Rangers have recommended that we do not go far into the backcountry due to the danger of bears, suggesting that we keep our hikes to under 5 miles. Of course this doesn't mean you won't come across a bear, it just simply puts in in a closer position for backing away from trouble, or reaching help if necessary. If you wish, however, you are allowed to travel along even longer hiking trails. Stop at any of the visitor centers and ask for the small, one sheet leaflets on day hikes in the various areas of the park. There are at least six available: Day hikes in the Tower Area, Mammoth Area, Fishing Bridge and Lake area, Canyon Area, Old Faithful Area, and Grant Village and West Thumb Areas. These small pamphlets are free of charge, and will give you a list of hiking trails in each of the areas, including small maps, distance of the trail, estimated time it will take you to walk the trail, the level of difficulty, and where the trail head is located. They will also give you a few rules and suggestions for a safe hiking experience.
Fondest memory: I love taking short hikes in the park, and so far my favorite short hike is the Storm Point hike. This trail is closed, however, if bear activity is noted in the area. This can especially happen in the spring.
In the winter months only the far north road in the park is kept plowed. For this reason you can only drive into the park from the North entrance at Gardner, Montana. The Mammoth Hot Springs campground and Hotel are kept open for much of this off season time. You may only drive from this entrance to the small town of Cook City. You then must turn around and retrace your route. In the winter you may enjoy cross country skiing, or reserve ahead for a snow coach trip. It is fun to drive the open road, which crosses through Lamar Valley where you can look for wildlife in the winter snow. (See my travelogue Lamar Valley in Winter.) This road will not, however, take you to any of the geysers, that the park is so famous for.
After the roads are plowed, May and June gives you the opportunity to see newborn animals, as well as large numbers of wildlife, before the midsummer heat settles in. Spring weather, however, can be very unpredictable bringing everything from sunny days to rain or even snow. The later you go in June, however, the more people you will find visiting the park.
July and August are usually nice weather wise, but this is when most of the visitors come to the park. More than half of the 3 million annual visitors make their visit during these two months. Also wildlife viewing in mid summer is much poorer, as many animals move to the higher altitudes to escape insects and heat. Since the grasses are still greener at the higher altitudes, there is also a better food source for grazing animals.
Weather in September and early October is unpredictable. It can be very nice, warm and sunny, or it can bring rain, or even snow, with cold temperatures. However, there are few visitors, and we can sometimes reserve a campsite within a couple of weeks notice. Usually you will see a large number of wildlife during these two months, and if you are in the right place, you can hear bull elk bugling.
Be aware that cool spring or fall temperatures, especially if mixed with much wind can make viewing of hot pools difficult, as you try to catch glimpses of the pool through the steam.
My second photo is a fall view across Lake Yellowstone.
Fondest memory: What I really love about the fall months, besides enjoying the park without heavy crowds, is the bugling of the bull elk. When the rutting season begins, the bull elk will bugle and spar with other males as they compete to win the favor of the cows. Once you hear this sound, you will never forget it.
A favorite spring experience was observing a female peregrine falcon sitting on her nest within a cliff pocket, and seeing a pair of wolves with two pups.
Lamar Valley is my favorite place to view wild life. For awesome beauty, the canyon and its beautiful falls is my favorite place. However, the geysers never cease to amaze me, as do the beautiful colors of the hot pools.
For additional information visit the National Park Service web site at www.nps.gov/yell
Headquarters: P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming 82190
In various visitor centers throughout the park you will see small trail guide booklets with signs asking you to donate 50 cents for each booklet that you take. You can pick up booklets at places such as Norris Geyser Basin, Old Faithful Area, Mammoth Hot Springs, West Thumb Geyser Basin, and Fountain Paint Pot Area. These are well worth the 50 cent cost requested for each booklet, as they contain detailed maps of the boardwalks and paths, with each feature displayed, and information about the various features you will see.
Fondest memory: Watching my favorite geysers: Beehive, Great Fountain, and Echinus. Hearing elk bugle, and wolves howl. Watching wildlife such as bears, wolves, and mountain sheep as well as gazing into the beautiful hot springs, and visiting the spectacular Yellowstone Canyon and its falls.
If you enjoy water falls, and have the time there are a number of smaller falls besides the main attractions of the Upper and Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and Tower Falls. Take the time to pull off at the turnouts along the main road to view some of the additional smaller falls. One of the favorite stops along the main road is the 84 foot Gibbon Falls located on the west side of the park between Madison and Norris Geyser Basin.
There are also a variety of waterfalls that you may view from hiking trails.
These two websites will offer you additional information on waterfalls in Yellowstone.
Yellowstone Nationall Park Waterfalls
In my second and third photos you can see a view of a waterfall located between the Brink of Falls Trail and the South end of the North Rim Trail that runs along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.
Favorite thing: Be sure to visit at least one of the Visitor Information Centers while you are in Yellowstone. This is the place to gather up all the information that will help you to understand the different areas that you will visit. The friendly workers and rangers that greet you will answer all your questions in a professional, friendly manner. You can also purchase books and postcards in most of these centers. If you have the time watch some of the short films shown at the centers, and be sure to look at the small museums. For example, if you visit the Old Faithful Visitor Center you will learn about how geysers and the other hydrothermal features work, as well as general information about the changes going on within the park. Old Faithful also posts predictions when various geysers will erupt in the area, including Great Fountain on the Firehole Drive. At Grant Village Information Center you will find an informative and interesting exhibit on the 1988 Yellowstone Fires, as well as explanations about the roll of forest fires in the park. If you have the time watch the 15 minute film on the 1988 fires when you are at Grant. At the Fishing Bridge Museum and Information Center there is a nice display of birds and some mammals that can be found in the park. In Mammoth the Visitor Center is housed in a historic building, and again has a display that will help to orientate you to the park. The Canyon Visitor Education Center features information on the volcano that lies under Yellowstone Park, as well as other interesting information.
As we cruised the highways of Yellowstone, we came across many areas of forest that were full of dead trees – some still upright, others leaning and many down on the ground in a great tangle. I’ve seen enough forest fires in Canada to know what caused this – in fact, the 1988 fire in Yellowstone was the worst in history and damaged more than one-third of the National Park. It takes forests a long time to recover from fire damage.
Fondest memory: However, it was strange to see other huge tracts of forest appearing to be dead - just reddish or grey upright skeletons of trees remaining, but it did not look like fire damage. It turns out that all the evidence now points to the effects of our warming climate as being the cause of this massive outbreak of dead trees in western North America. The attack is being carried out by mountain pine beetles that burrow deep inside whitebark pines, laying their eggs there and damaging the internal nutrient flow within the trees. According to the internet, scientists are now convinced that (1) historical winter temperatures in whitebark pine areas were frequently cold enough to kill all mountain pine beetle life stages everywhere but in the most protected sites, such as in the tree bole (trunk) beneath the insulating snow cover and (2) summer temperatures typically did not result in enough hotter temperatures to allow the beetles to complete an entire life cycle in one year. It now appears that global warming allows their eggs to hatch in less than a year and the winters are so mild that the beetles don’t freeze to death in their early stage of life.
The first photo was taken in the mountains as we left through the East Entrance toward Cody, the second in Hayden Valley where the Yellowstone River flows and the last in Lamar Valley as we drove in from the Northeast Entrance.
After taking 1.5 days to reach Billings, Montana we were then in position to reach our first accommodations booked for the Yellowstone NP portion of our trip. It was in the little town of Gardiner, located just outside the North Entrance of the park, and would take us about 3 hours to cover the distance, mostly on Interstate 90 highway. Instead, I decided we would take the scenic route of Highway 212 by veering off I-90 shortly after leaving Billings. This would add 55 miles and an extra hour onto our trip but it had the great advantage of allowing us to enjoy the amazing Beartooth Highway as we climbed into the mountains and entered the park sooner via the Northeast Entrance (the ‘Yellow’ route in the map).
Fondest memory: The next day was spent entirely on the ‘Purple’ route as we headed directly south along the western side of the park, exploring geysers and hot springs the whole way along, including seeing Old Faithful spout in late afternoon. We still had to reach our accommodations for the next two nights in Grand Teton NP, so continued out the South Entrance for the relatively short drive to our Lodge booking at Jackson Lake.
Another day was spent exploring in Grand Teton NP but the day afterward, we returned to Yellowstone on the ‘Orange’ route. This time we took in some of the attractions of both Yellowstone Lake and River as we turned up along the east side of the park. We stopped when we reached the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and, while there, hiked to Upper and Lower Falls. Time was running out, so we then backtracked down the river to Yellowstone Lake where we turned east and headed for home, out the East Entrance toward our next accommodation in Cody, Wyoming.
Here is a go site that takes you step-by-step through what you need to do to plan a trip to Yellowstone National Park:
Fondest memory: I have never been to Yellowstone, but I am using the site I mentioned, along with the expertise of my Mother-In-Law, who lived in the park as a girl when her father was the Superintendent!
As meager as my zoom was compared to the giants surrounding me, it was still too heavy for my tripod which I had purchased mostly for family photos and backpacking, where weight is the prime consideration. It had served me well, especially for the price, but now I was finding it very inadequate for use with zoom, often requiring me to guess just how far the lens would droop after locking in, no easy task when trying to focus on something two football fields away.
No matter, the chase was on and there was a pack of wolves hunting down a scurrying pronghorn who was, well, running for his life. They were pretty far away and I would have had to have a much better lens to really get a good shot of it. Unfortunately, that $10,000 was being spent on the current six-month trip my wife and I were now on, traveling around as many US National Parks as we could. I pondered whether it would have been worth staying at home to have such a big one but that fantasy was short-lived. I was after all, in Yellowstone National Park watching a pack of wolves not only chasing down a pronghorn but now as I peered through what now amounted to a small telescope, actually catching and killing it.
We would spend the next few dusks and dawns doing pretty much the same thing intermingled with afternoons visiting the park's key and for many most important geothermic sights. It wasn't always wolves we danced with but there was no shortage of partners. Coyotes, bison, and an incredibly playful fox just to name a few. Some were so close, I needed to use my wide angle to capture them. Just about every photo I took was better than what I got of the wolves but the one I did get brings back great memories. Memories of the chase not captured, their capture and ravenous eating, all flood back into my mind when I see it. It's just a lone wolf, one that was a bit closer and just sitting there, not in the chase. I can still hear him howling and almost feel my fingers frozen fumbling with my tripod.
Many come to Yellowstone National Park to see Old Faithful and his contingent of geothermal buddies but for me, wildlife is the real calling card of this first national park and what amounts almost to a game preserve that you can drive through yourself.
Fondest memory: It was an icy morning. It was not even autumn in much of the western hemisphere but summer had decidedly ended here, in Yellowstone National Park. Though not an alpine park, few realize the general high elevation of the world's first national park and its fame lies more under ground than from any peaks jutting up from it. But high it is with an average elevation of 8000 feet. Since most visitors arrive in summer, this means pleasant temperatures and a respite from sweltering heat from which many come but once August fades away, Yellowstone prepares for winter in earnest. Autumn is short in this neck of the woods and on this morning in particular it seemed the park had completely bypassed it.
What summoned me from my toasty warm sleeping bag at this ungodly hour was the call of the wild, wolves to be precise. No, I did not hear them howling from my tent, that would be too romantic. It was just the knowledge they were out there along with a whole world of wild creatures lumbering around the 200,000 acre refuge, enjoying dawn's early light. My wife meanwhile was enjoying dawn's early slumber and pulling D from her warm cocoon was not an enviable task despite her agreement the previous night prodded by visions of dancing with wolves. It went painlessly enough and we passed on making up a hot beverage to save time. It would have been cold by the time it reached our lips anyway so we just enjoyed a cereal bar on the drive over to the Lamar Valley, noted for wolf activity.
We arrived to a throng of telephoto lens emanating from a small hill overlooking the valley. It seemed we were not the only ones looking for dance partners. We scampered up and joined a line-up that suddenly had me suffering a severe anxiety complex about the size of my, er, lens. My rickety cheap tripod was not helping either: my frozen fingers fumbled to gain some control and I wished I had invested in a better one. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
At some places guides to the hiking trails are available either at the visitor centre, but also in wooden boxes outside. You can either take a leaflet for free and return it to the box afterwards, or if you want to keep it a donation of 50c is being asked for.
I got one for the trails around Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin, and in addition to a detailed map of all the trails and the thermal features along the way it also provided a description and other information on the different pools, geysers and hot springs in the area. I found it very useful and well worth the 50c investment.
On entering the park you will receive a Yellowstone newspaper at the gate. The paper has loads of useful info in it, among other also the programme of all the scheduled ranger activities, and there are lots of them!
Every day there are ranger walks in nearly every area of the park, and at different times of day, and all you have to do is show up at the scheduled time and place, and you can join a ranger-led walk. They last between 1-3 hours, and the programme will indicate whether they are easy, moderate or strenuous.
The rangers are very knowledgeable, and a great source of information and anecdotes :-). It was amazing what sort of detailed answers you get to what seems to be an easy and straightforward question, and you get the feeling that despite all the wealth of information they pass on you are just scratching the surface of what they know. They also point out a lot of things that you otherwise probably wouldn't even have noticed. Although it probably also depends on the ranger that is leading the walk. Those that had been there for years obviously were much better informed than those for whom it was maybe only the first or second season there.
I tried to go on a ranger walk every day, and can highly recommend them.
We have spent the ten days or so going through Yosemite Park, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore. Our national parks are wonderful, beautiful and accessible. As a senior the best value for getting into the parks is a ten dollar lifetime senior pass. This pass lets everyone in the car enter all national parks. The views in Yosemite are amazing with waterfalls and majestic vistas. Of course the Tetons stand out in their snow covered peaks. Yellowstone with its wildlife makes you keep your eyes peeled at all times. Mount Rushmore with all of its viewing places upgraded is also enduring. Try the national parks and enjoy.
Fondest memory: Discovering a wonderful eagles nest
I visited Yellowstone in mid July 1974 and yes it does get chilly at night. But other wise the weather was great.
I am going to Yellowstone again for the first 2 weeks of September. I have 2 friends that just got back and both said the weather was fantastic. So yes the weather can be chilly, (it is high country), and like anywhere else it can be unpredictable.
The average September temps is 71 and the low is 45.
For what temps are like, Here is the MSN 10 day forecast from mid August to the first of September:
Aug 17 Hi: 73° Lo: 48°
Aug 18 Hi: 76° Lo: 52°
Hi: 69° Lo: 48°
Hi: 79° Lo: 53°
Hi: 85° Lo: 58°
Saturday Aug 22
Hi: 88° Lo: 58°
Sunday, Aug 23
Hi: 87° Lo: 55°
Monday, Aug 24
Hi: 79° Lo: 57°
Tuesday, Aug 25
Hi: 67° Lo: 55°
Hi: 77° Lo: 62°
When you are travelling from the south into Yellowstone take the opportunity to visit the 'forgotten' Grand Teton National Park. A beautifull mountain range and adjacent lakes. We took the boat trip across Jenny Lake to the other side... recommended !
Fondest memory: It is difficult to pick just one... the view of the buffalo's crossing the river.... 'Old Faithfull' blowing the water into the air... the geysers of Mammoth hot springs... the view of the 'grand canyon ' of yellowstone... Go and see it~, and choose for yourself !
North Rim Drive, Wyoming, United States
Good for: Solo
We stayed in the Snow Lodge (not cabins) for 3 nights at the end of our weeklong trip. My father,...more
For the price it is not worth it. We were in a cabin. The cabin had two sides to it w/ a connecting...more