Yellowstone National Park trips come in all shapes and sizes. But whether you’re planning a road-based photo tour or a week-long excursion in the backcountry, it helps to come prepared! Weather is unpredictable no matter the season in Yellowstone, and you’ll need to “pack your patience” while enjoying the park during the peak summer crowd months of July and August.
Fortunately, a wide variety of trip planning resources are available to help you have a memorable, fun, and educational Yellowstone adventure. Here are just a few of our recommendations to get you started:
Plan What You’d Like to See and Do
The park is a true wonderland of thermal features, abundant wildlife, and endless recreation opportunities. With so many options to choose from, you’ll have some tough decisions to make. But where to begin?
The Yellowstone National Park Service website offers an array of information on the many activities and natural attractions that await you, including park maps and a complete “Things to Do” section from camping, to wildlife watching, to kid-friendly activities.
For the tech-savvy, Yellowstone is proud to offer two free apps to help you make the most of your trip. These include an interactive map, self-guided tours, event updates, and more.
Yellowstone Forever Park Stores offer a number of tried-and-true trip planning materials. For the avid hiker, there’s our comprehensive Yellowstone Trails: A Hiking Guide—featuring descriptions and mileage for over 100 trails. For those who are on a limited timeframe, we’ve got plenty of ideas in Yellowstone in a Day. Or, if you’re seeking a collection of maps, guidebooks, and other handy resources all in one—including our Official Guide—we offer this Premium Trip Planner. Yellowstone Forever supporters receive 15% off their purchases.
Even if you plan to see the park in one day, Yellowstone is remote. Chances are you’re going to need to plan where you’ll stay the night.
Lodging in Yellowstone can be broken up into two distinct seasons: summer and winter. Remember you’ll have different options available to you in winter versus summer, as many of the park’s interior roads are only accessed by oversnow vehicles when the snow flies.
The summer lodging season begins in late April, and facilities open on a staggered schedule as the roads are cleared of snow. Room availability fills up extremely fast in the summer; be sure to book your hotel well in advance. Learn all about the nine lodging facilities operated by our partners at Yellowstone National Park Lodges, including some of our favorite classic lodges like the Old Faithful Inn and Lake Yellowstone Hotel.
Staying inside the park is an unforgettable experience, but rooms fill quickly. Gateway communities offer lodging options from charming rustic cabins to large hotels. Explore your options in Gardiner, Montana (North Entrance), West Yellowstone, Montana (West Entrance), Cody, Wyoming (East Entrance), Jackson, Wyoming (South Entrance) and Cooke City, Montana (Northeast Entrance).
Guided Programs and Tours
You can always let an experienced guide or instructor do the planning for you. A variety of guided programs and tours are available in the park that appeal to all sorts of interests and age levels.
The Yellowstone Forever Institute introduces thousands of students to the park’s natural wonders. Programs range from one day to three weeks in length, and highlight the park’s wildlife, geothermal areas, history, and wilderness. For those with a specific park interest or passion, check out one of our in-depth Field Seminars. Combine a first-rate learning experience and the convenience of in-park lodging with a Lodging & Learning package (offered in partnership with Yellowstone National Park Lodges). Or, tailor a customized tour for your group with an Institute Private Tour.
Yellowstone National Park Lodges also offers daily tours (including a special outing in an iconic, Historic Yellow Bus!), while the National Park Service provides engaging ranger-led programs on topics from geology to the night sky.
Roads, Operating Hours, and Weather
There’s nothing worse than arriving to the park only to realize the interior roads are closed for the season. Before you arrive, be sure to check out road conditions and a schedule of operating hours and seasons.
If we’ve said it once, we’ll say it again—Yellowstone’s weather is unpredictable. At an elevation of 7,349 feet at Old Faithful, visitors should be prepared with a wide range of clothing options. Be sure to bring a warm jacket and rain gear, even in summer.
Yellowstone is filled with natural wonders that are also potential hazards. Special safety rules do apply. Learn how to protect yourself and the park while you enjoy all that Yellowstone has to offer.
One last word of advice?
Relax and enjoy, because the anticipation that comes with the planning process is half the fun. And as any experienced traveler will tell you: a little extra planning can be the difference between needing a vacation from your vacation….or an effortless getaway your family will be talking about for years to come.
Photos, top to bottom: Norris Geyser Basin Boardwalk – Matt Ludin/Yellowstone Forever; Old Faithful Crowd – NPS; Yellowstone Apps – NPS; Lake Hotel – Yellowstone National Park Lodges; Yellowstone Forever Institute Instructor – Maria Bisso/Yellowstone Forever; People Wildlife Watching – Matt Ludin/Yellowstone Forever