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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.