Have Realistic Expectations
Yellowstone is many people’s favorite park. It is the most varied park in the nation with more wildlife, more varied landscapes, and one of the few places in the world where you can see geysers. So what isn’t to like? Many people come with expectations that they will have an almost wilderness experience. Think about it though, this is one of the most visited parks in the nation. In 2009, 3.3 million people visited Yellowstone, with a smaller number of people visiting in the winter than in the summer, partly because all but the northern most road is closed to auto travel, and many of the facilities are also closed during the winter months. So if you visit the park during the prime, most popular, and warmest time of the year between the U.S. holidays of Memorial Day and Labor Day you should expect crowds. Old Faithful is the most famous of the geysers, and the one everyone has on their must see list, so you will not be viewing it alone, and during prime time it will be crowded around the geyser. The Old Faithful area is very developed, with a number of buildings, restaurants, lodgings, and a nice visitor center. Because of this there is a large paved parking lot and an urban style road entering the area. This is a shock and a disappointment to folks who weren’t expecting this.
Looking for animals? How many you see will depend partly on when you go, and how much time you devote to just looking for wildlife, and don’t expect to see wolves close to the road. Although people come from all over the world to just spend time in Lamar Valley looking for wolves, there is no guarantee that you will see them. If you do see wolves, usually they will be off in the distance, and you will need a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope to get a good look at them. Unlike coyotes, they are shy and prefer to stay away from the highway. If your main reason for visiting the park is for the wildlife, and you only spend one day driving through the park moving quickly from one area to another, especially if you go mid-summer when many animals move into the cooler higher country, so that there are fewer animals to view near the roadways, you may be very disappointed.
The weather can be a trap for some people. Remember Yellowstone is at a high altitude, and there has been snow every month of the year. If you leave home on an 80 degree day, and travel to Yellowstone with only hot weather clothes in your suitcase, you may be in for a very uncomfortable surprise. We went to the park at the end of May with our local Buffalo Bill Historical center for a two day outing, and had about every type of weather you could experience. The first morning we had beautiful sunny weather with pleasant temperatures, later it became colder and rained lightly off and on. Late afternoon it poured down rain. The next day was cold and gray, with light rain off and on. However, by late afternoon as we prepared to return to Cody it began to snow, and as we neared the pass to leave through the East Gate, the pass was closed for a short time due to the snow.
Unique Suggestions: First of all, it is important to set your expectations to include sharing your experience with other people. Don’t plan your trip so that you will be rushed. Yellowstone is a huge park, and the more time you spend in the park the more you will see and the experience will be more enjoyable. Do some research, and know what you want to see before going. You will want to see the Canyon on the east side and some of the geyser basins on the west. These should be done on different days.
If you are looking for wildlife plan a day to spend along the northern most road, and bring binoculars and a spotting scope if you have them. Set your expectations so that if you see bears and wolves, even from a distance, you will be happy to have observed them. If you see them close up, then that is an exciting plus to your trip.
Be prepared for many different types of weather. If you bring layers, that is usually best. Don’t just pack shorts and a light jacket, and include a rain coat. It is better to have a few things you end up not needing, than spending some miserable days because the weather wasn’t what you expected.
Fun Alternatives: I met one couple who visited Yellowstone and didn’t think it was wonderful. They went during prime time, and only spent 10 hours exploring. Their complaint was it was too crowded, they didn’t see much wildlife, and it wasn’t very scenic. They hadn’t explored the canyon, which is the most scenic area of the park, nor did they drive the northern road in search of wildlife, and Old Faithful was the only geyser they watched go off. They never really saw the park.
If you want to see wild life, or really can’t stand crowds, you need to go in the spring or fall. However, to do this you may very well be sacrificing the best weather, as both these seasons can have some nasty winter like weather or rain. And even then, don’t expect to be alone, Yellowstone will always have visitors during the seasons that it is open.
Don’t expect to see the entire park in one day. If you only have a short time, forget about trying to cram everything in. Set your priorities, know where things are located, and don’t rush your visit through these priority areas. Then if at all possible, come back to the park for future visits, planning to see other things at other times. And if you can, come for a week or more. You will be more relaxed, be able to see more at a slower pace, and gain a better appreciation for what Yellowstone has to offer. As an example most people drove past this small pond, not even noticing the nesting sandhill crane seen in my third photo.Related to:
- Road Trip
- National/State Park
Don’t drive too fast!!
It was late, I had to return to Jackson to meet colleagues in the evening and I totally forgot I was in a “National Park”; I was on the way to Old Faithful Geyser, and, of course, what had to happen, happened: rangers caught me speeding on the road and I was logically fined. Well, Uncle Sam may wait for some time before I pay. . . .
The rangers were very polite and firm, not allowing me out of the car, so, I took this picture in the rear-view mirror. The guy (they were one man and one woman) explained me they had to protect the wildlife. . . . and had to be very firm with the park rules and he told me he was sure that in France it was the same. I could just reply, a bit in sarcastic manner that in France vehicles were not allowed in the National parks I know, so this could not happen. . . . . . He was not angry with me and we had a chat about parks, wildlife preservation and protection, and about differences between Europe and America about these subjects.
It was too late to visit Old Faithful Geyser (faithful, because it gushes more than 30 m high at very regular one and a half hours intervals, never missing its rendez-vous), and when I arrived there, I discovered a very wide parking, almost full of cars. . . . so, no regrets not having looked at that wonder surrounded by ooooh and aaah!
I then drove back to Jackson at reasonable speed.
Fun Alternatives: Follow the rules, don't do like me! After all, I deserved it in some way. . . .Related to:
- Road Trip
The entire Park
We spent 11 hours riding through the park. We saw one bison, a dozen elk, some geese, and one raven. We talked to hundreds (too many people, really) and they had not experienced any number of animals either. The people at the tourist stops would tell us to go over>>>>>>>. and we would. Old Faithful's parking lot is about 10 acres, crowded and unless you are there long before the next eruption, you won't be able to see anything but the heads of the thousands of people in front of you.
The fee is $25.00 USD. Save your money and go somewhere else. I can see elk in my backyard, ravens in the trees, and geese land in our field to eat the grain the next door farmer misses. The hotels within 65 miles charge double rates. There is nothing there worth the drive, the crowds, and the heavy traffic in the park.
Yes, the elk were pretty, the raven was huge and the geese were fat. Old faithful was nice, but ....
Unique Suggestions: There is no way to make the experience pleasant other than to not go there. For most of my life I dremed of seeing Yellowstone, the bears, the magnificent scenery, and so on. Yellowstone is not scenic. Visit Coer D'lane, or anywhere else.Related to:
- Family Travel
- National/State Park
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