AOK Guide to Yellowstone

Amanda's OK Travel Guide to Yellowstone National Park

The earth is really neat, you guys. I recently visited Yellowstone National Park for the first time and was completely awestruck at its insane geological features and topographical beauty! After traveling internationally the last couple of years and being forced to stay in the US in 2020 due to covid, I was really pleased to find such unique and inspiring sights in my own country. Yellowstone is mostly located in the northwest corner of Wyoming and was established as the first ever national park in 1872. It is filled with hydrothermal features, geologic wonders and a ton of wildlife in their natural habitat. 

I have really struggled with the best way to put this guide together! I was so overwhelmed while planning this trip.... Yellowstone is HUGE and there is beauty around every corner, how could we see it all?! When I was planning, I had a hard timing knowing how long each sight would take, the best order to see things in and the drive time between sights. I decided to break this Guide to Yellowstone down into 1) what sights to see in the park and 2) further breaking down those sights into a two-three day itinerary. I hope it makes sense and gives you some good insight! 

travel blogger Amanda's OK explores the Yellowstone River
Shop this outfit here!

Yellowstone Travel Tips & Insight 

  • Download the Yellowstone NPS App. This app is not only great for planning and learning about each feature in the park but it will also be your lifeline while in the park as there is absolutely no cell phone service. You can download the "offline" version of the app onto your phone which includes a detailed map. It will access your GPS so you always know where you are and what sights are nearby....or where the bathrooms are haha. It also has pictures for each feature so you can get an idea of what things are must sees! 
  • You will need a car! We flew into Jackson, Wyoming, and rented a car but you can access the park from several other airports nearby. The park is gigantic so you need some type of motor vehicle to travel across it each day. 
  • Consider a National Park Pass. It costs $35 for a one week pass (you can buy it online or at the entry) but if you plan to visit more national parks within the year, you can get a one year US Park Pass for $80! 
  • Timing is everything! The early bird gets the worm in terms of crowds and parking but if the weather is cool, the hot springs will steam a LOT which will limit your visibility. We left our hotel at 7 a.m. every morning to head into the park. We watched the sunrise and saw wildlife at dawn each morning, plus we beat most of the crowds! It seemed to get more crowded around 10 or 11 a.m. We tried to save the hot springs and pools for later in the morning (if possible) to allow the steam to ease up a bit. We were usually done by 3 p.m. every afternoon and had time to relax before going to dinner and hitting the hay. It was a great schedule! 
  • Be Bear Aware! All of Yellowstone is a bear's natural habitat. It is important to keep food (or anything that smells yummy) in a sealed container, throw trash away correctly in a locked trash can, and carry bear spray if you plan to visit more unpopulated areas (like while hiking). You can rent bear spray at local airports and buy it at certain stores.
  • Be prepared to spend a lot of time in the car. As I said above, Yellowstone National Park is just massive. Most of the sights and features are located right off the main roads, but there is some distance between each parking area. You will pull into a lot and walk along a "boardwalk" to see each feature before getting back in the car and driving down to the next area. It is kind of like a wilderness theme park! The park is 63 miles from north to south and 54 miles from east to west....that's 3,472 square miles total! 
  • Keep your tank full. With how big the park is, make sure you have enough gas to get around. There are a couple of gas stations inside the park, but they are few and far between. 
  • Pack layers! We visited in late September and it was beautiful! Lows in the 20s/30s overnight with highs in the 60s...we even had snow one morning! I definitely layered up and was glad to have a car so I could have all my jackets, hats and gloves with me and be able to swap them out whenever I needed to as it warmed up throughout the day. Being in the mountains, I'm sure that, even on the hottest of summer days, it is still cool at night. 
  • Make reservations EARLY. 2020 was a bit unprecedented but most years, Yellowstone accommodations should be booked up to a year in advance! 
  • Pack water, snacks and lunches to eat while inside the park. There are a few places to eat or get snacks at the different villages in Yellowstone but I would recommend buying picnic lunch supplies at the grocery store and packing them in your car to make the most of your time in the park vs. in the car. Remember to keep your food / cooler / trash bear proof. There are a ton of beautiful picnic sights in the park (you can find them on the app's map) - we really enjoyed them, they were one of my most memorable parts of the trip! We bought a HUGE jug of water to keep in our trunk so we could refill our hydroflasks throughout the day. We also bought a cheap styrofoam cooler at the grocery store to fill with ice and keep our meats and cheeses cold while we explored.
  • Pro Tip: pack binoculars! There were several wildlife sightings where binoculars really came in handy! 
  • Note: pets are limited. If you plan to travel via RV/travel trailer, keep in mind that pets are typically not allowed on the Yellowstone boardwalks or hiking trails.  
  • Plan for 1-3 Days - We did two full days in Yellowstone plus a morning of driving through the park and making a few stops while on our way to Jackson Hole. It seemed like the perfect amount of time to see all the main sights. We could have spent a third full day there and done more hiking, but we wanted to hike in Grand Teton, instead. It is super easy to coordinate a trip to Yellowstone with a trip to Grand Teton (and Jackson Hole) as they pretty much border each other! You can see my guide to Jackson here
  • It Stinks! Just be prepared....most of Yellowstone stinks like a rotten egg! 

Drive through Hayden Valley to see wildlife in Yellowstone National Park

What to See in Yellowstone 

  • Watch the Geysers Blow - everyone has heard of Old Faithful, but there are soooo many more geysers all over the park! Black Sand Basin had some cool ones that made a ton of noise. I also really enjoyed the Mud Volcano and the Dragon's Mouth Spring. It was neat to see steam and water spewing out of random holes in the ground! 
  • See the Hot Springs - the pools are such insane colors!! My favorites were Morning Glory Pool, Black Sand Basin, Biscuit Basin, West Thumb Basin (this one is situated on Yellowstone Lake) and Mammoth Hot Springs. Of course everyone recommends the Grand Prismatic Spring because it is so huge, but I preferred the smaller ones because they weren't as crowded and you could get closer to them. FYI, the pools steam a LOT so you can't directly see into them or see as much vivid color  in the morning when it is colder. 
  • Look out over the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone - it is absolutely beautiful! We drove up to Uncle Tom's viewpoint and Artist's Point. There are several hikes to different viewpoints, as well. 
  • Watch for Wildlife - Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley are the best areas to view wildlife - we saw a bear in Hayden Valley. We also saw lots of bison and elk throughout the entire park just by driving around. There is a heard of elk that lives by Mammoth and is often seen walking through the village! 
  • Go on a Hike - we hiked past the Grand Prismatic to Fairy Falls. It was a very flat and easy 4 mile out and back trail (almost boring to be honest) but the falls were stunning! There are lots of others hike options including Mount Washburn, Elephant Back Mountain, Bunsen Peak and Yellowstone Lake.

Travel blogger Amanda Martin visits the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone | Shop this outfit here!

Amanda Martin of @amandasok visits the hot springs of Yellowstone
Black Sand Basin / West Thumb Basin

travel and lifestyle blogger @amandasok hikes to Fairy Falls in Yellowstone National Park
Fairy Falls

travel blogger Amanda Martin of @amandasok visits Yellowstone National Park
Morning Glory Pool / Shop this outfit here!

Elk can be seen all over Yellowstone! This one was spotted in Mammoth Hot Springs village area.

Yellowstone Itinerary
  • Day 1: Southern Loop - if you only have one day in Yellowstone, spend it on the Southern Loop! Start at Old Faithful to get it out of the way. It is kind of underrated, but you can't go to Yellowstone and not see it! I'd recommend going early to beat the crowds (be sure to check the estimated eruption time on the Yellowstone NPS app) but be careful, if the wind is blowing it can spray you pretty good! From here, head to Biscuit Basin and Black Sand Basin (they aren't too far from Old Faithful) to see the hot springs and pools. From the Biscuit Basin parking lot, you can take a short hike across the road and through the woods to see Morning Glory Pool and its neighboring geysers (or you can drive to the parking lot). If you have time, head south to visit the West Thumb area which has more colorful pools and small geysers right on the edge of Yellowstone lake. If you are shorter on time, head north to see the Grand Prismatic. There is a short hike option here to the overlook and from there, you can continue on to see Fairy Falls if you choose. The falls are about 4 miles out and back - the hike is very flat and easy (almost boring) but the falls are beautiful and not as filled with tourists as other areas. 
  • Day 2: Northern Loop - start early in the morning at Mammoth Hot Springs to beat the crowds. You may get lucky and see elk wandering around Mammoth Village! Then, head to Lamar Valley (in the north) or loop around to Hayden Valley (further south) to see wildlife and have a picnic lunch...we saw our one and only bear in Hayden Valley and picnicked right on the Yellowstone River. If you go through Hayden Valley, be sure to stop at the Mud Volcano and Dragon's Mouth Spring + the Sulphur Caldron. End the day at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone! Get your instagram photo at Artist Point and then hike along the canyon rim, if you have the energy and time. 
  • Day 3: Extras / Whatever You Missed! We used day three to visit the West Thumb area on our way to Grand Teton National Park via the south entrance. A couple of things we skipped include the Artist Paint Pots, Fountain Paint Pots, Roaring Mountain, Lamar Valley, Norris Geyser Basin and the Petrified Tree, as well as some of the longer hikes. At some point, it kinda felt like once you saw a few hot springs and geysers you had seen them all, so don't stress out if you have to miss a few!

lifestyle and travel blogger Amanda Martin shares her Guide to Yellowstone
Grand Prismatic / Blue Sapphire Pool

travel blogger Amanda Martin of Amanda's OK Blog at the Black Sand Basin
Black Sand Basin / Shop this outfit here!

travel blogger @amandasok at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park
Mammoth Hot Springs / Shop this outfit here! 

Amanda's OK Guide to Yellowstone
Dragon's Mouth Spring

Amanda's OK Blog Guide to Yellowstone

Where to Stay

We chose to stay in West Yellowstone, Montana. It is located just across the border in Montana and minutes from the west entrance to the park. In my opinion, it was a great location because it was about as centrally located as you can get (unless you are staying inside the park) and it was roughly the same distance from all the main sights. You drive a LOT inside the park so we didn't want to add to our drive time by staying further away. Be warned, though, the town is not exactly is worse than Schitt's Creek to be honest. It is mostly just overpriced motels, bad restaurants and tacky gift shops, BUT it's convenience made it a perfect home base. 

We stayed at The Adventure Inn Yellowstone and highly recommend was like a quasi-AirBNB / Hotel combo. It was set up like a hotel but there was only four or five rooms and no front desk....we received a door code the morning of check in. The beds were comfy, the building was quiet and the room was really spacious! The price wasn't bad, either, especially when compared to some of the other [really gross looking] motels in town. 

If you prefer to stay inside the park, there are campsites, RV sites and several lodges/villages to choose from. In my opinion, the lodge hotels looked a bit too summer-campy for my taste. Note: these spots fill up way in advance so be sure to book them ahead of time! 

Where to stay and eat in West Yellowstone
Madison Crossing Lounge / Adventure Inn Yellowstone / Basic Witch Tee

Where to Eat in West Yellowstone, Montana

To be honest, there aren't many restaurants I can honestly recommend besides the two below. Most of our restaurant meals were very sub-par and entirely overpriced. We much preferred the picnic lunches we took into the park!

  • Earnie's - a great spot to grab a to-go breakfast sandwich (along with some pastries and coffee, of course) or a boxed lunch to take into the park. The bakery and deli has been in business for 30+ years! 
  • Madison Crossing Lounge - a good spot to wine and dine! In my opinion, this is the only "nice" restaurant in town that was worth going to...and it is definitely worth going to! It is located in the original West Yellowstone school building. I really loved their smoked trout crostini appetizer and the huckleberry burger is deliciously juicy! Be warned, though, since it is one of the only good places in town it is BUSY at dinner time so come early or be prepared to wait for a table. 

AOK Guide to Yellowstone

Yellowstone is by far one of the coolest places I've seen on planet earth! It is busy and touristy but still so outdoorsy, wide open and cool at the same time. Like I said earlier, it is sort of like a gigantic wilderness theme park! It is really neat to see wildlife in its natural habitat right next to insane geothermal features. Though it is very outdoorsy, it is easily accessible for all ages and fitness levels since there are parking lots near every attraction but hikes all around, as extra options.

Have you been to Yellowstone? If so, what were your favorite parts? If you haven't been, would you ever be interested in visiting? I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

Thanks so much for reading and happy travels! 

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