How can tourists take the best Yellowstone vacation when it is such a huge place? It takes a lot of planning, so here are some important things to consider while planning a trip to this famous national park.
How Big is Yellowstone?
As previously stated, Yellowstone National Park is massive. It is over 2.2 million acres, which is about 3,472 square miles. Thus, you cannot expect to visit the park in one day and see everything that needs to be seen.
Which Entrance to Take?
There are multiple entrances, so where to start is the first thing you should decide upon. Following is a summary of the highlights at each entrance.
This entrance is by far the most popular entrance, because it is closest to Old Faithful.
However, Old Faithful is not the only Geyser in this part of the park. Head north and you will find Norris Geyser Basin.
Head south and you will find the Lower and Upper Geyser Basins.
So, what is a geyser basin? It is an area with a lot of geysers, which are hot springs where water intermittently boils that send a tall column of water and steam into the air. The areas are referred to as basins because they are nearly always lower than the surrounding terrain, due to erosion, faults, and the underlying hot water.
Norris Geyser Basin is the park’s oldest and hottest thermal area with two walkable zones. The area is Yellowstone National Park’s hottest and most volatile thermal area. Steamboat Geyser can be visited here, but only from afar—it is the world’s tallest geyser and sprays water to 300-plus feet.
If you decide to head south, you will find yourself in the Lower Geyser Basin, which includes Fountain Paint Pot, Firehole Lake Drive area and the Great Fountain Geyser. As you continue to head south, you absolutely must stop at the Midway Geyser Basin. It is home to the Grand Prismatic Spring, which has resident bacteria that creates rainbow-like rings in the spring.
It is easy to see why the West Entrance is the most popular entrance. This astounding work of nature must be witnessed on your Yellowstone vacation.
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This is the entrance to use if you are also staying in Jackson, Wyoming during your Yellowstone vacation. Staying in Jackson gives you easy access to another National Park. See more about Grand Teton National Park below as well. After driving through the South Entrance, there is a long stretch of about 20 miles without any turn-offs. You’ll make your way to West Thumb Geyser Basin.
You can continue west toward the fascinating geothermal activity of Upper, Lower and Norris Geyser Basins, or keep heading north along the shore of Yellowstone Lake. The shorelines of the lake are dotted with geothermal activity.
This entrance is actually the furthest entrance from a town. While this entrance is closest to Yellowstone Lake, it actually does not skirt as much shoreline as the South Entrance.
The main reason to use this entrance on your Yellowstone vacation is its proximity to Cody, Wyoming. While the East Entrance is over 50 miles from Cody, it is still your closest entrance.
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The Northern Entrance is the most isolated entrance, but it is also the easiest way to access the Lamar Valley. Fewer people mean more opportunities to spot Yellowstone’s animals, such as grizzly bears, black bears, bison and elk.
The North Entrance is also an option for accessing the Lamar Valley, but is less isolated. It is actually right next to Gardiner, Montana, which is worth a visit during your Yellowstone vacation. It is also very close to Mammoth Springs.
Mammoth Springs is different from other thermal areas within the park. Limestone is a relatively soft type of rock, which has allowed the travertine formations to grow much faster.
When to Plan Your Yellowstone Vacation?
Now that you have an idea of what you might want to see on your Yellowstone vacation, now it is time to decide when you want to visit. Every season has something special to offer at Yellowstone, so we will summarize what that special thing is about each season.
This is not the typical springtime that you are used to. There is likely still snow on the ground, and it is actually called the mud season as the snow starts to melt. However, there are not many tourists, so that is definitely a perk about traveling in Spring.
This is the most beautiful time for a Yellowstone vacation, but it is also the most crowded, with over 3 million tourists!
The changing leaves against the backdrop of Yellowstone will be inspiring for almost anyone. Coupled with the fact that there are far fewer tourists during this time, this may be the best time to visit. Just be sure to check for road closures if you attempt to go starting in about November.
It may sound a little crazy to consider planning a Yellowstone vacation in winter, but it is actually lovely. Not only will you be treated to the winter wonderland sights, but Yellowstone is a playground for winter activities such as cross-country skiing, ice-climbing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and exploring the ski and snow vehicle trails.
What Else Can You Do Around Yellowstone?
To ensure you are planning the best Yellowstone vacation for your family, make sure to spend some time outside of the park. To make your trip truly epic, add one or more of these activities.
There are so many nature experiences that can be added to your trip, if you add a day or two in Gardiner by the North Entrance. Imagine a dogsled trek during the snowy months or white water rafting in summer.
Cody, Wyoming is the home of Buffalo Bill Cody, the legendary cowboy, who was famous for hunting and killing over 4,000 buffalo. He ingrained himself into history with his traveling Wild West show. Now, Cody plays the part as the quintessential Western town where visitors can ride horses, rope cattle, sit around a campfire and stay at a genuine guest ranch.
Grand Teton National Park
The gorgeous mountain range serves as the namesake of this National Park Mountains that led to the creation of Grand Teton National Park, where you can explore over two hundred miles of trails, float the Snake River, and enjoy the serenity of this remarkable place. This park is less than 20 minutes from Jackson, Wyoming and about 30 miles from Yellowstone.
A dude ranch is a cattle ranch in the Western United States that has been converted to a vacation resort for tourists. Visiting a dude ranch is the quintessential frontier experience, so it is the perfect Yellowstone vacation addition. There are so many options in the area, from bare-bones to ultra-luxe.
There is nowhere better to experience the great outdoors, so stop waiting and begin planning your Yellowstone vacation today.
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