Yellowstone National Park Entrances [Family Guide]

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Get ready for a fabulous experience when visiting the United States’ oldest national park, Yellowstone National Park. Geysers, grizzlies, Old Faithful — it’s the wildest playground you can imagine, but it’s also gigantic!

With acreage in three states (Montana, Wyoming and Idaho), it can be tough to decide how to actually get into (and out of) Yellowstone. That’s why I wrote this Yellowstone National Park entrances guide!

With a family, you’ll want to hit the best spots and have a game plan from the get-go, especially if you have limited time. And here’s the thing…because of its size and all of the sights there are to see, you could spend months and months trekking through Yellowstone and still not see everything.

At almost 3,500 square miles, you can imagine the distance between entrances. This post will help you plan for entering (and exiting) the park through one of its five entrances. And we’ll discuss the best stuff to see near each entrance. Let’s get going!

family at the Roosevelt Arch, North Entrance Yellowstone National ParkPin
Mammoth Hot Springs is closest to the north entrance of the park, home of the famous Roosevelt Arch

How Many Entrances Does Yellowstone National Park Have? 

Yellowstone has five entrances that fit all the cardinal directions: North, East, South and West — and one outlier: the Northeast entrance.

Here’s a simple NPS map outlining the entrances to show the kids and the closest ranger and visitor center to each National Park Service entrance:

Closest Ranger/Visitor Center to Each Park Entrance

  • North: Mammoth Hot Springs
  • East: Bridge Bay
  • South: Grant Village
  • West: Norris (but Old Faithful is almost equidistant)
  • Northeast: Tower-Roosevelt
map of yellowstone national park with entrances and closest visitor centers/ranger stations highlightedPin
map of Yellowstone with the five entrances circled, and a push pin icon at the closest visitor centers/ranger stations to each entrance

Which Yellowstone Entrance is the Best?

There’s no one “best” entrance. The best entrance for you will be where you plan to stay. Yellowstone is huge, and you’ll need to plan based on its size.

If you only have one day, you’ll want to hit the closest entrance to your overnight destination. You might not even visit all the entrances and exits due to the park’s sheer size. 

I’ve been through each of the five entrances during our family trips to Yellowstone and in short…

The quick version: The “right” entrance to use when entering Yellowstone National Park depends on various factors, such as your starting point (where your lodging is), planned activities and the time of year. Don’t forget to check for any updates or changes in park regulations before your trip.

The West Entrance in the town of West Yellowstone, Montana is definitely the most popular park entrance. Yellowstone National Park receives over four million visitors annually, and a large chunk of those visitors enter through West Yellowstone.

family in front of West Yellowstone entrance sign at Yellowstone NPPin
NPM Founder Heather Thibodeau’s family at the West Yellowstone entrance

Yellowstone’s Five Entrances: What You Need to Know

We’ll discuss all five entrances here, describing where to stay and the reasons to enter the park through that particular entrance. When done reading, you’ll have the exact entrance picked out for your spectacular vacation.

Expert Tip: I’ll be mentioning lodging options near each entrance in this article. From the jump, I want to make sure I’m telling you that my strong, personal bias from traveling with my family to Yellowstone many times is that staying INSIDE the park is much better than staying outside the park, whenever possible. Why? Convenience and making sure your family maximizes your time in the park.

view from the second story terrace of Old Faithful Inn to Old Faithful, Yellowstone National ParkPin
watching Old Faithful at sunset from the Old Faithful Inn…an experience that you can’t have outside the park!

Yellowstone has a lot of lodging options inside the park. In order to book them, you do have to plan early. But you’ll save time waiting in entrance lines to the park, and putting lots of extra miles on your car if you do stay inside the park.

I highly recommend lodge hopping as well. Stay one-two nights in a few places inside the park…this allows you to make the absolute most of your stay and see as much as you can, no matter how long you have to spend at Yellowstone!

If you CAN’T book inside the park (you’re planning a last-minute trip and there’s no availability, perhaps), then here are my favorite glamping options outside the park, which I think is a great way to get the full Yellowstone experience without staying inside the park!

The North Yellowstone Paradise Valley Under Canvas community tent at sunsetPin
If we don’t stay inside the park, our family’s favorite lodging option is glamping at a spot like this one – Under Canvas North Yellowstone/Paradise Valley

East Entrance

There’s a reason we’ve started with the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park: Of the Yellowstone entrances, it’s the one that immediately makes you think, “Yep, this is what I signed up for,” and prompts your kids to scream from the back of the van, “Mom, this is so cool!” 

The Absaroka Range butting up to Shoshone National Forest and the road following the north fork of the Shoshone River will stun you. It’s the most mountainous and, happily, the least busy of all the park entrances. You’ll pass through the iconic Sylvan Pass and get your first glance of the majestic Yellowstone Lake.

The drive in doesn’t disappoint, either. Fifty-two miles before you get to the East Entrance, you’ll pass through Cody, Wyoming, named after Buffalo Bill Cody. It’s a veritable rodeo town, with its never-ending Western-town activities: rodeos complete with bull riding, barrel racing and calf roping, and parades that’ll give your kids a hankering to drink sarsaparilla and learn more about the Old West.

Closures: The East Entrance is closed from early November through early May. 

Sunset at Sylvan Lake, heading toward the east entrance of Yellowstone National ParkPin
sunset at Sylvan Lake on the road to the East Entrance of Yellowstone NP

Reasons to Enter the Park Through the East Entrance

What sets the East Entrance apart from the other entrances? Easy!

  • Breathtaking views — from the Absaroka Range to valleys to forests, you get it all.
  • Geological formations, including rock spires, cliff walls and colorful mountain rocks
  • First glimpse of the jaw-dropping Yellowstone Lake
  • Bridge Bay attractions and Lake Village amenities and dining options
  • Wildlife sightings
  • Less crowded entrance
  • Gateway to Hayden Valley, where you’ll see bison, elk and other wildlife
  • Fishing opportunities at Yellowstone Lake

Here’s the only reason you need to enter through the East Entrance: It offers an unforgettable and mesmerizing introduction to the wonders of Yellowstone National Park. 

Where to Stay Near the East Entrance

It’s a hike from the east entrance to the “heart” of the park. So I wouldn’t suggest staying multiple nights outside the East entrance.

If you’re traveling from the east, and need to get some rest before heading into the park, consider staying three miles from the entrance in Threemile Campground in Shoshone National Forest. There are several other campgrounds throughout Shoshone National Forest as well, or choose stay in one of the many RV parks near Cody, such as the Cody KOA Holiday. KOAs usually have pools, other fun amenities and activities for kids, so we stay in them occasionally.

If timing allows you to get into the park from the east and lodge inside the park, I’d highly recommend going that route. Hotel options within the park that are closest to the east entrance include the (gorgeous) Lake Yellowstone Hotel. It’s on the shores of Lake Yellowstone, treating your family to picture-perfect views. Book in advance and soak in the newest renovations, from presidential suites to standard lodge rooms.

Lake Yellowstone HotelPin
Lake Yellowstone Hotel

The cabins behind the hotel offer a more rustic retreat, and select cabins are pet-friendly. This is my favorite option for families. 

If you like camping, consider staying at Bridge Bay Campground, which treats you to lake vistas, with the majestic Absaroka Range on the eastern shore. If you’re camping in an RV, the Fishing Bridge RV Park can get you full hookups on a paved pad. 

North Entrance

The North Entrance’s iconic Roosevelt Arch may be the image you have in your mind when you think of Yellowstone, and no other entrance looks anything like it. 

Roosevelt Arch, North Entrance Yellowstone National ParkPin
the iconic Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance to Yellowstone NP

The North Entrance is your only ticket to the park year-round (though you’ll occasionally face some closures due to weather or other conditions). If you’re arriving by plane, the closest airport is Bozeman International Airport, which is two hours away.

Not only that, but you can use the town of Gardiner, Montana, as a springboard for your visit to Yellowstone. It’s often called the “gateway to Yellowstone” because of its proximity to the North Entrance. Its beautiful mountain scenery, small-town shops and charming restaurants, from fly fishing trip guides to wolf-watching expeditions (which we did — more on that later). 

family at the North Entrance Yellowstone National Park signPin
this is the large NPS sign for Yellowstone located at the north entrance, just about 200 yards from the Roosevelt Arch

You’re also in prime position to hit important park pit stops, such as Mammoth Hot Springs on your way into the park from Gardiner.

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National ParkPin
Mammoth Hot Springs

The Boiling River used to be a a hot spot (literally) for wading along the north entrance road. However, a huge flood in the summer of 2022 significantly impacted this area, and it’s no longer possible to take a dip where hot springs mix with the Yellowstone River.

The park had just added a lovely boardwalk and informational signs when we were there in 2019, and now all of that is gone/damaged.

Luckily, there’s another area in the park along the Firehole River where a similar experience is possible during the summer, so check the website for more information.

Reasons to Enter the Park Through the North Entrance

The north entrance is one of the park’s five entrances, located in the town of Gardiner, Montana. Here are some reasons why you might choose to enter through the north entrance of Yellowstone:

  • Proximity to Mammoth Hot Springs: The north entrance gives you access to Mammoth Hot Springs, one of the coolest thermal areas in Yellowstone. It contains terraces formed by mineral-rich water, hot springs, and Palette Spring, known for its beautiful colors. You can see everything from boardwalks and trails throughout the area, complete with higher vantage points to see the incredible views. 
  • Iconic archway: Even if you behold it for just a second, you’ve gotta see the giant arch, a historic monument and a symbolic gateway to the world’s first national park, named after President Theodore Roosevelt.
  • Year-round accessibility: Come on in if you want to visit Yellowstone during the winter! However, winter conditions may require using snowcoaches or snowmobiles to access the park. 
  • Entering from Montana: If you’re from Montana or the northwestern states or Canada, the North Entrance makes the most sense. 
  • Services for visitors: If you’re looking for places to stay, restaurants and other amenities, Gardiner has ’em. (And things are generally less expensive here than in the park.)

Where to Stay Near the North Entrance

Stick close to Gardiner, Montana, if you want to stay near the North Entrance. Otherwise, you’re not going to find a campground too close.

Gardiner is situated right at the North Entrance and serves as a gateway to the park. Here, you’ll find various lodging options, including hotels, motels, cabins, and vacation rentals. Some well-known accommodations in Gardiner include:

  • Yellowstone Gateway Inn: This is a locally owned motel providing a range of lodging options, including suites and cabins. It’s located in Gardiner, close to the entrance.
  • Gardiner Guest House B&B: If you prefer a bed and breakfast experience, your family might love this option in Gardiner.
  • Absaroka Lodge: This lodge, known for its rustic charm, offers perfect access to the North Entrance.

Want to stay inside Yellowstone? You and me both! Here are a few ideas inside the park (which again I’d highly recommend in lieu of staying outside the park and having to tack on extra driving time):

  • Roosevelt Lodge cabins: The National Park Service runs these cabins in the park (and this is my absolute favorite place to stay in the entire park).
  • Mammoth Campground: If you own an RV or prefer to tent camp, you can access Mammoth Campground just inside the North Entrance, near the park’s headquarters in Mammoth Hot Springs, which is open seasonally. 
  • Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins: This North Entrance complex contains cabins and hotel rooms near the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces. It offers quick access to key attractions, wildlife viewing areas and drop-dead gorgeous scenery.

Northeast Entrance

Closest to Cooke City, Montana, this entrance gives you the best access to Lamar Valley, where you’ll get your first glimpse of the “Serengeti of North America,” complete with grizzlies, black bears, bison, pronghorn antelope and wolves. 

bison amongst others in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National ParkPin
Lamar Valley is undoubtedly one of the best areas in the park for wildlife spotting

If you have a budding wildlife biologist, your child will love learning about the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone. If you’re into wolf-watching, you can hire a guide to take you to the most popular wolf locations where you can view wolves (from a distance) with spotting scopes. It’s one of the major reasons millions flock to Yellowstone every year. 

spotting wolves in Yellowstone National Park with big telescopes in Lamar ValleyPin
spotting wolves in Lamar Valley

The views rival the East Entrance’s stunning Beartooth Highway scenery and sweeping vistas. The Beartooth Highway extends into Montana. 

Closures: Winter conditions can impact access to the Northeast Entrance, and certain roads may be closed during the winter months.

Reasons to Enter the Park Through the Northeast Entrance

There are several reasons to enter Yellowstone through the Northeast Entrance:

  • Access to Lamar Valley: Here’s why you go to Yellowstone: to see the abundant wildlife — bison, elk, wolves and bears. Visiting Lamar Valley means easy access through the park through the Northeast Entrance — it’s a smart, strategic choice. Bring your binoculars!
  • Scenic beauty: The Absaroka Range offers a gorgeous backdrop and the Lamar River flows through the valley. The valley offers various hiking trails, wildlife viewing and hiking. 
  • Seasonal variation: One of the best parts of visiting Yellowstone involves a lot of year-round excitement, but what is the best time to see Lamar Valley? Spring and summer. Animals give birth to their young in the spring, and wildlife is more active in the summer. Winter and autumn offer incredible views, too — you’ll never see the same thing twice.
  • Cooke City and Silver Gate: Cooke City and Silver Gate are located near the Northeast Entrance and provide services such as lodging, dining, and fuel for visitors entering or exiting the park through this gateway.

Where to Stay Near the Northeast Entrance

Head for Silver Gate or Cooke City for great lodging options near the northeast entrance:

Ready to camp in the park? Note that Pebble Creek Campground got hit by the 2022 floods and closed for the 2023 and 2024 seasons for flood recovery work. Check the website for the status of its 27 sites. If it is open, it’s a great jumping-off point for exploring Lamar Valley at sunrise or sunset.

Slough Creek is an excellent spot for tents and small RVs. You’ll get your fill of nature, what with uninterrupted views of the stars at night and gorgeous mountain views.

wildlife spotting in Lamar Valley, Yellowston NPPin
our daughter scoping the wildlife in the Northeast section of the park, which has some of the best wildlife viewing in Yellowstone

South Entrance

Think you’re up for tackling Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone in one go? Then the South Entrance is your ticket! We did both national parks in 2022, hitting both parks in two weeks. It’s just a 57-mile drive on the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Highway. 

The South Entrance offers the quickest access to some of the most popular attractions in Yellowstone, including Old Faithful, the West Thumb Geyser Basin and Yellowstone Lake.

Closures: The South entrance closes for the winter season. The last day for visitors to enter and drive most park roads is October.

Reasons to Enter Through the South Entrance

Why zip through this entrance? Check out some great reasons:

  • Access to Old Faithful and the West Thumb Geyser Basin: You can’t visit Yellowstone and skip Old Faithful. Check out the eruptions every 90 minutes and explore the other incredible geothermal features in the West Thumb Geyser Basin.
  • Access to Grand Teton National Park: You can drive south out of the South Entrance to get to Grand Teton National Park in an hour. The craggy peaks of Grand Teton National Park will tug at your heartstrings long after you leave Wyoming.
  • Yellowstone Lake: You can access the south park of Yellowstone Lake at this entrance. If your family enjoys boating or fishing, you might want to make this your first stop. You can also check out Lewis Lake on the way in, a smaller lake with abundant scenery.
  • Hiking: The South Entrance can provide the springboard for great hiking in the area, from short walks to backcountry hikes.

Where to Stay Near the South Entrance

Where should you stay near the South Entrance?

At first blush, you might think it’s an easy choice: Staying in Jackson, Wyoming, might seem like a no-brainer, but remember that it’s an hour and a half away from the South Entrance.

Given that Yellowstone is so huge, you might not have time to do much once you drive three hours in one day just getting there and back.

However, if you’re using it as a jumping-off point to your trip, you can’t go wrong with all of Jackson’s hotels, motels, lodges and vacation rentals. 

  • Grant Village: Grant Village is inside the park, but closest to the South Entrance, offers a lodge with rooms and cabins, as well as a campground. You’ll encounter boundless amenities at Grant Village, including a full-service restaurant, a restaurant by the lake with a casual menu, a lounge and gift shop.
  • Flagg Ranch: Located between Grand Teton and Yellowstone, Flagg Ranch is a great choice if you’re headed to Yellowstone in an RV. The location makes it a perfect because if you’re planning to explore both Yellowstone and the Tetons. You can also stay in cabins here if you’re not interested in roughing it. Flagg Ranch offers ranger talks at night, just like in the national parks.
people entering the Grant Village restaurant, Yellowstone NPPin
Grant Village has many services including lodging, a store, museum, and restaurant

West Entrance

The most popular entrance to the park is the west entrance, in the town of West Yellowstone.

west entrance sign at Yellowstone National ParkPin
west entrance sign

Restaurants, shopping, lots of lodging options…and even a theater make West Yellowstone a go-to for tourists.

West Yellowstone is also home to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, where you can see some of Yellowstone’s largest residents up close…in a safe, controlled environment!

This is a rescue center for bears that for various reasons have been unable to return to the wild. It’s a great opportunity for your family to learn about not only grizzlies, but wolves, birds of prey, and even aquatic life in the area.

While in West Yellowstone, our family always enjoys the opportunity to take in a night of local culture at the West Yellowstone Rodeo! If you’ve never seen one, then you may want to add this to your shortlist, too!

The west entrance is also a popular place for guided tours to begin. We entered the park one early morning to search for wolves with the Yellowstone Wolf Tracker Company. It was a great experience because we saw wolves frolic in the dewy, misty morning. Our tour guide, Olivia, brought hot chocolate and breakfast pastries, so wolf-loving kids will be in heaven…even if you don’t get lucky with the wolf spotting!

West Yellowstone has a lot to offer, which is one big reason the west entrance is so popular.

As you head into the park from this area, you’ll be closer to some of the most popular spots inside the park such as the Midway Geyser Basin, home to the unbelievable rainbow-like Grand Prismatic Spring.

Thibodeau family at sign at Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, Yellowstone National ParkPin
my clan at one of our favorite spots, the Grand Prismatic Spring

Reasons to Enter Through the West Entrance

Check out the list of reasons to drive through the West Entrance: 

  • Geothermal features: You can access the major geothermal features through the West Entrance, including Old Faithful, geyser basins and thermal areas. The Norris Geyser Basin is a magnet for visitors.
  • Madison Junction: The Firehole and Gibbon rivers connect here, offering a great starting point for checking out the park.
  • Beautiful drives: The West Entrance forms part of Grand Loop Road, with gorgeous scenery, rolling hills and thousands of elk and bison.
  • West Yellowstone: West Yellowstone offers dozens of amenities, accommodations and attractions, including the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, the Playmill Theatre and provides the jumping-off point for many tours.

Where to Stay Near the West Entrance

Of all the national parks, Yellowstone is one of the most commercialized. Naturally, the benefits include access to hotels, cabins, motels, lodges and other vacation rentals at any price.

Don’t forget about vacation rentals through Airbnb and VRBO, which offer many options with kitchen and laundry facilities for families.

typical glamping tent at an Under Canvas at sunset - this one in MontanaPin
glamping tent, Under Canvas West Yellowstone

Choose the “Right” Entrance for You

I highly recommend choosing lodging INSIDE the park, but if you are planning last minute, or have other reasons for not staying at one of the options within the park, then where you’re sleeping may really dictate the entrance you choose.

The two entrances with the most options for lodging are:

  1. West Entrance – The town of West Yellowstone has more close-by/convenient lodging options than any of the other entrances
  2. North Entrance – Gardiner has a good number of options for lodging as well

Because of the wealth of lodging options in West Yellowstone, the west entrance typically has the longest lines getting into the park in the summer. If you don’t like crowds, then get into the park before 7AM (sunrise in the park is spectacular, and the best time for spotting wildlife), stay inside the park, or close to a different entrance.

long queue to get into Yellowstone National Park from the west entrance in summerPin
expect long queues (like this one) at the west park entrance during peak season

Remember that accommodations can vary depending on the season, and it’s advisable to make reservations (way) in advance, especially for the peak summer months when Yellowstone receives millions of visitors.

Friends of ours decided to go on their honeymoon in Yellowstone without making reservations ahead of time. They had no idea — they packed up their tent after their wedding and left during the summer, the busiest time in the park. Luckily, some good samaritans allowed them to tent camp on their campsite, otherwise, they never would have been able to find a place to stay. 

When planning your visit to Yellowstone, it’s essential to consider your travel route, the attractions you want to see, and any seasonal restrictions or closures in winter months that may affect certain entrances.

The only two entrances which remain open year-round are the North and Northeast entrance. The others are closed in winter and re-open once they can get the roads cleared of snow in the spring.

Pin this Yellowstone National Park entrances information for later! And if you found this article helpful, leave a comment on the pin. That helps others decide whether to use this information, too!

Ultimate Guide to Yellowstone National Park Entrances: Everything you need to know before you go to choose the best of the 5 park entrances for your trip! Pin
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About Heather Thibodeau

Heather Thibodeau is the founder and mom behind nationalparksmom.com.

She and her husband Dave (AKA Tib) are on a mission to travel to as many US national parks with their three kids in tow as they possibly can, doing their best to keep the little ones out in nature and off of screens in an increasingly digital world.

Heather has earned degrees in biology & chemistry from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies), and holds master's and doctorate degrees in physical therapy from Duke University (Go Blue Devils).

Heather is also the creative force behind The Heathered Nest where she shares her love of all things DIY and home decor.

Her work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, Good Housekeeping, This Old House, Today.com, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, and more.

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