Traveling by RV offers a scenic and exciting way to explore the country. One of America’s greatest wonders, and one of the top 10 national parks in the U.S., is Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is one of the most-visited national parks, showcasing the beauty of the west in its natural setting. Known for eye-catching views, native wildlife, and hydrothermal features like hot springs and geysers, there’s plenty of reasons why millions of visitors travel here each year. A bucket-list RV destination, we’ll break down everything you need to know about Yellowstone National Park in this RV Trader Travel Spotlight.
Yellowstone National Park History
Established on March 1, 1872, Yellowstone is regarded as the world’s first national park. During the 1871 Hayden Expedition, Nathaniel P. Langford, Thomas Moran, William Henry Jackson, and Henry W. Elliot surveyed the land, capturing visual proof of Yellowstone’s remarkable beauty and wonders. Six months later, Congress founded Yellowstone National Park and President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act.
However, the park’s history dates back thousands of years before American and European explorers arrived—to a time when native tribes and families used the land as their home and hunting ground. This history is preserved in archaeological sites and artifacts that give us a glimpse into life during that time. In fact, over 1,850 archaeological sites have been documented within Yellowstone. Imagine what the landscape looked like nearly 11,000 years ago as you walk some of the same trails that were used by people in the Paleoindian period.
Things to Do at Yellowstone National Park
The best way to learn more about Yellowstone is to get out there and experience it first-hand. There are a variety of ways to explore the park, spanning 3,472 square miles across Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. From hiking, biking, and horseback riding to kayaking and scenic tours, Yellowstone offers over 2.2 million acres of adventure and relaxation in a natural setting.
Old Faithful and Yellowstone’s Thermal Basins
One of Yellowstone’s most popular attractions is, without a doubt, Old Faithful. While it is not the largest geyser at Yellowstone, Old Faithful gained popularity for erupting most frequently—about every 90 minutes. Old Faithful is just one of over 500 geysers located within the park, and one of six that erupts on a predictable schedule. Plan your visit to one of the geysers around the predicted eruption schedule, available on the National Park Service website.
In addition to the geysers, Yellowstone also showcases other hydrothermal features, such as hot springs, mudpots and fumaroles, that are geological marvels. Here are a few we recommend you see:
- Grand Prismatic Spring – Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring within Yellowstone National Park. You’ll be instantly amazed by the spring’s vibrant rainbow hues. Grand Prismatic is between 370 feet in diameter and 160 feet deep.
- Norris Geyser Basin – Walk across the boardwalk of Yellowstone’s oldest, hottest, and most acidic hydrothermal area. Norris Geyser Basin is the site of Steamboat Geyser, the tallest geyser in the world, and is part of one of the world’s largest active volcanoes.
- Fountain Paint Pot – Fountain Paint Pot features four major types of hydrothermal features. Thermal activity is represented throughout the entire area. View bubbling mud pots, hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles from the boardwalk trail.
While hot springs look inviting enough for a swim, it is illegal to swim or soak in any of Yellowstone’s thermal features. These thermal waters contain organisms that could cause illness or life-threatening infections.
Hiking and Biking
Yellowstone National Park boasts over 900 miles of hiking trails to traverse. Many of the trails are more than 7,000 feet above sea level, so bring your camera to capture the picturesque views. Here are three of our favorite hiking trails:
- Fairy Falls Trail – While Yellowstone is known for Old Faithful, the Fairy Falls waterfall is also a spectacular landmark to behold. Walk 1.6 miles through a lodgepole pine forest to get to the falls. From there, the Spray and Imperial geysers are less than a mile away.
- Mount Washburn Spur Trail – For a long-day hike, make your way along the Mount Washburn Trail. This 16.2-mile roundtrip trail starts and ends at the same trailhead, offering panoramic views of Mount Washburn, wildflowers in bloom, and the Washburn Hot Springs along the way.
- Natural Bridge Trail – This one to two hour hike goes through the forest and along an old service road to a natural bridge that was cut out of a cliff by Bridge Creek. A short but steep hike, the Natural Bridge Trail is 2.5-miles roundtrip.
There’s no better way to take in views of Yellowstone Lake, Lone Star Geyser, and Madison River than hiking and pedaling through Yellowstone. Hiking and biking trails vary in duration, so make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day. Also, keep in mind that biking is permitted on established roads and designated routes, but prohibited on backcountry trails, boardwalks, and oversnow routes.
Wildlife Watching at Yellowstone
Observe wildlife, from a safe distance, as you explore the park on your own or on a guided tour. It is recommended to stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards away from other wildlife. Binoculars are strongly encouraged if you want to get a closer look at the animals that call Yellowstone home.
Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park
For RVers, late spring through early fall present the best times to visit Yellowstone. April to May and September through October tend to offer more comfortable weather, less crowds, and fewer road closures. Watch as wildlife emerges from hibernation and the flowers start to bloom in spring. Autumn ushers in the vibrant foliage, and you’re also more likely to spot animals, who move to lower elevations when temperatures drop, foraging for food. July and August are the most popular months to visit since children are out of school.
With so much to see and do at Yellowstone, you could easily spend a week or longer experiencing something new every day. If you don’t have that much time, we recommend spending at least three or four full days touring the park.
Where to Camp and Park Your RV at Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park features 12 campgrounds and over 2,000 sites. Five of the campgrounds are overseen by Yellowstone National Park Lodges, while the National Park Service manages seven. RVs are allowed at all campgrounds within the park, but there are some size restrictions. Fishing Bridge RV Park is the only campground with full hookups available. Reservations are strongly recommended if you plan to park your RV at one of these campsites.
What’s Near Yellowstone National Park?
When you aren’t exploring the park, check out these neighboring attractions.
- Grand Teton National Park – Located in the northwest area of Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park is brimming with history, wildlife, and activities for all ages. This year-round destination offers everything from hiking the lush valleys to snowshoeing the alpine terrain. We’ve previously covered a few of the many reasons you should explore Grand Teton National Park.
- West Yellowstone, Montana – West Yellowstone is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, boasting ATV, UTV and snowmobile trails, fly fishing, and whitewater rafting. The southern Montana town also has year-round family friendly events and restaurants serving up regional specialities.
Conclusion: An RV trip to Yellowstone National Park is sure to be filled with masterful landscapes, spectacular geological attractions, and memory-making experiences. Now that you have an idea of what awaits at Yellowstone, load up your camper and hit the road!
Have you taken your RV to Yellowstone? Share any tips or tricks you have in our comments section below. Searching for a new or used RV to rent or buy for a road trip? Shop the nationwide online marketplace at RVTrader.com.