Yellowstone National Park - Trip Duration 14 Days
Living near Yosemite and loving to travel, I know that advance planning is the way to go when visiting our most popular National Parks and tourist locations. I planned my trip to Yellowstone almost a year ahead of time, with 10 days to see the park and 2 days travel time each way. Even so, there were areas of the park I did not get to see, and some places along the way I wished I’d stayed longer. Oh well, there’s always next time!
To start, I headed over Tioga Pass and then east past Mono Lake to see the genuine cowboy town of Fallon, Nevada. After an ice cream and a short stroll, I continued north to the Interstate and east to Elko where I spent the night. The next day I journeyed on to Twin Falls, Idaho for a picnic at Perrine Bridge, where I watched people base jump down to the Snake River canyon.
Then I drove on to Idaho Falls, where I decided to take a scenic detour to follow the Swan Valley Highway along the Snake River past Palisades Reservoir, before pulling into Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the night. The scenery, hiking and fishing along this route looked amazing, I’d like to go back there again.
The next morning, I visited the acclaimed National Museum of Wildlife Art just outside of Jackson, then continued on into the Grand Tetons National Park. Now there’s another place that deserved more of my time, I sat and took photos of people kayaking on beautiful mountain lakes and wished I could stay and do that too. But for me, it was on into Yellowstone National Park to check off that item on my Bucket List! I entered Yellowstone via the southern gate then worked my way counter clockwise around the park over the next 10 days. I knew the park was too big to stay in one campground or lodging, so had planned for 2 to 3 nights in each place.
I devoted several days to visiting the various geo thermal features of the park, including an entire day exploring the mud pots, geysers, fumaroles, and hot springs in the Old Faithful region. I think I enjoyed Lone Star Geyser the best, because it took a bit of effort to visit and isn’t completely predictable, and thus also not crowded. This was one of the few bike friendly trails that I found in the park, so I cycled in and out, but I met many hikers along the way including a group from the SF Bay Area. The eruption schedule for Lone Star is a window of several hours, so I took a book and picnic lunch with me and had a very enjoyable day. The hot springs terraces by Mammoth in the northwest corner of the park were quite impressive too.
Be prepared for a lot of driving, Yellowstone is huge even by that standards of someone from Yosemite and northern California. Be sure to set aside time to just sit and take it all in. There was one afternoon where I felt like I’d been driving back and forth all day (because I had!), and I stopped by a lake for a break and ended up spending the entire afternoon watching a Bald Eagle and an Osprey fishing. All I know is that I was somewhere between Mammoth and Norris, and that the Osprey was a very good fisherman indeed!
I fulfilled my dream of seeing wolves in the wild, and was lucky enough to spend an entire morning near Slough Creek along the Lamar Valley road watching a small pack through the spotting scopes of local wildlife experts. At one point, a large Grizzly Bear ran across the river below us and then up the hill near where the wolves were, and the entire pack came out to keep an eye on it’s progress, what a memorable site that was. I didn’t get to hear Wolves howling at night, so I’ll have to go back for that.
On the subject of wildlife, for me that is how I came away thinking of Yellowstone National Park. Yes, they have rivers, waterfalls, forests and mountains, and all that geo thermal stuff going on, but what they have that really stood out for me is the critters, so many critters, such BIG critters! In addition to the bison, moose, and elk, I saw pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, and of course those amazing wolves and bears. I highly recommend the Yellowstone Yellow Bus “Wake up with Wildlife” tour, which leaves from the Mammoth Hotel in the northwest corner of the park. Our guide was fantastic, and from taking that tour I learned where in the park to go back to for more wildlife viewing on my own time (and for free).
Try to explore every side road you see while driving around the park. There are a number of small roads that loop off the main highways, some of which are not paved, and I found the most amazing scenery and views along these roads. That’s how I found a swimming area along Firehole River, where the water is warmed by geo thermals upstream, and you float downriver then walk back up and do it again. It was lovely, a little scary, and lots of fun
My last night was spent in West Yellowstone, at the historic Madison Hotel. Coming home, I decided to take historic Highway 50 to visit some of the old Gold Rush towns along that route. The whole trip was an amazing adventure, I can’t wait to do it all again. But first I have to visit Glacier National Park this August, that’s next on my Bucket List, so stay tuned for more adventure and travel tales soon!
Where I Stayed:
The Lexington at Jackson Hole: Just a few blocks off of the Town Square, this motel is far enough away from the busy downtown area for a quiet night sleep.
Yellowstone River Motel, Gardiner, Montana: Basic motel rooms walking distance to the food and shopping, some rooms have a view of the river.
Madison Hotel, West Yellowstone, Montana: Built in 1912, with a lovely outside porch, I booked one of the original, historic rooms with shared showers & toilet.
Grant Village Campground, Yellowstone – South central part of the park, this was a good campground for seeing the southern half of the park.
Mammoth Campground, Yellowstone – Northwest part of the park, this is a small no frills campground in a good location for touring the northern part of the park.
Slough Creek Campground, Yellowstone – Northeast part of the park, close to wildlife sightings and fishing.
Holiday Inn Express, Elko, Nevada this hotel was conveniently located about ½ way between my home in Tuolumne County and Yellowstone National Park, near to restaurants and stores.