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The Ultimate List of Things To Do in Yellowstone National Park

These days, traveling solo is in. If you’re hoping to take a solo trip but don’t know where to start, I recommend domestic travel through one (or several) of our national parks. National parks are a great way to travel solo as they are typically safe, easy to navigate, have plenty of activities, and offer various forms of accommodations. On my first solo road trip, I car-camped through Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons for four days. Yellowstone was the nation’s first national park for a reason. It is massive and will no doubt leave your mouth agape at its incredible natural and geothermal wonders. Grand Teton National Park makes up for its size with breathtaking mountain vistas and some incredible hiking. I learned a lot on this trip. From mistakes to happy accidents, and things I actually did right. This is the trip that I really got into finding the perfect road trip podcasts. And now, I want to share my ultimate list of top things to do in Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons. 

If you’re more interested in visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, you can check out my free guide! This guide breaks down all you need to know about navigating RMNP during peak season and the best ways to spend your time in the expansive park. 

FAQs About Visiting Yellowstone National Park

Is it Safe to Visit Yellowstone Alone?

In my experience, yes I felt safe traveling alone through Yellowstone and the Tetons. The scariest thing that happened to me was running into a park ranger who was looking for a bear on my hiking route. Other than wildlife, the crowds in the park actually made me feel safer. Ya know…more witnesses to my kidnapping etc. All joking aside, it was comforting to see that most people in the crowds were families and this put my mind at ease.

My Solo Travel Safety Tips for Yellowstone

  • There is almost no cell service in the park.
    • Get in touch with friends and family members to let them know your itinerary for the day. 
    • Set up a WiFi hotspot with your phone service provider before you go
    • Try heading into a lodge or restaurant and asking for the WiFi (this worked for me on one occasion) 
    • Plan your itinerary and route ahead of time, I took screenshots of hiking maps and driving routes. 
    • Yellowstone is basically two giant loops. Check out the map here.  
  • There are bears, moose, and wolves
    • Hike trails that are rated as heavily trafficked 
    • Wear bear bells on your backpack and carry bear spray
    • Don’t hike at all. The entire loop through Yellowstone is a scenic drive with incredible points of interest that do not require hiking into the wilderness
  • There are safe accommodations
    • Try car camping so that you can lock your doors while you sleep
    • Stay at the more popular campsites rather than backcountry or dispersed sites
    • Probably the safest option is to stay in one of the park’s lodges or a nearby hotel 
  • There can be extreme weather
    • In the summer, be prepared for the heat. Stay hydrated, and wear sunscreen and hats to protect yourself from the sun. 
    • It gets cold at night, so make sure you pack enough to keep yourself warm
    • Stay abreast of the forecast for the week of your trip 

What is the Best Time to Visit Yellowstone and How Long Should you Stay?

The best time to visit Yellowstone is late April through October. However, the summer months in Yellowstone are extremely crowded, so it might be best to opt for those spring and fall months instead. I traveled to Yellowstone in July and it was really difficult to find camping spots. If you plan to go in the summer, I recommend booking your stay as soon as possible reservations fill up extremely quickly. As a solo traveler, you can typically accomplish more in a day than if you’re with a group. I was able to do Yellowstone in just 2 days but you could easily spend a week in the park. 

How much does it cost to go to Yellowstone National Park?

You may be surprised to hear that it really depends. Yellowstone National Park can be turned into a more luxurious vacation. There are gorgeous lodges in and around the park that you can stay in for a pretty penny. Camping in the park is obviously the cheapest option costing anywhere from $20-$40. You can also opt to stay outside of the park in surrounding national forest campgrounds including; Bridger-Teton National Forest, Caribou-Targhee National Forest, Shoshone National Forest, and Custer-Gallatin National Forest. There are also accommodations in Jackson, WY, or near Jackson Hole Ski Resort. Other than your stay, you’ll want to account for gas, touristy food prices, and your entry fee to the park. As always, I recommend getting an annual “America the Beautiful” park pass for just $80. If you plan to visit several national parks, this pass ends up paying for itself after just 4 entries. It also saves a hassle if you need to go in and out of the park and provides you with ease when traveling between Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Park. 

What to do in Yellowstone National Park?

As promised, I want to provide you with the top things to do in Yellowstone National Park based on my recent experience. From breathtaking hiking to sunrises on the beach, I hope you find the perfect activities to fill your ultimate itinerary. I’ll also list things to do at Grand Teton as my trip included both parks. Grand Teton National Park is located just South of Yellowstone closest to Jackson, WY. I highly recommend that you take at least one day to visit the Tetons as it’s probably the most beautiful National Park I have visited yet. 

Top Things to do in Yellowstone National Park

Sunrise or Sunset Over Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake is located in the South East corner of the park. As you drive along the lake you will see several pull-off options where you can stop and watch the sunrise over the lake. I was lucky enough to find a spot with a little beach where I could set up a camping chair and enjoy my morning cold brew. Of course, I had to wake up quite early for this little adventure, but it was worth it in so many ways. Obviously, the views were breathtaking, but the quiet mornings in Yellowstone also allow for the wildlife to roam freely. As I drove along the lake after sunrise, I saw two brown bears crossing the road. The first and only bears I have ever seen. 

Old Faithful

When you think Yellowstone, you probably think Old Faithful…And soon after you probably think, is it really worth it? Yes, it is worth it. That is why Old Faithful remains one of the top things to do in Yellow National Park after all this time. The name Old Faithful comes from the geyser’s predictable eruptions. This means that you are guaranteed (with 90% certainty) a show of boiling water erupting from the earth 100 feet into the air. Predicted eruption times are posted around the geyser and in nearby visitor centers. As you can imagine, this spot tends to get pretty crowded. I might recommend starting your day with this geyser so that you can get it out of the way and get ahead of the crowds on the rest of your route. 

Easy Hike to Fairy Falls

One of the first things that I did in Yellowstone was the hike to fairy falls. It is a 4.5-mile out-and-back hike that finishes at a gorgeous 200-ft waterfall. Fairy falls is an easy stroll through the forest that is great for the hot summer months. Feel free to walk up to and behind the falls for some incredible views and a chance to cool off after your hike. You can add an additional 2 miles to the hike by hiking to  Imperial Geyser as well. 

Grand Prismatic Spring

As you make your way on the Fairy Falls trail, make sure you look to your right and catch a glimpse or two of the largest hot spring in the U.S. Honestly, you won’t be able to look away. I highly recommend taking a detour on the left of the trail and hiking a short distance up to the lookout for a birds-eye view of the spring. The deep blue and orange colors are absolutely captivating and make for some incredible photos. This is another very popular spot, I recommend heading there early. 

Watch for Wildlife

Honestly, one of the most enduring top things to do in Yellowstone is to view the wildlife. At Yellowstone, wildlife viewing just feels different. It is the culture there to respect the land as belonging to the animals first and foremost. The quieter and less crowded, the more likely you are to see. You can read here for the top 5 best spots to see wildlife in Yellowstone. I was fortunate enough to see bison, elk, and bears while driving and at several geyser basins. Read the safety postings around the park regarding wildlife and be respectful. 

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Okay, this one actually blew my mind. When you’re looking at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, you almost can’t believe that it is real. Take in the warm hues of the canyon as you hear the roaring of waterfalls and the Yellowstone River below. There are several ways to view the canyon. You can drive and park at one of the several lookouts. You can take a stroll along the paved paths on the canyon’s edge, or opt for hiking in and around the canyon. I recommend the South Rim Trail to Artist Point along the canyon’s edge for some incredible views of the canyon and upper falls. Of course, there are other more difficult hikes around the canyon if you’re feeling like you want a bit more of a challenge. 

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs is unique from other springs you’ll find in the park. Not to mention, they’re huge. Located in the Northeastern corner of the park, you can walk on miles of boardwalk above and around the hot springs for an immersive experience. You may leave smelling of sulfur, but I promise it’s worth it. As a bonus, when you head up to Mammoth Hot Springs you almost feel as if you’ve entered a different era. Beyond the incredible hot springs, are historic buildings once known as Fort Yellowstone where U.S. soldiers stood to help protect the park from poachers. The buildings are now home to a visitor’s center and employee housing. 

Honestly, Just Drive

One of the reasons I really love national parks is that there is a literal roadmap. Especially in a place like Yellowstone. There are 3 loops you can take to see everything. The loops are split between the lower, upper, and grand loops (lower + upper loop). On my first day in Yellowstone, I drove along the lower loop and stopped at each destination I thought would be interesting. This is how I discovered spots like Thumb Geyser and saw the most wildlife. The loop you choose will depend on what parts of Yellowstone you’ve made a priority, where you’re staying/where you enter the park, and how much time you have. Honestly, you can’t go wrong. 

Hike Mount Washburn

This trail was closed for construction during my trip so I was unable to complete the hike. Therefore, I can’t tell you if the hype is real. However, I can tell you the facts about this hike. It is the most popular day hike in the park and provides views of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the Tetons. It is rated as moderate as you will gain nearly 1400 ft in elevation and hike around 7 miles. 

Jenny Lake & Cascade Canyon in the Grand Tetons 

If you have limited time in Grand Teton National Park after your Yellowstone Rendevouz then you must go to Jenny Lake. Jenny Lake is the best thing to do at Grand Tetons for several reasons. Primarily, it provides some of the most incredible mountain views I’ve ever seen. Secondly, Jenny Lake is the start of several highly-rated hiking trails. First and foremost, I  recommend the Cascade Canyon trail. Cascade Canyon is a 10-mile out-and-back trail through the valley of Teewinot Mountain, Mount Owen, and Grand Teton. As a bonus to the canyon views, you will also pass by Hidden Falls and most likely see moose. There are 2 ways to get to the Cascade Canyon trailhead. You can make it longer by starting at the Jenny Lake trailhead, or you can take the free 12-minute shuttle boat across Jenny Lake.

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