Last Updated on February 19, 2024 by Grant
When planning a visit to Yellowstone National Park, figuring out where to stay is often one of the most complicated decisions you’ll have to make. There are many great options both inside and outside the park. And, based on how big Yellowstone is, where you stay will have a huge impact on your overall visit.
We have visited Yellowstone five times, staying in three of the lodges and several of the campgrounds, as well as staying in two of the gateway communities. In this article, we’ll take a look at the various camping and lodging options to help you decide where to stay when visiting Yellowstone.
At many national parks, lodging options are limited. Often, the biggest decisions come down to staying at the one lodge inside the park or a hotel in the one gateway city outside the park. Or, perhaps deciding if you want to camp or stay in a hotel/lodge. Campers might have the option of a campground with our without hookups.
When visiting Yellowstone National Park you’ll still have to decide if you want to camp or stay a hotel or lodge, along with whether you want to stay inside or outside the park. But, there are several different gateway cities outside the park to choose from, along with nine lodges and 12 campgrounds inside the park. And the location of each of these camping and lodging options will have a big impact on how you plan your itinerary.
Personally, we love to camp inside the park. In the past, we’ve camped in a tent and with our RV. Most recently, during our September 2023 visit, we stayed at a hotel outside the park and at a lodge inside the park. So, we’ve got a bit of experience with all the various options.
So, let’s dive in and look at the best places to stay when visiting Yellowstone.
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Where to Stay Outside Yellowstone National Park
The biggest perk of staying outside the park is, generally, more options in terms of hotels. You will have a wider range of accommodations and, sometimes, will have an easier time finding a budget-friendly option. There are a few chain hotels so you might even be able to redeem points for a free stay.
Additionally, the gateway cities generally have grocery stores, a variety of restaurants, souvenir shops and other services. Finally, you’ll typically have better cell phone service and WiFi compared to inside the park.
The downside to staying outside the park is that you’ll have a longer drive to many areas of the park. And Yellowstone National Park is huge! Staying outside the park can easily add an additional hour or two of driving onto your day.
So, just what are the various places you can stay outside the park? There are three main gateway cities in Montana: Gardiner, West Yellowstone and Cooke City. We’ll take a closer look at staying in each of these cities below.
Cody, WY is also considered a gateway city but it really is too far to be a home base for visiting Yellowstone. Finally, if you’re also visiting Grand Teton National Park you could consider staying at Flagg Ranch, which is nestled between the two parks. Again, it’s a little out of the way but we’ll include both below.
In addition to chain and independent hotels, each of these cities have a few campgrounds. You’ll likely even find some options for Vrbo or AirBnB. We have limited personal experience with all of these options, so we’ll talk more generally about the overall location and pros/cons of each.
Located on the north side of Yellowstone National Park, Gardiner is a great place to stay outside the park. It’s a cute town that has a good variety of services and isn’t too touristy. The town is located literally just outside the entrance to the park and it’s just a short drive (10-15 minutes) to the park headquarters at Mammoth.
We chose to stay in Gardiner in September 2023 so that we could use Choice Rewards Points (which we converted from Citi ThankYou Points) for three nights at the Ridgeline Hotel at Yellowstone. Overall the hotel was nothing fancy but was clean and comfortable. The price (even in terms of points) was a great deal that was far better than prices anywhere else inside or outside the park.
So, this was the right decision for us mostly based on the price. The location wasn’t bad. But, it was still a long drive to get to Old Faithful – especially when we were meeting our friend and fellow Moon author Becky Lomax early one morning. At least we got to see a wonderful sunrise!
In the fall, fewer hours of daylight made the long drive from the center of the park very noticeable. It probably wouldn’t be as bad in the summer when days are longer. As it was, we found ourselves driving at night, which is very stressful, more often than we would like.
Still, if you need the flexibility of specific hotel options, staying in Gardiner is a good option.
West Yellowstone, MT
One of the most popular places to stay when visiting Yellowstone National Park is the town of West Yellowstone. In fact, when we started planning our fall visit we thought we’d stay in West Yellowstone. Alas, the great deal we found at the Ridgeline Hotel in Gardiner made it an easy decision to adjust our plans.
The advantage to West Yellowstone over Gardiner is that it is a little bigger, more touristy and has more entertainment and souvenir shops right in town. For that reason, West Yellowstone tends to be busier, both in terms of the town and the entrance gate.
In terms of getting into the park, there is an entrance right there in town. As the busiest entrance gate for all of Yellowstone, there often can be major delays getting into the park in the height of summer. Additionally, it’s a longer drive to any of our favorite points of interest than from Gardiner. That said, it’s an easier and shorter drive to most of the thermal areas, including Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring, from West Yellowstone than from Gardiner.
Cooke City, MT
The final option for staying outside the park is Cooke City (or the nearby, even smaller town of Silver Gate), which is just outside the northeast entrance to Yellowstone. But it is in a different category than Gardiner or West Yellowstone. First of all, Cooke City is much smaller than either of the other gateway cities. Second, getting to it requires either driving through the park or over some rather difficult mountain passes.
In fact, the northeast entrance to Yellowstone is open in the winter only so the few residents of Cooke City aren’t stranded. Because of the treacherous mountain passes on the other side of town, other roads in and out of town are closed in the winter (mid-October to late May).
I’ll be honest, it’s been years since we’ve even been through Cooke City. And we’ve never stayed there. We wanted to visit on our fall trip to Yellowstone but, alas, winter weather closed the Beartooth Highway in late September, meaning that was not an option for us to get back to Billings for our flight home.
Still, if you really want to get away and escape the crowds, Cooke City is a great location. And, it’s close to Lamar Valley, one of the best places to spot wildlife in all of Yellowstone National Park.
In fact, Grant’s sister and her family were planning on staying in Cooke City for a couple of nights when we all planned a visit in 2022. Alas, that trip was canceled due to the historic flood the park experienced in June of that year.
As mentioned previously, Cody really is too far away from Yellowstone to be good base for exploring the park. Still, it’s a fabulous town and makes a great stop for a few nights either before or after visiting Yellowstone. In fact, it’s one of our favorite small towns in the United States.
But Cody is located approximately an hour east of Yellowstone’s east entrance gate. From the entrance, it’s another 45 minutes to Fishing Bridge and nearly 2 hours to Old Faithful. So, getting from Cody to many places in the park would be 2-3 hours one way. That’s just not sustainable for multiple days.
If you’ve got the time, you should absolutely plan to spend a few days in Cody, though. It’s the home of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a collection of five museums showcasing the history, art and artifacts of the American West. Other attractions include Old Trail Town, which replicates a frontier town, and Heart Mountain, a Japanese internment camp.
On a more entertaining note, the Cody Nite Rodeo runs nightly from June 1 through August 31. That’s right, you can attend a rodeo every single night in the summer in Cody! Additionally, July 1 – 4 is the Cody Stampede, one of the best rodeos in the country.
We have camped at the Ponderosa Campground in Cody several times. The campsites are a little close together but it’s a nice campground with a variety of amenities. And it’s a great location right in town. There are also many different hotels in town, including the Irma Hotel, built by the infamous Buffalo Bill Cody. We stayed at the Irma Hotel in 2015 and enjoyed it!
Flagg Ranch, WY
Located along the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, between Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, Headwaters Lodge & Cabins is central if visiting both parks. That said, it’s not really all that convenient as a base for either park.
The Headwaters Lodge offers cabins, RV sites, tent sites and camper cabins. They also have a restaurant and a more casual bistro/saloon. Finally, the Headwaters Lodge offers a variety of activities such as hiking, fly fishing and horseback riding.
We stopped in this area briefly many years ago. And had planned to visit in the summer of 2022. Alas, that trip was canceled after the flood. Hopefully, we’ll make it back to Grand Teton National Park and check out the Flagg Ranch area soon!
Finding a Campsite Outside Yellowstone National Park
Unfortunately, we don’t have any personal feedback for campgrounds outside of Yellowstone National Park. In our book, we recommend Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park & Cabins (private campground) and Baker’s Hole (US Forest Service) in West Yellowstone. I’ve also heard good things about Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park in Livingston (north of Gardiner), but that’s about all I can say.
- Sinclair, Bonnie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 560 Pages – 02/28/2023 (Publication Date) – Moon Travel (Publisher)
When looking for a campground, we generally use RV Life Campgrounds. It’s a great site for finding campgrounds and reading reviews from other campers. Most campgrounds on this site are for RVers, though sometimes you’ll find campgrounds suitable for tent campers as well.
Campendium is another site that we like a lot. It’s a little better if you are looking for tent sites or public lands for RV boondocking.
Where to Stay Inside Yellowstone National Park
As a general rule, we are team “stay inside the park.” Yellowstone is just so big that anything you can due to reduce your driving time is worth it. But, we know there are other factors to consider. If you’re not into camping, the nightly rate of lodges inside the park might be a limiting factor. Or, if you have a large family, you might need a hotel with adjoining rooms or a pool to keep the kids entertained.
Still, there’s just something about being inside the park that we love. So that is our recommendation. But there’s still the difficult decision of exactly where to stay inside the park.
So, let’s take a look at the various lodges and campgrounds to help you decide on the best places to stay inside Yellowstone.
Yellowstone National Park Lodges and Campgrounds
Inside Yellowstone, there are nine different lodging options. These range from rustic cabins to classic elegance. One thing to note, though, is that none of the lodges have air conditioning or TVs.
Before you get too worked up, you should know that temperatures in Yellowstone are, typically, fairly mild in the summer so AC is generally not needed. In fact, we usually need the heat at night, even in the summer. And, hopefully, you’ll be too busy exploring to worry about TV. So, unless you have a true need, no AC shouldn’t be too much of a concern.
Additionally, there are 12 campgrounds. Of these, only Fishing Bridge RV Park offers hookups. The other campgrounds cater mostly to tent campers but can accommodate some RVs. It’s important to note that some campgrounds do not allow generator use and only about half have a dump station.
Finally, only about half of the campgrounds have flush toilets (the others have vault toilets) and fewer than that have showers. Check the park website for more information on campground amenities, open dates and max RV length.
All hotels and campgrounds must be reserved in advance. As you might expect, reservations can fill up far in advance. Still, we have frequently had luck with last-minute reservations due to cancellations. As long as you are somewhat flexible in where you stay (or exact dates), it is definitely possible to plan a spontaneous visit to Yellowstone.
If you are having difficulty finding lodging online, call and talk to a representative. They can often walk you through the options based on your dates and needs.
Hotel options include three different lodges at Old Faithful. The most impressive of these is the iconic Old Faithful Inn, which dates back to 1904 and is one of the largest log structures in the world. The Old Faithful Snow Lodge, which is open in the summer, is one of only two lodges open in the winter. In fact, we stayed here when we visited in February 2011.
Old Faithful is just an iconic place. It’s a stop inside Yellowstone that you simply cannot miss. So, it makes a lot of sense to stay here. It is, by far, the most developed area in the park with several food and shopping options. You’ll also generally get cell phone signal here.
Interestingly, there is not a campground at Old Faithful. The closest campgrounds are at Madison (to the north) and Grant Village (to the southeast).
Based on its central location, Canyon Village is definitely one of the best places to stay when visiting Yellowstone. Here, you’ll find both a lodge and a campground. As a testament to its great location, the lodge here offers more rooms than any other place in the park.
We haven’t stayed at the lodge here but we did tent camp at Canyon on our first visit together back in 2009. The campground really offers a rustic experience, nestled under the lodgepole pine forest.
This really is a great location, as it is central to the park and is convenient to the visitor center, General Store and several different eateries within Canyon Village.
On the north end of the park, the Mammoth Hot Spring Hotel and Cabins offers both summer and winter accommodations. This hotel is just inside the park entrance, only about 10-15 minutes from Gardiner. If you want to stay inside the park but have access to the shops and restaurants outside the park, this is a great option.
Another plus is that the Mammoth Hotel underwent a major renovation, which was completed in 2019. So, it should be a bit nicer than when we stayed there in 2009. At that time, we enjoyed the “rustic charm” of a historic hotel. But, let’s just say that we certainly understand why it was time for a renovation!
At the Mammoth Hotel, you’ll also find a full-service dining room, the quick-service Terrace Grill and the Map Room Bar, serving morning coffee and afternoon/evening cocktails.
There is a campground at Mammoth, which is typically the only campground open year-round. It was closed in the summer of 2023, following infrastructure damage from the great flood and 2024 dates are still to be determined.
On the shores of Lake Yellowstone, there are two different lodging options: Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins and Lake Lodge Cabins. The hotel is known for its classical elegance and generally considered one of the nicest lodges in the park.
We stayed here in September 2023 and had a great room! It was nicely appointed with all the standard hotel amenities (minus a TV and AC). We especially liked that we had a small table and two chairs, which you don’t always get in a hotel room.
The Lake Lodge Dining Room is also fantastic. When we visited, the menu featured French influences. I truly enjoyed the trout and Grant enjoyed being able to get a cassoulet featuring some game meats.
Bridge Bay/Fishing Bridge
We tent-camped at Bridge Bay in 2014. The location was ok but it was Fourth of July weekend and there were a lot of rowdy campers. If you are specifically looking to do some boating, this is definitely where you should stay. Otherwise, there are probably better locations for you.
Fishing Bridge is specifically for RVs. In fact, only hard-sided RVs are accepted here due to bear activity. That means no tents, pop-up campers or RVs with tent-type slides. And, not only will you get hookups, it’ll be full hookups at that!
We stayed at Fishing Bridge for about a week in 2017 and enjoyed it. It was great to actually camp inside the park with our camping kitty, Alee. The one downside: REALLY tight campsites. As in, barely any room to sit outside at all.
That got better with an expansion that opened in 2022. The old, cramped, back-in sites are still there. But, the park added another section with large pull-thru sites that aren’t quite as cramped. We were really looking forward to staying in the new section for a month(!) in the summer of 2022. Alas, Mother Nature had other plans for us. So, we settled for a quick drive through when we visited in 2023.
The Lake/Fishing Bridge area isn’t as central as Canyon but it’s still a fairly easy drive to Hayden Valley, another great place to look for wildlife at Yellowstone. If you want RV hookups, Fishing Bridge is definitely the best place to stay when visiting Yellowstone.
On the south end of the park, Grant Village offers both a lodge and a campground. We haven’t stayed at the lodge but did stay at the campground on our first visit in 2009. Like the Canyon campground, the sites had plenty of shade from the lodgepole pines.
Based on its southerly location, Grant Village is not a great option as a base for your entire visit. That said, it might be good for one or two nights at the beginning or end of your visit, especially if you are visiting Grand Teton NP as well.
It is important to note that the two-story buildings at the lodge do not have an elevator and there is no internet here. On the plus side, Grant Village does have a full-service restaurant, a lounge and a gift store.
The campground is one of the biggest in the park and offers both group and wheelchair-accessible sites.
Farther north, the Roosevelt Lodge Cabins have long been on our list of lodges to check out. The cabins are rustic, for sure, and some only have a shared bathroom. But, you do get a real bed with linens and a chance to slow down and enjoy a natural environment.
And, the Roosevelt Lodge Dining Room is one of our favorite places to eat at Yellowstone. Additionally, the Old West Dinner Cookout (and optional horseback ride) is one of the most unique dining experiences in the park.
Of course, you can enjoy both of those things without staying in the cabins if they are a little too rustic for you!
Nearby is the Tower Fall campground. This small campground is best for tent campers but can accommodate some small RVs.
There are a few other small campgrounds scattered around the park:
- Indian Creek – south of Mammoth on the west side. Sits off the main road and is generally quieter and more primitive than other campgrounds.
- Lewis Lake – just north of the south entrance to the park, on the shore of Lewis Lake. Great for boaters.
- Norris – fairly centrally located, near a large meadow that provides a good opportunity for wildlife viewing.
- Pebble Creek – near the northeast entrance and Lamar Valley. Generally more isolated than many other campgrounds.
- Slough Creek – near Lamar Valley, at the end of a two-mile dirt road. Best suited for tents and small RVs.
We haven’t stayed at any of these, but I am sure they are great if they fit your interests.
Seasonality of Yellowstone National Park
As you plan your visit to Yellowstone, it is important to take note of the seasons. In the winter, the vast majority of the park is only open to over-snow travel. With that, most of the campgrounds and lodges are only open in the summer.
And, the specific operating dates for lodges and campgrounds vary by year and location. For example, the Roosevelt Lodge was closed during our visit in September.
Even the lodges that are open in the winter (Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hotel) aren’t open year-round. They are generally only open for a summer season and a winter season.
Finally, construction or other considerations can close campgrounds or lodges from year to year. For example, the campgrounds at Mammoth, Norris and Pebble Creek were all closed in 2023.
A winter visit to Yellowstone is absolutely magical. But, it’s a totally different experience and requires different planning from a summer visit. Even visiting in the spring or fall requires different considerations from visiting in the summer (June-August). Always check the park’s website for current conditions and operating dates.
Final Thoughts on the Best Places to Stay at Yellowstone
So, just what is the best place to stay when visiting Yellowstone? The short answer is anywhere you can get a reservation! Seriously, depending on when you start planning your Yellowstone vacation, it might just come down to what’s available.
Beyond that, our main suggestion is to stay inside the park. You’ll save time driving and be able to enjoy more of what you’re there to see.
If you want to stay in one place the entire time, your best bet is Canyon Village, since it is the most central. And, it has both a lodge and a campground. For RVers who want full hookups, Fishing Bridge RV Park is the obvious answer.
For those who prefer a full-service hotel, your best options inside the park are Old Faithful Inn, Lake Yellowstone Hotel or Mammoth Hot Spring Hotel.
Or, you can look outside the park in Gardiner or West Yellowstone.
Of course, you can also choose to stay in two or three different places and move around to save time driving. Perhaps you could spend 1-2 nights on the north end, such as Gardiner, Mammoth or Tower/Roosevelt and then another few nights at West Yellowstone, Old Faithful or Lake/Fishing Bridge.
Whatever you decide, we hope you have a great visit to Yellowstone National Park.
What do you use to find a flight?
We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
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We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
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We recently partnered with Stay22 to add interactive maps to each of our destination posts. This will allow you to see a plethora of hotels and vacation rentals all in one responsive map of the area.
What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?
We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
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Who do you use for rental cars?
How about booking a cruise?
What if I want to rent an RV?
We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
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Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?
We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
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