If you’re planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park, one of the first things you’ll want to plan out is where to stay. And since there are five entrances to Yellowstone National Park, in this article I hope to give you a good idea of the best Yellowstone entrance for you.
To get a sense of our trip, be sure to check out the video we made of our visit!
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Yellowstone is huge (the park is about the size of the island of Puerto Rico!). That being said, each entrance is very different, from where you can stay to how long it’ll take you to reach specific attractions. Here I’ll cover general information about each entrance, including the pros and cons, the closest attractions, the closest towns, and where to stay.
On our week-long Yellowstone trip in June, we explored each corner of Yellowstone and every major park attraction (as well as a ton of hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path spots). We went to each entrance to answer this question for ourselves, and now we want to share our thoughts with you!
So, let’s get into it!
Palette Springs at Mammoth Hot Springs.
Located in Montana, the north entrance of Yellowstone is the only one that is open year-round. Many nearby roads are also open throughout the year, although the US 212 is not suitable for travel in the winter months due to freezing temperatures causing ice and snow. However, the road from the North Entrance to the Northeast entrance is maintained sufficiently so winter vehicles can travel on it.
The north entrance is the closest to Bozeman International Airport, which Southwest Airlines started flying to mid-2021. That means there are now easy flights from Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, and Denver, among many other destinations. This makes it an easy entrance to reach if you are visiting from across the country! Car rentals are very easy, located directly at the Bozeman Airport.
The airport is just under 100 miles from the north entrance and driving takes roughly 1 hour and 50 minutes.
The Porcelain Basin area of the Norris Geyser Basin.
- Mammoth Hot Springs is one of Yellowstone’s two swimming areas, which is naturally heated due to the springs. They are a 12-minute drive from the north entrance.
- Roosevelt Arch is the original entrance to Yellowstone and is one of the most prominent landmarks of the national park. It is a 22-minute drive from the north entrance.
- Norris Geyser Basin is the oldest, hottest, and most active of all of Yellowstone’s geyser areas. This makes it a must-do on most people’s Yellowstone bucket lists! It is a 44-minute drive from the North Entrance.
Gardiner is a Montana town that is loved by all adventurous and outdoorsy types. Whether you want to go horseback riding, fishing, rafting, or trekking, you’ll find it all in Gardiner! Of course, there is a range of accommodation and restaurant options too.
Where to Stay
The Mammoth Hot Springs village area.
- Mid-range: The Roosevelt Hotel is a lovely, clean, relaxed hotel in a cabin atmosphere.
- Budget: Super 8 by Wyndham Gardiner is a clean hotel with air conditioning and plenty of other conveniences.
- Closest in-park hotel: Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins has gorgeous lodges in a stunning location.
There she blows! We got this view of Old Faithful right from the boardwalk.
Because West Entrance is the closest to most attractions, including the Old Faithful geyser, it is by far the most popular entrance.
Due to its popularity, you’ll find that there can often be long lines here, some that snake all the way into the town of West Yellowstone! To combat them, arrive at the entrance before 8 am or after 11 am.
When we visited in June, we arrived around 7 am the first two days we stayed outside of the west entrance and had around 5-15 cars in front of us. On our third day entering from that side, we went in at around 11:30 am with the same result. Once we arrived at 5 pm and there were hardly any cars at all! (Due to longer days in the summer, even if you go later in the day, you can explore with some daylight until 9 pm or so!)
There is lots of geothermal activity near the West Entrance, really close to the gate. This means that you won’t need to travel for long to enjoy it!
The roads are well maintained in all parts of the park, but especially this one – largely because there are so many tourists.
It is also the second closest entrance to Bozeman International Airport and takes roughly the same amount to drive as it does to reach the North Entrance. So, if you are flying into this part of the country, you can easily get a car rental and head straight to the West Entrance. Just make sure that you’re not there at peak hours to avoid long lines.
West Entrance is popular, and it’s easy to see why. It is best for people who want a hassle-free trip, first-timers to Yellowstone, or people who are visiting the park with kids.
The view of Grand Prismatic Spring from the Grand Prismatic overlook.
One of the reasons that West entrance is so popular is that it puts you in the center of Geyser country! It’s easy to drive from here and see lots of Geysers, which the national park is famous for.
- Lower Geyser Basin covers a whopping 11 square miles, making it the largest Geyser area in Yellowstone. It is a 30-minute drive from the West Entrance.
- Great Fountain Geyser is located on the Firehole Lake loop and is a dramatic fountain geyser. It is a 34-minute drive from the West Entrance.
- Grand Prismatic is the biggest hot spring in the US and the third-largest in the world! It is a 33-minute drive from the West Entrance.
– West Yellowstone, Montana is a purpose-built hamlet that has been created for tourism. There is everything you’ll need as a visitor here – accommodation, tour bookings (not that you need to join a tour!), and plenty of food options. The settlement only has a small year-round population of just over 1000, but it can accommodate plenty of tourists. It is the perfect place to stay before or after your Yellowstone adventure!
– Island Park, Idaho is a small city that is well-appointed, being just 14 miles from West Entrance. It has a tiny population, but you’ll find plenty of restaurants and accommodation options here. Since it’s a bit further away, we were able to find some cheaper options when we stayed here.
– Big Sky, Montana is a resort town right between Bozeman and the national park. A popular place for skiing in the winter, this is another town that’s just made for tourists! If you want to find somewhere beautiful to stay, then look no further than this town.
Where to Stay
- Glamping at Wander Camp in Island Park, Idaho.
- Luxury: Big Sky Resort Village Center is a popular place in the ski season but equally lovely in the summer.
- Mid-range: Parade Rest Ranch is a scenic spot to enjoy beautiful nature around the park. It is just a 15-minute drive away from West Entrance.
- Budget: Glamping at Wander Camp is the perfect place to stay if you want to thoroughly enjoy the great outdoors! This is where we stayed on our first three nights in Yellowstone.
- Closest in-park hotel: Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Old Faithful Inn, and Old Faithful Lodge Cabins.
You’ll pass the Snake River Overlook at Grand Teton National Park on your way up to Yellowstone from Jackson.
Located in Wyoming, entering through the South Entrance of Yellowstone means you will need to drive through Grand Teton National Park (and pay the entrance fee!) to enter Yellowstone.
Therefore, the South Entrance is best suited for people who want to visit both national parks (Grand Teton is well worth the detour!), or those who are staying nearby and don’t mind paying for two entrances.
If you have the time, it is worth visiting Grand Teton – it’s a unique national park and very different from Yellowstone!
We saw these elk at the West Thumb Geyser Basin one evening.
As well as Grand Teton National Park, there are some amazing attractions close to the South Entrance that are worth visiting.
- West Thumb Geyser Basin is the largest of its kind that is on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. It is a 17-minute drive from South Entrance.
- Yellowstone Lake is one of the most famous attractions in Yellowstone, and its closest parts are around a 20-minute drive from the South Entrance. Other parts of it are closest to the east entrance.
Jackson, Wyoming is the closest town to the south entrance of Yellowstone. It’s a popular favorite with skiers in the winter months, as well as hikers in the summertime! There’s definitely an old-time western atmosphere here, but you’ll also find lots of trendy boutiques and, of course, plenty of restaurants and accommodation options.
Where to Stay
- Luxury: Snow King Resort is popular in both winter and summer. It has an outdoor pool and hot tub.
- Mid-range: Elk Country Inn is a well-placed hotel with all the amenities you need for your stay.
- Budget: Alpine Motel is a cozy country motel with good facilities.
- Closest in-park hotel: Grant Village Lodge consists of beautiful cabins right by West Thumb.
At a pull-off in Lamar Valley.
The Northeast entrance is easy to reach from the North entrance due to a useful road linking the two (although if you are driving from one to the other, you will need to go through the park itself).
However, it is not a sensible entrance if you are arriving in the area from Bozeman International Airport. The shortest way to the Northeast entrance (which takes 2 hours and 50 minutes) actually goes into the national park via the North Entrance!
Like all entrances apart from the north, the Northeast Entrance is also closed during the winter.
Most people who take the Northeast entrance do so for the Lamar Valley, which is home to some of Yellowstone’s best wildlife. So if you’re visiting the park to look out for bears, wolves, and bison, the Lamar Valley is the place!
Bison grazing in Lamar Valley.
You can easily access the attractions that are close to the north entrance from the northeast entrance. However, there are a few specific places that are easy to get to from the northeast entrance.
- Lamar Valley is close to the Northeast entrance and is famous for its array of wildlife. If you’re hoping to see bears or bison on your trip, this is the place to go! It’s just a seven-minute drive from the northeast entrance.
- Trout Lake is a popular place for anglers and hikers in Yellowstone. Formerly known as both Soda Butte Lake and Fish Lake, Trout Lake is a 12-minute drive from the Northeast entrance.
- Tower Fall is one of Yellowstone’s most marvelous waterfalls, descending rapidly down 132 feet. Unfortunately, the road to Tower Fall is closed for all of 2021. However, normally it is an easy 20-minute drive.
Cooke City is the closest, which isn’t a city at all – the year-round population is just 100! However, if you need somewhere to stay or eat, you’ll find it in Cooke City or Silver Gate.
Where to Stay
- Mid-range: High Country Motel and Cabins has direct ski access and rooms with flat-screen TVs and en suite bathrooms.
- Budget: Alpine Motel of Cooke City has beautiful mountain views and excellent amenities.
- Closest in-park hotel: Roosevelt Lodge (closed in 2021)
A quiet morning in Hayden Valley.
The East Entrance is a quiet entrance to Yellowstone since most tourists prefer the west! Therefore, it’s great for anyone who wants to avoid crowds as much as possible. It is also accessible for those who are visiting from Cody or who are road-tripping from elsewhere in Wyoming or states further east. It has good access to highway 90 and cities in southern Montana, such as Billings.
Entering from the east is best for accessing Yellowstone Lake, and there are several other attractions on this side. However, if you want to see the geysers, you will have quite a drive from the east entrance and might want to consider another entrance.
(Keep in mind that if you are flying into Bozeman International Airport, it doesn’t make sense to go through East Entrance. This entrance is primarily for people who are driving from other destinations in Wyoming.)
Sunset at Yellowstone Lake.
Like I said earlier, most of Yellowstone’s attractions are in the west – it is geyser country, after all – but you’ll still find plenty to enjoy on the east side! You’ll also have the added benefit of not seeing too many other tourists around, so everything will feel a little bit more special!
- Yellowstone Lake sits at 7,733 feet high and is 20 by 14 miles in size. It’s definitely an attraction with visiting in the park, and it’s easily accessible from the east entrance. The eastern side of the lake is around 30 minutes drive.
- Hayden Valley is an excellent place for wildlife spotting – look out for elk, bison, and bears as you are driving. It is around 45 minutes from the east entrance.
Cody is the nearest town to Yellowstone, and it’s a place worth visiting in its own right. Called “the Buffalo Bill Center of the West”, Cody has a charming downtown area and lots of western history. It’s a great place to stop before or after your trip to Yellowstone!
It’s also worth stopping at Buffalo Bill Dam which is six miles from Cody, towards the Yellowstone entrance.
Where to Stay
Our cute cottage at Lake Yellowstone Hotel.
- Luxury: Bill Cody Ranch has rustic-style rooms as well as a restaurant on site. It is a way away from the town center, but its rooms make it a wonderful place to stay!
- Mid-range: Beartooth Inn is a cozy lodge that provides a sauna and hot tub. The rooms are comfy and have all the amenities that you need for a comfortable stay.
- Budget: Super 8 by Wyndham Cody has free wifi and serves breakfast each day.
- Closest in-park hotel: Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cottages and Lake Lodge Cabins. We stayed at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel in a cottage and it was exactly what we needed after three days of glamping!
Which Yellowstone entrance is best?
You’ll see this view as you’re exiting through the South Entrance.
To sum it all up:
Overall, the West Entrance is the best Yellowstone entrance due to its proximity to a lot of the most popular attractions. It is relatively close to Bozeman International Airport and has plenty of food and lodging around it.
But the other entrances have their own perks. The North Entrance is the best Yellowstone entrance when it comes to proximity to Bozeman International Airport. It also has easy access to a lot of Yellowstone’s most popular attractions.
The Northeast Entrance is the best Yellowstone entrance for seeing the most wildlife, as it is closest to Lamar Valley, a hot spot for wildlife viewing.
While the East Entrance is furthest from the most popular Yellowstone attractions, it is the best Yellowstone entrance if you’re entering from Cody, WY or want to explore the less-visited spots.
And the South Entrance is the best Yellowstone entrance if you plan on spending time in Grand Teton National Park, too.
I hope that this gives you a good idea of which Yellowstone entrance is best for you!
And if you’re heading to Yellowstone, here are a few more articles you might enjoy: