Yellowstone National Park is filled with abundant natural resources and copious amounts of wildlife. From Old Faithful to majestic bison, this park is a campers dream.
If you have ever longed to visit Yellowstone, we include essential information that will expand your appreciation of this national treasure.
We’ll start with the park’s history. In March 1872, the world’s first national park, Yellowstone, was voted into existence. It is large at more than 3,500 square miles and is mostly located within Wyoming. Small portions of its westernmost sections extend into Idaho and Montana.
Since its inauguration, campers have been visiting the mountains, rivers, hot springs, and lakes found within the park’s boundaries in droves.
What You Need to Know
- The Fishing Bridge Campground is the only one that provides hookups.
- Dump stations are available in the following campgrounds: Grant Village, Fishing Bridge.
- Before planning your visit, be sure to head online to get information about opening and closing dates at the park. The season varies, and if you arrive after the park closes, you are sure to be disappointed.
- Campgrounds fill up early. Plan on booking your campsite in the early months of the year, if you plan on visiting in the summer.
- During the summer months, there are some first-come, first-served spots available, but they are often claimed by 7 am. If you want a place to camp at the last minute, arrive in the early hours of the day or risk losing out.
- A maximum of six people is allowed at each standard campsite. If your group exceeds that number, make plans to book additional sites.
- While not all campsites are open all year in Yellowstone, there are a total of 12 in the park.
- If you want to explore Yellowstone but don’t enjoy camping, consider booking a stay at one of the nine lodges located within park boundaries.
- Many amenities are located throughout the park including medical facilities, post offices, stores, gas stations, and even wi-fi. The majority of buildings are accessible, but look to see if the structures you are visiting have ramps installed before you head that way.
- Consider buying walkie-talkies to keep in touch while you are in Yellowstone park because phone and Internet access is spotty.
- It’s okay to bring pets into the park, but they must always be leashed. Some areas with abundant wildlife are not safe for your pet, so ask a park ranger before letting your pet out of the car.
- If you are planning on boating, fishing, or scattering ashes, you may need a permit. The National Park Service website will help you determine whether or not you need to purchase a license or a permit.
- There are many unique restaurants located throughout the park. If you want to skip the packed picnic, try a cafeteria, fast food, or even a fine-dining style restaurant.
- Of course, if you do want to picnic, there are picnic tables located at many locations throughout the park. Many of the cafes in the area will even pack a delicious picnic lunch for you.
- Early reservations for RVs are essential. In most camping sites, RVs must be less than 30 feet long. If your RV doesn’t fit the bill, consider renting an RV site at one of the many commercial parks located just outside park entrances. You’ll find many amenities at these private locations. If you are planning an extended stay in a big rig, this might make a better choice for you.
Bears and Camping
Most campgrounds in Yellowstone don’t have a problem with bears. That’s because many bears have been shooed away in the past with rubber bullets. To bears, campgrounds are unfriendly places. However, park rules still demand that you use bear-proof boxes for food storage. Any scented items, including lotions and cooking oils, should be securely packed away at your camping site. Even if the bears don’t come, other wildlife will.
If you haven’t gone backpacking in a wilderness area before, you are going to want to pay special attention to the park ranger. They will give you tips for staying safe and update you on current conditions.
Maintain a distance of at least 100 yards from the area where you cook when you are sleeping. After you finish cooking, remove your clothes and switch to clothing that doesn’t smell of food. Also, since campsites are continuously occupied throughout the camping season, you should scour the area after arrival and dispose of any food waste you find from previous campers.
Have a plan in place before you head to Yellowstone Park for the camping trip of a lifetime to store your clothing and food properly. Make sure everything is secure and stored in such a way that it will not attract bears or other wildlife. Preparation pays off in the wilderness.
Campsites in Yellowstone National Park
Here is a list of campsites where you need to make reservations in Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone Park / West Gate KOA
It is one of the most popular entrances in Yellowstone National Park. When visiting the park, you can camp in West Yellowstone Montana. The area is nestled in the midst of high pines to provide shade. Also, you can enjoy a spectacular 360-degree view of the Rockies.
6 miles from the campground, you will find the west gate of Yellowstone National Park. Here, you can enjoy some of the unique and magnificent natural landscapes in America. You can also indulge in local activities such as horseback riding, classic car shows, reenactments of the 1830s Mountain Man Rendezvous, and whitewater rafting.
The campground is full of different types of amenities for campers everywhere. You can rent a bike and cycle away in the sunset. Take a soak in the indoor pool and forget the worries of your busy life. In summer, breakfast and dinner are served every day, including ‘Almost Famous’ tasty ribs. Some RV sites offer full hookups, Wi-Fi, and cable TV.
There is a fifty-amp electric service with a maximum pull-through site of 90ft. it’s the best location for the longest rigs and trailers. If you want to prepare a meal, you can use the propane and firewood available on-site. Alternatively, there is a snack bar where you can enjoy your favorite guilt-free snacks.
Red Lodge KOA
It is an award-winning campground located near the entry in Beartooth Highway. It’s an amazing and memorable drive to get to this campground. Some of the activities you can enjoy from the campground include horseback riding, hiking, trout fishing, golf, and river rafting.
You can also arrange tours on-site and rent banana bikes or fun cycles. Other amenities available in the Red Lodge KOA family-friendly campground include a heated pool, showers, restrooms, a snack bar, dumpster, pavilion, and dump station. You can enjoy various activities like fishing, sports, recreation, planned activities, and all-you-can-eat pancakes for Sunday breakfasts.
Yellowstone Park / Mountainside KOA
Nothing compares to the amazing vacations and majestic views in Yellowstone National Park. By staying at Mountainside KOA, you will be about 7.5miles away from the park. After seeing all the park has to offer, you can enjoy your stay at one of the prestigious campgrounds in the park.
Here, you can indulge in several amenities such as cable TV, Wi-Fi, snack bars, fishing, tour shuttles, and many more. The campsites found here can accommodate rigs with a maximum length of 110ft and offers various hookups with 50-amp service.
The campground is open from May to September and features 273 campsites for pitching tents, trailers, and RVs (up to a maximum length of 40ft). The campground also has pull-through and back-in sites, pay showers, restrooms, camp store, laundry facilities, and restaurants.
It is a very popular campground located a mile away from the Grand Canyon in Yellowstone. It also features nearby hiking trails such as Mount Washburn, Canyon Rim, and Cascade Lake.
In this campground, you can enjoy the unforgettable views of the Absaroka Mountains and lakefront of Yellowstone Lake. The amenities available include a marina, store, picnic tables, boat rentals, and a dump station.
It is open from May to September and features 432 campsites for both tents and RVs. The campground can accommodate trailers and RVs with back-in and pull-through options up to a length of 40ft.
It is open from June through September and features 430 campsites for tents, trailers, and RVs up to a length of 40ft. The campground is located in a beautiful forest a few miles away from West Thumb Geyser Basin.
Some of the available amenities include flush toilets, showers, dishwashing stations, and portable water pumps. The campground is also located a mile away from the gas station and camp store.
Fishing Bridge RV Park
It is the only campground in Yellowstone National Park offering sewer, electric and water hookups. It is operational from July through September with 340 sites for RVs and trailers with a max length of 40ft.
These sites are pull-through and back-in offering modern restrooms, pay showers, laundry facilities, access to the Yellowstone River, and a camp store. Tent camping is not allowed because of the presence of grizzly bears.
Here, you can enjoy any of the 278 campsites for RVs, tents, and trailers with a max length of 40ft. The campground operates from April to October and is located in a beautiful location with bison and wildflowers.
It is also close to West Yellowstone and Old Faithful. Some of the available amenities include dishwashing stations, restrooms, fire grates, and picnic tables. You can also enjoy fishing in the nearby Madison River.
Here is a list of campgrounds found in the Yellowstone National Park where you can visit without a reservation.
The campground is active from May to September with 32 campsites for tents and RVs (max 30ft in length). It is located close to the Lamar Valley, to the northern side of the road to Dunraven Pass and close to Tower General store. The Tower Fall is also close and you can see the Tower Creek plunge 130ft into the Yellowstone River. Available amenities include fire pits, picnic tables, and restrooms.
Mammoth Hot Springs
It is operational year-round with 85 campsites for tents, trailers, and RVs up to 30ft long. It is located 5 miles from Gardiner and surrounded by sagebrush steppe with juniper and fir trees to offer shade. From the campground, you have access to the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces as well as numerous hiking spots and fishing areas. Some of the amenities include picnic tables, bathrooms, and fire grates.
Runs from May to September and features 111 campsites. You can camp with your tent or RV of a max length of 30ft or 50ft depending on the site. You can use a generator from 8 am to 8 pm. It is located in a central area close to the Norris Geyser Basin with picnic tables, restrooms, and fire pits.
It is located 8 miles to the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park and operational from June to November. It features 85 campsites accommodating tents and RVs (max 25ft long). The campground is located in a shady forest close to boating, fishing, and unforgettable views of Lewis Lake. The available amenities include picnic tables, restrooms, food storage lockers, and fire pits.
It is open from June to October with 16 campsites for RVs (a max length of 30ft). Slough Creek is located in Lamar Valley, a greasy meadow with a lush forest and astounding mountain views. It is secluded with various amenities such as a picnic table, grill, and fire pit. There are great hiking and fishing spots, portable water spigots, and restrooms available for all campers.
It is open from June to September with 27 campsites for tents and pull-through access for RVs. The campground is serene and quiet with amazing views of the Absaroka Mountains. Available amenities include picnic tables and fire pits. There are hiking spots at Pebble Creek Trailhead and others. Soda Butte Creek is also a popular fishing spot.
It runs from June to September with 70 campsites available to RV campers up to (35ft long). It is a beautiful and serene campground close to the Mammoth Hot Springs. You can enjoy scenic views of Electric Peak and the Gallatin Mountains. The campground features portable water spigots and vault toilets. You can also enjoy fishing and hiking on the various spots available.
Alternate camping options in Yellowstone National Park include:
You can stay out of the park in any of the private campgrounds in close towns such as West Yellowstone, Jackson, or Gardiner. Here, you can enjoy RV parks with various modern amenities such as cable TV and wireless internet as well as recreation rooms and swimming pools.
Yellowstone also offers adventurers an opportunity for backcountry camping. You can check out the rugged wilderness and camp at one of the 300 backcountry campsites found in the park.
Note that, most of the high elevations are snowy till July. As such, they can be very cold even during the summer months. You need a permit for overnight stays and you should apply 48 hours in advance.
Must-See Destinations in Yellowstone National Park
There are many destinations you must visit whenever you are in Yellowstone National Park. You can see some from your RV or car while others are only visible after a short walk or hike. Here is a list of the must-see destinations in Yellowstone National Park.
Blacktail Plateau Drive
It covers an area of 6 miles on a dirt road. It’s the best drive to see the backcountry in Yellowstone without ever leaving your car. You can catch glimpses of a few wild animals like bears.
It is located in an area where natural hot springs get into Gardiner River. It is a popular swimming hole for most tourists. It’s actually one of the areas where swimming is allowed in Yellowstone National Park.
Grand Canyon Of The Yellowstone
It is an impressive geology feature found in the park. It is an iconic canyon that covers a length of 20 miles. You can take short hikes to enjoy the Upper and Lower Falls.
Grand Prismatic Spring
It is one of the most memorable geothermal features found in the park. It is a natural hot spring that showcases different colors. You can use the elevated boardwalk to get a personal close view of the spring.
Besides Lamar Valley, the Hayden Valley is the next best thing to see wildlife in Yellowstone. You should get there early enough and bring your binoculars if you want to spot gray wolves and grizzly bears.
It is one of the rugged regions in Yellowstone Park. Here, you can spot wild animals like wolves and bears. It is commonly referred to as the American Serengeti because of the wildlife present.
Mammoth Hot Springs
It is a unique thermal feature. The formation in the Mammoth Hot Springs changes frequently with the flow of the springs that may change every day. One of the notable things about the springs is the chalky white material coating the surface.
Norris Geyser Basin
It is a sprawling geyser basin that hosts various geothermal features such as mud pots, hot springs, and geysers.
Old Faithful Geyser
It is one of the most popular features in Yellowstone National Park. It is actually the face of Yellowstone park. It can erupt up to 180ft for about 5 minutes each time. The geyser erupts after every 1 or 2 hours.
It is one of the most beautiful waterfalls found in Yellowstone that is easily accessible. It is located about 150 yards from the parking lot and goes down a rock formation about 132ft down.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
It is considerably smaller than other geyser basins in Yellowstone. However, it hosts a few interesting and unique features like Thumb Paint Pots, Fishing Cone, and Abyss Pool.
It is located on some of the best camping grounds in Yellowstone park and covers an area of 132sq miles. It is the largest lake found about 7,000ft in North America and sits above 7,733ft above sea level.
Hiking & Backpacking in Yellowstone National Park
If you love hiking, you can’t miss a trip to Yellowstone National Park. You can enjoy a view of the park with very few interactions from other people.
Since the park is largely covered in snow during winter, fall and spring, the best hiking trips should be done in summer.
Here are some of the best hiking trails in Yellowstone National Park.
It covers a roundtrip of 4.2miles. It’s not a long hike but can be quite strenuous. Bunsen Peak towers to a height of 1,300ft from thick forest to the summit of the peak. Here, you can enjoy spectacular views of Blacktail Plateau, Gallatin Mountain Range, and the Yellowstone River Valley.
It covers a roundtrip of 5 miles. It is a flat hike for the most part and easy enough for people of different ages and varying skill levels when it comes to hiking. You can enjoy the colorful wildflower meadows as you hike up and down.
You can either choose the 5 or 7 miles hike roundtrip for an amazing experience. You will come across numerous geysers and other features before you get to the Fairy Falls, about 197ft high.
It covers a 4-mile roundtrip where you can walk through beautiful meadows and a long narrow lake. It is a swampy lake where people love fishing.
It covers about 1.2 miles for a roundtrip and passes through some iconic geothermal features. The hike ends in a high mountain meadow with the most beautiful views of Yellowstone Lake.
You can choose any hike from the 8.7miles, 2.5 miles, or the 13.6 miles for a roundtrip, depending on where you start the hike. The trail goes as high as 1,400ft to reach the summit of the mountain (about 10,243ft above sea level). Watch out for the bighorn sheep as you take in the beautiful and outstanding views from above.
It is a classic trail that covers a roundtrip of 6.8 miles. A few grizzly bears live here and you will pass by meadows and forests until you reach a hydrothermal area located near Pelican Creek. Day hikers usually go back once they reach here but if you are an overnight backpacker, you can proceed into the backcountry for a better experience.
Sky Rim Trail
It covers 21 miles and is perfect for a backpacking trip. You can gain 3,000ft of elevation on the demanding hiking trail. The views are definitely worth the trouble.
Other Activities to Do in Yellowstone National Park
Besides hiking, camping, and backpacking, there are other activities to do in the park. These include:
You can explore the public roads and other bicycling routes in the park. You can rent a bike from the Old Faithful Lodge for a great experience.
You can enjoy both non-motorized and motorized boating activities such as canoeing or kayaking. You can apply for the necessary permits from the ranger stations or visitor centers.
You can enjoy fishing different types of fish such as brown trout, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, and many more.
Enjoy the most amazing views on horseback. You can enjoy an overnight trip in summer or take a guided horseback tour from the lodges.
Take a few ranger programs such as junior ranger activities, ranger walks, young scientist programs, or night sky talks.
Skiing And Snowshoeing
If you go camping in the park during the winter, you should bring your snowshoes. There are a few downhill skiing opportunities available for the best experience.
You can take a guided snowmobile tour or bring your own snowmobile during winter. Of course, there are some restrictions in place regarding snowmobiles so you need to follow them.
You can view different species of wildlife in the park such as elk, deer, bison, wolves, and bears.
Things to Do Near Yellowstone National Park
The park is located in the most beautiful part of the U.S. There are many things for you to see near the park. These include:
It stretches about 68 miles to cover the most iconic drives in the U.S. It goes all the way from Red Lodge to Cooke City found on the northeastern entrance of the park.
It is remarkable because of Old West History. It is a cowboy town found 50 miles to the east of Yellowstone. During summer, you can’t miss out on the daily Cody Night Rodeo or the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
Grand Teton National Park
It can be found about 10 miles to the south of Yellowstone National Park. It features a lot of scenic mountain peaks and numerous hiking trails.
It is found in the south of the Grand Teton Valley. It is a quirky cowboy town renowned for world-class dining and amazing hiking trails. You can enjoy snowboarding and skiing activities during winter.
It is a busy western down with numerous dining and entertainment areas. During winter, there are also a lot of snowboarding and skiing activities.
FAQs about Yellowstone National Park Trips
Can I Access Yellowstone All Year Round?
Yes, you can visit the park at any time of the year. However, the experience is different in winter compared to summer since the park roads and amenities are fully open. However, it is quite short and spans between July to August so they are the most popular months for visits.
The campgrounds, roads, visitor centers, shuttles, and many other amenities are open from April through November. From December to March, most of the activities in the park are closed beside 2 lodges, a few warming huts, and visitor centers. The road to the northeast entrance of the Mammoth Hot Springs is the only one open to regular traffic.
During winter, you can ski and snowshoe across the park. There are also guided snowmobile tours to allow visitors to reach the areas that can’t be accessed by road.
Where Can I Stay Around Yellowstone?
The park is home to 9 lodges. The Old Faithful Snow Lodge and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel are both open throughout the year. However, the rest close late fall to early spring.
You can also stay in any of the 12 main campgrounds with an RV or tent. The park also features 300 backcountry campsites with limited amenities and only accessible on foot.
You can stay outside the park in any of the accommodations available in Cooke City, Gardner, and Yellowstone, all of which are found in Montana. There’s also Island Park, ID, and Cody, WY, where you can also enjoy numerous attractions. There are also accommodation options in Bozeman MT or Jackson WY. Plan for your accommodation in advance to avoid any last-minute rush.
What’s the Best Time of the Year to Visit Yellowstone?
The most popular time to visit the park is July and August when everything in the park is in full operation. Between May to October, the park is still open but the tourists are fewer.
If you want to do some winter activities like cross-country skiing or snowmobiling, you can visit during the winter months.
Plan accordingly to visit the park when you can enjoy more activities, whether it is winter, summer, spring, or fall for the most memorable experience.
What Kind of Wildlife Lives in Yellowstone?
Regardless of when you visit the park, you will come across some wildlife. The park hosts 70 mammals, 300 bird species, and many more.
Some of the wildlife includes grizzly bears, black bears, cougars, bobcats, moose, bison, sheep, bighorn, mountain goats, and elk.
You can enjoy the various species of birds such as trumpeter swans, peregrine falcons, ravens, and bald eagles.
If you love wildlife and birds, this is the best place to see them in their natural habitat.