After we spent the first day of our vacation hiking through Grand Teton National Park, we spent the next two days in Yellowstone National Park! Yellowstone is slightly north of the Tetons, so we started the first day in Yellowstone driving up an hour and a half from Jackson and doing the lower loop of Yellowstone. There are very few roads in Yellowstone. There are basically two big loops, north and south of each other, that are connected by one road. There are five entrances to the park with one entrance in the south, north and west, and two entrances in the east.
The lower loop has the vast majority of all the tourist attractions in Yellowstone. This is where there are different geyser basins, Old Faithful, waterfalls and lots of wildlife. When we drove into the park the first time, I turned to Morgan and said, “I hope we see a buffalo while we’re here!” Little did I know that we would end up getting so numb to buffalo that we eventually stopped taking pictures of them.
After getting some advice from the first visitor center we saw, our first stop was the West Thumb Geyser Basin. West Thumb is the nickname for the a “small” section of Yellowstone Lake that juts out from the main lake between two mountains. The West Thumb Geyser Basin was our first look at all of the volcanic activity that is inside Yellowstone. I had no idea Yellowstone was so volcanic! We walked around and saw these beautiful, deep pools of crystal clear, blue water. The water was steaming and the craziest part was that the ranger we talked to said that you would die almost instantly if you fell into a geyser, but that you would die of hypothermia within a minute if you fell in to Yellowstone Lake, which was only 15 feet away!
We had been in the car a lot so we wanted to do a little hike. We started down Elephant Back Trail, but when we got about 200 yards in, we came across a massive poop explosion on the trail and got a little nervous, so we turned around and went to Pelican Creek Trail. This trail took us through the woods, but along the edge of Yellowstone Lake where we saw how powerful the wind was on the waves.
We drove through Hayden Valley where we saw dozens and dozens of buffalo and deer!
One thing you will very quickly learn at Yellowstone is that if you see a bunch of cars pulled over on the side of the road, that means there is wildlife pretty close by. The biggest example of this was when we turned a corner and stopped very abruptly because there were cars parked IN the road. We knew this had to be more than a buffalo. Morgan got out with the camera and I parked the car on a service road. I ran over to the open field and sure enough, there was a mama grizzly bear and her cub just wandering around.
We made it to Canyon Village, which is one of the main “towns” in Yellowstone. We decided to have lunch here. Let me just say quickly that this was the only time we ate at one of the diners in the park. The food was frozen and reheated and my black bean burger gave me a stomach ache.
We tried to head to Old Faithful next, but a bad car accident caused a massive backup, so we turned around and went to the Midway Geyser Basin while it cleared up. Midway Geyser Basin was much like West Thumb, but has much bigger geyser pools. The wind was real rough and you could see so many hats that had blown off people’s heads and into the off-limits areas. The pools were very steamy and it was so cool to see all the different colors of pools!
Finally, the traffic cleared, so we headed to Old Faithful. We knew that this was a tourist trap, but we wanted to see it because it was a must. Old Faithful erupts every 90 minutes, give or take 10 minutes on each side. When we got to the area, we had over an hour until the next blast, so we walked around and saw the other geysers in the area and did a hike to Observation Point to look down on the whole area. We didn’t take a picture, but this was where we saw two buffalo who had died from getting caught in geyser eruptions. We had talked about what happens to animals that walk around the geysers, but now we saw it first hand.
We went down to sit and watch Old Faithful erupt. There was a camera club near us that was getting tons of tips from a professional photographer who got borderline annoying. Old Faithful was cool to watch, but it was definitely nothing outstanding. Regardless, it’s a must see, as is the Old Faithful Inn next door.
That night, we stayed at Yellowstone Under Canvas in West Yellowstone, MT. It’s a tipi village in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains! We didn’t know what we were getting into when we drove down the gravel road, but we were pleasantly surprised. It was a very well-run operation with options to sleep in a tipi or a tent with a bed and furnace. We opted for the cheaper tipi option and it was so cool! Cots, mattresses, chairs and lanterns were provided. The main registration tent had coffee, cider and tea for guests and we took advantage both of the mornings we were there. We sat on a rocking swing next to the river and drank hot beverages in the cool morning air while looking at the mountains. It was absolute perfection. But don’t worry ladies… there were actual bathrooms.
Our second day in Yellowstone we spent hiking the Canyon Creek Trail. It was a nice 6 mile loop trail, but it was eerie. Much of the trail winds through an area of downed trees from a fire a few years ago. Then when it opens up, we walked through an open valley with hills on all sides. We were walking through the valley and it was beautiful, but we couldn’t stop looking all around us. We kept thinking about how if a bear or coyote came down one of the hills, we would have no where to run.
That night we spent the night at Yellowstone Under Canvas again and then went on adventures for a couple of days outside of Yellowstone that we will talk about in our last post in the series next Friday. But, after we were done with those explorations, we travelled back through Yellowstone on our last day. We had to drive from the north entrance of the park all the way down to Jackson, and hour and a half south of the south entrance of the park. We started the day driving through the Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance.
We stopped at the Petrified Tree and saw how it had been preserved by ash from a volcano.
The tree was cool, but it was the black bear cub walking around that was the real excitement in the area.
We drove past Calcite Canyon, which gave us an amazing view and perspective of a canyon that had been broken apart and washed out over thousands of years. The canyon was so cool and deep that it was an awe to see.
Right down the road was where we had been heading – Tower Fall. Tower Fall is an extremely tall waterfall that rushes down and drops into an abyss that you can’t even see from the viewing area.
There was a trail from Tower Fall that we hiked down to get to a cool view at the bottom of Calcite Canyon. The trail was very steep and more than half a mile, but the beach on the river at the bottom was totally worth it.
After this, we headed out of the park. It will take you more than five hours to drive from the north entrance to the south entrance without stopping. We stopped and did these things and also took some pictures at beautiful overlooks. We needed to get checked into our hotel for the last night and get a good night’s sleep to wake up early for our flight the next day. Here’s just a couple other great photos from the overlooks we stopped at.
This was as “quick” synopsis of what we saw over three days in Yellowstone National Park. There were a few other things that we stopped and saw as well. You could easily spend days in the park and see so many things. This park is so well-designed that it is friendly to kids, adults and the handicapped. We had an amazing time and walked more than 10 miles each day we were in the park, even though we spent so much time driving. And Yellowstone is on our 101 in 1001 list so we scratched another one off!
Can’t wait to share our last part of the trip with you!