Where to Stay in Yellowstone: 10 Best Areas

Where to stay in Yellowstone

Whether you are determined to stay inside the park or are willing to accept a location that’s just steps away from one of the entrances, you’ll have plenty of choices when it comes to deciding where to stay in Yellowstone.

With attractions like Old Faithful Geyser, Grand Prismatic Spring, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone Lake and many other awe-inspiring natural features, Yellowstone National Park is an incredibly popular destination for travelers from around the world.

Thousands of people flock here every year, especially during the summer high season. Another high season can occur in winter when snow covers the ground, and people arrive with their skis and snowboards.

Accordingly, it is sensible to plan ahead as much as possible when you’re contemplating a trip to breathtaking Yellowstone. In particular, lodging in the region can be hard to come by and incredibly expensive if you wait too long.

Where to Stay in Yellowstone: Best Areas

1. Inside the Park, accommodation sell out ridiculously far in advance

For some travelers, nothing else will do but to stay within the park’s boundaries. This gives them a choice of historic national park inns like the Old Faithful Inn and the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. 

In all, the National Park Service operates nine hotel or cabin-style lodging facilities within the park. Several of these are quite luxurious and gracious, but some of the cabins give visitors a more rustic flavor. 

All of these lodgings operate between the late spring and throughout the fall. Wintertime visitors have their choice of either the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel or the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.

Many of these lodges include all sorts of services and amenities, including swimming pools, playgrounds, restaurants, guided tours, shops and other things that you might expect. 

Because they are located inside the park, these are among the most popular places to stay in Yellowstone. Accordingly, the wise traveler plans well in advance of their arrival date and is prepared to pay a premium price, especially in the summer.

If you prefer a more rustic experience, Yellowstone also boasts numerous campgrounds.

This is a much less expensive option than staying in a lodge, but be aware that these campgrounds fill up fast and early. 

Just as you would if you were reserving a room or cabin at a lodge, be sure to book your campsite as early as you can.

In general, Yellowstone is a safe place to be. However, it pays to be vigilant whenever you are around wildlife, which can react unpredictably, especially when visitors get too close. It also is wise to be careful around other people inside the park. 

When conditions become really crowded in the summer, be aware of pickpockets and other minor crimes. Be certain to drive with care as well, as the roads can get congested and be difficult to navigate.

2. West Yellowstone, the best place to stay in Yellowstone near the park

Located immediately adjacent to the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park, this is one of the most convenient places to stay in Yellowstone without actually being in the park.

West Yellowstone actually is a complete destination in its own right. In the summer, visitors can hike and mountain bike for mile after mile. 

Numerous ATV trails are located in the area, and the fishing for brown and rainbow trout simply is unbeatable. Clearly, this is a paradise for anyone who loves outdoor recreation.

Popular attractions in the town include the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, an educational wildlife park that features opportunities to observe and learn more about otters, squirrels and birds of prey in addition to wolves and bears.

The Museum of the Yellowstone is located in West Yellowstone as well. Fascinating exhibits concerning the history of visiting Yellowstone are on display as are exhibits about bears in the park. Visitors also have a chance to learn more about the 1959 earthquake and the 1988 forest fire.

Also, visit the Yellowstone Giant Screen Theatre to view the film “Yellowstone” and the educational exhibits in the lobby. The film brings the area’s ancient history to life as people discover what Yellowstone was like 100,000 years ago.

All of that time spent in the outdoors and exploring popular attractions is bound to work up an appetite. Thankfully, West Yellowstone has restaurants to accommodate anyone’s preferences. 

Most restaurants serve American fare including mouthwatering barbecue, regular hamburgers or buffalo burgers and popular diner fare. Most restaurants are casual, offering hearty food for travelers. 

Numerous bars and taverns are available for people who have worked up a thirst.

Most accommodations in West Yellowstone are independent inns and hotels. Many of these give visitors a chance to stay in rustic yet elegant surroundings. A few brand-name national chains are found in the town as well. 

Expect to pay a premium price in the summer when the number of visitors skyrockets. Plan well in advance to get better pricing and to ensure availability.

West Yellowstone is a safe place to stay with little crime. Be aware that many businesses tend to close fairly early outside of the high season.

3. Cooke City, where to stay in Yellowstone to see wildlife

You’ll find Cooke City to the immediate north of Yellowstone National Park. Enter the park via the Beartooth Highway, which is closed in the winter. 

Many choose Cooke City as their preferred place to stay in Yellowstone because this is the closest entrance to the park’s Lamar Valley.

Frequently called “America’s Serengeti,” Lamar Valley is one of the best places in the national park to see wildlife like grizzly bears, bison, wolves and bald eagles. 

The most popular hike in the region is the Lamar Valley Trail, an impressive seven-mile trek with plenty of awe-inspiring views along the way.

If you visit Cooke City during the summer or fall, you’ll have plenty to do. Many streams, lakes and rivers in the region make this a haven for fishing and boating.

Perhaps you’ll enjoy a day-long horseback riding experience or hike on one of the unforgettable trails. Rugged mountain biking and off-roading adventures are available too.

The fun doesn’t stop in the winter and spring. Try your hand at hunting, ice fishing or backcountry skiing. Ice climbing and snowmobiling tempt adventure seekers while cross country skiing is always available for a less heart-pumping experience.

Cooke City is tiny, though its population, and the number of businesses that are located there, swells in the summer. Accordingly, you’ll find some general outfitters and gift shops, though your choices are severely limited in the winter.

The situation is similar with restaurants. You’ll definitely have more choices in the summer than the winter. What is available tends to be hearty American fare, frequently served with local brews. 

You can pick up everything from an espresso to hamburgers, steaks and pasta here, all of it served in a friendly and casual atmosphere.

Despite its small size, Cooke City has a pretty good selection of lodging choices. You can rent a cabin or a hotel room in the area. Most of these have fairly basic amenities since the proprietors expect people to spend most of their time roaming the countryside. 

You won’t find any recognizable brand names in Cooke City. Instead, this is the perfect place to discover an independent hotel or a full-service RV park. Like the shops and restaurants, most of these operate only during the summer, though you will find some year-round options.

Tiny Cooke City is a perfectly safe place to stay in Yellowstone and explore. Just be certain to keep the sometimes-unpredictable natural elements in mind during your wanderings.

4. Big Sky, a favorite year-round destination

Immediately to the northwest of Yellowstone National Park, you’ll find Big Sky, Montana. This is a favorite place to stay in Yellowstone for many repeat visitors. The Big Sky Resort is located here. 

This is a favorite year-round destination thanks to its downhill mountain biking in the summer and downhill skiing in the winter.

Summertime visitors will find a great deal to keep them busy no matter how long their stay. Road biking and mountain biking are especially popular. 

Visitors enjoy riding along the U.S. Highway 191, which includes scenic Gallatin Canyon or test themselves on the singletrack of trails like Mica Creek, Garnet Mountain and Porcupine.

When you’re not cycling, consider taking a whitewater rafting adventure on the Gallatin River. Go out with an experienced guide so that you can test your mettle with anything from slack water up to class IV whitewater.

Some of the best fly fishing you’ll ever experience can be found around Big Sky. From alpine lakes to rivers and mountain streams, this is one of the best places in the world to catch trout. Hiring a local guide ensures that you’ll find all the best spots.

Your summer visit will also include opportunities for horseback riding, hunting, ziplining and hiking. If you’re looking for a great round of golf, head to the Big Sky Resort Golf Course.

Of course, some people prefer to visit Big Sky in the winter. This is the season to visit if you prefer pastimes like snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice skating and cross country skiing

The downhill skiing and snowboarding opportunities here are considered some of the best in North America. Including nearly 6,000 acres of skiable terrain, it’s no surprise that enthusiasts return here year after year. 

Are you new to skiing? Then sign up for ski lessons at the resort.

Another particularly popular pastime that’s based in Big Sky is going on a snowcoach tour. This guided tour of Yellowstone National Park lets you experience awe-inspiring sights even in the middle of the snowiest season. 

A snowcoach tour is a warm, comfortable and convenient way to sightsee no matter the weather. You’ll even be able to see Old Faithful Geyser and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Are you looking for something even more unusual to make your winter vacation more memorable? Then maybe it’s time to try a dog sledding adventure. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that you’ll remember for a lifetime.

Whether you’re in the mood for a steak, a pastry or a burrito, you’ll find plenty of dining options in Big Sky. Order a delectable pizza and sip local brews or enjoy a mile-high deli sandwich or even some sushi. 

You’ll find some of the most diverse cuisine options in the region right here in Big Sky. No matter what your choice is, you can expect a warm and friendly atmosphere with hearty portions.

Accommodation options in Big Sky are few and far between. This is mostly attributable to the dominating presence of the Big Sky Resort, which has three different lodging choices. 

Two or three other options are available away from the large resort, which might appeal to you if you’re looking for something more rustic. 

As with other resort towns that are close to Yellowstone, you can expect to pay a premium price for lodging in Big Sky. Plan well ahead to find the best deals and availability.

It’s likely that you’ll be completely safe throughout your stay in Big Sky. You may find a few late-night partiers at the various bars and lounges scattered throughout the community.

5. Bozeman, where to stay in Yellowstone in a bigger city

Compared to many of the other communities that are centered around Yellowstone National Park, Bozeman is something of a metropolis. That’s because it’s home to almost 50,000 people. 

Consequently, you will find far more options for shopping, dining, lodging and entertainment here than you will most other nearby towns.

The tradeoff is that you’ll be staying further outside of the park than you would if you stayed in smaller places like West Yellowstone or Big Sky. 

Still, it’s not a bad drive south on 191 or 89 to get to one of the park’s entrances, so this is still a great place to stay in Yellowstone.

If you like museums, Bozeman may be a particularly attractive option. One of the most popular of these is the Museum of the Rockies. Part of the Montana State University – Bozeman campus, this museum takes visitors on a tour that spans four billion years. 

Exhibits explore dinosaurs, Native American history and culture and the natural history discoveries of Lewis Clark among many others.

Other worthwhile museums in Bozeman include the Montana Science Center with its fun, hands-on exhibits, the Bozeman Art Museum, the Gallatin History Museum and the American Computer & Robotics Museum.

Shopping is another highlight for many Bozeman visitors. Browse through store after store filled with antiques, handmade treasures, rustic log cabin furniture, sports and outdoor equipment, apparel and more. 

Make a trip to Bridger Peaks Town Center or the Gallatin Valley Mall to shop well-known stores or take a stroll along 191, which serves as Bozeman’s Main Street. It’s the perfect place to find independent boutiques.

If you’re suffering from sore muscles after your outdoor adventures, then maybe you’d like to book an appointment at one of Bozeman’s luxurious spas. It’s also possible to spend an enjoyable evening at the theater. 

Organizations such as the Bozeman Symphony, Intermountain Opera Bozeman and Montana Shakespeare in the Parks frequently offer live entertainment options.

Don’t forget that you’ll also find Montana State University here. Athletic events are held throughout the year, offering another choice in fun and entertainment.

Of course, you’re still in the midst of the wilds of Montana, so you’ll find all sorts of outdoor recreation around Bozeman. Enjoy golf in the summer at Bridger Creek Golf Course, Valley View Golf Course or Riverside Country Club. 

Enjoy a refreshing dip in the Bozeman Hot Springs or hike popular trails in the Gallatin National Forest like the Bangtail Trail, Bear Canyon Trail or the Brackett Creek Trail.

Choose to float or paddle on the river, test yourself on one of the local ziplines, go ice skating or try your luck in one of the waterways. With hunting, skiing and more all available, you could easily spend a lifetime of vacations in Bozeman.

As you might expect in this larger city, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to dining. Almost every cuisine can be found here, including Cajun, Mexican and Italian. Opt for Mediterranean or Korean, the choice is completely yours. 

You’ll also find a wealth of brew pubs, diners and restaurants serving familiar American fare. Most eateries are casual and affordable with a few more formal spots thrown in for good measure.

Similarly, you will find far more accommodation options in Bozeman, and there is a wider range of prices, though you can still expect to pay a premium in the summer. Numerous familiar chain hotels are located in Bozeman, so you may find a favorite. 

Fewer independent options are available. Many of them can be quite expensive, though it is occasionally possible to find a bargain. Most hotels are clustered around downtown, just to the north of the Montana State University campus.

As Bozeman is larger than most other cities in the area, it follows that it has a slightly higher crime rate than other communities. Still, compared to many cities of comparable size, Bozeman is a really safe place to spend a vacation. 

6. Gardiner, one of the best places to stay in Yellowstone in all four seasons

Tiny but scenic, Gardiner is found immediately north of one of the entrances to Yellowstone National Park. This makes it a favorite place to stay in Yellowstone for many regular visitors. 

In fact, Gardiner serves as the park’s original entrance. As such, this is where you will find the Roosevelt Arch, a monument erected in 1903 and dedicated that same year by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Home to approximately 900 residents, many people choose to make Gardiner their home base while they explore Yellowstone because it provides access in all four seasons to “America’s Serengeti.” This is what sets Gardiner apart from other nearby communities.

Although its human population is small, Gardiner actually encompasses some 10 million acres of land. That land is inhabited by bighorn sheep, bison, black bears, elk, wolves, grizzly bears and pronghorn. 

Gardiner further boasts access to the Yellowstone River, which has been measured as the longest free-flowing river in the continental United States.

What can you do while spending time in Gardner? How about soaking in the hot springs at spots like the Boiling River, Yellowstone Hot Springs and Chico Hot Springs? Maybe you’d like to go wolf watching instead. In that case, all you have to do is hire an experienced guide.

If you visit in the winter, be certain to check out the options for cross country skiing, which is a favorite activity in the area.

For being a relatively small community, you’ll actually find many unique shopping opportunities in Gardiner. You’ll find everything from fly fishing equipment and general hardware to Native American silver jewelry and unique souvenirs. 

What you won’t find are big box sores and familiar chains, which are pretty much absent in Gardiner.

The same goes for the dining choices. You’ll have your choice of bars, grills and steakhouses, each one serving unique dishes in hearty portions. However, you won’t see a national chain anywhere in sight.

On the other hand, you will find some familiar hotel brands as you cruise around town. These are intermixed with other independent inns and hotels, so you’ll have a pretty wide choice. 

Most lodgings have genuine rustic appeal. If you’re looking for a place to stay that lets you feel like you’re staying in the park, this may be the best choice. There are even an RV park and a campground with teepees if you’re looking for less expensive options.

Little crime occurs in Gardiner, but do be aware of your surroundings in the summer when the town floods with an unusual number of people.

See also: Best places to stay in Denver, best places to stay in Seattle, best places to stay in Portland, best places to stay in Las Vegas

7. Livingston, Old West charm

If you are looking for a place to stay in Yellowstone that offers you a cute downtown district with plenty of Old West charm, then you’ve got to check out Livingston. 

This is where you’ll find the Yellowstone Gateway Museum with its many exhibits about the history of Yellowstone and the surrounding region as well as historical reenactments.

Downtown is the highlight in Livingston. Its Old West facades are utterly charming and boast a lively collection of shops and restaurants

Along the main drag, you’ll find everything from stores that sell books and stationary to upscale bistros in which you might be surprised to see a famous person singing a song or two.

This is a town of nearly 8,000 residents, so it’s quite a bit bigger than many others in the area. Accordingly, you’ll have a larger selection of restaurants, shops and lodging than you will in other communities.

Livingston is situated to the east of Bozeman and is several miles north of Gardiner and the northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

When you get hungry, rest assured that you’ll be able to find a range of cuisines including Thai, Mexican and giant hamburgers. 

Livingston is a great place to find hearty breakfasts or even seafood if you are in the mood. Most eateries are quite affordable, making this town a good choice for travelers on a budget.

Livingston is one of the best places to find more affordable lodging in the Yellowstone region. However, given the size of the town, it’s surprising that there aren’t more hotels. 

Although you will find a couple of well-known brands represented, most of the properties are independently owned and operated. 

If staying in an historic hotel appeals to you, you’ll probably want to stay in Livingston because you’ll have at least a couple of great choices.

With the larger population, it follows that you’ll need to be a little more careful while exploring at night. However, Livingston hardly has the crime rate of large cities.

8. Cody, where to stay in Yellowstone on a budget

Located in northwest Wyoming, Cody is the home of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West that boasts five museums. This fascinating complex makes Cody the perfect place to stay in Yellowstone if you love western lore.

You’ll find Cody close to the eastern border of Yellowstone National Park. In a town that’s loaded with attractions and activities, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West is the premier destination. 

However, you also have an opportunity to tour the Buffalo Bill Dam & Visitor Center, the Cody Heritage Museum and the Heart Mountain WWII Interpretive Center. 

Don’t forget to visit Old Trail town & Museum of the Old West to get an authentic look at what Wild West towns really looked like.

Are you looking for outdoor recreation instead? You’ll have your choice of hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing, rock climbing, floating along the Shoshone River Canyon and much more. 

Perhaps you’ll play a round of golf, try the heart-pumping excitement of powered hang gliding or sharpen your aim with some sport shooting. In Cody, you can do all of this and more.

Shopping is big business in Cody. Check out their unique shops for accessories, apparel, sporting equipment and antiques. In addition to independent retailers, you’ll find several big box stores and familiar brand names.

Many of Cody’s restaurants are centered close to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. This is the perfect location for finding a variety of American food as well as bakeries and some options for ethnic cuisines. 

Most of Cody’s restaurants are fairly casual, so you can feel comfortable dining after a long day of exploration.

Lodging options are plentiful in Cody. Like the restaurants, many of these are situated close to the town’s main attractions. 

With affordable and familiar chain properties as well as independent hotels, you’ll have a choice of either brand-new lodgings or something with a bit of seasoning. 

The price range is fairly wide, with some surprisingly inexpensive finds even in the midst of summer. Of course, you’ll also have choices that charge a premium.

Like other towns in the region, you don’t have to worry a lot about crime in Cody. Still, it’s smart to be cautious of your surroundings, especially if you’re enjoying the bar scene late at night.

9. Jackson Hole, one of the most popular places where to stay in Yellowstone

This is one of the most famous cities in the Yellowstone region. Situated to the south of Yellowstone National Park, many people like to stay in Jackson Hole because it also is really close to Grand Teton National Park, offering plenty of bang for their buck.

Jackson Hole is a year-round destination. It boasts three famous ski areas and the National Museum of Wildlife Art featuring works by Georgia O-Keeffe and Andy Warhol. 

The city even has a thriving arts scene, so if you’re interested in seeing a play or a concert, this is the place to stay in Yellowstone.

Jackson Hole grants access to many of the same outdoor recreation that is available in other communities surrounding Yellowstone. These include whitewater rafting, ziplining, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, hiking, mountain biking, fishing and more.

Be certain to set aside some time to visit the Town Square where you can take pictures of the four arches made of elk antlers. This is also the place to be to find all sorts of shopping and dining options. 

At Granite Hot Springs, which also features a campground, you can soak away your cares in the warm waters. You also can visit the National Elk Refuge to observe the world’s largest herd of wild elk.

The Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is the main attraction outside of the two national parks. This is a great place to hike in the summer or ski in the winter. Additionally, you’ll find multiple choices as far as dining or lodging right in the resort.

Jackson Hole is an incredibly popular destination within a wide segment of the population. Accordingly, you’ll find not only the usual casual and affordable shopping, dining and hotel choices but also alternatives that are decidedly upscale. 

If you like the idea of being able to enjoy a fancier dinner occasionally during your stay, Jackson Hole is the place to get it.

Similarly, Jackson Hole has lots of hotels, many of them quite expensive and luxurious. It still may be possible to find bargains, particularly in some of the smaller, older properties, but it’s best to reserve early if you’re planning a summer or winter visit.

Crime rates are low in Jackson Hole, but this is a larger city that boasts something of a nightlife scene. Just take care to notice your surroundings and keep your valuables secure.

10. Island Park, quiet and rustic place to stay in Yellowstone

Less than half an hour from Yellowstone National Park’s West Entrance sits Island Park, Idaho. With a population of fewer than 300 people, this is a quiet and rustic place to stay in Yellowstone.

Island Park has a few claims to fame despite its small size. It boasts the world’s longest Main Street and the world’s largest caldera

It also has the lovely Harriman State Park and Wildlife Refuge, which is the perfect place to view wildlife such as swans, moose and elk. 

Anglers will want to try their luck in the Snake River’s Henrys Fork.

This tiny hamlet isn’t the kind of place where you’ll find much shopping beyond basic necessities and outdoor gear. There are a few restaurants, mainly small, independent eateries serving American fare.

The lodging situation is similar. You’ll find a large cluster of hotels where the borders between Idaho, Montana and Wyoming converge. 

These vary wildly in price and feature both chain and independent properties. Other lodging choices are centered around Island Park’s “downtown.”

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