Yellowstone National Park Travel Guide 2024

Yellowstone National Park Travel Guide 2024


Yellowstone National Park Introduction

Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is located at the junction of the three states of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho in the United States. The park covers a total area of 2.2 million acres (approximately 890,000 hectares) and was listed as one of the first World Natural Heritage Sites in 1978.
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Most of Yellowstone National Park is a plateau with an average elevation of over 2,000 meters, surrounded by even higher mountains.

The landscape of Yellowstone can be said to be carved by fire and ice. Volcanic eruptions over millions of years have formed a huge caldera in the center of Yellowstone. After the massive eruptions ceased for a long time, the caldera gradually filled in, and glacial movement further endowed it with its magnificent topography.

The famous "Grand Prismatic" hot spring in Yellowstone National Park is the largest hot spring in the United States and the third largest in the world. It is known as the "most beautiful feature on the earth." Its most outstanding feature is its color variation: from blue to green, yellow to orange. Due to the rich mineral content in the hot spring water, colorful bacteria and microbial colonies can thrive at the water's edge, thus displaying these colors.

When you walk on the boardwalk of the "Grand Prismatic" hot spring, the mist from the magical hot spring lingers around you, and the colorful hues are scattered across the vast land, you will always feel like you are in a fairyland.

Park Regional Division

The natural landscape of Yellowstone National Park is divided into five major areas: the Mammoth area, the Roosevelt area, the Canyon area, the Geyser area, and the Lake area. Each of these five scenic areas has its unique features, but they all share one common characteristic—geothermal wonders. There are 3,000 hot springs within Yellowstone National Park, including 300 geysers. Many of them propel water more than 100 feet into the air. The "Lion Group Fountain" consists of four geysers, producing a lion's roar-like sound before shooting water columns into the air; the "Sapphire Geyser" boasts clear blue water; the most famous, "Old Faithful Geyser," is so named because of its reliable eruptions. For over 100 years since its discovery, it has erupted every 33 to 93 minutes, each eruption lasting four to five minutes, with the water column reaching over 40 meters high, never failing. The park features over 500 miles of roads and more than 1,000 miles of trails, with Yellowstone Lake, Shoshone Lake, Snake River, and Yellowstone River interspersed throughout. It is bordered by the Custer, Shoshone, Teton, Absaroka, Beartooth, and Gallatin National Forests. The primeval landscape of Yellowstone, sculpted by water and fire, is hailed as "the most spectacular and magnificent scenery on the face of the earth," described as "beyond the reach of human artistry."

Park Admission Information

The north gate of Yellowstone Park is open year-round, while the other four gates have varying opening times each year, depending on the weather.
The optimal time to visit Yellowstone Park is from May to September annually.
From May to June, when the park first opens, there are fewer visitors, which allows for more intimate encounters with the wildlife.
During July and August, the tourist season is at its peak, making it an ideal time for hiking, boating, and other activities, albeit more crowded.
From September to October, the weather cools down, and the park's attractions begin to close gradually.
After October, the park transitions into the winter season, and many facilities shut down. If there is heavy snowfall, visitors are limited to touring by snowcoach.

Park Entrance and Opening Times

Park Entrance Information

Yellowstone Park features five entrances—North, Northeast, East, South, and West. The North Entrance is located in Gardiner, Montana; the Northeast Entrance is near Cooke City, Montana; the East Entrance is close to Cody, Wyoming; the South Entrance is adjacent to Grand Teton National Park; and the West Entrance is in West Yellowstone, Montana.

Opening Times

North Entrance: Open year-round for vehicles.
Northeast Entrance: Opens on May 25, weather permitting.
East Entrance: Operational from the first Friday of May until the first Sunday in November.
West Entrance: Available from the third Friday in April until the first Sunday in November.
South Entrance: Accessible from the second Friday in May until the first Sunday in November.

Getting to Yellowstone

Various airports are in proximity to Yellowstone Park:

Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) is the closest major airport, offering extensive flights and car rental convenience. It's located 373 miles (about 600 kilometers) from Yellowstone Park.

Other smaller airports nearer to Yellowstone provide car rental and lodging services, though flights may be pricier compared to Salt Lake City:

Nearest to the West Entrance: Yellowstone Airport (WYS) is the closest airport to the park, situated 2 miles north of West Yellowstone, operational from June to September. It offers daily flights from Denver and Salt Lake City. Taxi service is the only direct transportation to the park from this airport. The drive from Salt Lake City to the park's South Entrance via I-15 takes approximately 5 hours; driving west from Cody to the East Entrance via I-20 takes about 3 hours.

Nearest to the North Entrance: Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN), also known as Gallatin Field Airport, is in Bozeman, Montana, about a 90-minute drive to the North Entrance and operates year-round.

Nearest to the Northeast Entrance: Billings Logan International Airport (BIL) is 120 miles from the Northeast Entrance, accessible via the Beartooth Highway, and is open year-round.

Nearest to the East Entrance: Yellowstone Regional Airport (COD) is located roughly 60 miles east of Yellowstone in Cody, available throughout the year.

Nearest to the South Entrance and Grand Teton: Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) is 60 miles from the South Entrance and operates year-round.

Idaho Falls Regional Airport (IDA) is situated 110 miles southwest of Yellowstone and is open year-round.

Park Transportation Conditions

Tour Routes: Yellowstone's layout resembles a figure-eight, allowing travel in a '3' or reverse '3' pattern to minimize retracing steps. If entering from the South Entrance, consider the following itinerary:

D1: Entering from the South Entrance, proceed northward to explore Yellowstone Lake area, the lower right segment of the figure-eight. Visit West Thumb and its vibrant geyser basin boardwalk, admiring the geysers' colors and the surrounding scenery and wildlife. Opt for in-park lodging in spring and summer or, if post-autumn, exit through the East Entrance for accommodations in Cody, about an hour away.

D2: From the East Entrance, move north to explore the figure-eight's upper right section. Key stops include Fishing Bridge, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and a descent to the boardwalk for canyon and falls views. Continue to Mammoth Hot Springs; opt for lodging there, in a nearby town via the North Entrance, or in West Yellowstone through the West Entrance. Passing Norris and Madison offers camping and geyser sightseeing opportunities.

D3: Starting at the West Entrance or a campground, traverse the figure-eight's left loop, southbound. Highlight stops include "Old Faithful Geyser" and "Grand Prismatic." Conclude the tour by exiting through the South Entrance.

Viewing Animals

Yellowstone Park is world-renowned for its numerous hot springs, geysers, stunning mountains, rocks, canyons, rivers, and a wide variety of wildlife. It is a hotbed of geothermal activity, home to over ten thousand hydrothermal features; the Rocky Mountains have created countless beautiful peaks, rivers, waterfalls, and canyons, and the limestone composition adds a splendid array of colors to the terrain. The abundant wildlife breathes incessant life into the park, making it home to Wyoming's herds and one of the largest and most diverse mammalian habitats in North America and the world.

Bison

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The bison, unique to North America, is the continent's largest mammal, growing up to 2 meters tall and weighing up to 907 kilograms. They are herbivores, covered with shaggy dark brown fur, providing protection against the harsh winter. Bison mate in summer and give birth to red calves in spring. While these large mammals may appear calm and gentle to visitors, they are among the most dangerous wildlife. The National Park Service advises that bison can run three times faster than humans and are known to charge at people, lift them, or gore them with their horns when threatened. Visitors must keep a distance of 23 meters from bison, as their behavior is unpredictable; approaching or touching them is prohibited.

Grizzly Bears

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There are an estimated 1,200 grizzly bears in the United States, with about 800 residing in Yellowstone Park. Adult grizzlies can weigh up to 350 kilograms and are aggressive. The park advises visitors to avoid attacks by standing still if they encounter a grizzly. If you come face to face with a bear, face it and step back slowly, never turn your back on it, and always carry bear spray, which can be lifesaving in critical situations.

Recommended Attractions

Mammoth Hot Springs Terrace

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Known as the lava "terraces"—the Palette Spring, the largest known carbonate-depositing spring explored in the world. Its water, originating from the Norris Geyser Basin, is extremely hot, causing algae in the spring to color it brown, orange, red, and green, creating a magnificent, multicolored grand staircase, an unforgettable and grandiose sight.

Grand Prismatic Spring

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Located in the western part of Yellowstone National Park, Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in the United States and the third largest in the world, discovered by geologists in 1871 and named for its striking colors. The high water temperature, up to 86°C, and biochemical reactions result in a spectrum of colors radiating from the center, with a diameter of 115 meters. To fully appreciate the grandeur of the spring, visitors can take the Fairy Fall Trail to a hill southwest of the spring. The best time to visit is from June to September, preferably avoiding cloudy days with high humidity.

Old Faithful

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Old Faithful is one of the most famous sights in Yellowstone Park, known for its reliability unlike other unpredictable geysers. It erupts every few dozen minutes, never disappointing visitors. Old Faithful's faithfulness has won the hearts of people worldwide. It erupts every 56 minutes, lasting about 4 minutes, with the most spectacular displays in the first 20 seconds, ejecting about 10,000 gallons of hot water up to 40-50 meters high, at a temperature of 93°C. Whether in winter or summer, Old Faithful erupts in a regular pattern, earning its esteemed name.

Yellowstone Lake

The largest freshwater lake in Yellowstone Park, at an elevation of over 2,300 meters, covering 352 square kilometers, with a maximum depth of 118 meters. Its only outlet is the Yellowstone River, the center of the Yellowstone volcanic caldera, with the park's land covered by volcanic rock and magma erupted from here. The lake is a habitat for rare birds like trumpeter swans and Canadian geese and a prime spot for trout fishing.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

Located on the southern side of the park, the basin has a variety of hot springs, enveloped in steam and mist. Walking along the boardwalk, visitors can reach the shores of Yellowstone Lake, a common area for wildlife such as bison, deer, and bears. The Fishing Cone is one of the most famous features, where early fishermen used to cook their catch directly in the hot spring. From the shores of Yellowstone Lake, one can admire the spectacular views of West Thumb and the Absaroka Mountains. The area is shrouded in mist year-round due to its unique geology, creating a fairy-tale-like atmosphere. In spring, trout spawn here, attracting bears; elk and newborn calves are often seen in May and June; in winter, pine martens and river otters may be spotted emerging from ice holes.

The Yellowstone Grand Canyon

The canyon houses "the only river in the U.S. not blocked by a dam." Located in the middle of the park's figure-eight, the road into the canyon is one-way, leading directly to Canyon Village. The canyon is 360 meters deep, with walls long eroded by river water, presenting a colorful and unique landscape in shades of yellow, orange, brown, and red, hence the name "Yellowstone." On clear days, a rainbow may span across the canyon.

Tower Fall

Twice the height of Niagara Falls, the best viewpoint is Lookout Point, while Artist Point offers another classic view of the canyon and lower falls.

Self-Guided Tour Tips

What to Wear?

July and August are the warmest months in Yellowstone Park, but the temperature varies significantly between day and night. Light clothing is suitable during the day, but long-sleeve jackets are needed for mornings and evenings. May and October are colder, with average highs around 10°C and possible snowfall, requiring sweaters and heavy jackets, though you can wear less during the intense midday sun. Due to the high altitude and significant temperature fluctuations, which can range from 5°C to 30°C, dropping near zero at night but quickly rising when the sun appears, choose easy-to-dry clothing, primarily sneakers and sandals, and bring a hat, disposable raincoat, and sunglasses. A slightly thicker jacket or warm vest is recommended, along with lip balm and lotion due to the dry climate.

Essential Items for the Trip

Given the large diurnal temperature variation and strong sunlight during the day, sunscreen is essential; being in the wilderness, insect repellent is also necessary. A light jacket can protect against sunburn or sudden temperature drops. To observe wildlife more clearly, bring binoculars.

Smoking

Smoking is not permitted indoors in the U.S., including hotel rooms, unless you specifically book a smoking room. Smoking is generally allowed outdoors, but it is prohibited at lodging locations within the park.

Communication

Renting a Wi-Fi device is advisable, as phone signal is almost nonexistent in the mountains. Note that there is virtually no mobile signal or internet in Yellowstone, except in a few cafés. Payphones within the park are available but expensive, so renting a Wi-Fi device is a reliable option.

Safety Tips

While the park is generally safe, maintain a safe distance when photographing wildlife, refraining from disturbing their natural activities or endangering yourself.


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