You’re headed to one of the most iconic national parks in the world, but you’re not sure what to put on your Yellowstone packing list. Don’t worry! We’ve got you covered!
Visiting Yellowstone National Park was one of the most memorable road trips our family has taken (you can find our detailed 3-day itinerary on our blog). We try to be minimalist packers, but we also like to make sure we have all the important things.
I have a love for beautiful, useful things, so I created a FREE, printable pdf of our Yellowstone Packing List for you!
Here’s what’s on our packing list for Yellowstone:
Bears were my number one concern when we started planning our trip to Yellowstone. We’re from California and bears are a normal part of mountain exploration…but not grizzly bears.
Black bears in California will break into your car, crack open your ice chest, tear open your backpack, and eat all your food. But, generally, they leave humans alone.
Grizzly bears in Yellowstone generally leave people alone, too, but if they are surprised on a trail, they may attack. So, you want to be prepared.
While sounds scary, there’s good news: we saw a grizzly bear, and we’re still here to talk about it. The best news is that it was far enough away we didn’t need bear spray.
It isn’t necessary to carry bear spray on highly trafficked trails, but you will want it if you plan to hike in less-trafficked areas.
Rent or Buy Bear Spray
Bear spray can be purchased throughout the park at gift shops and stores, or outside the park at sporting goods stores (think Walmart or REI). You can also order it on Amazon, just make sure it’s an EPA approved bottle like this one. If you want to save a few dollars, you can rent bear spray at Yellowstone Canyon Village.
Mosquito and Bug Repellent
If you’re visiting Yellowstone during the summer, you may encounter mosquitos. The good news is, they typically only hang out around dawn and dusk. The bad news is, there are A LOT of them.
My son and I tend to be mosquito magnetics (apparently we metabolize cholesterol quickly, creating a tasty smell on our skin that attracts mosquitos).
We use this natural repellent and opted to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants first thing in the morning and evening to help deter the crazy critters.
Also, eating around the campfire helps, too!
Poncho or Rain Jacket
Afternoon thunderstorms can occur, so pack your favorite rain jacket or poncho. I prefer ponchos because they are nice and small, taking up less room in my suitcase. They’re easy to throw over a t-shirt, sweatshirt, or jacket, depending on the temperature.
Long Sleeves and Pants (even in summer)
The elevation of Yellowstone varies several thousand feet throughout the park, averaging around 8,000 feet above sea level. Even if it’s warm during the day, the evenings can get cool (plus, don’t forget about mosquitos). Do yourself a favor and pack some jeans and long-sleeved shirts even during the summer.
Sweatshirt and/or Jacket
Layers are the name of the game when it comes to packing for Yellowstone. Tanks, short sleeves, long sleeves, sweatshirts, and a jacket are all things you’ll want to put in your bag!
Your iPhone is great for many shots, but if you’re hoping to get some close-up shots of wildlife, you’ll want a camera with a telephoto lens. Park officials advise that guests stay 100 yards away from wolves and bears, and 25 yards away from elk, deer, bison, and other large animals.
We brought and borrowed a few pairs of binoculars for the whole family to share, but we often wished we had a pair of binoculars for each person. We spent quite a bit of time looking at wildlife–it was something that was a highlight of the trip for our kids (and us)!
When I think Yellowstone, swimming isn’t usually the first activity that pops into my mind. Swimming in hot springs is forbidden (dangerously hot!). However, there are a couple of places that are recognized as safe swim areas. Water from the hot springs mixes with the cold water of the river, making for perfect swimming temperatures.
These two areas are called the Boiling River (near Mammoth) and Firehole (near Madison Junction). Check the National Parks website to confirm operating hours for swimming/soaking as well as updates and current conditions.
While sunny and bright conditions aren’t guaranteed, it’s nice to have something to block the glare on those summer days (or any time of the year). Plus, did you know that you can get skin cancer in your eye? Yep. That’s why I don’t go anywhere without my sunglasses…plus, I have unusually large pupils, making it hard to see on bright days.
Throw in your favorite hat to shield you from the afternoon sun. I’m a baseball cap, trucker cap gal, but I probably should be a wide-brimmed hat type. I do have long hair, though, that typically covers my neck and ears.
We try to keep a bottle in our vehicle and a small travel-size bottle in our backpack. We didn’t notice the sun being particularly intense during our stay (you are pretty far north), but it’s always a good idea to protect your skin.
Refillable Water Bottle
Conserve space and reduce waste by bringing your refillable water bottle! There are water refilling stations throughout the park.
There are two places I like to take my external charger: Disney and on the trail. Service is spotty and non-existent throughout much of the park (yay for unplugging!), but if you’re taking a lot of video or pictures, you may need to recharge your battery.
First Aid Kit
Fortunately, we didn’t need this on our last trip, but you never know! We keep one in the back of our vehicle…just in case!
If you’re unlucky, like me, you’ll want something to help with the itching, post-mosquito-fest. Some people like cream or lotion. I’m a bit more natural (avoid chemicals as much as possible), so I like to bring along some activated charcoal or clay. Just mix it with a little water and spread it over the bites. It will bind to the toxins and help reduce the itch!
Because cell service is so spotty, you’ll want to have an old-school back-up plan. When you check-into the park, you should receive a park map. Otherwise, you can download a pdf before you enter the park.
What? Why do you need mailing addresses? We love dropping a postcard in the mail to friends and family while we’re on a road trip. It’s always helpful to save these to your phone before your trip for easy access!
Even if you don’t plan to do any crazy hikes, it’s always nice to have a backpack or daypack for hauling around your essentials. Throw in your wallet (yes, there’s ice cream in Yellowstone!), ponchos, water bottles, sunscreen, maps, phone charger, and snacks!
Hiking boots may not be your thing, but at the very least, you’ll want to bring some comfortable walking shoes. Between exploring hot springs, boiling mud pots, waterfalls, and valleys, you can do a fair amount of walking over the course of a day. Be comfortable!
Cash for Showers
We opted to stay at Canyon Campground because we’re tent campers and Cayon Campground has luxurious, hot showers. Well, they’re not actually luxurious, but they sure seem fancy-pancy when you’re spending every living moment outdoors.
Showers aren’t your typical coin-operated type. Instead, there’s a shower attendant that you give a few bucks to in exchange for unlimited hot water. It’s all kinds of lovely.
If you plan to jump in the river (at the designated areas) or take a shower, you’ll want a towel. They had some small towels at the shower facilities (that had to stay in the facility), but we prefer to take our own.
Flashlight or Headlamp
There are no street lights in the great outdoors. You’ll want a flashlight or headlamp if you plan to do any walking (even if it’s to the restroom) at night. Headlamps are also handy for setting up camp after dark, keeping your hands free so you can put together your camp faster!
Get a FREE Printable Packing List for Yellowstone
To make your life easier (I’m all about saving time and money), I’ve created a FREE Yellowstone packing list for you to download!
Use it in combination with your general packing list and my camping basics list and you’ll be ready to go!
Have any questions about packing for Yellowstone? Drop them below!