Are you looking for a last-minute getaway this autumn? Yellowstone National Park can be the perfect escape. With cool temperatures, late-summer foliage, and lots of migratory wildlife what’s not to enjoy about an unplanned trip to this world-class destination?
The beauty, sense of escape, and serenity of Yellowstone remains the same as it has always been. However, there have been some changes made to the park experience due to the ongoing worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Whether it’s your visit to Yellowstone or your 50th, here are some things to keep in mind before you pack your bags and hit the road for a spur-of-the-moment trip to the world’s first national park:
- Make sleeping arrangements ahead of time. Most campgrounds are already full and, with increased demand and some campgrounds getting ready to close for the season, camping in the park and on the surrounding national forest is limited. Motels and hotels in the park’s gateway communities are also filling quickly, so call ahead and ensure you have a place to sleep. Please click here to learn more about camping expectations near Gardiner, the park’s North Entrance.
- Ensure you have access to ground transportation. The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport offers car rentals but we suggest checking rental availability before reserving a plane flight. Shuttle service between Bozeman and Gardiner is limited. Missoula, Montana, located approximately five hours from Gardiner, and Billings also have airports and potential car rentals if Bozeman is sold out. Please click here for information on nearby airports, shuttles, and driving distances.
- Expect dining opportunities in and around Yellowstone to be busy. Increased demand—in addition to staffing shortages and food supply interruptions—means eating in a sit-down restaurant will likely be a time commitment. Allow yourself at least an hour for breakfast, lunch, or dinner in a restaurant. If you’d prefer to not dedicate that amount of time to eating, consider ordering take-out food in advance, choosing grab-and-go items from one of Gardiner’s gas stations, or shopping for picnic supplies at the Gardiner Market. Please click here for Gardiner’s most up-to-date restaurant hours and dining options.
- Bring your mask. While you may encounter varying degrees of mask mandates in the states and border communities surrounding Yellowstone National Park the park itself currently requires visitors wear masks in all federal buildings including visitor centers, convenience stores, and inside famous historic park hotels including the Lake Hotel and Old Faithful Inn. Most of these locations provide masks free of charge, but you can reduce waste by bringing your own. For updated Coronavirus information in Gardiner please click here.
- Understand Yellowstone is popular and you’ll be sharing it with others. To keep traffic moving smoothly please do not stop in the road and, instead, use pullouts while viewing wildlife. Consider purchasing a park pass in advance online to reduce wait times at entrance stations. Travel during non-peak hours (before 9 a.m. and after 3 p.m.) if you want to visit high-profile locations like Old Faithful, Norris Geyser Basin, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. A short walk from the main roadway will provide a more private and personal experience.
- Always remember to stay on established trails and boardwalks in hydrothermal basins. A thin crust of earth over scalding water in these locations can cause injury or death for those who venture off trail. It’s also illegal and will result in a fine and/or jail time and expulsion from the park if you are caught. By staying on established walkways—and ensuring masks, hats, umbrellas, and other items don’t get blown off you and into the basins by strong winds—you are helping to keep these special locations protected for the enjoyment of future visitors.
- Keep at least 25 yards at all times from wild animals, including in Gardiner. Increase that distance to 100 yards from bears and wolves. Binoculars and spotting scopes can be rented or purchased at Yellowstone Gifts and Sweets or Yellowstone Forever on Park Street in Gardiner. You can also book a private tour with a local guide to view wild animals from a safe distance. If an animal or bird changes its behavior due to your presence it’s a sign that you’re too close.
We hope this helps you prepare for a successful last-minute adventure to the wild and wonderful landscape surrounding Gardiner, “Nature’s Favorite Entrance to Yellowstone National Park™.” More information, including updated visitor center hours of operation, information on road closures and construction, and directions on how to purchase a park pass online can be found by clicking here.
Chelsea DeWeese writes from her hometown of Gardiner, Montana, the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.