Arguably the most famous national park in the United States, Yellowstone National Park is certainly the oldest. Under the presidency of former Union commander Ulysses S. Grant, Yellowstone became designated as a national park in 1872; There’s certainly a good reason for that.
Early reports of the Yellowstone area – which included tales of vast, super-deep chasms of canyons, glorious waterfalls, and even rocky holes in the earth which erupted boiling water – were seen as fanciful, mystical, and ultimately untrue. Those who had seen it had their accounts dismissed as delirium or tall tales.
It wasn’t until the 1869 Cook–Folsom–Peterson Expedition that people took the fantastic scenery of Yellowstone seriously. In some ways, you can see how people might have taken the stories of steaming rivers, bright lakes surrounded by rainbow colors and even petrified trees as something more from the imagination than from reality. Thankfully, it is reality – and you can go see it.
Map of the best places to stay in Yellowstone
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Best visited in the summer months when all the access roads to the park are open, there is a range of places to base yourself when you’re visiting the world-renowned Yellowstone region. Choose the valleys and mountains of the south, the vast plains of Montana to the north, or even one of the towns that sit directly on the park’s borders. Or you could choose to stay within Yellowstone itself.
With scenic road trips to be had and convenient airports that take you from thousands of miles away to within a couple hours’ drive, getting to this natural wonderland is easy. Plus there is a range of places to stay – from fresh campsites amid nature and homely, rustic ranches along lonely roads, to friendly budget motels and even high-end hotels.
Staying inside the enormous confines of Yellowstone National Park means being able to roll out of bed and into the beauty of this scenic area. You could choose to stay around the tranquil Yellowstone Lake, in lodges and hotels overlooking the water. Or you could opt for a lodge located by the side of the 140-mile long Grand Loop Road Historic District that allows for the most scenic road trip imaginable.
This possibly won’t be the cheapest way to stay in the vicinity of Yellowstone, but the more ‘rustic’ the accommodation, the more budget-friendly it’s likely to be.
Being in Yellowstone National Park itself allows you the convenience of checking out its canyons, boating on the lake, and watching water erupting from the geysers without having to make long journeys by car.
Located at Yellowstone National Park North Entrance, Gardiner has – since its founding in 1872 – long been considered the ‘main’ gateway to this most famous of American national parks.
Staying here means being able to relax along the banks of the Yellowstone River, making it a scenic spot to rest your head. Ranch style lodges and hotels take up the mid-range to high-end offerings, while motels provide more simple – and more affordable – accommodation.
Keen fly fishing enthusiasts should head to Parks’ Fly Shop – one of the oldest fly shops in the Yellowstone area, created in 1953.
Getting into the national park is a simple expedition from Gardiner, with the North Entrance Road leading to the center of Yellowstone via the incredible Mammoth Hot Springs, which you can admire on the way.
Back in town, you can learn more about the area at the Yellowstone National Park Heritage and Research Center.
Cooke City-Silver Gate is situated to the northeast of Yellowstone National Park and is connected to the park itself via the NE Entrance Road, which then meets the Grand Loop Road at Tower Junction. While the NE Entrance Road stays open during winter, the southeast portion of the Grand Loop closes, which is important to bear in mind when you’re planning your trip.
Staying at this satellite of Yellowstone is a great option for those visiting in winter or summer; head east, away from Yellowstone, for a trip on the incredible Beartooth Highway. Or simply stay in town for skiing and snowboarding opportunities at the nearby Beartooth or Absaroka Mountains.
Accommodation in Cooke City-Silver Gate is limited, and even what you might deem to be rustic or budget options are more like mid-range in terms of price. There are, however, a few campgrounds located out of town.
As you might be able to tell from the name, West Yellowstone lies at the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Interestingly, receiving more than half of its annual tourists from China, West Yellowstone boasts some signage in Mandarin, as well as six Chinese restaurants.
There are obviously Western restaurants too (including a McDonald’s), and plenty of places to stay, ranging from affordable and unfussy hotels to more upscale offerings – including cabins – but generally, these aren’t too expensive.
Getting into Yellowstone itself is easy since it’s quite literally the western gateway to the park. But staying in the town of West Yellowstone is rewarding in its own way. Here, you’ll find the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, where you can learn all about these big, fearsome animals that still inhabit the national park – and even get up close and personal with them!
There’s also the Yellowstone Historic Center, an informative heritage museum housed in a former train depot.
Livingston is relatively far out from Yellowstone but still serves as an excellent place to stay if you’re thinking of visiting the famous national park. North of the park’s northern entrance in the form of Gardiner, and connected directly via Route 89, there are quite a few affordable options for accommodation in Livingston.
Budget hotels along the road make up the bulk of that, but further in the center of town, there are a couple of more mid-range choices.
In Livingston, there are quite a few things to do that don’t actually involve driving to Yellowstone National Park. For example, you could learn about the park at the Yellowstone Gateway Museum, or you could head to the restored 1902 railway depot, now called the Livingston Depot Center; it functions as a museum, but on the Fourth of July weekend it hosts arts events.
Just north of Bozeman is the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. Accepting flights from all over the world, this is a convenient option for visitors.
The convenience of Bozeman goes beyond just being situated near a comprehensive airport, however. Not only is it connected by road to both Livingston to the east and West Yellowstone to the south, but there is also a wide range of accommodation to suit just about every visitor.
You could stay in an upscale, antiques-laden B&B set in a historic building, go for something modern and mid-range, or opt for something budget friendly. There’s a lot of choice.
On its backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, Bozeman offers not just Yellowstone on your doorstep, but these famous peaks as well. You could even head to the Museum of the Rockies, complete with a fantastic collection of dinosaur fossils.
Sharing its name with a ski resort further south, Jackson Hole is a valley flanked by the incredible jagged Teton Range of mountains to the northwest, and the Wind River range to the southeast.
Those into rugged, outdoorsy experiences would definitely be interested in staying in the area around Jackson Hole. That’s because of the campgrounds, ranches and historic, rustic cabins you can find along the Gros Ventre River, around the tiny hamlet of Kelly.
There’s added convenience in the mix too; this area is home to its own domestic airport – Jackson Hole Airport. The town of Moose, just north of the airport, has a few accommodation options too and acts as the gateway to Jackson Hole Valley.
Follow this valley north, through Grand Teton National Park with sporadic places to stay along the way, and you’ll eventually reach Yellowstone itself. And that’s all on Route 191.
Home to a domestic airport – Yellowstone Regional Airport – the town of Cody acts somewhat as the eastern gateway to Yellowstone National Park.
The Buffalo Bill Center of The West (dedicated to the ‘Wild West’) and Cody Dug Up Gun Museum, with firearms uncovered from several conflicts over the years, showcase the frontier times, its famous characters, and the hardships that came with living in this area back in the day.
Today, of course, it’s easy to stay here. Choose from budget hotels in historic buildings or modern hotels for more mid-range options. There are also some higher-end offerings as you inch closer to Yellowstone National Park itself. This is a scenic drive, past Cedar Mountain, Buffalo Bill Reservoir, and eventually into the national park.