For the better half of three decades, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work and play in Yellowstone National Park, the first national park of the United States of America.
On March 1, 2022, Yellowstone turned 150 years old. In those 150 years, the boundaries of the park have changed, animals have both flirted with extinction and thrived with protection and park visitation numbers continue to soar year after year.
As a Yellowstone tour guide and avid outdoorsman, here are my top 5 do’s along with 5 don’ts all park visitors this very special 150th season should, well, do and don’t do.
5 top Yellowstone Do's:
Get up early, stay late for sublime solitude
Without question, the best-kept secret of Yellowstone is the dawn and dusk hours. The dawn is peaceful with wildlife at their most active time of day. Dusk is often solitary with people exiting the park to hit happy hour rather than the golden hour of the landscapes at sunset. Despite the visitation of the 150-year anniversary, solitude can still be found for those willing to wake up and stay late.
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Go hike the park's 1000+ miles of trails
There are 310 miles of paved roads in 2.2 million acres of Yellowstone. Roughly one percent of the parkland is covered by pavement, the rest is wild and untouched wilderness. With over 1000 miles of trails to explore, there is no better reason to get out of your car and hike. Do you want to get away from people for this special year? Lace up those shoes, grab your bear spray and take to the trails.
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Go camp under the stars
With numerous campgrounds to choose from, the true Yellowstone experience is one spent overnight in the park. Imagine going to bed to the sound of elk bugling, not the latest craze on Netflix. The animals you should be watching are those wild and free in the landscapes they call home, not those that are domains for TV shows. Spark a fire, roast a marshmallow and relax in the symphony of Yellowstone’s opera beneath a canopy of stars to really bring the memories of your trip home.
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Visit the visitor centers
The Visitor Centers are a labyrinth of information covering wildlife recourses to the world’s largest volcano beneath our feet. From kid-friendly to scientific journals, there is information for everyone, with enough to make an entire day out of it.
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Multi-day visits help to explore further and linger longer
Large enough to fit Rhode Island and Delaware inside the park, it is impossible to see it all in a day. Multi-day and weeklong trips are a must. I have been exploring it for 26 years and counting. I may not see it all in my lifetime, even if I try.
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5 top Yellowstone Don’ts:
Avoid the rush from 11am to 4pm and during July and August
This is the busiest time of day and when the major tour bus companies operate. With July and August being the most visited months, coffee is paramount for these moments to take in the solitude of dusk and dawn and nap during the mid-day rush hour.
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Skip Old Faithful, there are 500 other geysers in the park
Old Faithful is the main attraction to the park, but unless it is absolutely necessary for you to see it, watch it on YouTube. The time spent sitting around waiting for it can be used to see the, oh I don’t know, 500 other geysers in the park. FYI, Old Faithful isn’t even the largest in the park, begging the question of why thousands go every eruption.
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Never hike alone: yes, there are bears out there!
The most common question I get is about bears. Yet if I told you that 99% of attacks could be avoided, would you believe me? It is recommended you hike in groups of at least three and make noise. Talk, play music and always carry bear spray. With bears averaging 400-600 pounds, it isn’t if you see a bear hiking, it is when. But with simple hiking precautions, your safety could almost be guaranteed.
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Don’t approach wildlife – Yellowstone is not a petting zoo
I don’t care if it is a squirrel or a bear, do not touch or approach it. On a tour, a dad pulled me aside afterward and said, “if you hadn’t told me not to pet the bison, I wouldn’t have known not to.” All creatures you must be at least 25 yards away, and bears and wolves, 100 yards. I joke about how people-watching in Yellowstone is almost as entertaining as the wildlife themselves. The lunacy of people approaching animals needs to stop!
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Stay on the boardwalks and leave your pets/children at home
The boardwalks are designed by geologists to map out the safest places for people to walk. There are hollow spots in the ground, especially near thermal areas with signs everywhere for people to stay on the boardwalks. Yet every year we hear of someone passing away and being cooked, stepping off the boardwalk. Yes you read that right, cooked! Stay on the boardwalks and hire a dog or babysitter. The most common reason people get burned is chasing after a dog or child. Unless your child is old enough to remember it, leave them at home.
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