Yellowstone National Park: The Complete Guide

Written by August Buck
Updated: November 23, 2022
© jack-sooksan/Shutterstock.com
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Nearly 3,500 square miles in size, Yellowstone National Park is known as the first National Park in the world. Not only is it home to a variety of animal species and wildlife, but it also holds some of the most beautiful and unique natural wonders ever known to man. If you are planning an upcoming visit to Yellowstone National Park, you’re in the right place!

In this article, we will give you an overview of Yellowstone, including what months it is open and some of the best times of year to visit. We will also go over all of the popular activities that there are for you to participate in during your visit, especially recreational ones. Finally, we will give you a list of things that are considered “must see” natural wonders, as well as where you can see wildlife in their natural habitat. Let’s get started now! 

Yellowstone National Park
The most popular months to visit Yellowstone are July and August, as the entire park is open and the weather is mild.

©Lorcel/Shutterstock.com

Yellowstone National ParkFacts
Months OpenYear round, though some locations, particularly campgrounds, experience seasonal closures
Popular ActivitiesHiking, geyser viewing, wildlife viewing, snow activities, kayaking, bicycling, horseback riding, interpretive tours, visitors centers, driving
Common WildlifeBison, elk, deer, bears, wolves, birds, fish, rabbits, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, weasels, beavers, foxes
Must SeesOld Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, Lower Falls, Grand Prismatic Spring, Lamar Valley, Geyser Basins, Yellowstone Lake
Where to StayCanyon Lodge & Cabins, Mammoth Hot Springs Inn & Cabins, Old Faithful Inn, Grant Village Lodge, Lake Hotel & Lodge, camping in the park
Things to KnowThe park is entirely open and accessible by personal vehicle during the months of June-October; one road remains open during the winter season

When Should I Visit Yellowstone National Park?

Yellowstone National Park
Many people recommend visiting Yellowstone during the months of June, September, and October, as these months also offer you full access to the park in your personal vehicle, with fewer crowds.

©Lillac/Shutterstock.com

Depending on what you want to do in Yellowstone National Park, there are a number of different times that are ideal to visit. The most popular months to visit Yellowstone are July and August, as the entire park is open and the weather is mild. However, this means that you will be surrounded by people, which doesn’t always align with everyone’s idea of reconnecting with nature. 

Many people recommend visiting Yellowstone during the months of June, September, and October, as these months also offer you full access to the park in your personal vehicle, with fewer crowds. If you are still hoping to encounter fewer tourists, you are also more than welcome to visit during the months of May and November, though the weather is more fickle during this time of year. 

But What About Yellowstone in the Winter?

You can still visit Yellowstone National Park during the winter months of December through March, though you should anticipate a very different experience. Only the northernmost and North Eastern entrance will be open to guests during this time of year, and only one road is accessible in a traditional car or vehicle. 

However, there’s still plenty to do in Yellowstone during the winter months, and Yellowstone National Park offers many over-snow vehicular travel opportunities. This allows you to reach sites such as Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Spring, and much more by snowmobile or guided snowcoach tours. It all depends on the type of experience you want to have!

Recreational Activities in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park
There’s over 900 miles of hiking trails throughout Yellowstone National Park, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take a hike!

©Carolina K. Smith MD/Shutterstock.com

You won’t be able to do everything you want to do during your time in Yellowstone National Park, unless you are staying for multiple days. There are so many recreational activities and things to enjoy, no matter the season. Here are some of the top activities for you to participate in or consider doing on your visit to Yellowstone. 

Recreational Activities

  • Hiking. There’s over 900 miles of hiking trails throughout Yellowstone National Park, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take a hike! Some of the most popular natural wonders in Yellowstone are found just a short ways down a trail, so make sure you bring some comfortable walking shoes. 
  • Geyser and Hydrothermal Viewing. There’s far more than geysers in Yellowstone National Park, even though there are over 500 active geysers to begin with. Yellowstone sits on an active volcano, which means it has more than 10,000 hydrothermal features and over 250 waterfalls, all formed by the natural wonder that is this part of the United States! 
  • Wildlife Viewing. If you weren’t expecting to see wildlife during your visit, think again. Yellowstone is home to over 60 different mammal species, 300 bird species, and more. The iconic Yellowstone bison is just one of many animals that you will definitely see during your time in the park.
  • Various Snow Activities. Should you choose to visit in the winter season, Yellowstone has a number of snow activities for you to choose from. You can go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in the park, as well as rent snowmobiles for over snow travel throughout the area. You can also hop on a guided snowcoach tour to see some of Yellowstone’s most popular spots, all from the comfort of a bus.

More Recreational Activities

Yellowstone National Park
If you visit anytime from June-October, you can enjoy kayaking and fishing in Yellowstone National Park.

©Susanne Pommer/Shutterstock.com

  • Driving. While it may not seem like much of an activity, simply driving through Yellowstone National Park can be a rewarding experience. If you go during the summer and fall season, you can drive throughout the park and see wildlife, natural wonders, visit ranger stations, and much more. It’s the perfect summer road trip!
  • Bicycling and Horseback Riding. Bring your own bike or horse and enjoy Yellowstone’s natural beauty in a new way. While not all trails are appropriate for horses or bikes, you can definitely go your own way in this National Park, no matter what mode of transportation you choose. Did you know there are also llama backpacking tours too?!
  • Kayaking and Fishing. If you visit anytime from June-October, you can enjoy kayaking and fishing in Yellowstone National Park. Bring your own gear or rent from a number of partnered vendors and enjoy the unique waters of Yellowstone. You may even catch some fish to cook at camp, too!
  • Interpretive Tours and Visitor Centers. If you’re not the type to take the wilderness head-on, you can enjoy a number of guided tours, interpretive boardwalks, and even check out any one of Yellowstone’s 11 visitor centers and museums.

Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park
It is important to always maintain a safe and respectful distance from any and all wildlife you encounter while in Yellowstone National Park.

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You already know that there are a number of different wildlife species found in the park, but do you know some of the most common animals that you might see during your visit to Yellowstone? Here is just a quick look at some of Yellowstone’s most popular wildlife, and where you might see them on your trip: 

It is important to always maintain a safe and respectful distance from any and all wildlife you encounter while in Yellowstone National Park. In fact, Park Rangers recommend staying at least 25 yards from all non-carnivorous wildlife including bison, and over 100 yards from wolves or bears.

Natural Wonders in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park
While it may not seem like much of an activity, simply driving through Yellowstone National Park can be a rewarding experience.

©Kris Wiktor/Shutterstock.com

In case you hadn’t already guessed, Yellowstone is full of natural wonders worth exploring. Here are some of the most popular natural beauties to check out, with or without your hiking boots on!:

  • Old Faithful and other geysers found in the upper and lower Geyser Basins. Over half of the world’s geysers are all located within Yellowstone National Park. You can view any number of them during your trip and keep track of when their estimated eruptions are by visiting the visitor centers or Yellowstone’s website.
  • The Grand Prismatic Spring. You’ve never seen a hot spring like the Grand Prismatic Spring. Full of bacteria, microbials, and other unique compounds, the Grand Prismatic Spring is colorful and fascinating. It is one of the most photographed locations within Yellowstone.
  • Mammoth Hot Springs. In striking contrast to the Grand Prismatic Spring, Mammoth Hot Springs has almost 100 small hot springs tucked amongst jaw-dropping travertine deposits. These stone-like features form amazing natural stairs, and Mammoth Hot Springs is just south of the northern entrance, making it easily accessible.

More Natural Wonders

Yellowstone national park
Yellowstone National Park has beautiful geothermal features, such as the Old Faithful Geyser, the Boiling River, and the Grand Prismatic Spring.

©sirtravelalot/Shutterstock.com

  • Lower Falls. One of the best parts about Lower Falls is that you can view it from your car and the road. Falling over 300 feet down, Lower Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in Yellowstone. But don’t get too sad if the views are crowded when you visit- there are almost 300 waterfalls throughout the park!
  • Lamar Valley. Lamar Valley is a must for wildlife viewing alone. Plenty of animals spend their days here, and it’s a serene location. Get there at dawn for the best wildlife opportunities, and know that Lamar Valley is accessible year round!
  • Yellowstone Lake. Sitting on top of a collapsed super volcano lies Yellowstone Lake. It’s the largest lake in the park, with over 130 square miles. You can take your kayak out on these waters, and enjoy knowing that this is the largest high-elevation lake in North America (it freezes over completely every single winter!).

Getting to Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park
Speaking of weather, pay special attention to Yellowstone’s opening and closing times of year should you be planning a trip.

©iStock.com/juliannafunk

Getting to Yellowstone National Park is easy during the milder months of the year. You can fly into a number of airports in the surrounding towns, in multiple states. Or you can hop in your vehicle and take a nice road trip, weather permitting! There are typically 5 entrances into the park, in different locations.

Speaking of weather, pay special attention to Yellowstone’s opening and closing times of year should you be planning a trip. In the winter, only the northernmost and northeastern entrances are open to vehicles, and the road conditions are still often not ideal. However, Yellowstone is open year-round for a reason, and experiencing it in the winter can be just as rewarding as experiencing it in the summer!

More on Yellowstone National Park


The Featured Image

Largest Land Animal in North America - American bison walking and looking for food in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA.
American bison walking and looking for food in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA.
© jack-sooksan/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I am a non-binary freelance writer working full-time in Oregon. Graduating Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre and a specialization in creative writing, I have an invested interest in a variety of topics, particularly Pacific Northwest history. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping along the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my home kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast iron skillet.

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