AARP MEMBER DISCOUNTS SEE MORE

Bicycling

Park management does not encourage bicycling in the park. It considers the vast majority of the park's roads "unimproved" and unsafe for bicyclists. A brochure titled "Bicycling in Yellowstone National Park" is available at some visitor centers, but is not widely promoted or disseminated. The park website's Bicycling page (www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/bicycling.htm) also has information about routes, safety gear, and precautions cyclists should take.

Despite park caveats, heavy traffic, and narrow roads, many long-distance cyclists do ride in Yellowstone. If you choose to ride the Grand Loop Road or entrance roads, be safe, ride single file, and wear a helmet and reflective gear. Be cautious in May and June, as high snow banks can make riding the park's narrow roads particularly dangerous. Remember that some routes, such as those over Craig Pass, Sylvan Pass, and Dunraven Pass, are especially challenging because of their steep climbs.

Blacktail Plateau Drive. Running parallel to Grand Loop Road, this gravel road is one-way traffic for cars traveling east, but bicycles are allowed in both directions. The road meanders through forest where you might see deer, coyotes, or elk. The western entrance to the road is 9 miles east of Mammoth Hot Springs, and the eastern entrance is 2 miles west of Tower-Roosevelt. Mountain bikes are recommended. Tower-Roosevelt, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Fountain Freight Road. Fountain Flats Drive departs the Grand Loop Road south of the Nez Perce picnic area and follows the Firehole River to a trailhead 1½ miles away. From there, the Fountain Freight Road continues along the old roadbed, giving bikers access to the Sentinel Meadows Trail and the Fairy Falls Trail. The total length of the route is 5½ miles. Mountain bikes are recommended; you'll share Fountain Flats Drive with two-way automobile traffic and the Freight Road with hikers. Madison, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/bicycling.htm.

Natural Bridge Road. Leading off Grand Loop Road at Bridge Bay along the western shore of Yellowstone Lake, this easy 1-mile bike loop leads to Natural Bridge, a 50-foot cliff cut through by Bridge Creek. Yellowstone Lake area, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Old Faithful to Morning Glory Pool. This paved 2-mile trail starts at the Delaware North Store at Old Faithful Village, loops near Old Faithful geyser, and ends at Morning Glory Pool. The entire route is through a geyser basin, so stay on the trail. Watch for elk and bison. Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Rentals, Outfitters, and Expeditions

Free Heel and Wheel. This shop just outside the West Entrance rents and sells bicycles, cruisers, child carriers, and gear. The staff here can recommend cycling routes outside the park. Free Heel is also a great stop for coffee and snacks. 40 Yellowstone Ave., West Yellowstone, Montana, 59758. 406/646–7744; www.freeheelandwheel.com. From $8/hr, $35/day for bike rental.

Old Faithful Snow Lodge. The lodge carries a fleet of mountain bikes in adult and child sizes and has a limited stock of trailers (for smaller children), cargo bags, and windbreakers. Rentals are available by the half day, including helmet and bike lock. Packages that include guides and lodging are also available. Old Faithful Village, far end of Old Faithful Bypass Rd., Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. 307/545–4825; www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/things-to-do/summer-things-to-do/bicycle-rentals. From $8/hr, $35/day for bike rental.

Boating

Motorized boats are allowed only on Lewis Lake and Yellowstone Lake. Kayaking and canoeing is allowed on all lakes except Sylvan Lake, Eleanor Lake, Twin Lakes, and Beach Springs Lagoon. Most lakes are inaccessible by car, though, so accessing them requires long portages. Boating is not allowed on any river except the Lewis between Lewis Lake and Shoshone Lake, where nonmotorized boats are permitted.

You must purchase a seven-day, $5 permit for boats and floatables, or a $10 permit for motorized boats at Bridge Bay Ranger Station, South Entrance Ranger Station, Grant Village Backcountry Office, and Lewis Lake Ranger Station (at the campground). Nonmotorized permits are available at the Northeast Entrance; West Yellowstone Information Center; the backcountry offices at Mammoth, Old Faithful, and Canyon; Bechler Ranger Station; and locations where motorized permits are sold. Annual permits cost $20.

Boat permits issued in Grand Teton National Park are honored in Yellowstone, but owners must register their vessel in Yellowstone and obtain a no-charge Yellowstone validation sticker from a permit-issuing station.

Tours and Outfitters

Bridge Bay Marina. Watercraft, from rowboats to powerboats, are available for trips on Yellowstone Lake at Bridge Bay Marina. You also can rent 22- and 34-foot cabin cruisers with a guide. Grand Loop Rd., 2 miles south of Lake Village, Lake area, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, 82190. 307/344–7311; www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/things-to-do. $90/hr for guided cruisers for fishing or sightseeing; $10/hr for rowboat; $50/hr for small boat with outboard motor. June–early Sept., daily 8:30–8:30.

Yellowstone Lake Scenic Cruises. This company takes visitors on one-hour cruises aboard the Lake Queen II. The vessel makes its way from Bridge Bay to Stevenson Island and back. Reservations are strongly recommended. Bridge Bay Marina, Lake area, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. 307/344–7311; www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/things-to-do. $17. Late May–mid-Sept., daily 8:30–8:30.

Fishing

Fishing season begins in late May on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and ends in November. Native cutthroat trout are among the prize catches, but four other varieties—brown, brook, lake, and rainbow—along with grayling and mountain whitefish inhabit Yellowstone's waters. Popular sportfishing opportunities include the Gardner and Yellowstone rivers as well as Soda Butte Creek, but the top fishing area is Madison River.

Yellowstone fishing permits cost $18 for three days, $25 for seven days, and $40 for the season. Anglers ages 15 and younger must have a (no-fee) permit or fish under direct supervision of an adult with a permit. Permits are available at all ranger stations, visitor centers, and Yellowstone general stores.

Fishing Charters

Xanterra Parks & Resorts. This park concessionaire operates two- to 12-hour guided Yellowstone Lake fishing charters for up to six passengers per boat. The fee includes gear. Grand Loop Rd., 2 miles south of Lake Village, Bridge Bay, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. 307/344–7311; www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/things-to-do. $90/hr. Mid-June–early Sept..

Hiking

Your most memorable Yellowstone moments will likely take place along a park hiking trail. Encountering a gang of elk in the woods is unquestionably more exciting than watching them graze on the grasses of Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Hearing the creak of lodgepole pines on a breezy afternoon feels more authentic than listening to tourists chatter as you jockey for the best view of Old Faithful.

Even a one-day visitor to Yellowstone can—and should—get off the roads and into the "wilderness." Because the park is a wild place, however, even a half-mile walk on a trail puts you at the mercy of nature, so be sure to prepare yourself accordingly. As a guide on an Old Yellow Bus Tour said, "You don't have to fear the animals—just respect them."

Much of Yellowstone lies more than 7,500 feet above sea level. The most frequent incidents requiring medical attention are respiratory problems, not animal attacks. Be aware of your physical limitations—as well as those of young children or elderly companions.

Hiking Tours

Yellowstone Association Institute. If you'd like a naturalist, a geologist, a wildlife specialist, or other park expert to accompany you on a hike, book one of the institute's daylong or multiday excursions, which include backcountry trips. 308 W. Park St., Gardiner, Montana, 59030. 406/848–2400; www.yellowstoneassociation.org. From $150 per day.

Heart Lake

Heart Lake–Mt. Sheridan Trail. This 24-mile round-trip provides one of the park's top overnight backcountry experiences. After traversing 5½ miles of partly burned pine forest, the trail descends into Heart Lake Geyser Basin, reaching Heart Lake at the 8-mile mark. This is one of Yellowstone's most active thermal areas; the biggest geyser here is Rustic Geyser, which erupts to a height of 25 to 30 feet about every 15 minutes. Circle around the northern tip of Heart Lake and camp at one of five designated backcountry sites on the western shore (remember to get your permit beforehand). Leave all but the essentials here as you take on the 3-mile, 2,700-foot climb to the top of 10,308-foot Mount Sheridan. To the south, if you look carefully, you can see the Tetons. Difficult. Grant Village, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Old Faithful

Easy

Biscuit Basin Trail. This 2½-mile round-trip trail goes via a boardwalk across the Firehole River to colorful Sapphire Pool. Easy. Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Fountain Paint Pots Nature Trail. Take the ½-mile loop boardwalk to see the fumaroles (steam vents), blue pools, pink mud pots, and mini-geysers in this thermal area. The trail is popular in summer and winter because it's right next to Grand Loop Road. Easy. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Old Faithful Geyser Loop. The ¾-mile loop departs from Old Faithful's visitor center, circling the geyser's benches, filled nearly all day in summer with tourists. Easy. Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Moderate

Mystic Falls Trail. From the west end of Biscuit Basin boardwalk, this trail climbs gently for 1 mile through heavily burned forest to the lava-rock base of 70-foot Mystic Falls. It then switchbacks up Madison Plateau to a lookout with the park's least-crowded view of Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin. Moderate. Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Observation Point Loop. A 2-mile round-trip leaves Geyser Hill Loop boardwalk and becomes a trail shortly after the Firehole River; it circles a picturesque overview of Geyser Hill with Old Faithful Inn as a backdrop. You may also see Castle Geyser erupting. Even when 1,000-plus people are crowded on the boardwalk to watch Old Faithful, expect to find fewer than a dozen here. Moderate. Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Madison and Norris

Easy

Back Basin Trail. A 1½-mile loop passes Emerald Spring, Steamboat Geyser, Cistern Spring, and Echinus Geyser. The latter was long known as Norris's most dependable big geyser, but its schedule has become much more erratic. Ask a ranger for the latest information. Easy. Norris, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Porcelain Basin Trail. At Norris Geyser Basin, this ¾-mile loop leads from the north end of Norris Museum through whitish geyserite stone and past extremely active Whirligig and other small geysers. Easy. Norris, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Two Ribbons Trail. This accessible boardwalk path runs along the Madison River for 1½ miles round-trip. Easy. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Moderate

Purple Mountain Trail. Climbing a steady 1,500 feet from start to finish, this 6-mile round-trip trail takes you through lodgepole-pine forest. At the end of the trail catch views of Firehole and Gibbon valleys. Moderate. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Moderate

Beaver Ponds Loop Trail. The hike to Beaver Ponds is a 2½-hour, 5-mile round-trip starting at Liberty Cap in the busy Lower Terrace of Mammoth Hot Springs. You enter Yellowstone backcountry within minutes as you climb 400 feet through spruce and fir, passing several ponds and dams, as well as a glacier-carved moraine, before emerging on a windswept plain overlooking the Montana–Wyoming border. Look up to see Everts Peak to the east, Bunsen Peak to the south, and Sepulcher Mountain to the west. Your final descent into Mammoth Springs has great views of Mammoth Springs. Moderate. Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Bunsen Peak Trail. Past the entrance to Bunsen Peak Road, this moderately difficult trail is a 4-mile, three-hour round-trip that climbs 1,300 feet to Bunsen Peak for a panoramic view of Blacktail Plateau, Swan Lake Flats, the Gallatin Mountains, and the Yellowstone River valley. Moderate. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Difficult

Osprey Falls Trail. This 4-mile, two-hour round-trip starts near the entrance to Bunsen Peak Road. A series of switchbacks drops 800 feet to the bottom of Sheepeater Canyon and the base of the Gardner River's 151-foot Osprey Falls. As at Tower Fall, the canyon walls are basalt columns formed by ancient lava flow. Difficult. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Skyline Trail. This 16½-mile, 10-hour hike is a combination trail that climbs up and over numerous peaks whose ridgelines mark the park's northwestern boundary before looping sharply back down via Black Butte Creek. For much of its length the trail follows the ridge tops, with steep drop-offs on either side. Difficult. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Tower-Roosevelt

Moderate

Slough Creek Trail. Starting at Slough Creek Campground, this trail climbs steeply along a historic wagon trail for the first 1½ miles before reaching expansive meadows and prime fishing spots, where moose are common and grizzlies occasionally wander. From this point the trail, now mostly level, meanders another 9½ miles to the park's northern boundary. Anglers absolutely rave about this trail. Moderate. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Canyon

Easy

Cascade Lake Trail. This 4½-mile round-trip trail meanders through colorful meadows to a lovely lake. Hiking the trail can be a little wet and buggy in spring, but by midsummer it's perfect. Easy. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Mud Volcano Interpretive Trail. This ¾-mile round-trip trail loops gently around seething, sulfuric mud pots with such names as Sizzling Basin and Black Dragon's Cauldron, and around Mud Volcano itself. Easy. Canyon and Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Moderate

Brink of the Lower Falls Trail. Especially scenic, this trail branches off of the North Rim Trail at the Brink of the Upper Falls parking area. You can also access it from the Brink of the Lower Falls parking area on the North Rim Drive. The steep ½-mile one-way trail switchbacks 600 feet down to within a few yards of the top of the Yellowstone River's 308-foot Lower Falls. Moderate. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

North Rim Trail. Offering great views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the 3-mile North Rim Trail runs from Inspiration Point to Chittenden Bridge. Particularly fetching is the ½-mile section of the North Rim Trail from the Brink of the Upper Falls parking area to Chittenden Bridge that hugs the rushing Yellowstone River as it approaches the canyon. This trail is paved and fully accessible between Lookout Point and Grand View. Moderate. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

South Rim Trail. Partly paved and fairly flat, this 1¾-mile trail along the south rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone affords impressive views and photo opportunities of the canyon and falls of the Yellowstone River. It starts at Chittenden Bridge and ends at Artist Point. Beyond Artist Point, the trail gives way to a high plateau and high mountain meadows. Although popular with day hikers, this is technically backcountry. Prepare accordingly, make some noise, and carry bear spray. Moderate. Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Difficult

Uncle Tom's Trail. Accessed by the South Rim Drive, this spectacular and strenuous 700-step trail ½ mile east of Chittenden Bridge descends 500 feet from the parking area to the roaring base of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone. Much of this walk is on steel sheeting, which can have a film of ice on early summer mornings or anytime in spring and fall. Difficult. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Lake Area

Easy

Storm Point Trail. Well marked and mostly flat, this 1½-mile loop leaves the south side of the road for a perfect beginner's hike out to Yellowstone Lake, particularly with a setting sun. The trail rounds the western edge of Indian Pond, then passes moose habitat on its way to Yellowstone Lake's Storm Point, named for its frequent afternoon windstorms and crashing waves. Heading west along the shore, you're likely to hear the shrill chirping of yellow-bellied marmots, rodents that grow as long as 2 feet. Also look for ducks, pelicans, trumpeter swans, and bison. You will pass several small beaches kids can explore on warm summer mornings. Easy. Fishing Bridge, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Difficult

Avalanche Peak Trail. On a busy day in summer, maybe six parties will fill out the trail register at the Avalanche Peak trailhead, so you won't have a lot of company on this hike. Starting across from a parking area on the East Entrance Road, the difficult 4-mile, four-hour round-trip climbs 2,150 feet to the peak's 10,566-foot summit, from which you'll see the rugged Absaroka Mountains running north and south. Look around the talus and tundra near the top of Avalanche Peak for alpine wildflowers and butterflies. Don't try this trail before late June or after early September—it may be covered in deep snow. Rangers discourage hikers from attempting this hike in September or October because of bear activity. Difficult. Fishing Bridge, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Horseback Riding

Reservations are recommended for horseback riding in the park. Don't worry about experience, as rangers estimate 90% of riders have not been on a horse in at least 10 years.

Private stock can be brought into the park. Horses are not allowed in frontcountry campgrounds but are permitted in certain backcountry campsites. For information on planning a backcountry trip with stock, call the Backcountry Office (307/344–2160).

Tours and Outfitters

About 50 area outfitters lead horse-packing trips and trail rides into Yellowstone. Expect to pay from $250 to $400 per day for a backcountry trip, including meals, accommodations, and guides. A guide must accompany all horseback-riding trips.

Rimrock Dude Ranch. Outfitter Gary Fales has been leading multiday pack trips into Yellowstone for decades, operating out of Rimrock Dude Ranch west of Cody. Trips last at least five days long and include backcountry camping, fishing, hiking, and horseback activities. All food and camping items are provided. 2728 Northfork Rte., Cody, Wyoming, 82414. 307/587–3970; www.rimrockranch.com. From $350 per night.

Wilderness Pack Trips. Mike and Erin Thompson at Wilderness Pack Trips have led small group trips exclusively in Yellowstone National Park for many years. Popular destinations include the spectacular remote waterfalls and wildlife-rich regions often closed to the general public. Families are welcome for these excursions. Backcountry fishing trips and other day and overnight adventures are also arranged. 172 E. River Rd., Emigrant, Montana, 59027. 406/848–9953; www.yellowstonepacktrips.com. From $275 per day.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts. The park concessionaire offers one-hour horseback rides at Mammoth, and one- and two-hour rides at Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon Village. You can also book an Old West Dinner Cookout that involves a ride. Mammoth Hot Springs, 1 Grand Loop Rd., Wyoming. 307/344–7311; 866/439–7375; www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/things-to-do. From $45.

Yellowstone Wilderness Outfitters. Exclusively dedicated to trips inside Yellowstone National Park, this company is owned by the musically inclined, multitalented Jett Hitt. Trips range from half- and full-day family rides to three- to six-day pack trips in every area of the park. Wildlife biologists and/or naturalists accompany the excursions. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, 82190. 406/223–3300; www.yellowstone.ws. From $125 for half-day trips.

Skiing, Snowshoeing, and Snowmobiling

Yellowstone can be the coldest place in the continental United States in winter, with temperatures of –30°F not uncommon. Still, winter-sports enthusiasts flock here when the park opens for its winter season on the last week of December. Until early March, the roads teem with over-snow vehicles like snowmobiles and snow coaches, and trails bristle with cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

Snowmobiling is an exhilarating way to experience Yellowstone. It's also controversial: there's heated debate about the pollution and disruption to animal habitats. The number of riders per day is limited, and you must have a reservation, a guide, and a four-stroke engine, less polluting than the more common two-stroke variety. About a dozen companies have been authorized to lead snowmobile excursions. Prices vary, as do itineraries and inclusions: ask about insurance, guides, taxes, park entrance fees, clothing, helmets, and meals.

Lone Star Geyser Trail. The trail is an easy 2.3-mile ski to the Lone Star Geyser, starting south of Kepler Cascades. Ski to Kepler Cascades from Old Faithful Village. You can ski back to the Old Faithful area on the Howard Eaton Trail, or return the way you came. Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Tours and Outfitters

Free Heel and Wheel. This store outside the West Yellowstone entrance gate rents skis and other equipment and is a source for cross-country ski gear, sleds, snowshoes, and advice. Ski lessons and pull sleds for toting children are also available. 40 Yellowstone Ave., West Yellowstone, Montana, 59758. 406/646–7744; www.freeheelandwheel.com. From $20 for ski rental.

Togwotee Adventures Tours. This outfit conducts day, overnight, and multiday snowmobile trips into Yellowstone. Lodging is sometimes within the park, sometimes just outside. 1050 S. U.S. 89, Jackson, Wyoming, 83001. 307/733–8800; togwoteesnowmobile.com. From $230 for full-day tour.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts. At Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge, the park concessionaire rents skis, snowmobiles, and snowshoes. Ski rentals include skis, poles, and gaiters. Skier shuttles run from Mammoth Hotel to Indian Creek and from Old Faithful Snow Lodge to Fairy Falls and the Continental Divide Overlook. Lessons and guided tours, including day trips to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, are also available. Mammoth Hot Springs, 1 Grand Loop Rd., Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. 307/344–7311; 866/439–7375; 307/344–5276; www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/things-to-do. Ski rental $16/half day, $25/full day; snowshoes $12.50/half day, $22/full day.

Yellowstone Association Institute. The institute's winter programs include daylong wildlife-watching excursions and multiday skiing and snowshoeing treks. 308 W. Park St., Gardiner, Montana, 59030. 406/848–2400; www.yellowstoneassociation.org. Call or check website for prices.

Yellowstone Tour & Travel. This outfit rents snowmobiles and leads trips into the park from West Yellowstone. Longer packages might include lodging in West Yellowstone. 211 Yellowstone Ave., West Yellowstone, Montana, 59758. 406/646–9310; 800/221–1151; www.yellowstone-travel.com. From $109 per day.