Yellowstone National Park is one of our planet’s most fascinating natural areas. The world’s oldest national park, founded on March 1, 1872, is made up of over 2.2 million acres of wonder. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has endless opportunities for recreational activities.
We spent a mere three days in Yellowstone. All of us agreed that we could have spent many many more and it still wouldn’t have been enough. We were able to see the main highlights in the park but I would have preferred a few extra days to stop and see more along the highways throughout the park and do some more hiking.
Yellowstone has five entrances. I entered the park at the East Entrance from Cody and exited at the South Entrance on my way to Grand Teton National Park. The park entrance fee for a private vehicle as of May 2016 is US$30 for a seven day pass. A combination pass for both Yellowstone and Grand Teton can be purchased for US$50. If you have an interagency pass, park entrance is free.
There are several visitor centers and a few museums throughout the park. I didn’t have a chance to stop at more than a few of them but they’re listed on the map below.
For accommodation, there are several options available. My advice is to book early for the high season. Some of the employees we spoke to said that campgrounds and lodges sometimes sell out months in advance. We were able to get a campground reservation a week in advance for the middle of September but some of the popular lodges were fully booked through the end of the season.
Near the lodges and campground, you’ll be able to find all kinds of amenities including restaurants, souvenir shops, grocery stores, gas stations, auto repair shops, and more. The auto repair shop at Grant Village was able to remove a hunk of metal from another car that was attached to the bottom of my car. We showed up just a few minutes after closing and the mechanic didn’t charge us. It was a very nice gesture and it saved us a lot of time and hassle.
Nine lodges operate throughout the park with over 2,000 rooms available. Two of these lodges are open for the winter season (Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge). You’ll find restaurants, cafeterias, and fast food stands at the lodges with a nice variety of food. There are also 12 campgrounds. Five of them are reservation campgrounds and seven are first-come first-served. All of the lodges and campgrounds are listed on the map below.
We stayed at Grant Village Campground, one of the larger campgrounds in the park with 430 spots. We wanted to be centrally located and two showers per night were included in the price. The price was US$28 a night. Bear boxes were provided and rangers suggested we use them or keep everything in the car. Our spot was exposed and very windy but was spacious and near the bathrooms. We did return on two nights to a collapsed tent but there weren’t any leaks on the day it rained heavily.
In Grant Village, there were two restaurants we ate at when the weather wasn’t cooperating for our camp cookouts. Grant Village Restaurant and Grant Village Lakehouse Restaurant both provided very good meals at reasonable prices. We needed reservations for the Grant Village Restaurant while the Lakehouse was on a walk-in basis. I had a steak and salad at Grant Village Restaurant and did a build-your-own pasta bowl at the Lakehouse Restaurant. We had breakfast at the Grant Village General Store on the morning we left.
Park rangers take bear safety very seriously. We were unlucky and didn’t see any bears, but we heard from a few visitors there was an incident where a crowd gathered and rangers had to get physical with people to move them back to a safe distance. One man tried to get closer to the bear for photos and got into a fistfight with a ranger. Anyway, bear spray is sold at all the stores in the park and is recommended for hikes.
Many other potentially dangerous animals live in the park other than bears, including bison and elk. It’s best to keep a safe distance from these animals as well. A few geniuses got out of their car to take selfies with bison along the road. Not smart.
Fishing, back country hiking and camping, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, boating and other activities are available. Check the official website for more information on these activities and a schedule of ranger guided programs.