An Essential Packing Guide for Visiting Yellowstone
Yellowstone Packing List
If you’re heading to Yellowstone in the summer, check out our packing guide to help you make the most of your Park visit. Here are 12 things you’ll want to make sure you have on your summer packing list:
1) A Sun Hat, Sunscreen and Sunglasses
A wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses are essential to protect your skin and eyes from the sun. This is especially important at higher altitudes where the sun’s rays are even stronger, and on the water, where the rays are multiplied through reflection.
It’s also always a good idea to pack aloe gel or another “after sun” treatment to soothe your skin in case of sunburn.
2) Sturdy Footwear
Pack hiking boots or good athletic shoes depending on what you plan on doing while you’re visiting Yellowstone. You’ll want to bring shoes that provide stability, traction, and comfort. Pack sandals or other leisure footwear for relaxing or short walks. High heels and shoes with no traction are not advised.
3) Rain jacket
Weather in Yellowstone changes quickly and it’s not uncommon to have a rain shower in the afternoon. That is why it’s important to pack a rain jacket that is waterproof and breathable.
When visiting Yellowstone, it’s important you pack and dress in layers. Pack mid-weight insulating clothing like a light synthetic fleece or wool shirt/pullover. Waterproof and windproof outer layers should be lightweight and breathable. Pack insulating underwear that draws moisture away from the body, keeping you cool when you sweat and dry when it rains.
5) A Daypack
Don’t forget to pack a daypack. You’ll be happy you brought this along with you to carry your extra clothes, water, snacks, camera, binoculars, notebook, etc.
6) A Reusable Bottle for Water & Thermos for Hot Liquids
To make sure you stay hydrated while exploring Yellowstone, it’s recommended you pack and fill a one-liter reusable water bottle (minimum). Camelbacks or similar hydration systems also work well. Water bottle filling stations are located throughout the park. A thermos for hot liquids is also a great thing to pack for your Yellowstone visit to stay warm on those cool mornings.
Who doesn’t love snacks? Bring granola bars, dried fruit, or packed sandwiches to put in your daypack. Deli lunches can be ordered from any one of our dining rooms the night before pick up. Grab-n-go items are also available at our in-park delis, snack shops, and cafeterias. Don’t keep food in your car unattended and never feed wild animals. And be sure to not litter and dispose of food and packaging properly. Outside a number of the hotels there are convenient metal storage bins to help recycle.
8) Insect Repellent
In June, July, and August, you’ll want to bring insect repellent along with you to Yellowstone. There are different kinds of insect repellents available with varying ingredients, so make sure you find one that is right for you!
9) Camera, Memory Card & Charger or Batteries
Yellowstone has 2.2 million acres of wilderness, from mountains and forests to colorful hot springs, mudpots and geysers, as well as 67 species of mammals. With so many amazing sights, landscapes and wildlife, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to snap photos to remember your visit to Yellowstone or to share with friends and family back home. Be sure to follow park wildlife safety guidelines when photographing wildlife and thermal features: keep your distance and do not wander off boardwalks.
10) Notebook & Pencil
Grab a small, light-weight, notebook to help you remember all of your amazing Yellowstone adventures. Bring it along with you in your daypack, and keep notes on what you did each day. One day, when you’re telling your Yellowstone story to your kids, grandkids or friends, you’ll be able to look back in your journal! (21st Century version: take notes on your phone.)
11) Binoculars and/or Spotting Scope
Binoculars are the perfect companion for your next Yellowstone adventure, and if you’re interested in viewing wildlife you’ll be pleased you brought them along with you. There are many different types of binoculars and spotting scopes for sale, you’ll want to make sure you find something that is not too heavy to hike with and offers good image detail.
12) A couple of things that won’t fit in your suitcase: Patience and Understanding
Yellowstone is a wild, beautiful place. To fully experience it, you have to go beyond merely checking off the sites. Find a trail, picnic area, or bench. Take in all the sights, sounds, and smells (you won’t forget the smell of rotten eggs!). Relax and pack your patience. You may encounter some construction, bison jams, or visitors from around the world. Be smart. Follow park rules: keep your distance from wildlife, don’t wander off the boardwalks, and drive the speed limit. Set a good example to keep this place preserved for future generations.
If you’ve had the good fortune to have visited Yellowstone National Park, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve done so between May and September. That’s when the majority of Yellowstone’s nearly 4 million annual visitors explore the first of our national parks.
But if you think you know Yellowstone from your warm-weather visit, you need to return from November through March, among the least busy months for the park. They present some remarkable opportunities when the snow is so deep and the cold so intense that bison develop beards of snow and ice.
“It’s a completely different place in the winter than in the summer, but equally amazing and beautiful,” says Yellowstone spokesperson Sandy Fennell-Dobert. Just like other parts of the world, the winter weather in Yellowstone can take unexpected turns. But temperatures typically range from zero to 20°F during the day and often drop to sub-zero at night. It doesn’t take a math wizard to factor in the wind chill and know that nighttime in the park can indeed be brutal. Record lows of minus 66°F have occurred.
It gets so cold at times that the near-boiling water from Old Faithful and other geysers freezes in mid-air, falling to the ground as ice pellets. The park rangers call the phenomenon “geyser rain.”
The snow itself is very dry—not at all good for snowball fights—but with an average of 150 inches per year, it creates a dramatic visual blanket that any lover of America’s national parks must see once in their lives.
Here are a few packing tips for not just surviving, but enjoying your time in this frozen national landscape.
Sure, you’ve heard it before, but layers of fleece and wool are required for winter in Yellowstone. Forget anything cotton because it absorbs moisture from your body and then quickly turns cold. A heavy down coat with hood is also a necessity. Better still, put on a knit hat first, then pull that hood up over it.
Protect your hands with heavy-duty gloves. Fleece utility gloves are common for those who work outside in winter. Battery-operated warming gloves are another, albeit somewhat expensive, option. An inexpensive choice for fingers (and toes) is disposable hand warmers that can be slipped into gloves, pockets or boots.
Don’t forget a good winter scarf or neck warmer.
Boots are essential, especially if you plan to do much walking. Layers are just as important here as on other body parts. Make sure your boots, which should be waterproof, are big enough to accommodate multiple layers of socks. Ladies, forget about high-fashion boots with heels. Nothing could be more impractical.
Sunglasses are a given, but if you plan to be outdoors a lot, consider ski goggles to better protect your eyes from wind and cold. Bring drops to replenish the fluid in your eyes.
It may be winter, but you can still get a sunburn. Pack sunscreen along with heavy-duty lip balm and gallons of hand/body lotions to counteract the dry air. In the same vein, remember to drink a lot of water. The dry air and cold temperatures contribute to dehydration.
Finally, take it easy. The average elevation in Yellowstone is 8,000 feet above sea level. That, combined with extreme cold and dry air, catches up with you faster than you think.
Snowcoach Luggage. Taking a snowcoach down to Old Faithful? As space is limited on snowcoaches and the luggage coach, each guest going to Old Faithful Snow Lodge to stay overnight is limited to two pieces of luggage plus a small carry-on and a pair of cross-country skis or a pair of snowshoes. The carry-on should be small enough to travel on the passenger’s lap (camera bag, purse, diaper bag, small daypack) as interior storage is not available on most snowcoaches. Hard-sided luggage is advised.
Please note that all carry-on and stowed luggage should have the ability to be closed securely, preventing any items from falling out of the bag. The bag should be made of a durable material that is resistant to tearing or breaking. Plastic garbage bags, grocery bags, paper sacks, and reusable plastic/vinyl/canvas bags that can’t be fastened closed, are not recommended for transporting personal items. There is a $25 fee for each bag exceeding 50 pounds and for each additional bag beyond two per snowcoach traveler.
Contributors to this article include Diana Lambdin Meyer.