Choosing whether to visit Yellowstone or Glacier National Park might feel impossible. These parks have wildly different landscapes, but are both incredible natural wonders to explore. So, how do you decide?
While weighing whether to visit Glacier or Yellowstone National Park, there are a few different options to consider. How much time do you have? How off-the-beaten path do you want to go? What kind of land features do you want to see? Both national parks are large enough that you can have any kind of experience you want. Now, the trick is planning the perfect visit.
We’re here to offer some insight into what you can expect from a visit to Yellowstone National Park vs Glacier National Park to help you plan the ideal trip.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is perhaps the most famous national park in the United States. It’s home to the iconic Old Faithful geyser, hundreds of animal species, and a plenitude of impressive colorful hot springs. The park was founded on March 1, 1872, making it the first national park in the US.
History and natural wonders go hand-in-hand during a Yellowstone visit–you’ll have no shortage of famous and off-the-beaten path areas to explore. Let’s check them out.
As with most national parks, it’s recommended that you rent a car or road trip if possible (you can browse Rentalcars.com for options). Yellowstone is expansive, so getting around to all the best places might be a little tricky without a vehicle.
At this time, there is no public transportation system in the park. During winter, many roads are closed, so take this into consideration when planning your trip. Bus tours such as this full-day tour from Jackson Hole are available through private tour companies.
Throughout its over two million acres, there are five entrances to the park: North Entrance, Northeast Entrance, South Entrance, East Entrance and West Entrance. Depending on where you’re driving or flying in from, consider planning your trip so it’s a loop around the park.
This will help ensure you see all sides of Yellowstone, from waterfalls to hot springs to geysers to wildlife. We recommend you stay in more than one area of the park to cut down on overall time spent driving and allow yourself more time to experience each region of the park.
The most reliable time to visit the park to ensure access to all its corners is summer. Spring is a risk because snowpack is still likely and winter means the open roads are often slick with ice. If visiting in winter, make sure to plan your trip around areas of the park that are safe and open.
Be prepared for icy road conditions and carry chains or install winter tires. Roads usually begin closing for winter around mid-October and continue through the season as necessary.
Yellowstone has become notoriously expensive in recent years. The park sees a lot of domestic and international visitors, and prices have generally increased. However, there is a way to see the park in a range of budgets.
Historic lodges and guided tours are available depending on how you want to experience the park and how much time you have. On the other hand, driving and camping or staying in yurts are other more affordable options.
It’s important to note that if you’re opting to stay in a lodge or park campground, you should make your reservations as early as possible as reservations, particularly for the summer months, fill up fast.
There are gateway towns near each entrance to the park. Lodging and dining here often tend to be just as expensive as the park. However, if you’re traveling on more of a budget or aren’t able to make reservations somewhere inside the park, you can consider grocery shopping and camping just outside the park.
This might create more overall drive time to reach different areas of the park, but it will likely be a more affordable option.
Things to do in Yellowstone
Visit Shoshone Geyser Basin
With over 500 geothermal sites, the Shoshone Geyser Basin is among the largest throughout Yellowstone National Park. It’s the largest backcountry geyser basin, making it slightly less visited than some of the others in the park.
Geysers and hot springs sit side-by-side with one of the biggest lakes in Yellowstone, Shoshone Lake. Geysers actually shoot up from the lake itself.
You can hike 8.5 miles to explore the area. Many people opt to camp at the lake or a nearby campground to grant themselves more time to wander. Here, you’ll encounter a diverse layout of landscapes, including geothermal features and meadows.
Hike to Morning Glory Pool
Morning Glory is one of the more impressive yet lesser-known hot springs that Yellowstone has to offer. It’s part of the walk through the Upper Geyser Basin and showcases colors that impress.
Yellow and orange hues crowd on the outskirts of the pool where high-temperature tolerating organisms have grown. From there, the color transitions into deep greens and blues.
A boardwalk trail guides visitors around this basin, making it an easy hike for many.
Take a Break in Lake Yellowstone Hotel
If you manage to reserve a night at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins, you’re in for a treat.
This is one of the oldest lodgings in the park. Stepping through the front doors feels like stepping back in time to the 1920s. It’s a historic and stunning hotel with views over Yellowstone Lake.
Even if you don’t reserve an overnight stay, the hotel is still worth paying a visit for a quick snack or coffee break indoors.
Try Whitewater Rafting on the Yellowstone River
For those feeling like a more adventurous activity in Yellowstone, consider a guided whitewater rafting trip. You can book trips here for guided tours on the Yellowstone River for a blend of exciting rapids and unique views of the park.
You’ll get to experience the park from the water while getting your heart rate up a bit.
Visit Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
Visiting Hayden and Lamar Valley for wildlife sightings is a great way to spend an evening in Yellowstone. However, if you’re interested in learning more about Yellowstone’s wildlife and conservation efforts, pay a visit to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.
Located near the West Entrance to the park, the center is home to grizzly bears and gray wolves that are unable to survive on their own in the wild.
They were rescued from life-threatening circumstances and allowed to safely live in the center where visitors can view and learn about them up close.
Attend an Evening Ranger Talk
Most campgrounds throughout the park offer evening ranger talks at amphitheaters within the campground. Park rangers cover topics relating to the animals, plants, landscape, and history of the park each evening, usually accompanied by a presentation slideshow with photos.
Talk schedules can be found at the entrance to most campgrounds and at nearby visitor centers. Make yourself a warm cup of tea or hot chocolate then bundle up to learn more about the incredible forces at work in Yellowstone.
Where to Stay Near Yellowstone National Park
If you’ve decided to visit Yellowstone vs Glacier, then you’re going to need to find a great place to stay. There are lots of options within easy reach of the park entrances. These are a few top suggestions:
Bentwood Inn – A rustic lodge located in Wilson, WY, this bed and breakfast is an excellent option. They have a range of comfortable rooms available and a good location for exploring the nearby national parks. Click here to see their availability
Yellowstone Park Hotel – This hotel is great for mid-range travelers looking for a good base for exploring the national park. Situated in West Yellowstone, MT, it is well-located to a park entrance and they have a range of comfortable rooms available to suit all kinds of visitors. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – For those who want to have their own space – like this condo close to the Park’s west entrance – finding a private rental is a great option. There are lots of properties available to choose from near Yellowstone that can suit many group sizes and travel styles. Click here to browse private rentals near Yellowstone!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Yellowstone hotels!
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is home to towering mountains and sprawling valleys that make for impressive natural sites. It’s home to over 700 miles of hiking trails to experience the park up close. Glacier was established in May 1910 and has since become one of the most famous national parks in the country.
The park was named for its many active glaciers that make it unique. Here’s what you need to know when deciding if a visit to Glacier is right for you.
Just like with Yellowstone National Park, many roads crisscrossing Glacier National Park are seasonal. A visit during summer increases the likelihood that all the many thoroughfares will be open for visitors. However, the summer is also the busiest time of year, so plan accordingly.
Winter limits where you can visit in the park, but Glacier National Park in winter is an impressive landscape to experience.
It’s recommended that you rent a car or drive into the park. The best way to experience Glacier is by car and on your own schedule. However, when driving throughout the park there are a few things to keep in mind. Glacier is partially in Montana and partially in British Columbia, Canada.
Visiting both sections of the park will require a border crossing. If this is part of your itinerary, make sure you have the proper documents on hand for a seamless crossing. There are also no gas stations in the park.
Make sure you fill up your vehicle’s tank before entering and be mindful of how full it is throughout your visit. Gas stations are available in the small towns just outside the park boundaries.
Unlike Yellowstone, Glacier does offer a shuttle service throughout the park. Make sure to research the schedule and drop spots when planning your trip if you plan to utilize the shuttle. There is also a hiker’s shuttle for those looking to get between different trailheads and lodges, but reservations are required.
On average, you should plan to spend about $100 per day during your visit to Glacier National Park. The overall price of the trip can be decreased if you opt for camping and cooking for yourself. Don’t forget to purchase a park pass, which comes to $35 for a 7-day pass.
Staying at a lodge in Glacier is generally less expensive than staying in a lodge in Yellowstone, however, it’s no less competitive. If you want to stay inside the park, whether that’s at a lodge or camping, try to make reservations as early as possible.
Keep tabs on when reservations open for the time you’re planning to visit. If you’re planning on spending time in the backcountry, make sure all your permits are in order.
Similar to Yellowstone, Glacier also offers gateway towns near the park entrances. These towns have accommodations, dining, and grocery shopping. You can also choose to camp here. Prices in these towns are usually less expensive than in the park.
They also offer more resources that might be in short supply within park boundaries, like gas stations.
Things to do in Glacier National Park
Hike to Hidden Lake Overlook
Hidden Lake, as the name would suggest, is tucked back away behind Logan Pass Visitor Center. Look for the Hanging Gardens Trailhead behind the visitor center and follow a stairway to reach the trailhead.
The entire hike is exposed, so make sure you have sunscreen on hand. Some of the trail is paved while some is a raised boardwalk.
Plan to walk through two or three small snowfields depending on the time of year. After 1.35 miles, you’ll arrive at the Hidden Lake Overlook–an impressive view of the valley and mountains surrounding Hidden Lake and Logan Pass.
Take a Two Medicine Lake Boat Tour
Consider seeing Glacier National Park from the water by taking a boat tour on Two Medicine Lake. When you make your reservation, you’ll ride on the oldest wooden historic boat in the fleet, Sinopah. You’ll get to absorb all the scenery the lake has to offer along with learning a little bit more about the area.
The boat will dock at the head of the lake where you can opt to hop off and take to Twin Falls or stay on the boat for the return trip. Remember that you do need to make a reservation and boat tours are only open during the warmer months.
Hike Logan Pass to Find Mountain Goats
Beginning at the Logan Pass visitor center, you have a few options for how you want to experience the area. For those seeking to get away from the crowds and find where the park’s mountain goats reside, we recommend hiking the Highline Trail.
In total, the trail is about 7.6 miles from Logan Pass to the Granite Park Chalet. You’ll hike along the Garden Wall, a thin section of trail not for the faint of heart, and through deep valleys with towering mountains on either side.
Keep an eye out for mountain goats and bighorn sheep.
Rise Early for a Lakeside Sunrise
With all the lakes and mountains Glacier National Park has to offer, it should come as no surprise that there are several options for an incredible sunrise. First and foremost, and the one we recommend, is Lake McDonald.
The sunrise casts hues of orange, pink, and yellow across the mountains and lake. It will surely be one of the best sunrises you’ve ever seen. Combined with the colorful pebbles under clear water, this is a photographer’s paradise.
If you’re not an early riser, there are still several places throughout the park where you can catch a spectacular sunset.
Paddle Board on Lake McDonald
During the summer, Lake McDonald is a stunning, if not chilly, break from the heat. Don’t be surprised to see people swimming or kayaking in the lake. In fact, we recommend you take to the water in a kayak or paddle board to explore the lake from its surface.
You’ll be able to see right down the bottom in places, but don’t be fooled. The water is deep, but the clearness of the water means you can look down to see fish and colorful pebbles.
You can rent SUP and kayaks at Apgar by the lake.
Try Backcountry Horseback Riding
Kicking off from Many Glacier, Lake McDonald, and Apgar, guided horseback tours head into the backcountry as yet another way visitors can experience Glacier National Park. Swan Mountain Outfitters offers regular tours throughout the summer.
If you schedule a horseback ride into the backcountry, you will need to purchase a backcountry permit. However, if you’re not interested in trekking on foot and want to experience Glacier from behind the scenes, consider doing it by horseback.
Where to Stay Near Glacier National Park
If this Montana national park has won your heart in the great Glacier vs Yellowstone debate, then you’re going to need to find a great base for exploring this incredible natural area. There are lots of places to choose from that can suit all kinds of budgets and styles. If you’re wondering where to stay, have a look through these suggestions:
The Ridge at Glacier – Comfortable houses that are a great option if travelling as a family or with a group of friends. Each house has cooking facilities and a fireplace. Click here to see their availability
Under Canvas Glacier – They offer luxury safari tents with some options including a private bathroom and a place to sit. There is a 24-hour reception and some cooking facilities. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – If you’d rather stay in a private place near Glacier National Park, there are many options on offer. Places like this mountain view cabin are plentiful. Click here to browse more Glacier National Park private rentals
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels near Glacier National Park!
Yellowstone vs Glacier National Park: Which is Better to Visit
Deciding whether to visit Yellowstone or Glacier National Park might feel like an impossible decision as both parks are incredible in their own ways.
If you’re hoping to do more hiking to reach areas of the park, Glacier is the best choice for you. You’ll most likely encounter less people and have more opportunities for exploring the backcountry here too.
On the other hand, if you want a wide variety of landscapes to explore, plan a trip to Yellowstone. Between geysers and waterfalls and hot springs and more, you’ll never have a dull day. However, Yellowstone sees a lot of visitors, so be prepared to deal with crowds during your visit.
All that said, both parks offer their visitors a gateway into exquisite natural wonders that will be perfect settings for your getaway.
Whether you choose to visit Glacier National Park or Yellowstone instead, you’re sure to fall in love with the incredible natural beauty these places have to offer.
Are you struggling to choose between Yellowstone vs Glacier National Park? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!