Yellowstone National Park has such an amazing variety of scenery and wildlife that it is not surprising why people travel from around the world to visit. We have been fortunate enough to go to Yellowstone over a dozen times over the years and every visit has been as unique as the wildlife that we have seen. There have been times when trying to see the park has been a frustrating experience as the cars and RV’s turn the few roads that traverse the park into virtual parking lots. Joining the crowds at Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Lake can make it feel more like you are waiting in line at an amusement park rather than enjoying the beauty of one the most spectacular places on earth. Unless you enjoy people watching, there a few tips that should help you have a more enjoyable experience.
- Get Off of the Roads – If you want to have a truly memorable experience, talk to the rangers and get a map of the various hiking trails that can be found throughout the park. The rangers will also be able to provide guidance as to which trails should be avoided due to bears or other predators that might be active in the area. Although everyone wants to see wild animals in their natural environment, having a close encounter with a grizzly bear is something that you definitely want to avoid. There are trails to suit almost anyone’s hiking capabilities from the very youngest to the older among us. There are even trails around some of the major attractions that will allow you to see them from angles that other tourists don’t get to see and the lack of crowds will make the experience even better. It is always amazing to us how just jumping onto the trail can transform the park from masses of people into a world of serene isolation.
- Go into the Park Early or Late in the Day – Many of the typical tourists that visit the park start their days around 8:00 am and leave the park in time to catch dinner outside of the park. Not only will getting up before dawn and heading into the park or staying until the sun is setting has the dual benefit of avoiding some of the crowds, but also increases the chances of seeing wildlife as the animals are more active as the sun rises and sets. Also, the earlier that you can get to some of the more popular spots, the fewer people you will have to share the experience with. After all, Old Faithful erupts approximately every hour and a half regardless of the time of day.
- Enter from the North Entrance – Obviously this depends upon where you might decide to stay, but the northern entrance from Montana is usually a little less busy than the West Yellowstone entrance or the southern entrance near Jackson Hole. Both of those entrances are in Wyoming and the southern entrance is probably the busiest. We love combining the Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole, and Yellowstone into a single visit, but perhaps not during the height of the tourist season, which leads directly to the next piece of advice.
- Go During the Off-Season – Although the only real off-season is winter, the earlier in spring or the later in autumn you are willing to go, the fewer people will be there along side of you. Personally, our favorite time to visit the park is during fall when the leaves are changing and the animals are actively preparing for winter. You need to be extra cautious when hiking in early spring or fall as the animals can be aggressive as they defend their feeding grounds at the end of the year or their newborns early in the year. As we mentioned before, always check with the rangers, regardless of the time of year, before hiking in the park. Don’t confuse the park with a zoo, these are wild animals who just happen to live in an area that is protected.
Going to Yellowstone National Park should be on everyone’s list to visit at least once in their lives. You will need several days or preferably a week in order to see as much of the park as possible, so bring your camera, binoculars, and your patience. Hopefully these tips will help make your visit a little better, but just realize that their are a lot of other people who want to see a place with such natural beauty. You will never have the park to yourself, but there are ways to make the most of your experience.