With a visit to Yellowstone National Park on the horizon, it’s time to get excited. If you like being in that sweet spot between planner and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-er, you’ll love laying out your trip to America’s first national park. Here are some factors to consider—and activities to ponder—as you organize your trip.
If you’re looking at a summer visit to Yellowstone, it’s best to start planning about a year in advance. Yes, it’s possible to be spontaneous, but you’re more likely to find lodging available on short notice if you plan to travel in spring or fall instead of during the high season in summer.
Even if you don’t make reservations right away, it’s important to know your top adventure priorities. If you absolutely must go on an adventure pack trip on horseback, you’ll want to know which outfitter to ride with, so you can book sooner than later. If you have a specific backcountry overnight you want to backpack, you’ll have to get your permit application in early.
You don’t need to plan every second of every day — in fact, we recommend you don’t. Bison traffic jams and chance roadside bear sightings mean it’s best to take your time and embrace the spontaneity of the wild wherever you can. But some activities and accommodations book up fast, so you should know your must-dos and reserve them in advance.
Before you visit Yellowstone, there’s a lot to know: how seasons affect what’s open and accessible around the park, what you can do in each area of the park, what’s allowed, and what to expect. Dive deep into the National Park Service website, and explore resources like the Highline Adventures blog.
Do you love wildlife and want to see as much as you can? A visit to the West Yellowstone Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center or a guided driving trip through the Lamar Valley might be the best bet. Are you desperate to see Old Faithful’s eruption with fewer crowds? Visit in winter via a snow coach or download the park’s geyser app to figure out when to expect an eruption early in the day before the crowds get there. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you might relish some whitewater rafting through Gallatin Canyon or a zip line tour through the forest canopy.
Whatever you do, research all of your opportunities beforehand so you don’t miss out on anything that grabs your attention.
Unless you’re staying for five years (literally), chances are you won’t be able to do everything on your list. That’s the beauty of a visit to Southwest Montana, and Yellowstone in particular – there’s always another adventure right around the corner. You might want to throw a little bit of everything in; hiking through geothermal wonders, scoping wildlife, soaking in hot springs, and enjoying a ranger talk. You could choose to focus on just one area of interest, knowing you need to return in the future. And that’s the best thing about Yellowstone. It always calls you back again.