Are you looking for a beautiful location to camp in the United States? How about Yellowstone National Park? Yellowstone is one of the most visited national parks in the world and offers wonderful scenery and wildlife. There are plenty of hiking trails, camping spots, and activities for all interest levels.
Yellowstone National Park spans 3,400 square miles across Wyoming, bleeding into Montana and Idaho. A mélange of mountains, meadows, lakes, canyons and rivers make it a natural wonderland for exploring and watching wildlife. Camping is, by far, the most intimate way to experience the sun casting a glow across the plains, to hear the eerie cry of a wolf echoing in the night or to breathe in the park’s fresh morning air.
Here we will cover what it takes to planning your camping trip to Yellowstone National Park!
The first thing you should do when planning your trip is check out the weather forecast. You will want to make sure that there are no thunderstorms in the days leading up to your trip. Thunderstorms in the park can be very dangerous, so it is best if you wait until around three days before the campout to plan your itinerary.
The next thing you should do is bring along an emergency kit just in case anything goes wrong during your camping trip. This kit will include flares in case the power goes out or any other emergencies. You will also want to bring along a first aid kit, matches in case the fire goes out, and some extra food.
Make sure you also pack some extra stuff in your car so that you don’t run out of food on your trip. Pack plenty of snacks for desert hikes and gourmet meals for water-based activities like fishing or boating.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit Yellowstone National Park, you’ve already missed out on one of the most powerful experiences in America. This article will go through all of the different times when it’s best to planning your camping trip to Yellowstone National Park and make an itinerary for when is best for you.
Yellowstone is a wonderland during any time of year, but there are some times that are even more special than others. Spring and summer are the two best times to visit and the following is a breakdown of exactly why:
Spring: Spring is heralded as one of the best times to visit Yellowstone because it’s winter break for most schools. It’s also an excellent time to see nature’s rebirth as all of nature’s creatures come alive after their long winter hibernation.
Summer: If spring isn’t for you, then you might want to consider going in September or October. The weather is less temperamental and the skies are brighter than they are in April and May.
Winter: The park is great during the winter, but there’s really only so much you can do. Some of the roads won’t be plowed and you may have to wait a long time to get into any of the buildings, but it’s still an experience you shouldn’t pass up.
There are many other times that you could visit Yellowstone, but spring and summer are the best.
You can buy a number of passes to gain entry to Yellowstone. $35 for a seven-day pass in a private vehicle. For those 16 years and older, it costs $20 to access the park on foot, by bicycle, or on skis. Anyone 15 and under is eligible for free admission. Consider purchasing the Yellowstone National Park Annual Pass, $70. This covers you and up to three people (16+), when traveling by snowcoach or shuttle.
There are many options for families who want to visit multiple national parks. These include the America the Beautiful passes which include fourth-grade passes, senior passes, and annual passes. This is what you need to know in order to visit America’s parks for less.
The following is a list of activities that the National Park Service (NPS) recommends you do during your visit to Yellowstone National Park. Of course, there are always many different things to do and see in any park, but we hope these activities will help you plan your trip and enjoy your stay!
1. Hike along the Yellowstone River. On the way to Artist Point, you’ll find a very good hiking trail along the Yellowstone River. It winds its way through lodgepole pine, aspen, fir and willow. Pelicans, herons and eagles are often seen fishing in pools or soaring overhead. Look for beaver dams along the riverbanks, too.
2. Watch an elk herd cross the Lamar Valley. When you drive up to Old Faithful area from Canyon Junction pull off at Artist Point for an amazing view of one of nature’s most majestic sights–elk crossing the Lamar Valley! The best time to see this wildlife spectacle is August through mid-October during peak migration season when hundreds of elk can cross within minutes.
3. See Indian pictographs and petroglyphs. Split Rock Springs is a cool place to stop and see some of the park’s fascinating prehistory. The petroglyphs are by far the most significant, as they date from the late 1800s when Native Americans used them as a sort of roadmap as they were migrating from Montana to Canada by way of Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley.
4. Look for bison near Buffalo Gateway Ranch. There are open areas in this area where you can look for bison or watch them from a distance through spotting scopes provided by the park through out the summer months including late June through September.
5. Wildlife watch from Predator Ridge Tower on the Lamar Valley . Almost 500 feet above the Yellowstone River, visitors can very closely watch a variety of birds and animals. Strapped into a chair, visitors can even see elk, bighorn sheep and coyotes from this very special observation tower.
6. Park your car at Mammoth Hot Springs and take a stroll on the boardwalk. In the last 150 years Yellowstone National Park has been visited by more than 30 million people, but none as often as those who come to enjoy the thermal springs. This is a fun place to visit whether you have been in Yellowstone Park for two hours or two days!
7. Have some real Old West fun on Boone & Crockett Ranch . This ranch offers some of the best Western fun you can get, including friendly buffalo! Enjoy the wide-open spaces of this sprawling open pastures farm. From June through August, guests can walk across the ranch on the “buffalo boardwalk”.
8. Explore Yellowstone Village at park headquarters. The village of Yellowstone Park represents more than 150 years of human history in Yellowstone National Park. Visitors can see many historic buildings and artifacts, including a replica of one of park founder, Ferdinand Hayden’s two homes in the village.
9. See Mount Washburn in wintertime . In the winter, the snow-covered Mount Washburn dominates the skyline at the north end of the park. Because of its proximity to roads and major tourist facilities, Mount Washburn offers excellent winter recreation opportunities in Yellowstone.
10. Watch a wildlife presentation at Hayden Valley . The next best thing to being there in person is seeing video footage by Ranger Roger Phillips. It’s so real it’s like you’re in the middle of it all!
11. See elk, bison and even bears up close at Lamar Buffalo Ranch . This is a really neat place to visit with your kids. Visit the interactive center with its bison and elk exhibits and then take a self-guided tour of the bison and elk corrals, where you can see buffalo up close. Then, head over to the barnyard area where you can pet the live animals!
12. See bears from a safe, yet spectacular distance from the West Thumb Geyser Basin overlook . This is an excellent place to spot grizzly bears as they come for a drink at one of Yellowstone’s hot springs.
13. Enjoy a ranger program at Mammoth Hot Springs . Ranger-led activities and programs include lectures, slide shows and campfire talks. These discussions by the park’s naturalists help you gain a better understanding and appreciation of Yellowstone National Park.
14. Watch the Discovery Channel’s hit TV show “Ranger Diaries” at the Visitor Center Theater . This high-tech theater has informational videos throughout the day. During all seasons, visitors can learn about animals in Yellowstone — their lives and how they interact with each other, as well as with people who visit the park.
15. Visit the Mammoth Visitor Center . This free facility is open daily year-round. The museum features exhibits on the geologic wonders of Yellowstone Park, its plants and animals. Rangers present informational programs throughout the day.
16. Explore Yellowstone’s diverse landscapes . Yellowstone boasts at least seven beautiful landscapes for visitors to discover. The Lamar Valley, with its old-growth forests and colorful meadows; the Bechler River Valley; Hayden Valley; Tower Fall; Fishing Bridge; West Thumb Geyser Basin (home of the West Thumb Geyser); and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (the Snake River Gorge).
17. Hike the Northern Range . The Northern Range provides an opportunity for visitors to explore some of the most spectacular scenery in Yellowstone.
18. Explore the Backcountry . The backcountry is a place of adventure, solitude and discovery. There are more than 1,500 miles of trails available for everyone from the casual day hiker to the avid backpacker.
19. Celebrate America’s birthday with a fireworks display at Lake Village . It’s always 4th of July somewhere in Yellowstone! This local celebration is held at Lake Village, about an hour’s drive north of Fishing Bridge near Tower-Roosevelt Junction, usually on July 3rd or July 4th each year during daylight hours.
20. Visit one of the park’s five visitor centers . All five visitor centers are open throughout the year to provide information about the park and its facilities.
21. Take a guided tour of Yellowstone’s historic landmarks . Ranger-led tours provide a firsthand look at historical sites that have been left untouched since the 1870s, when Yellowstone was set aside as a public park.
22. Go snowmobiling by snowcoach . Winter is a great time to take advantage of Yellowstone’s grand snowy landscape, especially by riding in style on one of these snowcoaches! The tours, which start from Old Faithful Snow Lodge, run from mid-December through late March.
23. Visit Roosevelt Lodge and enjoy a sumptuous lunch . From the observation tower, visitors can get a great view of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. The lodge is also home to two restaurants, both open throughout the year.
24. Ski in winter at Snow King Mountain . Cross-country skiing tours are offered in winter by Xanterra, the park’s concessioner. Check out Yellowstone’s longest ski run at this mountaintop facility northeast of Gardiner, Montana!
25. Explore the park on horseback . Horseback riding is permitted only in designated areas of Yellowstone National Park with special permission from Xanterra, Yellowstone’s concessioner.
26. Take a ranger-guided snowmobile tour of Yellowstone’s North Country . Ranger-guided snowmobile tours are offered in winter by Xanterra, the park’s concessioner, for visitors who are at least 16 years old.
27. Experience an evening of tradition at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge . After a long, active day of touring the park, relax with friends and family around a roaring fireplace at this historic lodge!
28. Spend the night at one of the park’s many hotels . Yellowstone has many good accommodations to choose from — some are rustic cabins or chalets, while others offer you all the comfort and amenities you’d expect to find in a good hotel.
29. Visit the new visitor center in West Yellowstone . The new visitors center is bustling with activity during the day. The center features a gift shop, bookstore and rest rooms, while art exhibitions are on display throughout the year. There are several self-guided walking trails in the area, which can be accessed from the visitor center.
30. Go on an ice fishing expedition . Ice Fishing is allowed in certain areas of Yellowstone National Park with special permission from Xanterra, Yellowstone’s concessioner. Ice fishing is conducted daily during operating season (mid-November through April).
31. Ski or snowboard at Mammoth Mountain . The Mammoth Mountain ski area is the largest in the United States and is located close to West Yellowstone, Montana. The Mammoth Mountain operations center is located in West Yellowstone, Montana. The Mammoth mountain ski area offers a variety of activities — from full day tours to half-day rentals — including skiing, snowboarding and tubing. There are also packages for beginners.
32. Go berry picking . Late spring to early summer, visitors can go berry picking in the park’s bear country to collect black chokeberries. And then enjoy a picnic lunch in a pristine setting to celebrate your success!
33. Go fishing . Fishing is allowed in parks with specific approvals from Xanterra, Yellowstone’s concessioner. Fishing is conducted by permit only and is only allowed in certain areas of Yellowstone National Park.
34. Head out to one of the park’s wilderness areas . The wilderness areas provide the opportunity for visitors to experience some of the park’s most remote and serene settings.
35. Take a tour of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone . The Grand Canyon is located within Yellowstone Park and can be accessed via road (the canyon is closed during winter).
36. Enjoy a tour by horse-drawn carriage . A horse-drawn carriage ride through Old Faithful Geyser Basin will transport you back in time. These historic carriages were once used to transport tourists through the park. The tours will take you through the Mammoth area and even out to Lake Village.
37. See the world-class art exhibits at the Yellowstone Art Museum . Located in downtown West Yellowstone, Montana, this museum features a wide variety of exhibits and artwork, including local wildlife and American Indian paintings and sculptures.
38. Take a snowcoach ride . Snowcoach tours are offered in winter by Xanterra, the park’s concessioner. Check out Yellowstone’s longest ski run at this mountaintop facility northeast of Gardiner, Montana!
39. Enjoy the Grand Circle Tour . This popular tour is sponsored by National Geographic and showcases some of North America’s most spectacular natural areas, including Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon National Park.
40. Get an inside look at Yellowstone’s Rangers at their Training Center . Located in West Yellowstone, Montana, this facility is open to the public from May through September. Visitors can get a look at the rangers during their training program and hear about their duties and responsibilities.
41. Visit one of Yellowstone’s many historic hotels . Built in 1914, the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is a National Historic Landmark. And a visit to this elegant hotel will provide you with a true feel of what life was like for early park visitors!
42. Visit the park’s remote backcountry . The remote backcountry areas provide visitors with a real wilderness experience. For those who want an overnight stay in one of these areas, there are several designated sites that have been set up for that purpose.
43. Get an up-close view of wildlife at your park’s Visitor Education Center . Visitor centers at Yellowstone National Park have been constructed specifically to provide visitors with an up-close view of our nation’s wildlife — from bison and pronghorn antelope, to elk and wolves!
44. Get a guided hike through the park . Ranger-guided hikes are offered throughout the year by Xanterra, the park’s concessioner. Check out Yellowstone’s longest ski run at this mountaintop facility northeast of Gardiner, Montana!
45. Go on a birding or photography tour . The Yellowstone bird banding program, which began in 1926, is one of the oldest such programs in North America. The program strives to understand the movements of the park’s birds. During the summer months, visitors can go on guided tours where you’ll learn about Yellowstone’s wildlife and how they are tracked and tracked.
46. See Old Faithful erupt up close . Old Faithful is one of Yellowstone National Park’s most popular attractions — and for good reason! The geyser erupts every 90 minutes or so with an impressive spray of hot water.
47. Fly in to Yellowstone Airport in West Yellowstone, Montana . It is the park’s gateway and consists of two runways that are open year-round. Visitors can fly into West Yellowstone, Montana, and then get their rental car to explore the park.
48. Enjoy one of the many ranger walks offered throughout the year . These interpretive walks are offered by Xanterra (the park’s concessioner) and include topics like native wildlife, botany or geology.
49. Explore the park’s Waterfalls . Yellowstone’s major waterfalls are located in the Norris Geyser Basin. Waterfalls in this basin include Jewel Cave, Lower Falls, Upper Falls and the Shoshone Falls.
50. Spend an evening on one of the park’s camping loops . There are many loops throughout the park; including the Mammoth area, West Yellowstone area or Gardiner area. These loops are all within Yellowstone National Park and can be found by following Park Road No. 10 or by satellite maps provided by Xanterra, Yellowstone’s concessioner.
51. Shop at a local lodge, restaurant or grocery store . Many of these establishments have been family-run businesses for over 100 years!
Here are some other resources of must-do activities in Yellowstone National Park.
With all the above ideas, you will have plenty to do when you are planning your camping trip to Yellowstone National Park.