Some seasons, planning a trip to Yellowstone can be a breeze. Other times of the year, securing a room at in-park hotels like the Old Faithful Inn or campgrounds can be more taxing than a day’s climb up the Grand Teton in nearby Grand Teton National Park. The fact is everybody and his or her brother will be visiting Yellowstone in the summer.
When booking your stay for a Yellowstone vacation, you should consider the variables: luxury, price, time of year and proximity to the park.
June through September Lodging – 9 Months to 1 Year in Advance
Each January, people’s thoughts turn to planning a summer vacation. The reality is that by the end of January most summer campgrounds, hotels and cabins inside Yellowstone are already booked. August is an especially busy time for the park, bringing close to 300,000 tourists in a single month. So August vacations should be booked up to a year in advance.
The hotels in Yellowstone are managed by Yellowstone National Park Lodges (www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com). You can call their reservation line or book online. Most hotels and cabins in the park are open for summer reservations.
If you’re camping and can’t get a reservation, read up on the campgrounds that are first-come, first-served.
If your ideal lodging inside the park is all booked up for your dates, try to book an alternative location and then call every day to inquire about cancellations. The park will transfer your reservation if something becomes available. If not, then at least you have a backup plan.
Yellowstone’s gateway towns offer lodging with an easy drive to a park entrance, but even these areas can be fully booked for summer by the end of February or March. Gateway towns include Gardiner, Mont., near Mammoth Hot Springs; West Yellowstone, Mont., about a 45-minute drive from Old Faithful; Jackson, Wyo., a thriving ski town that sits next to Grand Teton National Park and is about 60 miles south of Yellowstone; Cody, Wyo., which is about 55 miles east of the park and home to rodeo, Buffalo Bill Center of the West and more; and Cooke City, which sits minutes from Lamar Valley, home to incredible wildlife, in the northeast corner of the park.
Spring and Fall Lodging – 3 to 8 Months in Advance
Of course, during the “mud seasons” of fall and spring, competition for rooms decrease, and you often need three-to-eight months ahead to secure a room. Because of summer’s crowds, early fall has become a popular time to visit the park. In spring, be aware that most of the park’s lodging and roads are closed until May. Spring in Yellowstone can mean wintry conditions with snow, sleet and so on, so it’s not the best time to visit.
If you book lodging in Gardiner, Mont., at the North Entrance to the park, you will have easy access to the park all year long. Other entrances are closed in winter, so if you book in those entrance towns, you will need to arrange for snowmobile or snowcoach transportation into the park at that time.
Before Booking, Make an Itinerary
Yellowstone is a very large park. Before booking lodging, you should make an activities and attractions itinerary and calculate the travel time from lodging. At National Park Trips, we have created a free Yellowstone and Grand Teton trip planner that will help you make the most of your vacation. Request a free trip planner to get maps, an email newsletter and vacation partner information.