From Grand Teton National Park to the South Entrance of Yellowstone only takes about an hour. But what I didn’t know until a few days in advance, was that Yellowstone National Park is massive. It takes HOURS to get places simply because of distance! (Not counting traffic.) So plan for a lot of driving in Yellowstone. We only planned only 2 days (more like a day and a half) for Yellowstone but I can confidently say we saw plenty enough to satisfy us. In our 2 days we saw the following:
– Old Faithful
– Grand Prismatic Spring
– Biscuit Basin
– Town of West Yellowstone, MT
– Grizzly & Wolf Sanctuary in West Yellowstone
– Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls
– Sulphur Cauldron
– Mud Volcano
– Hayden Valley
– Lamar Valley
– Historic town of Tower Roosevelt
– Plus LOTS of sightseeing and pulloffs along the way.
Once you’re in the park, you’re surrounded by pines, rolling safari looking hills, distant mountains, steaming crevices, and boiling rivers. Needless to say, there’s alooot of sightseeing as you go.
Here’s a summary video of what we saw. 🙂
1. Old Faithful —
We hit this first thing in the morning around 9:30am. It was just as I expected this well famed geyser to be actually! I’ve seen footage enough times to know what Old Faithful does and had an idea what the area would look like. We were fortunate to not have it so crowded that we couldn’t see and got a nearly front row view of the eruption. We hit it just right all the way around and didn’t even have to wait long. (Eruptions are every 10-30 min.)
If it does happen to be super crowded, it was recommended to us that we hike to Observation Point, which was a .3 mile hike from the Old Faithful viewing area. But having hiked lots the day before, the goal today was to hike as little as possible per some members of our clan. ;p
2. Biscuit Basin —
Worth a look! A quick walk about the boardwalk around some bubbling springs, small geysers, steam vents and bubbling mud. Some of the pools are breathtaking and oh so desirous of wanting to be bathed in! Obviously not a possibility though.
3. Grand Prismatic Spring —
Depending on how you want to see this it can be attacked one of two ways. From a closeup side view, or an aerial view. These are two different parking spots and two different short hikes to see the spring. We chose to do the aerial view from the Fairy Falls trailhead and hiked the .6 miles up to the viewing platform. This one surprised me! I’ve seen alot of springs in my travels (Iceland had beautiful ones), but this one was far larger and prettier than I was expecting! Definitely worth stopping to see.
4. The Grizzly and Wolf Sanctuary & West Yellowstone —
If you like learning about animals and would love to see some grizzlies and wolves up close, I recommend dropping into the Wolf and Grizzly Sanctuary. It’s a $15 entrance fee for 2 days of passage, located in West Yellowstone right by the West entrance. It’s not a huge place but it’s actually on of the few grizzly and wolf sanctuaries in the USA. The bears are relocated “problem bears” from Alaska and northwestern USA. Each bear has a unique story of why it was brought to the sanctuary that you can read about. Same with the wolves. They also have birds of prey and otters. They have scheduled talks at different times of the day, and all kinds of fun facts and museum like rooms for you to explore.
Conveniently, right outside the sanctuary is the little town of West Yellowstone bustling with shops, hotels and places to eat. It’s not a very big town, but “quaint.” I think it’s worth walking around. I’m a sucker for walking around touristy towns even if I buy or eat nothing. lol.
5. Yellowstone Falls —
The lower falls is about .7 miles from the trailhead down a steep winding ravine. Very pretty falls but in my opinion an even cooler canyon. Crazy phenomenon that in careful observation you can see hot steaming water bubbling out of the sides of the canyon or along the canyon floor into the river.
6. Sulphur Cauldron and Mud Volcano —
Just more, stop worthy, unique, bubbling, sulphuric springs.
7. Hayden Valley —
Coming to Yellowstone I was hoping I would get to see some of it’s famed wildlife. I didn’t know that it seems like pretty much a guarantee coming here! We planned to drive through Hayden Valley at dusk and it worked out perfect. (Dusk and sunrise best times to see wildlife!) As soon as we came through the area there were vehicles pulled over on the sides of the road and people with binoculars and cameras just observing the valleys. We immediately saw the grizzly everyone was looking at. He was just meandering along the riverbank. In the distance there were Elk. Further down the road there was a moose, and further yet we saw another bear.
The only thing we regret is not having a good pair of BINOCULARS and maybe even a good camera on this trip. Bring binoculars to Yellowstone if you want to enjoy the wildlife! You live and learn.
1. Lamar Valley —
We woke up at the crack of dawn to get to Lamar valley early in the morning. We woke up at 5, broke down camp, and got to Lamar around 8. If we would’ve gotten up earlier we may have not missed some of the action. My sister was really really hoping to see wolves. And we were so unbelievably close to seeing some cool stuff but just missed it. Apparently a half hour before we’d gotten there, a pack of wolves had been trying to take down a baby bison, but the bulls chased the wolves away. By the time we got there, the wolves were regrouping up in the high country and headed along Specimen Ridge but we never got to see them. We followed the “Wolf Tracker” vehicles and guides for a ways, stopping where they stopped and eaves dropping on their information, but never got to see one in the wild.
If we hadn’t been stuck in a line of cars due to Bison blocking the road we may have actually gotten there in time to see the action. LOL! But none the less, there is apparently a VERY good chance of seeing wolves if you come at sunrise. There are tours you can do with guides who know all about the wolves patterns and come prepared with high powered scopes and binoculars but those tours cost around $700. It’s definitely cheating, but it was cool just overhearing their information. But then again… is it really cheating if you’re all parked in the same parking lot and you just happen to be standing nearby listening? ;p
We also saw more grizzly bears, coyote, elk, moose, and tons of Bison in Lamar Valley. Lamar and Hayden are the places to be if you want to see wildlife in action. Again, bring good binoculars!
1. There are 12 campgrounds in Yellowstone. All of which get booked well in advance so once again, we were really lucky to have found one spot open a week before we left for our trip! (Oh the pros and cons of last minute travel.)
We stayed at Bridge Bay campground. And by golly it was massive and packed according to my standards of campgrounds – 400 sites! Usually I would’ve hate that kind of camping (I usually hate campgrounds.) But I rather enjoyed the campgrounds we’ve found at campgrounds in the northwest thus far. For three reasons:
We arrived at Bridge Bay Campground in the dark and left in the dark so I don’t really have much to say about the location itself. I was just in awe of how many people were camped there. (daylight photo below stolen from google images!)
2. From research I knew you could stay in National Forest lands out side of the National Park free of cost. But because of it’s distance from everything, it just didn’t make sense. We wanted to be in the park centrally located so we could get up and keep going and not have to re-drive into the park, just to drive to where we wanted to go next. But that is an option if you have alot of time in the park and are up to driving.
3. If you’re RVing, there are places you can park overnight although it’s not technically advertised. More on that info here.
1. At all the main junctions of the park there are little “villages.” Canyon Village, Old Faithful Village, Lake Village, Tower Roosevelt etc. These villages had a mix of parking, shops, bathrooms, mechanic shop, gas station, snacks …. it’s basically a one stop shop for anything you might need before you hit nothingness. And another tid-bit, these centers are the only place we had cell reception. So load your info and your maps!
2. Wildlife is everywhere. And signs are everywhere about keeping your trash, and locking things up etc. I have a dedicated post about bears here. I came on the trip a little nervous about bears. My mom was VERY nervous about bears. But we learned alot and are much more comfortable now.
3. Wake up EARLY to see the most wildlife in Hayden and Lamar valleys. It sucks waking up early on your vacation. I know. But it’s worth it!
4. Buy the “America the Beautiful” pass. It costs $80 but gets you into all the national parks, national forests, and gets you discounts at many campgrounds. One day in a national park usually costs $35. Do that a couple times and you’ll have it paid for.