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.
May through September Lodging
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, with more than 900,000 visitors in a single month in 2021. So August vacations should be booked as far in advance as possible.
The hotels and several campgrounds in Yellowstone are managed by Yellowstone National Park Lodges (www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com) and can be booked online up to 13 months in advance. Other campgrounds in the park are managed by the National Park Service and can be reserved on recreation.gov in advance.
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
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.
There are only two hotels in Yellowstone that are open in winter: Mammoth Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Because of this, rooms tend to fill up fast so it’s a good idea to book when reservations open 13 months in advance. You cannot drive a vehicle to Old Faithful Snow Lodge. To access the lodge or if you want to explore inside the park, you’ll need to book a snowcoach or snowmobile trip, which should also be booked far in advance. Learn more about winter in the park.
But in June of 2022, the roads in the northern section of Yellowstone were severely damaged by flood waters. At the time of this writing, it is unknown if the North Entrance will be open to vehicles or if there will be lodging or camping available at Mammoth during winter of 2022/2023. Check the NPS website at www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/flood-recovery.htm for current updates.
If you plan to stay in one of the gateway communities, winter lodging is easier to find and can be booked closer to your stay dates. And even though four of the five entrances to the park are closed to personal vehicles in winter, you can enter the park via snowcoach, snowmobile or skis.
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.