Trip report. Yellowstone
Although I do little reviews along the way, this is only the second time I've written a trip report. I realize what I love might not appeal to others, so I'll confess at the start what has been most important to me in my travels. I'm a 67 year-old woman, and I leave my dear husband who hates to travel, and I travel for two to three weeks once a year. Alone. And here's what helps me make my journeys so delicious:
1. I take my own fluffy feather pillow wherever I go.
2. I travel comfortable and light, wash out my undies, and wear the same thing again and again. No one cares.
3. I'm prepared for every weather with 2-4 layers of clothing, earmuffs and gloves which I've needed in the strangest places.
4. And most importantly, for car trips--I leave my suitcase in the trunk and only take out what I will wear the next day, a book, maps, and my toiletry bag. That's it. No heavy lifting.
Now to Yellowstone. It occurred to me after many years of travel to faraway places to to see volcanos and geothermal activity, that Yellowstone had more than Old Failthful. Really, I had no idea. This occurred to me after I researched Iceland and found the airfare exorbitant. Yellowstone was the less expensive option. On air miles, I flew from New York to Dallas and then on to Jackson Hole where I spent 2 nights before and 2 nights after my 10 day Yellowstone journey.
As a non-hiker, and certainly someone who heeded Yellowstone warnings and would never head out on a trail without a threesome, I still wanted to see every corner of Yellowstone that I could. And, since this annual journey is also a vacation, I wanted plenty of time to read and relax. I made reservations through Xanterra, both online and over the phone, only five weeks in advance, and I amended them as lodging in the park became available.
My final September 18-27 itinerary was:
2 nights Canyon area at the Canyon Lodge in a rather spartan cabin.
2 nights Lake area at the Yellowstone Hotel with an uncomfortable bed in a room with paper thin walls. While i enjoyed the old world charm and a lobby that looked out on the lake, I preferred hanging out at Lake Lodge.
3 nights in Gardiner, MT at the Best Western Plus. At the last minute, I cancelled the Mammoth Hot Springs cabin with toilets outside and opted for comfort, a tv, and walls that were not paper thin. Plus it's two minutes from the Park and ten minutes from the Hot Springs.
3 nights in the Old Faithful area--one night in an Old Faithful Lodge cabin--bright and comfy, one night at the Old Faithful Inn and one night at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, the most modern of the three. I enjoyed experiencing all of the Old Faithful lodging options--each was entirely different and satisfactory, though I slept best at the Snow Lodge.
While I can go into the details of any of these lodgings or food availability, here's what was extraordinary about this journey:
Hayden Valley: herds of bison, and a red fox
On the way to see the sunset at Lake Butte Overlook (outside of Fishing Village) a grizzly bear. The next day, when I returned to walk along the beach, I saw a bald eagle.
Between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower-Roosevelt, on the Blacktail Plateau Drive (a must!) a momma black bear and her cub
Everywhere around Mammoth Hot Springs: elk. One early morning, there must have been 50+ on the "village green."
Blacktail and mule deer, coyote, and solitary bison in a number of different spots.
I enjoyed seeing two Rangers directing traffic while escorting a single bison to an open field. He was stuck on the road with a moutain on one side and a river on the other. When there is a dead animal and wolves and bears come to feed, the Rangers also appear to protect visitors who want to get close...
Tours and Talks.
And speaking of Rangers, I attended every talk/walk that I was able to. I'm sure they were tired at the end of the season, but their presentations were substantive and dynamic. I particularly recall the Walking the Edge, South Rim of Canyon guided walk, the Mud Volcano Ramble, and Windows into Yellowstone at Norris and the very brief Tales of the Travertine at Hot Springs. I took two Xanterra tours. Driving alone, I appreciated the opportunity to look out the window and not to have to know where I was going. The Sunset Butte Tour from Yellowstone Lake Hotel was lovely, and the 3-hour Fire Hole Basin tour from Old Faithful Inn gave me a feel for the areas where I'd want to spend more time. It was fun to hear tales about the park and learn more about the folks who work there.
Also, I loved the 45-minute tour of the Old Faithful Inn. It provided further history of the park and highlighted what an incredible architectural feat the Inn is. I'm sorry I skipped the one at The Yellowstone Lake Hotel, which is the oldest hotel in the park. One evening I hung out at the Inn in one of its comfortable oversized chairs and listened to a cellist/pianist. Delightful.
I can't begin to gush enough about the geysers, fumaroles, mud pots, and my personal favorite: hot springs. As you're probably aware a large part of Yellowstone is a supervolcano that erupted 640,000 years ago leaving a caldera of 34x45 miles. I visited every geothermal area that had boardwalk including Artist Paint Pots around Madison, which requires a bit of a walk in. It's definitely worth the full climb up the hill to see the bubbling white mud pots.
I don't think there are any areas that are missable, but I particularly enjoyed Norris Geyser Basin especially the Porcelain Basin because of the color; I went back twice, and was surprised to see that the geothermal features change from day to day. Next to Norris, the area just around Old Faithful was awesome. I loved the Morning Glory loop from Old Faithful, and though they say her color is fading, Morning Glory looks great to me. On the way, I got to see Grand Geyser erupt. The next day I did the Geyser Hill loop and got to see Castle blow. I caught Old Faithful four times at different times of day. Each geyser seems to have its own personality and changes depending on the lighting, wind, or where you stand.
There are so many geothermal stops in the Old Faithful area--Black Sand, Biscuit, the Midway Geiser basins, and more. If your time is short, I recommend Mammoth Hot Springs (for animals and the springs, both upper and lower), and the Old Faithful area.
Lastly, 80 miles from Gardiner, I traveled to Bozeman and walked their Main Street and ate pure, delicious food at the Coop. Also went to a great bookstore (new and used) with a super selection of postcards and greeting cards. I also visited the Museum of the Rockies, but was not thrilled (a Napolean exhibit???). From Old Faithful, I drove to West Yellowstone, ate Chinese food and went to a bakery that's rated highly on Tripadvisor. In West Yellowstone, several other highly-rated spots were already closed for the season. There was beautiful scenery on the trip to and from Bozeman and West Yellowstone, and I was glad that I ventured out of the park.
On my way back to Jackson Hole, I stopped at the Jackson Lake Lodge in the Grand Teton National Park (where I saw two moose on my way up to Yellowstone). A friend suggested that the Lodge was an important stop, and so I had a delicious breakfast there with a window overlooking the Tetons. It was thrilling. On the recommendation of another friend, for lunch I headed out to the Mangy Moose in Teton Village, just 12 miles from Jackson Hole. And there I took the tram ride up Rendezvous Mountain 10,000+ feet high. Another wow.
Finally, I want to say what a terrific time of year this was to travel. Although the park was crowded, I know it's far worse in the summer. Everything was open when I arrived, but hotels, small groceries, and entire areas began to close down while I was in the park. So, if you're going to travel mid-late September, check on closings.
While I'm no expert and there are definitely Yellowstone experts on Tripadvisor, I'd be happy to share what I know. And once again, I'm so grateful for the information provided by my Tripadvisor advisors .