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Frugal Trip To Yellowstone National Park

Image: Wikipedia Commons

Image: Wikipedia Commons

I’m really sad to see summer come to an end. In Colorado, we are already having cooler temperatures, and I can’t help but notice that the sun is sleeping in and going to bed later than just a few weeks ago.  We decided to go on one more blow out road trip before summer is gone, and I’m VERY excited that we chose a national park. It will be a whirlwind, but here’s how we’re planning our frugal trip to Yellowstone!

Why Yellowstone?

Well, because it’s maybe the most famous national park, and it’s a goal of mine to see them all before I kick the bucket. Yellowstone is a 10 hour drive from us, so not close, but it’s a no brainer to road trip it. I have always wanted to visit Yellowstone since I was a kid. I’m not even sure how I knew about it. They don’t talk much about destinations west of the Mississippi in rural Kentucky, but geysers have always fascinated me. I’m not sure why we’ve never been now that we live closer, probably because it’s still a haul. A long weekend is probably not the best way to see the park, but sometimes you just have to go for it.

How To Get There

We are taking off tomorrow after work and driving halfway, which is Salt Lake City for us. We should get to the park around mid day on Friday. For a road trip, I can’t imagine the scenery would be better in many places than the drive up to Yellowstone.

If you do have to fly, there are regional airports in Bozeman, MT or Jackson Hole, WY, but they will be expensive. United, Delta, American, Alaska and Frontier Airlines service one or both airports.

Denver is about an 8+ hour drive to the park, and Salt Lake is about 5 hours. Both of those airports will be less expensive and serviced by most major airlines.

For those of you who are into travel hacking, don’t forget that there are some really great sign up bonuses for air travel going on right now. The United Airlines credit card currently has a sign up bonus of 50,000 miles after spending $2000 in the first 3 months. I don’t have a link for that one, but it’s not hard to find if you Google United Airlines credit card. An ever better deal is with the US Airways Mastercard. It does have an $89 annual fee, but you get 40,000 miles after the first purchase. Either of those offers could get you really close to Yellowstone for minimal costs.

Stay in the Park or Not?

We decided not to camp for this trip, but there are lots of camping options in and around Yellowstone. We do have a small pop-up camper, but it does not fit into the same sentence with quick road trip, so we are leaving it at home.

I would have loved to book a room in one of the many lodges in Yellowstone, but I did not think to book a year in advance. All the websites say to keep checking back for cancellations, but I did not have any luck. Maybe because of Labor Day? You can book a basic cabin with communal bathrooms starting around $74/night or stay in suites for $500-$600/night. It looks like there are accommodations to fit all budgets and tastes. It would have been fun to stay inside Yellowstone, but it isn’t in the cards for this trip. If you are planning a trip for next year and want to stay in the park, I’d book as soon as possible.

We decided to stay in the border town of West Yellowstone, MT for Friday and Saturday. We chose that town mainly because it seemed quaint, and they have a Holiday Inn. We have a truckload of Holiday Inn points through the IHG rewards program. Jim had to stay there several times on business last year, and we got extra points through various promos. Since it was booking at $280 a night, we though that was a really good time to use points. It won’t be fancy, but we don’t plan on being in the room that much anyway.


We are staying at a cheap place in Salt Lake on Thursday night. We will get free breakfast, and I’m planning to steal serve myself as many fruits and snacks that I can to minimize travel snack purchases. That might seem very Cousin Eddie like, but you gotta take advantage of those buffets!

We should roll into the park around mid-day on Friday. Our plan is to have a picnic lunch, then go straight to the Old Faithful area and explore that part of the park. I imagine it will be crowded, but we have to see Old Faithful! We plan on having dinner at the Geyser Grill, which serves “cheaper” fare than the fancier Old Faithful Inn. It will still probably be around $30 for dinner, but that’s better than the $100+ it would be at the Inn.

We plan on doing some hiking on Saturday and Sunday in less crowded places and will take lunch for more picnics. We will probably eat out on Saturday and Sunday nights, but will try to keep the bill to around $30 or under. I will probably take about $50 worth of food and water from home so we don’t have to buy stuff on the road.

Park Admission

It costs $25 for non-commercial vehicles to enter Yellowstone Park. This fees gets 7 days in Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park. What a deal! We might drive home through Grand Teton just because we can.

Total For a 4-Day Road Trip To Yellowstone

Hotel in Salt Lake and TBD on way home: $200

Hotel West Yellowstone: $0

Admission to parks: $25

Food (grocery plus restaurants): $150

Gas: $100

Total: $450

Now, if we wanted, we could use a rewards card like the Barclay Arrival to “erase” the costs of the hotel. You get $460 in travel credits after spending $3000 in the first three months of opening the card. I don’t think we will use Arrival points for this trip, but it would be pretty easy to get to Yellowstone for almost nothing if you wanted. As it stands, I don’t think $450 is too bad for a bucket list trip. I’ll be sure to post some pictures when we get back.

What are your Labor Day plans? Any tips for visiting Yellowstone?


About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. That’s not bad at all! It should be an awesome weekend and a really nice way to spend Labor Day!

  2. Sounds like a fun trip! We’ve been wanting to take a road trip to Yellowstone for some time. Love national parks and the value they have.

  3. Have a great trip with your family at Yellowstone! DH is working this week-end in Cali and my mom is flying back to Montreal so I’ll be spending the week-end at the airport playing chauffeur.

  4. We went to Yellowstone a month ago, but had to spend a bit more than you will. We were there for 6 days and didn’t want to have to drive back and forth a lot, so we stayed in four different places. We drove from Idaho so we stayed the first night in West Yellowstone and from there we explored the Madison area, Old faithful and such, and ended up in Grant village for the night. We then explored west thumb, Yellowstone Lake, and the Fishing bridge are and ended up in Canyon for the night. The following two nights we stayed in a Comfort Inn in Montana by the North Entrance while we explored north yellowstone and then ended up driving back to West Yellowstone the last night. We were there for 6 days but only have to stay inside the park for two nights and we didn’t have to do that much driving. We were also three people and we split everything evenly.

    It would be a lot cheaper if we didn’t stay inside the park, but we didn’t want to drive too much. You could drive for an hour one way depending on where you want to go. I was surprised how big the park was.

    It is beautiful though. Enjoy.

  5. We are staying local this Labor Day and finishing up our basement before hubby and son go back to school, but I am jealous of your Yellowstone trip. The park is definitely a bucket list item and I have wanted to visit since I became an Ansel Adams fan 18 years ago. Take lots of pics and share them here when you are back! Have fun and drive safe!

    • We are actually taking the “good” camera and not just using our phones for this trip. I will probably have picture up on Monday.

  6. My family went to Yellowstone when me and my siblings were in high school and despite the fact that my sister and I thought it was a bit of a joke (we wanted to go to a beach somewhere instead of a State Park) it was a great trip. I didn’t appreciate the landscapes as much as I should have on that trip and I would totally road trip out there again, or at least to another state park.

    • I think nature is lost on teenagers. I’ve drug my nephews to Mesa Verde and Arches. All they wanted to do was stay in the car and play video games. I told them they might think it’s lame now, but they’ll thank me when they get older. I guess we’ll see.

  7. Have fun! I would love to go there one day!

  8. Your trip sounds great, not just because it was frugal, but even more because Yellowstone is such a great place. For myself, I am working over the holiday, sigh! Just another day to earn a dime.

  9. $280 is crazy for a night in a Holiday Inn! Good thing you got the points. I camped at Yellowstone but it was one of the worst campsites of all national parks. Expensive and few amenities. You have to lock your food and even toothpaste so the bear don’t come at night. And it was cold even though it was June. They give you a timetable for eruptions so you don’t have to spend the day waiting.
    Enjoy your trip!

    • I’ve had friends tell me they almost froze to death camping in Yellowstone. From prior experience, I have seen that lodging in National Parks is spartan at best. I do wish we could be inside the park just to avoid having to drive so much, but I think this is a good compromise. Plus I bet it’s warm at the Holiday Inn, although you’re right. I’d never pay $280 a night.

  10. Last year I had a conference in Bozeman. Bozeman, MT has the most GORGEOUS airport-I could have stayed in the airport. Then, as part of the conference we spent a day in the park. If I could buy a condo in Bozeman I would. Then, I would go there for snowboarding every year. Absolutely mind blowingly beautiful. You are going to have an amazing time.

    • I have never been to Montana and am looking forward to it. I think it would be too cold for me, but I bet very beautiful in the winter.

  11. My aunt and her family visited Yellowstone last year. Her 9 year old daughter always asked her if they can go there so as a birthday gift for her daughter they went there. Their pictures are totally awesome and I probably love to go there too someday.

    • That’s good to know. My daughter is 7 and I’m never sure if she’s going to go nuts over a place or just act bored.

  12. I’ve been wanting to bring my family to Yellowstone National Park. I heard that hundreds of species of birds and fishes have been documented and spotted there. Some of those are really endangered or threatened that makes me so thrilled wanting to see those before they get extinct. Hope we could save them..

  13. Yellowstone is a great park. I went there a few years ago and stayed in a few of the lodges in the park. I can remember as a kid being there, WAY lots of black bears. Like 25 at a time in the road, or more.

    Lots of wild life. And interesting people. I ran across a family that all worked at one restaurant during the summers because the dad like to fly fish. They came from PA, all got jobs in the same place, every year, and enjoyed the park all summer. What a great side hustle…

  14. Enjoy your trip Kim! I’ve never been to that park.

  15. Been here a couple of times and it is absolutely beautiful!!!! It is a dream of ours to take the kids one day. I know you’ll love it: can’t wait to hear how the trip went!

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