This post is a tribute to (one of) the best national parks that I have visited. I have literally tried to plan out a trip to Yellowstone National Park (YNP) every year since the past 3 years and every time something or the other would come up and we couldn’t put our plans into action. Memorial Day’s weekend of 2010 was finally the time when we actually made the trip. Although I would recommend that people should plan a Yellowstone vacation during weekdays, or schedule it to avoid the long weekend crowds, nevertheless, it is worth anytime of the year you decide to go 🙂
Given the size of the park, it absolutely makes sense to spend at least 4 to 5 days just to cover the touristy stuff. Ofcourse, 5 days are too less if you want to explore the park in-depth. People go back every year and still do not get tired of it.
We flew from San Francisco to Salt Lake city and then drove to Yellowstone from there. Lodging inside the park is expensive as well as requires reservations almost 6-12 months in advance. We stayed @ the Stage Coach Inn in West Yellowstone which is about 5 minutes from the West entrance of the park. Stage Coach is a neat little place! We just had 4 days in the park, so we planned to cover most of the major attractions. It almost ALWAYS pays off if you read books about the place that you plan to visit. We followed “Photographing Yellowstone National Park: Where to Find Perfect Shots and How to Take them” by “Gustav Verderber” as our guide. This book is mainly focused on photography, but it does mention which attraction is best photographed (READ AS: the best time of the day to visit) a particular spot.
On our first day, we started with the lower geyser basin area. Since there are a lot of geysers and hot springs in Yellowstone, I’ll try to include just the highlights! Do the Fountain Paint Pots trail and then drive to the Great Fountain geyser. Though, don’t forget to check the approximate timings of geyser eruption at one of the visitor centers. We moved on to the cover the Midway geyser basin next which is home to Grand Prismatic Spring – YNP’s largest hot spring. I would suggest taking the Fairy Tales trail to get a grand view as well as capture full photographs of this magnificent pool. You will find a lot of people in the Firehole river near the Midway geyser basin trying their hands at Fly fishing. Yes..Yellowstone is a famous destination for fly fishing.
You cannot miss catching glimpses of wild life as and when you drive through the park. For us, day 2 was dedicated to spotting wild life. We left around 5:30 in the morning from our lodge, though that is considered to be late!!! Lamar valley is famous for spotting wild life. Since we were put up at West Yellowstone, it is quite a drive to the valley. Since the Dunraven pass was closed, we had to cross Mammoth Hot springs to go to Lamar via the Tower junction. Much to our surprise, we were few of the lucky visitors who spotted a fox on our way to Tower junction. We spotted a lot of wild life including bisons, mule deer, pronhorn deer, elks, eagles and a WOLF!!!
We also spotted bison rutting on our way to Mammoth Hot springs. (Rutting is more often spotted during the fall season, so we were lucky AGAIN to see the 2 bisons duel it out). And just before Tower junction, we saw a lot of park rangers trying to control traffic. If you have been to YNP, you will know that when park rangers are controlling traffic, bears are around 🙂 Yayyy, we were about to spot bears in the wild for the first time in our life…We spotted a black mumma bear with 2 of her cubs at a distance of 150 feet. I was pretty satisfied since we spent almost 2-3 hours at the same site, trying to spot the bears and take pictures.
After lunch, we covered Mammoth Hot springs, upper and lower terraces. Best time to visit the terraces is between noon and early evening because the colors of the stones are eye-catching when the sun is at its peak. We then headed to Norris Geyser Basin. Norris is home to Steamboat geyser (world’s tallest unpredictable geyser) and Echinus geyser (world’s most acidic geyser). Steamboat last erupted in May of 2005. This geyser is known to emit steam 24 hours after it erupts. Norris has 2 loops, with a lot of hot springs and geysers. We had time so we did cover them, however; if you are short on time, it is completely okay to skip the loops and return back after covering Steamboat and Echinus.
We also covered Roaring Mountains (name given due to the roaring noise of the steam emerging from the mountains) and Artist Paint Pots on our way back.
On our third day, since the sun was bright and there were no snow storms in the weather prediction, we decided to cover the Old Faithful area in the Upper geyser basin. I personally found Old Faithful geyser by itself a rip off. It is nothing in comparison to everything else the park and its natural beauty has to offer to the visitors. The loop is almost 3 miles, so spare at least a couple of hours. Also, stop by at the visitor center to look for geyser eruption estimates if you are planning to watch one erupt. The Old Faithful Inn is worth a mention here and if you do visit YNP, make sure to visit this rustic log and wood-frame structure building.
There are lots and lots of pools and geysers on this loop, and the ones which caught my eye were Heart spring, Lion geyser, Chromatic pool, Beauty Pool, Grand geyser, Riverside geyser (since we saw this one erupt) and Morning glory pool at the end of the trail. Morning glory is an absolute jewel of Yellowstone. It is worth to do the entire loop to spot this tiny little colorful pool. The colors of the pools are due to the microorganisms surviving inside the water.
Next we went to West thumb geyser basin. Black pool and Abyss pool are not to miss. You get great views of the Yellowstone lake, Big cone, Fishing cone from the West thumb. The lake was covered with a sheet of ice and the views were breathtaking. We continued on to Fishing bridge and then towards the east entrance to spot birds. We were lucky to spot a grizzly cub wandering just after we crossed the bridge. On our way to the Grand Canyon (GC) of Yellowstone, we stopped at Le Hardy rapids (you can see trout swimming upstream during the months of June/July). We also covered the mud volcano area, but it is pretty much the same as artist paint pots minus the various colors! We drove through the North/South rims of GC of YNP, stopping at most vistas. The canyon is indeed pretty and you can view “yellow” stoned mountains from here. The lower falls are more majestic than the upper falls. There is so much more to write, but I’ll leave it for you to explore it out when you visit the park.
I had a tough time writing this post solely because of the amount of content I had in mind to pen down. I hope I did fair justice in choosing from over 500 photographs and a myriad of memories I have with me about this place. Thanks to my hubby for taking such magnificent photographs! Yellowstone is the most diverse national park I have visited. No point in time will you feel your trip being monotonous. I do want to go back since there is so much more to Yellowstone and no amount of words can describe its beauty!
A few tips if you are planning a trip to Yellowstone:
- Be prepared for weather changes. Wear layered clothing
- If you are travelling during peak season (summer), be prepared for traffic delays
- Waiting for geyser eruptions takes a lot of time, so include the extra time when you plan out your day.
- Start your day early since there is a lot to cover
- To capture great shots of wildlife, carry at least a 500mm+ Prime lens.