The sky is the limit when it comes to summer outdoor adventures in Yellowstone. However, all recreationists must comply with park guidelines. Following is a brief description of some of Yellowstone’s most popular summer activities.
Although bicycles are not available for rent in the park and are prohibited in the backcountry, bicycling is allowed on all public roads, designated bike routes, and in parking areas. Despite the park’s narrow, windy roads where bicyclists are given little room to maneuver around Yellowstone’s congested highways, hundreds of bicyclists take the opportunity to imbibe the open air each year.
To avoid any mishaps with those touring Yellowstone by vehicle, bicyclists are encouraged to heed the following guidelines:
- Always wear highly visible clothing and helmets.
- Equip all bikes with reflective lighting.
- Pack along plenty of water; most park facilities are at least twenty to thirty miles apart.
- Watch for motorists on Yellowstone’s many blind curves.
- Remember that bikes are subject to the same traffic laws as vehicles.
- Avoid riding during April, May, and June when high snowbanks make Yellowstone’s roads even narrower than usual.
- Park boardwalks are only for pedestrian use.
For those bicyclists seeking to escape vehicle traffic, consider the following trails that are open to both hikers and bicyclists:
- Mount Washburn Trail: Climbing 1,400 feet, the challenging Mount Washburn Trail departs from the Old Chittenden Road.
- Bunsen Peak Road/Osprey Falls Trails: Combining both bicycling and hiking, these trails depart near Mammoth Hot Springs. Bicyclists travel six miles to Bunsen Peak and then choose between hiking to the top of the peak or down to Osprey Falls.
- Lone Star Geyser Trail: This easy ride departs from Kepler Cascade near Old Faithful. A user-friendly road rather than a traditional trail, the Lone Star Geyser Trail typically takes one hour to complete.
Boating Yellowstone’s lakes and the river channel linking Lewis and Shoshone Lakes is becoming an increasingly popular way to experience the park. Permits are required for all vessels, including simple float tubes, and strict guidelines dictate which areas are open to motorized boats. Keep in mind the following guidelines for a safe, fun trip:
- Permits are only available to those applying in person.
- Both motorized and non-motorized permits are available at the Lake Ranger Station, Grant Village Visitor Center, Bridge Bay Ranger Station, Lewis Lake Campground, and the park’s South Entrance.
- Non-motorized boat permits are available at the Mammoth, Canyon, and Old Faithful Visitor Centers, as well as at the Bechler Ranger Station and West and Northeast Entrances.
- Motorized permits are $20 annually or $10 for a seven-day pass; non-motorized permits cost $10 annually or $5 for a seven-day pass.
- All individuals must wear a personal flotation device at all times.
Although Yellowstone visitors are encouraged to bring their own boating gear, Xanterra Parks and Resorts does rent outboard motorboats and rowboats on a first-come, first-served basis. Rentals are available on Yellowstone Lake at the Bridge Bay Marina. In addition, Xanterra also offers guided fishing boat tours, and advance reservations are accepted. Call (307) 344-7311 for more information.
Less removed from the general park visitor population than some recreational activities, camping is nonetheless a popular choice for many Yellowstone sightseers. Both first come, first served and reservation campsites are available throughout the park. Group camping is also offered in select campgrounds. For additional information regarding campgrounds, amenities, and fees, see the “Camping in Yellowstone” section under the General Visitor Information heading.
For visitors who simply want to dip their feet in a true wilderness experience, day hiking is ideal. Boasting 1,100 miles of hiking trails, Yellowstone’s wilderness caters to day hikers of all abilities. Trails are found in every portion of Yellowstone; look for directions to specific day hikes in the respective sections highlighting features near Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris, Old Faithful, Madison, Canyon Area, Lake Village, Tower-Roosevelt, West Thumb and Grant Village, Bridge Bay, and Fishing Bridge.
Although day hiking provides a pleasurable means of soaking in Yellowstone’s beauty, hikers must be aware of dangers lurking in the wild, including wildlife encounters, cold water lakes, hidden thermal areas, changing weather, loose rock, and turbulent streams.
For the most enjoyable trip, day hikers should always begin their trips with a visit to the nearest ranger station. Park rangers are armed with the latest information regarding trail conditions, animal activity, and expected area weather. While hiking, visitors should carry along sunscreen, insect repellent, a raincoat and hat, a first aid kit, and plenty of water. For maximum safety, always hike with another person, and make sure somebody knows your intended route.
Day hiking in Yellowstone is free and does not require a backcountry permit.
Although park visitors have enjoyed fishing in Yellowstone’s lakes and rivers for over a century, the world of Yellowstone fishing is changing to protect the park’s valuable aquatic life. Once placing no restrictions on anglers, Yellowstone’s fishing program now operates to manage the park’s water resources and restore native fish species while providing recreational fishing opportunities. As a result, stringent guidelines are now in place, and as of 2001, all fish except lake trout must be released.
As more and more fly-fishing enthusiasts and drift-boat anglers inundate Yellowstone Lake and the park’s riverbanks, season opening and closing dates have been added, restrictions on bait use are now enforced, and non-lead tackle and fishing gear is mandated. The cost of fishing permits has also escalated since 2000, with permits for those age sixteen and older costing $35 per season, $20 for a seven-day pass, and $15 for a three-day permit. For now, youth ages twelve to fifteen receive their permits for free, and children under eleven are allowed to fish without a permit if accompanied by a paying adult.
For those not turned off by the park’s increasingly strict guidelines, fishing in Yellowstone provides anglers with the opportunity to catch cutthroat, rainbow, brook, brown, and lake trout along with grayling and mountain whitefish. While law dictates that lake trout must be kept and removed from Yellowstone, all other Yellowstone fish species must be released back into the wild. Anglers should note that some areas are closed to fishing due to endangered or sensitive wildlife populations, and fishing enthusiasts should always be on the lookout for bears. Fish are one of bears’ favorite foods, so bears frequently roam the riverbanks in search of a tasty meal.
To ensure the sustained livelihood of fish, anglers should employ the following tips for properly releasing fish and keeping the waters clean:
- Use barbless hooks to make the release technique easier.
- When handling fish and removing hooks, keep the fish in water as much as possible. Never let the fish flail to the point of exhaustion.
- Remove all hooks as gently as possible, being careful not to squeeze the fish or contaminate the fish’s gills with germs from your fingers.
- If a fish is deeply hooked, do not attempt to remove the hook as it may severely injure the fish. In this case, it is better to leave the hook; most fish do survive even with hooks left in them.
- Release fish as close as possible to where they were retrieved, and always point the fish upstream.
- Never dump trash in the water, especially extra fishing line and plastic pop/beer holders. These items can seriously injure and even kill Yellowstone’s precious fish.
Offering visitors the chance to escape the crowds for an hour or two, Xanterra Parks and Resorts offers guided horseback rides departing from Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower-Roosevelt, and Canyon. Rides generally book quickly, so advance reservations are recommended. For a longer trip, Xanterra also provides wagon rides leading to an evening western cookout site. Those interested should call (307) 344-7311 for additional information and reservations.
For those seeking a true wilderness experience, guided overnight and weekly horseback and llama treks to Yellowstone’s backcountry are available. Call Yellowstone Park at (307) 344-7381 for a complete list of outfitters licensed to guide in Yellowstone.
Backcountry Use and Regulations
Backpacking in Yellowstone provides a rewarding experience for hardcore wilderness lovers who delight in isolation and self-sufficiency. Whether you’re staying just one night or an entire week, though, all backcountry users must acquire a permit and are encouraged to let others know their intended route. Backcountry equestrians and boaters must also obtain the same permit.
User permits are free of charge and available during summer up to forty-eight hours in advance from the following ranger stations: Bridge Bay, South Entrance, Bechler, Canyon, Grant Village, Mammoth, Old Faithful, Lake, West Entrance, and Tower.
While exploring Yellowstone’s backcountry, remember that the park is a wild place full of wild animals and unexpected dangers. Use caution at all times, and watch for hidden thermal features, slippery or loose rocks, dangerous water crossings, and changing weather patterns. Remember: horses and other pack animals are not permitted in the backcountry until after July 1, campfires are permitted only in established fire pits, all items packed in must be packed out, water must be treated either by boiling or filtering, and users must stay on established trails.
Read more Backcountry Rules