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Packing for a visit to the gorgeous Yellowstone National Park can be a challenge. The terrain is varied, the weather unpredictable and the elevations diverse. This Yellowstone packing list will make sure you have the all of the basics covered (plus a few extras to consider) so you won’t be caught at the iconic natural wonder without the things you need, from hiking boots to bear spray.
I am lucky enough to have visited Yellowstone National Park twice. Both times in late summer/early fall. The weather ranged from sunny and 80F (26.6C) to cold and snowing. Such a huge weather variance can be a huge packing challenge.
This Yellowstone packing list includes the basics and a number of “just in case” items that you’ll be glad you have should the weather suddenly turns nasty.
Yellowstone Packing List: The Basics
Layering is the key to a successful trip to Yellowstone. Here’s what to include:
Choose underwear that wicks away moisture, such as these great insulating layers from REI. Choose a sleeveless or short sleeved top for summer. Long underwear is a definite must-pack item if you’re heading to Yellowstone in the early spring, late fall or winter.
Short or Long-Sleeved T-Shirts
Shirts in a moisture-wicking material work best as the next layer. Stay away from cotton, which can get wet with sweat. I’m a big fan of these quick-drying Patagonia products, especially the long-sleeved shirts.
Convertible Hiking Pants
I love the pants that can be zipped off to become shorts. It’s a real treat when the sun heats up the day to be able to easily turn your pants into shorts. I look for pants with extra pockets so I can keep my cell phone, external phone charger and sun glasses close — no need to dig in my daypack to find them.
Warm Outer Layer
Fleece is always my go-to. I prefer zip-up front fleece jackets to pull-overs because it’s easier to regulate temperature simply by zipping it up or leaving the jacket open. I always choose North Face jackets. If you’re visiting in winter, you’ll want a heavy down coat, of course.
Windproof Rain Jacket
I go with a lightweight jacket that rolls up or packs easily into my day bag. That way, it’s always handy when the clouds threaten or the wind starts whipping across the Lamar Valley.
Other Must-Pack Clothing
Hats and Gloves
It seemed silly to pack a knit hat and warm gloves for my late August visit to Yellowstone, but was I glad I did! When the weather turned, I dug into my day bag and brought out the supplies I needed to stay warm. You’ll also want to pack a sun hat. Even on cooler days, the sun can be intense. I really like this packable sun hat.
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Again, it felt weird to pack my warm socks when I was packing my suitcase in Chicago and it was 80F degrees. But I was glad to have them at Yellowstone. And I figured they didn’t take up much space in my suitcase if I didn’t need them. If you’re planning to take long hikes at Yellowstone, consider buying some cushioned hiking socks. Your feet will thank you when they don’t have blisters at the end of the day!
The Right Footwear
This is less of a concern if you plan to road trip to Yellowstone. But I fly there and having the right footwear is always my biggest challenge when I pack. Since I’m a committed carry-on only flyer, I only allow myself (and everyone else) two pairs of shoes — one pair on the feet, one pair in the suitcase. Wear the heaviest pair — in this case, the hiking boots — on the plane and pack the lighter weight sandals or a good pair of lightweight sneakers. TravelingMom Founder Kim Orlando swears by her All Birds. Her entire family of hikers wears them and they can double as hiking shoes on short, easy day hikes.
Yellowstone Packing List Beyond Clothing
A successful Yellowstone itinerary includes seeing the national park’s amazing wildlife, the geothermal geysers at Old Faithful, the boiling river and hot springs at Grand Prismatic and the waterfalls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. To make the most of your Yellowstone trip, you’ll want to pack the following:
This is the small backpack you’ll use each day as you venture out. I use a small backpack made of lightweight material that folds into a teeny tiny packable bag. You might want something heavier duty if you plan to carry heavier items such as a large pair of binoculars. I use mine for storing the gloves and hat when I’m not wearing them, along with a small pair of binoculars, insect repellent, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, snacks and other must-have hiking essentials.
Reusable water bottle
I only use water bottles that can be operated one-handed, like this one available from Amazon. Whatever water bottle you choose, look for one that can be hung by a carabiner clip, which makes it much easier to reach while you’re hiking than a water bottle tucked into the side pocket of a backpack. If you’re planning longer hikes, I highly recommend investing in a CamelBak hydration backpack. You’re welcome.
In my experience, the wildlife spotting pros at Yellowstone are very generous and will offer to let you have a look through the huge, incredibly expensive Sworovski spotting scopes they have set up on tripods to find the elusive wolves or black bears of Yellowstone. But I also have been happy to have my own pair of binoculars. They might not spot wolves far across the fields, but they have helped me get a closer-up look at bison, grizzly bears and elk in the wild.
Will You Need Bear Spray?
I have never needed it. But I haven’t done a lot of backcountry hiking at Yellowstone. OK, I haven’t done any. If that is your jam, you’ll want to bring it or stop at one of the rental kiosks near the visitor centers and rent a can of bear spray. Definitely do not venture far from the madding crowds without it!
The Rest of the Things You’ll Need
If you’re staying at a hotel near Yellowstone with a swimming pool, you’ll want to bring bathing suits, coverups and rash guards for everyone. Watershoes are also nice to have, if you have room in the suitcase or the trunk of the car.
A portable cell phone charger is also a must. You’ll be taking so many photos and videos of all of the breathtaking scenery and wildlife that your phone is likely to need a power boost! I’m a big fan of this Anker Powercore that can charge two devices at once and has enough power for four iPhone 11 charges.
Then, you’ll want to bring a power cord for the hotel room to easily charge all of your devices each night. This is the compact one I never leave home without.
A headlamp is a good idea if you plan to be out on the trails as dusk falls. They don’t weigh much and are easy to slip into your day bag. Plus, Kim Orlando swears by hers for reading in the hotel room after the kids have gone to sleep. She says it works great as birth control too!
Toiletries and More
- shampoo / conditioner
- body wash / bar soap
- razors / shaving cream
- face wash/ moisturizer
- toothbrush / toothpaste
- mouthwash / floss
- makeup / lip balm with sun protection
- blow dryer / straightener
- hairspray / hair bands / bobby pins
- deodorant / lotion
- bug spray
Entertainment and Extras
- laptops / tablets
- books / magazines
- earbuds / bluetooth speaker
- movies / music
- diapers / wipes / pull-ups
- quick-dry towels
- cards / dice / board games
- first aid kit