Area Codes: Yellowstone is almost entirely in Wyoming, with the area code 307. The park also extends slightly into Montana (area code 406) and Idaho (area code 208).
Doctors: In Yellowstone, the clinic at Mammoth Hot Springs (307/344-7965) is open year-round except some holidays. Lake Clinic (307/242-7241) and Old Faithful Clinic (307/545-7325) are open during the summer.
Drinking Laws: The legal age for the purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages is 21; proof of age is required and often requested at bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, so it’s always a good idea to bring ID when you go out. Do not carry open containers of alcohol in your car or any public area that isn’t zoned for alcohol consumption. The police can fine you on the spot. Don’t even think about driving while intoxicated. Alcohol is widely available at stores in the park and in the gateway cities. Bars in Wyoming close at 2am.
Electricity: Like Canada, the U.S. uses 110 to 120 volts AC (60 cycles), compared to 220 to 240 volts AC (50 cycles) in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Downward converters that change 220–240 volts to 110–120 volts are difficult to find in the U.S., so bring one with you.
Embassies & Consulates: All embassies are in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Some consulates are in major U.S. cities, and most nations have a mission to the United Nations in New York City. If your country isn’t listed below, check www.embassy.org/embassies.
The embassy of Australia is at 1601 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036 (202/797-3000; www.usa.embassy.gov.au). Consulates are in Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
The embassy of Canada is at 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001 ( 202/682-1740; www.can-am.gc.ca/washington). Canadian consulates are in 12 cities throughout the U.S., including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Seattle.
The embassy of Ireland is at 2234 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (202/462-3939; www.dfa.ie). Irish consulates are in Austin (Texas), Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco,
The embassy of New Zealand is at 37 Observatory Circle NW, Washington, DC 20008 (202/328-4800; www.mfat.govt.nz). New Zealand consulates are in Los Angeles, Honolulu, and New York.
The embassy of the United Kingdom is at 3100 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (202/588-6500; www.gov.uk/government/world/organisations/british-embassy-washington). British consulates are in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
Emergencies: Call 911. In Yellowstone, you can also call the park’s main information number (307/344-7381), which is staffed 24 hours a day.
Family Travel: One useful guide to traveling with the kids is An Outdoor Family Guide to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks (Mountaineers Books, 2006). Older children can learn about nature by enrolling in the Junior Ranger Program at Yellowstone.
Health: Health hazards range from mild headaches to run-ins with wild animals, but the latter happens less frequently than car accidents in the parks. To be safe, you might want to keep a first-aid kit in your car or luggage, and have it handy when hiking. It should include at least butterfly bandages, sterile gauze pads, adhesive tape, an antibiotic ointment, pain relievers for children and for adults, alcohol pads, a pocket knife with scissors, and tweezers. Healthcare is available at clinics in the park; hospitals with 24-hour emergency rooms are located in Jackson and Cody, Wyoming.
Altitude Sickness: The most common health hazard is discomfort caused by altitude sickness. Adjusting to the park's high elevations is a process that can take a day or more. Symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, muscle pain, and lightheadedness. Doctors recommend that, until acclimated, travelers should avoid heavy exertion, consume light meals, and drink lots of liquids but little caffeine or alcohol.
Bugs, Bites & Other Wildlife Concerns: Wildlife is to be treated with the utmost respect. Keep your distance—at least 300 feet if possible—from any wild animal. Mosquitoes, spiders, and ticks are the most bothersome biters, aside from the occasional rattlesnake.
Internet & Wi-Fi: When it comes to modern telecommunications, Yellowstone has extremely limited infrastructure: Lack of connectivity is the rule, not the exception. These are not destinations for those who need to check e-mail every few minutes—or even every day. Some Yellowstone lodges have Wi-Fi, sometimes only in the lobby or other public spaces: They are Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, Lake Lodge Cabins, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Grant Village, and Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
Legal Aid: While driving, if you are pulled over for a minor infraction (such as speeding), never attempt to pay the fine directly to a police officer; this could be construed as attempted bribery, a much more serious crime. Pay fines by mail, or directly into the hands of the clerk of the court. If accused of a more serious offense, say and do nothing before consulting a lawyer. In the U.S., the burden is on the state to prove a person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and everyone has the right to remain silent, whether he or she is suspected of a crime or actually arrested. Once arrested, a person can make one telephone call to a party of his or her choice. The international visitor should call his or her embassy or consulate.
LGBT Travelers: While Wyoming has earned a reputation as an intolerant destination in the past, Yellowstone is generally gay-friendly. However, gay culture and nightlife are very limited in Jackson and nearly nonexistent in other gateways.
Mail: At press time, domestic postage rates were 35 cents for a postcard and 55 cents for a letter. For international mail, letters and postcards start at $1.15. For more information visit www.usps.com.
If you aren’t sure what your address will be in the U.S., mail can be sent to you, in your name, c/o General Delivery at the main post office of the city or region where you expect to be. (Call 800/275-8777 for information on the nearest post office.) The addressee must pick up mail in person and must produce proof of identity (a driver’s license or passport, for example). Most post offices will hold mail for up to 1 month and are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm and Saturday from 9am to 3pm.
Always include a zip code when mailing items in the U.S. If you don’t know the zip code, visit www.usps.com/zip4.
Mobile Phones: The parks have several cell towers in developed areas. Cell service is widely available in Canyon, Grant, Lake, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Old Faithful villages but largely unavailable on the roads and in wilderness areas. Cell service is available in all of the gateway cities. International travelers may want to buy a pay-as-you-go phone for the trip.
Newspapers & Magazines: In Yellowstone, the best source of park information is the free Yellowstone Summer (or whichever season you’re visiting), the free park newspaper available at all entrances and visitor centers.
Packing: Nothing will ruin a trip to the parks faster than sore or wet feet. Bring comfortable walking shoes, even if you plan to keep walking to a minimum. Bring shoes that are broken in, and if you plan to do some serious hiking, get sturdy boots that support your ankles and protect against water. Early in the season, trails might be wet or muddy; late in the fall, you can get snowed on. The more popular trails are sometimes also used by horses, which can make stream crossings a mucky mess.
Wear your clothing in layers, and bring a small, empty backpack or fanny pack so that you have somewhere to put the clothes as you take those layers off and on as temperature, altitude, and your level of physical exertion change. Cotton is a no-no in the backcountry; synthetic fabrics are recommended because they dry much faster. Gloves or mittens are useful before the park heats up, or in the evening when it cools down again, even in summer.
The atmosphere is thin at higher altitudes, so protect your skin. Bring a strong sunblock, a hat with a brim, and sunglasses. I also recommend bringing insect repellent, water bottles, and a first-aid kit.
Take into account that elevations at the parks are between 5,000 and 11,000 feet; in campgrounds and on hiking trails, you’ll want clothing appropriate to the temperatures—in summer, 40F (4C) in the evening, 75F (24C) during the day.
Passports: Virtually every air traveler entering the U.S. is required to show a passport. All persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda are required to present a valid passport. Note: U.S. and Canadian citizens entering the U.S. at land and sea ports of entry from within the Western Hemisphere must now also present a passport or other documents compliant with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Children 15 and under may continue entering with only a U.S. birth certificate, or other proof of U.S. citizenship.
Police: Call 911.
Safety: The roads are the most dangerous places in Yellowstone, so be especially cautious while driving. Lightning and falls are also killers, but wildlife is the most unique peril in the parks. The most dangerous animal in either park might well be the grizzly bear, but all wildlife has the potential to injure a human. Keep a safe distance from buffalo, deer, moose, and other animals—at least 300 feet. Most people have a healthy respect for bears and are content to view them from a distance. But because a close encounter can happen unexpectedly, you need to know what to do in this situation. First, be aware that what matters most to a bear are food and cubs. If you get between a sow and her cubs, you could be in trouble. If a bear thinks that the food in your backpack is his, you also have a problem.
Unless bears have already developed a taste for human food, though, they won’t come looking for you. Make a lot of noise on the trail through bear habitat, and Ursus arctos horribilis will give you a wide berth. Don’t camp anywhere near the carcass of a dead animal; grizzlies sometimes partially bury carrion and return to it. Hang your food bag from your campsite’s pole or use a bear-resistant food container, keep your cooking area distant from your campsite, and don’t keep any food or utensils in your tent—or even clothes worn while cooking. Soaps and other perfumed items can also be attractants.
Avoid hiking at night or in the meadows of mountain areas if visibility is poor. Bears have an extremely good sense of smell but poor eyesight. Always carry bear spray.
If you encounter a bear, here are some things you should and should not do:
- Do not run. Anything that flees looks like prey to a bear, and it might attack. Bears can run at more than 30 mph. The bear might bluff charge, but you’re best off holding your ground.
- Avoid direct eye contact.
- If the bear is unaware of you, stay downwind (so that it doesn’t catch your scent) and detour away from it slowly.
- If the bear is aware of you but has not acted aggressively, slowly back away.
- Do not climb a tree. Although black bears have more suitable claws for climbing, grizzly bears can climb trees, too.
- Make noise and act intimidating if the bear does not retreat.
- If you’re attacked, drop to the ground face down, clasp your hands over the back of your neck, tuck your knees to your chest, and play dead. Keep your backpack on—it can help protect your body. Only as a last resort should you attempt to resist an attack and fight off a bear.
- Always carry bear spray, be sure that it’s handy when you’re in possible bear habitat, not buried in a backpack. If you use it, aim for the bear’s face and eyes. After you use it, leave the area: Bears have been seen returning to sniff about an area where spray has been used.
Smoking: Smoking is banned in most public places in the park.
Taxes: Lodging and sales tax in Yellowstone and its gateways varies from 2% to 3%. The U.S. has no value-added tax (VAT) or other indirect tax at the national level. Every state, county, and city may levy its own local tax on all purchases, including hotel and restaurant bills and airline tickets. These taxes do not appear on price tags.
Telephones: Many convenience stores and packaging services sell prepaid calling cards in denominations up to $50. Many public pay phones at airports accept American Express, MasterCard, and Visa. Local calls made from most pay phones cost either 25 cents or 35 cents. Most long-distance and international calls can be dialed directly from any phone. To make calls within the U.S. and to Canada, dial 1 followed by the area code and the seven-digit number. For other international calls, dial 011 followed by the country code, city code, and the number you are calling.
Calls to area codes 800, 888, 877, and 866 are toll free. Calls to area codes 700 and 900 (chat lines, bulletin boards, “dating” services, and so on) can be expensive, with charges of 95 cents to $3 or more per minute. Some numbers have minimum charges that can run $15 or more.
For reversed-charge or collect calls, and for person-to-person calls, dial the number 0 then the area code and number; an operator will come on the line, and you should specify whether you are calling collect, person-to-person, or both. If your operator-assisted call is international, ask for the overseas operator.
For directory assistance (“Information”), dial 411 for local numbers and national numbers in the U.S. and Canada. For dedicated long-distance information, dial 1, then the appropriate area code plus 555-1212.
Time: Yellowstone is in the Mountain Standard Time zone. Daylight saving time (summer time) is in effect from 2am on the second Sunday in March to 2am on the first Sunday in November. Daylight saving time moves the clock 1 hour ahead of standard time.
Tipping: In hotels, tip bellhops at least $1 per bag ($2–$3 if you have a lot of luggage) and tip the chamber staff $1 to $2 per day (more if you’ve left a big mess for him or her to clean up). Tip the doorman or concierge only if he or she has provided you with some specific service (for example, calling a cab for you or obtaining difficult-to-get theater tickets). Tip the valet-parking attendant $1 every time you get your car.
In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, tip service staff and bartenders 20% of the check, tip checkroom attendants $1 per garment, and tip valet-parking attendants $1 per vehicle.
Tip cab drivers 15% of the fare; tip skycaps at airports at least $1 per bag ($2–$3 if you have a lot of luggage); and tip hairdressers and barbers 15% to 20%.
Toilets: You won’t find public toilets or “restrooms” on the streets in most U.S. cities, but they can be found in hotel lobbies, bars, restaurants, museums, department stores, railway and bus stations, and service stations. Large hotels and fast-food restaurants are often the best bet for clean facilities. Restaurants and bars in resorts or heavily visited areas may reserve their restrooms for patrons. Yellowstone has vault (flushless) toilets at numerous pullouts along the roads, and there are toilets at some trailheads, though not all.
Visitor Information: If you want information about the surrounding areas, contact these states’ travel services: Montana Office of Tourism (800/847-4868; www.visitmt.com); and Wyoming Office of Tourism, 5611 High Plains Rd., Cheyenne, WY 82007 (800/225-5996 or 307/777-7777; www.travelwyoming.com).
To receive maps and information before your arrival, contact Yellowstone directly, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190 (307/344-7381; www.nps.gov/yell). For information about educational programs at the Yellowstone Forever Institute and other resources, contact Yellowstone Forever, P.O. Box 117, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190 (406/848-2400; www.yellowstone.org).
National forests and other public lands surround the parks. For information about national forests and wilderness areas in Montana, contact the U.S. Forest Service Northern Region, 26 Fort Missoula Rd., Missoula, MT 59804 (www.fs.usda.gov/r1; tel. 406/329-351). For information on Wyoming’s national forests, turn to the U.S. Forest Service Intermountain Region, Federal Building, 324 25th St., Ogden, UT 84401 (www.fs.usda.gov/r4; tel. 801/625-5305), and the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region, 1617 Cole Blvd., Bldg. 17, Lakewood, CO 80401 (www.fs.usda.gov/r2; tel. 303/275-5350).
The federal Bureau of Land Management also manages millions of acres of recreational lands and can be reached at its Wyoming state office, 5353 Yellowstone Rd., Cheyenne, WY 82009 (www.blm.gov/wy; tel. 307/775-6256); or its Montana state office, 5001 Southgate Dr., Billings, MT 59101 (www.blm.gov/montana-dakotas; tel. 406/896-5000).
Water: Two waterborne hazards are Giardia and Campylobacter, with symptoms that wreak havoc on the human digestive system. If you pick up these pesky bugs, they might accompany you on your trip home. Untreated water from the parks’ lakes and streams should be boiled before consumption, pumped through a fine-mesh water filter specifically designed to remove bacteria, or treated with chemical water purifiers.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.