Which Yellowstone Entrances Should You Visit?
With fine weather arriving just in time for the spring and summer travel season, many Americans will plan a trip to one of our great national parks. Millions have been captivated by Yellowstone National Park over its 145-year history as a national park, and many more will flock to the nearly 3,500 sq.-mile marvel of nature as their friends and family enter spring break.
What they may get to see within the park depends upon the varying gates into the park, as there are five different entrances leading from two different states, all with historic gateway towns nearby for added flavor. Detailed in the following paragraphs, allow us to be your guide to the gates. For your convenience, we have linked to nearby big family accommodations.
Check out our Yellowstone National Park Guide with Kids
Yellowstone North Entrance
Beginning your journey from the North Entrance will lead to the Mammoth Hot Springs, a highly advisable entrance for those traveling from the Pacific Northwest. The Mammoth Hot Springs is home to one of the park’s two sanctioned swimming areas, one is known as the Boiling River. Naturally heated by the springs, this attraction’s location is relatively close to the nearby town of Gardiner, Montana, home of what marks the park’s original entrance, the Roosevelt Arch.
Gardiner is home to those with a love of river rafting, fly fishing, and horseback riding, and offers plenty of lodging options. Traveling a bit further, one can access Lamar Valley, often referred to as “the Serengeti of the United States” for its wildlife diversity. Wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, bison, elk, and many other large mammals make for spectacular glimpses of nature that ought not to be missed. Visitors are welcome at any time of the year, as the North Entrance is the only gate that’s open year-round.
Where to Stay Near the North Entrance:
Yellowstone West Entrance
Arriving at the West Entrance is advised for travelers coming from all over the West, though it is often proven to be the busiest entrance to the park. From the West Entrance is a roughly 14-mile drive before one arrives in Madison, a jumping-off point for geyser basins to the north and south.
To the north lies Norris Geyser Basin, the park’s oldest and hottest thermal area with two walkable zones. Heading South, one can see the largest geyser basin in all of Yellowstone, known as the Lower Geyser Basin, which includes Fountain Paint Pot, the Firehole Lake Drive area, and the Great Fountain Geyser.
One may wish to stop at the Midway Geyser Basin, slightly to the south, home to the dazzling Grand Prismatic Spring, containing resident bacteria that create rainbow-like rings in the spring. Further to the south is the Upper Geyser Basin, home to Old Faithful, Biscuit Basin, and others; at least 150 geysers exist within 1 square mile here.
When it’s time for a break, head to West Yellowstone, Montana, township minutes from the West Entrance. West Yellowstone boasts an IMAX theater, The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, handfuls of restaurants, plenty of lodging options, and even RV parks, making it an ideal staying situation for its visitors.
Where to Stay Near the West Entrance:
Yellowstone South Entrance
Big families coming from southern Wyoming, Idaho, Utah or even Colorado will find the easiest gate to access being the South Entrance. The most convenient of nearby lodging can be found in Jackson, Wyoming; combining ritzy boutiques and then number one ski resort in North America as dictated by Forbes magazine for five years running, Jackson is sure to be hit locale on your trip.
Along the drive up to John D. Rockefeller Jr. Highway, visitors will find Grand Teton National Park, a truly breathtaking natural canvas hosting six different visitor’s centers. Each of these visitor’s centers offers a variety of different services, ranging from bookstores, exhibits, permit stations, and even backcountry permit stations. Furthermore, travelers can learn about the National Elk Refuge, winter habitat for one of the largest elk herds on earth.
Where to Stay Near the South Entrance:
Yellowstone Northeast Entrance
For big families traveling from the area of Billings, Montana, the Northeast Entrance is perhaps the most viable means of entry, sporting plenty of beautiful sights in its own right. Though closed in the winter, Beartooth Pass runs along US Highway 212 and leads into Cooke City, a township of roughly 75 people that glimmers with small-town charm.
After refueling vehicles, sleep cycles, and stomachs, one can drive from Cooke City to the Northeast Entrance in a matter of minutes, leading to the river valley area of Lamar Valley and, much like that of the North Entrance area, plenty of variety in viewable wildlife.
Where to Stay Near the Northeast Entrance:
Yellowstone East Entrance
Finally, if you’re heading from Eastern Wyoming, Eastern Montana, or Western South Dakota, the East Entrance ought to serve as the easiest access to Yellowstone. Forefront in attractions for this area of Yellowstone is Yellowstone Lake, the largest mountain lake in Wyoming. Stretching over 20 miles long and 14 miles wide, Yellowstone Lake’s shorelines are dotted all across its perimeter with geothermal features; to the southeast travelers can find Old Faithful, and to the north, one can find the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
Arriving at the Eastern Entrance means passing through the historic town of Cody, Wyoming, founded by Buffalo Bill Cody to serve as a hospitality center for those traveling to and from Yellowstone National Park. Cody has the longest-running outdoor rodeo in the United States, and during the summer, a different rodeo is featured every day.
Further attractions include the five-in-one museum known as the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, as well as the Old Trail Town, both providing a rich sense of additional history to one’s visit.
Where to Stay Near the East Entrance:
TRAVEL TIP: Check the NPS website to make sure your entrance is open during your visit. Four of the entrances are open seasonally.
As illustrated, Yellowstone National Park has more than plenty to offer at each turn of its 3,500 square miles of beauty. Though experiences may vary from area to area, big family travelers from all over the country will be able to find a rich, mystifying experience in the park all their own. With lodging options and tour destinations stemming from each gate, there are no bad choices to be made when planning one’s trip to Yellowstone.
More Yellowstone Trip Planning Information
- Yellowstone National Park Guide with Kids – Itineraries, Maps, and 20 Tips for Visiting
- Yellowstone Guide to SE Grand Loop – Grant Village to Bridge Bay to Lake Village to Fishing Bridge to Canyon Village
- Yellowstone Guide to SW Grand Loop – West Thumb to Old Faithful to Madison
- Yellowstone Guide to NW Grand Loop – Madison to Norris to Mammoth Hot Springs
- Yellowstone Guide to NE Grand Loop – Mammoth Springs to Tower-Roosevelt to Canyon Village
- Guide to Yellowstone’s 5 Entrance Roads – What to See and Where to Stop
- Guide to Yellowstone’s 5 Entrances
- Where to Stay and Eat Inside Yellowstone with Kids
- 12 Scenic Yellowstone Drives – Coming soon!
- 12 Fabulous Yellowstone Waterfalls with Little to No Hiking