With dramatic peaks and pristine lakes, Yellowstone is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Multicolored pools swirl around hot springs; verdant forests weave past expansive meadows; and volatile geysers launch streams of steaming water toward the sky. With so much unspoiled natural beauty, it’s no wonder everyone suspected John Colter (a scout for explorers Lewis and Clark) was embellishing when he first described Yellowstone’s geothermal curiosities in 1807. Nowadays, there’s no doubt that the park is indeed extraordinary. While you traverse the park’s 3,000-plus square miles of mountains, canyons, geysers and waterfalls, be prepared to share the trails with permanent residents like buffalo, elk and sometimes even grizzlies.
Although Yellowstone attracts about 3 million visitors every year, chances are — unless you spend your entire trip at Old Faithful — you won’t see much of them. Yellowstone’s 2.2 million acres creep from the northwest corner of Wyoming into the edges of Idaho and Montana, offering plenty of untouched territory to explore. Carve out a day or two to take in the view at Yellowstone Lake and Mammoth Hot Springs. But save some time for the trails through lesser-known regions, like the hot springs of the West Thumb Geyser Basin and the untamed wildlife dotting the Lewis River Channel and Dogshead Loop. While the sheer number of trails and wildlife-watching opportunities may seem daunting at first, remember: You can always come back.
How To Save Money in Yellowstone
- BYOBBring your own bed. A space in a campground is much cheaper than a room in one of the park’s lodges. Plus, many campgrounds come equipped with showers, flushing toilets and even laundry facilities.
- Skip the summerBecause summer witnesses the largest influx of tourists, hotel and campground rates tend to rise. You’ll spend less if you visit during the off-season.
- Do your own cookingYellowstone does feature several sit-down restaurants, but they can end up putting quite a dent in your savings. Consider bringing your own food.
Although there are several restaurants, cafeterias and snack shops within the borders of Yellowstone Park, consider bringing along a cooler with lunch items and snacks — so you don’t have to worry about staying near one of the park’s more developed areas.
Yellowstone is also home to several sit-down restaurants located in the most-visited areas, like Mammoth Hot Springs, Canyon Village and Yellowstone Lake. Many eateries found in the more established areas of the park are managed by Xanterra Parks & Resorts, and infuse local ingredients as well as game meats, like trout, bison, elk and antelope. Cafeterias serve burgers and sandwiches while high-end restaurants like the Lake Yellowstone Hotel Dining Room provide selections of game meats. To dig into some sizzling sirloin dished up at upscale restaurants, like the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, which pairs tasty fare with striking scenery, you’ll need to make reservations far in advance, especially during the busy summer season. If you plan to enjoy a meal at popular peppering Grant Village or you want to savor a dinner at the Old Faithful Inn, you’ll also want to secure reservations in advance, especially in the summertime.
Other dining options can be found in the small towns surrounding the park, including Cody, Wyo., and West Yellowstone, Mont.
Keep in Mind…
- Beware of bearsYellowstone is prime bear habitat. To avoid an attack, make plenty of noise when hiking to avoid surprise encounters, and secure any food items before calling it a night. Learn more about safety in Yellowstone here.
- In winter, services are limited Except for those found at the park’s headquarters near theMammoth Hot Springs, the majority of Yellowstone’s facilities and roads close during the winter.
- Don’t forget your permitIf you are looking to camp outside of the designated camping areas, you will need to obtain a permit from one of the visitor centers or ranger stations.
- There’s an entrance fee Admission to Yellowstone costs $12 for visitors ages 16 and older who enter on foot or on bike ($25 if you’re bringing a car) and includes a 7-day permit to enter both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.