This just in: it’s time to move on from dreaming of your next trip to Yellowstone. Let go of the dreams, and start the planning process to let your dream live big. Sure, planning any epic trip can feel daunting at first, but check off all the essentials to cut straight to fun. Follow this Yellowstone trip planning guide, and gear up for your next Yellowstone Country adventure.
Plenty of people qualify for free or reduced park passes that will get you into any federal site in the country. Veterans, people with disabilities, fourth graders and seniors can all qualify for free or reduced passes to federal lands: it’s worth looking into whether this applies to you.
If your national park dreams begin and end at Yellowstone, the $35, 7-day entrance pass purchased at the gate will do it for you. But if you’re thinking of combining your trip with a stop in Grand Teton or a road trip to Glacier or any other federal sites, the $80 America the Beautiful pass is the way to go.
Yellowstone is certainly a four-season destination, with each season leading to a vividly different experience. Summer is the height of visitation, when accommodation and tours are most booked up, and roads are busiest. But it’s also when the weather is most reliably fair, services are open, and wildflowers are blooming. Winter, in contrast, has fewest services, winter weather, and some of the most unique and wild experiences in the park. Spring and autumn fall somewhere on the spectrum, but generally you’ll find a lot of seasonality in the region.
For the lowest-cost commercial flights with easy access to the park, it’s best to book a route landing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Idaho Falls, Idaho; or Bozeman, Montana. From Jackson, it’s just over an hour to get to Yellowstone in summer. The drive from Idaho Falls will take you about three hours. And the drive from Bozeman is roughly two hours to either the West Entrance or the North Entrance, the only entrance open to vehicles year round.
When you’re renting a car for a trip into Yellowstone, consider a few factors. If you’re traveling in spring, fall, or winter, think about a 4WD or AWD option, depending on where your adventures lead and how comfortable you are with winter driving conditions. In summer, fuel efficiency is key if you’re on a budget, and it’s best to avoid a mileage cap if you can. You never know where the road will take you, and having flexibility and unlimited miles can be a big benefit.
Staying in the park gives you easy access to adventure, whether camping or in one of the historic lodges. Most in-park lodging is only open from May or June till October, and it pays to plan ahead because reservations get competitive. If you’re excited about the beautiful drive to the park each morning, a stay in a nearby gateway community can be ideal. Gardiner, Livingston, Bozeman, West Yellowstone, Big Sky, Red Lodge, and Cooke City are just a few to choose from.
For summer trips, the further out you make your reservations, the better. This is especially true if you’re staying in the park, where camping and lodging reservations open up 13 months ahead of your travel date. If you’re traveling in the shoulder season (before Memorial Day or after Labor Day) and staying in gateway communities, you might have more flexibility.
Ready for your Yellowstone vacation? This is the place to discover all things Yellowstone Country.
At Yellowstone National Park Lodges, you’re invited to discover or rediscover the magic of the world’s first national park, Yellowstone. As proud stewards of the park and this truly extraordinary American wonder