Let’s face it: Yellowstone is probably on 75% of people’s bucket lists, right? It’s one of the most iconic National Parks in America and for good reason. The geyser basins aren’t something you see every day! Neither are herds of bison and the occasional grizzly bear. Well, that might be a daily sight for some people, but not for most of us. However, because Yellowstone is on most people’s bucket lists, it can also be very crowded. Having had the luxury of visiting once already, here are a few tips on traveling to Yellowstone National Park and not losing your mind.
Timing. If your kids are out of school, go now. Right now. It’s still early season, so it’s not as crowded now as it will be in July. If you can wait until fall, that’s another great time to go, as is winter, believe it or not. However, I know that most of you will need to travel there during the summer. If that’s the case, then plan ahead, especially when it comes to camping.
Camping. The NPS has a neat website that shows you live (as live as they can be) updates of which campgrounds are full, which ones are open, what amenities each has, etc. It’s still early season there so not all the campgrounds are open, but a few are. Five of the campgrounds at Yellowstone take reservations. I highly recommend making reservations if you can.
If you’re going to try to go without making a reservation (not recommended, but it can be done) then you can take one of two approaches: aim for the first-come first-served campground with the most sites and get there early in the day (Norris has 111 sites, but it’s currently closed due to some water leaks. You can also try aiming for lesser known campgrounds like Tower Falls. Tower Falls isn’t recommended if you have anything over 30′ however, because there is a hairpin curve on the way in. So in the end, the best thing I can tell you about camping in Yellowstone is to MAKE A RESERVATION. One last bit of camping info from the aforementioned website: “Fishing Bridge RV Park is the only campground offering water, sewer, and electrical hookups (50 amp service): it is for hard-sided vehicles only (no tents or tent-trailers).”
Get off the beaten path. I know that the idea of running into a grizzly bear may make you want to stay at the overlooks surrounded by 100 of your closest friends, but trust me on this one. You don’t have to go far to find yourself having a totally different Yellowstone experience. There are numerous not very strenuous day hikes to be found at Yellowstone and it seems like the majority of people don’t hike.
We were there just after July 4th and we hiked a trail from the Lower to the Upper Yellowstone Falls overlooks. We parked at one, hiked to the other, and back again. The parking lots and overlooks for both falls were packed with people. The trail? We had it to ourselves! We ran into a handful of people the entire time, and we probably hiked for an hour or more. It’s amazing how your experience at Yellowstone can change once you step away from an overlook.
- Our favorite trail was the Storm Point trail which runs alongside Yellowstone Lake. It’s gorgeous and you’ll feel like you’ve wandered into some other land. It’s got a rocky shoreline, beautiful wildflowers, and it is just truly a picturesque spot. The hike back through the woods at the end can be a little unnerving; just make sure to talk loudly and carry your bear spray.
- The boardwalk walk around Norris Geyser Basin is another neat one. It’s not very long, but again, as soon you step away from the designated “overlook” you’ll lose 85% of the crowd. Plus it’s quite fun to walk on a boardwalk over ground that is crackling and steaming.
Don’t miss the iconic stuff! Do take a drive around to look for bison and other animals. Do make sure to get over the Old Faithful once to see it blow. You don’t want to miss that!
Safety. Be prepared. Your trip will be a lot more enjoyable for all involved if you’re prepared before you begin traveling to Yellowstone. Know how to get to the campground; have some plans for hikes, boating, bike rides, etc. Know about any road closures, trail closures, new rules or regulations prior to getting to the park. All of this will make your trip more enjoyable for you and your family.