Yellowstone National Park is the perfect location in summer for an adventure, digital detox and getting back to nature. However, conditions can be unpredictable in the great outdoors and it’s easy to overpack in an effort to ensure you’ve covered every circumstance. A well-planned pack will include items that do double duty so you can minimise your luggage space and be assured comfort in most situations. There is a printable checklist at the end of this post.
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Activities and amenities
I thoroughly researched the climatic conditions and our activities when deciding what to pack for Yellowstone. We planned a week of day hikes, seeing the key sites and some evening wildlife spotting. Our accommodation was a reasonably basic, but comfortable mix of cabins and lodge rooms located inside and outside the park. Depending on the location and style of accommodation, they offered varying amenities ranging from no fridge, tv or internet, to full kitchenette, cable and wifi.
Almost carry-on only
For the most part our clothing and toiletries for the week fit nicely within the carry-on allowance. James and I shared one checked bag between us to contain extra equipment such as hiking staff, basic kitchen supplies and camera tripod.
Cooking and eating
The majority of the trip we made our own breakfasts and packed lunches, then ate at local cafes and restaurants for dinner. We took along items from our picnic set as listed below, to give us the basic tools to prepare sandwiches while minimising single-use plastics.
Yellowstone National Park lies at an average elevation of 8000ft. Not only do you need to consider altitude sickness at this elevation, but you’re also much more vulnerable to sunburn. According to WebMD, “UV exposure increases about 4% for every 1000ft (305m) gain in elevation.”
Remember you are travelling to a National Park! Try to minimise packaging and disposables as much as possible. Furthermore, consider the environmental impact of the toiletries you pack and opt for as many natural products as you can to minimise chemicals in waste water.
What to pack for Yellowstone
- One shirt for each day if you’re hiking. Depending on the temperature/hiking intensity, we were able to recycle some shirts across two or more days. A mix of t-shirts and light, long-sleeved shirts will allow you to adjust your clothing to the activity and the weather.
- Several pairs of shorts and/or light pants that will be cool, provide sun protection, and be comfortable for hiking. Zip-off style cargo/khaki pants are perfect, especially for longer treks starting in the cool of the morning and moving into the heat of the day.
- A fleece jumper (sweater) for cooler mornings and evenings, or when the weather turns.
- Scarf, gloves and warm hat.
- One evening outfit, something warm to wear each night to dinner and go wildlife spotting. I found jeans, a full-length wool thermal top and down vest worked perfectly. I wore these every evening for just a few hours after I had showered from my day hiking. I sprayed insect repellant on my clothes rather than my skin when the mosquitoes got bad at dusk.
- Rain gear, which should live in your daypack for those regular afternoon storms.
- Sunglasses, preferably UV rated to protect your eyes and polarised to cut glare.
- Toothpaste and toothbrush
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Lip balm with SPF 15+ minimum
- Insect repellant
- Aloe vera – doubles as sunburn relief and body moisturiser
- Face wash
- Hair accessories (ties and pins)
- Menstrual cup/ tampons
- A cake of laundry soap to wash underwear and socks in the hotel basin if required.
- A camera and accessories including charger, spare batteries; SD cards; and tripod.
- A waterproof camera is ideal if you plan to kayak, whitewater raft etc.
- Phone and charger
- Yellowstone GyPSy Driving Tour – GPS Tour Guide is a fantastic travel companion for guiding your self-drive tour around Yellowstone. Download this before you leave, because wifi in the Park ranges from slow to non-existent. The app provides driving directions and informative narration triggered by your location in the Park. It uses GPS, so you don’t need wifi to run the app (only to download it). You just have to remember to open the app and press “Start Tour” each day, and it will make sure you don’t miss any highlights on your journey. At US$5.99 the app is worth every penny. You can also get a Grand Teton & Yellowstone combo for US$8.99.
- Travel mugs for your morning coffee/tea. I use the Zojirushi Stainless Steel Travel Mug, which fits under most expresso machines and in vehicle cup holders.
- Small cutting board
- Vegetable knife
- One set of cutlery each (fork, knife, spoon)
- Reusable plastic plate each
- Cloth napkins
- Lunchboxes or cloth bags as well as reusable lunch wrap.
- 2 insulated cooler bags that fold flat. We put all our cold food items in these bags along with plastic shopping bags of ice we filled from the hotel ice machine. The ice would melt and leak out a throughout the day, so I recommend putting a towel underneath. All food went into hotel fridges overnight where available, or we freshened up the ice and placed the bags in the shower/bath to contain any leakage.
Day bag/ backpack
- Refillable water bottle. Bladder-style bottles are excellent for saving space.
- Waterless hand wash
- Bandana/cloth napkin
- Toilet paper in a ziplock bag to keep it dry
- First aid kit
- Medications and prescriptions
- Warm and wet weather gear (mentioned earlier)
- Sunscreen and insect repellant (mentioned earlier)
- Bear spray as recommended by the National Parks Service – read more important information about bears and bear spray here. You won’t be able to take bear spray on the plane, so purchase or rent it when you arrive. Before you leave, remember to donate it to a ranger or drop your used/unused can at a recycling station.
Making memories and filling spare time
- Sketchpad and pencils/paint
- Tablet device
Enjoy your time exploring the wilds of Yellowstone National Park and remember to take only photos, leave only footprints.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,