With 3,500 square miles of park land traversing through Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, Yellowstone National Park can see a bit overwhelming for first time visitors – and often for repeat visitors as well. More than three million come to this park each year to experience its spectacular beauty, unique features and wildlife.
Yellowstone is home to more geothermal features than the rest of the world combined, making it crucial to do a little planning before heading out to see it all. Keep these tips in mind and you'll have a better chance of making your trip more enjoyable.
No matter which season you visit Yellowstone, the weather can change on a dime. Snowstorms are not unheard of in July – and afternoon thunderstorms happen frequently in the summer. Be prepared for anything.
If you arrive during peak season; June, July or August, be ready to deal with crowds and traffic jams. The park is so beautiful it's worth dealing with provided you can maintain a good attitude throughout. Every season has its positives and negatives – winter blessings especially chilly temperatures with a better chance to see wildlife than run into many people; by mid-spring the snow has begun to melt and the sun brings out brilliant wildflowers, while autumn can be ideal with the summer crowds leaving and the park's hoofed animals exhibiting interesting behaviors while in the "rut."
Do not just stick to the main attractions
Old Faithful is certainly a sight to behold, but be sure to really get out into the park and explore the true gems that are often found off the beaten path. The northern region offers open, rolling hills and more wildlife while exploring the Yellowstone Lake, the largest freshwater lake in the nation, is well worth the time especially by boat where more isolated shoreline and solitude can be found.
Hiking the trails that wind through the Fountain Paint Pot area will allow you to discover fascinating mud pots, fumaroles as well as geysers and hot springs. The brightly colored turquoise pools and multi-colored bubbling bowls of mud provide endless entertainment for visitors of all ages.
With so many visitors coming to the park, planning ahead is imperative. Some of the most popular accommodations can be booked a year in advance – especially Yellowstone's campgrounds. If you want a more tranquil camping experience, pitch a tent outside of the park but within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Red Cliff in the Gallatin Canyon is within an hour of the park's entrance and it's frequently empty.
As the park stretches across such a large area, staying a night or two at different locations provides a better opportunity to experience more.