Yellowstone National Park
A Natural Wonder Awaiting Your Adventure!
Immerse yourself in the breathtaking beauty and awe-inspiring wonders of Yellowstone National Park. Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, this pristine wilderness is a true testament to the raw power and remarkable resilience of nature. With its vast landscapes, vibrant geothermal features, and abundant wildlife, Yellowstone offers an unforgettable escape into the great outdoors.
The World’s First National Park
On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone became the first national park for all to enjoy the unique hydrothermal and geologic features. Within Yellowstone’s 2.2 million acres, visitors have unparalleled opportunities to observe wildlife in an intact ecosystem, explore geothermal areas that contain about half the world’s active geysers, and view geologic wonders like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.
Yellowstone at a Glance
- Yellowstone is the core of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the largest intact temperate-zone ecosystems remaining on the planet.
- It’s often referred to as the Serengeti of North America because it is home to gray wolves, elk, deer, bison, pronghorn antelope, moose, and black and grizzly bears.
- In addition to the geothermal features and wildlife, Yellowstone is teeming with adventure and fun for everyone!
- Are you traveling with kids? The Old Faithful Visitor Education Center has a kids’ room with a working model geyser. While there, the National Park Service Junior Ranger program features science, art, and history projects. Students who complete the program can receive an official Junior Ranger badge!
Public vehicle entry into Yellowstone National Park will be allowed based on two factors: whether the last numerical digit on a license plate is odd or even and whether the calendar day is odd or even.
Alternating License Plate System
- To balance the demand for visitor access, the park has implemented an interim Alternating License Plate System.
- Public entry into the park is based on your license plate.
- The National Park Service (NPS) will actively monitor the license plate system for impacts to resources, visitor experience, staffing, operations, infrastructure, and gateway communities and may adjust the ALPS or implement a reservation or timed entry system at any time.
- License plates with an odd-numbered last digit can enter on odd days of the month.
- License plates with an even-numbered last digit (including zero) can enter on even days of the month.
- Personalized plates with a mix of letters and numbers that end with a letter (i.e. YELL4EVR) will still use the last numerical digit on the plate to determine entrance days.
- Personalized plates without numbers (i.e. YLWSTNE) will be allowed to enter on odd days of the month.
- Motorcycle groups traveling together (two or more) where all license plates in the group don’t correspond to the date may enter on even dates only.
- Entrance station staff will turn away vehicles attempting to enter the park when the odd/even numerical digits do not correspond to the odd/even calendar date for entrance.
- Allowed to enter the park on any day of the month:
- Current commercial use operators with active commercial use permits.
- Visitors with proof of overnight reservations in the park.
- Commercial motor coaches.
- Essential services like mail and delivery, employees, and contractors.
Do I need a reservation to enter the park?
Vehicle reservations are not required to enter the park – just a park entrance pass. Save time at entrance stations by purchasing your pass online before you arrive. Keep in mind that summer is busy, so be prepared for crowds at popular areas and lines at the entrance gates, in construction areas, and at roadside wildlife sightings. Please be patient and enjoy your visit.
How did Yellowstone get its name?
Yellowstone National Park is named after the Yellowstone River, the major river running through the park. According to French-Canadian trappers in the 1800s, they asked the name of the river from the Minnetaree tribe, who live in what is now eastern Montana. They responded “Mi tse a-da-zi,” which literally translates as “Rock Yellow River.” The trappers translated this into French as “Roche Jaune” or “Pierre Jaune.” In 1797, explorer-geographer David Thompson used the English translation—“Yellow Stone.” Lewis and Clark called the Yellowstone River by the French and English forms. Subsequent use formalized the name as “Yellowstone.
Is Yellowstone the most visited national park?
Yellowstone is in the top five national parks for number of recreational visitors. Great Smoky Mountains National Park often has the most. Visit https://irma.nps.gov/Stats/ to view up-to-date statistics for all national parks.
Can we swim in rivers and lakes?
Swimming is not recommended because most lakes and streams are dangerously cold. Firehole Canyon, near Madison Junction, has a swimming area popular in summer. Soaking in thermal features is illegal. Swimming is allowed during daylight hours only and at your own risk.
Questions About Reservations
What if I have dining reservations (but no overnight reservations) at an in-park lodge on a date that does not correlate with my license plate number?
There will not be an exception for visitors with dining reservations. Please call Yellowstone National Park Lodges to reschedule your dining reservation.
How do we prove multiple vehicles are in the same group staying in overnight accommodations in the park?
Each vehicle associated with an overnight reservation should have a digital or printed copy of their reservation. Please print or download these in advance, as cell service and data is unavailable or limited at entrance stations.
What if I have an overnight reservation in another gateway community?
You may travel through the park to another gateway community only on days that you have the correct license plate.
I have a one-night camping reservation in the park. Will that reservation allow entry on both the check-in and check-out date? For example, can I exit and re-enter the park on my check-out day?
No, you may not enter the park on your check-out day unless your license plate corresponds with the date.
Will visitors with reservations for lodging/campgrounds that will no longer be open be exempt from the ALPS rules?
What if I have a tour reservation that leaves from inside the park? Will I still be able to enter the park to get to the tour, and what will I need to show at the entrance station?
If you have a tour reservation that leaves from inside the park (i.e. photography tour, horseback ride, boat tour, etc.), you will need to show your tour or booking receipt to the entrance station for entry on the day of your tour if you don’t have a license plate that corresponds to the date.
Questions About License Plates
What if I’m driving a vehicle with an in-transit/invoice license plate?
Temporary and in-transit or other similar tags should follow ALPS and use the last digit to determine entry date. If the temporary tag or in-transit tag has no number, it will be treated like a vanity plate.
What if I don’t have a license plate?
Vehicles without plates should not be on the road and will not be allowed to enter the park. If a vehicle is in transit to a rental car company, the operator should be able to produce the transit tag or paperwork. If no number is on that transit tag, it will be treated like a vanity plate.
Why doesn’t Yellowstone just use the same reservation system as other national parks?
Prior to implementing ALPS, Yellowstone conducted extensive outreach to the public and gateway communities, including conversations with over 1000 businesses. Communities and the public preferred the ALPS primarily because it provides some level of certainty to visitors; people will be able to rely on entering the park for approximately half of their planned visit. Yellowstone has developed a timed entry reservation similar to those used at other parks and can implement if ALPS does not meet the intended goals.
Questions About Facilities
Will entrance stations still be open 24/7?
Why are certain campgrounds closed during the south loop reopening?
Some campgrounds in the south loop remain closed due to limitations on staffing and operations.
When will facilities that are currently closed re-open?
Please visit Operating Hours and Seasons for updated information on openings and operations. For flood-specific updates, visit Flood Recovery and Operations.
Can I cut through the park to save travel time on a day that does not correlate with my license plate number?
When will park entrance passes be available for purchase again online?
Online passes will not be available online for the remainder of ALPS because digital passes are difficult to refund.
How did Yellowstone decide on implementing the Alternating License Plate System (ALPS)?
Since June 13, 2022, park staff have engaged over 1,000 business owners, park partners, commercial operators and residents in surrounding gateway communities to determine how to manage summer visitation while the north loop remains closed due to flood damage. To balance the demand for visitor access, park resource protection, and economic interests of the communities, the Alternating License Plate System was suggested by gateway communities as an interim solution during major public engagement with the park. Park managers and partners have agreed the ALPS system is the best interim solution to ensure the south loop does not become overwhelmed by visitors. In case the ALPS system does not work as planned, the National Park Service is concurrently building a new reservation system that will be ready for implementation.