On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone became America’s first National Park. This park spans 2.2 million acres and holds half of the world’s geothermal features. The variety of terrain and wildlife is unmatched. Yellowstone can be accessed year-round, but summer (June-August) and winter (December-mid March) are the park’s busy seasons.
My roommate and I made our way towards Yellowstone’s west entrance in West Yellowstone, Montana last September. This is the park’s busiest entrance, and it is open to vehicles from mid-April to early November. Due to heavy snow, only snowmobiles are permitted through this entrance during the winter months.
Our weekend was jam packed! The park is configured like a figure-eight, and we accomplished the majority of the bottom loop our first day, and went back for more the next. Our main stops included: Gibbon Falls, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone Lake, Lower/Midway/Upper Geyser Basins, and Old Faithful.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The North and South Rim Drives offer multiple viewpoints and overlooks of the canyon and Yellowstone River. Many of the viewpoints include a couple hundred feet of descent down to the view, making it a steady climb back up… but well worth it.
Yellowstone Lake. Known as the largest body of water in Yellowstone and the largest high-elevation freshwater lake in North America. We pulled over at a picnic area and made our way down to one of the shores and explored!
Lower/Midway/Upper Geyser Basin. There are over 10,000 hot springs and geysers in the park, several which can be explored by boardwalk or paved trails. Lower Geyser Basin area holds over 100 geothermal features. Midway Geyser Basin holds the Grand Prismatic Spring, which is Yellowstone’s largest single hot spring, and the world’s third largest hot spring. This is a very colorful hot spring, reflecting many colors from the rainbow. There is also a very cool hike, the Fairy Falls hike, which hikes up so you can see above the Grand Prismatic Spring, offering a different perspective of the hot spring. Upper Geyser Basin is home to Old Faithful. Old Faithful is Yellowstone’s largest geyser basin, and one of the most popular areas of the park.
Old Faithful. This area of the park is awesome. Not only is there the popular geyser, but the Old Faithful Lodge General Store are cool places to explore as well. On average, Old Faithful erupts every 90 minutes, and can shoot water on average 135 feet in the air. They typically have the estimated eruption times listed in the lodge for the day. Fun fact: Old Faithful has erupted more than a million times since Yellowstone became America’s first National Park.
What we missed: Lamar Valley & Hidden Valley
Lamar Valley is often called America’s Serengeti for its large and easily spotted animals. This area is your best chance to spot grizzly bears, wolves, bison, proghorns, badgers, bald eagles, deer, coyotes, etc. There are numerous pull-offs and overlooks along the road surrounding this area so you can scope out the wildlife. Just FYI, animals tend to be most active at dawn and dusk!
While Lamar and Hidden Valley might be your best opportunity for seeing a variety of animals in one place, it is almost guaranteed that you will still see wildlife outside those valleys, especially bison. On our trip, we were stopped in traffic multiple times for bison that were either crossing, or just hanging out in the middle of the road. Don’t forget this is not a zoo, and these wild animals will charge you if they feel threatened! Always keep a safe distance when observing.
Things to bring with you to Yellowstone
- Bear spray. Seriously. Especially if you plan on going off the main roads and into the backcountry.
- Sturdy shoes. You’ll want shoes that provide good traction and support for hiking.
- Jacket. No matter what the season, the weather is unpredictable. At higher elevations, it still cools off in the evenings, even in the summer months.
- Binoculars. Good for viewing animals in Lamar & Hidden Valley.
- Resusable water bottle. Save money (and the environment) by packing a reusable bottle to fill up in the park.
Happy Travels!! ❤