yellowstone: fall guide 2020
Yellowstone in the fall is like no other. The temperatures are perfect for long hikes, the fall foliage is beautiful, and the park is *slightly* less packed. Even in the times of COVID-19, Yellowstone has been one of the most crowded places we've been to, so don't think you'll be able to snag reservations a few days ahead, you still need to plan ahead!
where to stay
This all depends on what your party is trying to see. Yellowstone is huge, and there are a few different areas that are great options. Mammoth Hot Springs is in the park, this means planning ahead to be able to stay here, but it's well worth it! If you're on a budget, they have a first come first serve campground right by the main resort area! Just get there early and pitch your tent. It was a bit chilly for us, but even in the fall, the campsite was packed. Staying in this area gives you easy access to the mammoth terrace, the Yellowstone hot springs, and the park entrance.
Another great option, and what we ended up doing, was using West Yellowstone, MT as our base. You're not going to find 5 star hotels here, like some of the luxury stays within the park, but they have a plethora of great options as well as a cute town to walk around at night, and the city is less than a mile from the park entrance. We stayed at the Evergreen Motel, it averages around $130-300/night for a standard room but it's one of the nicer options in West Yellowstone. While the room doesn't offer the same amenities as other $300/night stays in other areas would, you have to keep in mind that Yellowstone is very expensive when it comes to accommodations. While there are cheaper options in the town, some were very run down. In my opinion, I'd rather spend more and enjoy my stay then spend less but feel like my money went to waste. We usually stick to a budget of $80 and under per night but sometimes that's just not possible, especially in Yellowstone! Staying in West Yellowstone gives you easy access to some of the most iconic geysers in the park, and plenty of hikes. If you're on a budget, West Yellowstone is going to be more affordable (usually) than a room in the park lodges. While they're beautiful, the prices are very steep. I'm talking $600+ per night...which we could not swing.
If you're not on a budget (lucky you): Canyon Village, Old Faithful Lodge & Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel are all great places to stay next to main attractions!
what to see
Yellowstone is huge. Unless you're going to spend a month there, you're going to have to pick your must-sees and plan from there. My top picks are:
Midway Geyser Basin - this is where you can see the famous Grand Prismatic geyser and the beautiful Excelsior Geyser. There is a short hike you can do to view the Grand Prismatic Geyser from above, definitely do this! It's beautiful from the ground but it's hard to take it all in and get pictures of it since it's so large.
Old Faithful - you have to do this! One of the most iconic attractions in Yellowstone, it erupts every hour or so. Don't be in a rush and skip this, we got there a few minutes after it erupted, so we grabbed lunch at the lodge and had front row seats for the next eruption. While you may have to wait longer, if you show up right after Old Faithful erupts and everyone's leaving you will get the best seats in the house. If you come closer to eruption, expect to stand, you'll still have a great view though!
Lamar Valley - one of the most scenic and wide open areas in Yellowstone, Lamar Valley is a beautiful drive with so many opportunities to spot animals! Be prepared to pull over a lot and take pictures. This is a great way to incorporate a more relaxed day into your Yellowstone itinerary.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone - beautiful views. Great hiking (Uncle Tom's trail is a must). Nice lodge if you can afford it. Need I say more?
Some COVID specific info: some hikes are closed due to covid-19. The national park website has all info up to date, but when we were there one of the one's I was dying to do was Uncle Tom's trail. Unfortunately, it's not possible to social distance on this trail so it was closed. There is still other places to get great views of the canyon, so don't fret! Wear your mask, Yellowstone is still packed and many attractions like the geyser basins are full of tourists, so do your part! The more we all comply, the quicker things can go back to normal.
I hope this article helped you get a head start on planning your future visit to Yellowstone.
Checkout my full youtube video on Yellowstone: https://youtu.be/qQhuhYBPBr8
Till next time,