So you want to plan a trip to Yellowstone? Awesome, it's amazing! Wildlife, waterfalls, geysers, hiking, views for days, winding rivers. There really is so much to this park for everyone.
If you put a little bit of extra planning into your trip, you're likely to end up having a better time. There is very little cell service in the park so you've got to know ahead of time if something is near you or not. Below is a map of Yellowstone. See West Yellowstone on the western edge of the park? And Cody on the eastern edge? Those are popular places for people to stay when they are visiting Yellowstone. It would take you 3 hours and 15 minutes without park traffic or construction to get from one town to the other. It takes over 4 hours to drive from Gardiner, MT to Jackson Hole, WY.
It takes less than an hour to get from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful but nearly 2 hours to get to Lamar Valley (which is where much of the best wildlife viewing is). Old Faithful itself is 2 hours from Lamar Valley
What does all this mean? If you love driving, not much! Just pick a place and explore wherever you want.
If you'd prefer to spend a little less of your vacation in the car and more of it exploring the park, here are some tips:
1) Consider staying in more than one location outside or within the park. Canyon Village is well-regarded and the newest of the lodges. There are park lodges and campgrounds all throughout the park. Pick one on the north side and one on the south side. Or one on the east and one on the west. 2-3 nights in each location will help you enjoy the park. We've done well with a few nights in Gardiner and a few nights at the Bridge Bay Campground.
2) If you follow Tip #1, plan to do something en route as you drive from Stop 1 to Stop 2. This will save you the driving time to and from that location when you are already driving.
3) If you decide to stay in only one area, commit to either Yellowstone OR Grand Tetons National Park instead of trying to visit both parks from one location. Lodging is super pricy near Jackson Hole but the Tetons are also amazing. You can't go wrong with either park so if you are hoping to park it for just a few days, just pick one park and enjoy the experience it gives you.
4) Pick one main site or hike to do each day and head there first. Try to get there by 8 am. Then, make a plan to see other things on the route back to your place after your first main activity is done. You might need a few back-up options as parking and/or crowds will start thwarting you after 10 am.
5) Stay nearest the thing(s) you want to see the most frequently. Kelly is all about the wildlife, so we stay in Gardiner, where we can get to Lamar Valley in ~1 hour. If the geysers are your thing, stay in West Yellowstone. There's lots of hiking near Canyon Village. Fishing or boating? Stay down near the lake. If you only want to see Old Faithful once, there's no reason to stay over there. Pick a different place and just make the drive for the iconic landmark on one day.
6) Remember that the experience is what matters, not whether you saw a certain view or took a particular hike. No day in the park is the same and if you approach nature with respect and a willingness to be awed, whatever you do will be memorable and refreshing.
After this introductory post, it's time for me to get to posting about hikes in Yellowstone. Stay tuned!