Yellowstone National Park is a wonderland of bursting geysers, roaming wildlife, and unparalleled outdoor adventures. Yellowstone is one of the largest national parks in the U.S. It’s bigger than the U.S. states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined! And with five different entrances to the park, it’s important to know which one to choose to make the most of your visit. In this guide, we’ll focus on the two most popular entrances so you know what to expect and which Yellowstone hotels to stay at during your trip.
Experience North Yellowstone: Gateway to Wildlife
North Yellowstone Entrance
The North Entrance is the only year-round entrance to Yellowstone National Park, and it’s closest to Bozeman International Airport, with car rentals available. The drive from the airport to the entrance takes just under 2 hours. This entrance is ideal for those who want to explore the park’s northern region from the second most popular entrance, which is less crowded and offers some of the most stunning natural landscapes dotted with roaming bison and bighorn sheep.
Top Things to See and Do in North Yellowstone
Witness the ceremonial entrance to the world’s first national park at the Roosevelt Arch. This historical landmark was built in 1903 and named after President Theodore Roosevelt, who gave a speech from the arch during his visit to the park. The arch marks the original entrance to Yellowstone and is a symbol of Americana with the words “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” inscribed on it. Take advantage of this opportunity to experience a piece of history and marvel at the stunning architecture.
Mammoth Hot Springs
One of the main attractions in the area is Mammoth Hot Springs, a collection of hot springs and rust-colored terraces formed over thousands of years. You can walk around the boardwalks and explore the different formations, which come in various colors and shapes, resembling the inside of a cave.
Often referred to as America’s Serengeti, this vast valley offers some of the best wildlife viewing in the world. From bison and wolves to elk and coyotes, Lamar Valley is home to an incredible variety of animals that roam freely throughout the valley. One of the best ways to experience Lamar Valley is by taking a guided tour with a knowledgeable park ranger or a local wildlife guide. They can provide insights into the behaviors and habitats of the animals and help you spot them in their natural environment. However, you can also explore the area on your own and enjoy the breathtaking views of the valley framed by towering mountain ranges.
Norris Geyser Basin
The Norris Geyser Basin is a dynamic and ever-changing landscape of bubbling hot springs, geysers, and mud pots that are constantly changing before your eyes. Be sure to check out Steamboat Geyser, the tallest geyser in the world, which can shoot water over 300-feet in the air during an eruption. The Norris Geyser Basin also offers several hiking trails, ranging from easy to moderate, allowing you to explore the area on foot and discover hidden gems.
Boiling River Swimming Area
Yellowstone has two designated swimming areas, the Boiling River and Firehole River, where you can safely take a dip and soak in wilderness surroundings. The Boiling River is a unique spot where the scalding hot water of the Boiling River meets with the freezing cold waters of the Gardiner River, creating a perfect temperature for a relaxing dip. This area is quite popular during peak season, so pack your swimsuit and towel, and be ready to share the experience with others.
Things to Do Near North Yellowstone
If you’re looking for things to do outside of the park, the nearby town of Gardiner offers horseback riding, fishing, rafting, trekking, and a variety of restaurants to choose from. Livingston, Gardiner, Bozeman, and Yellowstone National Park are all in the area and offer plenty of other attractions and activities to enjoy.
Where to Stay Near North Yellowstone
For a convenient stay near the North Entrance, choose Under Canvas North Yellowstone – Paradise Valley. Located just 20-minutes from Livingston and 45-minutes from Bozeman, it provides easy access to the park and the Paradise Valley region. You can enjoy world-class fly fishing and river float experiences on the Yellowstone River, which offers more than a mile of pristine riverfront access. Relax in upscale canvas tents with ensuite bathrooms, king beds with plush linens, hot running water, and wood-burning stoves. Indulge in quintessential Montana cuisine and cocktails around the firepit under the starry night sky in the evenings.
Experience West Yellowstone: Geyser Country
West Yellowstone Entrance
The West Entrance is the park’s busiest and most popular entrance, and it’s also the second-closest to Bozeman International Airport, taking roughly two hours to drive to the West Entrance. This entrance is perfect for first-time Yellowstone visitors who want to see some of the park’s most iconic attractions, like Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, and Morning Glory Pool.
Top Things to See and Do in West Yellowstone
Old Faithful is one of the most popular attractions in Yellowstone National Park, and visiting this famous geyser is a must-do for any Yellowstone itinerary. Located in the heart of geyser country near the West Entrance, Old Faithful erupts approximately every 90-minutes and can shoot water up to 185-feet in the air. To visit Old Faithful, park in the designated parking lot and follow the signs to the viewing area. You can check the schedule of Old Faithful’s predicted eruptions at the visitor center, which is located near the viewing area. Plan to arrive early, especially during peak season, to secure a spot in the viewing area. After Old Faithful erupts, you can explore the other geysers and hot springs in the Upper Geyser Basin or hike one of the nearby trails for a closer look at the park’s unique geothermal landscape.
Grand Prismatic Spring
The Grand Prismatic Spring is a vision of otherworldly beauty, a shimmering pool of liquid fire that glows with orange, red, and turquoise rings. This incredible hot spring is located in the Midway Geyser Basin and is the largest hot spring in the U.S. and the third-largest in the world. The vibrant colors of the spring are caused by pigmented bacteria that grow around the edges of the mineral-rich water. The colors are most vivid on a clear day when the sun reflects off the water’s surface, creating a stunning visual display. Visitors can view the Grand Prismatic Spring from a boardwalk that surrounds the spring or by hiking to a nearby hilltop that offers a panoramic view of the area.
Upper Geyser Basin
Upper Geyser Basin is a wonderland of explosive energy, with over 150 geysers in just one square mile that shoot towering plumes of steam and water high into the sky. The Upper Geyser Basin offers several hiking trails that allow visitors to explore the unique geothermal landscape. The Fairy Falls trail is a popular hiking trail that leads to a beautiful waterfall and offers stunning views of the geysers and hot springs.
Things to Do Near West Yellowstone
Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
Come face to face with grizzly bears, wolves, and other fascinating wildlife at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, a not-for-profit wildlife park dedicated to education and conservation. With knowledgeable staff guiding your way, learn about the lives and habits of these magnificent creatures that call Yellowstone home. Engage in interactive exhibits, educational programs, and witness the bears forage for food in a simulated natural environment. Children (and adults alike) will be captivated by these amazing animals’ behaviors and unique characteristics, making it a memorable experience for the whole family.
Explore Big Sky, the perfect day trip from West Yellowstone, less than an hour away. Start the day with a scenic chairlift ride to Lone Mountain for panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Then, explore the area on foot with a hike on one of the many trails, or rent a mountain bike for a thrilling ride down the mountain. Stop for lunch at one of the many restaurants offering local Montana cuisine. After lunch, head to the Gallatin River for some of the best fly-fishing in the country, or take a zip-line tour for a unique perspective on the area’s natural beauty. End the day with a relaxing soak in one of the local hot springs or visit one of the art galleries.
Where to Stay Near West Yellowstone
Under Canvas West Yellowstone is located just 10-minutes from the primary Yellowstone National Park West Entrance, serving as a gateway to Montana’s unique hydrothermal and geologic wonders, diverse wildlife, and boundless means of outdoor recreation near America’s first national park. Our upscale, safari-inspired tents feature king-size beds with plush linens, ensuite bathrooms boasting hot showers, in-tent wood-burning stoves, and sensational views. Explore Yellowstone by day and relax at camp by night with starry skies, on-site dining, and complimentary s’mores.
There’s so much to see in Yellowstone it can be hard to decide where to spend your time. Experience the best of Yellowstone with a stay at both star-filled Yellowstone locations, Under Canvas North Yellowstone – Paradise Valley and Under Canvas West Yellowstone. Check out our suggested 4-day Yellowstone itinerary to make the most of your national park adventure.