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Growing up, our major family trips were across the U.S. My mother loves national parks and is passionate about visiting as many as she can, but her favorite has always been Yellowstone National Park. I visited for the first time when I was nine, and then again when I graduated high school. My favorite part was always the horseback trail rides, which took you through the wilderness into areas you couldn’t see from the road. I grew up riding horses, and it was always a passion of mine.
My senior year of college, I decided to take a risk and apply to be one of these wranglers in Yellowstone, and ended up getting the job. So I graduated from college, and three days later I was on a plane to Bozeman, Montana to spend the next four months living in a cabin, riding horses, having no cell service, and an adventure of a lifetime.
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and it’s hard to try and name just one notable part of its 2.2 million acres. If you love escaping into nature and learning about the history of the West, I could not recommend Yellowstone enough.
What to Know Before Visiting Yellowstone
- To have the best experience, BOOK AT LEAST A YEAR IN ADVANCE! I cannot stress this enough, and have seen many people try to visit the park planning 3 months in advance, only to realize everything has been booked and they couldn’t see everything they wanted to.
- The entire park is only open for 3 months in the summer (only one hotel, Mammoth, stays open until November 3rd), so you need to plan your trip between June and the end of August. The park can only be accessed in the winter through a travel guide, and roads are closed to the public.
- You will have limited to no cell service. There are no cell towers in the park except for some hotels, so be sure to have a map with you if you need navigation
- You need a car in order to travel through the park
- I would recommend to book a trip for at least 7-10 days, so that you have time to visit most of the park (there is so much to see!)
- DO NOT GO NEAR WILDLIFE! Yellowstone is known for its biodiversity, and the main animals people like to see are bison (not buffalo), wolves, elk, moose, and bears. While it is always exciting to see wildlife, it is imperative for their safety and yours not to be closer than 50-100 yards. Yellowstone is magical because of it’s wide landscape being untouched by mankind, so let’s keep it that way.
Where to Stay in Yellowstone
- Like I mentioned, many who don’t book early enough have to book a hotel outside the park, which takes 2 hours just to get in and out of the park, so booking early is key!
- Staying in the park is fairly reasonable ($100-$400 per night with Old Faithful Inn being the most expensive)
- Roosevelt Lodge: This the lodge where I lived, and if you love rustic cabins and being immersed in nature, this is the place for you! The lodge overlooks Pleasant Valley, one of the most beautiful views to wake up to every morning. You can spend your day going on hikes around the area, horseback riding, or sitting in a rocking chair on front porch drinking sweet tea. The cabins are the bare minimum, with shared communal bathrooms in each area. The cabins have a wood burning heat system, so if you’ve always wanted to “rough it” you will love it.
- Old Faithful Inn: While this is the most expensive place to stay in the park, if you can swing just one night I think it’s 100% worth it! The Inn is a landmark to visit in the park, and staying there is a magical experience. You can admire the architecture (it’s a massive log cabin), while a pianist plays soft classical music that carries throughout the hotel. There are multiple balconies where you can sit outside and watch Old Faithful erupt every hour, and cozy seats to curl up in and play cards or write a post card. Oh, and my personal favorite part, they have bath-rooms where you can soak in a claw-foot bathtub!
- Lake Yellowstone Hotel: This hotel is beautiful and elegant and overlooks Lake Yellowstone (which looks more like an ocean). If you enjoy all of the comforts and amenities of a hotel, this should be on your list.
How to Fly into Yellowstone
No matter where you fly in, you will need a rental car into order to drive to Yellowstone:
- Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody, WY: it’s 53 miles from the East Entrance of the park, and only Delta and United airlines can fly to it
- Jackson Hole Airport in Jackson Hole, WY: this is a 2 hour drive through Grand Tetons National Park and through the South Entrance
- Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in Bozeman, MT: this is a 3 hour drive from the North Entrance (this is where I flew in and out of)
What to Do in Yellowstone
- Drive into the park from the Northeast Entrance through Beartooth Pass, the most scenic way!
- Horseback ride at Roosevelt Lodge
- Cowboy Cookout at Roosevelt Lodge: take horseback or horse-drawn wagons through Pleasant Valley to have a western dinner and listen to live country music in the evening
- Walk the hot springs at Old Faithful and see the Grand Prismatic
- Check out the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (pictured above)
- Rent a motorboat on Lake Yellowstone
- Drive through Lamar Valley at sunrise or sunset, and you may see some wolves!
- Drive down to Grand Tetons National Park to see moose and take a rafting trip
- Go to a rodeo in Gardiner, MT or Cody, WY
Eco-Travel Tips for Yellowstone
- Xanterra Parks and Resorts, who owns the hotels in the park, has taken many steps to be a sustainable company, and works to ensure humans do not harm the environment of Yellowstone. The policies in the park are very strict, so any littering is slapped with a huge fine
- Rent an electric car. Because so much driving is involved in Yellowstone, renting a hybrid or electric car can help reduce your carbon footprint, and there are electric charging stations at several of the hotels throughout the park!
- Avoid plastic packaging. To produce less waste during your trip, try to opt for plastic-free packaging on snacks, bring your own utensils and water bottles, and be sure to recycle what you can