We get it — it can be tricky to plan a vacation. Luckily, we’ve got your trip to Yellowstone covered. Yellowstone is one of the United States’ most iconic national parks and is full of hydrothermal features, mountains, and beautiful wildlife like elk and bison. This guide will help point you toward some of the park’s best trails and sights, as well as nearby places to eat and stay. So without further ado, let’s get started!
Yellowstone has a $35 per vehicle admission fee. This fee gives you a 7-day pass to the park. But here’s a secret: you can save money by being a regular park visitor! If you know that you’ll want to visit Yellowstone for more than just a week, you can purchase the Yellowstone National Park Annual Pass for $70. This gives you year-long park access. You can purchase both the Yellowstone 7 Day Pass and the Yellowstone National Park Annual Pass here or at the park. And if you’re going to visit at least two other US national parks besides Yellowstone over the course of a year, you’ll save money by buying the $80 America the Beautiful Annual Pass here or at the park.
In 2021, over 4,800,000 visitors entered Yellowstone National Park. That’s a lot of competition for a parking space! The best way to see this park is by visiting most of your destinations in the early morning and late afternoon. This way, you’ll have a greater chance of being able to park right away instead of wasting time circling the lot in order to find an opening. In the later morning hours and early afternoon, try getting off the beaten path! A great way to do this is by hiking one of the park’s many trails.
People from all over the world come to visit Yellowstone for its stunning natural beauty. While the whole park offers a wide array of natural sights, here are some of the must-sees.
Old Faithful – If you’ve heard of Yellowstone, you probably knew this was going to be on the list. This geyser spews water 150 feet into the air almost every 90 minutes! With that kind of predictability, you can have your camera ready to go before it erupts.
Mammoth Hot Springs – This waterfall-like area of pearly white stone is a great place to see the changing landscape of Yellowstone! The hot springs terraces here change constantly, so it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime sight.
Lamar Valley – Yellowstone offers more than just hydrothermal features. Head out to the beautiful Lamar Valley at dusk and dawn when you’re likely to spot the wildlife, like bears and buffalo, that call the valley home.
Spotting Bison Herds & Wildlife Watching – You’ll find plenty of wild animals roaming through meadows including bison herds as well as bears and coyotes if you’re lucky enough – so keep your eyes peeled during your exploration sessions! Grizzly bears appear around rivers during salmon runs ready to feast after hibernating through winter snowfalls. The park spans across three states – Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming – allowing you to explore its diverse landscapes while spotting unique wildlife. Wildlife watching will also reveal iconic species such as wolves or elk; something everyone should experience at least once in their lives!
Have your camera ready anytime you travel because you never know when you might stumble upon some beautiful wild animal life!
Where to Stay
Looking to make the most of your time in Yellowstone? Try staying in the park! The park offers a lot of lodging, and while it’s expensive and lacks luxuries, you can easily beat the crowds each morning. Outside of the park in nearby West Yellowstone and Gardiner, you’ll find cheaper and more comfortable options, but you’ll lose precious hours of your trip driving to and from your accommodation and the park.
Here are some of our top places to stay!
Old Faithful Inn: This iconic building is the largest log structure in the world! The inn itself was built in 1903-1904 and is a national historic landmark. As its name suggests, the inn is located right next to Old Faithful. This inn is the most popular place to stay in the park even though it lacks modern luxuries like air conditioning, TV, and internet. The park’s new booking system allows you to book 13 months in advance starting on the fifth of each month. You’ll want to book your stay as early as possible in order to be able to stay there. Prices range from around $220 to over $1100 depending on the room and day. The inn is generally open from early May to sometime in October. You can check room availability here.
Canyon Lodge and Cabins: Like the Old Faithful Inn, Canyon Lodge and Cabins are located right in the park! While rooms cost around $270 to over $950 depending on the room and date, staying at the centrally located lodge and cabins will give you the opportunity to explore the park bright and early. Canyon Lodge and Cabins have some modern rooms from 2016, but like the Old Faithful Inn, the rooms lack amenities like air conditioning and TV. Since the lodge and cabins are so centrally located, the rooms here fill up quickly. You’ll want to take advantage of being able to book 13 months in advance. The lodge and cabins are only open part of the year, usually from sometime in late May through early October. You can check room availability here.
Alpine Motel – This cozy motel is located in West Yellowstone just 0.7 miles from the park’s west entrance and is an hour’s drive to Old Faithful and the park’s Canyon Village. The rooms go for $85 – $215 depending on the time of year and the room type. All of the rooms have internet, TV, and air conditioning. The motel also offers a room with a kitchen, making it a great place to stay if you’re looking to save the time and money you’d spend at restaurants. Within walking distance are restaurants, a supermarket, and a theater. This motel is popular, so make sure you book in advance.
Where to Eat
If you’re staying in the park, the best place to eat will be at your accommodation. The food at these places can be a bit on the pricey side, and, since Covid, the quality of the food tends to fluctuate. However, you’ll be able to spend more of your time exploring the park. But if you’re a foodie or are staying outside of the park, here are some of our recommendations!
Ernie’s Bakery and Deli – This is a great place to have breakfast in West Yellowstone before heading out for the day. They have breakfast sandwiches, omelets, pastries, and more! Besides having many items on the menu that are around $10, they also have some more affordable options like a $4 toasted bagel with cream cheese. Ernie’s also sells lunch and even offers a box lunch that’s perfect to bring along with you as you explore Yellowstone National Park. Box lunches can be ordered here, and need to be placed before 7 pm for them to be ready for pick up by the next morning. Ernie’s has vegetarian and gluten-free options.
Firehole BBQ Co.: Looking for some good BBQ in West Yellowstone? Look no further. Firehole BBQ Co. has some great smoked meats, ribs, and sandwiches on its menu. Prices range from a $10 pork sandwich to a $32 full rack of St. Louis pork ribs.
Tumbleweed Bookstore and Cafe – If you’re near the park’s north entrance, try Tumbleweed Bookstore and Cafe in Gardiner! This cafe serves many breakfast options like hot cereal and breakfast burritos for less than $5 each. And almost all of their lunch options are less than $10. The cafe offers multiple vegetarian options and lots of books to browse through. And if you’re looking for lunch to have in the park, they offer a $12 sack lunch. If you want one, it’s recommended that you call it the day before. Check out their online menus so you know what to order in advance.
Old West Dinner Cookout – This cookout is one you won’t soon forget! This unique dinner takes place in the park at Pleasant Valley. There are two ways to get there: on horseback or by wagon. The dinner is steak with various sides and some desert, though vegetarians can ask for a meatless meal in advance. Since this dinner takes place at dusk, there’s a good chance of spotting wildlife. You can sign up for this experience here. Just know that it’s not exactly cheap – it will cost you at least $70.
Yellowstone has over 900 miles of hiking trails! Since we can’t go over each one, here are a couple of our favorites.
Fairy Falls Trail – This easy-to-moderate 4.8-mile out-and-back trail offers a unique experience to see two of the most beautiful sights the park offers. You’ll be able to see an aerial view of the Grand Prismatic Spring—a hot spring with famous bands of color. You’ll also see the 220-foot-tall Fairy Falls. From the Fairy Falls parking lot, just follow the Fairy Falls Trail. You’ll end up reaching a marked fork where one path detours to the overlook of the Grand Prismatic and the other leads to Fairy Falls.
DeLacy Creek Trail – This easy 5.8-mile out-and-back hike takes you along forests and through meadows and ends at one of Yellowstone’s largest lakes: Shoshone Lake. It’s a great way to experience Yellowstone beyond its hydrothermal features!
The Best Way to See Yellowstone
Now that you have an idea of what you want to see and do in Yellowstone, you might be wondering how to fit everything you want to do into your trip. The best way to make the most out of your time in the park is by taking a self-guided audio tour. Self-guided tours offer you the best of both worlds by giving you the freedom to explore the park in your own vehicle while also providing you with tons of information about the park as you drive. Action Tour Guide’s self-guided tour adds another level of convenience, as it can start at any of the park’s five entrances! So no matter where you’re entering the park from, you’ll be able to get a full tour experience.
I’m sure you will love our self-guided tours. I strongly recommend that you subscribe to Action+, which includes all of our tours in a single, year-long package. Travel all year and take our self-guided tours with you wherever you go!