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Dreams of a Yellowstone vacation? Start planning now for 2015

Steam and vivid colors of Crested Pool add to the awe and wonder of Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin
Steam and vivid colors of Crested Pool add to the awe and wonder of Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin
Leah Kautz

The words 'Yellowstone' and 'Old Faithful' illicit reactions of familiarity, excitement and wonder in people from all corners of the world, and a trip to the world's first national park is a bucket list item for many. With the increasing popularity of national park vacations and the celebrity status that Yellowstone holds among parks, the time to plan for next summers Yellowstone vacation is now.

Planning a vacation over a year in advance may seem like a stretch for many, but it can be the key to getting the most from a destination as varied as Yellowstone that also happens to be larger than some small states.

“Yellowstone is a huge park with an extensive array of activities on foot, by vehicle, on water and horseback, and it can be overwhelming to try to decide where to stay, where to eat and what to do,” said Rick Hoeninghausen, director of sales and marketing for concessioner Xanterra Parks & Resorts in Yellowstone.

Overwhelming may be the understatement of the year to many, but there are plenty of ways to avoid drowning in ideas and questions:

Do your research! And more importantly, make sure your research is reliable. Many websites will purport to be your 'one stop shop' for Yellowstone information, but the National Park Service and Xanterra websites should always be your first stop. Xanterra is the only official option for in-park lodging so book with them early and directly whenever possible; other websites may claim to be official but these are third-party companies who often charge additional reservation fees or higher rates than those offered by the hotel directly.

Don't overextend yourself! Honest truth, most people are not likely to see it all in one trip. But that's OK! Think of it as a taste test to lure you back. Yellowstone offers a vast range of sights and activities from wildlife and landscapes to horseback rides and water activities. Pick a few options to plan in advance and allow plenty of time to go with the flow – you will definitely be thankful for the time if you are lucky enough to find a bear wandering down the road.

Do think outside your comfort zone! Are you an independent traveler who fears the confines of an organized tour, but would love having an expert guide broaden your experience? Then consider a Xanterra Adventure Package, Lodging and Learning program or others offered by the Yellowstone Association. Ranging from one day seminars to week-long tours with lodging and transportation, there are themes and tour styles to fit just about any interest. And the best part? You get to let them drive!

Don't forget what else is nearby! Yellowstone is often called 'Wonderland' for a reason, but it is also surrounded by other beautiful areas and unique gateway commnities. Take a look at where you route can take you and make some time for the Cody Stampede Rodeo, a stroll through the unique shops of Jackson, a fly fishing adventure on the famous Madison River near West Yellowstone, a scenic float down the Yellowstone River in Gardiner or a drive over the Beartooth Pass past Cooke City.

Regardless of what you seek from your trip, some advance planning, early booking and an open mind will make it a trip worthy of it's very own photo album.

Reservations for the summer 2015 season will open at 8:00am MDT on May 1, when reservations agents will anxiously await the chance to help you begin planning your Yellowstone adventure.

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