Yellowstone National Park is a unique vacation destination just north of Grand Teton National Park. The park is situated at high altitude and most visitors will need a couple of days to adjust to the change. Initially, plan to take short walking trips and on warm summer days drink plenty of fluids. Since the sun is very strong at high altitude, wear a hat and sunscreen. The weather can change quickly from clear skies to a thunderstorm.
As a rule of thumb, each road segment takes about 45 minutes to drive by car. Read our article about The scenic drives of Yellowstone. In the summer, repairs are often underway which can cause delays. Visitor centers in Yellowstone have the latest information about road conditions. When you enter the park, you will receive a map of Yellowstone and a newspaper with the latest news. Each major area, such as the West Thumb Geyser Basin, features ranger-led walks, adventure hikes and other visitor services.
Summer is peak season. Park roads and entrances are least crowded before 11 am and after 4 pm. In addition to camping, there are several hotels and lodges in Yellowstone.
The park offers numerous vacation activities, including fishing, boating, hiking, horseback riding and wildlife watching.
The Weather in Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park is at high altitude, over 7,500 feet (2,275 meters). In the summer, daytime temperatures are in the 70s and 80s, while at night temperature can drop to below freezing. Thunderstorms are frequent on summer afternoons.
Winters are very cold with daytime temperatures from zero to 20F and sub-zero temperatures at night. Snowfall average is about 150 inches per year.
In the spring and fall, daytime temperatures range from the 30s to the 60s, and snow is common.
Where to Stay
There are nine unique lodges and hotels in Yellowstone National Park, all operated by Xanterra Hotels and Resorts. Most park accommodations are historic and located near major Yellowstone attractions. Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge are the only accommodations that remain open in the winter.
All reservations for Yellowstone accommodations can be made through Xanterra. Call 307-344-7311 or visit www.travelyellowstone.com.
The Old Faithful Inn, a national historic landmark, is a rustic lodge situated near the famous Old Faithful geyser. It also features a restaurant and gift shop.
The Old Faithful area is also home to Old Faithful Lodge Cabins and Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins, the newest hotel completed in 1999.
Lake Yellowstone Hotel is the oldest hotel in the park, originally built in 1891 and restored in 1990. Hotel rooms are designed in historic 1920s style. Lake Yellowstone Hotel is situated on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, while Lake Lodge Cabins are located nearby.
Roosevelt Lodge Cabins, named after Theodore Roosevelt, are rustic cabins located near Tower-Roosevelt.
Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is the only lodging facility accessible by car in the winter. Visitors enjoy snowshoeing, ice skating and skiing in the area surrounding the hotel.
Canyon Lodge & Cabins are located near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The area offers hiking and horseback riding.
Grant Village, named after president Ulysses S. Grant, is a large complex built in 1984 with 6 two-story buildings, each containing 50 rooms. There are also two restaurants with scenic views of the lake, a lounge and a gift shop.
Hydrothermal Features in Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park encompasses the largest hydrothermal area on the planet. Features include geysers, hot springs, mudpots and fumaroles.
Yellowstone was the site of a catastrophic volcanic eruption more than 600,000 years ago. During the eruption, the magma chamber was partially emptied which caused the roof to collapse, forming a giant caldera that covers the bigger portion of Yellowstone National Park.
Today, the magma chamber's partially-molten rock provides heat for Yellowstone's hydrothermal features which are in constant flux. Geysers and colorful terraces in Yellowstone are constantly changing, shaped by thermal activity. Find more National Park vacation ideas.
How to Help Prevent Wildfires
Fires are an essential player in the development of Yellowstone’s ecosystems. While some are caused by men, most fires occur naturally when lightning strikes.
Certain species such as lodgepole pine need the heat of a wildfire to open their cones and disperse the seeds within. Other species such as Douglas-fir have very thick bark that insulates the tree against heat and protects it during a fire.
The largest Yellowstone fires in the recent history took place in the summer of 1988. About 36% of the park’s 2,221,800 acres were burned and several structures were destroyed as the fires could not be contained. Today, park visitors can see the effects of this fire everywhere, although both plant and animal populations have recovered quickly.
Following the 1988 fired, fire management plans for national parks and forests were revised across the nation. Naturally occurring fires are allowed to burn today under stricter guidelines.
Wildlife Watching Tips and Ideas
Yellowstone is famous for the abundance of its wildlife, including bison, elk, wolves, bears, coyotes, moose, bobcats, mountain lions and an array of unique birds.
Each species has a preferred habitat, but sightings are unpredictable. Visitors should exercise caution near wild animals and never approach them on purpose as their behavior is unpredictable. Yellowstone visitor centers provide educational information about wildlife that every first time park visitors should learn about.