Hi everyone. I'm planning a 17-day trip to Yellowstone (and Grand Teton) for September 2014, basically starting right after Labour Day. For me, it's lot of fun to plan such a trip in advance so I've been doing that for a few weeks. I thought this was just idle fun but then I think I saw somewhere that you can book in-park Yellowstone accommodation for 2014 by phone from 1 May 2013. Is that right? Or is it just the standard one year in advance that applies to online bookings? (Is it the same for in-park Grand Teton accommodation?)
I'm looking for cheaper in-park accommodation like the cabins at Lake Lodge, Canyon and Old Faithful and maybe a room at Mammoth (and Colter Bay cabins for GT). Do I need to be so worried about getting on the phone so early for those kinds of accommodation?
Anyway, on to the wildlife questions ... I love seeing wildlife but, mostly, I'll take it as it comes and prefer not to go too far out of my way to see it or wait around too long for it to turn up. I'd make an exception for otters and beavers though. I understand that Trout Lake is good for otters, and Beaver Ponds and the Madison are good for beavers. Anywhere else I should consider (where along the Madison?!)
Lastly, the trail questions. I'm mostly going for the hiking and the sights I can see on the way. I'm pretty fit, used to walking 10-15 miles day after day up the sorts of climbs in Yellowstone (though not at Yellowstone's altitude so I need to be careful about that). I'm a very good navigator on or off trail. I won't be overnighting on trails and I don't like going out the same way I come back (for more than, say, 3 miles). I do, however, have the advantage of a driver (as I like to think of my partner :-) so I can do point-to-point. Normally, I hike for aerial views and waterfalls but in Yellowstone I'm also really looking forward to the thermal features (and beavers & otters!) My detailed plans include the following trails (I'll be doing all the usual short thermal area trails but I've left them out of this list for brevity):
Yellowstone Lake Overview
Crater Hills (off-trail)
Bunsen Peak & Osprey Falls
Hoodoos, Narrow Gauge and Sepulcher Mountain (the latter might be too much for me)
Mt. Washburn & Seven Mile Hole (again, the latter might be too much)
North & South Canyon rim trails
Gibbon River behind (west and maybe north of) Norris Geyser Basin (off-trail)
Fairy Falls & Sentinel Meadows (combined)
Morning Mist Springs & Quagmire (off-trail mostly)
Rabbit Creek (off trail)
I dare say I won't make quite all of these but it's a good list for 12-13 days day-hiking in Yellowstone, I reckon. I considered a few extra and found reasons to whittle them out ...
Solfatara Creek Trail. I dropped this one because the main attraction for me was the Amphitheater and Whiterock Springs areas. I've read these are attractive but online photos don't look that spectacular. Should I include it?
Cascade - Ice Lakes. I dropped this when I realised I couldn't fit in Observation Peak as well (too far). I reckon it's then just a notch below the standards of the long hikes I have included above. Is that right?
Mallard Lake & Creek Trails. I was planning to do these in a loop with a bit of Powerline trail and Upper Geyser Basin. But, again, I think Mallard Lake & Creek Trails are just a notch below what I have included (and, besides, I can spend a great day just on UGB and Mystic Falls).
Pelican Valley and Turbid Pool. Pelican Valley sounded good for wildlife. And Turbid Pool sounded spookily interesting. There's an obvious loop from the Pelican Valley trailhead but I understand the direct route from Turbid Pool to that trailhead is closed (bears). And doing it as a point-to-point to the Lake Butte Overlook road is apparently quite hard because of all the wood fall blocking the path from Turbid Pool. Lastly, it is a more dangerous bear area I believe and I'll probably be solo on this one. So I dropped it. Was that the right decision?
Any other trails I should be considering (or any I should throw out)?
Many thanks for any answers or opinions you can give me.