27 June, 2021

Complete Guide to Visiting Yellowstone National Park

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This post might help as a guide while planning the trip to Yellowstone with kids.

Yellowstone National Park is the first National park in the world. This park gives us an opportunity to check the most wonderful hydrothermal and geological features on the earth by walking on the inactive Volcano! Now, coming to the point of How to Plan a Vacation to Yellowstone

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How to reach Yellowstone?

Flying to the airport nearby and renting a car is the best way to reach. The nearest airports are Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in Montana (2 hrs to Park), Jackson Hole Airport in Jackson, Wyoming (1 hr to Park),  Idaho Falls airport (2 hrs to Park), and Salt Lake City Airport (4.5 hrs to park).

Here are some Economical flight options to Salt Lake city:

Image by Mike Goad from Pixabay 

Yellowstone National Park is majorly in Wyoming, but also spreads to some parts of Idaho and Montana.

Car rentals from Salt Lake City

Entrance Fee:

The fee is $35 / vehicle. There are 5 entrances - South Entrance (near Grand Teton/ Jackson), North Entrance (near Gardiner), west entrance (near West Yellowstone), East entrance (near Cody, Wyoming), and Northeast entrance (near Cooke City, Montana).

Where to Stay?

Of course, there are many lodges inside the park, but they require a reservation at least 8 to 9 months before.  There are many campgrounds as well, but the key is to plan early as summers get crowded and booked too early.

If staying outside, I suggest you stay in West Yellowstone. West Yellowstone is a cool town with great restaurants, hotels, and tourist facilities. 

Accommodations near West Yellowstone:

The second option is to search around Gardiner. Other entrances might need more driving and beating the traffic.

Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay 

Accommodations near Gardiner:

When is the best time to visit?

For the first-time visitors, Summer / early spring / early fall are better as they can explore all roads, waterfalls, and hike more.

In winter and late fall, most of the roads might close. Snowmobile and cross country skiing is popular during that time.

Summer is the peak season for Yellowstone. So, expect more crowds, and more traffic jams. Yellowstone is in mountains, so it will be cooler in the evenings even in summer. Shorts are fine for day time but light jackets are suggested for evenings.

If you want to beat the crowds, you may plan to visit in the early fall. Temperatures are moderate during the fall, but a few unexpected snowstorms might occur spoiling the plans, and road closures might be there. 

How many days to spend in Yellowstone?

I feel, 2 to 5 days is best to cover all major places in Yellowstone. Yellowstone national park covers over 2 million acres of land. It is very big. If you see the map, the grand loop covers most of the park. 


The Grand loop is like a number eight with 2 loops - lower and upper. This whole loop takes 5 to 7 hrs. But, considering the traffic due to crowds / Bison jams, it takes 2 to 3 hrs to drive each loop (upper / lower) without stopping by at any places.

The upper loop covers Norris Geyser basin ( home to the tallest geyser in the world - Steamboat geyser), Mammoth Hotsprings, Roosevelt arch, Canyon area (Yellowstone waterfalls). Drive to Lamar Valley takes a few more hours which is not part of the loop. 

The lower loop is the region with more action. It covers the Lower geyser basin, Midway geyser basin (Grand Prismatic Spring), Upper geyser basin (Old Faithful), West thumb geyser basin, and Lake Village.

Here are a few tips to decide on the number of days you need to visit Yellowstone in the Summer:

1. The lower loop can be covered in 1.5 days. Lower Geyser basin is pretty quick to cover - Fountain paint pots and Biscuit basic are some that can be covered. This might take around 1 hr, but to reach this place from the West entrance through Madison junction takes 40 mins to 1.5 hrs depending on traffic.

2. Midway geyser basin is the most attractive and vibrant place with colors. A boardwalk to midway geyser basin and hike to Grand Prismatic spring overlook from Fairy falls trailhead will take around 2 to 3 hrs.

3. Even though the Upper geyser basin is famous for Old Faithful which erupts every 45 mins, there are many geysers to look at around here. The trail is around 4.9 miles loop and takes around 1.5 to 2.5 hrs. 

4. So, to cover 1, 2, 3 itself we need 1.5 days minimum. 

5. The next not-to-miss point is Canyon. To cover Upper falls, the brink of lower falls, and various scenic points / overlooks for falls, it takes a minimum of 3 to 5 hrs depending on the hikes you select.

6. Norris geyser basin takes around 1 to 2 hrs and this area is the most active and dynamic place. 

7. Mammoth Hotsprings area has many beautiful terrace springs. To cover all the springs, it might take 1 to 3 hrs, but there are many steps in the trail. Roosevelt arch is just 15 mins away.

8. While the above 7 places are not to miss, Yellowstone has many waterfalls which can be viewed with very little / no hike like Gibbon falls, Keppler cascades, Firehole falls, Tower fall etc., There are also some places like Yellowstone lake, Westthumb lake, West thumb geyser basin, Mud volcano which we can visit on the way driving from one place to another.

To be precise, I suggest a minimum of 4 days if traveling with kids as we need to consider food and restroom breaks.

Where to Eat?

Inside the park, Places like Old faithful, canyon village, Lake village, Mammoth hot springs have gas stations, food, and snack options. These places are good to relax and have lunch/dinner too. 

We loved the sandwiches from the terrace grill at the Mammoth Hot springs area and Oldfaithful lodge. Veg options are available at both of these locations. We didn't find many veg options at Old faithful inn. Lake lodge cafeteria / Lake hotel dining room near Lake village and Canyon cafeteria in Canyon region are good. 

Image by Alejandro Guzman from Pixabay 

Homemade ice cream in City Creamery in West Yellowstone came highly recommended. Huckleberry ice cream at the old faithful lodge is great.

West Yellowstone is a beautiful town with multiple dining options. Jackson is another option for good food. 

What else to Know?

Traffic is terrific in Yellowstone. We visited in mid of June and it's not peak season yet. Still, we got stuck in traffic every day for around 1 hr while entering the park and 1 hr while leaving the park. 

It is common for people to get down for fishing or to watch wildlife near Madison junction which caused many traffic jams for hours. Be prepared for traffic.

As mentioned above, food is available at major junctions in the park-like Old faithful, west thumb, Canyon, Lak Village, and Mammoth hot springs. But, there are queues at some places like Old faithful lodge at any point in time.

Restrooms are mostly available at all major hiking locations but expect queues there as well.

When traveling in summer, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat are mandatory. Carry lots of water. Carry light jackets for evening hikes. 

Since many places have boardwalks, it might look easier, but each trail is a minimum of 1 to a 1.5-mile distance and we walk 5 to 7 miles per day without knowing by just visiting 3 to 4 places. So, plan accordingly if traveling with kids. Carry snacks and drinks like Gatorade to avoid exhaustion.

Broadwalk near Upper Geyser basin

Yellowstone is a big park and it takes a better plan to make the vacation happier. I hope this guide helps you to plan the trip. 

If you have any other questions about planning the trip, please leave your comments. I will reply back as soon as I can.

Happy and Safe travels :-)

Check here to read about visiting Grand Teton National park which is just 40 mins drive from South Entrance. 

Read the detailed Yellowstone travelogue below:

Yellowstone Itinerary Day #1 - Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and West thumb geyser basin

Yellowstone Itinerary Day #2 - Midway Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook

Yellowstone itinerary Day #2 (Part 2) - Upper geyser basin and Lower geyser basin, Old Faithful

Yellowstone Itinerary Day #3 - Mammoth Hot springs, Roosevelt Arch, and Norris geyser basin

Until next time,

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