Natural Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park
Planning, Travel, USA

Helpful Tips For A Visit To Yellowstone National Park

Do you dream of visiting Yellowstone National Park one day or are you already planning your visit? Read this first for helpful tips and links to our diary entries from our unforgettable RV adventure in Yellowstone National Park.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park
Ferdinand V. Hayden (1829–1887) American geologist
American geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden (1829–1887)
The man who convinced Congress and
 Ulysses S. Grant to make Yellowstone a national park on the 1st of March 1872.

Yellowstone was the first national park in the U.S. and arguably, the world.

Keep in mind that some Visitor Centres, campgrounds, lodges and roads are closed for the winter as early as mid-September with most closing from mid-October.

These tips are based on how our own visit panned out in a 28ft rented motorhome during the last week of September.


Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park
Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park

Tips To Visit Yellowstone National Park

1. MAKE EACH MILE COUNT

We spent five days in Yellowstone National Park in a rented 28ft motorhome and camped in a different part of the park each night. If you travel in a rented RV or car, you probably have to pay extra for mileage at the end of your trip.

For that reason we kept a close eye on our mileage and tried not to drive the same road twice on our whole RV road trip around the U.S. Another reason to avoid routes already taken, is to see as much as you can while at the same time making the most of limited time and money. It makes sense, right?

Yellowstone basic map
A basic map of Yellowstone National Park . You can clearly see the Grand Loop road as a figure 8 in the middle of the map.

If you want to do the same, we highly recommend a similar strategy.
Instead of staying in one place for the full duration of your visit, you can work your way around the loop of 8 (visible in the map above) to see Yellowstone’s favourites.

2. SPREAD IT OUT

If you ask me how and where to book I’d suggest the following as a minimum:

  • 2 Days – Madison Campground Or Old Faithful Inn. Madison is near the west entrance and well located to see Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic, Norris Basin and whatever you can fit in between.
  • 1 or 2 Days – Mammoth Hot Springs in the north. A visit to Gardiner, a rodeo town that looks like the set of a wild west movie and situated only one mile from the north gate, is worth a visit if you have extra time.
  • 1 Day – Lamar Valley, somewhere between Tower Fall, Slough Creek and Pebble Creek Campgrounds to explore northeast Yellowstone.
  • 1 or 2 Days – Near Lake Yellowstone, stay somewhere between Fishing Bridge and Grant Villiage Campgrounds in southwest Yellowstone.
A visitor sets up at the edge of the rim for the shot of a lifetime at The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

3. STAY FOR A WEEK OR TWO

Definitely no less than five days. With the five full days we had in Yellowstone National Park, we didn’t see everything we could’ve. If not for the predicted snow, we would’ve stayed a few more days.

There is so so so much to see and do. Make sure you have enough time to at least see the parks most famous features like Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic, Mammoth Hot Springs and Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon.

The Falls of Yellowstone's Grand Canyon at Artist Point
View The Falls of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon at Artist Point

4. PACK FOR ALL WEATHER (Fall)

Coming from hot T-shirt weather in Yosemite, California we found ourselves, within the space of four days, on the other side of the Nevada desert, far north in Yellowstone at Mammoth Hot Springs where it was cold enough to dig out hoodies and thick windproof jackets.

We had clear sunny days, but it was cold early in the morning and at night. Jackets and jerseys got peeled off as the day wore on and we could hike in t-shirts. Dress in layers and you’ll be fine, but definitely pack a warm beanie, coat and scarf for this time of year.

RV Yellowstone
RV Yellowstone

The RV’s furnace was on most nights, which meant more propane gas usage. The boardwalks at Mid-Way Geyser were frozen solid by 8 am and defrosted by 9 am. Wear shoes with good grip, not flip-flops like B who lives in shorts most of the time.

By the time we reached Cody on the 1st of October, the first snow was about to fall in Yellowstone. On check-in at Ponderosa in Cody, the camp hosts told us that an extreme weather warning was issued and that we must take shelter inside the laundry should the storm get worse. It was bad enough for us to stay put for about three days before it felt safe to drive the RV again.

Updates At Visitor Centres at Yellowstone National Park
Geyser Predictions kept up to date at Old Faithful Visitor Centre, Yellowstone National Park

5. BOOK IN ADVANCE

Campsites inside YNP sell-out fast. I’d say you want to stay inside the park as far as possible for the best experience so make sure you secure a place of your choice. Hotels should be booked six to twelve months in advance.

6. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE SIZE OF THE PARK

Do not underestimate the size and driving distances in Yellowstone National Park. Allow at least 3 minutes per mile. This rule proved true when we determined our actual travel time and it helped to plan our days.

Bear Spray Rentals at Canyon Village, Yellowstone
Bear Spray Rentals at Canyon VC, Yellowstone

7. STICK TO THE RULES

No matter what, follow all the safety rules, guidelines and adhere to warning signs. Always! More visitors get gored by bison and elk than people that are attacked by bears. Why? Because people think that bison are slow and elk look tame and gentle while they are wild and dangerous, especially during mating season.

Follow these animal safety rules in Yellowstone.

Stay on the walkways at Yellowstone
Look at that Mom!. Me: Yes, very pretty. Just stay on the boardwalk,ok?

8. STAY. ON. THE. BOARDWALK

Warning signs in geothermal areas clearly state that the earth’s crust is unsafe. To stray off a boardwalk can be dangerous people.

Prepare for overuse of exclamation marks in this one.

This one freaked me out even before we arrived. I stressed about keeping little Kate on the boardwalks when there were so many without rails. I had nightmares about her going off a walkway and falling into a geyser! But she was really good and stayed with us all the time. Thank God for mercy!

Please keep your children by your side and keep pets on a leash at all times in Yellowstone? Pets are not allowed at all in certain geothermal areas.

Keeping kids safe on the boardwalk at Grand Prismatic Spring
Keeping kids safe on the boardwalk at Grand Prismatic Spring.
Oh, that’s only the 108th reminder in their ear to “STAY ON THE BOARDWALK, NO MATTER WHAT!” of about 1000 reminders.

It was shocking to see small kids walk on the boardwalks on their own, meters ahead or behind their parents. What do they know about warning signs and thin geothermal crusts? I was so nervous that one might go off-ramp and disappear beneath the fragile surface! Thankfully, most kids have a strong sense of danger and natural survival instinct, especially when enforced by parents.

There were crowds of adults pushing past each other on these ramps for crying out loud, most likely too spellbound by the unusual surroundings to see a small child stand in the way or near the edge. I admit that sounds paranoid and like scaremongering, but I was paranoid and I was a bit scared for the little ones.

There was apparently a case where a father stepped off a boardwalk in Yellowstone to retrieve something and had a near-fatal experience. Just be careful.

Yellowstone Boardwalk trails
Literally holding on to our toddler on the Yellowstone Boardwalk trails without rails. B and I made sure that one of us had a hand on her at all times.

9. LEAVE HATS IN THE CAR

We saw many baseball caps and hats that were blown onto the forbidden surface. No need for that. It must also be damaging to the delicate eco-system.

10. YOU BE THE DAMN PATIENT. OK! GRRR!

Breathe deeply. Count. Calm down. Take it easy. Mentally prepare yourself for this. Expect delays.

Delays are caused by roadworks, wildlife sightings and weather. We crawled along many miles of road on the northeast loop driving from Mammoth to Lake Yellowstone because of buffalo in the road.

RV Yellowstone National Park
RV Yellowstone National Park. The RV’s lights are still on because we blindly drove through that thick blanket of fog you see there in the background.

Just after we cleared the buffalo, we hit heavy fog so thick it blinded us so that we couldn’t see the front of our RV never mind the road! Roadworks caused long delays on the northwest loop between Norris and Mammoth the day we arrived.

It’s not a bad thing if you have to go slow in Yellowstone because you’re more likely to see something amazing anyway! Like the fully grown female grizzly bear that we were lucky to watch in her natural hunting grounds, not far from the hunting grounds of the three-year-old cub she recently weaned.

Our one and only Grizzly bear sighting in Yellowstone
Our first clear sighting of a Grizzly bear in east Yellowstone.

11. UNPLUG

According to YNP, there is cellphone reception in more than 50% of the park thanks to towers near Old Faithful, Mammoth, Grant Village, Canyon, and Tower-Roosevelt, as well as along the road corridor between Mammoth and Gardiner, Montana. We can tell you that Wi-Fi is non-existent and mobile reception extremely limited, even for the four largest wireless service operators in the U.S.; AT&T, Verizon, Sprint & T-Mobile.  You may find signal at the Visitor Centers.

Save yourself the frustration, go off-grid and unplug. It’s the best way to experience Yellowstone anyway; free from distractions.

Please keep in mind that cellphone reception in YNP is not good and plan for emergencies if you want to hike or camp in the wilderness.

Waiting with Mommy where it's safe, further away from the edge. B and the older listen to the Ranger talk at the edge of the canyon rim.
Waiting with Mommy where it’s safe, further away from the edge. B and the older listen to the Ranger talk at the edge of the canyon rim.

12. TAKE GOOD BINOCULARS

Some wild animals, such as wolves, can only be spotted from the road with binoculars because, thankfully, they rarely wonder near enough.

We regretted not having binoculars with us when we saw pro-travellers with humungous camera lenses and binoculars point and peer far into the forest at some exotic wild animal that we could not see no matter how hard we squinted.

Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park

13. VISIT OFF-PEAK (FALL & SPRING)

Be an eco-warrior and visit Yellowstone in the off-season: Sep-Nov and Apr-May. Yellowstone is visited by millions of people each year and it’s one of the most popular National Parks in the world, just like Yosemite National Park.

Popular National Parks suffer severe damage due to over-tourism during the peak seasons.

14. CHECK ROAD CLOSURES & WEATHER UPDATES

Check the national parks website for road closures and weather conditions during fall and winter, from November to April, especially if you plan to visit in an RV. These were important issues for us and we kept checking the weather online and spoke to rangers about it when we could.


Liberty Cap at Mammoth Hot Springs
Liberty Cap at Mammoth Hot Springs

CONCLUSION

Family and friends asked the kids which part of the USA was their favorite and they both said Yellowstone; not Disney World! What?! I was as surprised and impressed as you. We also saw the most wildlife in Yellowstone.

If I have to choose between a week in Yellowstone or a week in Disney World, I’d pick Yellowstone. Even if you remove the annoying soul destroying 2hour long queues. Actually, if you could put the Avatar Flight of Passage ride near Yellowstone it would be just perfect for our family; two of our favourite things close together!

On the other hand, it will be hard for me to choose between Yellowstone and Crystal River; the manatee capital of the world located on Florida’s Nature Coast. Personally, I fell in love with the gentle manatees, but, for anyone else, I’d highly recommend that you get yourself to Yellowstone National Park.

Why?

Because nothing I or anyone else write or any photo out there can really prepare your senses for the extreme effect of Yellowstone National Park. It is worth the trip.


Have you been to Yellowstone? Did you find this post useful? If you have any questions about RV’ing in Yellowstone feel free to ask.


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Tips To Visit Yellowstone National Park
Tips To Visit Yellowstone National Park
Tips to visit Yellowstone National Park
Tips to visit Yellowstone National Park

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