Wander Always & Stay Wilde


A Guide to Yellowstone National Park

As the first National Park in the United States (and widely held as the first National Park in the world), Yellowstone National Park is roughly 3,500 square miles of mountain wilderness, hydrothermal ecosystems, lush forests, and vibrant landscapes in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Over 3 million visitors come to the park each year to view popular sites like the Old Faithful Geyser, the Grand Prismatic Spring, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and to catch a glimpse of the park’s wildlife including bison, elk, and wolves.


Established as a National Park: On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone became the first national park in the United States when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law. This law protected more than 2 million acres of mountain wilderness in the current states of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho along with the park’s iconic hydrothermal geysers and vibrant landscapes for future generations to enjoy.

Location: Yellowstone National Park Headquarters, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190. Keep in mind that Yellowstone has five entrance stations, and several are closed to regular vehicles during winter. You can check the status of park roads and open entrances to the park here before you arrive.

Best time of year to visit: April to May as well as September through early October offer mild weather, fewer crowds, and little to no road closures while visiting the park.

How many days are needed inside the Park: 3-4 days. However, the main highlights of the park can be seen in 1-2 days.

Closest airport(s): Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) is 88 miles from Yellowstone’s north entrance. Yellowstone Airport (WYS) is 2 miles and only 10 minutes from the park’s West entrance, but BZN is still the largest airport closest to this entrance. Yellowstone Regional Aiport (COD) is 54.5 miles from the east entrance to the park. Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) is 49.1 miles away from the south entrance and is located within Grand Teton National Park.

Closest major cities: Gardiner, MT (0.7 miles) and Bozeman, MT (78.6 miles) are closest to Yellowstone’s North Entrance, and West Yellowstone, MT (0.9 miles) is 4 minutes from Yellowstone’s West Entrance. Jackson Hole is 57 miles away from the park’s South Entrance, passing through Grand Teton National Park along the way.

Notable sites to see: Old Faithful Geyser and the Old Faithful Inn, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Artist Point, Mammoth Hot Springs, Artist’s Paintpot Trail, Grand Prismatic Spring (Midway Geyser Basin), Gibbon Falls, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Roaring Mountain, and Yellowstone Lake.

For the past few years, my dad and I have been planning a National Parks trip together each year and Yellowstone National Park has been on our list for a while! We decided to plan our trip and visit Grand Teton National Park (in Wyoming) and Glacier National Park (in Montana) along with Yellowstone in one 9-day road trip covering 3 different states along with 3 National Parks! We started our trip from the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN), roughly a 4-hour drive to where we stayed in Jackson, Wyoming. Although it was quite a drive, I highly recommend staying in Jackson, Wyoming while you visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. It is a roughly 8-minute drive to the south border of Grand Teton National Park and an hour and 15 minutes to the South entrance of Yellowstone National Park, making this a great location to explore! The best time to visit this area would be in mid-May when the South entrance to Yellowstone National Park is open. Although when we initially planned our trip, we thought staying in Jackson for both Grand Teton and Yellowstone would be ideal, the South Entrance to Yellowstone was closed during our stay, leaving only the North and West entrances open. While driving down to Jackson, I noticed on the side of the road that there was a Marriott Springhill Suites (the same hotel we were staying at in Jackson) in Idaho Springs, only 30 minutes from the West Yellowstone Entrance of the park. Realizing the close proximity, we switched part of our reservation for a few nights to Idaho Springs! This is a prime example of making sure to research the area as well as all of the National Park information, such as road closures, entrance openings, and more!

We were very fortunate that even though parts of Yellowstone were closed due to either entrance closures or road closures, we were able to see many of the sights in the Park! The only sight that I felt like we missed seeing entirely was Yellowstone Lake. There was also a lot of snow still on the ground which covered most trails that I would have liked to visit – like Mystic Falls (by Old Faithful), the Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail, and some of the trails that climbed down closer for views of both Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls. I would definitely visit the park again, perhaps in the later summer or early fall, when the weather is mild and the crowds have dwindled away a bit!

Beyond its geysers and hot springs, Yellowstone National Park is world-renowned for the bison herds that roam throughout the land. Rush hour in the park can look a bit different than usual, with bison often causing traffic jams on the road, as cars wait for wildlife to cross the road.



South of the Madison Junction is the heavily trafficked Artist’s Paintpot Trail that features a dynamic array of Yellowstone’s hydrothermal ecosystem and is good for all hiking skill levels. Notable sights on the trail are the Celestine Pool, Fountain Paint Pots, the Red Spouter, the Leather Pool, and five Geysers (Twig, Fountain, Morning, Clepsydra, and Spasm) visible from the trail’s overlook. This trail takes you through some of the most complex and dynamic hydrothermal areas in all of Yellowstone. There are geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots. The five geysers that can be seen from the trail’s overlook have different eruption patterns and intervals. While on the trail, make sure to stay on the boardwalk path for your safety.

Length: 1.0 mi | Elevation gain: 101 ft | Route type: Loop


Just south of the Artist’s Paintpot trail, you will find the Midway Geyser Basin which is home to the world’s largest geyser, the Excelsior Geyser, as well as the Grand Prismatic Spring, the world’s largest hot spring. Along this 0.5-mile trail, there are other hydrothermal hot springs to view such as the Opal Pool and the Turquoise Pool! For an alternative view of the Midway Geyser Basin and specifically the Grand Prismatic Spring, there is an overlook trail (1.6 miles out-and-back) that begins at the Fairy Falls parking lot. Keep in mind that this trail opens in late May and parking is very limited in the area.

At the Midway Geyser Basin trailhead, the Park Ranger informed visitors that the best time to view the geysers and hot springs is on a dry, warm day- the warmer the better. This results in those vividly colored images of the springs that you have probably seen in the park! We visited this area on two different days. The first day was a very overcast day, which made for some atmospheric views of the geysers. The second day was extremely sunny and offered better views of the various springs throughout the park!

Length: .08 mi | Elevation gain: 55 ft | Route type: Loop

The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest and one of the most brilliant of Yellowstone’s many colorful hot springs. Its massive expanse stretches approximately 200 ft across. The high temperature of its water – 160 degrees Fahrenheit – ensures that the spring is often cloaked in steam.


Continuing south from the Midway Geyser Basin is the Old Faithful Geyser, one of the park’s most famous spots named for its frequent and mostly predictable eruptions. The average interval between eruptions is roughly 98 minutes (+/- 10 minutes) and the eruptions can last between 1.5 minutes to 5 minutes. Old Faithful can vary in height from 106 to over 180 feet and can expel up to 8,400 gallons of water at 203 degrees Fahrenheit. The eruptions can be watched from the Old Faithful viewing area or along the boardwalks around the geyser. While visiting the geyser, be sure to take a walk around and see the Old Faithful Inn. Built in 1903-1904, the Inn is one of the few remaining log hotels in the United States.


If you’re driving between Norris Geyser Basin and Madison Junction, be sure to take a quick stop to spot Gibbon Falls! The falls can be seen from the road and there is a 0.5 mile heavily trafficked loop that will offer a different view of the falls through the surrounding forest. The frothy veil of falls plunges 84 ft and tumbles .25 miles downriver toward the Yellowstone Caldera. As Gibbon Falls erode the rock below, the waterfall forever grows higher and migrates farther from the rim of the caldera.


Yellowstone Falls consists of two major waterfalls on the Yellowstone River within the National Park. The Yellowstone River flows north from Yellowstone Lake and plunges first over Upper Yellowstone Falls and then a quarter mile downstream over Lower Yellowstone Falls and entering the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. At 109 feet high, the Upper Falls can be seen from Uncle Tom’s Point in the Canyon Village section of the park. The lookout point to the falls can be seen only a short walk from the parking lot, while the Uncle Tom’s Trail is a 0.6-mile out-and-back trail that offers another view of the famous falls. Note: This trail is currently closed due to some areas of the trail being unsafe due to construction and/or wildlife.


Artist Point is an overview point located on a cliff of the south rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This point, only a short distance from the parking lot, offers incredible views of the 308-ft Lower Yellowstone Falls and the Yellowstone River. The height of Lower Falls is twice the height of Niagra Falls! Artist Point is one of the most popular spots to view the falls and the Grand Canyon in the park, and it is easy to see why! Lower Falls can be seen from Lookout Point, Red Rock Point, Artist Point, the Brink of the Lower Falls Trail, and various points on the South Rim Trail.


The North Rim section of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone shows views of the Lower Falls from Lookout Point, Red Rock Point, Grand View, and Inspiration Point. The Canyon varies from 800-1200 ft in depth, from 1500 to 4000 ft in width, and its length is about 24 miles. The upper 2.5 miles is the most colorful section of the canyon. Since they were originally built in the 1930s, several of the canyon overlooks and trails are being rehabilitated, causing some temporary or long-term closures.


The Roaring Mountain of Yellowstone is 8,152 feet high and was named for the numerous fumaroles on the western slope of the peak. During the 1900s, the noise from the mountain was so loud it could be heard from several miles away! Fumaroles `are the hottest hydrothermal features in the park and are easiest to see in cooler weather. You can find the Roaring Mountain south of Mammoth Hot Springs located on the Grand Loop Road.


The Mammoth Hot Springs in the northwest corner of Yellowstone, just south of the North Entrance, is a must-see spot in the park. The North Entrance is the only park entrance open year-round and is accessible by car, even in the winter, although there will be road closures beyond Mammoth Springs. The boardwalk trail covers roughly 1.75 miles around the Upper and Lower Terraces. The elevation gain is only about 300ft through the whole trail, and it takes about an hour to walk and explore all of the different sights, much different from the other thermal areas in the park. The limestone of the Hot Springs and Terraces are primarily made of limestone, a softer type of rock, which allows the rock formations to grow and shape much faster than sinter formations.


Eat: Although we did not eat inside the park, I noticed that there were a few different locations that offered food and snacks. Old Faithful has a wonderful General Store and Grill to check out. Mammoth Hot Springs also has a Mammoth Dining Room and Grill. We chose to eat just outside the park in West Yellowstone at a 1950s-style diner, the Canyon Street Grill. The food was great, along with the prices, and the workers were so friendly! Since the West Entrance of Yellowstone opens in mid-April every year, most restaurants close for the season and reopen about a week before the park entrance does. We were lucky that the Canyon Street Grill was open!

Stay: There are a few different options for lodging and dining around Yellowstone National Park. The area that we stayed in was closest to the West Yellowstone entrance, about 30 minutes west and south of the park in Island Park, Idaho. You can view the hotel in Island Park here. The Marriott Springhill Suites was in a decent location from the park, reasonably priced when we stayed and offered stunning views of Henry’s Fork River.

Have you ever been to Yellowstone National Park? What are your favorite places to visit, stay, and eat?

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