Yellowstone National Park is known for wildlife adventures, diverse ecosystems, and the most amazing scenery. This massive 2.2 million acre behemoth demands time and planning. Here are our Goosewing tips to make the most of your Yellowstone experience.
Yellowstone National Park hit over 4.2 million annual visitors in 2016, with peak season during June, July and August. So it pays to pre-plan as much as possible for trekking to this behemoth national park.
Yellowstone Tips: What You Should Know
1. Plan Ahead and stay in the park if you can.
Believe us when we say that park accommodations will fill up as early as a year in advance, especially for the busy summer months. Staying at one of the nine lodges or the campgrounds in the park will save TONS of time because Yellowstone is enormous.
Given that the best times to enjoy the park are mornings and evenings when others have left the park, then having inside the park lodging is a major advantage.
Another perk staying on property is securing dinner reservations, which are required for Old Faithful Inn, Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Grant Village dining rooms. Note that priority for dinner reservations is given to hotel guests. Visitors not staying in these locations must wait until 60 days in advance to make a dining reservation.
2. Grab gas and supplies before entering the park.
Packing a cooler with food and drinks will prove to be worth it. Filling the cooler up nightly with ice from the ice machines kept everything cold. And although there are gas stations within the park, it’s wise to go ahead and fill up before entering.
3. Animal lovers, check out Lamar and Hayden Valleys.
If keen on seeing animals, these are the two areas that cannot be missed. Everyone we met who had see some variety of wildlife had done it in Lamar Valley. Bison are plentiful, even up close to the road! We also spotted elk, wolves, and brown bears.
Book the Lamar Valley Wildlife Excursion on the Historic Yellow Bus for a guided tour that will tap into all the hotspots for wildlife watching. Early birds, there’s also the Wake Up to Wildlife Tour. The key takeaway here is to capitalize on the early mornings and/or early evenings in Yellowstone.
4. Must See Sights:
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Two words: worth it! The Yellowstone River becomes a waterfall as it plunges 308 feet over the Lower Falls. This spot is awe-inspiring as visitors are fingertips aways from the waterfall as it roars past. A fabulous photo opportunity. But warning: the trail is steep and loaded with switchbacks, which means as challenging as it is to descend, it’s that much harder to walk back up! If this doesn’t sound appealing, go to Artist Point where no climbing is required.
Yellowstone has almost 60 percent of the world’s geysers. There are at least 150 geysers within 1 square miles. 5 of these major geysers are predicted regularly by the Yellowstone staff: Castle, Grand, Daisy, Riverside, and Old Faithful.
Old Faithful is probably the most popular attraction at Yellowstone. Named for its relative predictability, Old Faithful’s eruptions are forecast daily by the park rangers (give or take 5 minutes). Don’t miss the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center, a treasure trove of wonderful information and great place to snag junior ranger badges.
Old Faithful draws massive crowds, so try to visit early in the morning or late in the day. Check immediately about eruption times on posted placards or using the National Parks app. Snag a spot early to watch as the geyser shoots water on average 145 feet in the air for 1 1/2 to 5 minutes.
Grand Prismatic Spring
Thee jaw-dropping Grand Prismatic Spring at the Midway Geyser Basin is larger than a football field and deeper than a 10-story building! What captivates is its gorgeous colors. Alongside Grand Prismatic, you’ll find Excelsior Geyser, Turquoise Pool, and Opal Pool.
5. Book Tours to Learn More About this Park.
The 2-hour Twilight on the Firehole tour (late May to early September) shows off the Firehole region in its best light.
Climb aboard a 1930s-era Historic Yellow Bus for the Geyser Gazers outing (late May to mid-August and mid-September to early October). The 1½-hour exploration along Firehole Lake Drive takes in Excelsior Geyser Crater, a colossal hot spring that spews 4,000 gallons of water per minute into the Firehole River.
If you have a full day, the Yellowstone in a Day Tour (late May to early October) covers the entire 142-mile Grand Loop Road, including Old Faithful, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, the Upper and Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Canyon Village, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Fountain Paint Pots.
As for booking tours, don’t rely solely on the website because it only takes a request form. Instead, call central reservations at (307) 344-7311. If all else fails, call back within the cancellation window because other guests might drop a reservation.
6. Respect the Wildlife.
To protect yourself and the animals you come to watch, always remain at least 100 yards from bears or wolves, and at least 25 yards from all other wildlife. Never approach or pursue an animal to take its picture: use binoculars or telephoto lenses to get a better view. If an animal moves closer to you, back away to maintain a safe distance.
Must-have supplies for wildlife watching would be binoculars, camera/lenses, and bear spray if hiking is planned.
Also expect to see a bison traffic jam. When they decide to use the road, all bets are off on how soon vehicles will make it through. Patience is definitely a virtue in the park!
7. Find the best park ticket price.
There are several deals going on park passes:
Annual Pass: Purchase an America the Beautiful Annual Pass ($80) if several national parks are in your plans.
Senior Pass: Available for U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over. Applicants must provide documentation of age and residency or citizenship. Cost: $80 for a lifetime Senior Pass and $20 for Annual Senior Pass.
Every Kid in a Park (4th Graders): And don’t forget if you have a 4th grader, the entire family gets free admission to all national parks as part of the Every Kid in a Park initiative.
Military Pass: FREE to current U.S. military members and dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard as well as Reserve and National Guard members.