Yellowstone Overview 
Tips for Planning your Yellowstone Vacation

When planning a trip to Yellowstone it helps to understand the park layout.  There are 2 main loops in the park along which most of the park’s popular attractions are found - the Upper and Lower Loop roads.    There are also 5 entrances to the park, so your itinerary will probably depend upon which of those entrances you use.  In addition, you will need to decide if you will be staying inside or outside the park.  Reservations for lodging inside the park can be made in May for the summer of the following year.  You should book early if you want the best choices of accommodations inside the park.  Some visitors find it helpful to split up their accommodations in different areas of the park to save time driving back and forth.  Advantages to staying outside the park include more variety of lodging and dining choices, and room reservations may be more readily available.  In addition, you will probably find more amenities outside the park such as TVs and swimming pools. 


Just south of Yellowstone is Grand Teton National Park which you should visit if time permits.  The southern entrance to Yellowstone is just to the north of Grand Teton.  There are 2 entrances on the east side of the Yellowstone, one north and one on the west side.  We flew from our home in California to Salt Lake City, UT and drove about 6 hours to the gateway town of West Yellowstone, Montana.  We stayed there overnight before heading into the park the next morning via the west entrance.  We then chose to take the Lower Loop road south towards Old Faithful and stayed there 2 nights.  We back-tracked a bit and headed up to the northern loop and stayed in the gateway town of Gardiner, Montana for 2 nights as well before heading down towards the middle of the park and a stay at the Lake Lodge cabins.  Once you determine which entrance you will be using you can develop an itinerary accordingly. 


We saw the most of the  major and many of the not so major attractions of the park during our 9 night stay in and around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  We did several short or moderate hikes as well.  Most of the guide books I read before the trip recommended venturing even short distances past famous attractions such as Old Faithful to avoid the crowds and we found that to be true.  I was amazed at how few people we encountered one morning walking around the Upper Geyser Basin Faithful.  It seemed that once most people saw Old Faithful they were ready to leave the area for other spots on their list.  If visitors take the time to walk some relatively easy routes in the area, they can see many more spectacular thermal features and scenery.  Similarly, If you get out on the roads early in the morning with a pair of binoculars you may have a good chance of not only beating the crowds, but also seeing some wildlife.  Most visitors can easily see bison while on their way around the park.  If you take advantage of the early hours you may see less easily seen wildlife such as bears, pronghorn, wolves and moose.   With a little time and planning you can be rewarded with the spectacular natural beauty and wildlife of America’s first National Park.