It’s always been my mom’s dream to visit Yellowstone National Park. A few years ago, that dream became a reality on a family trip with my mom, my brothers, and me.
We live all over the U.S. but coordinated our schedules so that we could fly into Jackson Hole to stay there a couple days before making the drive up to Yellowstone together.
We saw incredible wildlife, hot springs, geysers, waterfalls, canyons, mountains, and so much more. Read my tips below for planning your own amazing adventure to Yellowstone National Park.
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1. Plan on going in late summer
I recommend going to Yellowstone in July or August.
Cooler temperatures in the spring and summer mean that it can take awhile for the winter snow to melt. Certain areas and trails can be closed or impassable when there’s still snow on the ground.
Plus, Yellowstone can experience late spring and early fall snowstorms. July and August are the only two months of the year that usually don’t see snowfall.
The pic below shows the Teton Mountain range, south of Yellowstone, in June. As you can see, plenty of snow still on those mountain caps!
2. Stay in Jackson Hole at the beginning and end of your trip
Jackson Hole is a valley in Wyoming that sits right along the stunning Teton Mountain Range. It boasts the town of Jackson, Wyoming (10,000 people strong!) with one of the closest (semi) major airports to Yellowstone.
From Jackson, it’s about a 2.5-3 hour drive to Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn, which is right in the heart of Yellowstone.
While Jackson is still a relatively small airport, it offered my family enough options for us all to easily fly in from our respective locations (the 4 D’s – Des Moines, Dallas, Denver, & DC).
Jackson still has the look and feel of an old Western town and has amazing scenery that you just have to see. I was blown away by the rich colors – deep green grass, pristine blue skies, and breathtaking sunsets.
While in Jackson, make sure to see the elk antler arches in the town square, take the gondola to the top of the Teton Mountain Range, and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of this amazing town.
3. Reserve your rental car ahead of time
At the Jackson Airport, you can pick-up a rental car to drive to and from Yellowstone. While the airport is big enough to accommodate everyone with rental cars, it’s small enough that it doesn’t have a lot of rental car counters.
I’m often surprised when I travel to learn that people aren’t members of the free rental car company reward programs and don’t reserve cars ahead of time. Even though these reward programs are completely free, they come with big perks – you usually can skip the line entirely, go directly to your pre-reserved car, and quickly exit the airport. VIP treatment for free!
When we arrived at Jackson, there was a crazy long line at the regular rental car counter. But there was a separate rewards program counter that had zero line. Since I was a member of the rewards program (remember, free!) and had pre-reserved the car, I was able to zip right up to the counter, grab the keys to the car, and exit the airport within minutes.
(By the way, this is a super easy way to impress your family – none of my travel experiences have amazed my family as much as my sweet rental car reservation skills.)
4. Consider getting a big ole rental car
While I normally wouldn’t recommend getting a gigantic rental car, you may want to consider doing so for your Yellowstone trip.
There are huge animals everywhere (elk, bears, bison, moose) and they have a tendency to wander on to the roadways. If you’ve ever lived in an area with lots of deer or elk, you know that it can be virtually impossible to safely avoid hitting them if they jump into your path on the road.
As vigilant as you are as a driver, sometimes you can’t avoid hitting an animal that suddenly appears on the road. If worse case scenario happens and you hit a big animal, you’ll be better protected in a bigger car.
5. Be extra mindful while driving
Driving in Yellowstone is not for the faint-hearted.
In addition to the large animals to avoid, there are lots of sharp inclines and steep cliffs along the road. My knuckles are still white from the experience!
That being said – driving around Yellowstone was an incredible experience and I believe one of the best ways to see the park. While there are some great tours available that you should experience, I also recommend that you spend some time driving yourself around the park. You want to give yourself the freedom to pull over to see wildlife, take detours to see that gorgeous waterfall, and go at your own pace.
6. It can be chilly even in the summer
The warmest months of the year in Yellowstone are July and August. Even when traveling during those two months, it can feel pretty chilly, with highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s.
I wore jeans and sweaters every day of the trip and was very comfortable. I recommend bringing extra layers to add or shed as the sun rises and sets. Even a place as gorgeous as Yellowstone can result in a negative experience if you feel too hot or too cold.
But don’t forget the sunscreen! When you’re feeling chilly, it’s easy to forget that you’re in the sun and potentially getting a sunburn.
7. Air quality can be poor
With so many hot springs, geysers, and other geothermal activity, there’s a lot of sulfur in the air. All that sulfur can mean poor breathing conditions, especially for those who suffer from asthma and other respiratory concerns. If this is you or anyone else in your group, plan on having your medication handy and take it easy until you know how the air will affect you.
Yellowstone also sits an average of 8,000 feet above sea level. This means that the air at Yellowstone may be a little thinner than the air where you live. Normal activities may be a little tougher the first few days as your body acclimates to the altitude. Give yourself some time to adjust before taking on any major activities.
8. The animals really are wild
Year after year, we read articles about people getting injured by wildlife at Yellowstone.
Common knowledge tells us that most wild animals don’t like to be approached. But you’ll see people at Yellowstone getting way, way too close to these animals. All in an effort to get that perfect picture.
But that perfect picture just isn’t worth the risk of injury to you or the distress to the animal when you get too close to them or their young.
If a person gets too close, worse case scenario is that the animal attacks. But best case scenario probably has the animal running away. Then you’re left with a lot of annoyed people who just wanted to watch the animal at a safe distance before it was scared off.
When everyone stays a safe distance away, you get the unbelievable experience of seeing these majestic animals in a beautiful environment.
9. Food options are limited
After you leave your accommodations for the day, it may be a few hours before you reach a place to stop for food. And while there are general stores in Yellowstone, you may find that they don’t cover all your grocery needs.
If you’re staying in Jackson or another city before heading to Yellowstone, I recommend stocking up on non-perishable and portable eats there. Granola bars, trail mix, and nuts are great options that will hold off the hunger and won’t take up too much room in your bag.
10. Accommodations may be different than what you’re used to
If you’re looking to kick-back in your hotel room after an awesome day of hiking to watch TV, use the WiFi, and bask in the air conditioning – well, you might be disappointed.
At Yellowstone, you’re encouraged to immerse yourself in the outdoor experience. That means no TV or WiFi in the rooms. Plus, because temperatures rarely exceed 80 degrees and humidity is low, the rooms don’t have air conditioning.
You should also know when booking your accommodations that some of the older properties have common bathrooms shared with other guests. There are plenty of room options with private bathrooms, just be sure to read the description closely before booking to understand the type of room you’re getting.
11. Talk to the Park Rangers
You’ll find National Park Rangers throughout the park. Talk to them. Ask them questions. They are full of incredible and useful information that will really add to your experience.
In addition to being very knowledgeable about Yellowstone, National Park Rangers generally have great life experiences that led them on the path to be a Park Ranger. You’ll walk away from your conversation with more information and a greater appreciation of the awesomeness of Yellowstone.
12. Soak it all in
Yellowstone is truly spectacular. In my opinion, it’s one of the most unique and beautiful places in the world. Take time while you’re there to take it all in.
I can be guilty of trying to get the perfect picture and letting that distract me from truly being present in the moment. Allow yourself time to take that photo. But then put the camera and phone away and just exist for a little bit. Take in the awesomeness of it all.
I found my trip to Yellowstone to be incredibly therapeutic. There’s just something but being immersed in that much nature that settles and grounds you.
Bonus: Whitewater rafting in Jackson
If you get some extra time in Jackson before or after your Yellowstone visit, I recommend trying out whitewater rafting on the Snake River. I also just wanted to share the hilarious picture below.
My brothers, James and John, are the identical twins sitting in the front of the raft. My brother John (on the right) was just a little bit cold on the raft. You might want to consider getting a wetsuit to help with the cold.
But I’m super glad we didn’t get wetsuits because this picture of John’s priceless face wouldn’t exist otherwise! (Sibling love – ha!) And check out my mom nailing it in the back right. Go, Mom!
I loved Yellowstone and I think you’ll love your Yellowstone experience, too. Happy travels!
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Comments or Questions?
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