Visiting Yellowstone National Park (in Three Days or Less!)

by jdroth on 10 June 2015 · 0 comments

Greetings from Wyoming! After more than a week in Fort Collins, Colorado, Kim and I packed up and moved north into Wyoming. She even got to drive the motorhome for the first time on this trip…

Look out! Kim's behind the wheel!
Kim’s first day of driving as we cross into Wyoming

Initially, our plan was to make the trip to Yellowstone over a couple of days. But after seeing the vast emptiness the state has to offer, and after being profoundly unimpressed by Casper (where we’d planned to stop), we decided to push on past our five-hour travel limit. We spent seven hours on the road before stopping to camp at Wind River Campground.

The next morning, we spent some time exploring the small town of Thermopolis, named for its hot springs (which it bills as the largest in the world, although I’m skeptical). We spent twenty minutes (the max allowed) soaking in the free public pools, and we visited the surprisingly excellent (although tough to find) Wyoming Dinosaur Center. After that, we drove on to Cody, which sits about an hour east of Yellowstone National Park.

The U.S. Forest Service office suggested we settle in at Wapiti Campground, about halfway between Cody and the park. Luck was on our side once more (as it has been the entire trip), and we snatched up the last available campsite (three nights at $20 per night, electricity only).

Dandelions are everywhere in Yellowstone
I think Yellowstone is called Yellowstone because of all the dandelions…

Over the next three days, we explored Yellowstone National Park. Each morning, it took us 30 minutes to reach the gates and another 30 minutes to reach the junction by the lake. From there, it took even more time to drive to points of interest. No wonder people place a premium on camping inside the park. It’s huge.

Yellowstone may be huge, but it’s worth it. It’s spectacular. Actually, the park’s best-known feature is probably it’s most disappointing. All my life, I’ve heard about the geyser known as Old Faithful, and have always wanted to see it. It’s okay, I guess, but we liked the rest of the park better.

Old Faithful in action
Old Faithful is neat, but Yellowstone offers much more

We think the best way to approach the park is to begin with Old Faithful. By doing so, you get it out of the way, and you probably won’t be as disappointed because the stuff you see will build in awesomeness rather than decline.

After Old Faithful (and the other geysers and pools within walking distance), we recommend driving counter-clockwise around the park. Do not head north to the Grand Prismatic Pool. Save that for the end. Instead, head east to the lake junction and then drive north, stopping at the various geysers and mudpots. Look at the bison.

Some folks get dangerously close to the buffalo
Yellowstone is a home where the buffalo roam…

When you come to the canyon junction, take the eastern spur to view Yellowstone Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Take a couple of hikes. That’s probably good for your first day.

The beautiful Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone…

On the second day, continue where you left off. Drive north to the tower junction. Stop to look at wildlife. Take another hike. From there, drive west toward Mammoth Hot Springs. Get out of your car and stroll the boardwalk between the various pools. Visit the lodge.

Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs is filled with “thermal features”…

On your third day, start at Norris junction. Visit the Norris Geyser Basin, which is a short but fascinating walk.

Drive south toward Old Faithful, stopping at the various collections of thermal features. Finish your adventure at the Grand Prismatic Spring, a colorful collection of water and gases and minerals. (It’s the largest hot spring in the U.S., and the third-largest in the world.)

Grand Prismatic Spring is gorgeous!
Grand Prismatic Spring is beautiful…

Some national parks are small. Some are fine when experienced in a car. Yellowstone is neither. The place is huge, as I’ve mentioned, and it rewards exploration by foot. Your best bet is to always get an early start. It gets very crowded by midday, even during the week, even early in the season. But if you’re in the park by seven or so, you can enjoy nearly three hours of relatively quiet roads and trails.

Yellowstone is our fourteenth national park on this year-long road trip. So far, it’s our favorite.

p.s. Don’t forget that Teton National Park borders Yellowstone to the south. Teton was our fifteen national park, and we liked it even better than Yellowstone!

The Tetons are majestic
The Tetons are majestic, they’re breathtaking… [click for larger version, photo by Kim]

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