It was 1872 when one of mankind’s best ideas came to life: The US congress and President Ulysses S. Grant established the world’s first National Park
“for the benefit and enjoyment of the people”
A bunch of smart scientists recognized the potential of Yellowstone’s landscape, wildlife and geothermal features which are unique on our planet and therefore worth protecting. To me whatsoever, I never had Yellowstone on my radar. When my fiance and I looked for a trip in mid-August, we planned to go to the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park and/or California. But I became slightly worried about the heat during that time of the year as I wanted to do some hiking. At the end we picked a completely different route which you can see here.
We certainly didn’t regret our decision. The temperature was moderate – if not cool – and Yellowstone completely blew my mind! It wasn’t for its landscape so much (which certainly was beautiful too) but it was the wildlife, hot springs and geysers that fascinated me. I’ve never seen a place with so much volcanic activity – it felt like our planet was “breathing” and the earth’s core is closer than anywhere else.
The drive took us through vast dead and young forests until we reached the gigantic Yellowstone Lake which lies in the heart of the National Park. From there we started our first (short) hike to the so-called Storm Point (the name says it all) – we hardly met other people but some cute marmots!
We knew Yellowstone is prime bear habitat and carrying bear spray is a must. However we never expected to see any on our first day! Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you see it) we were too far away to capture the grizzly mother with her two cubs properly on camera. I don’t have a good zoom-lens, so this photo with maximum digital zoom is the only one I got! Can you spot them?
Soon we realized: The wildlife is real!
Real is also the geothermal activity which is visible (and you can smell it too) over a huge area! There was steam coming up from literally anywhere and you’ll find hot springs right next to the road – actually the ground looked so fragile that I’ve wondered how many people (and animals) have cracked into a boiling, acidic spring… More than ever it’s advisable to follow the warning signs and stay on the marked trails!
The big star and most iconic landmark of Yellowstone is the Grand Prismatic Spring with its incredible colours! Although it was a rather cloudy and rainy day, the spectrum looked quite amazing. Isn’t it the most beautiful creation of nature?
Even the steam has rainbow colours!
Fairy Falls is another popular easy hike not far from Grand Prismatic.
Two thirds of all geysers in the world are concentrated in Yellowstone – that’s A LOT. It’s impossible to see all of them but in the Upper Geyser Basin you’ll find some great samples of different shapes and sizes. Walking along the boardwalk and watching the bubbles and steam were a surreal experience.
Then it was time for the show of the day: Old Faithful is probably the world’s most famous geyser which erupts on a reliable schedule of approximately every 90 minutes. Hundreds of people gathered around the geyser to watch that spectacle!
Lodging in Yellowstone is very competitive during high season and accommodation within the park was fully booked. We wanted to spend at least one night within the park, so the first-come, first-serve campsites were our only chance. Advice: Be early! The first campsite we looked at was full before 9 am! Fortunately we found one at Indian Creek. It was a very basic campsite which we didn’t mind, but Jesus! – we totally underestimated how cold it gets at night (we stayed in a tent, not in a RV). We learned our lesson after a freezing and sleepless night :/
Tired and very low on energy we made it somehow to one of the park’s highest peaks: Mount Washburn. It was a moderate half-day hike through some beautiful scenery and more wildlife along the way. If you’re into hiking – this is a must!
I barely managed to smile for the photo because I was so tired and hungry 😛
We spotted some mountain goats…
… extremely shy but cute pikas…
… and an elk!
I wish I would have taken more and better videos of that trip because there was so much action! My humble attempt to make a video resulted in this 1-minute Oscar-worthy clip 😛 I hope you enjoy it nevertheless!
- The park is huge! There’s so much to see and distances within the park are far – so be prepared for lots of driving. In addition, you may encounter wildlife, construction and/or traffic jams times which slow you down even more. The parking lots at some attractions are huge but still may not be enough – it can get really busy during peak season. I recommend to spend at least three full days in the park to cover the highlights.
- Book early! The lodges in the park are booked out many months before, especially during high season (July, August). If you can’t find a room, you can either camp in one of the several campsites or stay outside the National Park near the entrances, for example in West Yellowstone or Cody. This involves even more driving though. If you want to grab a spot in a first-come, first-serve campsite, make sure you get there as early as possible!
- Yes we saw grizzlies, so the warning of bear encounters is no joke! Always carry bear spray which can be bought in camping stores or in the general stores inside the park. Keep a safe distance to wildlife and don’t feed them. Follow the advice and warnings of the park rangers.
- There are several “villages” that offer lodges, gas, restaurants and general stores, however everything is slightly more expensive than outside the park. The souvenir shops on the other hand were quite nice 😉
- The closest airports are Yellowstone Airport in West Yellowstone, Montana; Jackson Hole Airport and Yellowstone Regional Airport, both in Wyoming. Optional you can fly into Bozeman or Billings, Montana (where we flew into) as these airports are bigger and offer more frequent flights. Rental cars are more plentiful there too.
- The official National Park’s website is a very useful source of information to plan your trip. Check for seasonal updates, current events and facts.
Which National Parks would you recommend?