The Ultimate Guide To Yellowstone National Park

The Ultimate Guide To Yellowstone National Park

Wyoming
The Ultimate Travel Guide To Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park , a true icon of must-see nature!

Yellowstone, home to several geysers, colorful thermal pools, bubbling hot mud pots, steaming vents, majestic peaks, waterfalls, and wildlife, is a landscape like none other! 

One of the world’s first National Parks, Yellowstone, contains the highest concentration of thermal features found anywhere in the globe. The several geothermal areas in Yellowstone feature various geological formations and features, including frequently erupting active geysers, colorful steaming hot springs, bubbling mud pools, limestone travertine terraces, deep valleys, and abundant wildlife, making it a supremely interesting landscape!

The geothermal features and activities in Yellowstone National Park are indicative of the turbulent and hot magma that lies below the surface at Yellowstone. Yellowstone is actually a supervolcano, a large volcano with a Volcanic Explosivity Index of eight. Three massive volcanic eruptions dating back to several thousand years shaped this monumental track of land! The magma that caused the eruptions at Yellowstone continues to power the geysers, hot springs, and other volcanic features in the Park. 

Yellowstone, with its fascinating volcanic features, its own Grand Canyon, roaring waterfalls, and wildlife, offers a very unique landscape and an unparalleled experience and is one of the must-see places in the US! 

Located in the northwest corner of Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park is enormous and slightly extends into the neighboring states of Montana in the north and Idaho in the west. With its unique combination of fascinating geothermal features, wildlife, and natural beauty, Yellowstone is one of the most sorted after destinations globally and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yellowstone National Park is open year-round, but spring and summer are best for sightseeing, hiking, and camping in the Park. The Park remains open in winter and offers cross-country skiing and a few other snow sports in some sections of the Park. However, the Park’s interiors can only be accessed via snowmobiles or snow-cat tours during the winter months. 

Here is my ultimate guide to Yellowstone National Park, featuring essential trip-planning information, attractions map, hiking trails, suggested itinerary, and recommendations on hotels and restaurants in Yellowstone National Park!

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Planning Your Trip To Yellowstone National Park

Planning Your Trip To Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is open year-round, summer being the peak season for sightseeing, hiking, and camping, and in winter, it’s more about snow sports as most of the roads remain closed!

Best Time To Visit Yellowstone National Park: Yellowstone National Park receives a good amount of snowfall, so most of the roads in the Park are closed in the winter, except the Mammoth section in the northeast corner of the Park. Road closures for winter begin around late October and are in effect through late May, making June through mid-October the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park. 

June, July, and August are the busiest months in Yellowstone, and due to its popularity, the campgrounds and the lodges are often sold out during these three months. So, if you’re planning to visit Yellowstone during the peak seasons, you must make your lodging reservations in way advance. If you don’t mind a little cooler weather, the shoulder months, May, September, and October, are a great choice to beat the crowd in Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone National Park Operating Hours & Seasons: The Park is open all year-round and 24 hours a day. However, some of the park facilities, including the visitor centers, park entrances, and lodges, are seasonal and are open only outside the winter months.

  • Yellowstone National Park Entrances: There’re five entrances to Yellowstone National Park, one on each side and two on the north side of the Park. However, all entrances are seasonal except the North entrance that leads to the Mammoth Hot Springs area, which is open year-round.
  • Yellowstone National Park Visitor Centers: There’re eleven visitor / information centers in Yellowstone National Park. However, only the Albright Visitor Center, near Mammoth Hot Springs, is open year-round, and the rest are seasonal.
  • Yellowstone National Park Lodges & Campgrounds: Yellowstone offers twelve campgrounds, but all are seasonal except the Mammoth Campground. The Park also has nine lodges, but only two are open during winter – Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in the northern section near Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful Snow Lodge in the west-central region of the Park.

Getting To Yellowstone National Park: Yellowstone National Park, located in northeast Wyoming, is quite far from the major international airports, making the regional and domestic airports the best choice to get to the Park. There’s no direct Amtrak train service to Yellowstone or Wyoming, and the closest Greyhound bus stop is about 250 miles from the Park.

  • Flight: Yellowstone Airport (WYS), West Yellowstone, Montana, just next to the Park’s west entrance, is the closes airport to Yellowstone National Park, but it’s seasonal and has limited service. However, there are a few other airports near Yellowstone, including Jackson Hole Airport (JAC), Jackson, Wyoming, about 90 miles from the Park, Yellowstone Regional Airport (COD), Cody, Wyoming, around 125 miles to Yellowstone, and Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN), Bozeman, Montana, approximately 130 miles from Yellowstone National Park.
  • Train: There’re no direct Amtrak train services to Yellowstone National Park or anywhere else in Wyoming. The closest Amtrak station to Yellowstone is in Salt Lake City, Utah, about 320 miles from the Park’s west entrance.
  • Bus: Greyhound offers bus services connecting a few cities in southern Wyoming to other cities and states in the US. However, the closest Greyhound stops near Yellowstone National Park are located about 250 miles in Evanston and Rock Springs in southern Wyoming.
  • Tours: Visting Yellowstone requires a good amount of driving, but if driving is not an option or you like the luxury of a coach and guided tours, several tour companies in Wyoming offer guided tours of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. Here’s the list of the several authorized tour companies and their contact details – Yellowstone Authorized Tour Providers.

Transportation & Parking Inside Yellowstone National Park: The Park has several parking lots at every vista point and trailheads. However, during the peak seasons, there’s a ton of traffic in the Park, and it might become challenging to find parking, especially during the late morning and afternoon. Unlike many other National Parks in the US, Yellowstone does not offer shuttle services inside the Park. You need a car to access the several vista points in the Park or use one of the authorized tour companies I mentioned above. 

Time Required At Yellowstone National Park: While it is possible to see the major highlights of Yellowstone in one day, I highly recommend spending a minimum of three days in Yellowstone National Park so that you have enough time to explore all the major geothermal features, hike a couple of trails, and watch wildlife in the Park.  

Lodging & Dining In Yellowstone National Park: There are several lodging and dining options inside Yellowstone National Park, including twelve campgrounds, nine lodges, and many restaurants & cafes, but most of them are seasonal open outside the winter months. There are a few other lodging and dining choices outside the Park, which I have discussed in the later section of the post.

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Things To Do In Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park Attractions Map

Yellowstone National Park Attractions Map

Yellowstone National Park Entrances

There’re five entrances to Yellowstone National Park, one on each side and two on the north side of the Park. However, only the North entrance, close to the Mammoth Hot Springs area, is open year-round, and others are all seasonal entrances open outside the winter months.

  • North Entrance: The only entrance to Yellowstone that’s open year-round, the North Entrance, is located in the north-central region of the Park, entering the Park through the Mammoth Hot Springs area. The North entrance is best suited for people coming from southwest Montana, including Bozeman, Missoula in Montana. Yellowstone North Entrance Address: Yellowstone National Park North Entrance, N Entrance Rd, Gardiner, MT 59030
  • Northeast EntranceLocated on the northeast corner of the Yellowstone, the seasonal Northeast Entrance enters the Park from the Lamar Valley section and is best for people coming from southeast Montana, including the Billings area in Montana. Yellowstone Northeast Entrance Address: Yellowstone Northeast Entrance Station, US-212, Cooke City-Silver Gate, MT 59081.
  • West EntranceThe West Entrance, a seasonal entrance located on the west side of Yellowstone National Park, is the busiest of all entrances and an excellent choice for people coming from Idaho or southwest Montana. The seasonal West Entrance is just 4 miles from the Yellowstone airport and leads to the main geyser basin of the Park. Yellowstone West Entrance Address: West Entrance, West Yellowstone, MT 59758.
  • East Entrance: The East Entrance to Yellowstone is best for people arriving from western Wyoming or Western South Dakota. The East Entrance is a seasonal entrance near Yellowstone Lake and provides easy access to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. East Entrance Address: Yellowstone East Entrance, East Entrance Road, Yellowstone National Park, WY.
  • South Entrance: Located in the south-central region of Yellowstone, the South Entrance is best for people coming from southern Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado. The South Entrance is a seasonal entrance, open only outside the winter months, and enters the Park through the central geyser basin. Yellowstone South Entrance Address: Yellowstone South Entrance, South Entrance Road, Yellowstone National Park, WY.
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Yellowstone National Park Visitor / Information Centers

Yellowstone National Park is huge and is accordingly equipped with several visitor centers and rangers stations to help visitors navigate the Park and plan their trip. However, out of the eleven visitor / information centers in Yellowstone, only the Albright Visitor Center is open year-round, and others are open only outside the winter months.

Most of the visitor centers & ranger stations in Yellowstone features an information desk, maps, displays, and exhibits related to the Park’s geology and history. Anytime you feel you’re lost or need help planning your hike, get a fishing or backcountry permit, or need information about other activities, you could stop at any of the following visitor centers in Yellowstone National Park.

  • Albright Visitor Center: This is the only visitor center in Yellowstone that’s open and staffed year-round. The Albright Visitor Center, located near the North Entrance of Yellowstone, features a ranger station, several exhibits, and a park store.
  • Canyon Visitor Education Center: Located in the Canyon Village complex near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Canyon Visitor Education Center offers several exhibits and plays a film about the geology and turbulent past of the Park.
  • Fishing Bridge Visitor Center and Trailside Museum: The seasonal Fishing Bridge Museum and Visitor Center near the East Entrance along the north shore of Yellowstone Lake offer exhibits and information about Yellowstone Lake.
  • Grant Visitor Center: Located near the West Thumb Geyser Basin in Grant Village, the Grant Visitor center offers an information desk, a park store, and several exhibits related to the massive Yellowstone wildfire in 1988.
  • Madison Information Station: This is a seasonal information center located close to the West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, offering a staffed information desk, a souvenir shop, and a bookstore.
  • Museum of the National Park Ranger: Located about 30 miles east of the West Entrance close to Norris Campground, the seasonal Museum of the National Park Ranger has rangers to help plan your trip and exhibits and videos related to the Norris Geyser Basin.
  • Norris Geyser Basin Museum: Overlooking the Norris Geyser Basin, the seasonal Norris Geyser Basin Museum offers several geological exhibits related to the Norris Basin and also features an information desk and a park store.
  • Old Faithful Visitor Education Center: The most popular visitor center in Yellowstone, the seasonal Old Faithful Visitor Education Center is the gateway to the Old Faithful Geyser and offers several exhibits, a store, and a ranger station.
  • West Thumb Information Station: Located along the west shore of Yellowstone Lake, the West Thumb Information Center is a small facility with an information desk and a park store. The West Thumb Geyser Basin boardwalk starts at the West Thumb Information Station.
  • West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center & NPS Desk: Located in Montana, half a mile from the West Entrance, the West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center is shared by National Park Services and West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce. The facility is open year-round with access to maps, guides, and restrooms, but rangers are available only outside the winter months.
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Yellowstone National Park Main Sections

Yellowstone National Park Upper Basin | The Ultimate Guide To Yellowstone National Park

Best Way To Explore Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is full of wonders, while there is a lot to do, but considering a lot of us go there for a day or two, I have compiled a list of must-see places in Yellowstone. The map above shows all entrances and the major viewpoints in the park. Depending on which entrance you’re using, the order you will visit these viewpoints might be different, but I highly recommend seeing all of them.

In my travel guide to Yellowstone and also during my visit, I used the west entrance. If you enter from the west entrance, you will find the park divided into two sections – South and North. I recommend starting from the southside of the park, at the Old Faithful Geyser, and then making your way up the northside of the park.

The National Park Services maintains the latest geyser eruption predictions on their website, which is very useful while planning your visit.

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Old Faithful Geyser

Old Faithful Geyser | Yellowstone National Park Travel Guide

Old Faithful is the most popular and iconic landmark in Yellowstone National Park, it’s a cone geyser and is a highly predictable geothermal feature, erupting every 90 minutes. The geyser and the nearby Old Faithful Inn, the park’s only lodge, are part of the Old Faithful Historic District. The duration of Old Faithful’s eruptions ranges from 1.5 – 5 minutes, around 3,500 – 8,500 gallons of hot water is discharged during each eruption. During each eruption, hot water gushes out and reaches an average height of 130–140 feet. Watch the Old Faithful Geyser in action, in my short videoThe amazing Old Faithful Geyser.

It’s a one-of-a-kind experience to see this natural wonder! There are several other colorful thermal pools and steaming vents in the area. Below I have listed all the hikes that start from here. I would highly recommend the Geyser hill loop hike; there’s a lot to see in the area.

The historic Old Faithful Inn: Is one of the country’s grand national park lodges, an architectural landmark, and part of the Old Faithful Historic District, with a restaurant and a gift shop.

Hiking around Old Faithful: Old Faithful is part of the Upper Geyser Basin, there are several other trails starting from the Old Faithful Visitor Center:

  • Old Faithful Geyser Loop:  0.7-miles roundtrip
  • Geyser Hill Loop: 1.3-miles roundtrip
  • Observation Point Loop: 2.1-mile roundtrip
  • Morning Glory Pool: 2.8-miles roundtrip
  • Black Sand Basin: 4.0-miles roundtrip
  • Biscuit Basin Loop: 5.2-miles roundtrip
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Grand Prismatic Spring

Yellowstone National Park | Yellowstone National Park Travel Guide

The Grand Prismatic Spring of Yellowstone National Park is the biggest hot spring in the US and the third-largest in the whole world. The vibrant colors: red, orange, yellow, green, and blue are from the bacteria that dwell in the hot pools, shifting colors depending on the temperature of the water. There’s a wooden trail, an easy hike of 0.8 miles, that leads you to the Grand Prismatic Spring. 

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Mud Volcano Area

Mud Volcano Areas | Ultimate Guide To Yellowstone National Park

The bubbling Mud Volcano and the rotten Sour Lake are some of Yellowstone’s most unique hot spots. The extreme heat from the steaming vents underneath the clay makes it look as if it’s molten hot lava.

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Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone The Ultimate Guide To Yellowstone National Park

The enormous deep valley canyon, located towards the northeastern side of the park, is called the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. There are a couple of viewing points, including the Artist Point and the inspiration point, offering some breathtaking panoramic views of the enormous canyon. If time permits, I would recommend visiting both the vista points, but if you’re short on time, the inspiration point is for you.

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Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs | Ultimate Guide To Yellowstone National Park

It’s a group of hot springs over a cliff covered in layers of mineral deposits from the hot spring. It looks like a cascading waterfall carved in stone, the view of it is extraordinary! You can explore the Mammoth hot springs area either by hiking the Lower Terrace Area or by driving your car at the Upper Terrace Drive. If you have time, I would recommend walking the Lower Terrace area; it’s an hour hike, but it is worth it!

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Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley | Yellowstone National Park Travel Guide

Lamar Valley, located in the northeast corner of the Yellowstone National Park, is your gateway to wildlife viewing. Lamar Valley is home to bears, wolves, bison, elk, bighorn sheep, and more, please maintain a safe distance and do not approach any animals at any cost.

I have included the major attractions in my travel guide to Yellowstone National Park. However, if you have more time, there are few other places to see and hike in Yellowstone National park. I recommend visiting the National Park Service’s website for further details.

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Yellowstone National Park | Yellowstone National Park Travel GuideI hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To Yellowstone National Park, and I hope this will help you plan your trip to Yellowstone National Park. I would recommend spending at least two days in Yellowstone so that you have ample time to explore this awe-inspiring wonderland!

Happy feeding your soul!
Shreyashi

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