As you tour Yellowstone you’ll find several places where a loop road, usually one-way, leaves the main road for a few miles to rejoin it a little further on. We really enjoyed taking these side roads – less traffic and a good opportunity to see some different scenery.
One of the nicest was the Virginia Cascade drive, just east of Norris. This three-mile road takes you through a forested area and past the 60-foot high Virginia Cascades on the Gibbon River. There's not a lot of room to park near the falls, and it isn't the easiest view to photograph (hence the pretty butterfly shot instead!) but nevertheless it's a short detour well-worth taking.
This is a beautiful drive, and another way to reach Cody. This route will take you through Sunlight Basin along the Chief Joseph Highway. It is a longer route to Cody, but contains outstanding mountain valley scenery. Be prepared to drive winding mountain roads. You will leave the park through the Northeast Entrance, taking hwy 212 through Cook City. When you arrive at the junction of 212 and highway 296, you will take 296 to drive over Dead Indian Pass, which features one of the most outstanding vistas in the state. The spectacular bridge turnout will allow you to park and walk out to look down into the canyon. This is the highest bridge in the state, and the view is worth the effort. As you gaze at the river far below, think of this funny fact. Before the bridge was rebuilt there use to be a sign up here that stated No Fishing From Bridge. We use to get such a laugh out of it. You will find another turnout at the top of the pass. Be sure to stop, read the historical signs, and enjoy the expansive view. When you drive out of the valley and reach highway 120, turn right and head south another 20 miles to Cody. This route would not be a longer route to Cody if you were already in the Yellowstone Lamar Basin area, as to get to “our” East Entrance, you would have to drive the slow drive through the park to the gate. If, however, you are nervous about mountain driving, you may want to skip this suggestion.
Another route is instead of taking the Chief Joseph Highway (296) you can continue on 212. This route will take you to Red Lodge Montana. With this route you will travel up and over what is called the Beartooth highway, and past a number of small lakes. My last photo was taken of some of the small lakes along the Beartooth highway in August.
I love, love, love this hike! The Storm Point Hike may be my favorite short hike in the park. This is a wonderful 2.3-mile hiking trail. The trailhead begins at the Indian Pond pullout, 3 miles east of the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center. As you begin this hike you will walk along the Indian Pond, passing through open meadow. The trail then turns into the forest, and from there out to the stunningly beautiful, wind-swept Storm Point. Here you can look across the Yellowstone Lake to its beautiful mountain skyline. The trail then leads you along a high, barren shoreline where you will look down onto the waves, lapping or pounding against the shore, depending on the lake’s mood. Eventually the trail loops back through the lodge pole pine forest on its way back to Indian Pond. I consider this a five star hike. It is an easy trail with only a few small hills, and the beauty of the views is some of the best in the country. The lodge pole forest you will travel through on the return leg has old, tall trees that may sway back and fourth in the wind, creaking and emitting high pitched squeaking noises as they rub against each other. Many have fallen to the floor, emitting ribbons of light that encourages the new growth of young lodge poles, now growing below their ancestors. Be aware, however, that this trail is in prime bear country. For this reason this trail is often closed in late spring and early summer due to bear activity. It should be posted if there is a closure, but to be sure you should ask at the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center before hiking. Wear your bear bells if you have them, or talk as you walk along, and if you have Bear Spray, don’t forget to take it. The last time we walked this trail was in early September, and even then we spotted some fairly fresh bear scat on the trail. After checking with a scat book at a visitor center, I believe it was grizzly scat. So don’t let the time of the year put you at rest, and always hike with the possibility of meeting up with a bear.
In 1898 a simple trail was built by Tom Richardson to lead visitors to the base of the Lower Falls, where he would serve his tour group a picnic before the return trip. Today Uncle Tom's Trail is a well developed route. It is still, however, a very strenuous walk into the canyon for a view of the base of the Lower Falls. The trail drops 500 feet (150 m) along a paved trail and in a series of more than 300 stairs. We walked this route when our son was quite young. In the photo you can see Scott, who was more tired than we were trying to get a rest, and this was on the way down!. Don’t walk this unless you and your family are in good health. Don’t forget that you have to re-climb those stairs and the trail on the way back. We thought the trip was worth it, however, as you get a completely different perspective of the falls from this lower level. Uncle Tom’s Trail is located in the Canyon of the Yellowstone area, and comes off of the spur road that leads to Artist Point.
For a view of part of the Uncle Tom's stairway from across the canyon see photo 2.
Firehole Canyon Drive is a beautiful, short drive that comes off the main park road on the west side of the park, just south of the Madison area. High walls rise on either side of the river that runs through this canyon. Make a stop to enjoy the Firehole Cascades falls. There is also a swimming area along this river. Swimming is illegal in most of the park, so I was surprised when we saw this area posted for swimming. The sign gives no information about the temperature or depth of the water. There was a man swimming in the area when we stopped by in 2004. He was snorkeling and did have a wet suit on. If you are interested in this swimming area, I would suggest that you ask at one of the visitor centers for information.
If you would like to take a really short hike off the beaten path in the park, consider the Pelican Creek Trail. This is a very easy 1.3 mile hike. Pelican Creek is a very pretty hike that travels through the pine forest to the lakeshore, then loops back across a marsh along Pelican Creek to the trailhead. You will get a beautiful view of Yellowstone Lake and the distant mountains that edge the east side of the lake. When you reach the lakeshore you can extend your walk by walking out on the sand beach. You may see squirrels in the woods, and geese or other waterfowl on the beach or in the lake. Be aware, however, that this is prime bear country, and at times, especially in the spring and early summer, this trail may be closed when bear activity is on the increase in the area. Always wear bear bells, or talk as you follow this trail. Bear spray is recommended. The trail head is 1 mile east of the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center. For information on some of the available day hikes in the area, visit the web page below.
This small museum is located just north of the Norris Geyser Basin turn off. If you are heading north, the museum will be on your right. This isn’t actually Off the Beaten Path, but it is something that most tourists feel they don’t have time to visit. The museum is housed in the Norris Soldier Station, which was built by the army during a time when the army was the parks caretaker (1877 – 1882). This small museum will explain the development of the forest rangers. You may also watch a 30 minutes film on the development of the National Parks. This interesting museum is worth your time if you are going to be in the park for more than a few days, or if the weather goes bad, it is a great way to spend a little time inside.
Virginia Cascade Drive is yet another one of those one way roads that we were so fond of travelling. It runs parallel to the Norris Canyon Road going in the direction towards Canyon. This scenic drive takes you right along the river, it's a great spot for wildlife watching. We saw quite a few elk when we were here. About a mile into the drive, you will see the 60 foot tall waterfall that the drive was named after.
Off the Main Loop Road between Norris and Canyon
VTmember PA2AKgirl told me about this wonderful place when I told her I was headed to Yellowstone.
Just about a half hour north of the North Entrance, Chico Hotsprings is a lovely hotel, resturant and spa hidden away in the hills. We visited on a Saturday and were foolish enough not to have made spa reservations. (what were we thinking!!!???) Since we couldn't have a spa treatment, we decided to buy the $6 pass for use of the hotspring fed pool and to wander around the grounds. The pool is lovely. No clorine just water from the springs. There is a smaller section of the pool that is considerably warmer. It's quite shallow in this section you can sit on the bottom and your head will still be above water. The larger section is slighly cooler, but much deeper. You can get drinks from the bar through a little window by the pool, towels are also available in the bar, if you don't have your own. We spent a lovely afternoon paddling around. It was nice to take a break from exploring.
The grounds also have a greenhouse and garden. Look for the passionflowers, they are gorgeous! One of the gardeners told us that they use them to decorate the desserts at the resturant. There are also horse stables, a coffe bar, a gift shop and a very highly rated resturant.
When we were there, preparations were being made for an afternoon wedding. What a lovely spot!
Blacktail Plateau Drive is a one way stretch of road that runs somewhat parallel the the Grand Loop Road between mammoth and Roosevelt. This scenic byway takes you through rolling hill covered in wildflowers. There are some gorgeous vistas to be seen. This was also the area where we spotted our only Pronghorn Antelope. The road is unpaved in some sections. Make sure you have the right kind of vehicle to aviod getting stuck. You may also want to apply bug repellant if you plan on getting out of the car.
Off the Main Loop Road between Roosevelt and Mammoth
We found this place by accident. It is located on the Firehole river, and you get to it by driving the Firehole Canyon loop road ( no RVs!).
The Firehole River is not as cold as the rest of the water in the park ( including the lake, which is very cold) because it has hot springs going into it. The swimming area has some really fun rapids you can float down, but don't jump off the cliffs!! We saw a few guys doing this, and a Park Ranger showed up and arrested the unlucky one he caught....
( plus, it looked very dangerous) .
In 1994, I visited Yellowstone National Park as part of an extended trip much like I did in 2008. The big difference was it was in the beginning of the trip rather than the end and that really makes a difference. When I arrived on the first trip, not only was I younger but I was new to hiking and wanted to do every hike I read about. Avalanche Peak was one of those hikes.
This 4 mile trail climbs nearly 2200 feet rather steeply to the top of Avalanche Peak. It was a grueling hike from what I remember, more for my partner at the time than me but neither of us was super impressed with the views. To be fair, we had just come the Grand Tetons and the scenery there is just a bit more stunning. Avalanche Peak does provide sweeping views of Yellowstone Lake and is certainly a good workout if you are looking for one. Please allow about 4 hours for the round trip hike.
The trail head is on the far eastern side of the park, near the East Entrance Station.
Now there are a ton of waterfalls in Yellowstone, so I wouldn't necesarily say to make the long trip out to Mesa Falls, but, if you happen to be taking the long way around from Grand Teton (as we did) Mesa Falls is a good place to stop and stretch you legs a bit. It's located in the Targhee National Forest. There are 2 sets of falls, Lower and Upper. Lower requires a 3 dollar fee, Where as the viewpoint to lower is free. Upper also has a little gift shop and museum as well as bathroom facilities(lower has none of these things)
They are located a few minutes apart along Rt. 20. It's about 50 miles south of West Yellowstone, MT.
For our wedding favors, I wanted to get the guests something I found to be useful, not just another bag of Jordan Almonds or some awful figurine they would throw out. So I bought them the gift of life, I planted trees for each one of them. Now the coincidence is this, I bought the trees through the Arbor Day Foundation, they choose the location, and they chose Gallatin National Forest! Gallatin is just north of Yellowstone where we would be honeymooning, we had to pop over. The forest itself is huge, I have no idea where all my little trees would be living, but we did drive through a small portion of Gallatin.
The portion we were in had a pulloff for a viewpoint of Devil's Slide. This interesting stripe in the mountain actually used to be horizontal! The stripe is layers of sediment and rock, when the mountain was formed it was pushed into a vertical position.
It's just a few miles north of the park after passing through the town of Gardiner.
Natural Bridge is approximately a 1.5 mile hike from the parking lot. The turnout is well marked and the trail is fairly well groomed. By comparison with Utah's Arches this natural bridge is fairly small. At only a 29 foot (8 meters) span and having an opening of 51 feet (15 meter) from top to bottom it is still worth a look. It was discovered in 1871 and was made available to the public in 1881.
At one time their was a plan made by P.W. Norris to make the landmark into a road. Fortunately that was never more than an idea. Be careful on this trail though. On my trip I ran across a bison just before reaching the arch. It was not a problem, but being 1.5 miles from anything else made it a little uncomfortable.
Directions: This location can be reached by hiking from the parking lot of the marina near Bridge Bay in the Yellowstone Lake area.
North Rim Drive, Wyoming, United States
Good for: Solo
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