When Lagena and I were planning our road trip from Arkansas to Glacier National Park in northern Montana, I had originally made a long list of places I wanted to see that were “on the way.
Unfortunately with that great of a distance, there are numerous places to see during the 28-hour drive, and we only had a little more than a week. So we slowly started crossing parks off our list. The Badlands, we could do another time. Great Sand Dunes, we could do another time. Yellowstone National Park, however was the one decided that was a must see if we were going to drive so closely by it.
Yellowstone is still a two-day drive from Arkansas, but it is eight hours closer than Glacier so it would be a good break in the trip. We chose to spend a few nights on the return trip because we would be more tired, and it would be better to break up the drive on the way back.
We had two full days to spend in the park, but Yellowstone is a massive park. The park’s website can be viewed by clicking here. A good book for in depth research is Lonely Plant’s guide, or a Falcon Guides hiking book for the park. I also always invest in a good map.
Driving in from Montana, we got to West Yellowstone, a town right outside the park, and still had about a two-hour drive to our campsite.
We chose a campsite in the middle of the park because of its equal proximity to the unique features we wanted to see in the park.
We camped at Bridge Bay campground, which is close to Yellowstone Lake. The lake is quite large and something to see. You can see volcanic thermal features steaming into the lake along the drive on Highway 20.
Of course part of the reason for the long drive inside the park as we came from West Yellowstone, Mont., was that I was constantly asking Lagena to pull over so I could get out and take a picture. As we drove through the Upper, Lower, Midway, and Biscuit geyser basins at dusk, we made notes of places we wanted to visit the next day.
Want a free downloadable checklist? CLICK HERE!
Day 1 – Geysers and Waterfalls
The first thing Lagena and I wanted to see were the geysers. Geysers are like hot springs, but instead of gently seeping, they intermittently and violently erupt spewing water and steam. The hot springs were a close second in what we wanted to see. Being from a town called Hot Springs, I am a little used to seeing them. But Yellowstone’s hot springs are different from the ones in my town. They are bigger and more colorful.
We began at Old Faithful because you simply cannot go to Yellowstone without watching the reliable geyser erupt. The geyser was named for its predictability and erupts about every 30 minutes, so anytime you go you shouldn’t have to wait too long to watch it.
The Old Faithful area is one of the few places you can get cell phone reception in the park. This was both glorious and terrible for us. We could send out text messages to our family and let them know we were not eaten by a bear and were still alive. However it seemed so many people were talking on their phones that it took away from our ability to enjoy the amazing sites we were seeing.
Lagena and I were counting down the minutes for the eruption when we heard a women say loudly, “I’ve got to let you go. This thing is fixin’ to blow.” I wondered in all that beauty and awe, how people could not marvel at it.
Yellowstone was full of people. I was accused of being a hipster because I said I liked Glacier better because there were less people. Yes, Yellowstone is one of the most popular parks in the national park system. However my liking Glacier better wasn’t because I didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon, but because of the people and crowds of ignorance who were at Yellowstone. For more reading on the crazy people, check out my It’s Not Just Bears to Worry About post.
Even with that said, Yellowstone is definitely a must see because it is a natural wonder and its beauty is unmatched. I did love the park, and I read if you get just a mile off the road, you can avoid most of the people.
After we watched Old Faithful, we walked the trail in the Upper Geyser Basin around Geyser Hill and then to the Castle-Grand Area. This was one of my favorite walks in the park. It was so interesting to see the hot water bubbling out of the springs and the the white landscape left by the geysers. When doing these trails, sun screen and sun glasses are needed because the white ground makes it very bright and hot in the summer.
Some of the other geysers we were able to see erupt because our timing was good, but most we did not. At the visitor center you can get a list of times to watch them. We just decided to wing it because we were trying to pack in as much as we could with the time we had at the park.
We left the Upper Geyser Basin and headed for the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone where the Upper Falls and Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River can be viewed. From Old Faithful, we had about a two-hour drive to the falls, but because the park is so beautiful, we did not mind it at all.
The falls are much better viewed in the morning, especially Lower Falls. Looking back, we should have done the falls first, then the geysers.
We hiked down to an overlook of the Lower Falls via Uncle Tom’s Trail, which is not really a trail but a metal staircase built into the rock high above the canyon. Sorry there are not pictures, I was a scared and shaking as I could see right through the stairs to my death, so I gripped the railings for my life.
Word cannot express how marvelous the falls are. They plunge 308 feet and are wide and loud. It was more than worth the scary climb to the overlook.
It is also a busy trail and we had to wait our turn to take pictures in front of the falls.
After we climbed back up Uncle Tom’s Trail (err … staircase), we drove down to Artist Point to view the canyon with the falls in the background. I’m not sure if it was because it was getting late in the day or if this area is not as popular, but there were less people.
We then drove to the Upper Falls and they were just as magnificent, although they are one-third of the height.
As we drove back to our campsite, taking in scenery and wildlife, we stopped at the Sulphur Caldron and Mud Volcano. These are both beautiful (in the way that mud can be beautiful) and interesting to see, however they did not smell so great. I did really enjoy watching the mud boil and it made me think of something from a fairy tale.
Day 2 – Fairy Falls
We had read to avoid the crowds of people all you had to do was get a mile off the road. Since we came to hike, we hiked to Fairy Falls via the Midway Geyser Basin.
The hike is about five miles round trip and is mostly level. Heading to the falls, to our right we could see the Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone’s largest hot spring. The springs is about 370 feet in diameter and over than 121 feet deep. But what I love the most about it is its rich colors of blues and yellows. I loved seeing how large the spring is compared to the people around it.
The vapor of the spring was actually blue, which amazed me because I had never seen blue fog before.
On our way to the falls, we saw a spur trail going up a small hill. We were not sure if it was a spur trail made by the park or one made by people veering off the trail. On the way back, we decided to take it up the hill and view the spring from above.
Fairy Falls is about 200 feet high and is a favorite among the waterfalls at Yellowstone. We picnicked at the falls and then backtracked to the car.
From the Old Faithful area we drove toward the south entrance of the park. We drove past Lewis Lake and Lewis Falls. The road parallels a steep gorge on the Lewis River, which I thought was gorgeous. But if you are afraid of heights you might want to just take in the beauty from the safety of the overlooks and not the car as you drive past.
After our day hike, we drove south out of the park to see Grand Teton National Park. The Tetons are an awesome mountain range. And if you have time to explore them while you are at Yellowstone, I highly suggest it.
Yellowstone is definitely a place you need to make “on your way” if you are road tripping in the area, or just make it a destination. We only had two days, so we hit the highlights of the park, but I could have spent two weeks and still not seen enough.
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