A herd of Bison by the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park via Shutterstock (Lee Prince)

What’s the best way to beat the crowds in Yellowstone?

What is the best way to escape the crowds on my trip to Yellowstone this summer?

Greg Melville

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Go to Glacier instead. Ha! Just a little national park humor, there, Mark. In 2011, more than 3.6 million people visited Yellowstone National Park, a quarter of them (roughly 906,000) came in the month of July. So while summer isn’t exactly the low season, there are many ways to enjoy the 3,400-square-mile park without having to fight the crowds.

Old Faithful
Old Faithful via Shutterstock (Naturediver)

Get there early in the day
The park entrances are open 24 hours a day in the summer. The earlier you go, the more likely the RV-driving tourists will still be asleep. Sunrise (which occurs just before 6 a.m. there in July) is the most gorgeous time, especially for taking photos. Check the schedule for Old Faithful late the day before in the visitor center, and see if it’s predicted to erupt in the early morning hours.

Lone Star Geyser
Lone Star Geyser (Stephanie Coffman)

Skip the famous geysers
If you don’t make it to the 142-mile Grand Loop Road early to catch the famous Yellowstone geysers, forget about even trying to see them. Instead, hike to a backcountry geyser. One favorite is a five-mile out-and-back climb through quiet meadows and old-growth pine stands to Lone Star geyser, which erupts roughly every three hours. The hike begins just off the road between Old Faithful and the West Thumb geothermal area.  

Yellowstone River
Yellowstone River via Shutterstock (Gary718)

Get off the road
There are 466 miles of pavement in Yellowstone. A common saying goes that less than 10 percent of visitors venture more than a mile away from it. In fact, a vast majority never even wander beyond the boardwalks surrounding the geysers. As a result, there are about 1,000 miles of trails that almost no one touches. The quietest backpacking route is the Thorofare Trail  in the park’s remote, southeast corner. It skirts the shore of Yellowstone Lake, and meanders up the Yellowstone River to a literal no-man’s land where elk and grizzlies roam. Just getting into the park on the trail is a challenge: it’s a 30-mile hike on the Thorofare route to reach Yellowstone’s border from the outside.

Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake via Shutterstock (Rawin Cheasagul)

Kayak Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake is the largest freshwater lake above 7,000 feet in elevation in the U.S., with a surface area of more than 130 square miles, and its shoreline is practically untouched. If you’re looking for a guide, Rendezvous River Sports in Jackson leads overnight trips for $625.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021 Lead Photo: Lee Prince

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