to bison and elk.

The Roosevelt Lodge is 28 miles away from the Northeast Entrance, making it another good choice for those staying at the Lodge or in nearby Cooke City, MT.

The Northeast Entrance often makes the most sense for those traveling from Billings, MT, and other destinations in the state’s northeast.

Nearby towns

  • Cooke City, MT
  • Silver Gate, MT

What attractions are outside the entrance?

The charming small town of Cooke City, Montana, is only four miles away from the Northeast Entrance and serves as a great pitstop on the way to or from Yellowstone National Park.

Home to less than 100 residents, Cooke City is known for its great hospitality and also offers a small selection of dining and lodging options.

The Beartooth Highway, which leads to the Northeast Entrance, is famed for its beauty and is a landmark mountain roadway in the region.

South Entrance

south entrance

While not the closest entrance to Yellowstone’s most famous landmarks, the South Entrance is the closest entry point to another point of interest: Grand Teton National Park.

This far-flung access point is ideal for those who’d like to kill two birds with one stone and incorporate both parks into their trip.

Where is it?

The South Entrance is in a remote area of Wyoming, 57 miles from the mountain town of Jackson. You can access it via the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, which connects the park to Grand Teton National Park.

When is it open?

Closed to vehicle travel for the winter, the South Entrance of Yellowstone generally opens at the beginning of May and closes at the beginning of November. However, it is open to over-snow vehicles, including skis, snow coaches, and snowmobiles, from mid-December through mid-March.

What is it best for?

The South Entrance is just over 21 miles away from West Thumb Geyser Basin, a colorful geyser with exquisite lake views, and can be a viable entry point if this landmark is on your Yellowstone National Park schedule.

Those staying at Grant Village could find using the South Entrance convenient as the accommodation is less than 20 miles away from the entrance.

Ultimately, the South Entrance is often the best entry point for those traveling from southern Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, or Colorado.

Given its close proximity to Grand Teton National Park, this is also the best entrance/exit if you would like to include two national parks in your trip’s itinerary.

Nearby towns

  • Jackson, WY

What attractions are outside the entrance?

The beauty of visiting Yellowstone from the South Entrance is that you have to travel through Grand Teton National Park to reach the entrance.

Featuring 200 miles of trails, Grand Teton is home to the mighty 12 peaks of the Teton mountain range and is rich with wildlife, including elk and bison.

Featuring six different visitor centers, the park is shaped by towering mountains, sweeping valleys, and sparkling lakes that rise between dense forests and colorful patches of blooming wildflowers.

Within the park, you’ll also find several historic monuments in the way of original homesteads and cattle ranches. Some of the trails have even been standing since the early 19th century.

Grand Teton is connected to Yellowstone via the picturesque John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway. The scenic stretch is brimming with incredible photo opportunities and makes for a wonderful place to stop the car and stretch the legs on the way to or from either park.

The town of Jackson is also worth exploring, particularly in the winter when it becomes a hotspot for skiers. Home to specialty boutiques, a range of hotels, and popular restaurants, the town has more than enough to keep travelers satisfied.

West Entrance

west entrance

Often hailed the most convenient gateway to Yellowstone National Park, the West Entrance is also the busiest.

It positions park guests to explore several of the park’s key highlights, including the Upper Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic Spring.

Where is it?

The West Entrance is found on the western side of the park near the tourist town of West Yellowstone, Montana, not far from the Wyoming border. Once you pass the West Entrance, it is around 14 miles before you reach Madison, a basepoint for the surrounding geyser basins.

Arriving at the West Entrance is advised for travelers coming from all over the West, though it is often proven to be the busiest entrance to the park.

When is it open?

The West Entrance is open seasonally, closing in late fall. It is usually the first seasonal entrance to open in spring, and is usually open on the third Friday in April at 8 a.m., weather permitting.

What is it best for?

The West Entrance tends to be the most popular gateway into the park because it brings visitors to several famous highlights of the park’s geyser country, including Grand Prismatic Spring, Norris Geyser Basin, and Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin.

Several of the park’s other points of interest, including Mammoth Hot Springs and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, are close enough to the West Entrance that it often serves as the best entry when you have a packed itinerary with many stops along the way.

The West Entrance is also the most viable access point for those staying in accommodation near Old Faithful. Park guests traveling from Salt Lake City, Idaho, and areas to the west of the park, in general, may also find that the West Entrance is the most practical.

Nearby towns

What attractions are outside the entrance?

West Yellowstone is a tourist destination in itself. Less than a mile from the most popular park entrance, the town is alive with the hum of travelers during the on-season. Many visitors entering the park from this access point also choose to base themselves in West Yellowstone.

The township is home to the famous Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, a wildlife park where guests have access to exceptional views of animals and educational programs about Montana’s wildlife.

The town also boasts the Yellowstone Giant Screen Theater, an IMAX theater in addition to an eclectic range of bustling restaurants.  

Mesa Falls is located around 50 miles from the West Entrance. The waterfall, located on the Henrys Fork in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, is around 16 miles from Ashton, Idaho.

It boasts fantastic views and makes a brilliant detour on the way to or from Yellowstone’s West Entrance.

Conclusion

There is a Yellowstone National Park Entrance for every kind of park guest. To help you choose which entrance is best for you, here’s a final breakdown:

  • East Entrance: Ideal for guests traveling from Wyoming or who are visiting Yellowstone Lake.
  • North Entrance: The only entrance that’s open during winter and brings you to Mammoth Hot Springs.
  • Northeast Entrance: Stunning views along the Beartooth Highway and a gateway to the best wildlife-viewing opportunities.
  • South Entrance: The closest to Grand Teton National Park.
  • West Entrance: Brings you to the greatest number of landmarks, puts you right in the heart of geyser country, and is also the busiest.

Have you ever been to Yellowstone National Park? Which entry did you use? Let us know in the comments below!

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