Yellowstone represents an important moment in history. On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone was declared the world’s first ever national park, making it the first area of land to be protected by the federal government.
Yellowstone covers a massive 3,468 square miles. Inside the park are lakes, canyons, geothermal areas, rivers, waterfalls, and mountain ranges. A large portion of the land is an active super-volcano hiding just beneath the surface of the earth. The last time it erupted was around 630,000 thousand years ago.
I’ve visited Yellowstone National Park twice, and both times it has absolutely blown my mind. If you’re planning on taking a trip to see this incredible landscape anytime soon, here’s everything you need to know to road trip Yellowstone.
WHAT TO SEE:
If you’re heading to the park between mid-April and early November, then the roads should be open to cars (you can see a live map of road openings here). The roads in Yellowstone are divided into two major loops: the North loop and South loop.
- (1) Boiling River, a thermally heated river that you can swim in.
- (2) Mammoth Hot Springs, a hot spring that cascades down terraces.
- (3) Yellowstone Canyon, a massive canyon with an impressive waterfall. Go to Inspiration Point or Artist Point for spectacular views.
- (4) Norris Geyser Basin, a large thermal area with hot springs and geysers.
- (5) Fountain Paint Pot Trail, a walking trail with some smaller geysers and thermal pools.
- (6) Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the United States and the third largest in the world.
- (7) Biscuit Basin, wooden pathways over a large thermal area with more hot springs and geysers.
- (8) Morning Glory Pool, a smaller thermal spring which you can get up close to.
- (9) Old Faithful, a geyser that shoots water 145 feet into the air every 90-ish minutes.
- (10) Yellowstone Lake, a gigantic and very pretty lake.
WHEN TO GO:
Yellowstone is a very popular national park and it can get super busy in the peak season (July-August, especially during school holidays), so head to the park in the shoulder seasons (April-May and September-October) if you want to avoid the crowds.
Vehicles entering Yellowstone will be required to have a national parks pass. If you don’t have one, the cost is $25 per vehicle for a 7-day pass which will be purchased at one of the park entrances. National park fees are waived for national park week so if you plan to travel in April, try coordinating with those dates to save some cash!
Summer in Yellowstone is fairly mild with changing conditions. July temperatures usually range between 40ºF to 70ºF. Be prepared for all sorts of weather. If you’d like to visit Yellowstone in the winter, I’ll be putting together a winter guide later in the year!
HOW LONG WILL YOU NEED:
Yellowstone is big. Really big. I would recommend 2 days to see the whole park, splitting your days between the North and South loops.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Driving into Yellowstone is the easiest way to visit if you live within a few hours drive. There are 5 entrances to come into the park: North, Northeast, East, South, and West.
If you don’t live nearby, then there are a few nearby airports that you can fly into:
- Bozeman, which is about an hour and 45 minutes drive from the North entrance or West entrance.
- Cody, which is just over an hour drive from the East entrance.
- Jackson Hole, which is just over an hour drive from the South entrance.
Two more airports that are a little further away but are still fairly close to the park are Idaho Falls, ID, or Billings, MT.
WHERE TO STAY:
There are limited options to stay inside the national park, but there are plenty of options to stay just outside. If you’re traveling in peak season, book well ahead as accommodations can fill up fast.
SOME OTHER THINGS TO REMEMBER:
- It can be tempting to get close to Yellowstone’s animals for a photo, but remember that these animals are wild, and they may charge if you get too close. You don’t want to be head-butted by a Bison.
- If you’re driving, be careful of wildlife that may wander on to the road, and also be aware of the people who will pull over to get photos of it. Traffic can get chaotic when this happens.
- It may seem obvious, but stick to the paths! We heard a few stories of people dying in various ways at Yellowstone, including one guy who jumped into a boiling thermal spring to save his dog, and another guy who went off-path and fell into the sulphuric water that sits just below the surface. Don’t be one of those people, please!