The do’s and don’ts of Yellowstone National Park

A bison lumbering down the highway near Madison Junction stalls traffic in Yellowstone National Park, where the giant animals have the right-of-way.

A bison lumbering down the highway near Madison Junction stalls traffic in Yellowstone National Park, where the giant animals have the right-of-way.

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Do’s and don’ts in Yellowstone National Park:

Don’t get within 100 yards of a wolf or bear, or within 25 yards of bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and coyotes. Rangers say more people are hurt by bison than by bears. (Bison can run about 35 mph — three times faster than most people.)

Don’t imagine you can cover 20 miles in 20 minutes on Grand Loop Road, the park’s main artery, which is shaped like a big figure eight. It’s mostly a two-lane road, with speeds capped at 45 mph or less. Animals frequently interrupt traffic. Views distract drivers, and there are many pullouts.

Don’t expect easy winter access. Most park roads are closed to automobiles between early November and late April, and most park lodgings have similar seasons. But there are winter options at


Do brave the crowds to see Old Faithful spout in the Upper Geyser Basin. After all, it’s the park’s marquee attraction. And the people-watching is priceless.

Do check out the rest of the Upper Geyser Basin, a collection of about 150 geysers neighboring the Firehole River. If you take a bridge across the river, the features continue, connected by a boardwalk and trail open to walkers and bicyclists.

Distance from Old Faithful

0.3 mile west: Do book at least six months ahead if you want to stay at Old Faithful Inn, and forget about staying there in winter; it’s open only in warmer months. (It closes this year on Oct. 11.) The inn, billed as the largest log structure in the world, opened in 1904, with east and west wings added later. It’s an easy stroll from dozens of geysers. Rooms for two start at $108 (for old-style units that share a bathroom down the hall) and go up to $260. Suites fetch $479-$525. For info, call Xanterra at (866) 439-7375 or go to

1.4 miles north: Don’t miss Morning Glory Pool. It’s part of the Upper Geyser Basin, alongside the Firehole River. The blue is striking but now marred by a ring of yellow algae that rangers say may be caused by rule-breaking visitors who throw things into the pool.


6.8 miles north: Do get to Midway Geyser Basin by 9 a.m. That way, the parking lot might not be full yet. The main attraction is Grand Prismatic Spring.

18 miles north: The Madison River runs for 10 miles alongside Highway 287 from the park’s central Madison Campground to West Yellowstone. It has some of the park’s best fly-fishing and is also popular with trumpeter swans and Canada geese.

32 miles northwest: Don’t expect a bargain price — in fact, standard rooms in summer fetch $250-$280 — but the Yellowstone West Gate Hotel (638 Madison Ave., West Yellowstone, Mont.; [406] 646-4212; is a comfortable 79-room lodging just outside the park’s west boundary in the gateway town of West Yellowstone. Rates dip in September and October; in late October the hotel closes for the winter. Call for specifics.

42 miles northeast: Do consider the hundreds of new units at Canyon Lodge. Concessionaire Xanterra is putting up several new lodge buildings and pulling down hundreds of old cabins. The new Chittenden, Hayden and Moran lodges (which I checked out on a pre-opening tour) have a combined 249 rooms. They will be open through Sept. 20 and open again June 3-Sept. 25 in 2016. Nightly rates for 2015 are $222-$254, or $479 for suites. Two more lodge buildings, Washburn and Rhyolite (160 rooms combined), are due to open next August. For info, call Xanterra at (866) 439-7375 or go to

44 miles northeast (70 minutes’ drive): If you’re in decent shape, do take the Brink of the Lower Falls trail along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. The trail of switchbacks down to the falls is only 3/8 mile long, but it’s a 600-foot altitude change, which makes for slow going on the way up. Lookout Point and Grand View, also along North Rim Drive, offer big views too; no hiking required.

47 miles northeast: Do keep your eyes open in Hayden Valley. The valley’s mostly grassy slopes, a great spot for sighting bears, bison and other beasts, offer clear views above a lazy stretch of Yellowstone River.


47 miles south: Do make time for Grand Teton National Park. This geyserless park gets 2.8 million visitors yearly to Yellowstone’s 3.5 million. And just look at the serrated mountains of its Teton Range.

51 miles north: For nearly certain elk sightings, do head to Mammoth Hot Springs near the park’s northern boundary. Mammoth Hot Spring Hotel & Cabins, built in 1936, will be open through Oct. 12 and in winter from Dec. 18 to Feb. 29. But with upgrades in the next several years, Xanterra hopes to make this the only park hotel that’s open throughout the year. Rooms $90 to $250; $479 for suites. Info:

97 miles south: If your wallet can stand it, do stop in stylish, ski-and-snowboard-loving Jackson, Wyo., In its town square, stroll under the antler arches, which Boy Scouts collect at a nearby elk reserve.

117 miles west: For a great family detour, do consider a day and night in Cody, Wyo., where summer offers include a nightly rodeo, six faux shootouts per week outside the Hotel Irma; and a fascinating complex of museums at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Western art, firearms, native cultures, the amazing life story of Buffalo Bill Cody — they’re all here.

120 miles north: If you’re heading into Yellowstone from the north, do give yourself a night in the lively college town of Bozeman, Mont.



Music to watch Old Faithful by

Colorful Bozeman, Mont. is a short trip from Yellowstone

Yellowstone’s steaming, splashing, roaring spectacle is best seen up close