10 Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park

10 Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park | Get Inspired Everyday!

10 Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park | Get Inspired Everyday!

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!

Grand Prismatic Geyser in Yellowstone | Get Inspired Everyday!

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!

Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park | Get Inspired Everyday!

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

2) Old Faithful Geyser trails in the Upper Basin and Biscuit Basin

3) Fountain Paint Pots Trail

4) Grand Prismatic and Excelsior Geysers located in the Midway Geyser Basin

5) Porcelain Geyser Basin

6) Norris Geyser Basin

7) Mammoth Hot Springs

8) Mount Washburn

9) Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

 

 

22 Comments on “10 Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park”

  1. Thank you very much Kari! We are going to Yellowstone next August… Just one question, you would avoid going there on the weekend? We are planning our trip, and I don’t know if it is worth make a reservation between monday to friday… Even if we are going to be in Yellowstone on August.

    1. Weekends are always busier, but I wouldn’t avoid it if those are some of your vacation days, just plan for more crowds and slower traffic. Depending on where you think you’ll be staying, having reservations is always a good idea because that way you’ll never find yourself looking for a campsite, or trying to find a hotel that’s not booked up! I hope this helps, and be sure to let me know if you have anymore questions!

  2. I am so happy I found this site while browsing Pinterest. You have been a fountain of information as to what to see and when. I have a question about gear though. I have a DSLR and would love to know what are the best lens to use to try to capture the beauty of Yellowstone in all of its glory. We are headed there in mid/late May and want to have amazing photos to go with the experience!

    1. My go-to lens is my 24-70 mm lens because you can capture most scenes with it, but I love having my wide angle 16-35 mm especially for scenes like the Grand Prismatic Geyser because you’re literally standing on part of it the way they built the boardwalk, so a wide angle lens gives you the ability to fit more into your picture. I don’t photograph wildlife much, but the go-to lens for that is usually the 100-400mm because you don’t want to get anywhere near the wildlife for your own safety, and because it helps keep them wild. If you had to choose just one though, I’d go with the 24-70 because of it’s incredible versatility. I hope you have a wonderful trip, and be sure to let me know if you have anymore questions!

  3. Kari, we are not tent people anymore, so could you give us some information on lodges / hotels in the area you’ recommend. Plus we live in Florida and need to know what is necessary for us to bring as clothing. What is the idea time to visit late April to May or Sept. to Oct. ? You seem to have a lot of knowledge so I thought I’d ask.

    Thanks,
    Cathie M.

    1. I don’t know much about the lodging in Yellowstone since we were camping when we visited, but I know for sure there is a lodge right by Old Faithful which is also central to see some of the other popular geysers like the Grand Prismatic. It’s also not too far from that lodge to go and see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and Yellowstone Lake is on the way to the canyon as well which is a good area to rest, swim in the summer, or have a picnic. If you choose to stay outside of the park, you might consider lodging for a few nights at the west entrance and a night or two at the north entrance so you don’t have to drive so far to see the sights. The west entrance is perfect for seeing the geysers, and the north entrance is perfect for visiting the Mammoth Hot Springs and the Lamar Valley which is where people like to go to see wildlife. The Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Lake are a long way from both entrances, but can be combined with something else on the same day to save driving time. If you do come in the off season, I’d recommend coming in September because there’s the least chance of snow. However September can be all over the map as far as temperatures go, so you’ll need to prepare for temperatures usually anywhere between 40ºF – 85ºF. Another thing to consider is sunshine, so bring sunscreen in case it’s on the warm side, but be prepared with warm layers for cold nights and possibly cool days. Also parts of Yellowstone are 7,000-8,000 ft so some people can experience difficulties with the altitude. I hope this helps and that you have a wonderful trip!:)

  4. Other tips… Don’t put bison in your car. Don’t walk on the thermal areas where it says “keep off”. Lol

    We just left yellowstone and I cant imagine going during peak season. It would be WAY too busy for my taste.

    A good geyser to see is the Lone Star Geyser. Much less commercialized than old faithful and, IMO, more impressive.

    1. Your tips made me laugh out loud! We didn’t know about the Lone Star Geyser when we were there, but it just went on the list for this fall when we hope to visit again, (this time without the crowds)!

  5. Hello Kari, very beautiful pics and great tips. my husband and I are planing visit Yellowstone this summer during our 2-week US trip. Do you think 2 days to explore the park is enough? many thanks!!

    1. You can definitely see a lot in 2 days, but you’ll just need to prioritize which sites you want to see the most. It’s hard to see any of the National Parks in just 2 days, but since time is usually limited, I don’t see why you can’t have a great time, and see the main highlights. I would start by choosing 2-3 sites to see per day, and make sure you stay in the same area of the park by seeing the main sites in that area before driving to another side of the park, (this will save you a lot of travel time in the car). If you start really early in the morning, it’s easier to see more things, because by 10:00 am the main attractions become crowded. Most of the sites are short walks, but if you do have some with more mileage, it helps to split them up between your 2 days so that you’re not trying to do too many miles in 1 day. I hope this helps and that you have the best time in Yellowstone – be sure to let me know if you have anymore questions!

  6. Our family is coming from the North entrance to hike the Upper Falls on a Sunday. We have cabins at the East Entrance booked Sunday and Monday. So our plan is to do the Canyon the first day and drive in again the second day to see geysers. Is that doable? Is Old Faithful a “must” or do some of the other geysers give the same thrill?

    1. The way to make sight seeing more ‘doable’ in Yellowstone is to see your main sight before noon, find someplace to hang out in the afternoon, and then take in another sight after an early dinner when the crowds die down again. I might not be the best person to ask because I didn’t think Old Faithful was a ‘must’ but it was really neat. What I liked even more was walking the network of trails around Old Faithful and seeing all those geysers as well, (the Morning Glory Pool is there as well). Depending on how much you’re up for in a day, you could do the Canyon early in the morning (between 8:00-10:00 am is when the rainbow appears in the falls). Then you could spend the afternoon at Yellowstone Lake having lunch, and then head down to the Old Faithful area to see as much as you can in, about 2-3 hours is nice for seeing both Old Faithful and some of the trails around it. It makes for a long day, but you can get a lot of sight seeing in that way, and either morning or evening is best for Old Faithful because it can be really crowded during the middle of the day. The second day you should easily be able to see the Midway Geyser Basin where the famous Grand Prismatic is, my next pick would be the Mammoth Hot Springs because it’s really neat (although it’s by the North Entrance) my next pick would be the whole Old Faithful complex, and then my last pick would be the Norris Geyser and Porcelain Geyser Basins. I hope this helps, and be sure to let me know if you have anymore questions!

  7. We’re in the midst of planning a two week road trip from CA to ID, MT & UT. We’re really trying to get to the fine tooth of things right now because we have a diverse group. 9, 16, 30’s, 40’s and 60’s. We are trying to make sure we are allotting for rest at all of our stops as well.

    We are hoping to make Canyon Village our home base for the time we are in the park and Yellowstone is the one spot we feel we are over booked because of the driving. We will be going in mid July so we know there will be crowds and traffic. Would you be able to give some insight as to how long of drives we are talking about? We two full days in the park where we would like to commit to sight seeing. We are hoping to cover Old Faithful, Mammoth, Artists Point, Uncle Tom’s, Lamar valley, Grand prismatic and a stagecoach cookout. With this list I am sure you can see my concern : )

    1. You’re going to have an amazing trip, and I definitely see your concern with the ambitious schedule. We only had a couple days as well and we didn’t quite get to everything we had planned, but to the best of my knowledge I’ll try to help you out! You want to stay as much as you can in the same area to see all the things you want before moving on because sometimes the traffic jams can cost you an extra hour or so in addition to regular driving time. I would see Old Faithful first thing in the morning as early as you can (first light is best) to avoid the enormous crowds, from there I would head straight for Grand Prismatic which is only a couple miles away, the parking here fills up fast so you want to be there well before noon. Or alternatively you could spend a lot of the day at Old Faithful because there’s a network of trail leading past really interesting geysers and then head to Grand Prismatic in the late afternoon. You could probably finish up the day at Mammoth where there’s places to eat as well. There is quite a bit to see at Mammoth, so I would plan for a couple of hours there, not including eating time. If you camp by the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, you’ll be in place to do Artists Point and Uncle Tom’s first thing in the morning, depending on the time of year the rainbow that appears in the falls is usually between 8:30 and 10:00 am. As far as Lamar Valley goes I don’t know how much time it will take because we ran out of time to go ourselves, and I hadn’t heard about the stagecoach cookout so I don’t even know what region of the park it’s in. I sure hope this helps a little and I hope you have a wonderful trip!

    1. I hope you have a great trip, there are so many great sights to see! Let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll do my best to fill you in based off our experience.

      1. Hi Kari, thank you so much for your suggestions! I am finding them very helpful. Have a lot of anxiety planning this trip (mostly because of crowds, etc at the park) My daughter attends UM and is dying for us to come out, so here we go! Going top season 🙁 Mid July. We are picking her up in Lewistown (she will be doing her internship there) and heading to the North Entrance to stay at Best Western for a few nights, then to the South Entrance to stay at a cabin for a few nights. Time is limited, so we thought we could do a little of Teton National Park from the South end. Does this sound reasonable to you? We are not campers, so we won’t be able to afford being “inside” the park. Thanks so much, Kim

        1. This sounds reasonable to me, just pick out a couple of sights that you’d like to see nearest to where you’re staying. What eats up a lot of time is driving around the park, to drive from one end to the other can take a couple of hours depending on the traffic. My best tip would be to get up early, this helps you avoid the crowds and have the first couple of hours in relative peace, and it also helps you avoid the heat. It can be very hot on the geyser trails depending on the weather. You should have time to pop down and see a little of the Grand Tetons as well, but it does take a couple hours to get there so I would recommend doing the driving time either super early or late in the day to give you more time to sight see. Overall I’d say to just relax and see what you can see, and bring your patience for delays due to crowds! I hope you have a wonderful trip, and be sure to let me know if I can help anymore. 🙂

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