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With its geothermal pools, pristine lakes, and abundant wildlife, Yellowstone National Park is truly one of America’s most incredible treasures. I think the biggest surprise on our three days in Yellowstone last summer was that, despite the crowds, it’s still so easy to get out alone in the wilderness. To enjoy it fully, skip the sunburns, rain-soaked hikes, and blisters! Make sure your Yellowstone packing list includes all the essentials for a wondrous experience.
- What to Pack for Yellowstone
- Gear for the Trail
- Other Essentials
- Parks Packing List: What to Wear in Yellowstone
- Yellowstone FAQ and Top Travel Tips
- 1. How is the weather in Yellowstone?
- 2. How long does it take to drive the Grand Loop in Yellowstone?
- 3. Can you drive through Yellowstone in a day?
- 4. What animals can I see in Yellowstone?
- 5. How many days are enough for Yellowstone?
- 6. Where should I stay when visiting Yellowstone?
- 7. What is the best time to go to Yellowstone?
- 8. How much does it cost to get into Yellowstone?
- 9. Can you bring food into Yellowstone?
- 10. Do cell phones work in Yellowstone?
- Like this post? Pin it for later!
What to Pack for Yellowstone
Summer is glorious in the park! It was my first time tasting huckleberries, which are now my favorite berry. Between the huckleberry lattes and huckleberry smashes, I can totally understand why we saw so many brown bears gorging themselves in the middle of summer.
If you’re looking for a Yellowstone packing list—or want to know what to pack for Yellowstone in June or July—this is my recommended list of essential items to bring. I’ve organized it by (1) gear for the trail, (2) other essential items, and (3) clothes to pack (for June, July, or August).
Gear for the Trail
This is my top tip on what to pack for Yellowstone! When we went on a wildlife tour in Grand Teton National Park, just before our Yellowstone visit, I was amazed by the quality of the binoculars the guides loaned us!
Perhaps you have a pair of binoculars knocking around in a drawer somewhere at home, but if you want to marvel at the claws of a grizzly bear or evesdrop on a well-camouflaged mama wolf shepherding her pups, take the plunge and invest in a real set of binoculars.
Nikon knows lenses. After all, they’re loved by professional photographers for the quality of their cameras. Birdwatchers and wildlife fans rave about these binoculars.
They’re super user-friendly and equipped with premium glass for a sharper, cleaner, and more brilliant field of view. You can read all the reviews and buy a pair on Amazon here.
Last year, I finally upgraded from my iphone camera to a real camera. I couldn’t be happier with my Sony Alpha a6000 mirrorless digital camera. Mirrorless cameras make great travel partners as they’re lighter to carry. It can take a little while to master the many controls on this camera, but don’t worry! You can still take fabulous photos on the automatic settings.
I bought the complete Sony Alpha a6000 kit and it worked out great! If you go this route, you’ll pay just one price, but get the camera, plus a 16-50 mm lens, a memory card, two replacement batteries, a camera bag, cleaning kit, card reader, and even a tripod. It’s a great way to go.
If you want to level up, choose a camera kit with a 55 to 210 mm lens. Just think of those amazing grizzly shots you’re going to get in Yellowstone! You can check out the Sony a6000 camera here on Amazon.
3. Day Pack
When I travel, I usually bring my Columbia Circuit Breaker Daypack as my carryon and then use it as a daypack for hikes or while walking cities. I have back issues, but find it super comfortable due to all the padding. Plus, it’s got a separate laptop compartment. (In fact, it’s technically for students!)
However, if you’re looking for something with a lighter, slimmer profile just for day hikes, I recommend a pack that’s bare bones. Check out this one on Amazon.
4. Hiking Boots
I bought my Ahnu hiking boots last year on my way to New Zealand for trekking and I’ve never looked back. These are low profile, lightweight hiking boots that are perfect for hiking Yellowstone in the summer.
They’re leather but sealed to keep your feet dry. Consider sizing up. It’s important to be able to wiggle your toes so they don’t get sore when hiking downhill. I ordered a full size up in mine. Get yours here on Amazon.
5. Keen Shoes
My pair of Keens have been with me 25 years now, since my first trip to Yellowstone all those years ago. And guess what? I’m still wearing them. Keen’s last forever. They’re particularly great for doing double duty when you need good support for hiking but might be crossing a stream or two. I’ve worn them tubing down rivers and even while snorkeling in Hawaii. One of the best values you’ll ever find in outdoor shoes. You can get them on Amazon here. Or, learn more about other options for best water shoes here.
In the summer, Yellowstone is likely to be filled with bright sunshine. (And glare from the snow in winter.) So definitely bring a pair of your favorite sunglasses. You’ll be wearing them daily.
I adore these Kate Spade sunglasses. They had me at tortoiseshell. Get your pair on Amazon here.
7. Bear Spray
Bear spray is super important to carry with you on hikes! We saw numerous bears up close and personal on our visit to Yellowstone. And, shortly after we visited, a young boy was mauled within a few feet of his family near Old Faithful. Watching bears in the wild is a magical experience so don’t worry; just be prepared!
However, it’s illegal to carry bear spray in your luggage or carryon. Buy or rent your bear spray once you’re in the park. Just swing by any of the equipment rental stores in the park once you’re there. You can rent it for $8 per day.
8. Mosquito Repellent
Summer rain showers and pristine mountain lakes can also mean mosquitos in Yellowstone so, again, just be prepared! Personally, I do my best to steer clear of DEET, a toxic but effective mosquito repellent, unless I’m seriously concerned about ticks in a region or scary tropical mosquito-borne diseases (like Dengue Fever in French Polynesia).
This plant-based lemon eucalyptus repellent should do the trick no problem in Yellowstone wince it’s not prone to either. You can grab a bottle here on Amazon.
9. Packing Cubes
Packing cubes have been a game changer when I travel! First of all, you can fit so much more in a carryon sized bag if you roll your clothes in these awesome cubes. Second of all, they keep everything so organized.
Just slide them into a dresser drawer in your cabin or hotel room. No more rifling through all of your clothing to find a particular item.
I like to use three cubes: one for dresses/shirts, a second for pants or other bulky items, and a third for all of the smaller items I don’t want to misplace (e.g., phone and laptop chargers, socks, underwear).
10. Packable Cooler Bag
It’s all about picnics in wildflower-carpeted meadows and majestic waterfalls here! In fact, you’ll drive past picnic tables thoughtfully placed in the most scenic locations.
But nobody wants a tepid soda on a warm day or a room temperature sandwich. So plan ahead and pack this killer cooler bag. This one is a bit bulkier than the one I picked up at Trader Joe’s, but either way, make sure you bring one!
11. First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is one of those things that seems like overpacking…until it isn’t! We were on a beautiful hike to Fairy Falls in Yellowstone last summer when I managed a nasty gash on my shin by tripping over an upturned root. And I did not have my first aid kit in the daypack! So annoying to be hiking with blood running down my leg.
Don’t be like me. Toss this lightweight little kit in your backpack. This one covers all the basics and takes up minimal space. You can get it on Amazon here.
12. Water Bottle
The more I travel the more I think about how I can reduce my impact on the planet. One of the easiest ways to reduce waste is to stop buying all those plastic water bottles. It’s so easy to carry a reusable water bottle in your daypack or carryon.
I’m a big fan of Camelback. These water bottles are dishwasher safe, durable, and BPS-free. Plus, this one doesn’t have the leakage problem of so many water bottles I’ve tried. Get your Camelback on Amazon here.
13. High-Speed Portable Phone Charger
This is one of my favorite travel items that’d I’d never leave home without! When you look down at your phone and notice that it’s completely out of juice, you just plug it into this handy gizmo and boom! It’s all charged up in no time.
Best of all, it’s tiny so you can bring it on the plane in your carryon and tuck it into your daypack when hiking in Yellowstone. You’ll only need to charge it once at home before you leave for your trip. Then you’ll get multiple charges throughout your vacation. It comes with a USB cable, travel pouch, and warranty.
You can get yours on Amazon here.
14. Turkish Towel
If you’ll be swimming in Yellowstone, this is the perfect towel to bring. It’s not fluffy like a bath towel; it’s super abosrbent, very soft and dries in no time. There’s no better towel for travel! Click here for your new favorite towel.
15. Hand Sanitizer
I can be a little obsessive about hand sanitizer when I travel these days. When you’re in and out of airplanes, airports, and even visitor centers in the national parks, you’re touching objects handled by thousands of people. And who wants to be ill on a long-planned vacation?
I like this hand sanitizer because it’s alcohol-free and plant-based. It’s also orange and vanilla scented, however, so if you’d prefer unscented, those are easy enough to find! You can get travel-sized hand sanitizer here on Amazon.
Parks Packing List: What to Wear in Yellowstone
Here’s how to dress for Yellowstone in June, July or August: Plan on layers. Yellowstone in August is warm but gorgeous. Here’s your national park packing list:
16. Fleece Jacket
It’s all about the layering when dressing for Yellowstone. I definitely recommend a fleece jacket for cool or windy evenings. This Columbia jacket fits the bill with two secure zippered pockets and a classic fit. Get this cozy fleece on Amazon here.
17. Lightweight Rain Shell
To continue with the layering theme, bring a lightweight rain shell. You can toss it on over your fleece if it’s cooler or wear it on its own on a warm but rainy hike. This one is perfect as it even has a hood! Get it on Amazon here.
18. Bathing Suit
Swimming in Yellowstone? Yes, you can! In addition to hotel pools, there are two areas within the park you can swim in: Boiling River near Mammoth and Firehole River (which is cooler).
If it’s time to update your bathing suit, find one that you can enjoy being active in, without worry about wardrobe malfunctions or comfort.
Personally, I love the look of the ruched tummy in this one piece suit. You can buy it on Amazon here.
19. Hiking Pants
Personally, I live in my Lululemon leggings when I’m in the national parks, but Steve is a huge fan of zip-on zip-off hiking pants and I can see why!
These convertible pants make it so easy to cool down if you’re overheated on a hike. You can get a pair here on Amazon.
Exposed hikes can make for unpleasant sunburns. And nobody wants that on the first day of vacation! So wear your sunscreen (see below) and protect your shoulders. Personally, I’m always in search of the softest, lightest fabric I can find and these Clementine t-shirts fit the bill. Order some on Amazon here.
21. Sun Hat
Columbia is one of my favorite companies for outdoor gear. This unisex sun hat delivers on Columbia’s promise to its customers. It’s made of moisture-wicking fabric and delivers UV sun protection, too.
There’s nothing like being overheated to kill the fun factor on a hike. So take along this awesome hat for your personal shade! You can get it on Amazon here.
This is my go-to sunscreen because it doesn’t have any ingredients that are harmful to humans. There are no parabens or icky chemicals. Plus, there is no oxybenzone…which is why I take it on snorkeling adventures. (Oxybenzone kills coral. It was even outlawed recently in Hawaii!) Buy it on Amazon here.
23. SmartWool Socks
SmartWool socks are incredible for hiking! They wick away moisture, are warm when they need to be, and are super breathable, making them a great footwear solution for any kind of weather. And yes, they are definitely more expensive than regular cotton socks, but so worth it!
You’ll be surprised to find that they aren’t even stinky if you need to re-wear them in a pinch. If you have low profile hiking shoes (or tennis shoes), these socks will work just fine. For other types of hiking boots, go with SmartWool socks that cover your calf. You can get SmartWool socks here on Amazon.
Yellowstone FAQ and Top Travel Tips
1. How is the weather in Yellowstone?
The average temperature in Yellowstone depends upon the time of year. In spring and fall, temps range from 30 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. And snow is common then! In summer, temps are warmer, around 70 to 80 degrees, but nights are cool so pack accordingly. Expect afternoon thundershowers.
In winter, anticipate sub-zero temperatures, particularly at night and at higher elevations. Snowfall is variable. Even though Yellowstone averages 150 inches of snowfall annually, higher elevations may get twice as much snow!
2. How long does it take to drive the Grand Loop in Yellowstone?
Plan on between four and seven hours to drive the Grand Loop in Yellowstone during summer. It all depends on how frequently you’re stopping to see all the amazing sites! You’ll want to see the geyser basins, waterfalls, canyons, and technicolor geothermal pools, just for starters.
In summer, you can expect traffic…especially at sunset when the wildlife are more active. On our visit, we were stranded for quite awhile heading back to the south end of the park because of all the buffalo blocking the road! A ranger told us she was once stranded for 90 minutes with her father waiting for them to vacate. Bring snacks and use the restroom before you head into Lamar Valley for sure!
3. Can you drive through Yellowstone in a day?
It’s doable but you’re going to wish you had more time! On my first visit to Yellowstone 15 years ago, I foolishly planned a day trip from Bozeman, Montana. We did get to peek into a few places in the park but the sheer drive time was a little frustrating.
Still, if you’re determined, it can be done. For example, if you’re coming from Jackson and head out early, you can do the Grand Loop in a long day of 10 to 12 hours with eight short stops. I warned you though! Plan a few days if you can. Then you can pick one side of the loop for a day and do the other side on the following day.
4. What animals can I see in Yellowstone?
It depends on both the season and the time of day. (Tip: Animals are particularly active at dawn and sunset so plan accordingly to maximize wildlife viewing.)
There are 67 species of wildlife in the park. If you’re lucky, you’re likely to see mammals like bobcats, coyote, wolves, black bears, grizzly bears, cougars, weasels, fox, otters, bison, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, and pronghorn.
There are also nearly 300 species of birds that nest in the park, including endangered species like the golden eagle, loons, and trumpeter swans. (We saw dozens of bald eagles standing sentry along a river just south in Grand Teton National park. I’ll never forget it! Learn more about wildlife in Yellowstone here.
5. How many days are enough for Yellowstone?
It all depends on your interests and time! At a minimum, stay for two days. Then you can use the sightseeing strategy above on the Grand Loop.
If you’re an avid hiker, plan a week! When we visited last summer, we divided a week between Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park and it was divine. If I’d had more time, I’d have loved to spend a week in each park. Between the hot springs, day hikes, wildlife, kayaking, and horseback riding, there are just dozens of activities where you can enjoy award-winning scenery.
6. Where should I stay when visiting Yellowstone?
It’s a big park so you’ll want to choose a location based on your sightseeing interests and where you’ll be entering the park. Because we combined a visit with Grand Teton, we based at the southern entrance to Yellowstone. It was a long drive up to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, however.
7. What is the best time to go to Yellowstone?
If you’re looking to minimize the crowds and maximize your chances of nice weather, plan a spring or fall trip. April and May are lovely months to visit as are September and October.
But if you can’t get away then, don’t let that stop you! We were there in prime time in August and as I noted earlier, were pleasantly surprised to find how easy it was to be out in the wilderness alone once we moved beyond the Grand Loop.
Likewise, I’d love to head back in winter to see the wolves in action. Sure, it will be cooler but I hear it’s an unforgettable experience to head out snowshoeing when the park is quiet.
8. How much does it cost to get into Yellowstone?
You’ll spend $35 for a seven-day pass in a private vehicle at the gate entrance to the park. Individual hikers or bicyclists pay $20. For $80, however, you can get an annual pass that is valid for a full year (or for a lifetime if you’re over age 62!)
9. Can you bring food into Yellowstone?
Indeed you can! To cut costs, we actually purchased a cooler in Jackson and then stocked up on ice daily so we had cold drinks, meat, and cheese for picnic lunches, and wine for sunset wildlife viewing. If you’d rather not do a major grocery store run, just go with the much smaller packable cooler bag listed above. It’s big enough to carry a couple of drinks and purchased sandwiches for two to three people.
10. Do cell phones work in Yellowstone?
Kinda sorta. The park says there is service in 50 percent of the park but it sure didn’t work anywhere that we were. That said, you can purchase Wifi if you’re desperate at Mammoth Dining Lodge, Grant Village, and a few other places. It’s really rather freeing to be off the grid though. Try it!
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