How to get there
Two major airports serving the Yellowstone area were Bozeman, Montana and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Renting a car is necessary and essential to be able to fully enjoy your time here. The price per vehicle into Yellowstone National Park is $ 35. The most popular months are June, July, and August (duh), but April / May and September / October offer optimal wildlife viewing and a little less crowds. Winter is cold with highs between 0 and 20F so enter at your own risk 🙂
Note * It’s always important to remember that wildlife is just that: wild. With Yellowstone known for being home to ~ 10,000 geothermal features, staying on the boardwalks is essential.
Where to sleep
West Yellowstone, Montana: Our first home was with Yellowstone under canvas, just 10 minutes outside the park. HOW have I never been in one of these glamping tents ?! I feel like I have done myself and my readers a disservice by finding out about these beauties NOW. Better late than never, right ?!
Highlights: the incredible staff (shouting Karen, Kristo, Devin, Emma and team) for always being so nice and accommodating. The nights were cool at the end of August (30/40 BRR), but with the most comfortable bed and bedding and a fireplace we could sleep well. The on-site restaurant was super handy for those evenings when we got back late. My favorite equipment was the coffee / tea set, which was delivered directly to the tent at any time of the morning.
North Yellowstone / Gardiner, Montana: Dreamcatcher Tipi Hotel was V * dreamy * with a view of the mountains and comfortable beds. I liked the heaters inside, which made for warm nights, as well as the heated bathrooms (a few feet from the tipi). The location is 10 minutes from the north entrance and not far from the highway. This makes it 1) convenient, but 2) a bit noisy in the morning depending on which tipi you have. A highlight for me was the evening session + wine, which was free for hotel guests every evening. OH, and the puppy above is called Dale and I want him to be mine for the rest of my days … but sadly he’s the neighbor’s dog and loves all of Dreamcatcher’s guests 🙂
This magical piece of land is in three states and 96% Wyoming boats, 3% Montana and 1% Idaho. The park has 5 entrances: North, Northeast, South, East and West. It is massive and covers an area of 2.2 million acres. Soooo, it’s probably best to find out what you want to do before you arrive 🙂
1. Yellowstone became the world’s first national park in 1872!
2. Yellowstone contains the greatest geothermal features on earth such as geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and steam springs.
3. The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the US and the third largest in the world.
4. At the end of August, the National Park Service celebrated its 104th birthday! Thank you for everything you do!
Old Faithful – it’s not the largest or most regular geyser in Yellowstone, BUT it’s the largest regular geyser. Old Faithful erupts every 35 to 120 minutes for 1 1/2 to 5 minutes, with a maximum altitude of 90 to 184 feet. We went to the stands where everyone was huddled and immediately started walking down the path when BOOM broke out! I would like to thank the person who left the parking lot that day and gave us a quick entry. You’re the real MVP so we can see Old Faithful when we did! Side note: I think I was too busy getting boomerangs from OF to take a legitimate photo. For more information on Yellowstone, see my IG Highlights.
Black Sand Pool – This quieter, more colorful pool is located near Old Faithful and is named for the black sand (obsidian) that is created when lava cools too quickly.
Grand Prismatic Spring – This was probably number 1 on my list for Yellowstone, and it was NUTS to see it in person. I’d heard from many others that at times the steam can be so heavy that it’s difficult to get a good look at spring. It was the perfect day for * optimal * viewing pleasure, so we got all the fun photo ops we could. The turquoise pool that you have seen over and over again in photos is around 142-170F. I would have liked nothing more than to see this thing from the air, but unfortunately no drones or helicopters in the area. The vibrant colors in spring are the result of microbial matting on the edges of the mineral-rich water that create colors of the rainbow. The center of the pool is sterile due to extreme heat.
Fairy Falls Trail (Grand Prismatic Overlook) – If you can’t boom, walk the 0.06 miles to the overlook. Park at the Fairy Falls Trailhead and climb approximately 30 meters for a VIEW. Overall, it’s a 1.2 mile round trip.
Quake Lake – SO many gems exist outside the park and remain unexplored. Quake Lake is a beautiful but very eerie place where the biggest earthquake in the history of the Rocky Mountains occurred in 1959. It caused a landslide of 80 million tons, killed a large number of campers, and eventually cut off the river, creating (earth) Quake Lake … that’s why you see a lot of trees jumping out of the water!
Yellowstone Grand Canyon – The Yellowstone River carved more than 1,000 feet to create the Yellowstone Grand Canyon. The fun part is that a series of trails and walkways line the north and south rims + trails down into the canyon. It really is an adult (and photographer) playground!
Highlights on the northern edge included Lower Falls and Lower Lookout Point. A favorite on the south rim was Artists Point (a popular vantage point among many for its breathtaking views of the waterfall. If timing allows, hike from Artist Point to Sublime Point!). The edge of Upper Falls is currently closed for construction.
Norris Geyser Basin / Porcelain Basin and Back Basin – The Norris Geyser Basin is Yellowstone’s hottest, oldest, and most dynamic hot spring area. The porcelain basin is barren and offers a sensory experience in terms of sound, color and smell. A 3/4 mile boardwalk path leads to this area. The rear basin is more forested and features scattered throughout the area. A 1.5 mile trail of boardwalks surrounds this part of the basin.
Mammoth Hot Springs – you can’t – I repeat, you can’t – swim in Mammoth Hot Springs lol. I may or may not have visited a bathing suit and towel … only to realize shortly afterwards that Mammut is intended for observation only … or for death upon entering its sources. Make room here for at least an hour to stroll the many boardwalks that stretch for 1.75 miles with 300 feet of vertical drop. Do not miss the Canarian spring on the upper terraces where the water flows on the orange and white terraces. The limestone bedrock in Mammoth Hot Springs (not common elsewhere in the park) provides material for centuries of slow-building mineral terraces.
(From here we drove to our second “home”, the Tipi Dreamcatcher Hotel.)
Boiling River – My * favorite place * in the entire park is right here! Grab a swimsuit and spend at least an hour, if not more, in the crystal clear waters of the Boiling River. A stream of hot hydrothermal runoff mixes with cold river water to form a single spring in Yellowstone. I was cold in some places and fried in others. Finding the perfect mix is easy and the experience is really magical … so much so that I had a fun little tub chat because it reminded me of the perfect bath water!
Lamar Valley – bison and elk and bears, oh my god! Heard this place is dubbed the Serengeti of the Americas because of its wildlife viewing hotspot. In addition to the incredible bison, elk and bears, we also saw coyotes and pronghorns. If you like fly fishing this is the place. If you are driving from Mammoth Hot Springs, take Grand Loop Road east, past Tower-Roosevelt, then continue on Northeast Entrance Road. We went all the way to Pebble Creek and then turned around. If you want more wildlife, head to the Hayden Valley in central Yellowstone next!
Tips for spotting wildlife:
- Pack binoculars! Many animals are difficult to see with the naked eye.
- Look for groups of people * run over * – chances are someone spotted something GOOD!
- Be calm. Park at a good vantage point and quietly wait for the wildlife to pass by.
Want more? There is so much to see in this area, including Grand Teton National Park to the south and Glacier National Park to the north. I was a little annoyed that we couldn’t extend our trip to these areas, but I told myself what I did always Tell me: you will always be there … until next time!
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