Tips for visiting Yellowstone – updated for 2021

While we will not be working at Yellowstone this summer, I like to keep track of what is happening at the park. Here is what is known as of March 13, 2021. The biggest change is in the first come, first serve camping spots. Norris and Tower campground will be closed for the entire 2021 summer season. Three campgrounds will now require reservations through – Mammoth, Slough Creek and Pebble Creek (sites 1-16).

For the reservation campgrounds, the campgrounds are opening much later than usual. Here are those dates:

Madison Campground – May 14
Canyon Campground – May 21
Bridge Bay Campground – June 11
Grant Village Campground – June 18
Fishing Bridge RV Park – Closed for Summer 2021

Yellowstone is the oldest park in the United States. It is in a remote region of the United States. Yellowstone is surrounded by National Forest land on all sides. This means no matter where you are entering it will be a long ride into the park. Yellowstone is 2.2 million acres. If you need a visual reference, Yellowstone is the size of Rhode Island and Delaware smashed together. That brings me to tip 1.

  1. Everything takes longer in Yellowstone. Even when you enter the park you will still have to drive fairly far to any hotels or campgrounds. Don’t wait to dusk to try to find your destination. There are no street lights in the park. Yellowstone is trying to achieve a dark sky designation. Elk and bison eyes do not reflect in car lights. Driving in the dark long distances is a recipe for disaster.
  2. I recommend reservations for RVs over 25 feet long. Canyon, Grant, Madison and Bridge Bay are reservation only campgrounds. Walk in are welcomed IF there is space available. Fishing Bridge will closed for all of summer 2021. This means that during peak season (July/August) there will be less RV spots available. If you are over 40 in total length you definitely want a reservation. The demand for large spots is very high. Trying to get a walk in reservation during peak season could lead to you having to leave the park to find a space to put your RV.
  3. Don’t try to see it all in one day. Again, 2.2 million acres. If you just drive the two grand loops you will see about 1% of the park. Even if you just do the grand loops you are talking a day a piece and that is if you don’t leave your car. That would really be sad. Do a little research before you get here and figure out what you would like to see. I recommend at least one hike if you are able. If you have a short stay then I would recommend Fairy Falls because it is relatively flat. You can see thermal features, lots of nature and a beautiful falls all in about 7 to 8 miles depending the route you take.
  4. Follow the animal warning signs. You should be at least 25 yards away for most animals. 100 yards for bears and wolves. Bison in particular look slow. They are not. They can run up to 35 mph sustained. They can turn on a dime. It is to your peril if you don’t heed this warning.
  5. Stay on the boardwalks. They are there to protect you. After reading the book Death in Yellowstone, it changed my whole view on safety in the park. You could get burned or worse die by not heeding this warning.
  6. It is recommended that you do not run in Yellowstone. Why? You make yourself look like prey. I see plenty of folks ignoring this rule. If you must run, do it in a very populated area because prey animals really don’t like to be around a lot of people.
  7. Another rule that I see being ignored is scooters, skateboards or hover boards. RV and folks driving trucks cannot see you if you are in a campground. Outside the campgrounds you become prey. Bikes are okay. I always carry bear spray in my water holder and keep my water on my back when I ride my bike. This way I am ready if I come across a bear or other another that might want to charge me.
  8. I recommend visiting the thermal features on the Old Faithful side of the park before 10:30 am. This way you can beat the crowds. All of the visitor centers will have the predictions of any geyser that is predictable on a leader board in the center. I highly recommend you check that. I was able to see four geysers in the upper basin go off within three hours of each other by timing how I walked around that basin.
  9. Park in the overflow parking at the Mid-geyser basin and Norris geyser basin region during peak season (July/August). I don’t even try to go into the parking lots. You can spend up to an hour just trying to traverse the parking lot. You have to walk farther but you will be able to visit the area much faster than trying to park close. Otherwise visit before 10 am or after 6 pm so that you can get closer parking.
  10. The best animal viewing is at dawn and dusk. There is plenty of spectacular animal viewing in Hayden and Lamar Valleys. However, always in on the lookout for animals. I saw my only wolf over in the Storm Point area in the early afternoon. You never know when you will have that encounter. I recommend whoever is not driving to be scanning the tree line. That is where the magic happens.
  11. Use the pullouts when you want to view nature or animals in Yellowstone. Lots of people just stop in the middle of the road. It is rude and dangerous. There are pullouts about every 20 feet to 1/4 mile in Hayden and Lamar Valley. Traffic would flow much better if everyone followed this rule.
  12. Lactose intolerant warning – there is little for those of us who cannot consume milk products. I have found mango sorbet at the Canyon and Mammoth Grills. No other place in the park has sorbet, Italian ice or other milk free cold dessert. Bring your own dairy free product if you want something for your coffee as well.
  13. Yellowstone has all 4 seasons during the summer months. Figure out which you would like best. May is pretty much winter. June starts out winter and becomes spring. July starts spring and quickly becomes summer. August starts as summer but by the end it will be fall. September starts as fall but becomes winter cold fairly quickly. Plan your trip accordingly. I recommend that you bring a warm coat and hat because the weather can change on a dime.
  14. Go to Artist Point (South Rim of the Grand Canyon) around 10 am in the morning. That is when you can see the best rainbows coming off the lower falls. It makes a really awesome picture.
  15. There is little to no internet connectivity in Yellowstone. Why? The entire park is surrounded by mountains. Connectivity is much better now than it was the first time that I visited this park. Yellowstone is a preserve park meaning they are trying to keep it as natural as possible. There will be only so many cell towers allowed in the park due to this. During the peak season the circuits are overloaded so no one can get on. Be prepared. I had many guests stating they were cutting their stay short due to lack of connectivity. There are no TVs in the hotels or restaurants either. Bring card and board games. Be ready to talk to each other. You can survive a vacation without the internet.
  16. Hiking – boots and good socks will make your hike more comfortable. Take enough water when hiking since there are no water fountains or places to take on water on trails. Due to high elevation, you will feel the affects of dehydration much more quickly.

This is a pretty comprehensive list. What do you think that I left off?

3 Comments on “Tips for visiting Yellowstone – updated for 2021

  1. Thanks for such a comprehensive post. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of your posts and pictures since the beginning of your journey and have learned a lot. Thanks again and stay safe!

  2. Excellent summary of your stay and tips Jowanna. Thanks for sharing the adventure and photographs.

  3. Pingback: Working in Yellowstone | JoDo Chasing Rainbows

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