Welcome to the BEST guide for planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park! I’ll show you how to make the most of your time here.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Yellowstone and planned over 100 trips for friends, family, and vacation coaching clients — it’s basically my backyard. From backpacking and camping to day trips to hotel and cabin stays in all seasons, I’ve experienced many ways to visit this park. I put this trip planner together to make it easier for YOU to travel to Yellowstone!

I’ve put everything in this comprehensive trip planner for Yellowstone National Park to help you navigate every aspect of your journey and ensure a memorable experience in Yellowstone.

colorful, bubbling hot spring in yellowstone national park

Here are the things you will need to know for planning your trip to Yellowstone in the order you need to know them:

  • Getting to and around Yellowstone (best airport and car options)
  • Choosing when to visit
  • Planning what to do
  • Deciding where to stay
  • How to make reservations
  • What it costs to enter the park
  • Visiting Yellowstone in spring, summer, fall, and winter
  • Where to eat in the park
  • Finding cell service and wifi in Yellowstone
  • What kind of weather to expect
  • What to pack for Yellowstone
  • And everything else you need to know to plan your Yellowstone trip 
June 17, 2018: Yellowstone, United States: Yellowstone National Park Entrance Sign with Mountains in the Distance

Here’s a Table of Contents so you can jump around:

Planning A Trip to Yellowstone is More Than Must-Sees

Yellowstone boasts natural wonders like the iconic Old Faithful geyser, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and vibrant hot springs. You can explore diverse ecosystems and Yellowstone is home to a variety of wildlife, including bison, elk, and grizzly bears.

Beyond the boardwalks, this is a place where you can create lifelong memories with your family and friends. You can make time to connect with nature and each other. 

Everyone should take at least one trip to Yellowstone in their lifetime (but I recommend more!). Are you ready to find out how to plan a trip to Yellowstone?  

Getting To and Around Yellowstone

bozeman montana airport and rocky mountains

Best Airport for Yellowstone

For air travel, consider Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN), Jackson Hole Airport (JAC), or even Salt Lake City (SLC). 

The Jackson Hole Airport is closest to Yellowstone, and they sometimes have the cheapest flights and rental cars, but since you will be entering the South Entrance, consider how far you will have to drive to get to your lodging once you are in the park. And it’s slow driving in Yellowstone!

Many people fly into Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. It’s relatively close to both the North and West Entrances to Yellowstone. It’s the biggest and busiest airport in Montana and there are a lot of flights, especially in the summer. Plus, groceries and other necessities can be picked up in Bozeman and somewhat reasonable prices. 

If you don’t mind driving, Salt Lake City Airport can be a good option as you can often find a good deal on tickets into Salt Lake.

  • Distance from Bozeman Yellowstone Airport  to West Entrance: 91 miles
  • Distance from Bozeman Yellowstone Airport to North Entrance: 88 miles 
  • Distance from Jackson Hole Airport to West Entrance: 137 miles
  • Distance from Jackson Hole Airport to South Entrance: 49.2 miles
  • Distance from Salt Lake City Airport to West Entrance: 325 miles
  • Distance from Salt Lake City Airport to South Entrance: 337 miles

Check on the best flight deals to Yellowstone here.

bison walking down a road in yellowstone national park with a car in the middle of them

Do You Need a Car for Yellowstone? 

In a word, yes. There is little to no public transportation for travel to Yellowstone National Park and none once you enter the park. 

Unless you are on a bus tour, you will need a car to access the many, spread-out wonders.

Find the best deals on rental cars for Yellowstone here and book early as they have run out of cars for hire in the past. 

Woman tourist overlooking hot thermal spring Sunset Lake in Yellowstone National Park, Black Sand Basin area, Wyoming, USA

How to Visit Yellowstone 

There are a few options for planning a trip to Yellowstone. 

I recommend that you first consider your priorities for the trip. Do you want to see all of the “main attractions?” Focus on seeing wildlife? Maybe hiking or photography is more your speed. 

Most people want a little of everything on their first trip to Yellowstone. 

But, please, don’t try to see it all, because you won’t be able to. Take that task off your shoulders and you will enjoy your trip so much more. I promise.

Yellowstone National Park, USA- May 21, 2017: Tourists watching Old Faithful geyser erupting in Yellowstone National Park

STEP 1: Choose Your Dates and Check Flights 

You will probably need to visit Yellowstone whenever it fits in your schedule, but if you do have some flexibilty, consider what you want to do and look through the “Best Time to Visit Yellowstone” section below. Most people come in summer, but there are benefits to visiting in the other seasons, too.

This flight checker will help you find the best flights to Yellowstone.

STEP 2: Create Your Yellowstone Itinerary

Customize your itinerary based on your interests, whether it’s hiking, wildlife watching, or enjoying scenic drives. Check out my Things to Do posts and get an idea of what’s possible. Then piece together a trip that covers everything you want to do in Yellowstone. 

Or choose one of the itineraries I’ve created. They have everything in there and all you have to do is follow along. See itineraries and hiking guides here.

Planning your trip to Yellowstone should include Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

STEP 3: Decide Where to Stay in Yellowstone

My Where To Stay posts outline the best lodging options in and near Yellowstone. 

Because Yellowstone is such a big park, the speed limit is never higher than 45 mph, and you will most certainly get stuck in construction and more than one animal (or tourist) jam, I suggest staying in two locations. That can be Lake Hotel and West Yellowstone. Or Canyon and Mammoth. The goal is to minimize your driving by staying in disparate locations.

The beautiful exterior of the Lake Hotel in Yellow Stone during a scenic sunset

STEP 4: Make Reservations 

Lock it down. This is important because lodging in the park fills up quickly. This includes campgrounds. See the Where To Stay posts for the earliest dates you can make hotel and campsite reservations in Yellowstone. If you plan to have dinner at any of the park hotel dining rooms, make those reservations, too. 

Reserve your Wild West Dinner and horseback riding (See Things to Do posts). Book your park tours. These are the experiences that fill up quickly.

Beehive Geyser erupts at Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone Entrance Fees

Currently, reservations are not required to enter Yellowstone as there are other parks, including Glacier National Park. But you do need to pay an entrance fee. 

Yellowstone National Park fees are:

  • 7-Day Yellowstone National Park Pass (covers the Yellowstone entrance fee for everyone in your vehicle)
    • Private, non-commercial vehicle: $35
    • Motorcycle or snowmobile: $30
    • Individual (by foot, bicycle, ski, etc.): $20/person
  • Annual Yellowstone Pass (covers the Yellowstone National Park entrance fee for everyone in your vehicle)
    • $70

Both types of passes are sold at all entrance stations and online.

We always get the America the Beautiful All Access Pass because it covers us for all National Parks for a year (you’ll need a separate entrance fee for Grand Teton National Park if you don’t have the America the Beautiful Pass).

Getting your pass ahead of time means you can show that to the ranger in the entrance kiosk and drive right in. Not having your pass ready is one of the 10 mistakes Yellowstone visitors make.

The U.S. Park Pass is $85 and can be purchased online or at any National Park entrance.

In this post, I break down how much a trip to Yellowstone costs.

Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming

Best Time to Visit Yellowstone

At the beginning of my post about family activities in Yellowstone, I talk about the best time to visit.

Yellowstone National Park offers a diverse experience throughout the year, each season presenting its own unique charms and challenges. The best time to visit depends on your preferences and the type of experience you’re seeking. 

Here’s a breakdown of what each season offers:

Spring (April to June)

Wildlife and Blooms: Spring is a fantastic time for wildlife viewing. Bears, bison, and elk are active, and the landscape comes alive with blooming wildflowers. This is also a good time to bike on the interior roads before they open to general traffic. Here’s everything you need to know about biking in Yellowstone.

  • Fewer Crowds: While early spring can still be quieter, late spring sees an increase in visitors. However, it generally remains less crowded compared to the peak summer months.
  • Weather: Expect varying temperatures. Snow can linger in higher elevations, and weather can be unpredictable, ranging from cool to mild.
  • Facilities: Many hotels, restaurants, and shops within the park don’t open until sometime in May, so plan to be self-sufficient. Additionally, interior roads don’t open to general traffic until the end of April or later, depending on the weather. Find Yellowstone road opening and closing dates on the park website.

Summer (July to August):

  • Wildlife and Active Nature: Summer is peak tourist season, offering long days and a bustling atmosphere. Wildlife is still active, and the park’s vibrant greenery is on full display.
  • All Roads and Facilities Open: During summer, all roads, services, and facilities are typically open, providing full access to the park’s attractions.
  • Crowds: Yellowstone can be crowded during summer, especially around popular attractions. Planning ahead and arriving early at key sites can help avoid some congestion.
  • Weather: Daytime temperatures are generally mild to warm, but evenings can still be cool. Be prepared for varying conditions.

Fall (September to October):

  • Colorful Landscapes: Fall is a photographer’s delight with vibrant foliage, especially in late September. The changing colors create a stunning backdrop for wildlife viewing.
  • Reduced Crowds: As summer visitors dwindle, fall offers a quieter experience with reduced crowds.
  • Weather: Days can still be pleasant, but nights are cooler. Be prepared for temperature fluctuations.
three people looking at the Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone in winter

Winter (November to March):

  • Unique Winter Wonderland: Winter in Yellowstone transforms the park into a serene and magical wonderland. Pristine snow blankets the landscape, and geothermal features create mesmerizing contrasts.
  • Wildlife and Solitude: While some animals migrate or hibernate, winter is an excellent time for observing wolves and other cold-adapted species. The park is quieter, providing a more solitary experience.
  • Limited Accessibility: Some roads and services are closed, but winter activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing become available.
  • Cold Temperatures: Winter temperatures can be extremely cold, so dressing in layers is essential.

General Tips for When to Visit:

  • Check Opening Dates: Services and facilities may vary depending on the season, so check the official park website for opening dates and conditions.
  • Make Reservations: Especially during peak seasons, consider making reservations for accommodations and activities in advance.
Young boy eats whipped cream off top of milkshake in National Park cafe

Where to Eat in Yellowstone

There are a variety of dining options, from casual cafes to fine dining establishments, within Yellowstone. Each village has a grill or casual restaurant, a dining room, and a general store. If you plan to eat dinner in one of the dining rooms, it’s best to make a reservation.

We prefer to shop for picnic supplies outside the park, so we can use our time exploring. There are picnic areas throughout the park, so can stop whenever you get hungry. 

There are many more restaurants and markets available outside the park boundaries, especially in West Yellowstone, Gardiner, and Cody. Don’t miss the best breakfast in West Yellowstone.

family walking through sagebrush on a trail in Yellowstone

Where to Get Fuel and Other Essentials

Yellowstone Park Service Stations, Inc. operates seven convenience store/fuel facilities and four automotive repair shops in Yellowstone National Park. They all have credit card-operated pumps which are available 24 hours a day.

The gas station in Yellowstone can be found at:

  • Old Faithful 
  • Grant Village 
  • Fishing Bridge 
  • Canyon
  • Tower/Roosevelt Junction
  • Mammoth Hot Springs 

Of course, there are gas stations in every gateway town and they are likely to be less expensive than park gas stations.

Free Public EV charging stations are available in several park locations. The stations are Level 2 and provide 208/240 volt electric service. Charging takes about 4 hours from empty to full. 

  • Yellowstone Forever, Gardiner, Montana 
  • Mammoth Hot Springs: In front of the Haynes Photo Shop; and behind the Northwest corner of the Mammoth Hotel.
  • Old Faithful: At the Old Faithful Lodge Cabins (Lower Loop), outside of Showerhouse 1.
  • Canyon Village: In front of both Rhyolite and Washburn lodges.
  • Lake Village: In front of Teal employee dorm.
  • West Entrance/ West Yellowstone MT: The Gray Wolf Inn and Suites and the Holiday Inn. Tesla stations are also located in West Yellowstone.
Fishing Bridge Visitor Center; Jim Peaco; June 2015; Catalog #20196d; Original #IMG_6661
NPS Photo

Visitor Centers and Museums

Immerse yourself in the park’s history, geology, and ecosystems by visiting its informative visitor centers and museums. You can read all about Yellowstone Visitor Centers in this post

geyser erupting in Yellowstone in winter

Cell Service and Wifi in Yellowstone

Cell Service in Yellowstone

Cell service is available in all of the villages or developed areas and in random spots in between, but don’t depend on using it. Download maps and anything else you want to use offline. 

Check with your provider to verify coverage. During summer the number of users can overwhelm cellular circuits resulting in an inability to send or receive calls, text, or use cellular data. Texting is usually the most effective means of communication in the park, but it doesn’t work everywhere.

Even outside the park, cell service is spotty. It’s great in towns — Gardiner, West Yellowstone, Cody — but unavailable between towns and the park in some places. For instance, there isn’t cell service during most of the trip from the Bozeman Yellowstone Airport to West Yellowstone. 

There is no cell service in Silver Gate or Cooke City. 

WiFi in Yellowstone

Free WiFi is available at the Albright Visitor Center in Mammoth Hot Springs.

Wireless Internet access is available at some of the hotels and lodges around the park for registered guests of Yellowstone National Park Lodges.

If you need to count on WiFi for work or other reasons, I recommend staying outside the park in one of the gateway towns.

wolf track in snow in yellowstone national park

Accessibility

Unfortunately, Yellowstone has a way to go on accessibility, but they are working on it.

According to the Park Service, “Many facilities are more than a century old and accessibility is not always ideal. Through an on-going self-assessment and transition plan, Yellowstone National Park is identifying and eliminating barriers to accessibility in its facilities, programs, and services. Extra obstacles will be encountered because of the remote, wilderness nature of this special place. Facilities described as accessible do not necessarily comply fully with federal standards and some accessible facilities are not marked with the international symbol.”  

The official NPS app has accessibility information as does their website.

road trips to Yellowstone car on highway with mountains

Yellowstone National Park Roads

The only road open year-round (unless it temporarily closes due to weather) is from the North Entrance in Gardiner, Montana to outside the Northeast Entrance and Cooke City, Montana.

Most park roads are closed to regular vehicles from early November to late April and are open to limited oversnow travel (snowmobiles and snowcoaches) from mid-December to mid-March. 

When open, roads are not gated at night and you may enter/exit the park 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Yellowstone has five entrance stations, and it takes several hours to drive between them.

Every year there is road construction on at least one section of Yellowstone’s roads. 

Check road conditions on the Park Service site.

As a storm passes the late afternoon sun creats a second matching rainbow in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone Weather 

The weather in Yellowstone National Park is characterized by its variability, influenced by the park’s high elevation and diverse geography. In other words, plan for all weather, regardless of when you visit.

  • Summer, from June to August, bring mild to warm temperatures, with daytime highs ranging from 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 27 degrees Celsius). However, evenings can still be cool. 
  • Fall, from September to October, sees a gradual decline in temperatures, ranging from 30 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 1 to 15 degrees Celsius). 
  • Winter, from November to March, transforms Yellowstone into a winter wonderland, with temperatures often dropping below freezing. Expect snow-covered landscapes and sub-zero temperatures, ranging from 0 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 18 to minus 6 degrees Celsius). 
  • Spring, from April to June, marks the transition to warmer weather, though snow may persist in higher elevations. Temperature variations and occasional rain or snow showers make packing versatile clothing essential for any Yellowstone visit. 

Always check the forecast and be prepared for changing weather conditions year-round.

blue hot spring surrounded by snow and dead trees in yellowstone winter

What to Pack for Yellowstone

What you pack depends on what you are doing, of course. You will need different items if you are camping vs. staying in a hotel vs. driving an RV. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with these two packing lists.

Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone

FAQs About Planning a Yellowstone Trip

Does Yellowstone Require a Reservation?

Reservations are not required in Yellowstone National Park, though an entrance fee is.

How Much Time Do You Need in Yellowstone National Park?

A minimum of three to four days is recommended to explore the park’s main attractions thoroughly. However, more time allows for a more leisurely and immersive experience.

Do You Need a Car in Yellowstone?

Yes, having a car provides the flexibility to explore the park at your own pace. There is no public transportation within the park other than guided tours.

Do You Need a Tour Guide for Yellowstone?

You do not need a tour guide, but a guided tour can enhance your experience by providing insights and information about the park’s features and wildlife. Self-guided exploration is also popular.

What Is the Best Way to See Yellowstone National Park?

The best way to experience Yellowstone is a combination of driving and exploring on foot. Scenic drives offer stunning views, while hiking trails provide a closer look at the park’s unique features. Don’t forget your bear spray.

What’s the Best Airport for Yellowstone?

Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) and Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) are common choices. Choose based on your travel preferences and available routes.

Is Yellowstone Open in Winter?

Yes, Yellowstone remains open in winter, offering a unique and tranquil experience. However, some roads and facilities may be closed or limited.

How Many Days Do You Need to Visit Yellowstone National Park?

A minimum of three to four days is recommended for a comprehensive visit. However, a week or more allows for a deeper exploration of the park’s vast offerings.

What Is the Average Cost of a Vacation to Yellowstone?

Costs vary based on accommodation, dining, and activities. On average, a moderate budget for accommodation, meals, and entrance fees ranges from $150 to $300 per person per day.

What Is the Best Month to Visit Yellowstone?

Late spring through early fall (May to September) is the most popular time, with pleasant weather and wildlife activity. However, each season offers a unique experience. Winter (December to February) is ideal for snow enthusiasts and more solitude.

Is It Better to Stay Inside Yellowstone or Outside?

Staying inside the park provides a more immersive experience, especially if you want to capture sunrise or sunset views. However, nearby gateway towns offer lodging options and may be more convenient for some travelers.