A Yellowstone Geography Overview
In order to talk about the best places to stay to explore Yellowstone, we need to start by covering the park highlights and where theyre located.
First of all, its worth getting this out of the way early Yellowstone is MASSIVE. Weve been to 13 national parks in the past year or so, and Yellowstone felt the biggest to us .
There are a few implications for that fact. First, youre going to be driving a lot. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
HOWEVER, you can cut down on that driving by being strategic in terms of where you choose to stay.
Wed strongly recommend splitting your nights between two different locations so that you can spend your time seeing the sights rather than driving. Which is exactly what we have you do in our 4 day Yellowstone itinerary.
With that out of the way, lets quickly talk about Yellowstones geography.
At a high-level, wed split the park into five regions. They are:
- The Lamar Valley
- Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
- Old Faithful & Geyser Basin
- Yellowstone Lake
Thats probably not a perfect split, but its good enough to use to talk about the best places to stay.
Gardiner Mt: The Park Hotel Yellowstone
Gardiner, Montana is the only entrance to Yellowstone open in winter to cars. From The Park Hotel, youâre right on Main Street and steps from Yellowstone. Walk to restaurants, shops, bars, the Rossevelt Arch, and the Yellowstone River. Be sure to stop by Yellowstone Forever, the official non-profit partner of the park, for educational displays, park programming, and a gift shop.
Drive into Mammoth Hot Springs to walk, cross-country ski around hot springs, or look for wolves, bison, and elk in the Lamar Valley, known as the âSerengeti of America.â Soak in the Boiling River then snuggle up in your renovated room at the Park Hotel featuring original woodwork and stone walls. The nine-room guesthouse was built of rock by a Cavalry Captain in the days when Yellowstone was managed by the U.S. Army.
Where To Stay In Yellowstone: Best Hotels And Locations
When planning a trip to Yellowstone, one of the biggest questions you might have is where should I stay? Yellowstone National Park is massive, with multiple park entrances and thousands of acres of land to explore. Choosing where to stay in Yellowstone might feel overwhelming, but it doesnt have to be.
In this guide, we hope to simplify things for you. Learn about the top locations to stay in and around Yellowstone, with specific hotel and lodge recommendations depending on your itinerary and length of stay.
This guide works well with our Yellowstone itinerary post, which lists itinerary ideas from one to five days, with recommended hotel locations for each day. .
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Rv Camping At Yellowstone
RV camping at Yellowstone is available at every campground, but planning is key. Rigs less than 40 feet will have more options for camp spots. If you want a full hookup with all the trimmings of an RV park, theres only one full RV campground in Yellowstone.
Fishing Bridge RV Park: Fishing Bridge RV Park is the only campground with electrical hookups, and visitors report that RV spaces can be a bit cramped. Enjoy the views of Yellowstone Lake‘s northern side, freshen up with on-site laundry, or grab a snack from the general store. One more thing: Its smack-dab in the middle of grizzly country, so tent camping is not permitted.
Cooke City Mt: Cooke City Mountain House
When you see the view of Republic Mountain and the other striated peaks from the Cooke City Mountain House, you might feel like youve stepped into a snow globe.The snowmobile trails in the Absaroka Mountains, the wolf-watching in Yellowstoneâs Lamar Valley, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing will draw you into the mountains.
Or, cozy up in this retreat, make some hot cocoa in the kitchen and watch movies all day from the propertyâs video library. Walk into Cooke City to take advantage of restaurants like the Bearclaw Bakery, known for their gooey cinnamon rolls and satisfying breakfasts. At night, pull up a barstool at Minerâs Saloon and meet the locals. The local brews and brick oven pizza will keep you warm through the winter evening.
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Virginia City And Nevada City
The very much alive ghost town, Virginia City, Montana,is frozen in time. It is a remarkably well-preserved Old West Victorian gold mining town just 90 minutes west of Yellowstone National Park. When the gold ran out, there was still enough left so that homes and businesses were occupied, but there was not enough wealth to remodel the buildings. So it froze in time, and is now a live representation of an old west ghost town. Virginia City is the true and original Old West, complete with the original Boot Hill.
Two Day Yellowstone Itinerary
This two-day Yellowstone itinerary is a continuation of the itinerary above, only you travel at a more leisurely pace and you get to visit a few more places.
How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers . You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest. If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to Your Places, click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
Morning:Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin.Watch the geyser eruption from the boardwalk. For a unique view of the eruption , hike up to Observation Point. Take your time walking through the Upper Geyser Basin and Geyser Hill. Have lunch at the Old Faithful Inn or assemble a picnic lunch at the Old Faithful General Store.
Midday:Grand Prismatic Spring and Midway Geyser Basin.Consider adding on the hike to Fairy Falls.
RELATED:How to Visit the Grand Prismatic Spring and Hike to Fairy Falls
Afternoon:More Geyser Basins. Located in the same area as Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful are several more geyser basins to visit: Biscuit Basin, the Fountain Paint Pot Trail, and Black Sand Basin. Leave the crowds behind and hike to Lone Star Geyser, a geyser that erupts up to 45 feet every 3 hours.
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Gardiner Yellowstone Hotels All Year
Gardiner, in Montana, is located next to the northern entrance to Yellowstone, which is the only entrance that remains open throughout the year. In addition, its the most popular entrance to the park since, if you arrive at Bozeman Airport, the closest international airport to Yellowstone, you will enter from the north.
Nearby are the famous Mammoth Hot Springs, where you can find Minerva Terrace and Canary Spring. Also, not far away is Boiling River Hot Springs, a thermal river where you can bathe for free. Another advantage of staying in Gardiner is that some of the cheapest hotels in Yellowstone are here.
Gardiner, Yellowstone hotels all year-round
These are the hotels in Yellowstone Gardiner that I recommend:
- Low-cost option: Soda Butte Lodge
How Long In Advance To Book Yellowstone Accommodation
You can book Yellowstone accommodation from the 1st of May of the year before you travel. So if you are traveling to Yellowstone in 2022, you can book your stay from May 2021. If you are planning a visit in the summer of 2023, you can book your accommodation from May 2022, etc.
Further below, at the bottom of this article, we have some tips on how to secure Yellowstone lodging if its fully booked and how to get the best deals.
But first the best places to stay in Yellowstone National Park and also where to stay near the park. Read on!
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Things To See And Do In Cooke City:
- The gorgeous Beartooth Mountains tower over the town providing some of the best USA hikes in the summer and gorgeous photo spots throughout the year.
- Fancy trying out some fishing? Buffalo Jump Fishing Access Site is a great starting point for beginners heading to the area.
- Drive deep into the northern half of the national park to discover the Grand Yellowstone Canyon, an area of unspoiled natural beauty stretching for miles.
- Need to fill up before heading out on a hike? Bearclaw Bakery have a great selection of hearty meals plus some snacks you can take out on the trail with you.
- Once youve returned from your adventures, head to Grizzly Bar and Grill for all-American barbecue and an extensive drinks menu.
One Day Yellowstone Itinerary
Where should you go if this is your first visit to Yellowstone and you only have one day? In my opinion, the must-see sights for a first-timer are Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Spring, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and a drive through either Hayden Valley or Lamar Valley to spot wildlife.
If you only have one day, most likely you are on a road trip through the USA. Most people visit Yellowstone on a big road trip that includes Grand Teton National Park. If that is your plan, you can start in Grand Teton, hit the main sights in Yellowstone, and end the day in either Mammoth, West Yellowstone, or in one of the lodges inside of the park.
Below is an itinerary that starts in Grand Teton and ends in central/north Yellowstone. We also have an article with six different ways to spend one day in Yellowstone National Park which you can readhere.This article includes many different routes through the park to fit your road trip itinerary.
Here is a map if you start in Grand Teton and end in Mammoth .
One Day Yellowstone Itinerary
Here is a sample one day Yellowstone itinerary. All times are approximate, to give you an idea of how to plan your time.
7 am:Drive from Jackson/Grand Teton National Park to Yellowstone. From Jackson, it is a 60-mile drive to the south entrance of Yellowstone and takes approximately one hour and fifteen minutes .
Boardwalk trail on the Upper Geyser Basin
The view from Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook
Midway Geyser Basin
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From The East: Cody Wyoming
The onetime home of Buffalo Bill, Cody, Wyoming is one of the most popular side trips from Yellowstone. The most Old West of all the gateways, this is where youll want to base yourself if you have kids that love cowboys.
What to Do: The Cody Trolley tour takes you by the Old Trail Town, a restored frontier-era street. Every evening in summer, the Cody Gunslingers reenact a typical cowboy shootout in front of the Irma Hotel, named for Buffalo Bills daughter.
Where to Stay: The Old West-themed rooms at the K3 Guest Ranch B& B start at $159/night and can sleep up to sixmaking them great value for families. Kids can even sleep in a converted hay wagon.
Where To Stay On A Budget Near Yellowstone
To maximize your vacation dollars, your best bet for a budget hotel is found outside the park boundaries. Most budget hotels are in West Yellowstone, including the One Horse Motel, which features clean and refurbished rooms, quiet surroundings, and easy access to the West Entrance.
Just a few blocks west of the One Horse Motel, the Days Inn West Yellowstone also provides proximity to the gates of Yellowstone, as well as spacious rooms and suites. In addition to the affordable rates, the Days Inn West Yellowstone also features the attached Trapper’s Restaurant and a heated indoor pool and waterslide.
Within the same three-block radius of the One Horse Motel and Days Inn West Yellowstone, Stage Coach Inn is another affordable hotel that provides a western-themed decor. Featuring a grand staircase, spacious rooms, and a rustic appeal, Stage Coach Inn is perfect for those looking for something unique.
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Best Hotels Near Yellowstone West Entrance
Staying in West Yellowstone may be your best bet to access the most popular places to see in Yellowstone Old Faithful, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Norris Geyser Basin, etc.
West Yellowstone is the most visited gateway to Yellowstone National Park because of its easy access to the park in both summer and winter .
The hotels near Yellowstone National Park West Entrance are abundant, and while you probably wont find any cheap hotels near Yellowstone National Park, West Yellowstone had the biggest selection of hotels.
For Yellowstone adjacent places to stay, West Yellowstone is a popular choice. In addition to its proximity to the park, the western-styled town is full of souvenir shops, ice cream parlors, restaurants, and activities like zip-lining and horseback riding.
Its a little crowded in the summer, so if you are looking for solitude or a nature escape, you might want to look elsewhere.
Explorer Cabins at Yellowstone
The staff at the Explorer Cabins will organize a tour into the park or get you set for hiking, rafting, fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or ice fishing nearby. And the bonus is, when you get back to the Explorer Cabins you can roast marshmallows around campfire.
Holiday Inn West Yellowstone
Best Western Yellowstone
Vacation Rentals in West Yellowstone
If you want to scan all the places for rent in West Yellowstone, check out this page.
A few of the best places to stay in or near West Yellowstone:
Roosevelt Lodge Cabins The Best Place To Stay In Yellowstone For Spotters
Roosevelt Lodge Cabins is in a prime location, near the Tower Falls area, the Petrified Tree, and the start of the road leading to Lamar Valley. This valley is the most popular place to spot the fauna of Yellowstone, and its where hundreds of spotters gather to spot the most elusive animals in the park: grizzlies and wolves, among others.
Roosevelt Lodge Cabins, the best place to stay in Yellowstone for spotters
This set of cabins is, without a doubt, one of the hotels that I recommend in Yellowstone if you want to get to know the parks amazing fauna.
Its exterior porches and its interior fireplace are perfect for relaxing and feeling comfortable, something common among the hotel offers in Yellowstone. Theres also a restaurant where you can try local food and a guest lounge where you can chat, rest, and meet other travelers.
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Where To Stay In Yellowstone For Watching Wildlife
Its no secret that Yellowstone National Park is one of North Americas greatest wildlife-watching destinations. But one question that gets asked over and over isWhere is the best place to stay in Yellowstone for wildlife watching? You may be surprised to learn that the secret favorite of seasoned wildlife and wolf watchers is not a National Park lodge or the bustling gateway town of Gardiner. In fact, it is a little-known town tucked outside the northeast corner of the park in Montana that is a top choice for places to stay in Yellowstone. Or more precisely it is two tiny towns nestled shoulder to shoulder. They are Cooke City and Silver Gate. You can stay at a hotel or you can even find a Yellowstone cabin rental that suits your group. Lodging in Yellowstone has never been cuter!
Quaint lodging options like the Elk Horn Lodge abound in Cooke City and Silver Gate
The Best Places To Stay Near Yellowstone National Park: Gardiner & West Yellowstone
Like we mentioned above, the two places outside the park that you should consider staying are Gardiner, Montana, and West Yellowstone. Further than that youll be driving hours to get to the park, then driving even more to see the park itself.
Staying in Gardiner, Montana
Gardiner is right outside the northern border of the park, just 15 minutes away from Mammoth Hot Springs, which makes it a perfect home base for exploring the northern half of the park. Theres a solid range of hotels from budget to luxury along with cozy cabins and more rustic accommodation options.
Hotels in Gardiner
Here are some hotels in Gardiner that we think youll like. Theres a mix of budget-friendly, mid-range, and more upscale options.
Yellowstone Riverside Cottages: Located right on the Yellowstone River, this property is one of the best values in Gardiner. They have cottages, suites, and studios that can sleep from two to six people, and each one comes with a kitchen . The deck, which is right over the river, has nice views of the park, and the open field below is a favorite spot for local wildlife like elk and deer. Its one of the more affordable places to stay in Gardiner too.
The Roosevelt Hotel: This may be the nicest hotel option in Gardiner, but certainly less affordable. Theyve got hotel-style rooms, and a couple of cozy cottages with kitchen facilities. We think the cabins are where its at, especially if youve got more than two people.
Vacation Rentals in Gardiner
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Hotels Outside Of Yellowstone
We think Livingston, Montana is one of the best places to stay around Yellowstone, but that might be because we live here. Its about an hour drive north of the park, and a scenic one at that. For hotels in Montana near Yellowstone, its not as close as Gardiner, but it has a lot to offer, including incredible fly fishing, art galleries galore, tasty restaurants, and scenic beauty.
A Stones Throw Bed and Breakfast
If you are kid-free and looking for a bed and breakfast near Yellowstone, you need to stay at A Stones Throw Bed and Breakfast. I wrote about our stay at A Stones Throw on my other site. For beautiful, comfortable rooms, local art, and gourmet food, you cant beat A Stones Throw. You can make your reservation on their site.
Sweetwater Guest House
Because we sold our house to travel the world, whenever we are home in Livingston, we have to find a place to stay. We have spent many months in the Sweetwater Condo. Its right on the edge of downtown and just blocks from the Yellowstone River.
The renovated, historic, modern, Western townhouse is incredibly comfortable and has everything you need in lodging near Yellowstone. You can read more about it and make a reservation here.
On the other end of Yellowstone, about an hour and fifteen minutes south of the South Entrance is the town of Jackson, Wyoming. You dont get much more Old West meets the Great Outdoors, than Jackson Hole. I used to live there, too.