In 1807, when John Colter (a scout for explorers Lewis and Clark) first described the wonders of what is now Yellowstone National Park, everyone suspected that he was embellishing. But there is no doubt now that the park is indeed extraordinarily beautiful. If you're looking for the ultimate outdoorsy getaway, this would be it. Hundreds of miles of hiking trails meander through forests, along streams and up mountains. But be prepared to share the ... continue»
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The best times to visit Yellowstone are from March to May and from September to November. These seasons both feature mild weather and fewer crowds. Summer is the most popular time to visit: the kids are out of school and the weather is warm enough to sleep outside. However, this park is no stranger to the cold: Temperatures have been known to drop into the 30s even in the summer, and during the winter, they range anywhere from negative-three - to 25-degrees Fahrenheit. Don't let that stop you: There's nothing quite like seeing plumes of steam rise from beneath a thick blanket of snow.Best Times to Visit Yellowstone»
Yellowstone National Park seeps slightly over state borders into Montana and Idaho, but its major attractions are contained in the northwest corner of Wyoming. The major (Wyoming) portion of Yellowstone is divided into five regions: Mammoth Country, Geyser Country, Lake Country, Canyon Country and Roosevelt Country. Montana's North and Northeast entrances lead directly into Mammoth and Roosevelt Countries. From Wyoming, Lake Country is easily accessible from the East and South Entrances, while those traveling through Idaho can head straight through the West Entrance into Geyser Country.
Keep in mind that Yellowstone is massive, and the best way to get around is by car. Each main section of the park features a visitor's center, a gas station and a convenience store.
The area near the park's North Entrance is known as Mammoth Country and contains the majestic Mammoth Hot Springs. The springs are created when heat, water and limestone interact to make tiered terraced stone formations. The result is a multi-colored and nature-made sculpture.
Surrounding the West Entrance, Geyser Country is home to Old Faithful, Yellowstone's most famous attraction. Old Faithful is known for spewing thousands of gallons of steaming water into the air approximately every 81 minutes. Other popular attractions in Geyser Country are the Norris and Firehole River Geyser Basins, the Grand Prismatic Spring and the Morning Glory Pool, a hot spring in the Upper Geyser Basin.
Lake Country is defined by the area that surrounds Yellowstone Lake and is located nearby the park's East Entrance. The lake and the adjacent dense forests make this region ideal for spotting some of the park's wildlife, which include bald eagles, bears, bison and moose, among other critters. Lake Country is also home to the West Thumb Geyser Basin, which offers a unique combination of lakeshore geysers, hot springs and paint pots.
Just north of Lake Country, Canyon Country includes both the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Hayden Valley, which were shaped and defined by the Yellowstone River. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is known for golden cliffs and two major waterfalls, while Hayden Valley, a former lake bed, offers a marshy habitat that's perfect for waterfowl, as well as numerous bears, bison, elk, moose and wolves. Canyon Country cannot be accessed directly from one of the park's entrances; instead, visitors will have to travel within the park to reach this area.
Roosevelt Country -- occupying the area near the Northeast Entrance -- captures the spirit of the Old West better than any other part of Yellowstone. There you can walk among the fossilized remains of ancient plants and standing trees in the Petrified Forests (trees turned into stone) or view Tower Fall's 132-foot drop.
Sitting just east of the park, this small town offers several lodging and dining alternatives as well as several enjoyable things to do. Attractions like the allegedly haunted Old Trail Town, the educational Buffalo Bill Museum and the lively Cody Nite Rodeo make Cody an enjoyable daytrip for Yellowstone visitors.
West Yellowstone, Mo.
Like its name suggests, the small town of West Yellowstone sits just west of the park in southwestern Montana. West Yellowstone offers several opportunities to kayak, bike and hike, as well as numerous children's nature programs. Those who are interested in the area's wildlife may enjoy a trip to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center -- where you can get up close and personal with local four-legged friends -- or daily presentations given by park rangers on a variety of nature-related topics. If you're looking for a bit of entertainment, West Yellowstone features two semi-professional theaters, an IMAX theater and a summer time rodeo. West Yellowstone is also home to several hotel and dining options that are generally more affordable than those found within the park.
Safety hazards in Yellowstone range from trifling (headaches) to severe (animal attacks, yikes). But the more prominent threat is altitude sickness. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, nausea and muscle pain. Remember to drink lots of water, eat light meals and stay away from caffeine and alcohol.
When sightseeing in the park, keep in mind that many of the geothermic attractions, such as the geysers and the mud pots, can be dangerous. It is best to keep your distance.
Animal attacks are uncommon in Yellowstone, but visitors should still take precautions. If you are camping in the park, the established campsites are usually not at risk. Campers in the wilderness should be sure not to sleep near any animal carcasses, since they will generally attract meat-eaters. No matter where you set up camp, make sure not to leave any food within the vicinity of your tent; instead, suspend any food from a tree branch high above the ground.
If you can help it, avoid wandering off on your own. But if you are by yourself, make plenty of noise (talking, shuffling branches) when hiking to warn animals of your presence, and keep pepper spray handy. While they may seem docile from afar, getting too close to herds of buffalo -- which can often be spotted along the road -- is not a good idea. If you're hiking, avoid exploring areas where visibility is low, since bears have limited eyesight.
If you do encounter a bear on the trails, you should not run. Instead, avoid eye contact and back away slowly while making noise, and most of the time, the bear will move along. Do not fight back if you are attacked; the best way to fend off a bear is to drop face down to the ground, cover the back of your neck with your hands, tuck your knees to your stomach and play dead. The bear will more than likely lose interest.
The best way to get around Yellowstone is by car, especially as there is no public transportation system. You can rent a car at any of the nearby airports, including the Salt Lake International Airport (SLC) in Salt Lake City, Utah and the Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) in Jackson, Wyo. However, that doesn't mean that you should spend your entire vacation behind the wheel. Each of Yellowstone's five regions has an area to park, allowing you to leave the car behind and explore on foot. Guided tours are also available.Getting Around Yellowstone»