** Long Post Alert**
Howdy folks?! What’s cooking?! I’ve been wanting to share this post for a while now, but it’s a long one and hence I needed to compile it piece by piece… But now that I have it all ready, here we go!
Grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine or whatever it is that floats your boat, coz this one is going to be a long post!!
Also, just to let you guys know, with this post, I am starting a new series called “National Parks” so stay tuned for more nature enthusiasts posts!!
So without further ado –
Yellow Stone National Park (YSNP) is, according to Wikipedia, nearly 3,500 sq miles of wilderness recreation area atop a volcanic hot spot. Mostly in Wyoming, the park spreads into parts of Montana and Idaho too. Yellowstone features dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, hot springs and gushing geysers, including its most famous, Old Faithful. It’s also home to hundreds of animal species, including bears, wolves, bison, elk and antelope!!
But to be honest, YSNP is all this and much much more! It’s an experience of a lifetime and a very different one at that. Why you ask?? Well, please read along and you’ll know why very soon 😉
How to get there:
The closest airport serving YSNP is in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Since it’s the closest airport, tickets can get expensive, so start planning in advance, which will anyways help you with the lodging situation since accommodation gets sold out easily anyways, so planning ahead is the key! For example, for our trip is September, we made all bookings and reservations in March!!
The drive from Jackson Hole Airport is one of the loveliest drives, through the Grand Teton National Park!! It takes about 3 hours, ofcourse depending on the traffic and also wildlife, since often you have traffic jams thanks to a herd of Bisons on the road! Haha!
There are 5 entrances to the park but they are open depending on the weather. Here’s a link to where you can get more information about which entrance is open at what time of the year – YSNP Entrances.
Other nearby options are Bozeman, Billings and West Yellowstone in Montana, Idaho Falls in Idaho as well as Cody in Wyoming.
There are also many other ways of getting to YSNP – like driving from either Denver or Salt Lake City, among other airports, in my humble opinion it’s a waste of your time. Sure you might get better deals on the tickets, but is that really worth spending anywhere up to 10 hours driving from the airport to the national park?! In my books, no! But to each their own… Anyways, I digress…
Absolutely must have!! Preferably a 4 wheel drive if visiting in the winter (due to snow and the road conditions) else you are good with a regular car.
Where to Stay:
Once again, in my humble opinion, stay inside the park!!! Please please please book/plan in advance, so as to make the most of your time while at YSNP and avoiding driving hours to get out of the park to get to your hotel. The lodging inside the park is very comfortable and offers a wide range to choose from – from cabins to hotel kinda rooms to even camping. But plan beforehand, I can not stress on this point enough!
The prices are not sky rocketing, and there is something for everyone’s budget. We stayed at the Old Faithful Inn for most of our stay, except the very first night, for which we were at the Grant Village.
There are many comfortable options available and you can check their availability here: YSNP Lodging
Things to do/see (in no particular order):
– Drive through Grand Teton National Park: The drive time from Jackson Hole Airport in Wyoming to YSNP is around 3 hours, but as I mentioned earlier, it depends on the traffic – both cars and wildlife!! The drive goes through Grand Teton National Park, also known as “Yellowstone’s little sister”.
With equally beautiful geographical features like sky-high mountains, sprawling lakes, and deep canyons, this national park is a must-see when you visit the Wild West.
There are also tons of things to do in Grand Teton National Park, including scenic drives, backcountry hikes, cycling, and wildlife viewing tours, so you can spend a day exploring the park before continuing your trek to Yellowstone.
– There is a Grand Loop Road, inside the park, that connects all 5 entrances and is kind of a loop, more like a figure 8 actually – perfect for a quick (it’s 142 miles total, so maybe not so quick – haha!!) look around the entire park to get a feel for its overall beauty.
– Old Faithful Geyser: This is one of the most predictable geothermal features on Earth and since 2000, it has erupted every 44 to 125 minutes. The geyser, as well as the nearby Old Faithful Inn, is part of the Old Faithful Historic District.
– Mammoth Springs: Mammoth Hot Springs is a large complex collection of hot springs adjacent to Fort Yellowstone and the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District. It was created over thousands of years as hot water from the spring cooled and deposited calcium carbonate (over two tons flow into Mammoth each day in a solution).
– Grand Prismatic Spring and surrounding geysers: The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world. It is located in the Midway Geyser Basin.
– Various Waterfalls:
Kepler Cascades is a waterfall on the Firehole River in southwestern YSNP. The cascades are located approximately 2.5 miles south of Old Faithful. The cascades drop approximately 150 feet over multiple drops. The longest drop is 50 feet. The cascades are located very near to and visible from the Old Faithful to West Thumb road.
Lewis Falls are located on the Lewis River in YSNP. The falls drop approximately 30 feet (9.1 m) and are easily seen from the road, halfway between the south entrance to the park and Grant Village. The falls are on the Lewis River, just south of Lewis Lake.
– Hanging Valley: Tower Falls Trail is a 0.9 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail, that features a waterfall and is good for all skill levels. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible from May until October.
– Mud Volcano: This thermal feature activity has decreased over the year. It’s now a quiet caldron with occasional churning caused by rising gases.
-Dragon’s Mouth Spring: Dragon’s Mouth is a turbulent hot spring with a cavernous mouth. Water sloshed rhythmically in and out of the cavern giving the impression of a large overflow; however, the actual discharge is quite small. As hot water rises to the surface, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, and water vapor gases expand creating a pressure explosion in the cavern. The resulting activity is sloshing, belching, and steaming.
– Grand Canyon of Yellowstone: This is the first large canyon on the Yellowstone River downstream from Yellowstone Falls, making it a must stop!! The canyon is approximately 24 miles long, between 800 and 1,200 ft deep and from .25 to .75 miles wide. It’s truly stunning!!
– Beautiful drives: Not only the drive to the park but also the drives within the park offer spectacular views!!
– Biscuit Basin: Biscuit Basin is an isolated thermal group and is actually a part of the Upper Geyser Basin.
– Excelsior Geyser: Excelsior Geyser Crater, formerly known as Excelsior Geyser, is a hot spring in the Midway Geyser Basin of YSNP.
– Breathtaking views: Anywhere and everywhere you look, the views are breathtaking!! You’ll be trigger-happy snapping away pix… It’s heavenly, really!!
You can easily spot bisons in abundance, often grazing alongside the road and many a times they even come on the main road. To view more animals like wolves, moose, coyotes, mountain goats among others – Lamar Valley is the place to be.
When you see a bunch of cars stopped by the road, you know there is wildlife being spotted so stop and get your binoculars out to view some for yourself!
– We spotted a Black Bear in the wild on 2 separate occasions!!!
We saw black bears on two occasions and I remember we were so excited!!! Once we saw a mommy bear teach baby bear how to pounce (ofcourse from a distance, please do not go close to bears, they aren’t as cute as they look when they go into defense mode and attack you) and the other time we saw one on the bank of a river finding its way up, totally unaware of the humans close by. It was such a cool sight!!
We took 2 tours to make sure we didn’t miss out on anything:
- Yellowstone in a Day: This was an exciting, informational and fun tour!! We toured the highlights of the park so a camera is a necessity!! We stopped at various stops and also got to view lots of wildlife.
- Wildlife Tour: This one was a tour that was specially catered towards viewing wildlife, and we got to see mountain goats, black bears, bison, wolves, coyotes and also big horn sheep.
Other tours: Here is a list of top 10 tours (according to Trip Advisor) Tours.
– West Thumb Basin: The West Thumb Geyser Basin, including Potts Basin to the north, is the largest geyser basin on the shores of Yellowstone Lake – truly unique if you ask me!
– An Exploded Bay: Part of the West Thumb Basin, the shoreline has crater-like contours. Its underwater profile is dramatically deeper than the rest of Yellowstone Lake. Only a massive explosion could have formed West Thumb. This bay is a crater within a crater—a volcanic eruption and violent collapse within the larger, earlier Yellowstone caldera.
– Bears and Wolves: We went to the Grizzly Park in Montana and got to see bears, wolves, eagles etc. Really cool if you ask me!! The kids will especially love it 🙂
Where to eat:
Bad news for all you vegetarians – there isn’t enough options so carry food with yourself. There are a few eating places that have Black Bean Burger and fries apart from Veggie pizza but that’s about it so carry Ready to Eats, Maggie, Theple etc. whatever it is you like to have more options to eat.
When to go:
I’ve been asked by many of my followers and readers to include this section on my itinerary posts, but in all honestly, it really depends on what you want to see!! Some like visiting in the summer, some want to see the snow, some are more into the Fall colors… It really just depends on what YOU, my dear readers are looking for and hence I am unable to pin point the best time to go.
In general, the best time to visit Yellowstone is from April to May or from September to November. These seasons offer mild weather and fewer crowds. July and August are the most popular months to visit since it’s warmer and good weather for camping.
– Since the park is huge and has a lot to offer, plan your visit/itinerary in advance. Bring print outs of directions, important documents and reservations since areas of the park have no cell service.
– Carry binoculars to be able to see wildlife closely.
– If you plan to camp or hike, definitely carry bear spray!!
– Please stay on the designated boardwalks and do not try to touch any of the thermal features as they are extremely hot and can be toxic too.
– Drive slow so you can stop if you spot wildlife and always keep distance.
To sum it up:
I would say going to YSNP for 4 days is a good start for most of us. It will be a mesmirizing experience, and when combined with Grand Teton National Park, it’s a trip of a lifetime!
I hope you enjoyed this post and are all set to plan your perfect vacation to the 1st ever National Park in the US: Yellow Stone National Park!!
PS: These pix are actually how your pix will most probably look like. They are taken either by our iPhones or our Canon T3i SLR camera. I don’t believe in enhancing my images for the blog because that can be misleading – so while you will see some beautiful colors (depending on the time of the year you go) this is mostly how your pix will look! So don’t be disappointed 🙂