Yellowstone National Park

by , SmarterTravel Staff
With Yellowstone receiving nearly three million visitors per year, the National Park Service runs dozens of interpretative programs out of different bases to keep up with visitor interest in the park's extraordinary geothermal areas and wildlife. In the summer months, rangers lead seven different half-day educational hikes around the park that visit lesser-known geothermal and wilderness areas. Hikes cost only $15 per adult and $5 for kids seven to 15.

 (Photo: Index Open)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on May 14, 2007. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: Alaska, destination, France, Massachusetts, Sarah Pascarella, summer, Tuscany, Wyoming.

With just a short window of warm weather, many rush to visit Yellowstone National Park during summer.

"Our busiest season is June 15 to August 15," says Al Nash, National Park Service (NPS) spokesperson. "If your schedule means you're here during that peak eight-week period, go to the most popular locations—Old Faithful and canyon areas—earlier or later in the day. Visitors seem to be most active between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m." By scheduling your explorations to the popular areas outside those hours, you'll have more of the natural wonders to yourself.

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To get there, you can fly into Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody, Wyoming, approximately 50 miles outside the park. The airport is serviced by Delta Connection and United Express year-round, and offers most connections from Denver or Salt Lake City.

Or, take a road trip, and combine Yellowstone with other western national parks and attractions. "There are several scenic loops that locals can tell you about," says Donna Benfield, executive director of the Rexburg (Idaho) Chamber of Commerce. "Harriman State Park, Mesa Falls, [and] Cave Falls are just a few of the beautiful scenic drives you can miss if you don't know about them beforehand."

Like Denali vacations, you may be able to save by camping or staying outside the park area. "Staying within 60 to 90 minutes of the park will save you big dollars for hotels," says Benfield. "And you can visit with the locals and find the right places to go and what to avoid." If you do want to stay or camp within the park, Xanterra Parks & Resorts manage most of the available campgrounds. Early reservations are key, as summer vacancies fill up fast. If you're finding little to no availability, get a jump on the competition and start planning ahead for next summer. The NPS does run a few first-come, first-served sites. For more information, read SmarterTravel's Yellowstone travel guide.

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