As the first and the biggest national park, Yellowstone requires some pre-planning but it is so worth the effort! From guided tours to fishing, hiking, boating and horseback riding, the activities are endless. So we’re sharing a list of Yellowstone Things to Do, links for best adventures, and tips to make this amazing park more approachable.
Is Yellowstone popular? You bet! Especially during peak season in June, July, and August. In 2017, visitors to Yellowstone National Park totaled 4.1 million, the second highest attendance ever. Since 2008, annual visitation to Yellowstone has increased by close to 40 percent. So it’s imperative to choose activities and excursions wisely. We’re sharing ideas on the best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone Things to Do
From guided tours aboard historic buses to stagecoach adventures and horseback tours, there is truly something for everyone as far as touring Yellowstone. Private touring companies abound as well as these offered by the Yellowstone National Park Lodges:
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.
Wildlife safaris are incredibly popular as a combination of education and wildlife sightseeing. There are multiple touring companies offering a wide range of excursions that teach visitors about the wildlife, geology, and natural history of the park. Book in advance because they will fill up fast.
For early risers, the Wake Up to Wildlife Tour (late May to late September) covers the Lamar Valley area in a 13-passenger Historic Yellow Bus. The roof rolls back for better wildlife viewing. Bison roam the Lamar Valley alongside bears, elk, bighorn sheep and even wolves.
Guides of the Picture Perfect Photo Safari (mid-May to early October) are educated in both the region and photography. Offering two 5-hour tours: one leaving from Old Faithful Inn and focusing on thermal areas north of the lodge, and the second one leaving from Lake Yellowstone Hotel that scopes out wildlife in the Hayden Valley, the north shore of Lake Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Old West Adventures
For a combination horseback and dining experience, try the Old West Dinner Cookout (mid-June to mid-September). Getting there via horseback or in a canvas-covered wagon is part of the fun. What awaits is steaks cooked to order, Roosevelt Baked Beans, potato salad, coleslaw, cornbread muffins, chuck wagon corn, watermelon, and fruit crisp. Add in hot coffee over a roaring campfire with Western tunes and it is truly an adventure!
Or there’s the Stagecoach Adventure from Roosevelt where guests will feel like pioneers and hear about the stagecoach’s history in Yellowstone.
Other Yellowstone Activities
Make your own wildlife tour by exploring on your own. Keep in mind that some of the best wildlife viewing areas include Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley. In Hayden Valley, look for bison, black bears, elk, grizzly bears, and wolves. Lamar Valley is home to bison, black bears, bighorn sheep, elk, grizzly bears, mule deer, pronghorn, and wolves.
When in doubt and there are a lot of cars pulled over, there is likely a wildlife sighting (especially if many people have spotting scopes).
For horse lovers, Yellowstone allows private, licensed outfitters who have been authorized to operate in the park to guide trips. Some outfitters offer day trips and some offer guided overnight backcountry trips. The Yellowstone National Park Lodges also offer 1 or 2-hour horseback rides from Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon (early June to early September).
While we love for guests to do their horseback riding with us here at Goosewing, we can say that it’s an awesome activity no matter where you experience it.
Yellowstone has more than 900 miles of hiking trails. The National Park Service has a great guide on all the hiking trails in the park. Keep in Mind: Many of Yellowstone’s trails are more than 7,000 feet above sea level. Additionally, most areas retain snow until late May/early June, and some higher elevation spots are snow-covered until late July.
Be Bear Aware: If planning on hiking, we recommend purchasing bear spray. Also it is vital to carry drinking water. Dehydration is common and can be serious. Most visitors will need to drink considerably more here due to low humidity and high elevation.
Yellowstone Lake is the setting for a 1-hour Scenicruise (mid-June to mid-September) featuring eagles, osprey, and other birds from aboard the Lake Queen. Or go it on your own by renting a motorboat or rowboat at Bridge Bay Marina. Other companies offer guided services for canoeing, kayaking, and motorized boating.
If using your own boat/float tube, you’ll need a permit and a free Yellowstone aquatic invasive species inspection. You can speed up the inspection process by arriving with a boat that is clean, drained, and dry. Watercraft that arrive dirty or with standing water will be subject to decontamination; if they cannot be properly decontaminated, then the watercraft will be prohibited from launching.
Of the approximately 4 million Yellowstone visitors each year, about 50,000 of them fish. Anglers 16 years of age or older must have a valid National Park fishing permit to fish in the park (state fishing licenses are not valid). 3-day permit: $18; 7-day permit: $25; and season-long permit: $40.
Join a ranger for a scheduled program to learn about the wild communities, history and geology of the park.
General Information about Yellowstone
Need information? Then check out one of the 10 visitor centers:
- Albright Visitor Center (open June to September)-Mammoth Hot Springs.
- Canyon Visitor Education Center (open late Spring through mid Fall)-Canyon Village.
- Fishing Bridge Visitor Center & Trailside Museum (open May to September)-Lake Yellowstone.
- Grant Visitor Center (open May to October)-western shore of Yellowstone Lake, a short distance south of the West Thumb Geyser Basin.
- Madison Information Station & Trailside Museum (open May to October)-Located between Madison Junction and Old Faithful.
- Museum of the National Park Ranger (open May to September)-off the Grand Loop Road at the entrance to Norris Campground.
- Norris Geyser Basin Museum & Information Station (open May to October)-1/4 mile east of Norris Junction just off the Grand Loop Road.
- Old Faithful Visitor Education Center (open daily throughout the year, with two month-long closed periods in the fall and spring)-Upper Geyser Basin at Old Faithful.
- West Thumb Information Station (open May to October)-north of Grant Village and on Lake Yellowstone.
- West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center (open May through September, and open weekdays, early November through April)-in the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce.
- $35 Yellowstone-Private Vehicle (good for 7 days)
- $30 Yellowstone-Motorcycle (good for 7 days)
- $20 Yellowstone Hiker/Biker (good for 7 days)
- $70 Yellowstone Annual Pass
- $80 America the Beautiful Annual Pass (recommended if you’re going to multiple parks)
Use this Yellowstone Map to get familiar with the areas ahead of time.
Tips from the National Park Service
Here are some of the rules that the National Park Service has come up with to help protect the delicate balance between parkgoers and 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.
- If you cause an animal to move, you’re too close. It’s illegal to willfully remain near or approach wildlife, including birds, within any distance that disturbs or displaces the animal.
- Park in roadside pullouts when watching/photographing animals: do not block traffic.
- Stay in or next to your car when watching bears. If a bear approaches or touches your car, honk your horn and drive away to discourage this behavior.
Yellowstone Must See Spots
Yellowstone has almost 60 percent of the world’s geysers. Within one square mile, there are at least 150 of these hydrothermal wonders. 5 of these major geysers are predicted regularly by the Yellowstone staff: Castle, Grand, Daisy, Riverside, and Old Faithful.
“Old Faithful is one of nearly 500 geysers in Yellowstone and one of six that park rangers can currently predict. It is uncommon to be able to predict geyser eruptions with regularity and Old Faithful has lived up to its name, only lengthening the time between eruptions by about 30 minutes in the last 30 years. The reliability of Old Faithful inspired early developers to build special viewing areas, lodging, and concessions for visitors to watch eruptions.”
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
The Yellowstone River becomes a waterfall as it plunges 308 feet over the Lower Falls. Artist Point is the easier spot to view the falls or choose the Lower Falls trail. It’s quite steep (328 steps down) and loaded with switchbacks, which means as challenging as it is to descend, it’s that much harder to walk back up! But this spot is awe-inspiring as visitors are fingertips aways from the waterfall as it roars past. A fabulous photo opportunity.
Grand Prismatic Spring
Also a MUST SEE is the jaw-dropping Grand Prismatic Spring at the Midway Geyser Basin. It’s 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.
Arrive early and/or stay late.
Park entrances are generally busiest from 9 am to 11 am. And since it doesn’t get dark during the summer until 9PM, stay late and there will be fewer crowds as dinner time approaches.
Get the apps.
Be Patient and Prepared.
Summer is the busiest season of the year. It’s the best time to see a variety of wildlife – wolves, bears, moose, elk, and deer. Temperatures usually hover at 70F with cooler temperatures at night. Some elevations see freezing temperatures overnight. And watch out-thunderstorms are common in the afternoons.
Follow the Rules.
DO NOT approach the animals. It’s called WILDlife for a reason.
Stay on boardwalks and paths because they are designed to protect guests and the land. Hot springs are very dangerous! They injure/kill more people than any other natural feature in the park.