Access/Entry Points—Yellowstone has five entrances. The north entrance, near Mammoth Hot Springs, is located just south of Gardiner, Montana, and U.S. 89. In the winter, this is the only access to Yellowstone by car.

The west entrance, just outside the town of West Yellowstone, Montana, on U.S. 20, is the closest entry to Old Faithful. Inside the park, you can turn south to Old Faithful or north to the Norris Geyser Basin. This entrance is open to wheeled vehicles from late April to early November, depending on snow levels, and to snowmobiles and snowcoaches from mid-December to mid-March.

About 64 miles north of Jackson, Wyoming, the south entrance, on U.S. 89/191/287, approaches Yellowstone from Grand Teton National Park. On the way, drivers get panoramic views of the Teton Range. Once in the park, the road skirts the Lewis River to the south end of Yellowstone Lake, at West Thumb and Grant Village. It’s open to cars from mid-May to early November and to snowmobiles and snowcoaches from mid-December to mid-March.

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The east entrance, on U.S. 14/16/20, 53 miles west of Cody, Wyoming, is open to cars from early May to early November and to snowmobiles and snowcoaches from late December to early March. The drive over Sylvan Pass is the most scenically stunning approach to the park, but it might make you nervous if you’re not used to mountain driving.

The northeast entrance, at Cooke City, Montana, is closest to the Tower-Roosevelt area, 29 miles to the west. This entrance is open to cars year-round, but from early October, when the Beartooth Highway closes, until around Memorial Day, the only route to Cooke City is through Mammoth Hot Springs. When it’s open, the drive from Red Lodge to the park is a grand climb among the clouds.

Visitor Centers—There are five major visitor and information centers in the park, and each has something different to offer.

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The Albright Visitor Center (tel. 307/344-2263), at Mammoth Hot Springs, is the largest and is open daily year-round (8am–6pm in summer; 9am–5pm in winter). It houses an info desk, backcountry office, and wildlife exhibits.

The Canyon Visitor Education Center (tel. 307/344-2550), in Canyon Village, is one of the park’s most expansive, interactive facilities, with excellent exhibits on the park’s supervolcano. It’s open 8am to 6pm daily in summer and staffed by friendly rangers used to dealing with crowds.

The park’s newest visitor center, the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center (tel. 307/344-2751), has picture-perfect views of Old Faithful, exhibits on how the geothermal features work, and an engaging Young Scientist area for budding geologists. It displays projected geyser-eruption times, making it a good first stop for those looking to see Old Faithful. It’s open daily in summer from 8am to 8pm and from 9am to 5pm in the shoulder seasons of April to late May and October to early November.
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The Fishing Bridge Visitor Center (tel. 307/344-2450), near Fishing Bridge on the north shore of Yellowstone Lake, has an excellent display that focuses on the park’s bird life. You can get information and publications here as well. It’s open daily in summer from 8am to 7pm.

The Grant Visitor Center (tel. 307/344-2650) has publications, videos, and a fascinating exhibit on the role of fire in Yellowstone. It’s open daily in summer from 8am to 7pm.

Park literature and helpful staff are also found at several small information stations: the Madison Information Station (tel. 307/344-2821; summer daily 8:30am–4:30pm), home of the Junior Ranger Station; the Museum of the National Park Ranger (tel. 307/344-7353; summer daily 9am–4pm) and the Norris Geyser Basin Museum and Information Station (tel. 307/344-2812; summer daily 9am–5pm), both at Norris; the West Thumb Information Station (tel. 307/344-2876; summer daily 9am–5pm); and the West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center, 30 Yellowstone Ave. (tel. 307/344-2876; summer daily 8am–8pm, limited hours the rest of the year). In Gardiner, Yellowstone Forever, 308 E. Park St. (tel. 406/848-2400; www.yellowstone.org), contains a small gift shop with books and other visitor info.
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Entrance Fees—A 7-day pass costs $35 per private vehicle. A 7-day snowmobile or motorcycle pass costs $30, and someone who comes in on bicycle, skis, or foot will pay $20 for 7 days. The National Park Service offers several free days or weeks every year; for this year’s schedule check www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/fee-free-parks.htm.
 
If you’re lucky enough to visit Yellowstone more than once a year, the $70 annual pass is the way to go. Even better, pick up the $80 Interagency Annual Pass (free for U.S. military members), which grants entry to all national parks and most other federal fee areas for a year. Other special passes include the Interagency Senior Pass, for a one-time fee of $80, for those ages 62 and up; the Interagency Access Pass, free for those with permanent disabilities; and the free Interagency 4th Grader Pass for American 4th graders and their families. Buy any pass at any entrance to the park.
Camping Fees—Fees for camping in Yellowstone range from $15 to $31 per night, depending on amenities. RV sites run up to $48 per night. For information on camping, see “Where to Camp in Yellowstone. It is possible to make reservations at some campgrounds in both parks.
 
Special Regulation & Warnings—More detailed information about the following rules can be requested from the park rangers, at visitor centers throughout the park, or at www.nps.gov/yell.
  • Bicycles: Bicycles are allowed on the park’s roadways and a few gravel roads, but not on trails or boardwalks. Spring (late Mar to early Apr) and fall (Nov) are some of the best times for cycling, as the park opens the roads to bikes before and after cars are allowed. Be prepared for nasty weather. Helmets and bright clothing are recommended because of the narrow, winding park roads and the presence of large RVs with poor visibility.
  • Camping: A person may camp in the park for no more than 30 days in any given year, and no more than 14 days during the summer season (except at Fishing Bridge RV Park, where neither limit applies). Food, garbage, and food utensils must be stored in a hard-sided vehicle or locked in a campground’s bearproof locker when not in use.
  • Defacing park features: Collecting, removing, or destroying any natural or archaeological objects is prohibited, including picking wildflowers or collecting rocks. Only dead-and-down wood of wrist size or smaller can be collected for backcountry campfires, and only when and where such fires are allowed.
  • Firearms: As of 2010, firearms are allowed in national parks (shooting them remains illegal). Those in possession of a firearm must have a legal license from their state of residence. Firearms are prohibited in marked facilities.
  • Littering: Littering in the national parks is strictly prohibited—if you take it in, you take it out. Throwing coins or other objects into thermal features is illegal.
  • Motorcycles: Motorcycles and motor scooters are allowed only on park roads. No off-road or trail riding is allowed. Driver’s licenses and license plates are required.
  • Pets: Pets must always be leashed and are prohibited in the backcountry, on trails, on boardwalks, and in thermal areas. If you tie up a pet and leave it, you’re breaking the law. Service animals, however, can go on trails and boardwalks in developed areas and, with a permit, the backcountry.
  • Smoking: No smoking is allowed in thermal areas, on trails, in buildings, or within 25 feet of any building entrance.
  • Snowmobiling: The park offers limited permits to private snowmobilers via a lottery system.
  • Swimming: Swimming or wading is prohibited in thermal features or in streams whose waters flow from thermal features in Yellowstone. (One exception is Boiling River near Mammoth, where visitors can take a warm soak between 6am and 8pm in summer and 7am to 6pm the rest of the year, when water levels allow.) Swimming elsewhere is discouraged due to the cold water, swift currents, and unpredictable weather.
  • Wildlife: It is unlawful to approach within 100 yards of a bear or wolf or within 25 yards of other wildlife. Feeding any wildlife is illegal. Wildlife calls, such as elk bugles or other artificial attractants, are forbidden.
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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.