There are 5 entrances to Yellowstone National Park. Which entrance is the best?
Let’s first take a look at each of these entrances:
- North Entrance – thru Gardiner, Montana. Original entrance to the park, has the Roosevelt Arch entryway
- Northeast Entrance – thru the Beartooth Mountains
- East Entrance – thru Cody, Wyoming
- South Entrance – thru Grand Teton National Park via the John Rockfeller Memorial Highway
- West Entrance – thru the town of West Yellowstone
Now, before you dive in an start plotting your route, you need to fully grasp how HUGE Yellowstone was. It’s larger than the state of Rhode Island! On top of that, how far apart all the roads to the different entrances were.
Rhode Island vs. Yellowstone National Park – Size Comparison
And each entrance takes you through completely different terrain with different views. Once into the park, each entrance gets you closer to different attractions. So how do you decide?
Entrance Road Analysis
One of our biggest concerns was the roads to get to the entrances. Yellowstone sits at an average elevation of 6500ft, which means you’re going to be driving through mountains.
For example, the Northeast entrance comes thru the Beartooth Mountains which we have heard AMAZING things about. Unfortunately, there are grades and switchbacks that a 35” fifth wheel shouldn’t be taken on lightly.
Notes about the entrance roads:
- North Entrance – Highway 89 from Gardiner, MT. Has original entrance sign.
- Northeast Entrance – Highway 212 from Red Lodge, MT. Closed in the Winter, arguably the most dramatic route to enter the park with steep mountain grades and switchbacks through the Beartooth Mountains. Incredible views going through Beartooth Pass.
- East Entrance – Highway 80 from Cody, WY (which is 53 miles to the entrance). Fairly flat, follows the North Fork of the Shoshone River through canyons and cliffs. Once in the park you cross the mountain ridge through Sylvan Pass (8,350ft) which is RV-friendly. This entrance road is closed in winter.
- South Entrance – John D. Rockefeller Jr. Highway from Jackson, WY. Incredible views of the Grand Teton mountains. Gentle upslope as you enter Yellowstone along the Lewis River. This road is Closed in Winter.
- West Entrance – Either via US 20/287 from the west or US 191 from the north out of Bozeman. US 191 passes Big Sky and some big mountains, with some winding and grades but doable with an RV.
As previously mentioned, Yellowstone is HUGE. It’s 30 miles from the East Entrance to the intersection at Fishing Bridge. From Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful is 51 miles. If you want to see Old Faithful, probably best to choose an entrance closer rather than further away.
Driving in the park is notorious for wildlife traffic jams – caused by both wildlife blocking the road and people stopping in the middle of the road to take pictures.
Distance Between Yellowstone Attractions
- North Entrance – Entrance closest to Mammoth Springs, Roosevelt Arch at the entryway.
- Northeast Entrance – Lamar Valley, Tower Fall, Roosevelt Lodge, and easy drive to Mammoth Hot Springs and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
- East Entrance – Yellowstone Lake, Mud Volcano, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with lots of huge waterfalls.
- South Entrance – West Thumb Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake
- West Entrance – Entrance closest to Old Faithful Geyser Basin, Norris Geyser Basin, and Grand Prismatic Spring. LOTS of geysers, paint pots, hot springs, and other thermal features. Easy drive up to Mammoth Hot Springs. West Yellowstone the town also has museums and other attractions.
Direction You’re Coming From/Heading
Obviously, where you are coming from and heading to make a difference. The entrances aren’t close together, so if you’re coming from the east and want to enter from the west, you have to drive ALL THE WAY AROUND THE PARK via the available roads, which would take a long time. It would be faster to get to the West Entrance driving thru the park.
Example: Our Decision
We were coming from the northeast in Billings, so the North, Northeast, or East Entrances made the most sense. The Northeast entrance, as aforementioned, was too steep and windy for us in our 35ft fifth-wheel. After Yellowstone we wanted to go out the south entrance to Grand Teton, and we did not want to pull the fifth wheel all the way through the park from the North Entrance.
Since we were looking for some water to stay on, we zoomed in on our map to the big blue blob of water just west of Cody, Wyoming en route to the East Entrance.
It turned out to be a huge reservoir called the Buffalo Bill Reservoir and there was a first-come-first-serve state park right on its shores. We got lucky and got a spot for a few days right by the water!
It was the perfect way to beat the heat of the summer, and a perfect launch pad for Yellowstone East.
So, which Yellowstone Entrance is best?
While a lot of factors may go into your decision for choosing the best entrance into Yellowstone for you, don’t worry. Each entrance is near some pretty cool things to see and do inside the park.
Yellowstone is so large, it is unrealistic to think you’ll see it all in one trip. And when you come back, you can pick another entrance to change things up!
Want some more tips on your Yellowstone trip? Check out this video with the Top 10 Tips for Visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
Planning a trip to Yellowstone and/or Grand Teton National Park?
Check out these other Blog Posts about our visit:
- Getting to Yellowstone, Which Entrance Should I Take?
- Buffalo Bill Cody, Wyoming
- Grizzly Bears of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
- Yellowstone National Park – East
- Grand Teton National Park
- Yellowstone National Park – West & Overall Thoughts
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