Going to Yellowstone in the high season can be chaotic. It’s hot. It’s crowded. Here are some tips to help optimize your vacation. Some of this advice we learned from experience, but the rest is from our own personal Yellowstone oracle: the checkout lady at Albertson’s in Jackson who managed to ring up our groceries and drop some serious wisdom at the same time. She was right about everything.
- If you want to have any hope of staying in the park itself you need to book MONTHS in advance. I tried six weeks out and there was nothing available. You can still have a great trip staying outside the park, but it’s a lot more driving.
- Don’t forget your water bottles and keep a couple of gallons in the car for refills. It’s hot. It really is, even if the low humidity seduces you into thinking otherwise.
- A wet bandanna around your neck is a great way to keep cool, but make sure it’s 100% cotton, not a synthetic that will dry quickly.
- It also gets pretty chilly at night, so don’t forget to bring a fleece.
- Invest in a pair of sunglasses with maximum UV protection and polarizing lenses – your eyes will thank you. I had no idea how crap my normal sunglasses were until a morning on the river left my eyes squinting and burning even with them on.
- For the photographers out there, a polarizing lens will help keep the glorious colors from washing out in your pictures.
- To see the main attractions without getting mowed over by buses full of tour groups go early in the morning or later in the evening. You’ll have a much better experience.
- Get off the drive-thru circuit and try out a trail. Only half a mile from the main attractions the crowds thin out dramatically and you get a much more personal experience with the park. We went horseback riding in a more remote corner of the park and saw other people only three times in the space of four hours.
- If you have never been on a horse before, a four-hour ride is WAY TOO LONG. Try two.
- If you’ll be doing your own cooking do your grocery shopping in Jackson. Stores in the park and in Gardiner and West Yellowstone are expensive and tilted more towards souvenirs than practicalities.
And a bonus tip: Put a Reese’s peanut butter cup in your s’mores. You’re welcome.