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Visiting Yellowstone National Park: The Complete Guide (2021 Update)

Post Summary: Visiting Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is one of my favorite National Parks. It was the location of two of my favorite park memories. Seeing the wolves just after their reintroduction is one of my childhood highlights. The other memory is the 3 days I spent waiting for Steamboat Geyser to erupt. I have been to Yellowstone six-plus times and outside of the Smokies and Denali is the park I have spent the most time in. I can’t say I have seen everything but I know Yellowstone and I’m here to help.

Yellowstone National Park is made of up several different regions and there is a lot of park to explore. This guide is designed to given you an overview to help get you started planning your visit to YellowstoneNational Park.

Are you planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park? Click here for the complete guide to visiting Yellowstone National Park written by a National Park Expert. 

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The Quick Guide to Visiting Yellowstone National Park

Map of Yellowstone National Park

Map of Yellowstone National Park

Click on the Yellowstone Map above to download the official brochure map. If you’d like a PDF copy of this Yellowstone Map click here.

Yellowstone National Park Basics

Region: Intermountain / Rockies

Park Size: 2,219,791 acres (3,468.42 sq miles) (8,983.18 sq km)

Location: Park and Tetons counties, Wyoming / Gallatin and Park counties, Montana / Fremont County, Idaho

Closest Cities: West Yellowstone, Montana

Busy Season: June to September

Visitation: 4,020,288 (in 2019)

How much does Yellowstone National Park Cost?

Yellowstone National Park costs the following:

  • 7-day Passenger Vehicle Pass – $30
  • 7-day Motorcycle Pass – $30
  • 7-day Individual Pass – $20

An annual Yellowstone National Park Pass costs $70 but it is not recommended you buy this pass. For an extra $10 you can get an American the Beautiful Pass. This $80 pass offers free admission to all 116 fee-charging National Park Units.

A geyser erupting in Yellowstone National Park

When is Yellowstone National Park Open?

Yellowstone National Park is open year-round.

Are dogs allowed in Yellowstone National Park?

Yes, pets are welcome in YellowstoneNational Park but are limited to developed areas such as roads, parking areas, picnic areas, and campgrounds. Pets are not allowed on the trails, boardwalks, or in thermal areas in the park. Please review the Yellowstone Pet Policy before bringing your dog to Yellowstone.

Where are Yellowstone National Park’s visitor centers?

Albright Visitor Center – Open Year Round

Canyon Visitor Educational Center – Open during the summer / Lobby and Bathrooms open during winter

Fishing Bridge Visitor Center – Open during the summer / Open as warming hut during winter

Grant Visitor Center – Open during summer

Madison Information Station – Open during the summer / Open as warming hut during winter

Museum of the National Park Ranger – Open during summer

Norris Geyser Basin Museum – Open during summer

Old Faithful Visitor Education Center Open Year Round

West Thumb Information Station – – Open during the summer / Open as warming hut during winter

West Yellowstone Visitor Info Center – Open Year Round

Land Acknowledgments for Yellowstone National Park

The National Park known as Yellowstone National Park sits on Shoshone-Bannock, Apsaalooké (Crow), Eastern Shoshone, and Cheyenne land.

Thank you to the Native Land Digital for making the Indigenous territories accessible to all. They have mapped the known territories to the best of the current knowledge and is a work in progress. If you have additional information on the Indigenous nations boundaries, please let them know.

Native Land Digital is a registered Canadian not-for-profit organization with the goal to creates spaces where non-Indigenous people can be invited and challenged to learn more about the lands they inhabit, the history of those lands, and how to actively be part of a better future going forward together.

Herd of Bison walking with calves.

When was Yellowstone National Park Created?

A lot of people think that Yellowstone National Park was created by President Theodore Roosevelt. It wasn’t. It was created 43 years before Poosevelt would step foot in the White House. Yellowstone was created on March 1, 1872, by President Ulysses S. Grant. Yellowstone National Park is the world’s first official National Park.

Yellowstone was declared a Natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park, was set aside as a public pleasuring ground to share the geothermal wonders and preserve and protect the scenery, cultural heritage, wildlife, and geologic and ecological systems and processes in their natural condition, for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.

Yellowstone National Park Foundation Document

Fun Facts about Yellowstone National Park

  • The highest point in Yellowstone National Park is Eagle Peak Summit which is 11,358 feet (3,462 m) above sea level.
  • The lowest point in Yellowstone National Park is Reese Creek which is 5,282 feet (1,610 m) above sea level.
  • Yellowstone National Park is about the size of the island of Puerto Rico
  • Yellowstone by the numbers
    • 310 miles of paved roads
    • 1,000 + miles of hiking trails
    • 300+ active geysers
    • 10,000 + hydrothermal features
    • 290 waterfalls
    • 1,800 + archeological sites
  • Yellowstone Wildlife
    • 67 mammel species
    • 285 species of birds
    • 16 species of fish
    • 6 species of reptiles
    • 5 amphibians species

When to Visit Yellowstone National Park?

Yellowstone National Park Weather

A chart of Yellowstone's average daily temperatures
A chart of Yellowstone's average precipitation and snowfall

How to Get to Yellowstone National Park

There are a lot of ways to get into Yellowstone National Park. The first thing you need to do is when deciding to visit Yellowstone is to pick which entrance you are going to use. This is one park where it is worthwhile to more hotels nightly or every couple of nights depending on your activities. It can be a long drive between popular destinations in the park.

Unless you are doing a guided tour, Yellowstone isn’t doable without a vehicle.

Yellowstone Entrances

Yellowstone National Park has 5 entrances. There is at least one on each side of the park. Each entrance has a nearby city with a range of hotels and restaurants. There are airports near the South, East, and West entrances. The most popular and developed entrances are the North and the West entrances.

  • North Entrance – Gardiner, Montana
  • Northeast Entrance – Cooke City, Montana
  • South Entrance – Jackson, Wyoming
  • East Entrance – Cody, Wyoming
  • West Entrance – West Yellowstone, Montana

The North Entrance is the only entrance that is open to vehicular traffic year-round. The other entrances open on a seasonal basis. They are usually open from April to October, but this will vary based on weather conditions. From December to March, snowmobiles are allowed to enter via the other entrances. Permits are required if not on a commerical tour.

Yellowstone National Park Entrance Map

Flying to Yellowstone National Park

If you are flying to Yellowstone National Park, the closest airport is the West Yellowstone Airport (WYS). The airport is just outside of the West Entrance to the park. This is a seasonal airport that is only open from June to September.

Depending on which entrance you wish to enter, you might consider flying into the following airports.

  • Northeast Entrance – Billings Logan International Airport (BIL)
  • South Entrance – Jackson Hole Airport (JAC)
  • East Entrance – Yellowstone Airport (COD)
  • North Entrance – Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN)

If you would prefer to fly into a major airport, Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) is an option. Salt Lake is about 5 hours from the West Entrance.

Learn more about your options for flying in Yellowstone.

Driving to Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is located in a sort of square created by I-90, I-25, I-80, and I-15. I-15 and I-90 are the closest interstates but they are both still an hour away from the park entrances. Your starting location will likely dictate which entrance you use. But if you are trying to decide which entrance to use, there are a couple of VERY scenic options. If you can pick, take Highway 212 from Billings to the Northeast Entrance. This highway is known as the Beartooth Highway and it’s my favorite entrance. Another scenic option is Highway 191 from Grand Teton National Park.

Yellowstone Entrances and highways:

  • North Entrance – U.S. 89
  • Northeast Entrance – U.S. 212
  • South Entrance – U.S. 191
  • East Entrance – U.S. 20
  • West Entrance – U.S. 20 and U.S. 191

What kind of rental car do you need for Yellowstone National Park?

Any rental car you want will work in Yellowstone from late May to early October. Outside of that, you should consider getting something with 4 wheel drive as you are highly likely to encounter icy or snowy roads. Don’t fall for the rental car company scare tactics designed to get you to pay for an expensive upgrade. Yellowstone roads are in decent condition. There are some potholes here and there and if there is construction, you might get some gravel. But a sedan will work.

I book most of my rental cars through RentalCars.com. They have a great selection of rental cars from most major agencies and the best prices – check prices here.

Public Transportation to Yellowstone National Park

Sadly there is no public transportation to Yellowstone or to cities surrounding Yellowstone. The best you can do is take a Greyhound Bus to Bozeman, Montana. If you are interested in taking a train to Yellowstone, there are a few options. You can take the train to Salt Lake City, Utah. There are several companies that offer 5-day tours of Yellowstone and Grand Teton. The other option is to go to West Glacier, Montana, and rent a car (plus visit Glacier National Park)

Grand Prismatic Spring in its rainbow of colors

Where to stamp your National Parks Passport Book?

Looking for a cheap National Park souvenir? The National Park Passport Books is one of the best and cheapest souvenirs. If you have don’t have a National Park Passport Book click here to learn more about the program or click here to buy.

IMPORTANT: Do NOT stamp your government issued passport.

There are 15 official stamps in Yellowstone along with a handful of bonus stamps in the park.

Official Passport Stamps

  1. Bechler Ranger Station
  2. Canyon Visitor Center
  3. Fishing Bridge Visitor Center
  4. Grant Visitor Center
  5. Lamar Valley
  6. Madison
  7. Mammoth Visitor Center
  8. Norris Geyser Basin
  9. North Entrance
  10. Old Faithful Visitor Center
  11. Ranger Museum
  12. Snake River Ranger Station
  13. Tower Falls District
  14. West Thumb
  15. West Yellowstone Visitor Center
Bechler Ranger Station

Bechler Ranger Station is located at Forest Rd 007, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190, USA. This location is open year-round pending road conditions:

Bechler Ranger Station National Park Passport Stamp
Canyon Visitor Education Center

Canyon Visitor Education Center is located at Grand Loop Rd, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190. This location is open from the summer:

Lamar Valley and Canyon Visitor center -  National Park Passport Stamp
Fishing Bridge Visitor Center / Warming Hut

Fishing Bridge Visitor Center / Warming Hunt is located at E Entrance Rd, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190. This location is open year-round either as a Visitor Center or Warming Hut:

National Park Passport Stamp - Fishing Bridge Visitor Cetner
Grant Village Visitor Center

Grant Visitor Center is located at 1 Grand Loop Rd, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190. This location is open during the summer:

National Park Passport Stamp - Grant Visitor Center and West Thumb
Madison Junction Information Station

Madison Junction Information Station is located at U.S. 89, Yellowstone National Park, Moran, WY 83013. This location is only open during the summer

National Park Passport Stamp - Madison
Mammoth Hot Springs – Albright Visitor Center

The Albright Visitor Center is located at N Entrance Rd, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190. This location is open year-round:

National Park Passport Stamp - Mammoth Visitor Center
Museum of the National Park Ranger

Museum of the National Park Ranger is located at U.S. 89, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190. This location is only open during the summer:

National Park Passport Stamp - Ranger Museum
Norris Information Station

Norris Information Station is located at U.S. 89, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190. This location is only open during the summer.

National Park Passport Stamp - Norris Geyser Basin
North Entrance

Yellowstone Forever Visitor Information Center North Entrance is located at 300-320 U.S. 89, Gardiner, Mt 59030. This location is open year-round:

National Park Passport Stamp - North Entrance
Old Faithful Visitor Center

Old Faithful Visitor Center is located at U.S. 89, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190. This location is only open year-round.

National Park Passport Stamp - Old Faithful Visitor Center
Snake River Ranger Station

Snake River Ranger Station is located at U.S. 89, Yellowstone National Park, Moran, WY 83013. This location is only open during the summer.

National Park Passport Stamp - Snake River Ranger Station
Tower Falls District

Tower Falls District is located at 244 Tower Ranger Station Road, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190, USA. This location is only open when a ranger is present.

National Park Passport Stamp - Tower Falls District
West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center

West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center is located at 30 Yellowstone Avenue, West Yellowstone, MT 59758. This location open year-round

National Park Passport Stamp - West Yellowstone Visitor Center
West Thumb Visitor Center / Warming Hut

West Thumb Visitor Center / Warming Hut is located at Grand Loop Rd, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190. This location is open year-round either as a visitor center or warming hut:

National Park Passport Stamp - West Thumb
Yellowstone Association Institutes Lamar Buffalo Ranch

Yellowstone Association Institutes Lamar Buffalo Ranch is located at 100-102 NE Entrance Rd, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190. This location is only open upon request or for visitors to the Ranch:

National Park Passport Stamp - Larmar Valley

National Park Obsessed’s Detailed Guides to Yellowstone National Park

General Information on Visiting Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park Lodging

Itineraries for Yellowstone National Park

Best National Parks for Fall

National Parks Near Yellowstone National Park

National Park Service units within a 4 hours drive

  • Grand Teton National Park
  • John D Rockefeller Jr Memorial Parkway
  • Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
  • Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
  • Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
  • Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument
  • Golden Spike National Historic Site
  • Nez Perce National Historical Park
    • Big Hole National Battlefield
  • City of Rocks National Reserve

National Park Service units within an 8 hours drive

  • Glacier National Park
  • Wind Cave National Park
  • Devils Tower National Monument
  • Fossil Butte National Monument
  • Jewel Cave National Monument
  • Dinosaur National Monument
  • Timpanogos Cave National Monument
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Fort Laramie National Historic Site
  • Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
  • Nez Perce National Historical ParkVisitor Center
    • Bear Paw Battlefield
    • Heart of the Monster
    • Canoe Camp
    • White Bird Battlefield

Pin for Later: Visiting Yellowstone National Park: The Complete Guide

Are you planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park? Click here for the complete guide to visiting Yellowstone National Park written by a National Park Expert. 

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