Natalie Ogbourne

Preparing for a Satisfying Yellowstone Vacation

After a season of working in Yellowstone, a lifetime of return weeklong visits, and years of talking with friends about their upcoming or completed trip to the park, I’ve figured something out: There is a difference between planning a trip and preparing for one. A satisfying visit to Yellowstone requires both.

Planning involves itineraries and reservations and details. As a planner, I believe this is a good and necessary thing. This is especially true in a place like Yellowstone–where aren’t a lot of hotels or roads and the hotels book up months in advance and whole sections of road sometimes close during the overnight hours for construction.

Preparing calls for understanding where you are going, setting your expectations accordingly, and, possibly even, steeling yourself against the inevitable bad that comes with the good. Preparing, too, is a good and necessary thing—especially if you are after a satisfying Yellowstone experience.

Preparation, in the form of managing expectations and establishing your mindset, can go a long way toward avoiding that. Just as we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, whether or not we will have a satisfying visit is heavily influenced by mindset. With that in mind, here are some suggestions.

Seven Things You Can Do to Prepare for a Satisfying Yellowstone Experience

  1. Expect delays and great scenery. This one comes directly from a road sign in a Yellowstone area construction zone and is as applicable to navigating the daily life of faith as it is to a drive through the park.
  2. Expect people. Lots of people. Consider these numbers: In 1987 (the year I worked in the park), there were just over two and a half million visitors. Twenty years later, in 2007, that number was just over three million. By 2017, that number had risen to over four million visitors—all driving the about the same roads, staying in mostly the same hotels, and seeing the same sights. There’s a lot of pressure on them all. And on the people who share them.
  3. Expect it to take a long time to get from one place to another. During Yellowstone’s less busy months (May, September, and October), it might take us two hours to drive fifty miles. During summer, we allow at least three to drive that same stretch of road.
  4. Expect lines. To get into the park. To check into your hotel.  At the Visitor Education Centers, the restaurants, and even for the vault toilets.
  5. Expect things to be different from what you’re used to. Some might even call it primitive. Cell phone coverage is spotty, at best. WiFi is nearly non-existent. Flush toilets are found only in the developed areas. (Also good to know: There are no televisions or swimming pools at the hotels.)
  6. Expect to be awed rather than entertained.  This is easier when we remember that Yellowstone is nature, not an amusement park. Geysers are predicted, not scheduled. Wildlife go where they want, when they want. Leave time and space to see what is there to see.
  7. Don’t expect the Ritz. Some of Yellowstone’s lodges are on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic, by definition, means old. Take the Old Faithful Inn. Built back in 1903-04, it is a one hundred fourteen-year-old log cabin. Its radiators bang. Its thermostats are unresponsive. On nippy mountain nights, some of its rooms seem to offer about as much insulation as a tent. When I worked at the Inn, I heard people threaten to call their senators over this. (If you might be one of those people, consider securing a reservation at a newer hotel in one of the communities outside the park.)

Consider this: “All things are ready, if our mind be so.” ~ William Shakespeare, Henry V Is your mind ready for a satisfying Yellowstone vacation?

happy trails ~ Natalie

Your Yellowstone Guide shares posts at these linkups. 


Additional Resources

Are you planning a soon or someday visit to Yellowstone?

Get Natalie’s itinerary from her most recent Yellowstone adventure PLUS resources for planning your own! (Subscriber bonus: Get one of your Yellowstone answered via email.)