Planning the Perfect Trip to Yellowstone

Morning steam rising from thermal features, an erupting geyser in the distance. Bison herds grazing across the plain. The occasional bear lumbering in the woods, pawing through fallen logs for insects. Cascading waterfalls plunging into a rising, hissing fog. Yellowstone is a magical place, full of beauty, wonder, and wildlife. There’s nothing like visiting this national treasure. Follow these tips to plan your Yellowstone trip like a pro.

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Decide how to get there.

Whether you’re driving your own vehicle, renting one, or going with a tour group, this will be a huge factor in what you will be able to do or see in Yellowstone. Driving yourself will allow more freedom to make stops and detours as you please, while going with a group organized by a tour company allows you to relax and absorb your surroundings.

Go off grid.

Cell service is very limited in Yellowstone, so plan ahead to ensure you have what you need while in the park. Download the Yellowstone map and new app ahead of time as well as anything else you may need to access. Before arriving, in the app, select the “Settings” option and tap the choice “Download Offline Content” in order to access most of the app’s features while out of service range. Lastly, pick up a hard copy of the map for free at a park entrance or any visitor center for back up. Visitor centers typically also have some cell signal and pay phones. 

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Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

Plan ahead.

If you want to overnight in Yellowstone at one of the lodging options, plan to make a reservation at least a year in advance. Even campsites quickly fill up. If you are having trouble finding availability, check back daily, as people frequently cancel reservations as plans change, or consider doing a long, full day and staying outside the park near one of the five entry points where there are more accommodation options.

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Pack a picnic.

While there are some nice places to eat in the park, they can be crowded and eat into your time that could be otherwise spent exploring. There are plenty of picnic areas located throughout the park where you can pull off and enjoy a homemade lunch or snack along a beautiful river or overlook.

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Photo by Lucie Capkova on Unsplash

Look for wildlife along the way.

Part of the fun of exploring Yellowstone is the opportunities for wildlife sightings. Keep a sharp lookout for bears, bison, elk, and more throughout the drive, especially in the middle and north parts of the park. Early morning and evening are prime animal-viewing hours. Remember to keep a safe distance from all animals, even if they appear docile. The National Park Service asks visitors to keep 100 yards between themselves and bears and wolves and at least 25 yards for everything else.

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Consider human and wildlife traffic.

These can create delays in your itinerary. While ambitious travelers could feasibly drive the entire loop in one day, it is a very long day of driving, and these unexpected traffic jams can add delays to your trip.


Have more questions? Comment below and we’ll be happy to reply!

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The West Texas Bucket List

Your guide to the top things to do and see in West Texas.

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Davis Mountains – Far west Texas isn’t just open desert like the movies would have you believe. Explore Davis Mountains State Park’s miles of trails, camping, and informational programming… More

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McDonald Observatory – The stars at night are extra big and bright at this West Texas mountaintop observatory. Hundreds of miles from bright city lights, the McDonald Observatory offers unbeatable star gazing… More

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The Gage Hotel – This historic desert oasis in Marathon, TX was voted among the top Texas hotels by Condé Nast. Talk about old country charm!… More

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Marfa – In this tiny West Texas town, there’s a Gram-worthy photo around practically every corner that is sure to elicit jealousy from friends… More

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Alpine – Explore the town of Alpine, located between Marfa and Marathon. Catch a semi-pro Cowboys baseball game at historic Kokernot Field… More

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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Star Gazing at McDonald Observatory

The stars at night are extra big and bright at this West Texas mountaintop observatory. Hundreds of miles from bright city lights, the McDonald Observatory offers stargazers unbeatable views. Plan your visit around catching a Star Party where you’ll have access to outdoor telescopes at the observatory’s park and an interactive overview of the night sky. Star Parties are offered on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Dress warmly with layers because nighttime temps dip, even in the summer. Daytime activities are also offered if you’re not a night owl.

Weather conditions can quickly change near the observatory, so if the skies are overcast in the morning, things may clear up by evening. If it happens to be cloudy during your visit, you’ll be offered alternative programming indoors, or you may be able to reschedule.

Stay the night at accommodations close to the observatory. Options include Indian Lodge, or for the more adventurous, pitch a tent at Davis Mountains State Park.

Nearby things to do: 

Davis Mountains

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The Gage Hotel

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Marfa

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Alpine

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Alpine, Texas: “The Last Frontier”

Explore the town of Alpine, located between Marfa and Marathon. Get a sense of place at Stylle Read’s wall mural Big Brewster outside of the Kiowa Gallery. This mural portrays notable town figures including visionaries such as Everett Townsend who spearheaded the creation of Big Bend National Park, successful rancher Herbert Kokernot who established the Alpine Cowboys baseball club in 1946, and local celebs such as Dan Blocker who became better known as Hoss Cartwright on the“Bonanza” TV series also appear in the mural. Keep an eye out for more murals scattered throughout Alpine.

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Catch a semi-pro Alpine Cowboys baseball game at historic Kokernot Field during the season that runs from May through August. With inexpensive tickets, a boisterous local crowd, the Davis Mountains as the field’s backdrop and brews from nearby Big Bend Brewing Co., you’re guaranteed to have a good time. Fun fact: the 06 symbol found throughout the park tie in to the Kokernot family’s cattle branding from back in the day. Not in town during baseball season? You can still visit the field’s exterior intricate ironwork.

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The Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross University is worth a visit. The Big Bend Legacy exhibit gives visitors deep insight into the natural and human histories of the region. Other temporary rotating exhibits include Terry Cockerham’s “Big Bend and the Terlingua Project” and “Early Education and the Annual Summer Normal in Alpine.” Admission to all exhibits is free!

Nearby things to do:

McDonald Observatory

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The Gage Hotel

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Marfa

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Davis Mountains

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The Gage Hotel in West Texas

The Gage Hotel is located in the charming town of Marathon that still has a frontier feel to this day. On the U.S. National Registry of Historic Places, the Gage Hotel was built in 1926 by successful rancher Alfred Gage and later converted into a hotel.

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Guests can stay in the historic Western style hotel, pueblo style adobe brick rooms in Los Portales, or have complete privacy in casitas. Enjoy the hotel pool, gym, White Buffalo bar, and V6 health conscious foods for your coffee and smoothie needs.

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Watch people and trains passing by from the ivy covered porch in a wooden rocking chair, mediate in a courtyard, or cool off in the pool with a frozen drink from the White Buffalo bar. With so much old country charm, its no surprise that this historic desert oasis was voted among the top Texas hotels by Condé Nast Traveler.

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Located a short distance across the train tracks is the manicured Gage Gardens, covering a lush 27 acres. We recommend visiting early in the morning to enjoy cooler temps and beautiful lighting.

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Learn more about the Gage Hotel and make reservations.

Things to do nearby:

Davis Mountains

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McDonald Observatory

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Marfa

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Alpine

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The Davis Mountains in West Texas

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Far west Texas isn’t just open desert like Hollywood movies would have you believe. The Davis Mountains rise up above the open plain and exposing interesting rock formations along the canyon walls. Explore Davis Mountains State Park‘s miles of trails, camping, and informational Ranger programming. Trails range from easy stroll to challenging, offering something for every level of hiker. Remember to bring plenty of water on hikes, and keep in mind that burn bans may be in effect during your visit, so plan accordingly. For those looking for further hiking and camping, the Davis Mountains also serve as a gateway to nearby Big Bend State Park.

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Checking information boards near the entrance of any park or campsite will give valuable information, such as check-in/out procedures, information on burn bans if applicable, maps of the area, and more.

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We enjoyed a ranger programming event on our visit with a costumed Civilian Conservation Corps soldier. He discussed events of the particular time period and demonstrated what soldiers would have carried with them to set up camp. Check upcoming Ranger events before you go.

The McDonald Observatory is a short 15-20 minute drive away from Davis Mountains State Park. Plan to work this into your West Texas travels–it’s an incredible experience!

Other nearby things to do:

McDonald Observatory

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The Gage Hotel

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Marfa

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Alpine

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Check out more hiking inspo from our trip to Jackson Hole.

Top 5 Reasons to Ski Taos

Quick Facts

  • Located in Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico
  • Elevation: 9,206 ft – 12,481 ft
  • Some of the best terrain in North America

 

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1) Amazing terrain. With 300+ inches of annual snowfall and 1,294 acres of skiable terrain, the Taos Ski Valley slopes offer over 100 runs. Skiers enjoy light, dry powder, interesting terrain (including steep shoots, big bumps and challenging tree glades) and essentially no wait for lift lines, even during busier times.

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2) Do a ski week. Al’s Run looming over the base area may intimidate skiers, but there’s plenty of skiable terrain for all levels. Take advantage of Taos Ski Valley’s renowned ski school and sign up for lessons. You’ll enjoy tailored instruction and perfect technical skiing skills on some slopes that may have been too difficult to tackle on your own.  Overlap your visit with an Adult Snowsports Week and get 6 two-hour morning lessons in addition to “tech talk” evenings.

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3) Affordability. Reasonable flights and hotel rates make this destination a no brainer. Lift tickets start from $54 if purchased online, and accommodations are just as affordable. Stay 10 min from Ski Valley in the unique town of Taos for as little as $60 per night. Hotel rates at the base of the mountain won’t take a chunk out of your paycheck either. We loved our chalet-style room at Alpine Village Suites and soaked our sore muscles after long days of skiing in the outdoor hot tub and sauna.

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3) Nearby day trips. Easy day trips from Taos Ski Valley include Taos Pueblo, Rio Grande Gorge, and Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa to name a few. Santa Fe is only a couple hours away and on the way to Taos if you’re flying out of Albuquerque. Stop over in Sante Fe for jewelry shopping, pueblo architecture, native history, and delicious food. We stopped at the well-known restaurant Cafe Pasqual’s, nestled into a pueblo style building off the main square.

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4) Bustling art scene. The town of Taos has a rich art history with notable artists having settled in the area, drawn to the region’s “drama of vast spaces.” Pop into an art gallery and marvel at the local artists’ talents.

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5) Come for the slopes, stay for the memories. When planning our ski trip to Taos, there were plenty of articles boasting about the fantastic skiing. What we weren’t prepared for was the local culture of hospitality experienced throughout our visit. Everyone we interacted with, from ski shop employees and ski patrol to fellow skiers, was incredibly friendly. We even made some new friends sitting out by the fire pit at the base. We’ll definitely be back soon, Taos!

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