Yellowstone National Park: Everything You Need to Plan Your Trip from Landmarks and Lodgings to Wildlife and Safety

by Jon D. B.
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From wildlife watching and successful camping to must-see sights and hikes, Outsider’s comprehensive breakdown has everything you need for a bucket-list Yellowstone National Park (YELL) excursion.

It’s been said countless times, but it’ll always be worth repeating: There’s nowhere else on Earth like Yellowstone. The world’s first national park remains its finest, and is chock-full of adventures for the taking.

Below, Outsider’s National Park Service team has you covered for the best possible trip through YELL. We even spoke to the park’s lead ranger, Tara Ross, on the best times of year to visit the park.

In Outsider’s Yellowstone Breakdown, You’ll Find:

  • How to choose the right campsite
  • Must-have camping gear for YELL
  • Outsider’s choice of scenic trails, from easiest to hardest
  • The must-see landmarks and waterfalls you can’t miss
  • The iconic wildlife and wildlife watching in the park
  • Crucial safety tips and regulations unique to Yellowstone National Park

The first crucial step in ensuring a successful camping trip to Yellowstone National Park is getting to know the park before even marking the dates on your calendar. Where you choose to set up camp in the park can greatly determine your experience, especially if you prefer complete seclusion or specific amenities. – Amy Myers

Choosing the Right Campsite at Yellowstone National Park

  • Campers: hit up Bridge Bay and Madison Campgrounds
  • Glampers: hit up Grant Village and Canyon Village Campgrounds
  • RVers: reserve your stay at Fishing Bridge

For in depth location, reservation, pricing, nearby sights, and more, check out our full Yellowstone National Park Lodging: Campgrounds, Cabins, Securing Reservations in Bridge Bay, Madison and More.

Must-Have Camping Gear for Yellowstone:

  • Wool socks
  • Mittens
  • Winter hat
  • Bug spray
  • First aid kit
  • Solar charger

First and foremost, you have to keep a close eye on the temperature. In the summer, highs can reach 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. In the spring and fall, peak temperatures tend to range from 30 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Regardless of the time of year, though, nights can be downright cold in Yellowstone. With low humidity, all of that heat from the day vanishes as soon as the sun sets. That’s why rule numero uno for packing is to bring lots of layers.

Lastly, be sure you stow these items in your pack: bug spray, first aid kit, bear spray and solar charger. You may not need any of these items, but it’s always a good idea to prepare for the worst.

As always when camping, use safe methods and keep informed of your surroundings and the risks of your situation. And remember, the best camping trips are always the ones you prepare for. – Amy Myers

Must-See Landmarks You can Hike To in Yellowstone National Park

The famous Old Faithful Geyser erupting in front of a crowd of tourists. (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Any hike that you choose in Yellowstone National Park is full of opportunities for adventure and views that will knock the breath right out of your lungs. With 900 miles of hiking trails, there’s no wrong answer when picking which path to take. But for those that are looking for the best vistas in the world’s oldest national park, there are some hikes that should definitely be highlighted on your map. – Amy Myers

Outsider’s Choice of Scenic Trails, from Easiest to Hardest:

  • Mystic Falls (easy)
  • Lone Star Geyser (easy)
  • Storm Point Nature Trail (easy)
  • Clear Lake Artist’s Loop (moderate)
  • Beaver Ponds Loop (moderate)
  • Bunsen Peak Trail (strenuous)
  • Avalanche Peak (strenuous)

Visiting Yellowstone National Park without seeing Old Faithful feels amiss, too. Located in the park’s Upper Geyser Basin, this literal hotspot attracts visitors from all over the country to see its epic eruption. Old Faithful’s eruptions can vary from 100 to 180 feet, lasting up to five minutes. If you’ve never seen a geyser before, this can be an extraordinary experience. But with the famed name comes huge crowds, making it hard to get a good seat to the show during the park’s busy season.

In addition, Yellowstone’s waterfalls are some of the most breathtaking on the planet. If you’re spending a few days in the park – or even wanting to mark a single sight to see, Outsider recommends:

Upper & Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River

The Upper and Lower Yellowstone River Falls are found right off the main highway between North Rim Drive and South Rim Drive in the Canyon Area. To see the Brink of the Upper Falls (a remarkable 109-foot drop into the storied Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone) is life-changing.

Upper Falls is often less crowded than the equally-breathtaking Lower Falls, so it may be best to plan a trip to Upper first. Lower Falls is the most famous in the park, however. At a staggering 308-feet, it’s one of the most impressive waterfalls on the planet. Lower has viewing platforms, but they’re nearly always packed to the gills.

Your best bet for waterfall watching in YELL is entering through the West Yellowstone entrance. Hitting the park as early in the day as possible is the best way to avoid crowds at popular falls.

Tower Fall

Just as iconic is Yellowstone’s Tower Fall and surrounding geological towers. Thankfully, this vista is also easy to access; it’s roadside between Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon Village. Travel three miles south of the Roosevelt Junction and voila!

There, you’ll witness the dramatic geology surrounding an pulse-pounding 132-foot waterfall. Plan to arrive to this Yellowstone River waterfall early, too, to beat crowds.

Gibbon Falls

For a more flowing, cascading falls, hit up the gorgeous Gibbon Falls off the road between Madison and Norris Junctions.

Gibbon is also easily accessible from the West Yellowstone entrance. The surrounding cliffs and pines add to its serene beauty as the falls drop 84-feet into crystal clear water, and a short hike through the woods takes you right to the basin.

Iconic Wildlife and Wildlife Watching in Yellowstone

America Bison (Bison bison) in Yellowstone National Park, USA. (Photo by: Nano Calvo/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

In the world’s first national park, it’s all about mammalian megafauna. In fact, Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states. The park’s prehistoric bison herds are legendary, and many other fascinating species call the vast park home. From the abundant, roaming elk to top predators like grey wolves and grizzly bears, Yellowstone National Park truly is a wildlife watcher’s dream.

Best Spots to See Yellowstone National Park’s Iconic Wildlife

  • Fishing Bridge: Grizzly bears
  • Hayden Valley: Bison, black bears, elk, grizzly bears, wolves
  • Lamar Valley: Bison, black bears, bighorn sheep, elk, grizzly bears, mule deer, pronghorn, wolves
  • Mammoth Hot Springs: Bison, black bears, elk, mule deer
  • Madison: Bison, elk
  • North Entrance: Bighorn sheep, bison, elk, pronghorn
  • Northeast Entrance: Moose
  • Old Faithful: Bison, elk
  • South Entrance: Moose
  • West Thumb: Elk, moose

*As the park cites, “Animals migrate in and out of Yellowstone in response to the availability of food, so what can be seen at any given location will vary greatly with season, weather, and other factors.”

For our extensive breakdown of wildlife and wildlife watching in Yellowstone, see our Yellowstone National Park Wildlife: Animals You’ll Spot, Where to Best View Bison, Bears, Elk, Wolves, and Wildlife Safety.

In Yellowstone National Park, Safety is Paramount

To help fellow Outsiders enjoy and explore our beloved first national park safely, we’ve gathered Yellowstone safety information – straight from the park – and condensed it into our Yellowstone National Park Safety: Best Practices to Safely Explore the First National Park.

But for a quick overview, see these Six Key YELL Safety Tips:

  • Give yourself time to adjust to high elevation: Most of the park lies more than a mile above sea level, so give yourself time to adjust to the elevation before engaging in any strenuous activity.
  • Never approach or feed wildlife: The animals in Yellowstone are wild and unpredictable, no matter how calm they appear to be. The safest (and often best) view of wildlife is from inside a car. Always stay at least 100 yards (91 m) away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards (23 m) away from all other animals, including bison and elk.
  • Stay on boardwalks and trails in thermal areas: Hot springs have injured or killed more people in Yellowstone than any other natural feature. Keep your children close and don’t let them run.
  • Use extreme caution with all bodies of water: More than 100 people have died in Yellowstone’s lakes and rivers. Cold water makes hypothermia a year-round risk, and spring snow melt makes rivers dangerous to cross. Read more hypothermia and stream crossings on our backcountry safety page.
  • Never park in the road or block traffic: Use pullouts to watch wildlife and let other cars pass. Stay with your vehicle if you encounter a wildlife jam.
  • Beware of dead trees: Wildfires have left thousands of standing dead trees that can fall with little or no warning. In 2015, a falling tree killed someone on a hill near the Midway Geyser Basin. Avoid areas with large numbers of dead trees, and watch for dead trees along trails and roads, or in campsites and picnic areas.

Be sure to tag us at Outsider with all your Yellowstone National Park photos and posts. Stay safe out West, Outsiders, and happy trails!

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