Yellowstone National Park: Old Faithful, hundreds of thermal features, stunning mountains make this year your time to visit America’s oldest national park!

Old Faithful Geyser erupts 150 feet into the air, about every 60 to 90 minutes, in Yellowstone Park's Old Faithful area.

A large herd of bison are framed by the Grand Teton range, just south of Yellowstone Park last summer.
Deep blue hot spring on Firehole Lake Drive offers wonderous viewing for young and old; it is right off the roadway!
Boardwalk around thermal features at Firehole Lake Drive offers easy and handicapped access.
Quake Lake, just west of Yellowstone, was formed when the mountain in the distance collapsed with a huge landslide, burying 28 campers as result of earthquake on August 17, 1959.
The tram at Jackson Hole Ski Resort (just south of Grand Teton National Park) will whisk visitors  to the top of the ski area, up 4,100 vertical feet, in 13 minutes!

When visiting Yellowstone National Park and neighbor Tetons National Park, the operative word is “vast”; the wonders of these two side-by-side parks seem to go on forever!  From huge mountain peaks, to bubbling mud pots and constant geysers, deep canyons to huge alpine lakes and abundant wildlife, these lands are like no other!

While Yellowstone National Park can be jammed during the summer months, there remain many hidden, quieter gems.  Attractions like Old Faithful Geyser and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone may sometimes be overrun with crowds, but other locations throughout the park and the Lamar Valley (where buffalo, wolves and other wildlife can be spotted) are much less visited. And, if you have the option to travel either before Memorial Day or after Labor Day, you will find parks very uncrowded.   

It is no wonder the park is so visited; Native Americans have lived in and visited the Yellowstone area for over 11,000 years; and it was set aside in 1872 as our first national park.

Visitors coming by auto from Stockton can enter from West Yellowstone, MT (the west entrance) or from Jackson Hole, WY (south); our favorite route is “in through the west, out via the south”.  We typically overnight in West Yellowstone (favorite motels are listed below) to get provisioned and plan our tour destinations; it also offers several museums and lots of shops.

Our first destination in the park is usually the Old Faithful area, next to Old Faithful Geyser.  We recently stayed at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge; a four-star hotel, with 150 rooms and a cozy, full-service restaurant.  We chose the Frontier Cabin option, with vintage cabins a block behind, for only $99/night and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. 

We spent two days at Old Faithful; a several mile hike along the varied boardwalks takes you to scores of geysers and hot pools along the Firehole River.  We saw shaggy bison throughout the park, including a huge bull just 20 feet off the boardwalk on one of our walking tours.  Of course, Old Faithful Geyser, only a short walk from our cabin and the area’s many thermal features, warmed our hearts during several brisk hikes.

Don’t overlook the hundreds of other thermal features throughout the park, less trafficked than the Old Faithful area.  Geysers, fumaroles, hot springs and mudpots are also found in Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, Fountain Paint Pot and Firehole Lake Drives, the Midway Geyser Basin, and at the West Thumb Geyser Basin and Mud Volcano areas.  Over half of the world’s thermal attractions are located in this park!

When one tours to the east side of the park, Lake Yellowstone (the US’s largest freshwater lake above 7,000 feet) and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone offer more spectacular scenery.  The park road takes in both locations and easy viewing is offered on short walking trails along the lake and the canyon rim.  The thundering Lower and Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River within the canyon are not to be missed; and Lake Hotel has the classiest of bars and dining!

We marveled at elk and bison by the hundreds; the morning of our departure, a coyote followed us out the morning we left, seeking a handout (don’t feed them, of course).  Throughout the parks are grizzly and black bears, wolves, mountain lions, elk, bison, moose, pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep (best viewing times are early morning or near dusk). Birds are also present, including bald eagles.

Stop at visitor centers at almost every major location to learn quick or detailed insights.  Our favorite is the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center, where you will discover how geysers like Old Faithful work, and the future of the Yellowstone Caldera.  While there, check on ranger-led walks and talks, offering a wealth of insight!

We departed out of Yellowstone south into Grand Teton National Park.  At each Teton visit, the grandeur of these peaks, rising starkly from 6,000 feet at the base to over 13,000 feet, is always amazing.  On our last two trips, we have been able to shoot stunning portraits of bison framed by these grand peaks.  Jackson Hole and the nearby Jackson Hole Ski Resort are also tourist-friendly with a wealth of lodging, camping and dining options. 

Plan a multi-day stay in these national treasures!

How to get there: We arrived at the West Yellowstone park entrance by car, another option is the park’s south entrance.  Both routes are about 900 miles, and 14-15 hours by auto.  We took I-5 to Sacramento, I-80 to Wells, NV, then Hwy. 93 north to Hwy. 30, then I-84 east to I-86 north, then I-15 north to Hwy 20 into W. Yellowstone.  Both W. Yellowstone and Jackson Hole are served by regular airline service and offer rental cars, as well.

When to go: Summers get very busy in these parks, so plan accordingly!  If you can visit just before Memorial Day, or after Labor Day, you will find the parks much less crowded. 

Where to stay/where to eat: In West Yellowstone, the Stage Coach Inn, another good choice, on a different visit, the Three Bears Lodge. The town has a host of inexpensive to more upscale dining options.  The park concessionaire, Zanterra, offers a variety of lodging within the park, including the iconic Old Faithful Inn, Old Faithful Lodge, Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Lodge, Canyon Village Lodge and more.  Many choices of food service are offered in the park, but a “must do” is to have breakfast, lunch or dinner in the Old Faithful Inn dining room. 

Campgrounds are located within the park; five can be booked in advance through Zanterra, and seven more are “first-come, first-served” (prepare to arrive around 8 AM, if you hope to get a “first come” camp site in the summer!).

What to bring: Warm clothing, good walking shoes and hat, water-bottle if one wants to get off the “beaten path” of the park’s boardwalks.  Binoculars and your camera, of course!

What’s nearby: on the West Yellowstone side, Hebgen Lake and the Quake Lake area (formed as result of huge earthquake in 1959, with loss of 28 lives) are 25 miles NW of West Yellowstone on Hwy. 287; the town of Jackson (and the National Elk Refuge – you can drive into this reserve and see elk up close) and Jackson Hole Ski Resort, on the south edge of Grand Teton National Park, are worthy destinations.

For more information: For West Yellowstone’s Stage Coach Inn, http://yellowstoneinn.com/; (406) 646.7381; For Yellowstone park itself, go to: www.nps.gov /yell; or write, Yellowstone National Park, PO Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168; phone, 307-344-7381.  For lodging and the five Yellowstone Park campgrounds that accept reservations, contact Zanterra, www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com; 307-344-7311, toll free 866-439-7375.  For Grand Teton National Park, http://www.nps.gov/grte or write Grand Teton National Park, P.O. Drawer 170, Moose, WY 83012-0170; phone, (307) 739-3300.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valleytravel; or contact me, tviall@msn.com.  Happy travels in the west!

 

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