Wow! What a beautiful place. It has so much to see, all of it something unique to its area. We knew we wanted to stay long enough to enjoy all of it, so we planned to spend at least four days there. We actually arrived early enough in the day on Sunday that we were able to add an extra 1/2 day to that. I would recommend at least four, but probably more like five if you want to take your time, or if you want to hit all of the sites on the map. Be forewarned, this post has a lot of pictures, and will probably be the longest I have ever written:)
Day 1: South Entrance Road to West Yellowstone
We couldn’t check into our cabin that was located in West Yellowstone, MT, until later in the day. Double D’s brother and his family of five had traveled with us up from the south on Hwy 287 that eventually takes you right into the south entrance to Yellowstone. Since we knew we had some time to kill, we planned on stopping wherever we thought was a pretty place to get out, stretch our legs, and take some pictures.
The first stop was actually about five miles off the main highway, up a beautiful mountain road, to Brooks Lake. This is in the Shoshone National Forest. The views from there were just breathtaking, and the coolest thing was that we got to play around in some snow that was still piled up. Snow in June is unheard of for our area, so it was very neat to see.
We got back in the vehicle and continued on to the Oxbow Bend of the Snake River, where we saw an even more beautiful scene of the Grand Teton mountain range in the distance. Everything seemed so bright and blue that day.
A little bit on down the road, we got out along side the road to take pictures of Jackson Lake at an overlook. People were eating lunch along the shores, and enjoying the beauty. This is a panoramic taken looking south to north along the mountains.
Finally, we meandered enough to make it to the South Entrance of Yellowstone, where I snapped this picture as we drove by. Yay!!! It seemed like it took forever to get to this point, but I guess that’s what two days of driving will do.
The first falls that we stopped at were the Lewis Falls on the south end of Lewis Lake. The weather was beautiful that day, and we hiked up a trail to get to the top of the falls. There was more snow to play in up there, and the water down below the falls was crystal clear.
We were getting close to check-in time at the cabin, so we looked for something to do along the drive that wouldn’t involve a lot of time. From Lewis Falls, we drove up to West Thumb, and went left, past the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins. The sign for Firehole Falls came up, and so we turned down that road. We figured we’d take a few photos, and get to the cabin in time for check-in. The falls were beautiful, with the water churning at the bottom and the sounds as water runs over the rocks. It is fed by the Firehole River.
We thought we would be smart and proceed to the cabin from there. Little did we know that we would be sitting in a line of cars, waiting for 50 minutes, while one of the bison herds crossed the road through the Madison Valley. People were getting out of cars and walking to see what was the holdup. We finally found out when someone came back to a car that was waiting behind us. Needless to say, we didn’t quite meet our 4:00 check-in time, but we did get to see a bison herd, and some cute little calves.
Day 2: Madison to Norris Loop
Day 2 consisted of all the stops along the Grand Loop from Madison to Norris. One quick tip for future travelers: bring food with you. There aren’t many places to eat inside the park, and we were starving by lunch time because we didn’t know this. The next day, we stocked up on snacks and drinks to carry with us.
We started with visiting Gibbon Falls, which is fed by the Gibbon River. It plunges 84 feet to the bottom. Out of all the falls we visited, this one was in my top two for favorites. There is just something majestic about it, and the observation area was nicely placed to be able to enjoy it.
From there we stopped at Gibbon Meadows to take pictures of another bison herd. In the picture below, you can see other thermal features, which are the white spots in the middle of the picture. We didn’t go any closer to the herd, but walking by the stream made for a relaxing stroll. The water wasn’t very deep at all, and was very clear.
Artists’ Paint Pots was the next hike we went on. The walk is about one mile around a thermal area consisting of mudpots, steam vents and small geysers. The view from the uphill climb is beautiful, with the different colors of the thermal features below you, and the Grand Tetons in the distance.
The Norris Geyser Basin was the next stop. We only did the Porcelain Basin Trail, which was about 1/2 mile. This trail offered different views than we had the entire day, because of the cloudy, milky look of the water in the pools. Other parts of the thermal features had vibrant oranges, which was created by iron oxides and arsenic mixed with bacteria. This was a wonderful trail that I really enjoyed.
The sky in Yellowstone is equally amazing. It seems to go forever, and it was always changing while we were there. Sometimes it would be cloudy, then come up with dark rain clouds, and then the sun would come out full force. This picture of a sundog was taken on the drive back to the cabin. Another interesting thing about this picture is the trees. The taller ones are the ones that were there before the 1988 fire, and the shorter ones are the new growth. Whole areas of the park are like this.
Day 3: Norris to Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower-Roosevelt to Canyon City Loop
This was the day we did the most driving, because we realized we might run out of time to do all of the figure 8 loop. We decided to do the entire top of the 8 in one day, which probably wasn’t the smartest. We were really tired that night when we finally made it back to the cabin. Also, there was road construction on the loop from Norris to Mammoth, so we had to wait in line for a 1/2 hour.
The first stop was at the Golden Gate Bridge. A wooden bridge was first built in the late 1800s, but since then two concrete bridges have replaced it. I can’t even imagine going over a wooden one since it was literally built into the side of a mountain.
Just up the road were the Rustic Falls. This is fed by the Glen Creek, which plunges 47 feet to the bottom. We almost didn’t see this one because we had stopped at the turnout for information about the bridge, and didn’t even realize the falls were there until we were parking.
We got back in to drive up to Mammoth Hot Springs. This part of the loop had some interesting rock formations that we hadn’t see anywhere else in the park. We finally got to the Mammoth Hot Springs area, which seemed to go on forever. There were a lot of boardwalks with three different parking areas to see all of the sights. Canary Springs and Minerva Terrace were just beautiful. What I found the most interesting at this stop is that there were these dead trees just sticking up in a seemingly barren wasteland. I looked for dead trees at every stop we made after that, just because it was like they were taunting the harsh environment.
After we stopped for a quick snack and some elk spotting, we continued our journey from Mammoth Hot Springs to the Tower-Roosevelt area. The first stop we came to was Undine Falls, which is actually a double waterfall which drops about 100 feet. We couldn’t get too close to it, but there was a trail that we walked down for a better view.
From there, we took a one way dirt road which headed onto the Blacktail Deer Plateau. This was my favorite part of the whole trip. The dirt road eventually winds seven miles to connect back to the Grand Loop road, so I’m not sure what we missed by taking the drive. However, what we did see from the drive was what really made it worth it. The views to the north of the peaks in the Gallatin National Forest were breathtaking and we saw an antelope chasing a coyote. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
We continued to Tower Fall, but before we got there we stopped at a turnout and noticed there was a family of bighorn sheep, complete with a couple of babies, just grazing on the side of a hill. We got some pictures of them and continued on to Tower Falls, which drops 132 feet before joining with the Yellowstone River. This was the fall that landscape artists painted in the 1800s, which in turn created support for making Yellowstone a national park.
Once we were done there, we continued on the rest of the loop to Canyon Village. We got caught in another traffic jam, this time for a black bear with two cubs. There wasn’t really anywhere to pull over, so my brother-in-law got out, took pictures, and we doubled back to pick him up. This was as close as I got to any bear the entire time we were there.
Driving on, this was actually my favorite part of the Grand Loop that we took, just because we were finally IN the mountains. This part of the Grand Loop climbs the eastern part of the Washburn Range, including 8,849 foot Dunraven Pass and 10,243 foot Mount Washburn. Again, the views were breathtaking. Driving out of the mountains, we stopped at an overlook just to breath in the scenery and mountain air.
Once we got to Canyon Village, we turned the vehicle towards the cabin. We’d been in the SUV all day, and while everything was worth it, we were all exhausted.
Day 4: Canyon Village to Fishing Bridge to West Thumb Grand Loop
Wow! Day 4 was an incredibly huge day as well. Less driving, but we did a lot of walking, including two trails that had switchbacks featured, and saw some awe-inspiring sights. We started by driving to Canyon Village, where we turned to drive to the Lower Falls via the North Rim Drive. We stopped first at the Grand View, which requires no trail walking. We saw an osprey that had created a nest on top of a tall spire of rock, and of course the view of the Lower Falls.
From there, we decided to take the trail down to Lookout Point, which was paved, but wet in spots. The scenery along the trail made me want to stop and take pictures every two seconds. The above picture shows the path down to the Lookout Point. We were definitely getting closer to the falls, and the views from the bottom of the path were breathtaking. The white blob on the left side of the canyon is snow.
In the above picture you can see the people gathered at the brink of the Lower Falls, just to the right of the start of the waterfall. That would be our next stop. First though, we had to climb back up to the Grand View Overlook, where we parked our vehicle. Let’s just say going down was much easier than climbing back up:)
Once we struggled back up to the vehicle, we drove to the trail that takes you down to the brink of the Lower Falls. This trail was much easier in my opinion because they provided switchbacks, so there were times where it felt somewhat level as you were walking. We got to the bottom of the trail, but you could hear the roar from the water long before you made it down. It drops 308 feet to the bottom of the canyon. What a sight, and well worth the trek. Here is a picture from the platform at the top of the falls, and then looking down the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.
Going back up the trail, I did stop and take a picture of the Upper Falls. Unfortunately, we didn’t take the time to visit the fall, so it was nice to be able to see it from the trail.
After climbing back up to the vehicle, it was on to the West Thumb area. We did stop along the way, of course. Hayden Valley was like an open oasis surrounded by trees. This valley is home to bison, grizzly bears, elk, deer, moose, and wolves. Unfortunately, all we saw were bison, but there was a woman there that said they had seen bears at the same spot the night before.
We also stopped at the Mud Volcano area, where my favorite spring was, the Dragon’s Mouth. I wish I had taken video of it, because the rumbling coming from it actually sounded like what I would imagine a dragon would sound like. It is caused by steam exploding through the water and echoing against the walls of hidden caverns within it. Very cool!
On the way to West Thumb, we drove by Yellowstone Lake, which has a depth of about 400 feet in some places. Where we stopped, it was very windy and a bit chilly.
Finally, we made it to the last stop of the day, which was the West Thumb Geyser Basin. My niece played tour guide for this one, and read about each thermal feature out loud. Hands down, our favorite one for this basin was the Black Pool, which we found out was a really dark color until the early 1990s when it began to heat up, killing the bacteria in the pool and changing the color to a really pretty sapphire color. The name hasn’t changed though. This one was also interesting because there were animal bones visible at the edge of the pool.
Also at West Thumb is the Fishing Cone, located on the edge of Yellowstone Lake. People would use it to cook the fish they caught still on the hook until that was banned in the early 1900s.
Day 5: Old Faithful to Madison Grand Loop
Day five was our last day at Yellowstone. We started with visiting Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin. We actually got there right before it was scheduled to erupt, so we only waited about 15 minutes. It was very crowded, but I think that must be because it has a regular schedule, and it goes off multiple times a day, unlike others that have a +/- 4 hour window. It was a pretty cool experience to see it erupt, shooting about 130 feet in the air.
We also toured the Old Faithful Inn. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but really, I ended up wishing we could have stayed one night there. The ambiance was impressive, with the views of Old Faithful from the decks, and the old fireplace in the middle of the open area. Even with all the people milling about, it seemed like we could be standing there in the early 1900s.
After Old Faithful, we really wanted to see Morning Glory Pool, so we walked the trail that leads up to the pool. Along the way, we saw some of the most active thermal features that we had seen the entire time we were in the park. Castle Geyser was very active, and the Sawmill Geyser was going while we were there. The Sawmill was my favorite because it was spasmodic, and the wind was carrying the water to the boardwalk where we were standing. Even the water drops were warm. Also, this is where we saw the steam vents along the Firehole River. Seems like an appropriate name.
Finally we came to the Morning Glory Pool. People have thrown objects in the pool, clogged the vent at the bottom, which resulted in a lowered temperature. The lower temp causes bacteria with different colors to thrive so the color has changed from a beautiful blue color to what we have today. Personally, I think Morning Glory is still beautiful with its different colors, but it’s never a good thing to vandalize.
From there, the trail changes to a gravel hiking trail that leads to Biscuit Basin. Double D and I decided to hike over to Biscuit Basin, and the others went back to Old Faithful to get the vehicle. The trail was only about a mile, and it took us through a beautiful wooded area, with other thermal features along the way. The whole time we were walking, I was seriously afraid of encountering a bear, but we didn’t, and only passed one other couple. It was an amazingly peaceful hike.
We had time to visit the Sapphire Pool at Biscuit Basin before the others came to pick us up. It was an intense blue color, and had these ledges that looked really inviting to sit on, kind of like a hot tub.
We also stopped at Midway Geyser Basin to see Excelsior Geyser and the Grand Prismatic Spring. Unfortunately, it was windy that day, and the steam was heading right for us, so we didn’t get a great look at either one. Also, the trail to view Grand Prismatic from up above was closed. The Excelsior is interesting in that it had violent eruptions in the 1880s, and then was dormant until the 1980s, where it erupted but only for two days. Maybe it only erupts every 100 years?
And the final stop was at the Lower Geyser Basin. There was a lot to see there including the Fountain Paintpot, Silex Spring and the Red Spouter, which was my favorite at this spot. In the spring, it bubbles red mud, and then in the summer and fall, it becomes a steam vent when the water table recedes. It was created by an earthquake in 1959. Just further proof that Yellowstone is constantly changing.
We decided that our feet had had enough of walking, so on the way back to the cabin some of us got out of the vehicle and decided to wade in one of the shallow creeks. The water was so refreshing and clear, but it was on the chilly side after being in it for a while. What a wonderful way to end our trip to Yellowstone though. The next day we packed up and headed home.
Below are some of my personal favorites. There was so much to see, so I did have a hard time narrowing them down.
Favorite Loop: Mammoth Hot Springs to Canyon Village
Favorite Drive off of Grand Loop: Blacktail Plateau Drive
Favorite Trail: Connecting Morning Glory Pool to Biscuit Basin
Favorite Basin: Porcelain Basin
Favorite Lake: Brooks Lake
Favorite Falls: Lower Falls, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Favorite Mudpot: Fountain Paint Pot, Lower Geyser Basin
Favorite Geyser: Sawmill Geyser, Upper Geyser Basin
Favorite Spring: Dragon’s Mouth Spring, Mud Volcano area
Favorite Pool: Black Pool, West Thumb
Favorite Fumarole: Red Spouter, Lower Geyser Basin
Favorite Animal: Chipmunks
Thanks for looking!