Yellowstone National Park
Website – https://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm
Wyoming and Montana
So back in 2016, we had a great six days in Glacier National Park. But the kids had never been this far West before, so (twist our arm), we planned to take them to Yellowstone National Park.
So after a long day of driving north to south through Montana, and a night’s camping in southern Montana…
… we made it to Yellowstone National Park’s famous northern gate. This gate was dedicated by Teddy Roosevelt and his words from that dedication are carved at the top of the archway – “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
Now, unfortunately, much of our two July days in Yellowstone were marred by cold or rain or both (like, it snowed in parts of the park the day after we left), so my camera didn’t come out all that much and there were a lot of cruddy cell phone pictures. The park was also jammed to the rafters with people as we were at the height of the season, which limited some picture taking.
Fortunately, I had been to Yellowstone twice before – the first time in 2010 with my now wife (two whirlwind days) and again in 2012 when my Scout troop took a crew of six Scouts out to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks (three whirlwind days), so I have about a billion pictures to heavily supplement with.
Our first stop this day was Mammoth Hot Springs in the northern end of the park, just over the border in Wyoming. There is a lodge and a visitor center here, but the hot spring is where you want to be. The sheer size of the build ups here is crazy, and I particularly love the colors.
Moving clockwise around the park, our next stop was the Lamar Valley in the northeast corner of the park, east of Mammoth Hot Springs. My wife and I had missed this on our first trip, so this was a priority for us when we came back here. The Lamar Valley has some lovely mountain views, but it’s best known for the remarkable amount of wildlife that live here. If you’re really lucky (being there at dawn or dusk helps greatly), you might even spot a bear or a wolf! You’re guaranteed to see a bazillion bison.
We headed back down the Lamar Valley and headed for our campground that night – Fishing Bridge Campground by Yellowstone Lake. After dinner, we decided to head back out to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The parking lot was pretty empty, and there were bison hanging out eating grass next to the cars!
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is pretty impressive in it’s size, but it’s the colors of the rocks (helped out by hot springs) on the walls that make this so remarkable to see. Inspiration Point is the most popular place to check the canyon out, but I recommend taking some of the trails (some have a lot of steps) to lose the crowds and get different views of the canyons and the two falls here.
The Yellowstone Lake region (where we camped) is pretty great. We didn’t explore it much this trip, but I had been here on my previous trips. When I was with the Scouts in 2012, we had dinner here at the picnic tables two nights. When I was here with my wife Alix in 2010, we ended up restless after dinner and came to the West Thumb Geyser Basin to poke around at about 7:30 PM. We ended up finding an area with pretty much no people, some grazing animals, and some small thermal features, followed by a moon rise. It’s one of the best things we did on a very long road trip.
The next morning we woke up to find it cold and damp. Gross. We packed up our wet tent, put on all the clothes we had, plus raincoats, and headed out super early for the most famous feature of Yellowstone – Old Faithful geyser and the geyser basins. We easily found a parking spot (come here midday on some days and you might as well park in New Jersey and walk here) and headed past the Yellowstone Lodge…
to watch old Faithful erupt.
On a nice day, it looks more like this…
We did a nice walk on the boardwalks around the upper geyser basin, although by this point Tree Rider was worn out and had to be carried a good stretch of the time (it’s hard to be 2). Again, luckily, I’ve got a well of pictures to dip into.
The colors here are amazing, I could stay here for days at a time. While our walk this time was short, when we were here in 2010 we did something like 3-4 miles admiring everything that’s here.
We then drove to the Midway Geyser Basin, where I had the hardest time looking for parking that I’d ever had in my life (and my wife lived in South Philly near the hospital when we started dating). But we persevered and found a spot so that we could visit the highlight of this section – the Grand Prismatic Spring. Sadly, I can’t fly in the air to get a picture from above of this wonder of the natural world, but Google image search for “Grand Prismatic Spring” and it will be the best use of your time today.
Of course, none of these pictures are from when we were here in 2016. I even left my camera in the car, as the rain was picking up.
By this time, the rain was picking up, we were soaked, the kids were sad, and the traffic was horrible. So we did the smart thing – we abandoned ship. Our plan was to camp in Grand Teton National Park that night, so off we went on our almost three hour drive, where we were warm and dry.
But there is a lot more of Yellowstone to see. It’s well worth exploring the rest of the geyser basin.
Now Yellowstone is one of the most popular parks in the country, with over 4 million visitors in 2019, almost all of them crammed into just a few months.
As we’ve alluded to a few times here, if you don’t want to spend the whole day feeling like you’re in rush hour, you need to get up really early for the popular spots or hit them after dinner time. In between, head to some of the less popular spots. Hitting the trails is also a great way to lose crowds, as 1/4 mile in on any trail, the crowds massively thin out. The later you go in August, the more states are back in school and the crowds thin out as well. By September, it’ll feel like a private park. And Yellowstone Lodge is open in the winter too!
The entire park is gorgeous, you really can’t pick a bad spot. To prove my point, here are some pictures from not-as-well-visited spots in the park.
Anyway, there’s a reason that Yellowstone gets 4 million plus visitors a year… it’s spectacular.
Where were we before this? Six beautiful days in Glacier National Park.
Where are we heading after this? Grand Teton National Park.