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Yellowstone National Park - What to Know Before You Go

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Plan and Prepare for Your Yellowstone National Park Vacation
West Thumb Geyser Basin and Lake Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park

West Thumb Geyser Basin and Lake Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park

©Angela M. Brown (June 2008)

When to go? What to do? Where to stay? If you're contemplating a visit to Yellowstone National Park, these are just a few of the questions you might have. Here are some answers to help you get started with your travel and recreation plans.

When to Go to Yellowstone National Park
July and August are the peak travel months, when the weather is most likely to be warm and dry. If you wish to avoid the crowds, June and September are a good choice but you do run the risk of cooler, wetter weather. The Mammoth and Old Faithful areas are open during the park's winter season, which runs from late December until March.

What to Do in Yellowstone National Park
The typical Yellowstone National Park experience involves driving from stop to stop, taking in the scenery along the way and stopping every now and then to watch the wildlife. At your stops, you'll get out and wander or hike to get a closer view of the thermal features and other attractions. You'll want to spend time at the visitor centers and historic areas, as well as exploring the historic lodges and other "parkitecture". Outdoor activities include hiking, boating, fishing, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing.

Where to Stay When Visiting Yellowstone National Park
If you're looking for modern amenities like television, Internet access, and air conditioning, you're best bet is to stay in one of the communities just outside the park. If you can live without those things, and have the time and the funds, I recommend staying at two or three different hotels inside the park as you visit the park's different regions. No matter what kind of lodgings you choose, advance reservations are highly recommended.

Don't Sit in the Hot Springs
The hot springs in Yellowstone National Park are not the kind that you want to soak in. The magma beneath Yellowstone is closer to the surface than anywhere else on earth. This molten rock superheats the underground water and creates the park's hot springs and geysers. Yellowstone's geothermal features are both fragile and dynamic, so you don't want to get too close. Stay on the boardwalks or marked trails. Because of the danger and the sensitivity of the thermal features, swimming or bathing in strictly prohibited.

Dogs in Yellowstone National Park - Not a Good Idea
Dogs are allowed in some areas of the park but must be kept under strict control. Even when crated or on a short leash, the areas where they are allowed are only your car, the parking lots, and campgrounds. Unless yours is a service animal, save yourself and your canine companion a lot of stress and leave her home. They are most definitely not allowed near wildlife or thermal features. You know those hot springs, while blue and enticing, are filled with scalding water. Your dog does not.

Major Airports Near Yellowstone National Park
The following airports have regularly-scheduled service from major airlines throughout the US.

  • Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody, Wyoming
  • Jackson Hole Airport in Jackson, Wyoming
  • Gallatin Field in Bozeman, Montana
  • Logan International Airport in Billings, Montana

Services Inside Yellowstone National Park
Unlike many national parks, Yellowstone offers a range of visitor services inside the park.

  • Gas and Vehicle Service Stations
    Stations that offer both gas and vehicle repair are located at Canyon Village, Fishing Bridge, Grant Village, and Old Faithful.
  • Restaurants
    Fast food, counter service, and cafeteria style dining is available throughout the park. Sit-down dining includes Mammoth Hotel Dining Room, Old Faithful Inn Dining Room, Old Faithful Snow Lodge Restaurant, Lake Yellowstone Hotel Dining Room, and Grant Village Lakehouse Restaurant.
  • Groceries
    There are a dozen Yellowstone General Stores located within the park near campgrounds and lodging. In addition to basic groceries and snack foods, they also offer ATMs, gift items, clothing, and sporting goods.
  • Camping and Recreation Gear
    The Yellowstone General Stores also stock items frequently required for camping and outdoor recreation.
  • Souvenir and Book Stores
    Yellowstone Association stores are located at Canyon Village, Fishing Bridge, Grant Village, Madison, Mammoth, Norris, Old Faithful, and West Thumb.

Grand Teton National Park is Right Next Door
Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park is located just south of Yellowstone National Park, so if you have the time, take advantage of the opportunity and visit both parks. One park admission fee gets you into both.

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