If you think a trip to Yellowstone National Park is just a few minutes at the world’s most reliable geyser, Old Faithful, and some pictures of bison, think again. There is so much more to the United States’ first National Park than most travelers ever discover. And while you could head to the park on your own and try to find some of its hidden gems, traveling with an experienced guide will ensure that you can see so much more. Here, we ask a few of our veterans for their top tips and tricks for traveling in Yellowstone.
The Top Yellowstone Tips from Our Guides
There is so much more to the United States’ first National Park than most travelers ever discover.
The Best Time to Visit Yellowstone
A Yellowstone guide since 2014, Joyce Binnie highly recommends visiting the park in the late summer or early fall. “Yellowstone is amazing in any season,” she said “but August and September are special due to the wildlife. August is bison rutting season. Their antics are quite entertaining. September is elk rutting season and they’re equally interesting to watch. Listening to the bugling of the bull elk and admiring their tremendous antlers are feasts for the senses.”
Binnie’s fellow guide Doug Cousineau agrees with her assessment. “There is really good weather that time of year,” he said. “You can count on most days to be dry.” Cousineau added that the park is generally less crowded in August and September than earlier in the summer and consequently, animals may spend more time near the trails and roads where they are easier for visitors to see.
Don’t Miss Out on the Waterfalls
Asked to name her favorite sights in the park, Binnie confessed to having trouble narrowing it down. She started with Old Faithful but urges guests to look beyond the geysers and check out the park’s waterfalls. “The most famous are the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River,” she said “but there are actually hundreds to see. Some are roadside attractions and some require getting out on the trails. Experiencing the hidden treasures of Yellowstone is what makes it magical.”
Be Ready for Wildlife
While Binnie praised the architecture of Yellowstone’s iconic buildings like Old Faithful Inn, the Lake Hotel and Canyon Village—and the stunning views of the Grand Tetons in the distance—for her, the wildlife is one of the best assets of the park. “Where else can you see bison, grizzly bears, black bears, elk, moose and wolves?” she asked. “I’ll never forget the time a bald eagle soared over the heads of our guests as we hiked the Storm Point trail near Yellowstone Lake. You just never know what will surprise you when you visit Yellowstone.”
Get Away from the Old Faithful Crowds
Cousineau loves having the opportunity to take guests slightly off the beaten track. Groups spend two nights at Upper Geyser Basin and on one of those nights, he takes them on an optional evening hike, three miles roundtrip, on the Observation Point trail, to see Old Faithful from another angle. “One group I took wanted to stay longer and watch the sunset,” he recalls. “We watched Old Faithful erupt a second time and as we were going down the trail we saw two bison. We must have waited forty-five minutes for them to move but it was so cool to be part of that experience. We’re not the only ones in the park and it’s important to recognize that.” Cousineau notes that evening outings have the advantage of allowing guests to check out the stars. “That’s one thing people don’t think about,” he said. “You’re out in the middle of nowhere. It’s absolutely stunning and the stars are brilliant.”
You Can Experience the Geothermal Features Better on Hikes
Cousineau has another optional hike for guests that once turned into a very pleasant surprise. After visiting Fairy Falls, guests can continue to a feature called Imperial Geyser. “I really love that area,” Cousineau said. “It’s stunning and most people don’t go there.” Imperial Geyer used to spout over 100 feet but a natural obstruction has limited it to 20-30 feet. However, one day when Cousineau brought a group to the area, it unexpectedly soared to 60 feet and continued erupting for over an hour. Because the geyser is away from the main trails, there are no fences or boardwalk. “You can stand as close as you feel safe doing,” he said.
Your Packing List Should Focus on Layers
In order to have the best possible experience in Yellowstone, Binnie urges visitors to bring layered clothing since weather can change rapidly, not just from day to day but from hour to hour. “Bring comfortable walking shoes with good traction,” she said “a warm jacket, a camera and a readiness of adventure and learning.” Guides can add a lot more to that learning experience. Cousineau has enjoyed studying the history of Yellowstone. “I have six or seven favorite stories,” he said. “Not everyone is interested but for those who are, it’s cool to be able to share the tales of Native Americans and early settlers.”
Can’t Find Space? Go with a Tour Operator
Binnie notes that one problem with Yellowstone’s increasing popularity is that it can be difficult to get reservations without planning many months in advance. “Country Walkers has made the arrangements up to a year before the tour departure, allowing guests to take advantage of the advance preparation, including hotels, dining and transportation,” she said. “To top it all off, two guides provide the narrative of history and science to tie it all together, bringing to life the understanding that Yellowstone is more than just a pretty place to see.”
Interested in visiting Yellowstone? There’s still space on select departures of our Wyoming: Grand Teton & Yellowstone Guided Walking Adventure.