Yellowstone National Park Entrances: Which is Best?
Yellowstone is a massive national park, it is bigger than the state of Rhode Island! “Yellowstone encompasses 3,472 square miles (2,221,766 acres) which makes it larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined”, says the writes at Yellowstone Forever. If you are planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park, it is crucial that you know there are actually 5 different entrances to the park. Each entrance offers unique experiences and activities. In this post, I will give you a broad overview of each entrance to help you decide which one is right for you or to help you prepare for your upcoming trip. Let’s get right into the 5 Entrances to Yellowstone National Park.
What are the 5 Entrances to Yellowstone National Park?
1. East Entrance – Cody, WY to Yellowstone Lake
This is the entrance to take if you a driving in from eastern Wyoming, Montana, or western South Dakota. Cody is not the last town you’ll drive through before entering the park’s borders, but like Gardiner and Cooke City, Cody has its restaurants to try and things to see. Cody is built off tourist attractions and offers a warm welcome into the park. It has a lot of fast food to grab on the go and other places to sit down and enjoy a stay, like Bubba’s Bar-B-Que and Granny’s Restaurant.
Once you’ve enjoyed your stay in Cody, filling up your tank and grabbing your snacks, you begin your journey to the East Entrance of Yellowstone.
On the way you can stop at see buffalo bill dam at the buffalo bill center. This is actually worth the stop. There are some very pretty views of a large lake.
While driving down the road, if you see a cluster of cars and people, follow the crowd for once! You never know what they all may be looking at. It may be the bear grazing along you come to the park hoping to see. Like the elk of Mammoth, remember to keep a safe distance!
Once you have found the crowd animal watching, you’ll journey further into the park. Soon, you’ll see it, Yellowstone Lake. If you drove up to the park, you may have seen many lakes that Wyoming has but nothing like Yellowstone Lake. Yellowstone lake will follow you for miles, waiting for you to pull over, step out, and take in your surroundings. Find a quiet spot to sit and enjoy the wildness of the park.
Along your drive, there are many places to stretch your legs and get out in nature. Hikes like Pelican Creek Nature Trail, looping about 0.8 miles, offering a great view of the lake, and longer hikes like Avalanche Peak Trail, out-and-back at 4.5 Miles, a reminder of how many mountains are within the park.
Where to Stay
There are several options for lodging near the East Entrance in the nearby town of Cody, Wyoming, which is located about 50 miles west of the entrance. Here are a few suggestions:
Cody Cowboy Village: This family-friendly resort features cozy cabins with western-themed decor and modern amenities such as free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs. It is located about 50 miles from the East Entrance.
Irma Hotel: This historic hotel in downtown Cody offers comfortable guest rooms and suites, as well as an on-site restaurant and gift shop. It is located about 50 miles from the East Entrance.
Pahaska Tepee Resort: This rustic resort is located about 25 miles east of Yellowstone’s East Entrance and offers cabins, a restaurant, and a gift shop. It is situated in a beautiful mountain setting and is a great option for visitors looking for a more remote experience.
Chamberlin Inn: This elegant bed and breakfast in downtown Cody features luxurious guest rooms with antique furnishings and modern amenities. It is located about 50 miles from the East Entrance and offers easy access to the town’s many restaurants and shops.
Closest towns East Entrance
The town of Cody, Wyoming is located about 50 miles to the west of the East Entrance, making it the closest town to this entrance.
When is it open?
East Entrance: The East Entrance is typically open from early May to mid-November, weather permitting.
2. North Entrance: Gardiner, MT, into Mammoth Hot Springs
Gardiner, Montana, is one of the many tourist hot spots before entering Yellowstone National Park. There to greet you will be the elk and bison, along with many places to window shop and places to eat before journeying through the park.
Journeying into the north entrance, you’ll soon smell rotten eggs- don’t be alarmed, just up ahead is Mammoth Hot Springs and the sulfur you smell. Entering Mammouth, you’ll see the white hills of sulfur and the steam from the mammoth hot springs below. Mammouth, like Gardiner, has its own places to pull off and eat, get gas, and enjoy another scoop of ice cream.
You’ll most likely be surrounded by elk once you stop to take a look around. The elk are accustomed to you and others enjoying the park- they are still wildlife. You may notice a few people trying to approach wildlife throughout your journey; don’t be that person!
From Mammoth, you will continue into the park, going up to see bison fields awaiting you once you have enjoyed your time in the North Entrance of the National Park.
This is the most common Entrance year-round. It is usually the only one that stays open all year!
When you get into Mammoth, on the south side, there is a place to park and walk around Mammoth springs. This area has many hikes ranging from a short walk to a few miles. Sheepeater Cliff Trail is a different way into the park to stop and see unique rock formations for a small hike in and out.
Where to stay near the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park
There are several options for lodging near the North Entrance of the National Park. Here are a few suggestions:
Gardiner, Montana: This small town is located just a few blocks from the North Entrance and offers a variety of lodging options, including hotels, motels, cabins, and vacation rentals.
Mammoth Hot Springs: This area of the park, located just inside the North Entrance, features lodging options such as the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins, which offer comfortable accommodations in a historic setting.
Cooke City, Montana: This small town is located about an hour’s drive east of the North Entrance and offers a variety of lodging options, including hotels, motels, cabins, and vacation rentals.
Livingston, Montana: This larger town is located about an hour and a half’s drive north of the North Entrance and offers a range of lodging options, from budget motels to luxury hotels.
Paradise Valley, Montana: This scenic valley is located about an hour’s drive south of the North Entrance and offers a variety of lodging options, including hotels, motels, cabins, and vacation rentals, as well as hot springs and other recreational opportunities.
The town of Gardiner, Montana is located just a few blocks away from the North Entrance, making it the closest town to this entrance station. Other nearby towns are Livingston MT and Bozeman MT.
When is it open?
North Entrance: The North Entrance is typically open from late April to early November, weather permitting.
3. Northeast Entrance
If you have journeyed into the Northeast Entrance, you have come across the famous steep mountain grades of the Beartooth Mountains and the Beautiful Lamar Valley. It is no easy feat climbing across the Beartooth. The switchbacks never end, and if you have any fear of heights, you may just be facing it! There are many pull-outs along the mountain to stop and take a picture of the beautiful Montana countryside. Lamar Valley is a great place to spot a bear. Make sure you stay in your car if you see any wildlife.
Once you’ve reached Cooke City, it is a good plan to stop here and get fueled up before entering the park through the northeast entrance. No one has come to Yellowstone for the gas! You never want to find yourself in the middle of Yellowstone, wondering where the next gas station is. Getting fueled up at all entrances may just be the best plan.
There are also places like Cooke City Coffee to stop by and grab a quick bite and coffee. If you want to sit down and enjoy a good bite to eat before heading into the park, Prospector Restaurant has impressive burgers.
If you want to stop the car, and stretch your legs, Stop The Car Trading Post is a great place to stop and get excellent ice cream, look around, and grab a souvenir.
Once leaving Cooke City, you will pass through Lamar Valley to enter Yellowstone. This part of the park is best to visit in summer time- the only season you’ll have the best luck with the Entrance being open for good weather! Immediately you will find yourself immersed in Yellowstone and its wildlife. You’ll be driving for a while, don’t forget to stop and take those pictures that you’ll treasure for years to come. Then you will come to Yellowstone River outlook along that route, truly worth the short hike up!
Where to stay near Yellowstone Northeast Entrance
There are several options for lodging near the Northeast Entrance in the nearby towns. Here are a few suggestions:
Cooke City: This small town is located just a few miles from the Northeast Entrance and offers several lodging options, including hotels, motels, and cabins.
Silver Gate: This tiny community is located just a few miles from Cooke City and offers several rustic cabin and lodge options.
Red Lodge, Montana: While this town is not located near the park, it is located on the scenic Beartooth Highway which provides access to the Northeast Entrance. Red Lodge offers a range of lodging options, including hotels, motels, and vacation rentals.
Cody, Wyoming: This larger town is located approximately 50 miles from the Northeast Entrance and offers a variety of lodging options, including hotels, motels, and vacation rentals.
It’s important to note that lodging in this area can fill up quickly, especially during peak season, so it’s recommended to make reservations well in advance.
The town of Cooke City, Montana is located about 4 miles to the east of the Northeast Entrance, making it the closest town to this entrance.
When is it open?
Northeast Entrance: The Northeast Entrance is typically open from late May to mid-October, weather permitting. This is the first seasonal entrance and is not open once the snow starts.
4. South Entrance – Jackson, WY. Two national parks in one day.
If you find yourself in the famous ski town- great! You have the chance to cover two national parks in one day. There will be no question once you see them for what they may be, the Grand Tetons. Peaks reach high into the sky, begging adventurers to come closer and take in the grand Teton National Park itself. Even driving along, you will find yourself looking at them in awe. They truly stand out amongst the great Rockies. Enjoy your time in the park. There is no need to rush to Yellowstone. The grand Teton National Park still has many of its own adventures.
Once you’ve gone through Jackson and enjoyed your trip in the peaks of the Grand Teton national Park, you’ll journey further north to the Southwest Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Like all roads in Yellowstone, you’ll find many water attractions along the ride. Lakes, waterfalls, hot springs.
The West Thumb Geyser Basin Trail will take you where you need to go. When you reach the fork in the road, right will be the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, and left, you’ll find yourself traveling to Old Faithful. Before taking either path, stop in and see the Black pool. A mile offering views of all the pools in the area. Just remember, like all water in Yellowstone that has steam rising, keep yourself and your children away from the boiling waters. This pool is just the beginning of Yellowstone’s vibrant colors.
Where to stay near Yellowstone South Entrance
There are several options for lodging near the South Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, depending on your preferences and budget. Here are some popular options:
Yellowstone National Park Lodges: This collection of lodges and cabins is located inside the the yellowstone national park entrance and offers a range of accommodations, from rustic cabins to modern hotel rooms. The Old Faithful Inn is one of the most iconic lodges in the park, and it’s located near the South Entrance.
Grant Village: This lodging complex is located inside the park near the West Thumb Geyser Basin and offers cabins and hotel rooms with lake views.
Teton Valley Lodge: This lodge is located about an hour’s drive from the South Entrance and offers comfortable accommodations for those who prefer to stay outside the park. It’s located in a scenic area with access to fishing, hiking, and other outdoor activities.
West Yellowstone: This town is located just outside the West Entrance of the park and offers a variety of lodging options, including hotels, motels, and vacation rentals. It’s a convenient location for those who want to explore the park’s western side, including the Old Faithful area.
Jackson, Wyoming: This town is located about an hour and a half’s drive from the South Entrance and offers a range of lodging options, from budget motels to luxury resorts. It’s a popular destination for those who want to explore both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
The town of Jackson, Wyoming is the closest town to the South Entrance, which is approximately 60 miles to the north of Jackson.
When is it open?
South Entrance: The South Entrance is typically open year-round, weather permitting, with the exception of the period from early November to mid-April when the road is closed to wheeled vehicles but open to over-snow travel.
5. West Entrance – West Yellowstone, MT to Old Faithful
Last but far from least is my favorite and most visited entrance, W Yellowstone. Though it may not be as big as Gardiner or Cody, you’ll enter bison country long before you reach the gate. Take a stroll down the main road and window shop a little. W Yellowstone has its own restaurants and ice cream shops to enjoy. If you’re too eager, go ahead and get in line for the West Entrance.
Your goal may be Old Faithful, but there is much to see when you enter from the west. Remember, Yellowstone is boiling lands, the largest volcano sitting peacefully amongst us. When you enter this way, you will find the steam rising from the river and vibrant lands covered in high-temperature waters. Those photos you see of blue and golden orange, you’ve found it.
You still have more to see. Bison herds roam and are often the cause of many traffic jams- they often lead the traffic, walking right down the lane without a care in the world. You may even find yourself stopping to take in the mountains. Don’t forget to enjoy your time and walk down the wooden paths to get the whole, geyser country experience.
Take a turn south, and you’ll find yourself coming to Old Faithful. This geyser erupts about twenty times a day, less than once an hour! It is always a good idea to get on the Yellowstone National Park website or ask a park ranger the estimated time so you don’t find yourself standing around when you could be enjoying the other countless things Yellowstone has to offer. If you find yourself waiting, places all around offer shopping and food. When the crowd starts gathering around the famous landmark, make sure to follow.
Where to stay near West Yellowstone
There are several lodging options near W. Yellowstone, Montana, which is the town closest to the West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Here are a few options:
Yellowstone Park Hotel: This hotel is located in W. Yellowstone and offers comfortable rooms, an indoor pool, hot tub, and fitness center.
Explorer Cabins at Yellowstone: These cabins are located just outside of W. Yellowstone and offer a cozy and private lodging option with full kitchens and fireplaces.
Gray Wolf Inn & Suites: This hotel is located in W. Yellowstone and offers comfortable rooms, an indoor pool, hot tub, and a free breakfast.
Best Western Desert Inn: This hotel is located in W. Yellowstone and offers comfortable rooms, an indoor pool, hot tub, and a free breakfast.
ClubHouse Inn West Yellowstone: This hotel is located in W. Yellowstone and offers comfortable rooms, an indoor pool, hot tub, and a free breakfast.
Visitors should book accommodations in advance, especially during the peak season, to ensure availability and get the best rates.
Closest towns to West Entrance
The town of West Yellowstone, Montana is located just a few blocks away from the West Entrance, making it the closest town to this entrance.
When is it open?
West Entrance: The West Entrance is typically open year-round, weather permitting, with the exception of the period from early November to mid-April when the road is closed to wheeled vehicles but open to over-snow travel.
Which Yellowstone entrance is closest to Old Faithful?
The Yellowstone entrance that is closest to Old Faithful is the West Entrance, which is located in West Yellowstone, Montana. From the West Entrance, it is approximately a 30-mile drive to reach Old Faithful. This route takes visitors through some of the park’s most popular attractions, including the geyser basins and the Grand Prismatic Spring. Visitors should note that travel times can vary depending on traffic and road conditions, especially during peak season when the park’s geyser country is busiest. It is recommended to allow extra time for travel and to check the current conditions and road closures before heading out.
What is the busiest Yellowstone entrance?
The busiest Yellowstone entrance is typically the West Entrance, which is a seasonal first entrance to yellowstone located in the town of West Yellowstone, Montana. This first entrance to yellowstone is the closest to popular attractions such as Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring, making it a popular choice for visitors. Additionally, the West Entrance is easily accessible from major highways and is close to several lodging and dining options. During peak season, traffic can be heavy in and around the West Entrance, so visitors should plan accordingly and consider visiting early in the morning or later in the day to avoid the crowds.
What is the least used Yellowstone entrance?
The least used Yellowstone entrance is typically the East Entrance, which is located near Cody, Wyoming. While it offers access to some stunning views of the park and the Absaroka Mountains, it is also the furthest entrance from the park’s most popular attractions like Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. However, the East Entrance can be a great option for visitors looking to explore the park’s quieter, less crowded eastern side, which features unique geological formations, such as the hoodoos in the Tower-Roosevelt area. Additionally, the drive from Cody to the East Entrance is incredibly scenic, with views of the Shoshone River and Wapiti Valley.
Yellowstone National Park Map of Entrances
Click here for a map of Yellowstone National Parks by National Park Services. You can check out the visitor center during your stay to buy other more detailed maps and find more park information.
Things to do in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park in the Pacific Northwest offers visitors a wide range of activities and attractions to enjoy. Here are a few things to do at Yellowstone:
Visit the geysers:
Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration of geysers in the world, including the famous Old Faithful. Visitors can explore the park’s many basins and watch eruptions of geysers and hot springs. Check out the following geysers:
Biscuit Basin: Biscuit Basin to get the full Yellowstone expereince.
Norris geyser basin: Norris geyser basin is accessible from the north entrance near mammoth hot springs.
Upper geyser basin: Upper geyser basin is where old faithful lives. There are serveral other geysers around Old Faithful and if you are lucky you can see multiple go off at once.
Midway geyser basin: Midway geyser basin is right by the Grand Prismatic pool so you can see both of these at the same parking stop.
Yellowstone is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, elk, bison, and more. Visitors can take guided wildlife tours or explore the park’s many hiking trails to observe these amazing creatures in their natural habitat. Hayden Valley is a great place to spot wildlife. Hayden Valley is where most people see their first bear and buffalo.
Hike and explore:
Yellowstone offers over 1,000 miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy nature walks to strenuous multi-day treks. Visitors can explore the park’s backcountry and see stunning vistas, waterfalls, and other natural wonders.
Visit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone:
This stunning canyon features towering waterfalls and colorful rock formations. Visitors can hike along the canyon rim or take a guided rafting tour along the Yellowstone River.
Attend ranger-led programs:
The park offers a variety of ranger-led programs, including guided hikes, wildlife talks, and stargazing events. These programs are a great way to learn more about the park’s history, geology, and wildlife.
Yellowstone is known for its world-class fly fishing, with over 2,000 miles of rivers and streams teeming with trout and other fish.
Take scenic drives:
The park offers several scenic drives, including the Grand Loop Road, which takes visitors through some of Yellowstone’s most iconic attractions, such as the geyser basins, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Lamar Valley, and more.
These are just a few of the many things to do at Yellowstone. With so much to see and explore, visitors can easily spend several days or more exploring this amazing natural wonder.
So, which Yellowstone Entrance is best?
My personal favorite entrance to Yellowstone national park is the the south entrance. I love the town of Jackson and I Love the majestic Tetons.
Choosing the best entrance to Yellowstone national park depends on several factors such as your starting location, interests, and time of year. The most popular entrances are the West Entrance and the North Entrance, both offering convenient access to the park’s top attractions. The West Entrance is closest to the geothermal features of Old Faithful, while the North Entrance is ideal for visitors coming from Montana and those who want to explore the Lamar Valley for wildlife viewing. The East Entrance provides access to the scenic Cody area and the less crowded eastern side of the park. The South Entrance is a good choice for those coming from Grand Teton National Park or the Jackson Hole area.
The best entrance is the one that you use to enter the magical world of Yellowstone. I hope you enjoy your trip!