Yellowstone National Park is thought to be the very first National Park in the world, and it’s also the home of the biggest supervolcano on this continent! The whole area is a true wonderland from 10,000′ peaks to erupting geysers, and everything in between! There’s a little something for everyone in Yellowstone, and it’s the most diverse in terms of scenery that I’ve ever seen. We did a fair bit of research before our trip, but we still ran into some knowledge gaps once we were there, so I thought I’d write to tell you about our experience in the hopes that you’ll have the best visit possible when you come!
10 Tips for the best visit to Yellowstone:
1. Start your day early – whatever your top priority is that day, be sure to get an early start to see it! Some of the main attractions like the Grand Prismatic Geyser (photo below) have very small parking lots so it can be difficult to get a spot by mid-morning. This will definitely depend on when you’re there, but if you happen to go during the prime summer season on a weekend, it’s going to be busy!
2. One of the best tips we found in our pre-research stage was this: start at Old Faithful and work your way clockwise up through the park. This turned out to be pure gold because Old Faithful was all but deserted first thing in the morning, and by mid-afternoon it was wall to wall packed with people. You may just find yourself a bit annoyed as people shove in front of your video camera just to get their selfie in – never mind the fact they just ruined the footage you spent so much time setting up for! This actually happened to us while we were filming the geyser’s eruption, and the unapologetic couple fills up the whole frame for a full minute of our video feed! All in all if you enjoy a bit of space and don’t like to be pushed and shoved around – go early!!!
3. Reserve your campsites/lodging ahead of time! We worked out our itinerary and booked our campsites according to which areas of the park we were going to be in before we ever left home! The park is rather large, and you don’t want to have to drive a few hours to get back to your campsite! It isn’t always possible with every National Park to book ahead, but Yellowstone has a great online booking system, and we found it invaluable especially on a busy weekend. We saw many people get turned away because the campsites were booked, only to have to drive for hours to try and get lodging outside of the park. The campsite in the Mammoth Springs area would be my last choice for camping as it’s located in a hot, dry part of the park with a strong smell of sulfur. The campground (Canyon Campground) near the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone offers a complimentary shower with the price of your campsite (this may change with time) – this is an especially nice perk when you’ve spent all day hiking the humid trails through the geysers. We also spent 1 night at the Madison Campground which is situated nicely for touring the main geyser attractions.
4. Plan to visit the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone – this is often overlooked in favor of geyser sight seeing, but it’s truly spectacular as well as adding a little variety to your trip. If you stay at the Canyon Campground you’ll be well positioned for a morning visit to the canyon. There’s wonderful phenomena that happens in the morning when the sun is at just the right angle to create a rainbow in the mist. This happens between 9:00 – 10:00 am, and Artist’s Point is probably the best place to see it, although Uncle Tom’s trail gives you an up close view that’s pretty spectacular as well. For a preview of the rainbow as seen from Uncle Tom’s trail you can see it in the fourth photo of our post about the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone!
5. Be sure to fuel up your vehicle before entering the park, and this really goes for any National Park. As it might be expected, gas and especially diesel costs a small fortune within any park we’ve ever been to!
6. Pack food and or snacks for your journey, (especially if you have allergies), even if it’s just a few meals because it will save on time. Sometimes it’s more convenient to have your own food than have to drive the distance for it! There are restaurants and you should easily be able to get by, but we find it best to pack some of our own food for a couple of reasons. For one, it saves on time not to have to wait to get into a restaurant, and time is usually limited when you’re traveling. We also find it nice to relax at our campsite and cook dinner there for a full camping experience. And finally it saves you a good deal of money to pack your own food, (which I like to save for city traveling where interesting restaurants abound)!
7. Try to carve out a bit of time to do at least 1 hike that’s not a geyser trail. As amazing as the geysers are, there are some beautiful hikes in Yellowstone as well. Mount Washburn takes you up over 10,000′ in elevation for amazing views across the park, (as a side note elevation can affect some people starting at 8,000′ and you’ll want to have warm layers or a coat with you). The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is also quite stunning and offers a smaller amount of elevation gain in the hiking department.
8. Bring some kind of sun protection – some days can be really hot in Yellowstone and you will get crispy fried while touring the geyser trails if you don’t take some precautions! Not that I speak from experience or anything, but we totally spaced bringing anything because the weather had been so cold up until our visit. While we were there the temperature was in the 90ºs F and I burned the back of my calves bad enough that I still have a weird tan line 9 months later. We ended up having to stop and buy some stuff from the General Store in Mammoth but it was already too late to avoid the initial burn.
9. Try not to over-schedule your days – this is definitely difficult because there’s so much to see! I would recommend a week if you have it, but 3 days is enough to see a few of the main attractions.
10. Bring your patience with you!!! Yellowstone is a very busy National Park, especially in the peak summer season, so you can expect traffic jams, long lines, and sometimes the parking lots to the sites you want to see will be full. We came fully expecting all of these things and brought our ‘just go with it’ state of mind along with – and you know what, it was invaluable! We noticed so many people coming absolutely undone when things didn’t go as they had expected – so come relaxed and ready to enjoy as much as you can!
I’m going to leave you with a list of all the places we visited while in Yellowstone, (there will still be a few more posts coming, and I’ll add the links as they come out)!
1) Old Faithful