Located in Northern Wyoming and parts of Montana sits the USA’s first national park: Yellowstone. Yellowstone National Park is known for its natural wonders from mountains to geysers to wildlife—there aren’t many places like it. And with so much to see coupled with its remoteness, knowing how to plan a trip to Yellowstone can be tricky.
BUT, this guide has you completely covered. In the next sections, we’ll detail all the planning must-knows any first time visitor should be prepared for to have the perfect trip.
Let’s dive in! And when you’re done with this post, make sure you read my other Yellowstone park guide: Ultimate Yellowstone Itinerary 4 Days
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Where is Yellowstone National Park?
Yellowstone National Park is primarily located in Wyoming. However, parts of the park spread to southern Montana and eastern Idaho.
Yellowstone National Park is the oldest US National Park and one of the largest, spanning almost 3,500 square miles.
Fun Fact: Yellowstone sits on top of a supervolcano that is still active. Ash from an eruption would cover just about the entire western half of the USA! AND, Yellowstone National Park was also the first US National Park established in 1872.
The standard entrance fee is about $35 per park. To save, snag the America The Beautiful Pass ($79.99).
Where to Stay Near Yellowstone National Park
Below are some lodging options for you to consider when thinking about how to plan a trip to Yellowstone!
- Under Canvas Yellowstone – A Glamping experience in Yellowstone National Park that’ll make you go, “Why do I even own a tent?”
- Elkhorn Cabins and Inn – Another motel that’s great for budget travelers. It’s also 5 minutes from the west entrance of the park!
- The Aspen Condos – If hotels aren’t your thing, you can rent some beautiful and cozy condos in West Yellowstone.
- 3BR Condo with a View – You want a view of the Tetons? You got it. I seriously don’t think I’d ever leave the patio of this 3BR condo!
Tip: Staying in Jackson Hole, WY will give you the most flexibility for exploring Yellowstone National Park. It’s about a 1.5 hour drive but will allow you to also explore Grand Teton National Park.
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Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park
The best time of year to visit Yellowstone National Park is August to early September when most of the crowds have left. Expect June and July to be the busiest months.
But you can visit just about any time of year. Let’s discuss the various seasons now!
Winter can also be a lot of fun in Yellowstone, but you need to come prepared. Activities like snowmobiling can be an exciting way to see the park if you decide to go then.
Expect low visitation and some park services to be closed. You may have limited park access as well.
Spring, on the other hand, is a great time in Yellowstone. If you visit in spring, you’ll see the most wildlife, gushing waterfalls, and blooming wildflowers.
All roads to Yellowstone National Park open around Memorial Day weekend.
Again, summer is the most popular time to see Yellowstone National Park, but it offers the most park access.
Summer in Yellowstone offers access to wildlife sightings and plenty of hiking if that’s what you’re going for.
In early fall, you can beat most of the summer crowds but still enjoy most of Yellowstone’s attractions! However, Yellowstone campgrounds can begin to close in September and October, which is something to keep in mind when planning to see Yellowstone.
Snow can start falling as early as November (even sooner, depending on the season).
If you’d like a month-to-month breakdown of what to expect in the park, I recommend visiting the Yellowstone National Park Service website!
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How Many Days to Spend in Yellowstone
Exploring Yellowstone in 4 days is the perfect amount of time to see all the highlights the park has to offer and then some!
For a shorter trip, shoot for at least 48 hours in Yellowstone.
Getting to Yellowstone National Park
Getting to Yellowstone National Park isn’t difficult, and it will be easier if you rent a car.
The airports closest to Yellowstone National Park are Yellowstone Airport (WYS) and Jackson Hole Airport.
Yellowstone Airport WYS
- Located in Montana and primarily runs from May to Mid October
- Visitors can fly into this airport from Salt Lake City
- It is closest to West Yellowstone!
Jackson Hole Airport
- This airport is about a 1.5hr drive to Yellowstone National Park
- If you fly into Jackson Hole, you can make a trip to Yellowstone then explore Grand Teton National Park!
- The Jackson Hole Airport runs all year
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Yellowstone National Park Entrances & Map
When considering how to plan a trip to Yellowstone National Park, it’s important to know about the various entrances! Since Yellowstone is so big, knowing the entrances can help you plan which attractions to see.
Driving from North to South can be about 2hrs, which means you’ll need to plan your Yellowstone itinerary accordingly!
- North Entrance — Considered the “gateway” to the park and close to Mammoth Hot Springs
- Northeast Entrance — Puts you closer to park wildlife areas
- West Entrance — Closest to Old Faithful and has the most dining and hotel options
- South Entrance — The entrance used to get to and from Grand Teton National Park
- East Entrance — About 15 miles from the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and brings you close to Yellowstone Lake
It’s essential to have a car when visiting so that you can have access to all the attractions and entrances.
There is no public transportation within the park, but if you book a tour of Yellowstone National Park, the tour company will typically provide transportation for you.
Below is a map of Yellowstone with the main attractions you’ll want to see (we’ll cover these in a bit).
FYI: If you visit in winter, you’re going to have to plan because several of these entrances will be closed to commercial vehicles!
Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
Now let’s cover all the amazing things to do in Yellowstone National Park! Use this list when considering how to plan a trip to Yellowstone.
Boiling River Hot Springs—This is the ONLY hot spring in the park you can swim in and is a popular attraction because it sits at a cozy 114 degrees.
Mammoth Hot Springs—A great spot for sunrise or sunset. What makes them unique is their cascading terraces. The “terraces” are made up of two parts: lower and upper.
Lamar Valley—A vast valley area that’s popular for spotting wolves and bison. Come here for sunrise!
Trout Lake—A beautiful spot to relax and enjoy some mountain views in the park.
Tower Fall—It’s a waterfall that drops 132ft into Yellowstone National Park! The viewpoint can be accessed near Tower Junction.
Helicopter Tour—From the WYS airport, you can hop on a Yellowstone Helicopter tour that will take you on an adventure from above to see secret mountains and other scenes you can’t get to otherwise.
Grand Prismatic Spring—Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone National Park known for its vibrant orange colors.
Upper Geyser Basin Trail—An easy walking trail that will take you through Yellowstone’s popular attractions like Morning Glory and Old Faithful.
Morning Glory Pool—This thermal pool sports a bright yellow and teal color that’s quite the sight for the eyes. It ended up being one of my favorite things to see Yellowstone National Park!
West Thumb Geyser Basin—Similar to Upper Geyser Basin in the sense that you can walk a small trail and see a variety of geysers and geothermal pools. Some of the main attractions here include Fishing Cone and Thumb Geyser.
Hayden Valley—This is a beautiful sunrise spot, and you might be able to spot some wildlife here too! Known for its hilly scenes and snaking river.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River—One of the most popular attractions in the park, the canyon stretches 20 miles and goes down 1,000 feet in depth. You can admire the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone from Artist Point and Upper Falls Point.
Old Faithful Geyser—Old Faithful is the most famous geyser in the park, which got its name in 1870. It erupts anywhere from 106 to 185 feet every 35 to 120 minutes.
Old West Dinner Cookout—You can book an Old West Dinner Cookout that’ll take place in the Yellowstone National Park backcountry! This is a great way to explore with a group of people and experience some of the old west history Yellowstone is known for.
Go Horseback Riding—If you want to do something a bit different, book a Yellowstone horseback riding tour! This particular horseback riding tour will take you along the Continental Divide trail, giving you views of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.
Grand Loop Road—Grand Loop Road makes up the primary road system in Yellowstone that stretches 142 miles. It’s incredibly scenic and the perfect way to see most of the park.
Norris Geyser Basin—Norris Geyser Basin is near North Yellowstone. It includes a variety of geothermal pools and geysers you can explore.
Jump on a Rafting Trip—Book a Yellowstone rafting tour for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure!
Yellowstone Lower Falls—Described as one of the most beautiful sights in the park, a great way to get close to the waterfall is by doing a hike to Artist Point.
Kayak—You can kayak around Yellowstone Lake, which gives you a closer look at some smaller geysers.
Lewis Lake—This lake is an excellent place for kayaking, hiking, and fishing.
Uncle Tom’s Trail—Similar to Artist Point, Uncle Tom’s will take you to a view of the Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
Backpack Electric Peak—Want to go on a longer hike? Then Electric Peak is for you! This is a 20.3mi out and back hike that features some of the best views in Yellowstone National Park.
Union Falls—Union Falls is a giant 250-foot waterfall that cascades deep in the lush forests of Yellowstone and can be reached by hiking 15 miles.
Fountain Paint Pot Trail—A great place to see some thermal pools and should only take about 30min max to complete.
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Best Sunrise Spots in Yellowstone National Park
Below is a list of the best sunrise spots in Yellowstone National Park! If you’re a morning person, use this section when planning a trip to Yellowstone for some of the best views!
- Lamar Valley
- Hayden Valley
- Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
- West Thumb Geyser Basin
- Yellowstone Lake (watch from the west shore)
- Mammoth Hot Springs
Best Sunset Spots in Yellowstone National Park
So what are the best sunset spots in Yellowstone National Park? From experience, I found that most of the sunrise locations can work for sunset:
- Lake Butte Overlook
- Mammoth Hot Springs
- Old Faithful Geyser
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Tips for Planning a Trip to Yellowstone
Let’s cover some final tips for how to plan a trip to Yellowstone.
Leave Pets at Home
Bringing a pet to Yellowstone National Park will leave you pretty limited. They’re not allowed on trails or boardwalks, so you might want to consider leaving them out of this trip!
If you’re traveling from Jackson, WY, there are some doggy daycare options available. At the time of writing this, DogJax is a highly recommended daycare!
Interested in camping? Yellowstone has 12 official campgrounds and over a hundred backcountry campsites.
The Yellowstone National Park Lodges manage 5 sites and NPS manages 7. That means you’ll have to navigate through two different reservation systems to find the campsite for you.
Plan to See Other Nearby National Parks
While you’re visiting Yellowstone, you might as well plan a trip to these other popular parks!
- Grand Teton National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Mt. Rushmore
- Badlands National Park
Final Thoughts on How to Plan a Trip to Yellowstone
When planning a trip to Yellowstone, I recommend splitting your time between “relaxing” activities (like a dip in the river) and more “intense” attractions (like a helicopter tour). This will give you the best variety and, in my opinion, make your trip that much more special.
There’s so much to see in the park that you might as well do as much as you can!
To see how I recommend putting all these items together, head to my next guide: Ultimate Yellowstone in 4 Days Itinerary