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Experts say Native Americans have inhabited the area for at least 11,000 years, but it wasn’t until the mid 1800s that organized exploration began. Yellowstone’s magic was quickly identified, however, and it was established as a national park in 1872 – widely regarded as the world’s first national park.
Today, the seemingly endless mountains, canyons, lakes, forests and stunning landscapes attract millions of visitors to Yellowstone each year. From witnessing the eruptions of Old Faithful to trekking across backcountry trails – there’s always something to see here. Yellowstone is also home to a rich variety of flora and fauna, including hundreds of species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles as well as unique species of plants across the varied forests and grasslands. The native bison herd is the oldest and largest within the United States – on display throughout the year.
Yellowstone is located in the northwest corner of Wyoming, spilling over into Montana and Idaho. It spans a total area of nearly 8,900 square km (3,500 square miles). The park has five entrances, making it accessible from all directions (though not all are open throughout the year): in Jackson Hole (South Entrance) and Cody (East Entrance), WY and West Yellowstone, Silver Gate/Cooke City (Northeast Entrance) and Gardiner (North Entrance) in MT. There are a number of major roads that travel to the various entrances. You can find a detailed description of roads to Yellowstone, depending on which entrance you plan to enter. As well, for complete information on road closures, check the park website.
Here we’ll take you through the basic overview of hiking in Yellowstone National Park – including how to get there, where to stay, where to eat, what to see and what to watch out for.
You can fly into the following airports during all four seasons:
- Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport: 146 km (91 miles) from the north park entrance by Gardiner and 151 km (94 miles) from the West Yellowstone entrance.
- Yellowstone Regional Airport : 86 km (54 miles) from the East Entrance by Cody and 137 km (85 miles) from the Northeast Entrance by Silver Gate/Cooke City.
- Billings Logan International Airport : 150 km (155 miles) from the Northeast Entrance in Silver Gate/Cooke City and 262 km (163 miles) from the East Entrance by Cody.
- Jackson Hole Airport : 79 km(49 miles) from the South Entrance by Jackson Hole.
- Idaho Falls Regional Airport : 236 km (147 miles) from the South Entrance by Jackson Hole and 177 km (110 miles) from the West Yellowstone Entrance.
During the summer season you can fly into the West Yellowstone, Montana Regional Airport, just 8 km (5 miles) from the West Entrance. You may save money, however, by flying into the larger Salt Lake City International Airport, located roughly 450 km (280 miles) from the South Entrance.
All airports offer car rental and taxi services. Some offer shuttles. For more information, click here.
Yellowstone is a year-round destination, though access is severely limited in the winter season. Due to the heavy snowfall, vehicle access within the park tends to be restricted as early as November. During this time you have to use skis, snowshoes, snowcoaches and snowmobiles to get around the park. The most popular time to visit is the height of the summer – in July and August – though this also means big crowds. During this time kids are out of school and it’s warm enough to camp outside.
In the spring (April and May), weather is unpredictable but it’s the perfect time to catch the parks inhabitants – both animals and plants – emerging from their winter hibernation. The crowds are low, but make sure you pack layers – it can easily dip below freezing.
During summer (June to August) the weather is typically warm and perfect for hiking. All the facilities and roads are open – but accommodation fills up at lighting speed so if you plan to visit, book as early as possible.
Autumn is one of the best times to visit the park. The weather is still mild, wildlife continues to roam and the crowds have significantly decreased. This means more space, but also lower priced hotel rooms and campsites. Make sure to pack layers here again, as temperatures can easily drop to freezing.
Winter in Yellowstone is not for the weak. Heavy snowfall blankets the landscape in a thick white sheet. Daytime temperatures rarely break freezing, most roads are closed (and if they’re open driving can be risky) and almost all the facilities are shut down for the season. However, if you love solitude, this is the perfect time to have the park nearly completely to yourself.
Average monthly temperature and precipitation:
The easiest way to get around Yellowstone is with a private vehicle, however there are other options such as bus tours and shuttles to bring you from place to place. Xanterra Parks & Resorts provides bus tours during the park in the summer and snowcoach tours in the winter. As well, during the high season there are also a number of other commercial transport options. It’s also possible to bicycle in Yellowstone.
To get to the hikes we list you will need a car.
There are nine lodges open during the summer and two open year-round, in addition to twelve seasonal campgrounds located within Yellowstone National Park. All reservations must be made through Yellowstone National Park Lodges.
Nothing quite prepares a visitor for the stunning charm and beauty of the Old Faithful Inn. This stunning historic building overlooks the famous Old Faithful Geyser. While stunning from the outside, some tourists don’t appreciate the rustic charms (and shared bathrooms in some case). The suites are our favorite and are in a newer wing. The end-suites get great air-flow on hot summer days. We love it here, but this is maybe the one hotel that divides people the most.
The Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins is a great year-round accommodation just a short walk from the famous Old Faithful geyser. This highly rated hotel has a rustic feel – with a heavy timber construction and cedar shingles – and a number of room options to choose from.
During the summer time the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins is the perfect place for a charming stay in Yellowstone. They offer luxurious (and pricey) stays in their top of the line Presidential Suite. Or for something more rustic, the budget friendly Frontier Cabin is a great option. With beautiful views of Yellowstone Lake from the elegant sunroom and a recently renovated interior, a stay here is sure to be pleasant.
Another great year-round destination is the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins. The hotel was originally built in 1936 and a wing of guest rooms dates back to 1911. As of summer 2017, there were ongoing renovations and some of the lodging options aren’t open. Luckily the 6-person hot tub cabin is still available!
The other summer lodging options within the park are: Roosevelt Lodge & Cabins, Old Faithful Lodge Cabins, Lake Lodge Cabins, Grant Village and Canyon Lodge & Cabins.
There are also a wide variety of lodging options available right outside the park. Check out what’s available near the various entrances on the park’s website here.
Camping is also a popular way to spend the night in Yellowstone. There are more than 2,000 sites spread across twelve campgrounds. Five of them – Bridge Bay, Canyon, Fishing Bridge RV Park, Grant Village and Madison – are by reservation. The rest are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Find out more about camping in Yellowstone.
Eating inside Yellowstone can be quickly described in a few short words: casual, classic and quick. Even the more “upscale” places are relaxed and fuss-free. There are more than 25 restaurants, cafeterias and grills within the park, offering classic meats, pastas, salads, sandwiches and more. To pick up some supplies or food to go, there are 12 small shops located within the park as well.
Dining options are broken down between the various areas of the park and each lodge will have their own place for guests to eat – ranging from a sit down dinner, to a deli to pick up sandwiches to go. All dining facilities, like the hotels, are run through Xanterra (Yellowstone National Park Lodges).
Hiking in Yellowstone is a truly unforgettable experience. From the active geothermal hotspots to the herds of bison and stunning landscapes – you can easily spend years here and not explore it all. What else can you do in Yellowstone after you decided it’s time to hang up the pack for the day?
Biking is a popular activity and there are a number of trails within the park designated for cyclists. This is also a great way to explore the park quicker than on foot. It’s also possible to go with a guided bicycle tour from a number of authorized businesses within the park.
Boating – both with a canoe and rafting – is also a summer favorite. Flying Pig Adventures or Paradise Rafting, for example, offers a selection of white water rafting tours within Yellowstone, from day trips to 3-day adventures!
There are also some pretty cool Wild West themed activity options, giving visitors the unique opportunity to experience Yellowstone the way the first explorers did. Choose from a guided daytime horseback tour, evening ride with a cookout or stagecoach ride. If you have your own horses, it’s also possible to bring them into the park.
- Bears and wolves live inside the park. Stay at least 300 feet (100 meters) away from these animals and never intentionally approach them. Always carry bear spray. Stay at least 23 meters (75 feet) from all other wildlife.
- You must use the food storage cables or lockers provided to suspend or secure all food, garbage, toiletries (e.g. deodorant) and cooking equipment.
- Always hike in groups.
- Always stay on the boardwalks and trails in the thermal areas. The hot springs are the number one causes of fatality in Yellowstone.
- Ticks are most active during spring and early summer. Wear bug spray and check yourself after being outdoors.
- Be careful around waterways – the water is deceptively cold and swift.
- The fire of 1988 left a number of dead, but still standing, trees in the park. Stay alert when hiking, as these can fall at anytime.
- Toxic gasses can be emitted from hydrothermal areas.
- Entrance fee by car is $30 for a 7-day permit. For more information about fees, please click here.
- Pets are not allowed on trails.
- Law protects all rocks, fossils, horns, antlers, wildflowers, mushrooms, nests and any other natural or historic object within the park. Leave them in their nature setting.
- Permits are required for backcountry camping and boating – find out more here.
- Roads inside Yellowstone may be closed during the winter months. Stay up to date with closures here.