In 1872, Yellowstone became the first national park. Annually, over 5 million people visit this 2.2-million-acre gem in the corner of Wyoming. The park is a diverse volcanic wonderland with over 10,000 hydrothermal features including hot springs, mud pots, steam vents and the largest concentration of geysers in the world. Picturesque landscapes encompass this wildlife-rich park—900 miles of trails, 290 waterfalls and half the world’s geothermal features. Bison, bears, wolves, elk, fish and the highest density of mammals in the contiguous U.S. call Yellowstone National Park their home.
Geothermal marvels, canyons, mountains, forests, lakes, bison, and wolves make Yellowstone extraordinary
The park’s resilience demonstrates lessons in species and environmental management, ecological programming and ecosystem restoration. Weather varies daily, with snow falling any month of the year. Peak seasons are June through August and December through February. Only two entrances (North and Northeast) are open in winter.
7 Must-Do’s in Yellowstone National Park
Most Accessible Trail: Upper Geyser Basin
Best Bicycling: South and East Entrance roads in springtime
Prime Fishing: Firehole River and Yellowstone Lake
Moderate Summit Worth the Climb: Avalanche Peak
Unique Swimming-hole: “Hot-potting” is permitted in the thermal Boiling River
Iconic Waterfall: Lower Falls of the Yellowstone
For the Family: Junior Ranger or Young Scientist programs
Yellowstone National Park Campgrounds
Yellowstone offers 12 campgrounds ranging from $15 to $80 per night, with seven as first-come, first-served, operated by the National Park Service, and five via online reservations. The park encompasses over 3,000 square miles, so choose your campgrounds based on planned itinerary and drive time. If changing campgrounds during your stay, be sure to leave early in the morning to snag the next site if you’ve not reserved it, as some fill fast.
What you need to know: This is the only campground open year-round, with 85 sites, located near the North Entrance and Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces. Sites are first-come, first-served.
Amenities: camp store, firewood, ice, cell reception, flush toilets, potable water and staff on site.
Alternative to tents: stay in one of the rustic Western/Frontier cabins (complete with beds, but bathroom facilities are separate buildings; no TV or phone). The campground can accommodate larger RVs.
From November through February the sites are first-come, first-served. The two group sites can be booked twelve months in advance (with higher rates of $75 to $250). Minimal amenities include firewood, staff on site, potable water, flush and vault toilets, picnic tables, grills and trash collection.
Why this campground? Boardwalks and gentle stairways weave around colorful travertine and thermophile terraces in this quiet north corner of the park. It is the only campground open in winter.
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Tour historical Fort Yellowstone and Old Gardiner Road (by bicycle or hike). Hike Grizzly Lake Trail (easy, 4 miles), Wraith Falls Trail (easy, 1 mile) or Lava Creek Trail along the river (easy, 7 miles, pass 60-foot Undine Falls). Take in meadows, waterfalls, sagebrush, and forests rich in wildlife. Stop in the Albright Visitor Center or drive to Roosevelt Arch.
Hidden Treasure: Hike Bunsen Peak, a moderate summit trail with panoramic views (4 miles).
Tower Fall Campground
What you need to know: This primitive campground is located on the north side of the steep road through Dunraven Pass, offering 31 sites, which are first-come, first-served.
Amenities: nearby general store, vault toilets, seasonal store, potable water and staff on site. No showers, ice, firewood or cell reception.
Why this campground? Go for the solitude. It is best for tents and small RVs. The campground is near Tower Fall, where the waterfall drops 132 feet into the Yellowstone River. The campground provides access to Lamar Valley and the quieter northeast corner of the park.
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Trek moderate trails: Tower Fall (1 mile), Yellowstone River picnic area and trail (3.7 miles), Slough Creek’s historic wagon trail (moderate, 5 miles), Lost Lake (4 miles) and Garnet Hill (7.5 miles). Check out petrified trees. Go horseback riding. Venture above treeline to breathtaking Mount Washburn (moderate-strenuous, 6 miles) via the Dunraven Pass trailhead or easier Chittenden Road.
Hidden Treasure: Take a vehicle tour of Lamar Valley—an oasis of wildlife, best seen early morning or at sunset. Spot bison, moose, elk, brown bears, wolves, coyote, pronghorn and bighorn sheep without all the traffic of Hayden Valley. Bring your binoculars.
Canyon Village Campground
What you need to know: Canyon Village takes reservations and is located in the center of the park with over 270 campsites.
Amenities: cell reception, ice, firewood, trash, showers, flush toilets, laundry, potable water and staff on site. There are nearby stores and restaurants in Canyon Village.
Why this campground? Situated centrally, the campground is near the twenty-mile-long Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Yellowstone River, and provides access to Hayden Valley and Mount Washburn. Stock up on food and fuel and use as home base for day adventures. Like its cousin in Arizona, there are also North and South canyon rims.
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Check out the numerous viewpoints of the canyon and both Upper and Lower Falls including Inspiration Point, Lookout Point, Artist Point, Uncle Tom’s Point and Overlook and The Brink, all accessible by car and easy trails. Hike within the canyon on Red Rock Trail (0.6 mile), or nearby Point Sublime (2.5 miles). Drive through Hayden Valley (much busier than its counterpart, Lamar), where you will see wildlife and experience bison jams. Stop in the Canyon Visitor Education Center.
Hidden Treasure: Hike through meadows of wildflowers on your way to Cascade Lake Picnic area on an easier 5-mile walk.
Bridge Bay and Fishing Bridge (RV) Campgrounds
What you need to know: Take in spectacular views of Yellowstone Lake and the Absaroka Range in this reservation-only campground with 432 sites.
Amenities: cell reception, ice, firewood, trash, showers, flush toilets, potable water and staff on site.
Nearby Fishing Bridge RV park has 310 hookup sites (no campers allowed due to heavy grizzly traffic in the area).
Why this campground? This area is centrally located for day trips north to the Canyon area, east to Hayden Valley and Yellowstone Lake and south to West Thumb. Listen to mud pots gurgling, watch fish in Yellowstone Lake, or hike or bike in an area rich in wildlife and hydrothermal features.
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Easier excursions include Mud Volcano Trail to explore the resurgent dome and mud pot (0.6 mile), Natural Bridge Trail (3 miles), and Pelican Creek Nature Trail for bird-spotting in a peaceful meadow (0.7 mile). Take a boat out on the lake. Visit nearby Hayden or Pelican Valleys.
Hidden Treasure: Hike the strenuous trail up Avalanche Peak (4 miles) to be rewarded with spectacular alpine views.
Grant Village Campground
What you need to know: With over 430 sites and wheelchair accessibility, this campground is by reservation only and is located off the Grand Loop Road on the south end of Yellowstone Lake.
Amenities: cell reception, ice, firewood, trash, showers, flush toilets, laundry, potable water, camp store and staff on site, as well as nearby stores and gas.
Why this campground? Located in West Thumb Geyser Basin, the campground is situated near Yellowstone Lake, marinas and geyser hikes. It is one of the two larger campgrounds closer to the Old Faithful area.
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Boardwalk loops take visitors along the lake and geyser basin to see Fishing Cone, Twin Geyser and Abyss Pool. Grant Visitor Center provides history about the role of fire on the environment. The West Thumb area is rich in Native American history. Hike numerous lakeside trails including Lake Overlook (1.5 miles), Riddle Lake (4.8 miles) and Duck Lake (1 mile).
Hidden Treasure: Experience the park from the water by kayak, canoe or boat. Venture off from popular Yellowstone Lake to lesser-visited neighbors Storm Point on Indian Pond or the Lewis River Channel (near Lewis and Shoshone Lakes).
What you need to know: This 111-site campground is another first-come, first-served with limited amenities: trash, staff on site, potable water and flush toilets.
Why this campground? Norris Campground is situated close to Norris Geyser Basin, which is packed with hydrothermal activity and adorned with a rainbow of color due to thermophiles and geological features.
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Visit the oldest and hottest geothermal basin and observe forest ecology (the power of fire and wind). Check out Norris Geyser Basin Museum, Gibbon Falls and River and the hissing fumaroles at Roaring Mountain. Walk the boardwalk of Porcelain Basin (1 mile) or the forested trail through Back Basin (2.6 miles).
Hidden Treasure: Find solitude near Monument Geyser Basin (2.8 miles) or explore Artist Paintpots and Beryl Spring (1 mile).
What you need to know: This 278-site campground is by reservation only.
Amenities: trash, ice, firewood, staff on site, potable water and flush toilets. It is one of the most popular campgrounds due to its proximity to most geothermal areas.
Why this campground? Madison is west-centrally located, only 16 miles north of Old Faithful, Upper and Lower Geyser Basin, Midway Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic Spring, and equally distant to Norris Geyser Basin.
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Visit the Junior Ranger Station. Plan a sunset visit to Old Faithful. Hike to Fairy Falls (easy, 7 miles) and, on the way, partake in the gorgeous bird’s-eye view of polychromatic Grand Prismatic Spring via an overlook. Drive through Firehole Canyon. Choose from many easier basin paths: Upper Geyser, Biscuit Basin, Black Sand Basin, Midway Geyser Basin and Lower Geyser Basin.
Hidden Treasure: Wake at dawn to take a less-crowded, sulfur-infused, and misty walk on the Upper Geyser Basin boardwalk (3 miles) through countless springs, geysers, mud pots and the ending point: Morning Glory Pool. To avoid the bleacher-filled crowds of Old Faithful, trek up the short hike to Observation Point (1.6 miles) behind Old Faithful for a front-row seat from above.
“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” – John Muir
Yellowstone National Park Backcountry Camping
Explore Yellowstone’s wilderness by hiking or boating into one of the 300 backcountry campsites, some of which can be reserved ahead of time. Recommended for the more experienced, with careful planning, camping far from the crowds can be rewarding.
Read all regulations and information carefully especially about bears. Snow can be deep through May and June; most trails are above 7,000 feet in elevation. Check out this ten-page guide for more details on camping, safety and choosing trails.
Exciting Sites & Scenic Drives Near Yellowstone National Park
The 142-mile Grand Loop Road is a figure eight and encompasses the majority of the park’s highlights, with all five entrances connected to the loop. Do not plan to drive this loop in one day. It is best split among three to four days. Two shorter side drives start at Madison: Firehole Canyon Drive and Fountain Flat Drive.
Take the northeast road in the park up through Silver Gate and Cooke City via Beartooth Pass (closed October through May) and out of the park for awe-inspiring high-mountain views. Alternatively, come in through the East Entrance and scenic Shoshone Canyon and Sylvan Pass. Outside the park in West Yellowstone visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.
Insider Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park
The closest large airport is in Salt Lake City (Utah, seven hours away). Smaller options include Yellowstone Airport (West Yellowstone, WY), Yellowstone Regional (Cody, WY), Jackson Hole Airport (Jackson, WY), Billings Intl. Airport (Billings, MT) and Gallatin Field (Bozeman, MT).
Pack for all types of weather, with layers, even in summer. The average elevation in the park is 8,000 feet. Bear spray can be purchased in or outside the park (do not fly with this combustible product)—learn how to use it from a ranger. Donate unused canisters to rangers upon departure.
Make note of gas stations and fuel up whenever available. Likewise, bring in food, but be aware of store locations within the park. Have printed maps since GPS coverage is not guaranteed. Sunscreen, insect repellent and extra water are suggested. Book campgrounds well in advance.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK CAMPERS BEWARE:
Be safe and read danger signs.
Do not tempt fate with wildlife (especially bison or bears), delicate crusts, hot springs or steep ledges.
Always check in with rangers at visitor centers or stations for updates on construction, road closures, bear activity or other potentially limiting factors.
Bears nibble on whitebark pine nuts in September through October in some areas, while in early spring can be found feeding on spawning trout.
Some trails have snow or mud through early summer. Many facilities are seasonal.