Yellowstone National Park
My husband and I traveled to Yellowstone National Park from Montana via the north entrance to the park, and we were greeted by three friendly deer and a bison shortly after entering the park (I couldn’t think of a better welcome committee myself).
Yellowstone National Park is the first national park in the US, and was made from a super-volcano over 2.1 million years ago, and it now contains many thermal features, mountains and valleys, lakes, meadows, and other landscapes that that millions of people from around the world flock to each year. The nature and wild life in the park live up to the hype! We saw bison (buffalo), mule deer, white tail deer, elk, pronghorn, fox, squirrels, osprey, and other birds. The park is also known for its massive population of wolves, bears, moose, coyote, cougar, sheep, goats, and many other small animals.
Yellowstone is 3,500 square miles, so it is best to try to plan in advance what you would like to see if you can; here is a really good map that I used. I was pretty overwhelmed at first trying to figure out how to plan what we were going to see because I read many reviews that a week in the park was not enough, but I knew that we only had two days!
Below includes everything we saw in our short time in the park, in the order in which we saw it. We were still able to enjoy the amount of time we had in each part of the park, but if you could spend more time in the park, I would highly recommend it! Also, if you plan to go to more than one national park in a year, be sure to buy the US Annual Park Pass to save money on park entrance fees!
Mammoth Hot Springs
The Mammoth Springs area contains a little town with a visitors center, hotel, gas station, general store, and of course the Mammoth Springs. The Mammoth Springs consist of many thermal springs, and they are the only thermal springs that are outside of the Yellowstone caldera (the caldera is the crater left by the original super-volcano). There are boardwalks built around the springs for people to walk along to get up close to view the beauty of the springs. There is also a mile loop that you can drive along to visit different springs, and have different views of the springs. It was so cool to get up close to the springs and see the different colors from the springs from the bacteria, and also hear the springs bubble and boil. My favorites were the liberty cap, which is made from a dormant hot spring cone, and the palette spring, which looks like a bunch of small hot tubs.
Norris Geyser Basin
The Norris Geyser Basin has a small informational area, and then two main trails: the Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin. Norris Geyser Basin includes a small informational center and two major paths. The Porcelain Basin has views of multiple geysers at the same time, however, the Back Basin is where most of the active geysers are located. Be sure to stay on the boarded paths because the ground is HOT, and very volatile. Also, be aware that the entire area smells of sulfur, but it is worth checking out!
The Porcelain Basin is a 0.6 mile loop with stunning views of multiple thermal geysers. It was pretty amazing to see so many geysers smoking and bubbling at the same time.
The Back Basin is a 1.6 mile loop, which includes a stop at the famous Steamboat Geyser 0.25 miles into the loop. The Steamboat Geyser is the worlds tallest active geyser. We did not see it go off, but we were there when a Ranger was telling us history of the geyser, which was really interesting and good timing!
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
We stopped at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstones visitor center to figure out the best viewing points of the canyon. We determined to drive along the north rim and stop at all of the view points. Since we went at a pretty busy part of the day, the rangers were limiting the number of people into the area. We were the last car in there for a while.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
It is believed that the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone was created by the erosive forces of water thousands of years ago from the Yellowstone River. The area also experienced glaciers and volcanic activity. There are many different viewing points of the canyon, including the lower falls and the upper falls. We drove along the north rim to see the falls. It was a beautiful view from every place we stopped.
The Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone are massive, and there are many different viewing points to see the falls. We could also even see people right up close to the falls. At 308 feet, the Lower Falls is the tallest waterfall in the park, and it is more than twice the size of Niagara Falls. It was beautiful.
The Upper Falls were much smaller, but they were also very beautiful, and it was nice that we could get up very close to them. The Upper Falls stand at 109 feet, and it is amazing to hear and see the water gush over the rocks so close.
Once we left the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, we headed south through the Hayden Valley. The Hayden Valley is a beautiful valley with rolling hills along the Yellowstone River, and the valley was full of buffalo and elk.
One of the stops along this road was at the Mud Volcano, which is a sulfur volcano (and it smells like sulfur!). The volcano once erupted and splattered mud on all of the trees in the surrounding area. You can hike a short 0.25 mile hike along the boardwalk to see what remains of the Mud Volcano, as well as the Dragon’s Mouth Spring, which is named because a dramatic wave like motion often splashes out creating smoke and causes rumbling sounds. Both were beautiful and worth stopping to view. There is also a longer boardwalk to see other thermal areas, but we did not walk along that path.
Lake Village is along the Yellowstone Lake, and this area is popular for people that like to fish. We did not stop in the village, but we drove along the lake for a long time. Yellowstone Lake 136 square miles, and roughly 20 miles long. It is beautiful to view the lake with the white capped mountains in the background. We drove through a portion of trees near the lake that were all dead from being burnt. It was a sad reminder that not everything lasts forever in the park.
Old Faithful and the Geysers
Old Faithful Lodge
We arrived at the Old Faithful Lodge in the evening, and we stayed in a cute little Frontier Cabin; when I say little, it literally only had a bed, desk, dresser, and very small bathroom in it, but it was perfect for what we needed (to sleep). The best part of the Old Faithful Lodge is that it is just steps away from the famous Old Faithful Geyser. We ate dinner and then sat outside on the patio in comfortable chairs with our beer and wine to watch Old Faithful go off in the Sunset.
Old Faithful Inn
The Old Faithful Lodge should not be confused with the Old Faithful Inn, which is the famous fancier hotel just around the corner. We stopped by here and the visitor center to check it out; it was definitely beautiful!
Old Faithful Geyser
Not too long after we arrived at our lodge, we were able to watch the Old Faithful Geyser go off during the sunset; it was perfect. This famous geyser is named Old Faithful due to the fact that its eruptions are highly predictable; it erupts every 40 – 120 minutes. First thing in the morning, we were lucky enough to watch the Old Faithful Geyser go off again. If you are not staying in the area, it is recommended to come here early in the morning because it is one of the most popular areas of the park. We were lucky to stay right there and see it go off multiple times. You can check out www.geysertimes.org to see when the geyser is expected to go off based on historical data.
Upper Geyser Basin Trail
The Old Faithful Geyser is not the only geyser in the area; actually, the Upper Geyser Basin hosts the largest number of geysers in the world (1/4th of the geysers!). There are 250 found in the area. We walked along this 1.25 mile pathway to see the many beautiful geysers. My favorite was the Morning Glory Pool at the end of the trail; it was my favorite because if its vibrant colors due to the thermophilic bacteria.
Midway Geyser Basin
In the Midway Geyser Basin resides the beautiful and famous Grand Prismatic Spring, which is definitely a MUST SEE! This geyser gets its bright colors from the thermophilic bacteria found in its hot waters. We went here first thing in the morning after watching Old Faithful go off, but it was still too cold out, which caused the geysers to create so much steam! After we walked the Upper Geyser Basin trail, we went back here again, and it was definitely worth it! The parking lot here is small, so be warned to try to go decently early (but not when it is too cold!). We had to wait in a line for quite a while to get a parking spot the second time around.
First Time (Too Cold)
Second Time (Just Right!)
Lower Geyser Basin
We did not make it to the Lower Geyser Basin, but this is home to the famous Fountain Paint Pot. We were a little bit geysered out at this point, but I am sure it is worth checking out!
After we were done with the Geyser region, we drove south through West Thumb to get to Grand Teton. West Thumb is also along the Yellowstone Lake, on the west side. We briefly stopped at the Lewis Falls to take in the beautiful waterfall.
Grand Teton National Park
Driving to the The Grand Teton National Park from Yellowstone was a beautiful trip. We crossed the continental divide three times! The Grand Teton mountain range was created by two tectonic plates colliding; in fact, these two plates continue to slowly collide, and the mountains here grow taller each year, and the valley floor is slowly dropping as well. Pretty crazy to think about! One of the rangers said that there are hundreds of mini earthquakes that occur each year.
Colter Bay Village
We stopped at the Colter Bay Village to have lunch and stop at the Visitor Center to get a map of the park. We also walked along Lake Jackson, and took in the beautiful view of the mountains. Colter Bay has boats, kayaks, and canoes that people can rent out to enjoy the lake, which was pretty cool (but we did not have time to do it).
Jackson Lake Lodge
We stayed at the Jackson Lake Lodge, and it was perfect! We ate dinner with a stunning view of the mountains; it looked fake! We enjoyed our food very much! Mike’s sister got engaged during our trip (in Miami), so we ordered a bottle of prosecco to celebrate for her :). We also got a delicious huckleberry pound cake (because why not!?).
We went to Jenny Lake and took the Jenny Lake Shuttle Boat ($15 per person), over to the other side of the lake to do a quick and easy hike to the Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point, and Cascade Canyon. It was worth the $15 dollars to be on the lake and to see the beautiful views that the hike had to offer.
Mormon Row & Moulton Barn
On our way south out of the park, we stopped at the famous Mormon Row & Moulton Barn. This little old morman village was one of the last areas of land to be sold to the National Park Service for Grand Teton. It includes a few houses and barns, and it is located in the middle of (nowhere) in the mountains in a valley. I was asking Mike why anyone would want to build a little village where they choose to put it; I would have gone slightly closer to the mountains!
After Grand Teton, we kept driving south through Jackson Hole, and finally over to Idaho Falls, ID to fly home. We stopped in Jackson Hole, and we loved how cute the little ski town was! It was clearly a mountain town, and we enjoyed walking around and looking at all the shops and restaurants. There is also a large park in the middle with animal antlers on each corner of the park in an arch.