Yellowstone Vs Yosemite

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Yellowstone Vs Yosemite

Yellowstone vs Yosemite: The Honest Comparison You Need

Yosemite National Park can be reached in around 3 hours from San Francisco and between 5-5.5 hours from Los Angeles and Las Vegas (by car). Plus, flights to San Francisco are available from all over the US (and beyond), so you can easily add Yosemite to any Californian/American vacation.

Yosemite vs Yellowstone: How to Choose Between the Two

The United States is filled with incredible National Parks, with Yosemite and Yellowstone being up there as some of the best! With breath-taking landscapes, intriguing wildlife and a wealth of history, how do you possibly choose between the two?! Here we lay out the two National Parks side by side so you can see blow-for-blow what they have to offer so you can decide which you’d prefer to visit.

How To Choose Between Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks

If you must choose between the two national parks, some things you should consider are: Yosemite is only a 3-hour drive from San Fransisco, and is much more accessible than Yellowstone. Yellowstone is vast and serene with more wildlife. Yosemite has more waterfalls and a stunningly rugged landscape.

Read on to discover the pros and cons of both Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks as this will help you weigh up which park will be best for you.

Half Dome Rock , the Landmark of Yosemite

Yosemite History

-Skip this section if you don’t care much for the history-
Yosemite National Park has a somewhat turbulent and tainted history, with the Native American tribe that originally lived here being driven out in the mid-19th century. Despite being removed from the land, the park retains its tribal name ‘Yosemite’ which meant ‘killer’ in Miwok. It’s not known whether this name was what the tribal community called the park before being driven out due to its dramatic landscape or because of the act of making them depart.

Yosemite Valley was designated as a public recreational space in 1864 by President Abraham Lincoln due to the fact that the area had become a hotspot for Gold Rush miners and European explorers. The area needed conservation, and the bill by President Lincoln was the first step in protecting the land.

Later, in 1890, John Muir, a Scottish-American naturalist, pushed for Yosemite to become a national park in order to help preserve the wilderness and wildlife. Muir loved Yosemite and spent time as a shepherd on the land, studying the geology of Yosemite Valley as well as being one of the first to climb Cathedral Peak and Mount Dana.

Yellowstone History

Yellowstone National Park

The landscape in and around Yellowstone National Park is thought to have formed as a result of a violent volcanic eruption which occurred around two million years ago. As the eruption was so explosive, it created a vast terrain of rolling hills, ridges and rock formations which sprawls almost 3500 square miles (nearly 9000 square kilometres).

Due to the geology of Yellowstone, with magma powering the hydrothermal system that runs below the surface of the park, it is known for its number of geysers including Old Faithful which erupts several times a day!

These geysers and eruptions are now one of the highlights of visiting Yellowstone, but for the native tribes who lived here, they were a cause of great fear as they believed there must be evil living beneath the surface to create such an event.

Yellowstone was the first official National Park as designated by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. While this was later than the signing off Yosemite as a public area of recreation by Abraham Lincoln, it is still seen as the first of the 61 areas protected by the National Park Service.

Best For Landscapes: Yosemite vs Yellowstone:

Both Yosemite and Yellowstone have absolutely fascinating landscapes that will keep you awe-struck and wanting to pull out your camera at every turn.

The landscapes at Yosemite are arguably more dramatic thanks to the towering peaks and rock formations that rise above the surrounding lower ground. Yellowstone, on the other hand, features a wider outlook, with verdant views as far as the eye can see.

Each park has its own highlights, and it depends on what inspires you most. If you want to see cliff faces, wildflower meadows, waterfalls, lakes and soaring sequoias, then Yosemite’s the one for you.

If you’d rather explore rolling hills, bubbling hydrothermal basins and colourful hot springs (without missing out on a plethora of waterfalls!), then Yellowstone is a good choice.

If you’re visiting one of these national parks for breath-taking landscapes alone, then Yosemite might just take the prize… but read on to weigh up other factors that might affect your choice!

Best For Wildlife: Yosemite vs Yellowstone:

If wildlife is a priority when deciding which national park to visit, then Yellowstone National Park will probably be your winner.

The vast, unspoilt landscapes of Yellowstone are home to almost 70 species of mammals, including around 4000 bison who roam and graze throughout the park. It is also a popular nesting spot for bald eagles who come here in droves to roost and soar around the park.

As Yellowstone is a larger and more remote park, there is much more space for wildlife to roam. While this may make you think that you’re less likely to see animals, you’d be wrong as some wildlife viewing is almost guaranteed.

Visitors may be lucky enough to witness grizzlies, moose, elk, coyotes and even wolves, who may also be heard at night while camping on site!

Yosemite, while still a home to a great range of wildlife, is less known for its sightings, probably due to the large numbers of visitors the park receives in a much smaller area.

Yosemite is home to black bears, deer, mule, foxes and bighorn sheep to name but a few, but some of these are shy creatures who prefer to stay away from the interference of humans. Birdlife is rife here though thanks to the park’s elevation, so it can be a wonderful location for bird watching rather than mammal sightings.

Best For Waterfalls: Yosemite vs Yellowstone:

Waterfalls are one of Yosemite’s claims to fame, with 10 of the falls here being longer than Yellowstone’s longest cascade.

Yosemite Falls is the tallest on the continent at 739m, and one of the highest in the world, so you’re sure to be impressed by the power of this mighty waterfall.

Therefore, if you want to witness long, dramatic drops, then Yosemite is the park for you.
If you’re not as bothered about height but love both the peace and power of waterfalls, you may be interested to hear that Yellowstone National Park is home to a whopping 290 falls that run year-round! You’ll therefore never be short of a waterfall or two when hiking the trails in and around Yellowstone.

The waterfalls at Yellowstone are much, much lower in height than those at Yosemite, with the highest, Lower Falls, standing at just 94m, but the sheer number of falls in the park is still impressive.

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You’ll need to weigh up what you want to see in terms of waterfalls to help yourself choose between Yosemite and Yellowstone.

Upper Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Valley

Best For Serenity: Yosemite vs Yellowstone:

If peace and quiet are important to you when planning a visit to one of the national parks, then Yellowstone may be preferable to Yosemite. While both parks receive over three million visitors a year, Yellowstone National Park is around three times the size of Yosemite and therefore doesn’t seem half as busy during the peak season.

Of course, the highlights of both Yosemite and Yellowstone will be popular spots year-round, with crowds gathering around wildlife sightings, pristine photographic spots and favourites like the Old Faithful geyser. However, once you get off the beaten track, you’ll be able to find peace and serenity.

The meadows around Yosemite are a quieter part of the park and offer plenty of peaceful walking trails to explore, but the more popular hikes and climbs in the park are likely to be busy. Yellowstone, on the other hand, offers more than a thousand miles of hiking paths and trails, so you’re bound to find some sections of serenity no matter what time of year you travel.

Prismatic Spring Yellowstone

Best For Accessibility: Yosemite vs Yellowstone:

If ease of accessibility is a vital factor when weighing up whether to visit Yosemite or Yellowstone, then it will, of course, depend on where you are coming from. However, on the whole, it’s safe to say that Yosemite is much more accessible than Yellowstone.

Yosemite National Park can be reached in around 3 hours from San Francisco and between 5-5.5 hours from Los Angeles and Las Vegas (by car). Plus, flights to San Francisco are available from all over the US (and beyond), so you can easily add Yosemite to any Californian/American vacation.

Yellowstone is much more difficult to reach, with visitors having to take flights to West Yellowstone or Jackson Hole, Wyoming (often via Salt Lake City) so it’s not as easy to simply hop in the car and add it to your trip if you’re visiting other west-coast highlights such as LA and Las Vegas. However, the drive to Yellowstone takes you past the Grand Tetons and the Beartooth Highway, which also add to the general experience of your trip to Yellowstone.

Of course, the fact that Yosemite is more accessible means that it’s more popular and therefore less serene, while the vast wilderness of Yellowstone is more untouched but more difficult to reach.

Yellowstone National Park

Best For Winter Activities: Yosemite vs Yellowstone:

It’s hard to say which park is best for winter activities as both Yosemite and Yellowstone allow for year-round accessibility with cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and snow-shoeing available in winter. These activities allow you to enjoy the magical landscapes even when it’s covered in snow!

Yosemite arguably has a better climate, with winters being less bitterly cold than up in Yellowstone, but Yellowstone also boasts all-terrain van tours which give you the chance to explore the park and wildlife from the comfort of a vehicle. These vans feature winter treads which allows them to roam the land, getting up close and personal with bison and elk.

Yosemite features ice-skating, skiing and snowboarding, which are fun family activities so it can be an awesome destination for a winter getaway.

Yosemite Highlights:

  • Epic scenery
  • Easy accessibility
  • The tallest waterfall on the continent
  • Challenging hikes and rock climbing

Yosemite Downsides:

  • More expensive
  • Much busier
  • Harder to secure accommodation

Yellowstone Highlights:

  • Oldest National Park in the US
  • Geysers (including Old Faithful)
  • Loads of wildlife
  • Huge park with plenty of campgrounds

Yellowstone Downsides:

  • Harder to get to
  • Less dramatic scenery

In all honesty, comparing Yosemite and Yellowstone does them both an injustice as it’s impossible to say that one is hands-down better than the other. Both parks have their highlights, and different people may enjoy one over the other.

If you want big-hitting landscapes, towering peaks and ease access, then Yosemite is your best bet. If wildlife, serenity and rolling hills are more important (and you don’t mind it taking longer to get there), then Yellowstone may be the choice for you.

If you have the chance, it would be best to visit both Yosemite and Yellowstone, as well as other National Parks in the US, but if you have limited time, you’ll need to use the above criteria to weigh up what is most important for you.

Yellowstone vs Yosemite: The Honest Comparison You Need!

T he United States is home to some of world’s most beautiful national parks, and without a doubt Yosemite and Yellowstone are two of the best. These parks are brimming with breathtaking wildlife, awe-inspiring geological features, some of the best hikes on the continent and landscapes full of gushing waterfalls, dramatic mountains and valleys.

So it’s no surprise that making the choice between visiting Yellowstone or Yosemite is so difficult.

Thankfully we know both national parks well, and from personal experience can tell you that there are some important differences between each.

For example, much bigger Yellowstone is probably better for wildlife lovers and multi-day hikes, whereas Yosemite – which is arguably more beautiful – is renowned for its massive waterfalls and birdlife.

But that’s just scratching the surface!

Below we compare Yellowstone and Yosemite so you can decide which park you would like to visit first. We look at what wildlife you’ll see, which one is better for hiking, what winter activities are on offer and more!

CONTENTS:

  1. Which Has The Better Landscape?
  2. Which Has The Better Wildlife?
  3. Which Has The Better Waterfalls?
  4. Which Is Better For Camping?
  5. Which Is Better For Stargazing?
  6. Which Is Better For Hiking?
  7. Which Is Better For Families?
  8. Which Is Better For Photos?
  9. Which Has Better Weather?
  10. Which Is Better For Winter Activities?
  11. Accessibility
  12. A Few Last Points

An infographic pitting Yosemite vs Yellowstone and showing some of the key differences that will be discovered later in the article.

Which Has The Better Landscape?

Yellowstone: The Landscape

The landscape in Yellowstone National Park was formed due to a severe volcanic eruption that occurred around 2 million years ago.

The result of that eruption is what we see in the park today: massive rock formations, ridges, and rolling hills that are sprawled out across 3500 square miles of vast remote wilderness. In fact Yellowstone is nearly three times larger than Yosemite.

Wild and remote are probably two of the best adjectives to describe this park.

The landscape is huge swathes of terrain untouched by humans, and scattered amongst it are spectacular geothermal features like bubbling hydrothermal basins, mud pots, colourful hot springs and the famous Old Faithful Geyser (picture below).

It’s almost other-worldly. That makes Yellowstone’s landscape very beautiful in a unique way.

Yellowstone Grand Prismatic Spring

Yosemite: The Landscape

However the terrain at Yosemite is arguably more stunning.

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The rock formations and towering dramatic peaks that surge above the valleys, rivers, huge waterfalls, and forests here are something special. One of the best ways to describe it, is that everywhere you turn looks like something from a painting. It’s a much more lush landscape than Yellowstone too.

So if you prefer to walk beneath towering cliff faces and spectacular giant sequoias, then you should choose Yosemite. This national park also has many lakes, and incredible waterfalls that are some of the largest in the world (more on that later), as well as the famous El Capitan – a vertical rock face admired by climbers around the world.

But if you are feeling more adventurous, then the much larger Yellowstone National Park may suit you more.

This park is a paradise for people looking to get out into the wilderness and feel miles away from civilization.

Sunrise at the tunnel View vista point at Yosemite National Park

Which Has The Better Wildlife?

Yellowstone: The Wildlife

If wildlife is one of your main priorities when deciding between Yellowstone or Yosemite, then Yellowstone may be the better choice for you.

That’s because the huge, unspoilt terrains in Yellowstone are the dwelling place of nearly 70 species of mammals, including around 4000 bison that wander throughout the park. Yellowstone is also a prominent nesting spot for bald eagles, so look out for them soaring above your head!

In fact, because Yellowstone is a more remote and bigger park than Yosemite, there’s lots of room for wildlife to live here.

The result is that it’s possible to see elk, grizzlies, wolves, moose, and even coyotes here, as all of them have made Yellowstone home.

The American bison or simply bison (Bison bison), also commonly known as the American buffalo or simply buffalo, Yellowstone National Park. The herd of Bison near the river with reflections of the bison and the mountains.

Yosemite: The Wildlife

That’s not to say Yosemite doesn’t have a great range of wildlife too. It does, but the wildlife that lives there – like deer, black bears, bighorn sheep, mules, and foxes – are often harder to find.

That’s because this park tends to receive a large number of visitors – and in a smaller area than Yellowstone – and subsequently the park gets quite busy.

The animals that live there try to stay away from the areas that are most often visited by people.

However one thing we do have to mention is that Yosemite has a huge variety of birdlife, and its elevation is ideal for bird watching.

Black Bear at Tenaya Lake in Yosemite National Park

Which Has The Better Waterfalls?

Yosemite: The Waterfalls

Yosemite’s fame mainly comes from the many stunning waterfalls in the park. In fact it has 18 waterfalls that are larger than the biggest cascade in Yellowstone!

The tallest waterfall on the continent is the Yosemite Falls which is an incredible 739m tall. Seeing it up close and personal makes you realise just how powerful nature can be.

Believe it or not, there’s another five waterfalls over 500m tall in Yosemite!

Our top tip: If you want to see the waterfalls at their most powerful, then visit Yosemite in late spring/early summer. That’s when they tend to have more water.

View towards Yosemite Falls

Yellowstone: The Waterfalls

Yellowstone also has many cascades, with 45 named waterfalls, and many more smaller unnamed ones that are dotted around the park.

For hikers and walkers, you’re almost always guaranteed to come across waterfalls when hiking around Yellowstone. While they’re not as impressive as the ones in Yosemite, they’re still extremely pretty.

In fact when considering just height, Yellowstone’s waterfalls are much smaller than the ones in Yosemite, with the highest standing at 94m.

However, the number of waterfalls in Yellowstone is very impressive.

Lower falls of the Yellowstone in summer

Which Is Better For Camping?

Yellowstone: Camping

When it comes to camping, both Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks are amongst the best camping areas in the country.

Both places have about 12 camping grounds, and where you want to camp depends on the scenery you’re looking for.

However there’s only one campground that’s open year-round in Yellowstone, which is the Mammoth Campground.

This campground is strategically located near the hot springs and visitors often see elks or bison. Other campgrounds are open seasonally.

One of the most popular campgrounds is the Fishing Bridge RV Park, where there’s a high chance of spotting grizzly bears. And for that same reason, it’s an RV-only campground so you’re better protected from these adorable but potentially dangerous friends.

Wild camping is not permitted in Yellowstone and you can’t camp for free, but there are many spots where you can camp for free just outside the national park.

Yellowstone Vs Yosemite

Yosemite: For Camping

From pine trees to lakes, Yosemite’s campgrounds offer a great range of landscapes.

In particular, Tuolumne Meadows Campground next to Tuolumne River offers such an incredible view, making it one of the favorites.

There are several spots in and near Yosemite where you can disperse camp too.

In the park, you can disperse camp beyond the Half Dome/John Muir Trail junction or beyond Moraine Dome (toward Merced Lake). Outside, there are a handful of free campgrounds in Sequoia and Eldorado National Forests.

For both national parks, remember that campground reservations fill up very quickly. In the months of May to September, campsites can even fill up months in advance.

For Yellowstone, reservations can be made as early as 6 months in advance, and you can check out the availability and reserve a site here.

And for Yosemite, you can book up to 5 months in advance through this site.

A man sitting in a hammock in a pine forest and reading a book

Which Is Better For Stargazing?

Stargazing can be done in both Yellowstone and Yosemite. To quote Coldplay, you’ll be able to see a sky full of stars in either park with the naked eye!

For many Yellowstone is the better stargazing location than Yosemite. That’s because its higher elevation gives the place a clearer sky and less light pollution.

In the months of April to October the sky is especially clear, and you can even see the Milky Way.

However, Yosemite actually has a fantastic stargazing program where guides will teach you all about the night sky.

The best spot there is argubaly Glacier Point, where there’s a telescope so you can see astronomical objects other than stars such as star clusters, gaseous nebulae, and planets.

Sentinel Dome is another spot for incredible stargazing. It gives you a 360-degree unobstructed view and is especially great for seeing meteor showers.

But remember to not go alone but instead with someone who knows the area. Bring flashlights and bear sprays when exploring either park after dark and ask rangers for advice.

This is a picture of Black Pool at night with mikyway and stars at Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, USA.

Which Is Better For Hiking?

Both national parks are superb hiking destinations. No wonder too, as they represent some of the best landscapes in the USA.

However if you’re going to the park without a car, then Yosemite will be the better choice. That’s because there’s a shuttle service available in the park that can take you to many of the most popular trailheads.

However the easiest and most accessible hiking trails in the park can get very busy, and you’ll have to hike out of the Yosemite Valley to get away from the crowds. The grasslands in the park tend to be quieter, and have several hiking trails too.

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The much larger Yellowstone National Park has trails that feel more remote, and are far less busy, however you will almost always need a car to get to the trailheads.

Yet the result is a feeling of really hiking in nature. That’s aided by the over one thousand miles of hiking trails and paths in this national park, so it’s almost impossible not to find areas all to yourself.

You can also camp and hike in Yellowstone to make the most of your time.

Firehole River in Yellowstone

Which Is Better For Families?

Yellowstone: For Families

Both Yellowstone and Yosemite are family-friendly, offering fun adventures such as hiking, biking, fishing, and camping. So choosing between the two depends on what you wish to see.

In Yellowstone, kids will probably love Lamar Valley, where you can ride through a bison herd. The feeling of being within feet of these imposing creatures is unmatched, and here you can often see more than 20 of them.

There are several programs for children in the park too, such as the Youth Conservation Corps for teenagers interested in conservation, as well as Geology Road Tours, and Winter Wildlife Expeditions.

However something to consider is that the hot springs in Yellowstone are scalding hot. On top of that, there are bison, elks, bears, and even wolves here.

So if you’re traveling with children, make sure to keep an eye on them at all times. In this respect, Yosemite might be a safer choice for a family trip.

Yosemite also offers seasonal events and programs for families and children. For example, the Junior Ranger Program educates kids about the park in a fun way.

While in the winter, there’s the Winter Snowshoe Walk where park rangers guide children through the park’s winter ecology and wildlife.

And of course, there’s the Stargazing Program we’ve mentioned above. Not only will you be stargazing, but the guide will tell your kids all about astronomy.

back view of active family of two, father and son, enjoying valley and mountain view in yosemite national park, california, active family vacation concept

Which Is Better For Photos?

Again, choosing the best national park for photos wholly depends on the scenery you’re looking for.

Yosemite has the more traditional stunning lush backdrop for photoshoots. But Yellowstone is perfect for those looking for unique, out-of-this-world photos featuring incredible features like misty geysers.

The most popular photography spots in Yellowstone include the Grand Prismatic Spring, Morning Glory, and the wildflowers adorning Dunraven Pass.

Yellowstone is also a hub for wildlife photography such as bison and grizzly bears.

In Yosemite, taking images of the mountains being reflected on Mirror Lake is probably the most popular thing for photographers to do.

Avid photographers can also go looking for unique shots such as a rainbow/moonbow over the waterfalls or even a firefall.

As far as regulations go, the two locations are more or less the same. You need a permit for commercial photography or if you’re bringing “unusual” or big photography equipment. Drones are prohibited in both Yellowstone and Yosemite.

Morning glory pool from above with green and yellow colors and tress in the background. Stormy weather. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA

Which Has Better Weather?

Simply put, Yellowstone’s weather is pretty unpredictable. So you should dress prepared for hot and cold weather, even during summer, because the temperature can fluctuate greatly within one day.

Bring your raincoat and umbrella because there’s always a chance of rain, with thunderstorms often occurring in summer.

Winters in Yellowstone can get pretty cold too. Temperatures drop to as low as 20°F, and the whole park turns into a winter wonderland with snow covering the landscape.

Along with the season, the varying elevations of Yosemite National Park add to the weather uncertainty. And just like in Yellowstone, temperatures fluctuate and there’s always a moderate chance of rain.

However, true to its location in California, it doesn’t get as cold as Yellowstone.

Because of this, most people will probably prefer Yosemite’s weather. Yosemite is also lush with dense trees, giving off a cooler and fresher atmosphere, especially compared to Yellowstone’s humid geothermal area.

For both parks, the peak season is summer because it offers the best opportunity to spot wildlife, see flowers, and have access to all attractions. The waterfalls also tend to be more powerful in the summer.

Yosemite's Half Dome - Sunset from Glacier Point

Which Is Better For Winter Activities?

It’s tough to decide which national park is better for winter activities as Yellowstone and Yosemite are amongst the top parks for adventure activities – even in the snowy season!

Both parks have opportunities to use snowmobiles and go cross-country skiing during winter.

Yellowstone also does all-terrain van tours that allow you to roam this wild and rural park in utmost comfort.

These vans have winter treads that allow them to traverse the snow and give you a chance to see bison and elk up close.

Yosemite has other winter activities like snowboarding, skiing, and ice-skating – all great family activities.

Rider snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone vs Yosemite: Accessibility

If you’re thinking of whether to tour Yosemite or Yellowstone, then which one you visit may depend on where you’re living. However in general, Yosemite tends to be more easily accessible than Yellowstone.

It only takes around three hours to reach Yosemite National Park from San Francisco, while if you are coming from Las Vegas or Los Angeles by car, it might take between 5-5.5 hours. In addition to this, flights to San Francisco are available from all over the United States.

Yellowstone can be a little problematic to reach. You need to take a flight to Jackson Hole or West Yellowstone Wyoming (mostly via Salt Lake City). That’s why in general, it is not as simple as just jumping in the car and going for a trip to Yellowstone.

Nonetheless if you do choose this option, the road to Yellowstone takes you past the Grand Tetons and the Beartooth Highway – making this a very good road trip!

The road leading to Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, California, USA with the Half Dome in the background.

A Few Last Points

Every year, millions of tourists visit these exceptional national parks. However there’s things to keep in mind for your visit to either Yellowstone or Yosemite:

Do not approach wild animals. They might hurt you. This applies to taking pictures with them as well.

While following a trail, don’t go off track and explore things on your own. The trails have been designed in a certain way because not all terrain is safe to access.

None of us wants to show up and discover that a certain part of the park is closed. Make sure to check timings and accessibility so you don’t get disheartened later.

As human beings, we are entrusted with a moral responsibility to keep our surroundings clean. The same applies when we visit Yellowstone and Yosemite. Treat the land well and leave it in the same condition that it was when you arrived.