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Current Search Destination:Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
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Overview
Overview
Essentials
Attractions
Restaurants
Insider Information
Recreation
Places in the Vicinity
Eric Vaughn / flickr

Introduction
Imagine trekking through the Rockies and coming upon a high mountain plateau where steam rose from jewel-colored pools, mud bubbled in thick pots and geysers roared 300 feet high out of the earth. The Crow Indians named this place “land of the burning ground.” The Blackfeet called it “many smoke.” Western explorers described fantastical scenes of “fire and brimstone.” Folks back home didn't believe the tall tales until artist Thomas Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson brought back proof in 1871—and America's first national park was born.
Eric Vaughn / flickr
Covering 2.2 million acres in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, Yellowstone is a dazzling mountain retreat, even without its 10,000 geologic wonders. Thousands of visitors arrive each year to hike, fish and camp in the backcountry, and even more make the pilgrimage to see Old Faithful. One of the most remarkable wildlife sanctuaries in North America, Yellowstone promises an unforgettable glimpse of bison, moose, elk, bald eagles, gray wolves, black bears and grizzlies.
Yellowstone National Park / flickr
Its combination of natural beauty and geothermal features—the highest concentration on earth—makes Yellowstone a once-in-a-lifetime destination. As 19th-century expeditioner Walter Trumbull predicted, “Probably no portion of America will be more popular as a watering place or summer resort than that which we had the pleasure of viewing, in all the glory and grandeur of its primeval solitude.”

In Depth
Yellowstone National Park has five entrances: Gardiner, Mont. (north); West Yellowstone, Mont. (west); Jackson Hole via Grand Teton National Park (about 60 miles south); Cody (about 53 miles east); and Cooke City, Mont. (northeast).
The first national park, Yellowstone was established by an act of Congress in 1872. The region took its name from the dramatic gold-hued cliffs lining the river canyon, known by the Minnetaree Native Americans as mi tse a-da-zi (Yellow Rock River).
Though its mountain forests and meadows are beautiful in their own right, Yellowstone is unique for its geysers, hot springs, mud pools and fumaroles—the largest concentration of geothermal features in the world. The park sits atop one of the largest active volcanoes on earth, a “hot spot” that last erupted some 640,000 years ago, carving out a caldera 30 miles wide and 45 miles long. Heated by this vast subterranean magma chamber, the Yellowstone valley continues to steam and vent.
Fountains of scalding water burst high into the air from some geysers, while others bubble and spit in murky depths. Hot springs gleam in shades of emerald green and blue. Algae and bacteria withstand boiling temperatures to create these vivid colors; vigorous steam vents emit uncanny sounds and smells.
Miles of boardwalks, paved trails and driving loops allow visitors to come within close proximity of these active volcanic formations. Despite their cool colors, mineral springs are boiling hot, and the solid-looking crusts around geyser formations can be remarkably fragile—keep a close watch over children while in these areas, and be sure to stay on boardwalks or formal paths.
In addition to its geologic wonders, Yellowstone National Park is also one of the most successful wildlife sanctuaries in the world. Grizzly and black bears can be sighted occasionally in the backcountry and sometimes from park roadways (a traffic situation known as “bear jam”). The park also has several thousand elk; many mule deer, pronghorn antelopes and moose; bands of bighorn sheep; and about 4,600 bison. Gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone 1995-97, and several packs now roam the park and surrounding areas; the wolf population is estimated to be between 400 and 450.

General Information
Most park roads are open to automobile travel from May through October (weather permitting). The 60-mile road between the north entrance at Gardiner, Mont., and the northeast entrance at Cooke City, Mont., is open all year. During the off-season this road is accessible only from the north entrance near Gardiner, Mont.; the northeast entrance via Red Lodge, Mont., is usually open from Memorial Day weekend through September 30. The east entrance from Cody usually opens in mid-May and remains open as weather permits.
The approach to Cooke City, Mont., from Red Lodge, Mont., via the Beartooth Scenic Highway (US 212) negotiates Beartooth Pass at an elevation of almost 11,000 feet. From Cody the approach to Sylvan Pass follows US 14/16/20 through the carved red walls of Wapiti Valley.
The road between Canyon and Tower-Roosevelt runs over Dunraven Pass and along Mount Washburn and passes Tower Fall, where the spectacles of the gorge, the falls on Tower Creek and the palisades of rock high above the Yellowstone River can be viewed.
Although most of the park's 3,472 square miles lie in northwestern Wyoming, they also extend into Montana and Idaho. The central portion of the park is essentially a broad, elevated volcanic plateau that lies between 6,500 and 8,500 feet above sea level. On the south, east, north and northwest are mountain ranges with peaks and ridges rising between 2,000 and 4,000 feet above the enclosed tableland.
Most park facilities are open mid-May to mid-October, but food and lodging facilities are limited after October 1. During the off-season manned gas stations are available only at Gardiner and Cooke City, Mont. Unstaffed, credit card-only gas stations are available at developed locations when the roads are open. Interior park roads are open to guided snowcoach and snowmobile tours from mid-December through the first week in March. During the summer, rental cars are available at Cody and Jackson as well as at Billings, Bozeman, Livingston and West Yellowstone, Mont.
The roads through the park make many of the most prominent attractions readily accessible. During the summer travel season visitors may encounter slow traffic. Be especially alert for others stopped in the road to watch wildlife; if you must stop, pull well off the highway onto a marked wayside.
Note: According to National Park Service figures, about 80 percent of the park roads are “in a structurally deficient state…including narrow shoulders and rough surfaces.” The roads are being gradually repaired under a 20-year program. For up-to-date road information phone (307) 344-2117.
The park headquarters is at Mammoth Hot Springs, 5 miles from the north entrance. The main post office is at Mammoth; ranger stations are at Old Faithful, Grant Village, Tower-Roosevelt, Mammoth Hot Springs, Lake, Madison, Bechler, Canyon and the south entrance. The Mammoth ranger station, open all year, is accessible by car in winter via the north entrance. West Thumb Information Center is located at junction Grand Loop and South Entrance roads.
Park information can be received by tuning radios to 1610 AM. Low-powered transmitters broadcast from entrance stations.
From Memorial Day through Labor Day ranger-naturalists conduct geyser walks, natural- and living-history talks, photographic workshops and children's programs at Bridge Bay, Canyon, Fishing Bridge, Grant Village, Lake, Madison, Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, West Thumb Geyser Basin and West Yellowstone. Free evening programs are given at most park campgrounds during the summer season.

ADMISSION
ADMISSION to the park is by private vehicle permit ($30), motorcycle permit ($25) and nonmotorized entry ($15), valid for 7 days; a two-park pass for Grand Teton and Yellowstone by private vehicle ($50), motorcycle ($40) and nonmotorized entry ($20), valid for 7 days. Park Annual Pass ($60) or America the Beautiful interagency annual pass ($80 for entrance to most federal sites) also is available. An Interagency Lifetime Senior Pass for U.S. citizens ages 62+ is $10; an Interagency Access Passport for physically impaired U.S. citizens provides free admission.

PETS
PETS are permitted in the park only if they are on a leash, crated or otherwise physically restricted at all times. They are not permitted more than 100 feet from the roads and parking areas, and are not permitted on trails, boardwalks, in the backcountry or in hydrothermal areas. It is illegal to leave pets unattended.

ADDRESS
ADDRESS inquiries to the Superintendent, Yellowstone National Park, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190; phone (307) 344-7381. For lodging and guest service information phone (307) 344-7311 or (866) 439-7375. For road and weather information phone (307) 344-2117.

Activities
Not all of Yellowstone's grandeur can be seen from the boardwalks. More than 1,000 miles of backcountry trails lead to many of the park's less accessible attractions. A free backcountry use permit, obtainable from any area ranger station, is required for those who wish to camp in the backcountry. The permit can be obtained in person and no more than 48 hours in advance. Advance backcountry reservations for a limited number of campsites can be obtained by mail or at a backcountry office for a $25 fee.
There is no better way to explore the park than on horseback over the trails. Private stock can be ridden, or 1- or 2-hour guided rides are available at Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon from Xanterra Parks & Resorts. Horses cannot be rented without a guide.
Motorboats and rowboats can be rented from Xanterra Parks & Resorts at the Bridge Bay Marina on Yellowstone Lake. Guided fishing trips also are available. A permit is required for all vessels (motorized and nonmotorized, including float tubes) and must be obtained in person. The fee is $10 for motorized vessels and $5 for nonmotorized vessels; the permits are valid for 7 days. Private boats launched in Yellowstone require an AIS (Aquatic Invasive Species) inspection in addition to a boat permit
Jet skis, airboats, submersibles and similar watercraft are prohibited in Yellowstone National Park. All vessels are prohibited on park rivers and streams except the channel between Lewis and Shoshone lakes, where only hand-propelled vessels are permitted.
Guided snowcoach tours by Xanterra Parks & Resorts to the interior of the park are available mid-December to early March from Mammoth Hot Springs, the south and north entrances to Yellowstone and Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Guided cross-country ski trips also are offered.
Most of the streams and lakes below the timberline contain one or more species of trout. Roadside streams and Yellowstone Lake offer some of the best fishing in the park. Fishing tackle is sold by Delaware North general stores located throughout the park.
Anglers ages 16+ are required to purchase a Yellowstone National Park fishing permit. A 3-day permit costs $18; a 7-day permit is $25; a season permit is $40. Children under 16 may fish without a permit under the direct supervision of an adult who has a valid park fishing permit, or they may obtain a free permit signed by an adult. For further information phone (307) 344-2107. Fishing regulations and permits can be obtained at any ranger station, visitor center or Yellowstone Park General Stores. Fishing permits also are available at many businesses in the greater Yellowstone area. No state fishing license is required in Yellowstone National Park. The opening of the season varies from the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend to July 15 for different lakes and streams; it closes the first Sunday in November.
Check at visitor centers or ranger stations for season variations and legal limits.
Note: It is not only against park regulations but also dangerous to feed, touch or tease any wildlife. Animals in the park are wild and should be viewed only from a safe distance. According to park regulations, you must stay at least 100 yards (the length of a football field) away from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards away from all other animals. The following items (whether new, used, clean, dirty, empty or full) may not be left unattended on picnic tables, in tents or tent trailers, in the back of pickups or in any other outdoor location at any time: food, beverage containers, cooking and eating utensils, stoves and grills, coolers and ice chests, cosmetics and toiletries, pet food and bowls, buckets and washbasins. All trash should be disposed of in bear-proof garbage cans.
GEM Description
The 3,472 square miles of America's first national park are home to buffalo, bighorn sheep, elk, moose and pronghorn antelopes as well as thousands of thermal pools and springs.
Greg Willis / flickr

Essentials
Join the crowd at Old Faithful to witness Yellowstone's most famous geyser eruption. Named by the Washburn Expedition in 1870, Old Faithful remains a reliable—and impressive—sight.
Pull up a rocking chair at the Old Faithful Inn. This rustic log masterpiece evokes the golden era of national park architecture. The second-floor porch offers a fine view of Old Faithful.
Get to know the other geysers—Castle, Grand, Riverside, Beehive, Daisy—that roar and spout across the Upper Geyser Basin . The boardwalk loop will take you within feet of boiling springs, hissing vents and sapphire pools.
Experience the true meaning of awe at Artist Point, which overlooks the golden chasm and thundering waterfalls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone .
Feel the spray on your face by hiking down the path from the north rim—or the more adventurous Uncle Tom's Trail from the south—to the brink of the Lower Falls. More than 2 million gallons of water rush over this precipice every minute.
Have a picnic on Yellowstone Lake . One of the largest high-altitude lakes in the world, this crystal mountain pool has 110 miles of shoreline. Don't think about a swim after lunch, though—the water rarely gets above 45 degrees.
Practice your wildlife photography skills in the Hayden and Lamar valleys, where bison, elk, moose, black bears, grizzlies and gray wolves roam. The National Park Service and Adventure Yellowstone offer guided hikes and backcountry tours.
Walk across the oldest—and hottest—terrain in the park, the Norris Geyser Basin . Etched in shades of rust, orange and green, this lunar landscape changes almost overnight.
Limarie Cabrera / flickr
Visit old Fort Yellowstone and climb the travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs . Flowing from underground springs, these mountainous tiers of chalky rock are living sculptures.
Watch the rise and fall of a giant lava lamp at the Canyon Visitor Education Center , which describes the vast subterranean volcano heating the earth below Yellowstone.

Attractions
In a destination with dozens of natural attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for Yellowstone, as chosen by AAA editors.
The main park road loops in a great oval through Yellowstone, connecting the junctions of Mammoth, Norris, Madison, Old Faithful, Grant, West Thumb, Lake, Canyon and Tower-Roosevelt (moving counter-clockwise from the north). The road is narrow in places and often rough; a 20-year improvement project guarantees you'll hit the occasional construction delay. Don't expect to get anywhere in a hurry—there are too many sights to see along the way, and the inevitable “bear jam” means you'll be getting out of the car along with everyone else to snap a few pictures of the roadside wildlife.
Tourists return to the park in mid-May after snow crews have cleared the roads. The north entrance at Mammoth is the only one open all year. The red-tiled buildings of Fort Yellowstone haven't changed much since 1891, when the U.S. Cavalry built this post to protect the newly established national park. The Albright Visitor Center & Museum , housed in the former bachelor officers' quarters, traces the history of Yellowstone from early Native American settlements to the modern park. An art gallery displays the works of photographer William Henry Jackson and artist Thomas Moran, whose pictures inspired Congress to preserve Yellowstone for future generations.
A series of boardwalks, trails and scenic drives lead to the travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs . This is one of the most dynamic thermal areas in the park, an ever-growing mound of chalk-white tiers and milky fountains. Skeletal trees add to the otherworldly aura. Look for Opal Terrace, the lone formation across the road from the main attraction—this limestone spring is inching ever closer to the 1908 Reamer House, a noted example of Prairie-style architecture. Sandbags have stopped the forward progress, but debate rages over which to save, the geologic feature or the historic landmark.
The park's oldest—and hottest—region of thermal activity is the Norris Geyser Basin, due south of Mammoth on the main road. Park officials recently closed some areas due to the changeable behavior of geysers close to the boardwalk. This bleached expanse of mineral pools and vents is home to Steamboat Geyser, the world-record holder for tallest geyser (500 feet) though it sleeps for months or years at a time. Echinus Geyser was long considered the only predictable geyser at Norris, but its behavior too is fluctuating. The Norris Geyser Basin Museum & Information Station offers exhibits and a daily timetable of eruptions.
While in Norris Junction, stop at the Museum of the National Park Ranger . Retired NPS employees volunteer their time to staff the museum, which honors the role of park rangers in protecting national lands. A 25-minute film, “An American Legacy,” traces the history of the National Park Service.
According to lore, the little stone-and-timber ranger station in Madison marks the spot where the idea of Yellowstone National Park first arose. Camping here in 1870, members of the Washburn Expedition—the same men who named Old Faithful—agreed that the wonders of Yellowstone should be set aside “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
From Madison, the town of West Yellowstone is a short drive out the west entrance. (Keep your park receipt for re-admission.) Motels, cafes, shops and outfitters line the streets of this bustling tourist center, and there's plenty to keep the family entertained on a rainy day. This is a good place to stock up on groceries, bottled water, sunscreen and batteries—prices are higher in the park. The Yellowstone Giant Screen Theatre presents a series of 45-minute films about wildlife, geology and exploration. After the movie, stop at the Yellowstone Historic Center Museum for a history lesson and a look at Old Snaggletooth, a legendary stuffed grizzly. For one of the closest animal encounters you're likely to have at Yellowstone, visit the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center . These creatures—injured, orphaned or removed from the wild for safety reasons—roam together in large outdoor enclosures and interact with staff naturalists. When the wolf pack howls, the hair will stand up on the back of your neck.
Back in the park, the main road continues south to the Lower and Midway Geyser Basins . Covering 12 square miles, the lower section features clusters of thermal features including the Fountain Paint Pots, boiling pools of red, yellow and brown mud. The 3-mile Firehole Lake Drive—one of few places where you can watch geysers from the car—leads to Great Fountain Geyser, which erupts from a beautiful limestone plateau. Isolated between the Lower and Upper Basins, Midway is a small area of impressive water features. Grand Prismatic Spring measures 250 feet across. The thermal springs of Excelsior Geyser discharge 4,000 gallons of water per minute into the Firehole River. When he visited in 1889, Rudyard Kipling described this area as “Hell's Half Acre.”
Since the region came to national attention in the 19th century, millions of visitors have traveled to Yellowstone to see Old Faithful . Though not quite as predictable as its name suggests, this 120-foot waterspout erupts every 80-90 minutes on average. Between eruptions, the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center shows films about Yellowstone's history and geology and posts times for all “predictable” geysers in the park. Tour buses arrive and depart in a steady stream, and you'll often hear people complaining if Old Faithful is late—as if nature works by the clock! Rather than fight the crowds, go upstairs to the lodge, order a cappuccino and watch the show from the second-floor porch.
Beyond Old Faithful, there are more than 150 thermal features within a square mile on the Upper Geyser Basin . Boardwalks and paved trails loop around a bevy of geysers, fumaroles, hot springs and mud pots. Geysers such as Grand, Giant and Beehive are less frequent than Old Faithful, but no less spectacular. Ancient Castle Geyser has built up a large and impressive cone over thousands of years, erupting for 20 minutes at a time. Each geyser has a different personality, and one of the pleasures of spending time at Yellowstone is getting to know all the characters. The pool at Anemone Geyser drains, fills again, overflows its edges and bubbles into a 10-foot spout, ending with a gurgle. Lion Geyser roars like its namesake. Riverside shoots a 75-foot column of water arching over the Firehole River. When capricious Splendid thunders to life, it throws off the schedule of Daisy, one of the more punctual geysers in the group. Grotto dowses anyone who gets too close.
At the center of all this activity, the Old Faithful Inn is an attraction unto itself. Designed by Robert Reamer with lodgepole framing and a massive gable roof, the main lodge was completed in 1904. Visitors can't help but crane their necks in the seven-story lobby with its huge rough-stone fireplace, gnarled log rafters and wrought-iron clock. Rocking chairs and writing desks line the railings of the upper floors, where guests spend the evening relaxing and writing postcards. If you have a chance, take a historic tour of the hotel; groups meet by the fireplace several times a day.
Grant Village—named for President Ulysses S. Grant, who signed the bill creating the national park—is on the southern end of the main road. (Continuing from here to the south entrance, the road leads to Grand Teton National Park ; your NPS receipt is good for this park as well.) Yellowstone Lake dominates the southeast quadrant of the park. Early explorers described it as “a lonely, but lovely inland sea, everywhere surrounded by forests primeval.” Boating and fishing are popular here; the continent's largest population of wild cutthroat trout thrives in these waters. Swimming isn't advised, though—the lake rarely gets above 45 degrees and freezes over completely in winter.
At the Grant Visitor Center , you'll learn about the role forest fire has played in changing the Yellowstone ecosystem. The film “Ten Years after Fire” recounts the 1988 blaze that scorched 1.2 million acres. Throughout the park, you can still see large stands of dry, dead trees with fresh green undergrowth.
Covering 136 square miles, Lake Yellowstone has the shape of an outstretched hand, its largest bay the “west thumb.” The West Thumb Geyser Basin is one of the smallest thermal areas in the park, but its location on the shores of Yellowstone Lake makes it one of the most picturesque. Several formations—including Big Cone, Fish Cone and Lakeshore Geyser—extend into the water. The sapphire spring of Abyss Pool is more than 50 feet deep.
From Grant Village and West Thumb, the park road turns northeast toward Lake Village, Bridge Bay and Fishing Bridge. Oddly enough, you can't fish from Fishing Bridge—rangers closed this spawning area in the 1970s to protect cutthroat trout. It's still a good place to observe wildlife, both in the water and out. The Fishing Bridge Visitor Center describes the park's flora and fauna; mounted specimens include a collection of birds, as well as a grizzly sow and cubs and a family of river otters.
Lake Village is home to the Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins . Robert Reamer, architect of the Old Faithful Inn, redesigned this 1891 railroad hotel in the style of a grand Colonial mansion. With its panoramic view of the lake, the airy Sun Room is a popular gathering place in the afternoons. This is the park's oldest lodgings still in use.
On the road north of Fishing Bridge, the Mud Volcano bubbles in its cauldron, and the smell of sulfur fills the air. Steaming water sloshes in and out of the Dragon's Mouth, and various other mud pots and steam vents are within a short walking distance of the parking lot. On cool days, you'll often see buffalo and elk basking in the hot steam. Remember that no matter how docile they seem, these wild animals pose a real threat and must be admired from a safe distance.
The Canyon District contains the most majestic geologic feature in the park, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone . This 20-mile-long chasm channels the Yellowstone River over a vast precipice, creating two roaring waterfalls: the 109-foot Upper Falls and the 308-foot Lower Falls, twice the height of Niagara. Chittenden Bridge allows visitors to view both sides of the canyon. On the South Rim, a paved trail leads down to the brink of the Lower Falls, where you can literally reach out and touch the spray. Only the physically fit should take the trail; it descends 600 vertical feet with many switchbacks and steps. It may also pose a challenge for those who haven't acclimated to Yellowstone's 8,000-foot altitude.
Uncle Tom's Trail on the South Rim is an even more daunting trek. The original path was a series of ladders roped together; the modern route uses perforated steel platforms—an impossibility for anyone with a fear of heights. The reward, though, is an unparalleled view of the thundering cascade.
At the far end of the canyon on the South Rim, Artist Point is aptly named—the yellow and pink cliffs, the white-capped river and the plunging falls make this one of the most photographed vistas in the park. On the North Rim, Inspiration Point provides a different and no less inspiring angle. Ospreys and red-tailed hawks nest in the cliffs here, often soaring and wheeling in the air. Visitors are sometimes startled by the enormous ravens waiting in the parking lot—at 24 inches high, these heavy black birds look like crows on steroids. They're smart, opportunistic and always looking for handouts.
The Canyon Visitor Education Center focuses on the natural forces that created the grandeur of Yellowstone. A room-size relief map illustrates millions of years of volcanic activity in the park; a 9,000-pound globe shows hot spots around the world. Interactive exhibits, dioramas and real-time seismic reports demonstrate how Yellowstone's supervolcano continues to fuel the broiling ground. For a '60s take on magma convection, check out the giant lava lamp.
The road between Canyon and Tower-Roosevelt runs along 10,243-foot Mount Washburn to the overlook at Tower Fall. Thomas Moran's watercolor of this rocky gorge, “Above Tower Falls,” made a singular impression on congressional leaders in the 1870s. Today his painting hangs in the Smithsonian.
In the northeast corner of the park, Tower-Roosevelt is the gateway to the Lamar Valley. This mountainous plain is home to elk, bison, antelope, moose, black bears and the park's largest population of grizzlies. Several packs of gray wolves, reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995, now hunt on the Lamar grasslands. Your best chance to spot these illusive creatures is early morning and late evening; wildlife-viewing bus tours leave from Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins .
Just west of Tower-Roosevelt is Specimen Ridge, a rare collection of petrified trees. Volcanic ash created this fossil forest over thousands of years. The Petrified Tree, an ancient redwood pillar standing alone on a hillside, is easily accessible by car at the Lost Lake trailhead. Tourists destroyed several other examples in the area, carrying them away piece by piece.
The National Park Service offers a variety of ranger-led adventures in the park, ranging from walks along the canyon rim and the geyser basins to evening campfire talks. Check at any of the visitor centers for a schedule.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.

Restaurants
Our favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
By Inspector 24
You won't find haute cuisine at Yellowstone, but there are plenty of serviceable options for a quick snack or a sit-down dinner. The same concessioner, Xanterra Parks & Resorts, operates all restaurants and hotels in the park. General stores offer fast-food options at Old Faithful, Canyon, Mammoth, Grant, Lake, Tower Falls and Fishing Bridge. For a day on the trails, ask any of the lodges to pack a box lunch (place your order the night before). Most restaurants focus on traditional American dishes with an emphasis on beef, game and fish. Make dinner reservations early—tables fill up quickly in the summer.
The Obsidian Dining Room at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge is one of the few park restaurants open during the winter. This western-style lodge features a contemporary wildlife motif. Appetizers range from seafood bruschetta to warm goat cheese salad to French onion soup. House specialties include bison rib eye, shrimp étouffée and chicken saltimbocca. The snow lodge's Geyser Grill serves breakfast sandwiches, burgers and deli items.
The dining room at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins is the park's most elegant choice for dinner—and the sun setting over the water makes a stunning backdrop. Start with lobster ravioli, sweet corn bisque or a grilled pear salad. Entrées range from beef tenderloin and rack of lamb to pan-seared duck breast. A seasonal prix fixe menu is available. The restaurant also serves breakfast and lunch; dinner reservations are required. The cafeteria at the nearby Lake Lodge & Cabins serves traditional family fare such as fried chicken, pot roast, spaghetti and children's meals.
The casual dining room at Grant Village offers another lovely view of the lake. This restaurant offers a breakfast buffet and made-to-order omelets and griddle stacks. Soups, salads, burgers and hot and cold sandwiches fill out the lunch menu. Dinner entrées range from bison meatloaf and pork osso buco to linguine with clam sauce.
The former buildings of Fort Yellowstone house several eateries, including the fast-food Terrace Grill and the dining room at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins . Along with steaks, prime rib and pork chops, the restaurant offers several vegetarian options and lighter entrées such as pistachio Parmesan-crusted trout and Creole shrimp. The wild Alaska salmon firecracker rolls make a good starter.
Scenery is the star at the Canyon Lodge , which overlooks the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone . Down-home specialties include chicken-fried steak, cornmeal-crusted chicken and pork chops with apple sauerkraut. This restaurant is one of the park's busiest spots for lunch; smart choices include the soup-and-salad bar and build-your-own burgers.
In addition to the beef, chicken and ribs on its dining room menu, the rustic Roosevelt Lodge offers a special tribute to Yellowstone's cowboy days—an Old West cookout. Guests travel by horseback or covered wagon to the campfire site for a hearty steak dinner, music and storytelling.
If you have time and transportation, there are several dining options just over the border in Montana. (Remember to keep your NPS receipt for park re-admission.) The western gateway to the national park, West Yellowstone is a 30-mile drive from Old Faithful.
As the name promises, bears are the motif at Running Bear Pancake House , and hot griddle cakes are the specialty. Buckwheat, sourdough and whole wheat pancakes flop over the edge of the plate; toppings include fruits, nuts and the traditional favorites—butter and warm maple syrup. Homemade cinnamon rolls, muffins and pies round out the pastry selections. Along with pancakes, this family-run restaurant also serves an array of hearty breakfast and lunch items, including fresh soups and a salad bar.
Serenity Bistro is one of the newer additions to West Yellowstone. The space is small, intimate and casual, and the sophisticated California cuisine is a welcome change from the town's standard fare of pizzas and burgers. The lunch menu is varied—chicken wrap sandwiches, crab cakes on ciabatta bread—and reasonably priced. Dinner entrées reflect the chef's creativity and demand for high-quality ingredients. During the summer, you're likely to find wild trout and salmon, sweet onion soup and fresh berries among the daily specials.
Montana comfort food—steaks, buffalo burgers, roasted chicken, pan-fried trout—is on the menu at Bullwinkle's Saloon & Eatery . The owner named this rustic restaurant after a trophy moose, bagged after years of fruitless hunting. To give you an idea of the meal portions, cheeseburgers and Reuben sandwiches are in the “lighter” section. Don't miss the haystack onion rings (you'll walk off the calories).
For years, Beartooth Barbecue cooked at an outside stand, and the aroma of smoking ribs enticed hungry Yellowstone travelers to stop in droves. These days the indoor dining room is just as busy. The restaurant specializes in Texas-style barbecue—served up Texas-size—with hearty portions of slow-smoked ribs, chicken, pork and brisket and sides of baked beans, corn and slaw. If you eat here before going into the park, you'll be back for more.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
Yellowstone National Park / flickr

Yellowstone Supervolcano
Would you walk across an active volcano? Only the most intrepid geologist or adrenaline junkie would say yes. But millions of tourists do it every year at Yellowstone National Park. A vast underground supervolcano heats the region's famous geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mud pots—and one day may blow them off the map.
Don't put your vacation plans on hold just yet; the big bang probably won't happen for millennia. The last major eruption was 640,000 years ago. That event created a crater 28 miles wide and 47 miles long. (By comparison, the volcano at Mt. St. Helens measures 2 miles across.) The Yellowstone caldera is so huge, in fact, that scientists needed satellite imagery to confirm it.
Unlike the mountain-building volcanoes of the Cascades Range, the Yellowstone supervolcano is an enormous subterranean chamber of magma, or molten rock, sealed off from the surface 5 miles down. Its only heat release comes from steam vents, boiling springs and geysers. In other words, Old Faithful works like a valve on a pressure cooker. Geologists keep daily track of temperature changes and seismic shifts across the park. In fact, hundreds of earthquakes occur at Yellowstone each month, though most are too small to be felt.
In the last great eruption, the prehistoric volcano blasted more than 200 cubic miles of molten debris into the atmosphere, blanketing most of North America in ash. The underground magma chamber collapsed, leaving behind a sunken crater. The Yellowstone caldera ranks among the largest on earth, along with Long Valley in California and Lake Toba in Sumatra, Indonesia. A similar eruption in modern times would destroy most of the Western United States and plunge the planet into volcanic winter.
Alex1961 / flickr
Though this doomsday scenario is good for Hollywood, most experts believe that a volcano as large as Yellowstone will give decades—if not centuries—of warning before it erupts. There is great debate over whether another catastrophic eruption will happen at all. You can learn more about supervolcanoes at the Canyon Visitor Education Center , which maps out hot spots around the globe and describes the geothermal features at Mammoth Hot Springs , Norris Geyser Basin , Lower and Midway Geyser Basins and Upper Geyser Basin .
After your vacation to Yellowstone, you can say you've walked across one of the largest volcanoes in the world.

General Information
Most park roads are open to automobile travel from May through October (weather permitting). The 60-mile road between the north entrance at Gardiner, Mont., and the northeast entrance at Cooke City, Mont., is open all year. During the off-season this road is accessible only from the north entrance near Gardiner, Mont.; the northeast entrance via Red Lodge, Mont., is usually open from Memorial Day weekend through September 30. The east entrance from Cody usually opens in mid-May and remains open as weather permits.
The approach to Cooke City, Mont., from Red Lodge, Mont., via the Beartooth Scenic Highway (US 212) negotiates Beartooth Pass at an elevation of almost 11,000 feet. From Cody the approach to Sylvan Pass follows US 14/16/20 through the carved red walls of Wapiti Valley.
The road between Canyon and Tower-Roosevelt runs over Dunraven Pass and along Mount Washburn and passes Tower Fall, where the spectacles of the gorge, the falls on Tower Creek and the palisades of rock high above the Yellowstone River can be viewed.
Although most of the park's 3,472 square miles lie in northwestern Wyoming, they also extend into Montana and Idaho. The central portion of the park is essentially a broad, elevated volcanic plateau that lies between 6,500 and 8,500 feet above sea level. On the south, east, north and northwest are mountain ranges with peaks and ridges rising between 2,000 and 4,000 feet above the enclosed tableland.
Most park facilities are open mid-May to mid-October, but food and lodging facilities are limited after October 1. During the off-season manned gas stations are available only at Gardiner and Cooke City, Mont. Unstaffed, credit card-only gas stations are available at developed locations when the roads are open. Interior park roads are open to guided snowcoach and snowmobile tours from mid-December through the first week in March. During the summer, rental cars are available at Cody and Jackson as well as at Billings, Bozeman, Livingston and West Yellowstone, Mont.
The roads through the park make many of the most prominent attractions readily accessible. During the summer travel season visitors may encounter slow traffic. Be especially alert for others stopped in the road to watch wildlife; if you must stop, pull well off the highway onto a marked wayside.
Note: According to National Park Service figures, about 80 percent of the park roads are “in a structurally deficient state…including narrow shoulders and rough surfaces.” The roads are being gradually repaired under a 20-year program. For up-to-date road information phone (307) 344-2117.
The park headquarters is at Mammoth Hot Springs, 5 miles from the north entrance. The main post office is at Mammoth; ranger stations are at Old Faithful, Grant Village, Tower-Roosevelt, Mammoth Hot Springs, Lake, Madison, Bechler, Canyon and the south entrance. The Mammoth ranger station, open all year, is accessible by car in winter via the north entrance. West Thumb Information Center is located at junction Grand Loop and South Entrance roads.
Park information can be received by tuning radios to 1610 AM. Low-powered transmitters broadcast from entrance stations.
From Memorial Day through Labor Day ranger-naturalists conduct geyser walks, natural- and living-history talks, photographic workshops and children's programs at Bridge Bay, Canyon, Fishing Bridge, Grant Village, Lake, Madison, Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, West Thumb Geyser Basin and West Yellowstone. Free evening programs are given at most park campgrounds during the summer season.

ADMISSION
ADMISSION to the park is by private vehicle permit ($30), motorcycle permit ($25) and nonmotorized entry ($15), valid for 7 days; a two-park pass for Grand Teton and Yellowstone by private vehicle ($50), motorcycle ($40) and nonmotorized entry ($20), valid for 7 days. Park Annual Pass ($60) or America the Beautiful interagency annual pass ($80 for entrance to most federal sites) also is available. An Interagency Lifetime Senior Pass for U.S. citizens ages 62+ is $10; an Interagency Access Passport for physically impaired U.S. citizens provides free admission.

PETS
PETS are permitted in the park only if they are on a leash, crated or otherwise physically restricted at all times. They are not permitted more than 100 feet from the roads and parking areas, and are not permitted on trails, boardwalks, in the backcountry or in hydrothermal areas. It is illegal to leave pets unattended.

ADDRESS
ADDRESS inquiries to the Superintendent, Yellowstone National Park, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190; phone (307) 344-7381. For lodging and guest service information phone (307) 344-7311 or (866) 439-7375. For road and weather information phone (307) 344-2117.
Yellowstone National Park / flickr

Recreation
Biking, swimming, backpacking, fishing, hiking—whatever your interest, make sure you experience these recreational highlights, as chosen by AAA editors.
Covering more than 2.2 million acres, Yellowstone National Park is one of the largest recreation destinations in the Rockies. This vast mountain playground offers 1,200 miles of hiking and horseback trails, 300 miles of paved biking roads, hundreds of campsites and the largest high-altitude lake in North America for boating and fishing. Sporting equipment is available for rent or purchase at general stores and marinas throughout the park.
A few notes of caution: With an average elevation of 8,000 feet, Yellowstone poses an unexpected challenge for many visitors who live at significantly lower elevations. Some notice only mild effects from the reduced oxygen and low humidity, while others experience headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness, fatigue and insomnia. To minimize the symptoms, avoid strenuous exercise for the first few days—give your body time to adjust. Rest, eat lightly, avoid alcohol and drink plenty of bottled water.
Drinking from lakes or streams isn't advised without boiling or treating the water first; parasites can cause intestinal illness. On the other hand, don't consider simmering hot springs to be a potable source. Dozens of people have been scalded or killed at Yellowstone by accidentally falling into thermal pools—and we won't mention the fools who went swimming.
Yellowstone is one of the most successful wildlife sanctuaries in the world, and you'll share the roads and trails with bison, elk, moose, gray wolves, coyotes, black bears and grizzlies. According to park regulations, you must stay at least 100 yards (the length of a football field) away from bears and at least 25 yards away from all other large animals. Bison may look slow and docile, but they can charge at speeds up to 30 miles per hour—faster than any of the hapless tourists who've met the sharp end of a horn. Don't feed or approach any wildlife, especially females with young. If an animal reacts to your presence, you're too close.
Here's a small sampling of day hikes. The 1.1-mile Observation Point Loop Trail climbs from Old Faithful to a prominent overlook on the Upper Geyser Basin. The 5-mile Lone Star Geyser Trail follows a level path from Old Faithful to a solitary geyser that erupts every 3 hours. The 5-mile Fairy Falls Trail from the Midway Geyser Basin leads to a secluded 200-foot waterfall. The 6-mile Mount Washburn Trail rewards climbers with a panoramic view of the park; trailheads are at the Chittenden and Tower Canyon parking areas.
Yellowstone National Park / flickr
Bird-watching and wildlife viewing adds an extra thrill to every hike. Though the park's high altitude and harsh winter conditions limit the diversity of birds, you'll still glimpse majestic North American species such as bald eagles, sand hill cranes and trumpeter swans. The stars at Yellowstone are the mammals—big ones. Herds of elk and bison roam the valleys, often stopping traffic. Moose and bighorn sheep are rarer. But everyone comes to Yellowstone looking for bear. Most grizzlies and black bears stick to the backcountry; your best bet for spotting these illusive creatures is with a powerful zoom lens or binoculars. The National Park Service and Adventure Yellowstone offer guided hikes and backcountry tours. Photo safaris with the park concessioner leave from the Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins , Old Faithful Inn and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins .
Bicycling in the park is permitted on public roads and designated paths, but not on backcountry trails or boardwalks. Xanterra Parks and Resorts rent bicycles at the Old Faithful location in the park. Rental is by the hour, half-day and full day. All bicyclists should wear helmets; the roads are often narrow and congested, and there are no dedicated bike lanes.
Biking/hiking trails are in Mammoth along Bunsen Peak and Golden Gate roads; on Freight Fountain and Lone Star Geyser roads at Old Faithful; Riverside Trail to Barnes Road at the west park entrance; Natural Bridge Road in the Lake area; and Chittenden Road to the summit of Mount Washburn. From Old Faithful, bicyclists can follow the paved trail past Castle and Daisy geysers to Morning Glory Pool.
Guided horseback rides are an exciting way to see Yellowstone country, and trail rides leave from corrals at Mammoth Hot Springs, Roosevelt Lodge and Canyon Village. Children must be at least 8 years old and 48 inches tall; the weight limit for adults is 240 pounds. A 1-hour ride costs about $47.
Campers at Yellowstone will find a dozen developed campgrounds as well as hundreds of backcountry sites. The National Park Service manages Indian Creek , Lewis Lake , Mammoth , Norris , Pebble Creek , Slough Creek Campground and Tower Fall Campground . Sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The park's concessioner, Xanterra Parks & Resorts, operates Bridge Bay , Canyon Campground , Grant Village Campground , Fishing Bridge RV Park and Madison Junction Campground . Reservations are accepted; reserve your site early, especially during peak season (early July to late August).
There are nearly 50 picnic areas in the park, offering some of the most scenic dining in the Rockies. The following sites have fire grates: Arch Park, Bridge Bay, Grant Village, Nez Perce, Norris Meadows, Snake River, Spring Creek and Whiskey Flat. Gas stoves may be used in other areas. There's no water at any picnic area; most have pit toilets. You can pick up groceries at any Yellowstone Park General Stores, or order a box lunch from your hotel—just place your order the night before, and it'll be ready in the morning. (The peanut butter and banana sandwiches are particularly delicious.)
Fishing enthusiasts have their pick of mountain streams, river and lakes, including the 136-square-acre Yellowstone Lake . Fishing charters are available at the Bridge Bay Marina. Anglers ages 16+ must purchase a fishing permit. A 3-day park permit costs $18; a 7-day permit is $25; a season permit is $40. Children under 16 may fish without a permit if they are fishing under the direct supervision of an adult who has a valid park fishing permit or they may obtain a free permit signed by an adult. Pick up a copy of the NPS fishing guidelines when buying your license at any ranger station, visitor center or Yellowstone Park General Stores.
Yellowstone follows a catch-and-release program for native fish, including cutthroat trout, arctic grayling and mountain whitefish. Non-native rainbow trout and brown trout are exempt. Only barbless hooks are allowed. Popular family fishing spots include Blacktail Deer Creek and the Gardner River in Mammoth, Aster Creek in Grant, Sylvan Lake near the east entrance, the Gibbon River in Norris and Goose Lake at Old Faithful. The fishing season extends from Memorial Day weekend to the first Sunday in November.
The Bridge Bay Marina rents motorboats and rowboats for a spin around Lake Yellowstone. Private boats require an operating permit. For canoeing and kayaking, the park offers a drop-off service into the backcountry of Yellowstone Lake; information is available at the marina. Vessels aren't permitted on rivers or streams; jet skis and personal watercraft are prohibited anywhere in the park.
When winter comes to Yellowstone, all park roads close to wheeled vehicles with the exception of the north entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs and the road to Tower Junction and the northeast gate (from Silver Gate to Cooke City). Depending on the weather, this can happen as early as mid-October. Snowcoaches and snowmobiles become the only way to reach the interior.
From mid-December to early March, the park concessioner offers snowcoach transportation and narrated sightseeing tours from the west entrance at West Yellowstone, the south entrance at Flagg Ranch and Mammoth Hot Springs, all reaching the Old Faithful area. (Snowcoaches are basically heated vans on skis.) Other sightseeing destinations include the Grand Canyon, Norris Geyser Basin and Lamar Valley. The average ride is $117-$145 for adults, $58-$110 for ages 3-11.
Snowmobile rentals and guides are available at Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful, and the park's roads are groomed for winter touring. Guided snowmobile trips are $189-$224 for single, double and triple ride models. Cross-country skiers and snowshoers also share the trails; the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge offer rental equipment and lessons. Snowcoaches transport Nordic skiers to groomed trails in the Mammoth, Canyon, Tower, Northeast and Old Faithful areas. Both winter lodges also maintain ice-skating rinks; skate rentals are free to hotel guests.
Places in Vicinity

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Top Hotels
Current Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
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Best Western Premier Ivy Inn & Suites
1800 8th St. Cody, WY 82414
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Shoshone Lodge & Guest Ranch
349 North Fork Hwy. Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190
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Paradise Gateway Bed & Breakfast & Guest Cabin
2644 Hwy 89 S. Emigrant, MT 59027
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One Horse Motel
216 Dunraven St. West Yellowstone, MT 59758
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