Yellowstone National Park is a vast 2 million acres of stunning scenery, fascinating geological features, wildlife, and recreation — it takes more than a day to explore this country! The Park continues to see record numbers of visitors, so planning your stay in advance is essential. This isn’t one of those vacation destinations where you can expect to find a place to stay once you are here; you’ll need to book well in advance, particularly during the summer months. Including Bozeman, there are several options of cities to stay in near the Park, depending on where you want to explore. Here are the most popular places to stay near Yellowstone National Park and the pros and cons of each.
The biggest city near a park entrance, Bozeman also has the best airline service. There are now 29 nonstop flights to Bozeman from major cities across the country. Because of this, the convenience factor is huge, since you can fly directly to Bozeman and be settled in your hotel within 20 minutes of landing. Bozeman sits between the west and north entrances to the Park, each approximately 90 miles from town, making it an ideal place to stay if you want to explore different Park areas with a rest in between excursions. Bozeman is a popular year-round destination in its own right, bringing a wide selection of hotel accommodations, from national name brands to local boutique hotels. Museums, shopping, dining, and live music are all thriving in this vibrant college town. Staying in Bozeman also allows you to see a bit more of Montana, taking a scenic drive through either Paradise Valley or Gallatin Canyon on your way to Yellowstone.
If you’re looking for somewhere a little smaller than Bozeman but still with many dining, shopping, and entertainment options, Livingston is an excellent choice. Sitting 30 miles west of Bozeman, the north entrance to the Park is an hour away, and the drive through Paradise Valley to get there is incredible. Its charming, old west downtown, set against a backdrop of mountains meets many people's vision of Montana. Livingston is home to a plethora of artists, cowboys, chefs, writers, musicians and mountaineering types; if you happen to belly up to the bar, chances are, you’ll likely find yourself in a lively conversation. There are two hot springs close to Livingston — Chico Hot Springs, and Yellowstone Hot Springs — and we highly recommend making some time to soak.
Gardiner sits at the north entrance to Yellowstone, next to the Roosevelt Arch. The road from Gardiner to Cooke City through the Lamar Valley is the only road in the Park that stays open to vehicles year-round, but it's important to note that this town is pretty sleepy in the winter, and many businesses close down for the season. If wildlife watching is on your schedule though, Gardiner is the place to stay. Many animals are most active at dawn and dusk, so being close to the Park allows you a little more shut-eye before you chase the sunset or sunrise. The majority of the wolf packs live in the Lamar Valley, along with grizzly and black bears, elk, deer, and bison. Elk roam freely through the streets and lawns of Mammoth Hot Springs, just inside the border. Gardiner itself is small; there aren’t many hotel options, so you'll need to book early if you choose to stay here.
West Yellowstone is one of the most well-known gateway towns. Located at the west entrance, it's the closest to the majority of the Park's most popular hydrothermal features, including Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring. It’s also easy to get to Yellowstone Lake from here. West Yellowstone is a lively town in both winter and summer. The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in town is ideal for families. This sanctuary provides animals that cannot survive in the wild a safe life and an educational opportunity for the public. In the winter, West Yellowstone becomes a snowmobiler’s dream with hundreds of trails, including guided tours through Yellowstone via snowmobile or snowcoach. During the summer months, the Wild West Rodeo runs several nights a week.
Yellowstone National Park
There is always the option to stay within the park boundaries. From the newly restored historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins to the stately log structure at Old Faithful Inn, there are various options. Hotels, cabins, and campsites all fill quickly. If you can, check out the shoulder seasons, spring or fall, when fewer people visit. Spring wildlife watching is spectacular with all the baby animals, and the wildflowers are gorgeous. The colors are worth seeing in the fall, and there is often some lively sparring among bull elk and bison during the rut (mating season).
Ready to start planning your trip to Yellowstone? Read our blog on planning the perfect day trip to Yellowstone, or read more about Yellowstone attractions here.