We want to first thank everyone here for making our trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks so memorable. The suggestions and ideas that we got from these forums helped us plan a very memorable trip! We love Yellowstone.
I promised myself that I would write a detailed trip report in the hopes that others find it useful. Better late than never and here is report about our Labor day 2009 (yes no typo :-) trip to YNP from Sep 4, 2009 – Sep 9, 2009.
Sep 4 – We split the long 12 hour drive from Seattle to YNP into two segments of 4 hours and 8 hours. We started from Seattle around 8pm and reached Spokane around midnight. We spent the night at the Mirabeau Park Hotel in Spokane which was quite comfortable for the night.
Sep 5 – We started the 8 hour drive to Gardiner, MT to enter YNP through the North Entrance. Since we started late around 10:30am, we passed by the lake and did not want to take a detour at Coeur d’Alene. I would advise getting a head start and making time for this very beautiful lake as well. We stocked up on breakfast items/fruits/energy bars in the grocery store outside the park. We saw the Devils slide by the side of the Yellowstone River outside the park and reached YNP around 6 in the evening. Proceeding through the Roosevelt Arch we headed straight to Mammoth hot springs. Palette spring was beautiful. We then headed to the Canyon area via Norris where we stayed at the Canyon lodge for the next 3 nights. The terraces at Mammoth were really colorful and we were excited to spot our first bison on the way from Mammoth to Canyon.
Sep 6 – We decided to explore the canyon area. Looking back this was not a good choice. We should have chosen to go to Lamar valley instead to avoid the crowds in the canyon area on sunday. We went to Artist point to see the lower falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (people people everywhere). We did Uncle Tom’s trail, saw the upper falls of the Yellowstone River. We then had lunch at the Canyon area and proceeded to see Back Basin in Norris Geyser Basin taking short detours to see Ice lake (nothing spectacular, yet another alpine lake) and Gibbon river on Virginia Cascade Road. Steamboat Geyser in Back Basin is the world’s tallest geyser but it wasn’t active when we were there. Back basin wasn’t that impressive (except for emerald spring right near the entrance) and can be avoided if you don’t have enough time (some geothermal features and lots of rotten egg smell!). We then decided to drive to Mammoth to explore the terraces further. Mound terrace and Canary Spring are very beautiful and we loved it! The colorful thermophiles and the pure white of the travertine were absolutely beautiful! We saw a deer and a pair of bison on the road to Mammoth and also saw a bull elk at Mammoth (yay!).
Sep 7 – The best day at YNP! Wildlife Galore! We woke up early and decided to head towards the very beautiful Lamar valley. Lamar valley is one of the best places to see wildlife in the park and we are so glad we did this! Proceeding from Canyon, we stopped at a rest stop seeing a few cars in the area. The stop was the best stop we had made since we saw a black bear eating berries nearby. It was one of the most exciting moments of our trip! People in the area were very friendly and even offered us to use their spotting scopes to see the bear. We stayed with the bear till he disappeared into the bushes. We then proceeded via Tower falls, Calcite Springs, Basalt columns to the Lamar valley. We saw pronghorn deer lying near the road. Our excitement knew no bounds when we got to see a lone gray wolf! We had lunch at Cook City, MT and on our way back saw mountain goat at Barronette Peak and huge herds (100s) of Bison grazing happily in the valley. We also saw a herd of female elk at Mt Washburn near Dunraven Pass. Truly amazing! In the evening we decided to see Artist Paintpots (colorful!) and explored the White Porcelain Basin in Norris Geyser Basin (can be avoided to save time if needed).
Sep 8 – Today’s agenda was to check out of Canyon lodge and head to our next destination Old Faithful Inn exploring the park on the way. We stopped by Hayden valley (very picturesque) and saw people observing a wolf pack in the area (always stop when there are lots of people with scopes concentrated in an area!). We were slightly late in the morning and the wolves had disappeared into the comfort of the shade. So couldn’t spot them properly. We then proceeded via Sulphur caldron and explored various features in the mud volcano region (most acidic region in Yellowstone). We stopped by the Fishing bridge on the Yellowstone river (the river is so scenic) and the Yellowstone lake. We then explored the west thumb geyser basin (Fishing cone, blue funnel spring was cool, colorful runoffs from black pool were nice). We hiked the duck lake trail (hike was nice. yet another alpine lake) and saw a lone grazing elk on the trail and then proceeded via the continental divide and Isa lake (cool fact: the waters of the lake finally reach both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans from opposite ends - The east side of the lake going to the Pacific ocean and the west side of the lake going to the Atlantic via various rivers) to reach in time for the spectacular Old Faithful eruption (our first geyser eruption).
Sep9- After a good night’s rest at the very rustic Old Faithful Inn (check this out even if you are not staying here), we explored the upper geyser basin today. Since this area is big and geysers compete for your attention, it is a good idea to first stop at the geyser predictions for the day at the visitor center to plan your day in the area to maximize the number of eruptions seen. Castle, Daisy, Grand, Old Faithful and Riverside, are worth seeing but if you can only see one, try to see Grand (as its name suggests it is spectacular!). We walked along the firehole river (very scenic) to see the morning glory pool (not to be missed) and a few features along this trail. Due to geyser eruption timings, we decided to go and see grand prismatic spring in the midway geyser basin (another feature not to be missed). Talk to the rangers and determine how to hike up to get a good aerial view of the grand prismatic spring (we didn’t do this). After exploring the remaining pools in the midway geyser basin we were back at the upper geyser basin to watch various geysers erupt – We saw riverside (had to miss castle), daisy, grand, bee hive erupt. What a day!
Sep10-11: Grand Teton (will post about this in Grand Teton forum) Sep12- 13: Driving back to Seattle.
Useful things in Yellowstone:
1. We had borrowed the book “Yellowstone Treasures: The Traveler's Companion to the National Park” by Janet Chapple from our local library. This book was very useful with detailed maps, mile markers, interesting facts and tidbits about the various features and helped us greatly during our trip.
2. We had bought an ice cooler for this trip and stocked up on cereal, milk, curd, bread, jam, peanut butter and some leftovers from home. We had breakfast everyday in our room and the sandwiches proved handy during the drives cutting down on meal time. Food is grossly overpriced and the long queues are definitely not worth it!
3. Mammoth Hot Springs Area – takes nearly 4 hours to enjoy the beauty of the colorful terraces. Plan to go sometime in the morning/evening to take in the true beauty of the terraces. Mammoth provides a great place to watch the fall elk rut season. We could hear the bugling of elk at night during the fall.
4. Stay inside the park optionally choosing multiple locations. This way you can explore nearby areas and spend less time driving and more time enjoying the park. Drives can be long due to park road closures and bear/bison jam. We choose to spend the first 3 nights at the Canyon Lodge in the central Canyon area and explore Mammoth, Tower, Norris and the Canyon regions. We used our drive from Canyon to Upper Geyser basin to explore Hayden valley, Lake and West Thumb areas. We spent a night at the Old Faithful Inn and explored the various geyser basins nearby.
5. Dining options tend to die down rapidly starting Labor Day evening and it might be a good idea to visit the convenience store in the Canyon area (which has microwaveable food) or to plan ahead and stock up on food in YNP.
6. Norris area can be avoided entirely if you are short on time and if geysers are not active. Artists Paintpots is much nicer.
7. Wildlife: Explore Lamar and Hayden valley early in the mornings.
8. Avoid canyon area on busy holidays
9. The old faithful area is so cool
Best geyser IMO: Grand followed by Riverside
Grand Prismatic spring and morning glory pool are not to be missed.