Visiting Yellowstone is a fulfilling experience that can be enjoyed in many different ways. If you like to travel like us, on the road, maybe without too much comfort but in great connection with nature, here below we list some pieces of advice that we hope you’ll find useful.
GATES AND PRICES
The pass to Yellowstone costs $ 35 per vehicle, it is valid for 7 days and it also grants access to the Grand Teton National Park. You can buy the pass directly at the gates or online at THIS link.
The park is 8983 km² large, it is mainly located in Wyoming but it also touches Montana and Idaho. It has 5 entrances in total: the north gate (Gardiner, Montana), the north-east gate (Cooke City, Montana), the east gate (Cody, Wyoming), the south gate (Jackson, Wyoming) and the west gate (West Yellowstone, Montana). The north entrance is the only one open all year round.
During summer, the entrances are open 24/7 but the gates are not manned overnight (and it is therefore not possible to buy the pass). In any case, driving in the park when it’s dark is strongly discouraged, since the low visibility greatly increases the chances of animal collisions.
The main road that crosses Yellowstone is called the Grand Loop, it has an “eight” shape and it is over 200 km long. The speed limit is normally 45 miles per hour.
You can find the park’s opening times HERE.
THE BEST TIMES TO VISIT YELLOWSTONE
Visiting Yellowstone in summer, from June to August, has many positive sides: the weather is good, there are many hours of light, the roads are all open and the services are fully operating. But summer means also overcrowding, noise and queues. Something that, if you are in the centre of a famous city, might be acceptable, but in the wilderness it could be really unpleasant and frustrating.
We therefore recommend you to visit Yellowstone in the “shoulder” seasons, just before the winter closure of the park or at its opening in spring. Obviously this implies more uncertainties and possible unexpected events (road closures due to bad weather, cold temperatures, reduced services), but it grants an infinitely better experience.
These are very interesting times for wildlife watchers: in spring for the awakening of bears from hibernation and for the flowering of plants, in autumn for the deer rutting season, the colors of the forests and the bears that beef up for the winter.
Yellowstone Park offers an incredible abundance of wildlife, but it is mostly popular for its Big Five: bear, wolf, elk, deer, bison.
It is not difficult to come across these and other beautiful animals simply driving across the park. It is advisable to drive slowly, respecting the speed limits, to avoid collisions that can be really dangerous. While driving, it is advisable to keep an eye on the cars parked on the roadsides, because in Yellowstone this normally means someone has spotted some animals. If you wish to check and join the watching, be always careful to avoid hard braking or harsh turn to park.
We recommend to strictly respect the safety distances with wildlife, as many accidents occur exactly when the animal’s territory is not respected and incorrect behavior is adopted.
To find out which animals we saw and where, click HERE. To know how to behave in bear country, read HERE.
If you are interested in wildlife, it is essential to use binoculars to spot the animals in the distance and to enjoy the show without entering their territory. The same goes for cameras: try to get a decent zoom.
Too many people risk their lives (and compromise the wellbeing of wildlife) to take pictures of a wild animal with a cell phone or with cameras that require a close distance (such as a GoPro): irresponsible behaviors that we saw adopted also by families with children.
Those who are willing to take back-country hikes or ride should be equipped with anti-bear spray: it is not cheap ($30/50), but it can be a life-saver in case of close encounter.
If you visit the park in the off season, take with you thermos flasks with hot drinks and suitable clothes.
SERVICES INSIDE THE PARK
Inside the park there are refreshment points and restaurants, souvenir shops, bookshops, campsites and hotels, visitor centers, petrol pumps and toilets scattered everywhere (normally vault toilet without running water).
With a good map it is easy to choose your stops based on the location of available services.
WHERE TO EAT AND SLEEP IN YELLOWSTONE
Inside the Yellowstone Park there are 9 hotels and 12 campsites.
Their prices tend to be higher than those you can find outside the park but, despite this, they always sell fast. We therefore recommend you to book many months in advance to find the best deals and to evaluate options just outside the borders of Yellowstone.
We slept inside the park one night only, and we opted for a wooden cabin in the woods without electricity, heating or running water, while outside it was snowing! An experience we will remember.
We always bought food in supermarkets outside the park, filling the car boot with food and drinks: it is a quite common solution, so that it is absolutely normal to see on the roads of Yellowstone jeeps or vans that carry enough food to feed an army. The thermos flasks of hot or fresh drinks – depending on the season - are fundamental.
A good supply allows you to save money and time, enjoying the park at its best.