Travel Tuesday: Yellowstone National Park

by - 2:42 PM

While it has been just under a year since we have been to Yellowstone National Park, I can still picture it like it was yesterday. That's the reason why I chose this destination as my first "Travel Tuesday" post. Each week I'll be writing about a specific national park here in the US. It is our goal to travel to all 405 units in the national park system. As former park rangers, we have been fortunate to travel to many but up to this point, nothing has beat Yellowstone.

We traveled up to Wyoming for Memorial Day weekend. Typically most parks are crowded during large holidays, especially Memorial Day, but this weekend turned out to be one of the best because of how few people were actually there. It was extremely rare but it made for a great travel experience. Ever since I was old enough to remember, I had always wanted to visit the park. Hearing about the bison, grizzly bears, and elk made my mind wander about the possibilities. When someone tells you that they are EVERYWHERE, they are seriously everywhere. Because we were actually staying with friends in Jackson, we got the best of both worlds. We were able to see the local culture as well as play tourist. The first day we spent driving down the main highway through Grand Teton National Park to the south entrance of Yellowstone. Before we even made it to the park boundary, we ran into a pretty large grizzly on the side of the road. We sat and watched him for a couple minutes while he dug around, clearly upset that he didn't find anything in the stump.
When we visit parks that are as large as Yellowstone, we try to hit a bunch of the most popular attractions. When we return, we go back and check out the smaller ones or longer day hikes. On this trip, we knew that the bottom section of the main loop was closed so our initial plan was to go in the south entrance, go to West Thumb geyser basin, Yellowstone Lake, Upper & Lower Yosemite Falls (Grand Canyon of Yellowstone) and Old Faithful. Then we would go back north from Old Faithful and leave out the west entrance. Our plans changed a little bit when we realized how few people were in the park. As you drive along the loop, you'll find many things you can stop and look at. Whether it is waterfalls, geysers, or animals; there is always something to be mesmerized by.
Our first big stop was the West Thumb Geyser Basin. The day that we went was extremely windy. We were prepared with sweaters and jackets in the car thankfully. A tip when visiting, be prepared for changes in the weather. One side of the park can be 20 degrees warmer than the other. At West Thumb, there are boardwalks that you can walk on that take you around a large number of small geysers. If the wind blows while you stand in front of one, you'll feel the warmth of the geyser. As much as you'll want to touch the water, don't! It can be extremely hot and they are very fragile environments. You'll get a lovely view of Lake Yellowstone along the boardwalk.
Our next stop was a quick one, the mud pots. The mud pots themselves were pretty neat to see but beware, do they smell! The sulfur is very strong at some points. The only reason we actually stopped here was because there was a bunch of bison laying down and we wanted a decent picture in front of them. While it looks like we are too close to them, they are pretty far away. I wouldn't recommend getting this close anyways but as park rangers, we know the warning signs of what is "too close". Another tip, don't try to pet the bison. I don't know how many times we have seen visitors try to pet them but it's not worth risking your life to pet one. You may have seen the news articles about the father and son that put the bison in the back of their SUV because they thought it was cold and would die. The bison had to be euthanized because the herd wouldn't take the baby back. Don't be stupid. They are wild animals!
Our next stop was the one place I was looking forward to most on this trip, second to Old Faithful of course. The Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls were one of the highlights of this trip. It was shortly after the snow had melted so the waterfall was rushing. You could hear how loud it was before you could even see it. There are two different trails you can take to see the falls. One is just an overlook while the other is a trail that leads to the a closer overlook. The trail has some pretty steep sections and was icy in some sections but if you take it slow, anyone can do it. I wouldn't recommend sandals like I saw most people wearing. But I have been hiking for the past 20 years so I am used to having the proper shoes for every hike. Regardless, you MUST stop and see the falls. There is a one way road to get to the parking area. You might miss if it you aren't paying too much attention. There was a bear just outside of the turn so we got distracted and had to turn around. The parking lot could get very full depending on when you go but it's worth seeing. There are concessions, food, restrooms, and a visitor center within the parking lot as well.
After the falls, we continued on and drove past the Norris Geyser Basin. We were wanting to get to Old Faithful before the next "show time" so we decided we would see it next time. We actually figured out since traffic wasn't that bad, we would drive to Old Faithful and then instead of leaving the west entrance as originally planned, we would just back track and take the entire loop again leaving from the south entrance. We got to the parking lot at Old Faithful and boy was it crowded. But we found a spot in the back as I would rather walk then fight for a spot in the front and headed toward the visitor center.
There were so many people there that we went down to the other end where nobody was. That changed about 10 minutes later when a mob of people came to watch it erupt. It was about 5 minutes off of the actual schedule but this is nature we are talking about. It's just an educated guess on when it will erupt but sometimes it is off by a short time. Finally, it happened. I thought I would be more impressed with it but at the same time, it's iconic so even though it's just a geyser erupting, it was great to witness nature at it's best. It's something everywhere should be able to witness!

Since we decided to back track, we now went and stopped at Lower Geyser Basin and Norris Geyser Basin. The nice thing about the Lower Geyser Basin is that you can drive completely around it and see everything, or you can get out and walk on the boardwalks. The water in the geysers are so clear. It really makes you want to jump in but once again, that would be a poor choice. You can just feel the heat hitting you in the face. That was especially nice because it was chilly and the warm moisture felt so good! Norris Geyser Basin is pretty similar but far more crowded. You also have to walk to the geysers. They aren't accessible by car. If it's crowded, it's not a necessity to see but it's nice if you have the time..
The rest of the trip was looking at everything from the backwards view. This was just as exciting as the first time around because you get to see everything you missed. We passed by a couple more small waterfalls we didn't notice and found some more grizzly bears. We even had a bison jam from the bison crossing the road. There were a couple of huge elk herds roaming around as well as a red fox looking for it's next meal. Here are just a couple of photos of all of some animals we saw.
That's really the basics of everything you need to see while at Yellowstone. Beware of large crowds and long driving times. I'm not sure how we got so lucky not having any traffic on Memorial Day weekend but I am happy for our experience. I will say that Yellowstone is my favorite park so far due to how much stuff there is to see and do. We didn't even see over half of the park. I still want to see Mammoth Hot Springs and try to find some wolves. There is so much geology, landforms, soils, wildlife, waterfalls; you name it, you'll see it! Now, I still have to go to Glacier National Park and others like Canyonlands so it's possible Yellowstone may not be my overall favorite, but for the time being it is. It even took over Zion being my favorite and for those of you that know me, you know Zion was my favorite park for pretty much ever.
Next Travel Tuesday: Zion National Park or Grand Teton National Park?

Comment below with what your favorite park is or which park I should write about!

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