To do at Yellowstone National Park

How to Plan a Trip to Yellowstone National Park

The world's first national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Yellowstone National Park is natural wonder like none other. In this Buzzle article, we tell you how to plan your visit to one of the most popular spots for outdoor enthusiasts in the United States.
Did You Know?
According to the National Park Service, half of the world's geothermal features are in Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone National Park is considered one of America's most beautiful parks. It boasts of some of the most picturesque landscapes on this planet, and the varied wildlife found here just make it even better. The sheer size of this park calls for a proper vacation, rather than a one-day trip; there is just so much to do and see. The park is spread across three states: Wyoming (96%), Montana (3%), and Idaho (1%). It comprises lakes, canyons, and mountain ranges with beautiful trails. However, it's well-known for its geothermal features, which are spread throughout the park.

Traveling to and in the Park

Closest Airports
  • Yellowstone Regional Airport
  • Jackson Hole Airport in Jackson
  • Gallatin Field Airport
  • Idaho Falls Regional Airport
Note: Depending on where you stay, it might be cheaper to fly to a destination you're well-connected to and then drive down to the park. Salt Lake City and Denver are two examples of such well-connected cities.
  • If you're settling for just a one-way trip, enter through the northeast gateway, after driving on the Beartooth Highway; it is an All-American Road, considered one of the most scenic drives in the country.
  • Don't forget to use the Grand Loop Road as well. It is another scenic drive that you'll love. This road can be used to reach spots within the park.
Things to Keep in Mind
Entrance to the Park
Yellowstone Entrance
  • Covering all the attractions in a single day is impossible. For a complete tour of the park, you need to ideally spend 5 days here.
  • Plan your trip according to the five regions of the park―Mammoth, Roosevelt, Canyon, Lake, and Geyser Countries (clockwise).
  • The park has five entrances―East, South, West, North, and Northeast Entrance; only the North one is open all-year-round. The park is also open all year; however, some regions may be inaccessible subject to weather conditions.
  • Carry enough cash to last you for your entire trip. Entrance fees, shopping, permits, etc., will be charged. Free entry is available only to active military personnel and dependents (on identification), and to citizens who are blind or permanently disabled.
  • Spring is the quietest time to visit the park. Some roads, however, may still be closed, along with some hiking trails.
  • Accommodation is ample in the park; however, you might want to reserve earlier during peak tourist season. It is important to plan your stay depending on what you want to see. There are 12 campgrounds in the park. Xanterra Parks and Resorts operate five out of these, where you can make reservations online. The other seven, are operated by the National Park Service, but are available only on first-come, first-served basis. Apart from these, there are nine lodges.
  • There is no public transportation in the park. You can either drive down in your own car or hire one. Bicycles are available on rent with Xanterra Parks and Resorts; only some roads in the park allow bicycling.
  • Though fishing is a popular activity, you will need a permit. It is available at all visitor centers, ranger stations, and Yellowstone Park General Stores.
  • The park is also home to Yellowstone Lake, a lake situated over the largest supervolcano in the continent. One of the largest high-altitude lakes in the country, boating and fishing on it remain popular activities. Boating regulations differ according to different areas of the lake. All boats are inspected before you use them in the park, and different boats require different permits, which are available at various stations.
  • The weather in the park might change drastically, specially during the winters. This leads to closure of certain routes, activities, and areas. Before driving down to the park, check for current conditions; these will help you plan your stay better.
Things You Must See

There are a lot of must-see spots in Yellowstone National Park. Include all these in your itinerary while planning a trip. From hiking 1,000+ miles of trails to birdwatching among 330 species, to staying in backcountry campsites to taking up a tour on pristine waters, this park will leave you spellbound.
  • For an educational tour, you can visit the Heritage and Research Center. It is home to a museum, archives, archeology lab, library, etc. It is located at Gardiner, Montana.
  • The third-largest hot spring globally―Grand Prismatic Spring―is one of the most popular destinations in the world.
  • The Great Fountain Geyser erupts every 9-15 hours, and shoots water up to 220 feet. Similarly, Old Faithful, a world-famous cone geyser, erupts approximately every 91 minutes.
  • There are several waterfalls in the park―almost 300. The Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River are the highest, while the Tower Fall on Tower Creek is the most famous.
  • While you may already consider boating or fishing on Yellowstone lake, watch at least one sunset or sunrise at this lake.
  • At least for a day, stay at the Old Faithful Inn, a hotel in the park which is also a designated National Historic Landmark. It has splendid views of the Old Faithful geyser.
  • Take the Firehole Lake Drive; you can watch geysers, such as Great Fountain, White Dome, and Pink Cone, from your car. The Great Fountain is huge, and erupts just about twice a day; predictions are available at visitor centers.
  • Dragon's Mouth Spring is another attraction you must not miss. The noise, odor, and view is something completely unique.
Gallery

Geese on Yellowstone River in winter

American Bison at the Park
Bison

Blue Star Spring, located near Old Faithful
Blue Star Spring

Geyser called 'Fishing Cone', West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone Lake
Fishing Cone in Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Yellowstone River
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The Grand Prismatic Spring, Midway Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic Spring

A grizzly walking through the snow in winter
Grizzly Bear in Yellowstone

Lower Yellowstone Falls
Yellowstone Falls

Hot Spring called Morning Glory Pool in the Upper Geyser Basin

The park is well equipped with gas stations, post houses, and medical facilities; you don't have to worry much if you're planning a long vacation. For a better well-informed vacation, print the National Park Service's Yellowstone National Park Trip Planner, which is available in PDF format.