We recently wrote about Billings becoming one of the hottest emerging real estate markets in the nation. Like it or not, people keep flooding to Montana. Many come for our quality of life, outdoor recreational opportunities and comparatively affordable housing.

What's the first thing many people do when they move to Montana? Go to Yellowstone! So with all the fresh faces coming to our area, we feel like it's prudent to offer a few newbie tips for those who are embarking on their first trip to Yellowstone National Park.

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MISTAKE: Expecting summertime weather in May or September.

The park's high elevation means that early spring and late summer will often experience snow and/or temperatures below freezing. Many roads are not entirely open till May and if you visit West Yellowstone right now (late April) there are probably still snowbanks piled high around the streets.

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MISTAKE: Not dressing accordingly.

Even in the middle of summer, temperatures drop when the sun goes down. Layers are key. Also, don't be tempted to take a dip in beautiful Yellowstone Lake. It's average temperature is 41 degrees. You'll freeze without a wetsuit and hypothermia can occur in just 20 minutes.

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MISTAKE: Forgetting bug spray and sunscreen.

Mosquitos in Yellowstone National Park seem bigger than ones found elsewhere and there can be a ton of them. UV rays also hit harder at higher elevations so remember that sunscreen too. You'll save money bringing your own, instead of paying $12 a bottle at a gas station or park vendor.

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MISTAKE: Messing around with hotpots and other thermal features.

Each year, tourists are fined for walking off the boardwalks and authorized areas around the geysers, hotpots and steam vents found in Yellowstone. It's extremely dangerous and it's illegal.

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MISTAKE: Approaching wildlife.

On most trips to Yellowstone you probably won't see a lot of bears up-close. Bison, on the other hand are common and can be quite dangerous. They look like big, dumb, creatures, but I assure you they are not. Please don't give locals an opportunity to mock your stupidity by getting gored by a bison. Despite warning signs literally EVERYWHERE, it still happens. Every. Single. Summer.

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MISTAKE: Expecting wide-open vistas all to yourself.

Yellowstone Park is crowded. Most people never leave the main roads and traffic or stopping at any of the attractions is honestly getting to be a bit of a nightmare. You can certainly find quiet spots in the park, but you'll have to put some effort into getting away from the crowds by hiking or biking into the wilderness areas.

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MISTAKE: Not giving yourself enough time.

Driving twenty miles in Yellowstone is nothing like driving twenty miles anywhere else. Speed limits are low and (as we mentioned above) traffic is bad. Sometimes you are stopped for long periods while people block traffic to take pictures. Sometimes there is road construction (expect a lot in 2021). Either way, it takes at LEAST an entire day to see just a portion of the park. Two days is better and three days is just about perfect, depending on what you want to see and do.

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Come visit the park, enjoy it and have fun. Spend a few of your tourist dollars in Montana's awesome park gateway towns of West Yellowstone, Gardiner and Cooke City. Just don't make those newbie mistakes.

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