Monday, July 28, 2014

Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful
The other night I met up with a fellow mom of twins and she mentioned she was heading to Yellowstone with her gang next month.  Since we just got back, I started sharing a few things with her and afterward she thanked me for all the information.

Later I thought, I have a lot of insider info from working two seasons in the park that might help people prepare for a better time.  So here are my top four points to make your visit less stressful!

Plan Ahead - Way Ahead


Main Entrance - Gardiner
Most lodging in the park is booked at least 6 months in advance if not farther.  If you plan to camp you will have a little more wiggle room, but if you need a hotel or cabin call as soon as you know.  This especially applies if you have a specific itinerary and want to stay in certain places on certain nights or need multiple rooms together.  The earlier you can call the better!

For camping: you will need to know exactly what size tent you have or they won't let you make a reservation.  There are also a few National Park campgrounds (most are run by a concessionaire) that are first come first serve, but you'd better plan to be there at exactly 11am or have a backup!

The lodging concessionaire is called Xanterra Parks and Resorts.

Take your Time

Bison in Hayden Valley
Most people don't realize just how big Yellowstone is.  At 3,468 square miles or 2.2 million acres, Yellowstone is big.  There is one main figure eight of road that goes through the park and for each "segment" (pretend it's a digital 8 and you'll understand the segments) you should allow about 45 minutes of driving time.  A few sections are shorter, but you also never know when you'll run into an Animal Jam! 

There is also usually major road construction on one or two segments each summer.

Besides, this is vacation and there are lots of little things to see along the way like stinky mud pits and picture perfect waterfalls!

Crested Pool
A good rule of thumb is that if you simply want to drive and take a few minor walks during the day, still don't plan to do more than one half of the figure eight in a day.  If you want more, allow at least 3 full days in the park to hit all the major view points!

Pack Well

Whether you're camping or not, please be aware that no food or food preparation items can be left outside unattended at any time.  This is for your safety and so that bears don't learn to come where the people are.

Mammoth Hot Springs
You should also bring plenty of snacks and as much food (for camping) as you can from outside because your choices are limited to one company of stores and they are expensive.  If you are staying in a hotel you are not allowed to cook/grill, but there are cafeterias, delis, and fine dining at each of the major lodging locations.  You'll still want snacks for your days of driving though!

In terms of clothing, layers are your friend.  The majority of the park is located at 6,000 feet or above in elevation.  It can get quite cold in the morning and evening and sometimes even snow.  There was a reason we had Christmas in August celebrations when I worked there! 

The elevation also affects how much sun you get.  When it does get warm and you shed your layers, be sure skin is covered with sunscreen, especially if you are fair.  And don't forget the bug spray!

Remember you are in a National Park!

Some of the funniest questions I got while working there related to the amenities (I worked as a front desk agent at one of the lodges).  There are no swimming pools. No TV's in the rooms. And most places don't even have phones.  Your cell phone will not likely work in most areas although there is now some wi-fi available in the lobbies with pay as you go service.

Some of the accommodations are very rustic, especially for the price.  But you're also paying for the location since having to stay outside the park means quite a bit of extra driving each day.

Lower Falls at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
There are very few street lights!  Some things, like the Lower Falls and Old Faithful can look really cool by moonlight, but please be VERY careful if attempting this since they are also in dangerous areas, especially in the dark!  Your best bet is to go to bed early and get up early with the sun to enjoy the most of your time in the Park.

You can also read more about our recent (camping!) adventures and see more photos here and here.

Have you been to Yellowstone National Park?  What are your top tips for a good vacation here?

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