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Packing 101: Yellowstone Summer Packing List

Heading to the world’s first national park this summer? Make sure these items are on your packing list.

yellowstone packing listEach year, Yellowstone sees nearly 4 million visitors from around the world, with the majority of travelers touring the park between May and September. If you’re planning to visit during the National Park Service’s Centennial Celebration this year, this packing list will help you prepare for what promises to be be an awe-inspiring adventure.

Yellowstone was designed so that many of the most popular scenic outlooks are accessible by car or motor coach (and sometimes a short walk afterward). But you won’t spend your trip simply looking out your window. Each area of the park has plenty of paths and boardwalks that make it easy to investigate bubbling mud pots, to wait to snap the perfect photo of an erupting geyser, or to get the lay of the land from a mountaintop overlook. A full day of sightseeing in the park can mean varying altitudes, fluctuating temperatures and even different tree coverage, so packing a suitcase with just the right items can be very important.

Clothing For Your Packing List

Getting an early start is one of the best ways to beat the crowds and maximize your time in Yellowstone. But sunrise wake-up calls can also mean chilly temperatures, even during the summer. Dress in layers to account for a rise in temperature throughout the day. A middle- to lightweight jacket—bonus points if it’s water-resistant to serve dual purposes—should do the trick for outerwear. In the middle of summer, shorts are a good option for bottoms. General trails are wide and well-maintained, so covering your legs isn’t necessary unless you’re hiking backcountry trails (in which case, hiking boots are also advised to be on your packing list).

Since some areas of the park have little tree coverage, hats are recommended. Make sure you have an adjustable hat that fits tightly or a brimmed hat with a chin strap. The area around hot springs can get windy. A fly-away hat means you’ve not only lost your head covering, but you might have also disturbed the delicate ecosystems surrounding the hot springs. Speaking of the hot springs, make sure your packing list includes polarized sunglasses, which will make the vibrant colors created by bacteria colonies in the warm waters look even more amazing and pop.

In Your Pack

Never set out for the day without a water bottle in your pack (or a pack that has a built-in water container). Snacks are also great to have on hand; granola bars, trail mix, fruit, crackers and nuts are all great options. You can typically find these kinds of snacks at markets outside of each entrance, as well as in the general stores throughout the park. If you’re traveling independently, consider a bringing a collapsible cooler to keep in your car as you travel to different sections of the park.

Sunscreen is also a must, even early and late in the season, when temperatures aren’t as warm, and on cloudy days. Higher altitude means you’re closer to the sun, so although it might feel chilly, you have a higher risk of getting burned. At the height of summer, bug spray is also nice to have and should be on your packing list. Backcountry hikers should also carry bear spray.

Even if you’re visiting Yellowstone as part of a guided tour, having a map on hand is always a good way to get the lay of the land. If your tour group isn’t carrying a first-aid kit, you’ll want to bring your own just in case. Nothing ruins a day of exploring like a blister without proper bandaging.

A Few Extras

A trip to Yellowstone isn’t all geysers, trails and bison sightings. You’ll also have plenty of time to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery over a delicious meal or with a drink in your hand. Don’t forget to have few nice outfits on your packing list for a sunset dinner at Lake Yellowstone Hotel overlooking Yellowstone Lake or cocktails with a view of Old Faithful at the Old Faithful Inn. Although the dress code is casual, visitors tend to enjoy dressing up a bit after a day of fun in the park.

The one thing travelers typically regret not packing in their suitcase? Binoculars. The park is huge, and while many times animals come close enough to the roads and trails to get a good look, having binoculars means you can spot those faraway critters.

Inset photo by: iStock

The expert Travel Counselors at AAA can help you plan the perfect Yellowstone vacation. Call 877-396-7159 or visit your local branch to learn more.

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David Kallas, AAA Travel Counselor, Murray, Utah

I'm all about once-in-a-lifetime trips to destinations such as the Cook Islands, Australia or an African safari. I love to plan trips that my clients return from not regretting anything.

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