We visited Yellowstone National Park in July, 2006. We did some research on the internet and had some idea of what to expect but not really. We only had three days to enjoy the place and had been advised that wasn't enough time. That's probably true but we saw enough to have a wonderful time. There was more planning that went in to this trip than most thing's we've done. We really didn't know what our options were. We rapidly learned that we didn't have a good wardrobe for layering and being out in the rain. Oh well, the internet proved to provide a lot of information.
We stayed three nights at the Old Faithful Inn. We were going to Glacier NP from there and I wanted to be near the Western gate to the park. We reserved a room with a bathroom. It was very small but was OK. I'm used to camping and using common showers but didn't want to do that at the Inn. The old rooms are made from logs. They looked charming but the bathroom is down the hall. We had our 30th anniversary dinner at the OFI.
We ate in the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and the Old Faithful Lodge as well. With one exception, the meals were fine but not great. The Lodge has a cafeteria. It isn't fancy but its quicker than the others. The general store also has a small restaurant where you can get sandwiches. They also had some adult beverages.
I ordered Shrimp Etouffee for dinner one evening at the Snow Lodge. I knew better but ordered it anyway. I didn't know you could make etouffee in a cream sauce. The people in Louisiana don't know it either. It was an OK dinner but lousy etouffee. Oh well. I wouldn't order bison in Louisiana either. That was the only issue the entire time and it was real minor.
We had a loose plan of what we wanted to see and do. More details might have been nice but we were satisfied with what we did. In fact, we were way more than satisfied. We spent much time totally in AWE of the park. Some might say we spent too much time in a car though but at the speed we hike, you lose too much time hiking when you could see other things.
We entered the park from the South by way of Grand Teton NP. A beautiful drive all the way. On the advice of someone in the Yellowstone chat group, we stopped at Moose Falls and Lewis Falls. Both are very pretty and don't require a lot of time to stop. Lewis Falls was crowded but Moose wasn't. It isn't marked so it isn't obvious. Someone followed us into the small parking lot and then thanked us for showing them the way.
From there, it was off the West Thumb. We wanted to hike the Lake Overlook Trail. We couldn't because it was closed due to new thermal activity. A tour on the boardwalk through the West Thumb Geyser Basin seemed like a good alternative. Actually it was. I lost track of the names of the various pools but some were very pretty. All were interesting. This was the first time I'd seen anything like that.
From there, it was off to the Old Faithful Inn. We got there about noon and were able to check in. As luck would have it, Old Faithful went off about the time we got there. It was the first of 6 times we were able to watch it erupt. All without doing any planning. After checking in, we had lunch at the Old Faithful Lodge. It is done cafeteria style. They had a decent selection and the food was OK.
We spent the afternoon wandering around the Upper Geyser Basin on the boardwalk. I really enjoyed the tour. I'd never been around anything like this before. We saw Grand Geyser erupt. I think it was Sawmill Geyser that erupted and splashed water onto the boardwalk. We saw Castle erupt from a distance. Lion Group threatened to erupt when we went by but waited until we were further away. All in all, it was a fun afternoon. If you have time, don't miss this short walk. There's other nice hikes in the area but we simply didn't have time.
The second day was planned as hiking day. We got up early for the drive to Mammoth so we could hike the Beaver Ponds Loop. The drive up there is amazing. Early in the morning, it looks like the place is on fire. It really is steam but it takes some getting used to.
On the way up, we saw bison near and on the road. The Firehole River is very nice along the road. It was worth getting up early just to see the scenery and wildlife.
Once we got to Mammoth and found the trailhead, we headed up the Beaver Ponds Loop. It goes up a series of switch backs as it heads up to the meadows on top. The wildflowers were still in bloom and very pretty. The trail goes across the mountain meadow through wild flowers. It eventually drops down by the beaver ponds and starts heading back. Its all very pretty until you hit the open flat area on the way back. Its about a mile long. The view is nice but the immediate terrain isn't and there's no shade. We were pretty hot when we got back. There was supposed to be a chance of wildlife but we didn't see any. I'm glad we took the hike but might look for a different one next time. As I recall, the trail is around 5 miles.
We had lunch from our ice chest and took off on a drive. We headed off to Tower Falls and Lamar Valley. We saw a few bison in Lamar but there wasn't much going on. Still pretty out there.
Now off to Canyon. We headed up the road to Mt. Washburn in the car. The hike was to be the next day. We saw one spot where there was enough excitement to be a bear but there wasn't anywhere to stop so we kept going. We enjoyed the views until we got to Canyon. We saw a commotion ahead when we got to the stop sign and headed that way. Turned out there was a bull elk near the Canyon area. Sue got out with the camera while I turned around. I picked her up on the way back and we headed home. She was quite thrilled to have gotten to take pictures of the elk.
As we headed to Norris Junction, we saw signs about bison on the road. In two trips across there, we never saw bison. Much less on the road. Maybe I'll put one of those signs on my driveway since there's none there either.
As we got a little south of Madison, we saw our first minor Elk Jam. There were two nice ones feeding off the road. Foolishly, we joined the others in the walk to get a little closer. The elk ignored us so I guess we were lucky. In September during the rut, they may well have viewed us as competition. This time, though, it was a pretty good example of why it takes so long to get from one place to another in Yellowstone. Too many distractions.
That evening was our anniversary dinner at the Old Faithful Inn. Our reservations were for 8:30. We made them late so dinner wouldn't interfere with sightseeing. You have several anniversaries but you don't get to Yellowstone every year. Food was good as was the service. The menu isn't particularly varied though. I had a surf and turf. In Yellowstone, that's elk and trout. It was good but was not cheap.
That evening, Sue also washed the hiking clothes. We had all the wicking clothes and didn't have enough for the whole trip. We had underwear, shirts and pants hanging all over our little room. Surprisingly most of it dried by morning and the plan was working.
Our last day in the park was critter day. We planned to spend most of the day driving to see what we could see. We drove through Norris Junction to get to Canyon. We had breakfast there and headed for Hayden Valley. The cafeterias, like the one at Canyon, are a decent way to grab a quick breakfast.
The first thing we saw was a large buffalo herd along the road. Actually on both sides of the road and in the road. It was pretty cool. We took several pictures. We saw two of them butt heads. Playing, I think. We watched a large one stop a car and look like he was just showing who was in charge. There were several calves in the herd as well. After enjoying this for a while, we headed South. On the way, we stopped at a pretty overlook. It turned out to be the Grizzly Overlook where he wolves are seen. The guy with a scope said they had been out but weren't now. If you're thinking of checking them out, be aware that your binoculars probably aren't good enough. Its a long way. We hung out there for a while and watched another small bison herd behind us.
On down the road again. We saw a few bison in the distance. People were watching them with binoculars. Those folks were obviously new to the park. They'll almost certainly be within a few feet of bison later, even if they don't want to.
We stopped at Lake to take a break. Got some much needed ice cream and did a little shopping. As we headed across Fishing Bridge, there was a lot of people. Sue grabbed a camera and zoom and said you park the car. I parked across the bridge and came back to a grizzly swimming in the river. He was only 2 years old but he was still cool. We watched him climb a bank and then reappear along the side of the road. At this point, it was a true bear jam. We took several more pictures hoping to get a couple of good ones. Sue had now seen a bear and her trip was complete. In spite of the fact that it still had 10 days to go.
As we were leaving, we heard that a child had been hit by a car and injured. Sue is a nurse and offered her assistance but they had it under control. Not long after that the rescue squad showed up. We never found out how badly the child was injured. Its an example of how careful you have to be in these situations. I don't know whose fault it was but drivers must really pay attention when people are this excited.
We were supposed to hike Mt. Washburn today. I decided to blow it off and save it for next time. It would have taken us several hours and there were other things I wanted to see instead of using that much time on a hike.
We headed North to see the sights. We stopped at the overlooks for Upper and Lower Falls. Lower Falls in particular is spectacular. The canyon is beautiful. If you can, don't miss it.
We went further North and drove up Chittendon Road. It only went a short way up the mountain but it did offer some great views. I was hoping it went much further and apparently is used to. I wasn't at all sure I wanted to hike up for 3 miles.
We tried Lamar Valley one more time. There were some large bison herds around but they weren't close to the road. You get a notion, though, of what a special place it is.
Time for more driving. We headed back for Canyon and Hayden Valley. One last attempt to see the wolves. We got to the overlook and set up the camera. We had a 50 x 500mm zoom on a Nikon D200. That made it effectively a 75 x 750. Using a 2x teleconverter made it a 1500 mm lens. It doesn't take great pictures but might have picked up a wolf if there was one. There wasn't. Still too early. We talked to the ranger and he said 7:00 - 9:00PM was best. We did take some test pictures, though. My wife saw an elk. I got the camera focused and took a picture. We found later that there was one elk standing and 5 more were in the grass. They were by the farthest part of the river. The test was passed even if the picture wasn't great.
One thing I learned is that with a big zoom lens or scope on a tripod, you attract attention. Many people stopped just in case I was seeing something. When asked what was I seeing, I usually replied "nothing". When they gave me a funny look, I explained what I was looking for. Kind of a strange way to meet people.
We finally had to give up on the wolves because we had to the back to Old Faithful. This was our last day and we had to get ready to leave. Its about a 50 mile drive back to OFI from where we were. It was very sad to leave Yellowstone but knowing that we were off to Glacier made is a lot easier.
As we left the park the last morning, we saw an Elk with a calf cross the road. We also saw a coyote with his breakfast. Very cool even when leaving the park.
We had a two day drive through Polson, MT to get to Glacier National Park. Click here if you'd like to jump to the Glacier portion of the trip.