Photo Courtesy of Kevin Vance
Mother Nature took her time when she went to work on Yellowstone, America's most dramatic natural playground. Upper Geyser Basin contains at least 150 gushers, including Old Faithful, while the park's canyon country is host to hundreds of hiking trails that lead to one grand overlook after the other…, including inspiring Artist Point and the wonder called the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Yellowstone's myriad sights and activities are ideal for both thrill seekers and families (or thrill-seeking families).
What to know before you go to Yellowstone National Park
A visit to Yellowstone can be considered a success if it elicits romantic visions of backcountry expeditions in the spirit of Western legends like Jim Bridger and Teddy Roosevelt. By embracing Yellowstone, you're opening yourself up to the essential American frontier experience, for which there is neither substitute nor rival. Yellowstone is home to continental America's largest collection of mega-fauna, half of the planet's geothermal hotspots, and nearly 2,000 species of plants, and Yellowstone Caldera is one of the world's largest super volcanos, a snarling beast that never ceases to spew lava, rock, and steam onto the earth's surface. Yellowstone is nothing short of America the Beautiful.
Experiencing the grandeur of Yellowstone on a leisurely summer walk is one of the park's biggest draws. Major highlights, such as Grand Prismatic Spring, Old Faithful, and Yellowstone Falls are all a short stroll from the nearest parking lot, making this park family-friendly. Opportunities abound for more intrepid adventurers, too. Kayak Yellowstone Lake under the eyes of the mighty Absaroka Range, hike more than 1,100 miles of wild backcountry, test your endurance on a bicycle tour from Mammoth to the West Yellowstone entrance, or cast a fishing line into some of the most beautiful waters on earth.
Yellowstone comes alive in the winter. The park is at its most primal under a blanket of snow; geyser basins steam, bison crash through the powder and ice on an unending search for sustenance, mountaintops shimmer under frosted caps, and thrilling adventure is all but guaranteed. Sleigh rides provide tremendous family fun, cross-country skiing opens up the desolate backcountry, snowmobile and snowcoach expeditions provide entry to the furthest recesses of the park, and a warm meal, a roaring fire, and good company wait for you inside a cozy snow lodge. Yellowstone receives more than three million visitors per year, but only 100,000 come during the winter, which means you're likely to have a big chunk of the park to yourself.
No one comes to Yellowstone for the food, but that doesn't mean you'll be stuck solely with campfire grub. Much of what, where, and how you'll eat in the park is determined by geography: you'll often find yourself hours from the closest restaurant, though a few solid dining options are available. Lake Yellowstone Hotel is home to the best restaurant in the park, and serves local fare like elk chili, bison burgers, and fresh-caught trout. Stock up on snacks and water at the Old Faithful Lodge and Canyon Lodge dining rooms, or settle in for a hot meal at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel or Roosevelt Lodge, both of which do rustic fare with an upmarket twist. The atmosphere at the Old Faithful Inn Restaurant is worth the price of the meal itself.
Warm summer months and long weekends draw the biggest crowds, while spring is the best time to spot wildlife. Although the park is hardest to access in winter, it can be the most rewarding time to go. Yellowstone has five entrances, four of which are closed to wheeled vehicles during winter months (early November to late April). The park is quite far from any major airport but a few hours' drive from several small airports. Hotels, restaurants, gas, groceries, and souvenirs are all available inside the park. Some facilities and campgrounds are closed seasonally, and campsites in popular spots fill up quickly.
read before you go
Megan Ahrens led a wholesome, corn-fed life in Nebraska until, in her early 20s, she was let loose on the noodle bowls of Asia. It was while living in Korea that Megan developed a love for travel, photography, and unique food. Her favorite cuisine comes from Northern India, she loves the glaciers and icebergs of Iceland, and she'll always have a soft spot for the pomp and circumstance of South Korea. When not on the road, Megan is often hiding out at a remote cabin in Wyoming's Big Horn Mountains.