How to Explore Yellowstone National Park in less than 2 days….

Our Aunt Shirley and Uncle Mike came to visit from California and they brought their granddaughter, Cassie.  We had several adventures planned in our area and one of them was Yellowstone National Park (YNP).  The Lockes left a day early and visited friends in Victor, Idaho and then stayed the night in Grand Teton National Park.  We left early the next morning, with our daughter Jerie and husband Chris, as well as our son Jade.  On our way, we stopped to catch the morning sun on the Teton mountain range.


We met at Colter Bay on Jackson Lake and entered YNP through the South entrance. Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant.  It is over 2.2 million acres and encompasses parts of 3 states.


South Entrance

Since YNP is our home “playground” we had set up an itinerary and sent it to the Lockes so they would know what we were going to see and where we would stop.20181101_122857

Out first stop was Lewis Falls which is on the Lewis River.  The best view is from the bridge or the far side of the river.


At West Thumb we turned east toward Old Faithful and stopped at Isa Lake which is on the continental divide.  Half of the lake goes to the Pacific Ocean, while the other half will travel to the Gulf of Mexico.  We straddled the Pacific side as this will eventually flow past our town via the Snake River.


Just before Old Faithful, we stopped at Kepler Cascades, which is on the Firehole River. It falls 150 feet over multiple drops.


At Old Faithful, we first checked the schedule of the next eruption, and having plenty of time, we checked out the Old Faithful Inn. It was constructed in 1904, with it’s lobby being built of logs and limbs.  It also has an 85 foot fireplace and is the largest log hotel in the world.  It has been expanded and modified, with a fire suppression system added in 1948.  It is currently being brought to current building codes while retaining it’s rustic nature.


It was time for Old Faithful to erupt.  The eruption time is an estimate, so we waited patiently.  While we waited, a nearby geyser erupted….bonus… then it was Old Faithful’s turn and it did not disappoint.


It was Chris’ 24th birthday, so we celebrated with cupcakes and a song in the parking lot.


We headed to Midway Geyser Basin.  The parking lot is very small, and it takes some time to find a spot.  Once parked, there is a foot bridge that crosses the Firehole River.  The geyser basin has several features, one being Excelsior Geyser.  It has a lot of steam and boiling water, but back in the 1800s it would burst 50 – 300 feet in the air and was last active in 1985 with 47 hours of major eruptions.  It no longer erupts but has a constant stream of 4,000 gallons of boiling water that flow into the Firehole River.  The hillside is colored bright orange, due to this overflow from Excelsior.   The flowing hot water makes an excellent environment for bacteria to grow.


The boardwalk continues past Excelsior to Grand Prismatic Spring.  It is approximately 375 feet across and 125 feet deep, with the water temperature near 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  The edges of the pool are covered in bright orange bacteria mats.


The springs is surrounded by a large runoff area, from the 500 gallons of hot water that flow from the springs every minute.


After our short walk around Midway Geyser Basin, we drove the one way loop of Fiehole Canyon drive to Firehole Falls.  It is a 40 foot waterfalls carved through an 800 foot thick lava flow.


We continued past Madison junction and headed north towards Norris Geyser Basin.  We stopped for a quick view of Beryl Springs, which is located along the Gibbon River.  It is a super heated pool that boils up to 4 feet high.  Under the right lighting conditions, it appears to be bluish-green.


Our next stop was Norris Geyser Basin.  This is a very hot thermal area, with some thermal temperatures measuring near 400 degrees F.  It is also one of the largest geyser areas in Yellowstone.  There is a small visitors center that gives some insight on the area’s thermal features.


This basin is also home to Steamboat Geyser, which is the world’s tallest active geyser.  The eruptions are very unpredictable and prior to 2018, it hadn’t erupted since September of 2014.  In March of 2018, it began erupting and as of this blog post, has erupted 24 times in just over 7 months.  The eruptions can last from 3 minutes to 40 minutes and can reach heights of 300 feet.


We were hoping for an eruption but only saw steam, but we showed how we would react if it erupted.


Along the short walk to Steamboat, there are a variety of other thermal features to view.


Back at the visitor center we decided to walk to the lower basin.



At the bottom, we ran into a ranger who was collecting garbage from the area surrounding the boardwalk.  Due to the water temperature, she had to use a special extended arm.  Cassie got to hold her hat while she worked.


The area was very barren due to the ground temperature, but had beautiful colors in the hot pools.


Our next stop was Golden Gate Gate Canyon.  Glen Creek flows around the side of Bunsen Peak.  Water has cut a gap in the mountain, making for a beautiful waterfall, an impressive view, and an engineering marvel of the road.

We drove through the Mammoth Hot Springs area and would explore it the following morning.  We were headed to Slough Creek, but on the way we stopped to look at wildflowers, elk, bison calves, and a brief glimpse of a bear.

Slough Creek is in the Northeast corner of the park in Lamar Valley.  This area has become a wolf watcher’s paradise.  We found a spot and  talked to “our neighbors” about where to look.  Cindy cooked dinner while all eyes were on the valley and mountain.  Through the scopes and binoculars we were able to see a family of wolves.  We had a brief storm during dinner which had to be eaten in the vehicles. Our patience after the storm was rewarded with a grizzly sighting through the scope.

That night we stayed in Gardiner, MT which is just outside the North entrance.  Our campground was right along the Gardiner River. We had elk on the opposite side of the river and we even had an elk wandering the campsites.

The next morning we met back up with the Lockes, who had stayed in a nearby hotel.  We stopped at the Roosevelt Arch. During the early years of YNP,  the army was in charge of the maintenance and security of the park.  Mammoth Hot Springs became the park headquarters, and the army was commissioned to build an entrance.  So in true military fashion, they built a triumphal arch.  President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone in 1903.  The top of the arch is inscribed with a quote from the Organic Act of 1872 which created YNP.  It reads, “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People”.

After entering the North entrance at Gardiner,  it is about an 8 mile drive back to Mammoth Hot Springs.  Along the way, we stopped for pictures at the Montana sign and the 45th parallel.

Mammoth Hot Springs has become a gathering area for elk and their calves.  They are very territorial so you must keep your distance as they will charge at you.

Mammoth Hot Springs is known for it’s beautiful white terraces.  The hot springs activity varies, so some parts are white and some are gray, as these are no longer active areas.  The slow flow of water causes the travertine (calcium carbonate) to form the terraces.

We drove the Upper TerraceLoop road, which gives a great view of the canyon and park headquarters.

There is a boardwalk to the lower terraces. As we headed that way, a bear ran out in front of us…that was an exciting but unexpected surprise.

With the hot springs activity ever shifting, the colors change from year to year.  There is also a dormant hot springs cone called Liberty Cap.

From Mammoth Hot Springs we continued east to Undine Falls.  It is a 60 foot waterfall on Lava Creek and is one of the few falls that can be seen without hiking.

From there, we came upon a bear jam.  This is a stop in traffic due to a bear sighting.  By the time we got stopped the bears had wandered into the trees.

So we walked to the overlook of the canyon and saw Big Horn Sheep on the far side of the river.

We turned south at the Tower-Roosevelt intersection and headed up over Dunraven Pass which sits at 8859 feet.  Since it was the first of June and the pass still had piles of snow. Cassie, being from California, thought it would be fun to have a snowball fight.

Our next stop was the Canyon area. We started on the north side of the canyon and walked the Brink of the Lower Falls trail.  This is a nice trail that contains numerous switchbacks.

However, the views are worth the hike.  You can catch glimpses of the upper falls as well.

Once at the brink of the falls, there is a platform to stand on, to hear the roar of the falls and feel the spray.

The beauty of the canyon is breathtaking.

Back on top, we headed to the south side and took the short walk to Artist Point .  This is one of our favorite picture spots in the park.

Jade just had to get a “conquer the world” pose.

Our time with the Lockes was coming to a close as they had reservations to stay in Cody, WY.  Before we parted ways, we stopped along the Yellowstone River and had a picnic lunch.

Cassie enjoyed the smores and we finished up our wildlife bingo game.

After a sad good-bye, the Lockes left for Cody and we drove to the Mud Volcano area.  With abundant water in the spring and early summer, this is an interesting place.  There is a looping boardwalk that goes up and around a small hill, with many thermal features and a few bison as well. At the far back of the loop is Sour lake, named for it’s acidic nature. Along the trail, we enjoyed hearing the plopping of the mud bubbles.

Churning Caldron was an especially active area, with lots of steam, boiling and churning, and a stream of hot runoff water.

At the bottom of the loop, there are two thermal features. The first is Mud Caldron, where you will see bubbling thick mud water.

The other is Dragon’s Mouth Spring.  As the water bubbles out and then is sucked back in to the side of the hill, it gives the sound of a dragon.  The steam adds a nice touch as well.

Our next stop was the Lake Hotel that sits on the western shore of Yellowstone Lake. It is 7732 feet above sea level and covers 136 square miles with 110 miles of shoreline.  The  “arms” on the southeast portion of the lake are only accessible by non-motorized boats.  The hotel opened in 1891 and is the oldest operating hotel in YNP.  It is built to resemble other hotels owned by the Northern Pacific Railroad.  In 1903 columns were added to the front as well as 15 false balconies, which gave it the nickname of Lake Colonial Hotel.

We continued on around Yellowstone Lake and made the turn to go over Craig’s Pass.  We stopped for a brief view of Shoshone Lake.  This is the only place you can see the lake without hiking. In the summer of 2017 we hiked from Old Faithful around Shoshone Lake to Lewis Lake.

We back-tracked past Old Faithful and drove to Madison junction, turning west to drive to West Yellowstone.  Along the Madison River, we had one more pleasant surprise…a bear.

It had been a wonderful trip, filled with great memories.  We celebrated at a mexican restaurant in Island Park…great food makes any trip that much better.IMG_20180607_202919136