Let’s Visit: Old Faithful

When you hear the words ‘national park,’ what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If it’s images of a cartoon, business casual (sans pants because, of course) anthropomorphic bear and his bowtie-wearing son stealing park visitor picnic baskets – that’s valid. Pretty sure that’s where most folks’ heads go, and should anyone disagree, they’re probably lying. Although what we were more fishing for was ‘Yellowstone.’ After all, it’s one of the most popular and recognizable national parks out there, and with good reason. 

Acres upon acres of gorgeous rainbow-hued hot pools, geysers, incredible trails, and areas filled to the brim with wildlife all make the park an incomparable spot to take in the beauty of nature. 

However, there is one downfall of Yellowstone. It’s so big, and there’s so much to do that people don’t even know where to start. We do, though. Continue reading below for our traveler’s guide to visiting Yellowstone national park.

Before You Go

One of the reasons people flock to national parks is that they just as well make a wonderful weekend trip as they do a full-on vacation. With a vast range of activities available, affordable accommodations, and an atmosphere that lends itself to the spontaneous, it also doesn’t take too much planning to make it happen, either. But there are a few things you should know before visiting. It’ll make your Yellowstone excursion infinitely less stressful, more comfortable, and more fun, too.

Our helpful notes that you may want to consider: 

  • Expect a crowd, especially in the summer months. As we mentioned before, Yellowstone is one of the most popular national parks out there, drawing in upwards of 4 million people a year. That’s a lot of people! And many of these make the choice to visit during summer. Unfortunately, that means the crowds get significantly busier then, forcing a fight for everything from parking to room for photo ops. Should you want to avoid this, aim for a spring or fall visit or, alternatively, visit the lesser-known attractions during mid-day and the more famous in the early morning when crowds are thinner. 

  • The national park yearly pass is totally worth it. Even amongst an entire roster of smaller parks, Yellowstone is still a pretty cheap date. A whole week-long pass is only around 25 bucks. Although, if you plan on visiting there – or any other national park, for that matter – several times, you should invest in a yearly pass. For around $80, you get unrestricted access not just to Yellowstone but all the others, as well. In our eyes, it’s an unbeatable deal.

  • There’s no free Wi-Fi. Some parents and tech-adverse may rejoice at this, but for others? It may be a total pain in the neck (or not, since you won’t be craning it to look down at your phone…). There’s no free Wi-Fi anywhere within the park’s bounds. So, if you planned on surfing the web in downtime or wanted to livestream yourself on the trails, that’ll be entirely between you and your data plan. Sorry.

  • You should bring a scope or binoculars. It doesn’t matter what season you go. If you’re at Yellowstone, the odds are that you’ll get up close and personal with some animals whether you mean to or not. They’re everywhere. There will be plenty of times, though, that you spot something too far away for you to really get a good look at. Bring (or rent!) a scope or binoculars, and you’ll be set. 

  • Pack light but pack smart. A major miscalculation folks make when preparing for a day or week at the park is to pack too heavy. Try not to follow in their footsteps. All it does is hurt your back and not even at the benefit of preparation as most overpacking still leaves out many of the important. You’re better off with the essentials: a good first-aid kit, compass, emergency survival gear, a change of clothes, some easy-to-carry snacks, and plenty of water. Of course, you should also bring all the maps you think you could possibly need. Cell reception is spotty, and GPS can easily get turned around in the giant park. Maps make sure you can always find your way. We’ve got you covered here with our favorite folding map and guide book.

Where To Stay

The official first national park in the country, Yellowstone has been in the game for quite a while. As such, it doesn’t fool around and has made sure that there’s plenty of space for visitors to rest their weary heads. At least, if you’re not knee-deep in the summer rush. 

Yellowstone Lodges

Nine hotels and over 2000 rooms/cabins are available and at fair prices and generous space, giving you plenty of options. Looking for something more modern and bougie? Lake Yellowstone Hotel has you covered with expanded and renovated rooms, a sunroom, and even nightly music performances. What about something more rustic and nature-inspired? Make your way over to the Old Faithful Inn, built only with local wood and with a lobby meant to inspire images of tall, shady forest canopies. 

Need something else in between or beyond? Yellowstone’s accommodations probably have that, too. Our suggestion, though? Stay at one of the campgrounds. Under $30, they’re incredibly affordable and offer some of the best views of the stars you could ask for. Just be quick about it. Many grounds are first-come, first-serve. And that can become a huge issue in the more popular times. So, if you insist on that two weeklong trip during your kids’ summer vacation, book your stay immediately. You’ll thank us later. If you need help finding everything on a map, check out our travel maps.

Must Try Activities

Remember how we said that Yellowstone is several acres big? Well, that might actually be a slight understatement. You see, the national park is comprised of 2.2 million – yeah, you read that right – acres of woods, trails, rivers, rock faces, geysers, and more. The magnitude of it can be overwhelming, as can the diversity. Impressed? Wait until you see the awesome Yellowstone Raised Relief map.

Whatever you’re after, visually or activity-wise, you can find it here. There’s a little something for everyone, regardless of how picky you are. And we fully support that choosiness, by the way. Yet, there are a few attractions we think should be on everyone’s to-do list. 

Yellowstone National Park

Hiking is at the top of this as the trails give some of the park’s most stunning, scenic views. There are also many trails to choose from, each with a varying degree of difficulty, fantastic for the seasoned runner who wants a challenge, the cardio-avoidant, and everyone stuck in-between. 

Biking, horseback riding, fishing, and skiing (in the winter, obviously) are also fan-favorites. Although, we’re awfully partial to wildlife viewing and think any animal lover should hop into an excursion ASAP.