Yellowstone National Park is not a place to visit once. Be aware that if you do visit Yellowstone it is very likely that you will want to return! We allowed three nights in the area when we visited in August 2011.
Yellowstone is the home of Old Faithful and many more thermal features. In fact Yellowstone National Park hosts 60% of the active Geysers in the world. Old Faithful is special because of the sheer size of the geyser height, but also because it goes off on a regular time frame.
The average time between eruptions is currently 90 minutes and you can be sure the geyser will put on a show with boiling water reaching heights of 106 to 185 feet (32 to 56 m). When you arrive at the Old Faithful Welcome centre check the timetable and then plan your visit so that you arrive at the provided seating a few minutes early. The Old Faithful Information Centre is a great way to soak up the minutes before the show. There is a book store and comfort facilities but the highlight is the exhibits area with great displays explaining the science behind the wonders of Yellowstone National Park.
If you didn’t realise already you will find out that much of Yellowstone National Park is actually above an ancient Volcano Caldera. It is possible that Yellowstone National Park will experience another eruption, although the last one was 630,000 years ago. Scientists predict the next major eruption in the area will not likely occur within five to ten generations. It is not possible to precisely predict this event, however it is strongly likely that nature will provide us with warning signs before a major eruption.
Yellowstone Lake is located partially within the Caldera and is a beautiful site. At the Grant Village site thermal features hug the edge of the lake providing some of my favourite views in the Park. The National Park is provided with well maintained walk ways so that visitors can get up close to these amazing thermal features without damaging them.
One of the most recognised images of Yellowstone National Park is the lower falls in the Yellowstone Grand Canyon. I remember seeing images of the waterfall in photography books when I was a kid and visualised myself standing at Artist Point ready to take my own image. The location is awe inspiring and deserves to be savoured. At one stage while we were there the clouds parted and the water exploded with a silver brilliance. It was quite a site. Photos don’t do it justice.
There are many accommodation options both within Yellowstone National Park and just outside the park. You can choose a style that suits your preferences. Many people choose to rough it and obtain a campsite reservation. This is a great way to get in touch with the nature of the park, however we decided to stay in one of the many cabins in the area. A visit to Yellowstone is really best achieved with your own car as you then have the ability to explore the different experiences in the Park efficiently. We had a hire car and this gave us the flexibility to stay outside the Park and get a little more accommodation for our budget. West Yellowstone is a popular launching pad for day trips into the Park and provides a good variety of restaurants, souvenir shops, food supplies and accommodation. We chose to stay out of town in the Brook Trout Inn. The complex of four cabins (another cabin closer to town) is located 10 minutes from West Yellowstone and 15 minutes from the West entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
We were very happy with the more relaxed setting (compared to West Yellowstone) and really enjoyed returning to the generous and well maintained cabin facilities.
Bill is a relaxed and friendly host and has created a peaceful place to wind down after a full day exploring Yellowstone. The cabins have easy access to the main road to West Yellowstone without being too close.
Other Accommodation Resources:
There are many options for food in the Park and in surrounding towns. The food we experienced was not memorable, however we particularly enjoyed the ice cream. My suggestion though is to prepare sandwiches and other snacks at your cabin in the morning and stop on one of the many picnic tables in the park for lunch. The atmosphere is better and you won’t need to structure your day around being near one of the major food centres. As always within the park make sure you dispose of your litter and left overs in the ‘Bear Proof’ trash cans provided.
A strong memory of Yellowstone is the interaction between people and animals. It is a common site during a visit to Yellowstone to see groups of cars huddled around the side of the road with all their occupants poking cameras out of the windows. Bison, Elk, Moose or even Bears can be spotted by the side of the road. Soaring birds of prey are also a common sight in the park. Fishing is also a very popular activity in lake and rivers of Yellowstone. The Native cutthroat trout is a prized catch. A permit is required and is available from http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/fishingpermits.htm. There are several spots in the park that seem popular for wildlife spotters with high power telescopes or binoculars. If you ask nicely, you will be offered a look. I was able to observe a wolf lunching on a fresh kill in the distance. Of course you can hire your own from suppliers in West Yellowstone.
Camping in Yellowstone National Park will increase your wildlife experience, however it is necessary to take some precautions including carrying Bear spray.
Further information regarding these precautions is available at http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/bearenc.htm. Special locations within Yellowstone National Park for wildlife include the Hayden Valley and the Lamar Valley.
It is possible to take organised bus tours through Yellowstone National Park, but if you are physically able it is preferable to drive. We had a Dodge Caravan hire car that we picked up in Salt Lake City and it was perfect for the group of five we had for the trip. The car soaked up our group and the luggage and gave us a comfortable journey to and from the Yellowstone area. The handling of the car was fine for sedate driving over the very well built and maintained roads through the park. Having a car means you can devote more time to the areas of the park that hold most interest for you and return to areas that demand a better look.
How to get there
West Yellowstone Regional Airport (tel. 406/646-7631) in Montana,
Jackson, Wyoming, a scenic 56 mile drive from the southern entrance of Yellowstone.
Bozeman, Montana, is 87 miles from the West Yellowstone entrance. o
Billings, Montana, is 129 miles from the Cooke City entrance.
Cody, Wyoming, 53-mile drive west along U.S. Hwy. 14/16/20 to the east entrance of the park.
Salt Lake City, Utah, (our choice, but be prepared for the 300 mile drive) The route through the Grand Teton National Park offers some great scenery.
Yellowstone National Park weather is highly changeable and visitors should ensure they check updated forecasts and pack layers of clothing to protect against sudden changes in conditions.
Yellowstone is fascinating to visit in all seasons:
Yellowstone National Park is huge so the higher crowds can be avoided for most of the time. An occasional traffic build up is worth the more stable weather.
low: 36.6, high: 68.5
low: 41.3, high: 78.5
low: 39, high: 76.2
The shorter days are offset by the smaller crowds. Yellowstone Elk become active during the Rut when bull elk come together with the cows.
low: 30.5, high: 64.7
low: 22.5, high: 51.8
low: 12.8, high: 34.2
The crowds are few and wildlife youngsters are everywhere to be seen. Snow and Ice are melting and do limit hiking access to some areas of the back country.
Spring is the best time to view wolves and grizzly bears in Lamar Valley, as well.
low: 10, high: 37.2
low: 19.9, high: 45.9
low: 29.2, high: 57.9
Snowmobiles and snow coaches allow access to Yellowstone National Park in winter wonderland mode.
low: 1.5, high: 23.7
low: 1, high: 24
low: 3.4, high: 30.