Yellowstone National Park is the crown jewel of the American park system. It's home to steaming hydrothermal features - hot springs, mudpots, fumaroles and geysers. Yellowstone National Park boasts thundering waterfalls, crystalline lakes, panoramic vistas and a remarkable diversity of wildlife. What's more, Yellowstone has a history of colorful characters. Mountain men, fortune seekers, Western Artists and Native Americans have left their mark on Yellowstone, in one way or another. Visit Old Faithful, the world's best-known geyser. Tour the travertine terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs. Hear mud pots plop at Artists Paintpots. Listen to fumaroles hiss at Roaring Mountain. Learn about thermophiles at Norris Geyser Basin. Find out what substance makes Mud Volcano so distinctive. Get a glimpse of the earth's interior at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Watch wildlife in Lamar and Hayden valleys. Soak in the Boiling River. Float the chute on the Firehole River. Ride horseback in Gardner's Hole. Go for a boat ride on Yellowstone Lake. Take a self-guided ramble on a wooden boardwalk. Hike a rarely traveled backcountry trail. Uncover history at Fort Yellowstone. View paintings by Thomas Moran at the Albright Visitor Center. Partake in a ranger-led program. Earn a junior ranger badge. And if you are visiting in winter, snowshoe and x-country ski in a group or individually. Few places in the world are as wondrous as Yellowstone.
Yellowstone National Park is located in the northwest corner of Wyoming. There are 5 park entrances - north, northeast, east, south and west - and plethora of park roads yet getting to Yellowstone isn't as easy as it sounds. The North Entrance, US 89 via Gardner, MT, is the only year-round park entrance. The Northeast Entrance, US 12 via Silver Gate, MT, is open to wheeled vehicles throughout the year but the Beartooth Highway from Cooke City, MT to Red Lodge, MT closes with the first heavy snowfall. The East (US 20-16-14), West (US 20 via West Yellowstone, MT), and South (US 89 via Grand Teton National Park) entrances are open to wheeled vehicles from May through October and oversnow vehicles from late December to early March. West Yellowstone Airport in West Yellowstone, MT is the closest airport to the park. The service at this small airport, just 3 miles (5 km) from the West Entrance, is seasonal only. The best-served airport is Logan International, 129 miles (207 km) from the Northeast Entrance in Billings, MT. Gallatin Field Airport in Bozeman, MT is 73 miles (117 km) from the North Entrance and 87 miles (140 km) from the West Entrance. Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody, WY is 53 miles (85 km) from the East Entrance. Jackson Hole Airport in Jackson, WY is 56 miles (90 km) from the South Entrance. Idaho Falls Regional Airport in Idaho Fall, UT is roughly 100 miles (160 km) from the West Entrance. Karst Stage offers year-round shuttle service from Bozeman's Gallatin Field to West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs. Salt Lake Express offers bus service from Salt Lake City to West Yellowstone. Powder River offers bus service from Cody, WY to Yellowstone National Park. Amtrak doesn't stop anywhere near Yellowstone National Park.
A family vacation in Yellowstone National Park is tantamount to a road trip. At 2.2 million acres Yellowstone is larger than the U.S. states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Even a drive through trip from one gate to another is a likely to take the better part of an afternoon. The speed limit is 45 mph unless otherwise posted lower. Road construction is an annual event and can bring traffic to halt in the peak of summer. Wildlife doesn't yield to traffic nor move off the road for oncoming vehicles. Having said that, nearly all of Yellowstone's must sees are within walking distance of Grand Loop Road, a 140-mile figure 8 that loops through the park's heart. And all of the public roads in Yellowstone - more than 350 miles - are scenic drives. So why should one consider visiting the park in any other way? Yellowstone boasts more than 950 miles of blazed and mapped trails. Backcountry hikes and horsepacking trips offer an opportunity to explore wild Yellowstone. Of note, cycling in Yellowstone in on-road bicycle touring. There are only a few miles of designated bikes routes. Cyclists share public roads with motorists. There is no public transport in Yellowstone National Park.
While there is no right or wrong time of year to visit Yellowstone there are few things to keep in mind when traveling with kids. July is the warmest month (75°F or 24°C); January is the coldest (25°F or -4°C). The nighttime low is significantly cooler than the daytime high all through the year. Afternoon rain showers are likely in July and August and snow is possible from September to June. Sudden changes in the weather happen all the time. The peak tourist season is late June to mid-August. Fall (late August to late October) and spring (April and May) offer the best wildlife viewing. Yellowstone is magical in winter (November to March) but it is often downright frigid. Pack warm cloths and wet weather gear and plan to dress in layers no matter when you travel.
Dehydration, altitude sickness, hot water, hypothermia and wildlife encounters are the main health risks in Yellowstone. Carry plenty of water (4 liters per person per day is recommended when hiking in summer) and encourage children to drink regularly. Don't drink the water in the lakes, rivers or streams unless you boil or filter it first. Select activities that are commensurate with the age and ability of the kids and give your body a chance to acclimate before you play hard. Keep to boardwalks and designated trails; the earth in geothermal areas is little more than a thin crust overlaying hot, scalding water. Swimming and bathing is prohibited in all areas but two: Boiling River and Firehole Canyon. Dress with highs and lows in mind. Pack rain gear and extra clothing even if it is warm and sunny when you set out. Maintain a safe distance from all wildlife, 100 yards (91m) from bears and wolves and 25 yards (23m) from all other animals. Be bear aware at all times; carry bear spray, make lots of noise on hikes, and store food and discard debris in apposite bear safe containers.
Yellowstone National Park is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Ranger-led programs are offered from June through September and late December through late February. Many of the programs are family-oriented and offer kids a chance to earn a junior ranger badge. The North Entrance is the only park entrance open all year. North Entrance Road and Grand Loop Road between Mammoth Hot Springs and Cooke City are open to wheeled vehicles year-round weather permitting. Snow tires and/or chains are often required. All other park roads and entrances are open seasonally.
A single entry fee, valid for 7 consecutive days at both Grand Teton and Yellowstone, is charged per vehicle. Visitors entering the park on foot, bicycle and skis are accessed individually. Children aged 16 and under are free of charge. Annual passes offer value for repeat and multiple national park visits. Ranger-led programs, including adventure hikes, are free of charge. Backcountry permits are required for all overnight backcountry trips and can be reserved in advance from Jan. 1 to May 15 or obtained in person on a first-come, first-serve basis. A fishing permit is required for all anglers.