The National Park system in the United States has been operating for more than 100 years, protecting and preserving the natural landscapes and animals that live there, as well as making the parks enjoyable for visitors. The first of the parks to be established was Yellowstone National Park, which covers approximately 3,472 square miles in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.
The park features hiking trails, campgrounds, and some incredible geysers, including the world-famous Old Faithful, which erupts every 44 minutes to two hours.
The park is thrilling to visit all year long, but here are some of the best reasons that you should plan a trip as soon as you can to Yellowstone National Park. And next, don’t miss The Best National Park in Every State.
National parks throughout the United States have seen a massive uptick in visitors over the past few years, making many visitors’ trips to the great outdoors a bit more crowded than expected. That’s why it’s convenient to visit off-season, right when the parks open, but before a lot of the crowds have started packing up the parks, including Yellowstone.
Summer is by far the park’s busiest season, but much of Yellowstone’s amenities opened up in April or early in May, including lodging at Old Faithful Inn, one of the park’s nine on-site lodging spaces. Other parts of the park stay open year-round, like the Albright Visitor Center on Yellowstone’s north side.
“One of the reasons to visit Yellowstone National Park at this moment is that the park is already open for the summer season, but it’s not busy yet,” says Jurga Rubinovaite, a travel blogger at Full Suitcase. “Most roads are accessible in May, or will be accessible by the end of the month, but there are just very few visitors compared to the peak summer months.”
With soaring gas and food prices, planning a vacation may be near the bottom of your priorities, but thankfully, a trip to a national park remains one of the most affordable travel experiences you can have. If you’re putting together a trip to a national park, Yellowstone, ranked the best national park in the world, is one of the best choices you can make. Once you enter the park, every experience, apart from buying souvenirs, is free, so you can enjoy hiking, picnicking, and camping to your heart’s content.
“Now that inflation is soaring and prices are going up, a visit to a national park like Yellowstone remains a very affordable vacation choice,” says Rubinovaite. “Apart from accommodation and a small National Parks fee, all the sights in the park can be enjoyed free of charge. You can keep the travel budget even lower if you decide to camp, and there are lots of great campsites in and near Yellowstone.”
It’s hard to come away from a trip to a national park without at least one stunning shot, but right now is a peak time to go to the parks and grab some photos because it’s the Milky Way season. From April to October we look toward the center of our galaxy, making for some beautiful pictures of the starry night sky… if you have the patience for it.
“You don’t need a special camera or anything, just a regular DSLR, mirrorless, or even just a modern smartphone will do if it has an astrophotography mode,” says Anthony Robinson of the astronomy website Skies and Scopes. “You’ll need to take a long exposure image in order to capture the light from the stars in the dark sky, and with a few tries, you might end up with one of those stunning images of starry skies that you’ve seen on Instagram.”
He adds that Yellowstone, or other national parks, are ideal places to try and get shots of the star-filled sky because of their open spaces and lack of light pollution.
“Yellowstone is a perfect place to give it a try since you are away from light pollution and you can compose your photo above the beautiful landscapes around,” Robinson says.
Spotting wildlife is one of the most exciting activities at any national park, and at Yellowstone, there’s no shortage of animals to make a memorable trip, like bison, grizzly bears, native fish, and a whole host of bird species.
For aviary aficionados in particular, right now is a prime time to visit the park because of the unique birds that can be viewed.
“If you go to Yellowstone in the springtime, you’ll be able to see fascinating species of birds, such as the Osprey, Snipe, and the yellow-bellied Meadowlark,” says Joseph Greene, the CEO and founder of Trinidad Birding. “Because [spring] is a much quieter season for Yellowstone visits, the birds are much more likely to come out up close and personal.”
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When the weather warms up, it’s always great to be able to get outside and appreciate the beauty of nature. One of the top ways to do that at Yellowstone National Park is by going on a hike on one of the park’s many diverse trails.
“There are countless reasons why Yellowstone should be on any hiker’s must-visit list,” says outdoor educator and hiking guide, Gaby Pilson. “In particular, the park’s incredible landscapes, beautiful mountains, and out-of-this-world hydrothermal features, like its geysers, make it an amazing and unique destination for any outdoor enthusiast.”
If you’re traveling to a national park from a suburban or urban area, chances are, you don’t have the opportunity to see a lot of grizzly bears in the wild. While that’s ultimately for the best (it would be a little frightening to see a grizzly bear walking down a city street), the opportunity to see one of the bears before they go off to hibernate for the winter is an unparalleled opportunity that’s available to you in and around Yellowstone National Park.
“Although grizzly bears are found throughout much of the park, my tip for those that absolutely have to see grizzlies is to head just north of the park to Tom Miner Basin,” says Jake Heller of Campnado.
He also says that it’s not hard to catch sight of wolves at the park, as they typically gather around Lamar Valley in the northern part of the park.
“The very early morning is your best chance to see wolves and Lamar Valley is the best place in the park to see them,” Heller says. “If you do arrive in early spring, when there’s still snow on the ground, the wolves are easier to spot with their dark fur against the white ground.”
Some of Yellowstone National Park is open to visitors all year round, but it’s only a fraction of what the park has to offer, as the only entrance that’s open throughout the winter is the park’s north entrance. Driving conditions also become difficult, and most of the park’s roads are closed throughout the winter, but most roads through the park begin to open back up for the new year around the months of April and May.
“The South Entrance was set to reopen on May 13, conditions permitting,” says Abigail Nueve, the editor of Travel Lemming. “This grants access to the entire lower loop, which allows visitors to see most major park attractions in a single day. Heading counter-clockwise, these include Yellowstone Lake, Hayden Valley, Canyon Village, Grand Prismatic Spring, and Old Faithful.”
In addition to allowing visitors the access to visit all of these locations, the south entrance also leads straight to nearby Grand Teton National Park, if you’re up for another park after Yellowstone.
Last year, Yellowstone National Park launched the first run of its TEDDY shuttle. TEDDY, which stands for The Electric Driverless Demonstration in Yellowstone, takes park visitors through the Canyon Village campground on one of two low-speed, electric, driverless shuttles. The park is testing out options to help lower the impact that increasing visitors and traffic are having. While this will have beneficial environmental impacts, the shuttle system, which will keep drivers out of many areas of the park, will change the experience of visiting Yellowstone from what it’s historically been.
“You can still drive through the park today, but there’s no guarantee that this will be the case next year,” says Nikki Webster, a travel expert at Brit on the Move. “The park piloted the first automated shuttle system in any of the national parks in May of 2021, so the signals are there.”
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