Credit

Courtesy of Philippe Sainte-Laudy Photography/Getty Images

Why Go To Yellowstone

With dramatic peaks and pristine lakes, Yellowstone National Park is an outdoor enthusiast's paradise. Multicolored pools swirl around hot springs; verdant forests weave past expansive meadows; and volatile geysers launch streams of steaming water toward the sky. With so much unspoiled natural beauty, it's no wonder why everyone suspected John Colter (a scout for explorers Lewis and Clark) was embellishing when he first described Yellowstone's geothermal curiosities in 1807. Nowadays, there's no doubt that the park is indeed extraordinary. While you traverse its 3,000-plus square miles of mountains, canyons, geysers and waterfalls, be prepared to share the trails with permanent residents like buffalo, elk and sometimes even grizzlies. 

Although Yellowstone attracts more than 4 million visitors every year, chances are – unless you spend your entire trip at Old Faithful – you won't see much of them. Yellowstone's 2.2 million acres creep from the northwest corner of Wyoming into the edges of Idaho and Montana, offering plenty of untouched territory to explore. Carve out a day or two to take in the view at Yellowstone Lake and Mammoth Hot Springs. But save some time for the trails through lesser-known regions, like the hot springs of the West Thumb Geyser Basin and the untamed wildlife dotting the Lewis River Channel and Dogshead Loop. While the sheer number of trails and wildlife-watching opportunities may seem daunting at first, remember: You can always come back.

READ MORE 

Find Flight and Hotel Deals

FLIGHTS
HOTELS

Press the down arrow key to interact with the calendar and select a date. Press the question mark key to get the keyboard shortcuts for changing dates.

Press the down arrow key to interact with the calendar and select a date. Press the question mark key to get the keyboard shortcuts for changing dates.

Rankings

The U.S. News & World Report travel rankings are based on analysis of expert and user opinions. Read more about how we rank vacation destinations.

Best of Yellowstone

Yellowstone Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

The best times to visit Yellowstone National Park are from April to May and between September and November. These seasons offer mild weather and fewer crowds. July and August are the most popular months 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. During the winter, expect a wide range of temps, spanning from subzero digits to the high 20s. Don't let that stop you: There's nothing quite like seeing plumes of steam rise from beneath a thick blanket of snow and ice.

Weather in Yellowstone

Switch to Celsius/MM
Average Temperature (°F)
24
1
28
1
36
9
43
18
52
28
62
35
72
42
71
40
62
32
48
24
34
14
25
5
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Average Precipitation (in)
1.1
0.75
1.1
1.2
2
1.5
1.5
1.4
1.3
1
1
1
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
See details for When to Visit Yellowstone

Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center

What You Need to Know

  • Beware of bears Yellowstone is prime bear habitat. To avoid an attack, make plenty of noise when hiking to avoid surprise encounters, and secure any food items before calling it a night. Learn more about safety in Yellowstone here.
  • In winter, services are limited Except for those found at the park's headquarters near Mammoth Hot Springs, the majority of Yellowstone's facilities and roads close during the winter.
  • Don't forget your permit If you are looking to camp outside the designated camping areas, you will need to obtain a permit from one of the visitors centers or ranger stations.
  • There's an entrance fee Entry to Yellowstone costs $15 for visitors ages 16 and older who enter on foot or by bike, $25 for those arriving by motorcycle and $30 for travelers with a car. Combined admissions for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, which cost $20 to $50 per person, are also available. All park passes are valid for seven consecutive days.

How to Save Money in Yellowstone

  • BYOB Bring your own bed. A space in a campground is much cheaper than a room at one of the park's lodges. Plus, many campgrounds come equipped with showers, flushing toilets and even laundry facilities.
  • Skip the summer Because summer witnesses the largest influx of tourists, hotel and campground rates tend to rise. You'll spend less if you visit during the offseason.
  • Do your own cooking Yellowstone does feature several sit-down restaurants, but they can end up putting quite a dent in your savings. Consider bringing your own food.

What to Eat

Although there are several snack shops within the borders of Yellowstone National Park, consider bringing along a cooler with lunch items and snacks so you don't have to worry about staying near one of the park's more developed areas. Should you decide to opt for a quick bite to eat at one of the park's grab-and-go venues, recent visitors recommend checking out Mammoth General Store.

Yellowstone is also home to several sit-down restaurants located by popular attractions, such as Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful and Yellowstone Lake. Many of these eateries are managed by Xanterra Parks & Resorts. In-park cafeterias serve casual fare like burgers and sandwiches, while high-end restaurants like the Lake Hotel Dining Room and the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room provide selections of game meats (including bison, elk and trout). To enjoy dinner at most of the park's upscale restaurants, you'll need to make reservations far in advance. But remember, some dining venues do not accept reservations during the peak summer season.

Other eateries can be found in the small towns surrounding the park. In Cody, Wyoming, previous visitors suggested dining at The Local and The Cody Cattle Company, while past travelers who visited West Yellowstone, Montana, raved about the dishes served at Wild West Pizzeria, Madriz and Running Bear Pancake House.

READ MORE 
Explore restaurants

Safety

Safety hazards in Yellowstone range from trifling headaches to severe hazards, such as animal attacks. 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 geothermal attractions, such as the geysers and mud pots, can be dangerous. It's best to keep your distance. Likewise, stay a safe distance from animals at all times. The National Park Service suggests putting at least 100 yards between you and wolves and bears, and about 25 yards or more between you and all other wildlife. Most of the park's established campsites generally are not at risk for animal attacks, but campers should keep all food and garbage out of reach from bears and other critters; suspending any food from a tree branch high above the ground is strongly advised.

If you can help it, avoid wandering off on your own. But if you are by yourself, make plenty of noise (talking, shuffling branches, etc.) when hiking to warn animals of your presence. Also, avoid exploring areas where visibility is low, since bears have limited eyesight. Carrying a can of bear spray (a repellent used to ward off charging bears) is highly recommended. 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. To find out more about how to protect yourself from bears, visit NPS' Bear Safety page.

Getting Around Yellowstone

The best way to get around Yellowstone National Park is by car, especially as there is no public transportation system. You can rent a car at any of the nearby airports, including Yellowstone Regional Airport (COD) in Cody, Wyoming, Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) in Jackson, Wyoming, Yellowstone Airport (WYS) in West Yellowstone, Montana, and Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) in Bozeman, Montana. However, that doesn't mean that you should spend your entire vacation behind the wheel. Each of Yellowstone's eight regions has an area to park, allowing you to leave the car behind and explore by bike or on foot. Guided tours and limited airport shuttle services are also available.

Learn about Neighborhoods in Yellowstone

Photos

Yellowstone
Yellowstone
1 of 32

More than 900 miles of hiking trails are available inside Yellowstone.

rozdemir01/Getty Images

Explore More of Yellowstone

Recommended

The 20 Best Michigan State Parks

Two peninsulas, four Great Lakes and innumerable natural highlights elevate Michigan's state parks.

Zach WatsonApril 18, 2019

50 Awesome Vacation Ideas for Every Type of Traveler

Consider these vacation ideas for your next getaway.

Holly JohnsonApril 11, 2019

The 13 Best National Parks in California

You won't regret adding one of these national parks to your California itinerary.

Rachel CenterApril 10, 2019

10 Beautiful Places to Visit in the South of France

Plan a getaway to these special destinations to soak up culture, cuisine and quaint atmospheres.

Gwen PratesiApril 8, 2019

Best Carry-on Luggage of 2019

U.S. News rated the best carry-on luggage, considering recommendations from experts and consumers.

Lyn MettlerApril 3, 2019

The 11 Best Utah National Parks and Monuments to Visit

From birding to bouldering to boating, Utah's national parks have it all.

Zach WatsonApril 2, 2019

The 30 Best Zoos in the U.S.

Get an up-close look at wild creatures in natural settings at America's top animal parks.

Kyle McCarthyMarch 28, 2019

15 Scenic Train Rides to Add to Your Bucket List

Climb aboard these locomotives for jaw-dropping views.

Christine SmithMarch 26, 2019

13 Top Places to Visit in Tuscany, Italy

Ditch the crowded streets of Rome or Milan and head to Italy's picturesque countryside.

Lyn MettlerMarch 25, 2019

10 Excellent Educational Vacations for Families

Make sure your next getaway is both enjoyable and informative.

Holly JohnsonMarch 14, 2019