National Park Guide

How to Plan a Yellowstone National Park Stargazing Trip in 2024

Yellowstone National Park, known for its geysers and wildlife, transforms at night into a stargazer’s paradise. This is where the cosmic ballet of constellations, planets, and distant galaxies plays out in an uninterrupted panorama, untouched by urban light pollution. From the dance of the meteors streaking across the sky to the mysterious band of the Milky Way, the stargazing in Yellowstone offers an intimate rendezvous with the universe’s vast expanse.

Yellowstone National Park Stargazing - Castle Geyser
Photo credit: NPS/Neal Herbert

If you want to plan a Yellowstone National Park stargazing trip, let this resource be your guide. Below I cover everything you need to plan a successful trip to go stargazing in America’s oldest national park: when to plan your trip, how to get there, where to go, and what to do during the day after long lights under the stars. As you’ll soon see, Yellowstone has well earned its place on my list of the best national parks for stargazing.

Ready to explore all that Yellowstone has to offer, both during the day and after dark? Let’s go!

In this post, I promote traveling to a national park that is the traditional lands of the Newe Sogobia (Eastern Shoshone), Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla, Apsáalooke (Crow), and Tséstho’e (Cheyenne) peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

This post was originally published in July 2023, and was updated most recently in April 2024.

How to Get to Yellowstone National Park

The first thing you need to sort out before you start planning your Yellowstone National Park stargazing adventure is how to actually get to the park. 

Yellowstone is quite remote. It sits in the northwest corner of Wyoming. However, there are several cities nearby from where you can reach: Salt Lake City, UT, at 4.5 hours; Idaho Falls, ID, at 1.5 hours; and Jackson, WY, at 1.5 hours. 

By far, the best way to reach Yellowstone is flying and then renting a car to visit. The closest and easiest airport is Yellowstone Airport in Montana. This is a seasonal airport and is open from June through September. But, of course, when it closes, you can fly into larger airports, like Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport or Billings Logan International Airport. 

No matter which city you arrive in, the next step is renting a car. You need a car to explore Yellowstone as the park has no public transportation or other means inside. 

Here are the park’s five entrances. Several entrances are closed to regular vehicles during winter and driving between them takes many hours. This said, check the road’s status and the entrances before starting your journey.

  • North Entrance (near Gardiner, Montana) – U.S. 89
  • Northeast Entrance (near Cooke City, Montana) – U.S. 212
  • South Entrance (near Jackson, Wyoming) – U.S. 191
  • East Entrance (near Cody, Wyoming) – U.S. 20
  • West Entrance (near West Yellowstone, Montana) – U.S. 20 and U.S. 191

Where to Go Stargazing in Yellowstone National Park

You can’t organize a Yellowstone National Park stargazing trip without knowing the best places to look at stars. Let me tell you, you’ll be spoiled with choice!

Upper Geyser Basin

During the day, the Upper Geyser Basin is visually stunning. This area is known for having a bountiful array of geysers, fumaroles, and other geothermal oddities like Old Faithful. At night, you can find a peaceful spot away from the crowds to observe the stars above the geysers and hot springs. Just make sure you’re not taken by surprise when the famous geyser erupts!

Dunraven Pass

Stargazers know altitude is a crucial variable when stargazing. Located at an elevation of around 8,859 feet, Dunraven Pass provides a higher vantage point and less light pollution. It offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and is a great place for stargazing. 

Mammoth Hot Springs 

Yellowstone National Park Stargazing - Mammoth Hot Springs
Photo credit: NPS/Neal Herbert

In addition to its unique terraces and hot springs, Mammoth Hot Springs also offers good opportunities for stargazing in Yellowstone. The area has relatively low light pollution and provides a serene setting for observing the night sky.

Mount Washburn Peak

If you’re up for a hike, Mount Washburn offers breathtaking views of the park during the day and a stunning view of the night sky once the sun sets behind the horizon. The higher elevation – it’s perched at 10,219 feet– provides a clear view of the stars and the surrounding landscape.

Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley is famous for its wildlife viewing opportunities. But it doesn’t disappoint in the stargazing department either. This area is remote and has minimal light pollution, making it an ideal spot to enjoy the night sky and possibly catch a glimpse of the Milky Way.

Swan Lake Flat

For those who appreciate solitude, Swan Lake Flat is located in the southern part of the park. It is a vast open area with a lake nestled beneath the mountains and provides unobstructed views of the night sky. 

Yellowstone National Park Stargazing - Black Pool

Hayden Valley

Hayden Valley is an amazing place to see the rolling plains of grass surrounded by mountains with rivers winding through the valley. This area is also pretty solitary, though you can expect some company! Bison and deer call this valley home and roam around freely. If you can stay awake until sunrise, you won’t be disappointed.

Madison Amphitheater

Situated near the Madison Junction, the Madison Amphitheater is a very popular place for stargazing in Yellowstone National Park due to its viewing conditions. Most ranger-led programs are held here. For many years, it was also the designated stargazing spot for the Stars Over Yellowstone summer astronomy programs.

Where to Stay Near Yellowstone National Park

Next on our checklist is finding a place where you can spend a few days. You’ll find below a good number of hotels, for those who fancy more comfort, and campgrounds, for those who fancy some nature, you can call home during your stay at Yellowstone.

  • Old Faithful Inn – Located within Yellowstone National Park, the benefit of staying at Old Faithful Inn is the location. It is only steps away from Old Faithful and you can also see the famous geyser from the large hotel balcony.
  • Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins – As the name suggests, this hotel is situated on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. This hotel offers stunning views and a variety of accommodation options, including rooms in the main hotel building and cozy cabins. Oh, and the lobby itself is gorgeous and a great place to relax. There is a bar, fireplace, lots of comfy seating, and wifi!
  • Canyon Lodge and Cabins – Nestled in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, this lodge has an excellent location, right next to Yellowstone Falls. It allows you to walk around the entire area of the falls and the hiking trails without any particular problem. 
  • Grant Village – This hotel sits on the southwestern shore of Yellowstone Lake. You should expect what a hotel in a national park can offer: a clean room with comfortable beds. It isn’t going to be a new hotel packed with amenities, so if that’s your expectation you’re going to be disappointed.
  • Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins – Situated near the park’s north entrance, this hotel provides easy access to the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces and Lamar Valley. It offers a range of room types and cabins.
  • Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins – Tucked away in the northern part of the park, Roosevelt Lodge offers a more rustic experience. The lodge features cozy cabins, a dining room, and access to horseback riding, and other outdoor activities.

Yellowstone National Park also has 12 campgrounds with over 2,000 established campsites; you can see the full list here. All campsites must be reserved in advance, except for Mammoth Campground which offers first-come, first-served sites from October 15 – April 1. 

What to See & Do During the Day in Yellowstone National Park

Your Yellowstone National Park stargazing adventure won’t be complete without a couple of activities to fill your days until the night comes. Luckily, Yellowstone is a vast natural wonderland with no shortage of activities and sights to explore during the day:

  • Old Faithful: Witness the iconic eruption of the Old Faithful geyser. It’s one of the most famous geysers in the world and erupts approximately every 90 minutes.
  • Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone: Visit the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and take in the breathtaking views of the vibrant yellow cliffs, roaring waterfalls like Lower Falls, and hiking trails along the rim.
  • The Grand Prismatic Spring: Located in the Midway Geyser Basin, the Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the United States and the third-largest in the world. Saying the spring is a visual spectacle is an understatement. The center of the pool is a deep blue, surrounded by vibrant shades of green, yellow, and orange as a result of the microbial mats that surround the pool.
  • Mammoth Hot Springs: Explore the Mammoth Hot Springs area, known for its stunning terraces formed by mineral-rich hot springs. Take a walk on the boardwalks to observe the colorful and intricate formations.
  • Wildlife Watching: Yellowstone is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including bears, wolves, elk, bison, and more. Drive through Lamar Valley or Hayden Valley, known as wildlife hotspots, and keep your eyes peeled for these magnificent creatures.
  • Yellowstone Lake: Enjoy the serene beauty of Yellowstone Lake, one of the largest high-altitude lakes in North America. Take a boat tour, go fishing, or simply relax on the shore and soak in the picturesque surroundings.
  • Norris Geyser Basin: Explore the geothermal wonders of Norris Geyser Basin, the hottest and most active geyser basin in Yellowstone. Walk along the boardwalks and marvel at the bubbling hot springs, steam vents, and geysers.
  • Hayden Valley: Drive through Hayden Valley, located between Yellowstone Lake and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This vast meadow is a prime spot for wildlife viewing, especially for bison and elk.
  • Hiking: Yellowstone offers numerous hiking trails for all skill levels. Consider hiking the Upper Geyser Basin to see various geysers or embark on longer trails like Mount Washburn for stunning panoramic views.
  • Artist Point: Visit Artist Point, located on the south rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It offers a picturesque viewpoint of the canyon and the majestic Lower Falls.
  • Tower Fall: Admire the 132-foot-tall Tower Fall, located near the Tower-Roosevelt Junction. There’s a short trail leading to the viewpoint where you can appreciate the beauty of the waterfall.

Other FAQ About Stargazing in Yellowstone National Park

Have a few more questions to keep planning your Yellowstone National Park stargazing adventure? Then check the section below for the answers! 

When is the best time to go stargazing in Yellowstone?

Yellowstone National Park Stargazing - Castle Geyser
Photo credit: NPS/Neal Herbert

The best time to go stargazing in Yellowstone is during the spring and fall months, from between April and October. 

August is a prime month to staragze in Yellowstone because it’s when the Perseid meteor shower takes place. Also, it’s worth taking into account the weather as things can get quite chilly in Yellowston.

Can you see the Milky Way while stargazing in Yellowstone? When?

Yes, it is possible to see the Milky Way while stargazing in Yellowstone, as you’ve seen in pictures in this post! The park’s dark skies and limited light pollution provide excellent conditions for observing the Milky Way, especially during new moon phases when the sky is at its darkest. The best months to see the Milky Way is between April and October.

Can you see the northern lights in Yellowstone?

Yellowstone National Park Stargazing - Aurora
Photo credit: NPS/Neal Herbert

While Yellowstone National Park is located at a relatively high latitude, making it theoretically possible to see the northern lights (aurora borealis), sightings within the park itself are rare. The northern lights are generally more commonly observed at higher latitudes, such as in Alaska or northern Canada.

Is Yellowstone National Park open at night? 

Yes, Yellowstone National Park is open at night. However, it’s important to note that certain areas and facilities within the park may have specific operating hours or seasonal closures. Some roads, trails, or attractions may have restricted access during the night, so it’s advisable to check the park’s official website or contact park authorities for the most up-to-date information regarding nighttime access.

Yellowstone National Park Stargazing - Yellowstone Lake

Are there guided night tours in Yellowstone?

Yellowstone National Park offers various ranger-led programs and guided tours. However, they vary by year and season. There aren’t any night tours in the park’s caldera currently. But check their website often for the latest news! 

Is there a dark sky festival in Yellowstone?

Unfortunately, no. There are no dark sky festivals hosted in Yellowstone.

Have any other questions about planning a Yellowstone National Park stargazing trip? Let me know in the comments below!

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Valerie is the founder and editor of Space Tourism Guide. She grew up in Alaska, has lived across the U.S., and traveled around the world to enjoy the night sky from many different perspectives. Join her on this journey to explore space right here on earth.

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