2016 is the National Park Service’s (NPS) one hundred year anniversary. And anyone who knows me knows I love me some National Parks. As Yellowstone was the first of America’s National Parks, it seemed apropos that we added it to the ol’ list of things to do this year. We did some research, talked to some quasi-locals (my brother in Montana) and made a plan. The following describes what we learned beforehand and along the way.
When to go to Yellowstone
Yellowstone is located in parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. It is high in the Rocky Mountains (think 6,000+ feet above sea level), which means it very, very cold for a lot of the year. Most of the roads are closed in the winter because they are covered with snow. And since they only open when the snow has melted, that date changes every year depending on spring temperatures.
This year the roads opened around the beginning of May, so we decided to go mid-May. Also influencing this decision is the fact that Yellowstone is the one of the most visited parks in the nation. In 2015, over four million people went there, mainly in the summer months. B and I struggle with crowds of tourists, so we wanted to beat the rush. There were still plenty of people when we were there, so I can only imagine what high season looks like (shudder).
How to go to Yellowstone
Grand Teton National Park is just south of Yellowstone in Wyoming. Being as this park has stunning views of the Teton Mountain Range, it just makes sense to drive up from the south. You might as well take US-89 North and take in the beauty. Connecting the two parks is land that was donated by Mr. John D. Rockefeller who thought this area was so beautiful he bought it up after visiting. Lucky for us, he gave it back to the NPS. The road will take you right into Yellowstone where you will have to pay the entrance fee.
A seven-day pass to Yellowstone will set you back $30 for a single car. If you want to explore Teton, it will cost you another $30. They do offer a combo pass for $50, but if you really want to save some money and love national parks as much as I do, I suggest you just buy an annual pass. An annual pass will get you into any National Park, Monument, Historic Site and Landmark for a whole year–all for the bargain price of $80. I got mine last December at Olympic National Park and I’ve already paid it off.
What to see at Yellowstone
Neither B nor I had visited Yellowstone for several years so we wanted to check out the main attraction: Old Faithful. We arrived at Old Faithful and walked around the different geysers, amusing ourselves by guessing their names before looking at the placards. B picked the best name when she came up with Double Trouble.
Not so Secret Hike
There is a hike right above Old Faithful called the Observation Point Trail that offers a really nice view of the area. When we got to the top of the trail we noticed a few people waiting around with their tripods and wondered when Old Faithful was going to do its thing. There are a few websites that track eruptions and we miraculously had cell phone service up at that observation point. We learned that the average time between eruptions was 92 minutes and luckily for us, we got to the top 80 minutes after the last eruption. So we only had to wait five minutes before she blew. It was a really nice viewpoint to see the eruption and we didn’t have to share it with all of the other tourists. We learned in a ‘Hidden Secrets of National Parks’ book that the Observation Point Trail is a secret gem that not many know about. This would be especially satisfying in the middle of summer when it is packed next to the geyser.
What to know about Yellowstone
Yellowstone has had a rough anniversary year thus far. Right before we left, a well-meaning-but-not-very-smart-man decided a baby bison looked cold. So he put the thing inside his car and drove it to a ranger’s station. They had to euthanize the poor thing and the man was fined. Also fined were a group of not-well-meaning-and-not-very-smart men who thought their Instagram photo would be even more impressive if they left the designated boardwalk and romped all over the sensitive geological features. They got a warrant for their arrests. Sadly, a man just lost his life after going into one of the hottest geysers in the park. If trends hold, by the end of summer, several people will have also been injured because they got too close to the wild animals. Yellowstone is 3,500 square miles of WILDerness and should to be respected as such.
Yellowstone is gorgeous and full of interesting animals and geological features that make it one of a kind. You should definitely go (especially during the non-peak season) and explore the park that inspired national parks to be created around the nation and world. But for the love, don’t touch the baby bison!