It’s hard for us to believe, but it’s been 30 years since Karin and I went to Yellowstone National Park. After Tim Valadao’s wedding in Idaho, we headed East from Corral Creek Ranch in the Camas Prairie toward the world’s first National Park.
Being a little late to plan the trip, we knew we’d not find a camping site in the park. Not to worry. There are tons of state and national forest camp grounds just outside of the park to try. And if folks get desperate, there are also private RV parks. Not our cup of tea; but it’s always an option.
Everything in the park was full or closed but we found a great RV campground at Henrys Lake State Park in Idaho, just a 13 mile hop over a hill to the park entrance at West Yellowstone. From here It would be easy to spend a day poking around the park, and return at night to our trailer.
Day 1: Our visit didn’t start out so great. We went to bed the night before to snow falling and woke up to the same snow next morning. No further accumulation but still pretty cold. As we got to the park it started to rain. By the end of the day the weather had eased up but still pretty cold.
For our first foray into the park, we headed North, working our way up to Mammoth Hot Springs. Along the way we stopped at a hot springs or two, and marveled at the views.
One of the joys of driving into any National Park is that the speed limit drops. You get to slow down to 45, and not worry about people behind you. People are going to pull out to see things anyway, so it’s lovely that life slows down.
Getting into Mammoth ended up being a major pain. By 11am all the hot spring parking lots were full (shorter walk), and drivers were getting frustrated (including our own) so we cruised on through, and went up to Gardiner, Montana at the North entrance. We found a nice lunch spot then went South again, and finally found a parking spot near Mammoth.
It’s interesting to travel in the fall. There are fewer crowds we are told, but once there to wonder how bad it must be during the summer! The crowds that are there tend to concentrate in the most popular places…such as Mammoth. Still, we’re here, and found parking, walked the boardwalk around the the pools. Even with all us tourists it is still an amazing site as is the entire park.
Day 2: After the prior day we decided we needed a new strategy to deal with the crowds. Of course everyone says you need to get there really early to see the critters and miss the crowds. We took the advise and headed out early.
Our target today was Grand Prismatic Springs. We left our trailer at 7am. We weren’t the only one out early that day but the line was shorter and we did see a herd of Bison along the way much to Karin’s excitement (we only saw a deer the day prior).
We were pleased that lots of parking was available when we got to the springs. It was in the low 40’s when we got there so the steam was pretty thick and hard to see the actual springs. There are four large one in this particular site but there’s got to be 100’s in the basin. Steam was coming up all over the place!
By the time we left an hour later, the parking lot was full with cars and 4 tour buses, and the traffic backed up out of the attraction. Glad to be leaving.
Next stop was Old Faithful. Once we got there we found that the next eruption was due in 90 minutes so we headed toward the Visitors Center for an informational tour of the Yellowstone and Geyser Basin geology. Then off to the Old Faithful Inn for a coffee. The lodge was wonderful and charming. Lots of Arts and Craft furniture, the log structure itself and split log steps (none of them even!). Best of all we found we could watch the eruption from the upstairs balcony with our coffees. Old Faithful did not disappoint!
We decided to walk path and boardwalks above Old Faithful where were are dozens of other geysers and hot springs of different kinds. Their naming is pretty literal based on the shape of the geyser such as pork chop, ear, beehive, you get the idea. There was a much longer walk but Karin’s hip was starting to act up and didn’t want to get stuck in the middle of the basin without access to a car. We’ll get to it next time.
Day 3: Today was Yellowstone Lake and Grand Canyon of Yellowstone , and Hayden Valley loop day. We left early again drove past the attractions we visited yesterday. It was interesting to to see the tree regrowth from the big fire in 1984 (or 1989 check this date). lots of areas affected where you see the line where the new growth starts. Some other areas looked as if they they had more recent burns but the reseeding keeps happening, which is great.
When we first saw Yellowstone Lake it made me think of SE Alaska. It is huge. Trees grow up to the lakeside except where there’s a road. Not much beach to see or access. We did stop at the Yellowstone Lake Hotel and had a drink as recommended by our friends Shirley and Jim Runkel. Nice place.
Nearby there is a marina for fishing boats and Fishing Bridge RV park that will take trailers our size so we’ll try for next time to come here. It was closed for repairs.
So off we go looking for critters for Karin in Hayden Valley. We saw one Bison (so sad), but lots of birds along the lake and river (White Pelicans, Trumpeter Swans, eagles and other ducks I haven’t identified yet with plenty of Canadian Geese in the mix).
Now we come to the Canyon Falls. Yes, it is also amazing. You almost get exhausted from all of the wonderful sites! The day had warmed and clear blue skies. Just a great view.
Yellowstone National Park was all amazing in its sites and diversity. We will come back.
- We will hope to camp inside the park if possible.
- We will leave early every day in hopes of seeing more wildlife.
- We will pick only one site per day to visit and do some hiking nearby to really experience the place.
- We will stay more than 3 days.
- We will be Bear Aware and carry our bear spray everywhere.