Beginner Tips for Visiting Yellowstone

by Sue Markovitch

Here are some day-after observations, although I am a novice camper and Yellowstone adventurer.

1. This was not an expensive adventure! Bridge Bay campground, which I had reserved in advance, was only $26/night. I spent $208 total for gas from Phoenix to YNP. [Entry to any National Park = $35 per car, but I have an annual pass so I didn’t have to pay that.] I brought all my own food, and after taking my fellow camper Marie’s advice and spending money ($85) on a decent cooler, it actually kept a week’s worth of food cold and fresh. So, super affordable adventure.

2. There are many campgrounds to choose from. I selected Bridge Bay simply because it was the only one available for 4 nights in a row. It would be fun to try out different ones. That would mean tearing down camp and setting up somewhere else, though. I really loved that Bridge Bay was centrally located. and right on Yellowstone Lake near Hayden Valley – home of hundreds if not thousands of bison. Bridge Bay does however have 400+ campsites, and some of them are small and cozy up next to someone else. We were on the back side of loop C, which meant our backyard was open pine forest.

3. I completely underestimated how BIG the park is. It is hard to explain. For example, it was almost a 40 mile drive to Old Faithful from Bridge Bay. It was also 40 miles to Grand Prismatic. The Yellowstone Grand Loop is 142 mile figure 8-shaped paved road. You can get to all the main features of the park from this road system. Plan out your days and expect to spend a lot of time in the car.

4. The tourist attractions such as Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic are busiest from 10am – 6pm. Each area has a one-way boardwalk from which to view the features. There were a lot of people when we went, and it’s a slow time for the park due. I cannot imagine when it’s peak busy. We learned that the best time to see these park features is early or late. Not only are the crowds thinner, but getting to the see landscapes just after dawn and at dusk are an entirely different light and level of beauty. Get up early and go see the park awakening! Then stop back at camp for lunch and a nap while the crowds see the sights. Or, like we did one day, take your cooler and camp stove with you, find a picnic area somewhere beautiful, and make lunch there.

5. If you want to hike, get your hands on a backcountry map with all the hiking trails and trailheads. This is a different map than the one they give you of the roads. Marie did a great job of finding trails that were within our hiking ability, that were also on a route that we could get to in a reasonable amount of time. Try to string things together that are in the same quadrant of the park. That way, you aren’t driving one direction to see Old Faithful, then driving 100 miles to your trailhead. Although, the drive is half the fun. Don’t be afraid to pull off at every stop. There are so many scenic views! We saw black bear, elk, bison bison, and much more. Also, don’t be afraid to take the trails to see waterfalls! They are doable trails, often paved, and well marked.

6. Make sure you follow the speed limit in the park – 45 mph unless otherwise posted! Guess how I know that. ha

7. BUG SPRAY & BEAR SPRAY. Seriously, do not skimp on either. I got bit up one day by forgetting to spray and they were brutally itchy bites. On our hike to Lewis Lake, it was clearly a bear area. We had our bear spray ready just in case, but the only time we saw a black bear was from a scenic stop towards the north east quadrant of the park. (That was awesome.)

8. The Grand Tetons are just south of Yellowstone and were so worth the drive on my way back to AZ. A front went through on our last night at Yellowstone, leaving a foggy cloud cover over the area the next morning. Watching the cragged peaks of the Tetons break through the fog all morning was stunning. The weather for us in July was cool at night (as low as 37 the first night more like 48 the next two, then a pretty heavy rain the final night, which was one of my favorite moments of the trip – laying there in my little tent listening to the rain beat down on my roof and feeling all the nature around me). Then sunny, blue sky with puffy clouds during the day as temps reached mid to upper 70’s. We were in higher altitude near 8,000 feet, so that contributed to the cooler nights and a mild altitude headache the first night. Take a can of Boost Oxygen – it does wonders when you’re feeling the effects of the thinner air.

9. You can get food in Yellowstone, we got ice cream one night! But one of my favorite things about this trip was preparing food around the campfire. Our friend Richard was really great about having a good fire going. Be ready to bundle up as the sun sets and enjoy the peace and serenity of sitting by the fire before retiring for the night.

10. The wildlife may come close. If you hear snorting just outside your tent during the night, open your window and LOOK! Otherwise, you will realize a bison came to welcome you to the park, and you were too scared to look out of the tent and say hello back : ) Honestly, with a few strategies in place, it felt totally safe, immersed in nature, away from connectivity (there is rarely ANY phone signal in the park – be ready to power down completely), the adventure of a lifetime. If you have any other questions, let me know.

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