“I have become death, destroyer of worlds, muh-ha-ha-ha-ha”
– Stranger I used as a prop for funny quote
Yellowstone is on the northwest corner of Wyoming, with 3 entrances in Montana on the North and West sides. $30/7 days pass.
If you want to see the Beartooth Highway and it’s view of the Beartooth Mountains, goto Red Lodge. Red Lodge is a small town with resort shops near NE entrance of Yellowstone. It is 2 hours east, southeast from Bozeman, MT. Bozeman, though, is actually closer to the NW entrance at Gardiner, MT. The NE entrance is where the Beartooth highway leads to. It could be considered the shortest road path between Red Lodge and the NE entrance of Yellowstone or Cooke City / Silver Gate. This road will take you to a breathtaking sight of the Beartooth mountain range, then through them along the mountains to see a gorgeous view of the valley below, up to Vista Point (which has a rest stop). Due to snow fall, the highway was closed past this point to the Wyoming border, but I went around to Chief Joesph Byway which connects to Beartooth highway, past the Wyoming border. Keep going on the Beartooth Highway toward Yellowstone Park and you will see the mountain formation called the Beartooth. When you reach the small resort towns of Cooke City and Silver Gate, you’re almost at the entrance of Yellowstone.
- Past the warning that highway was closed past Vista Point. There are actually numerous campsites in the National Forest on the way to the Beartooth Mountains.
- Road to the Beartooth mountains
You drive along the mountain range, up to the Vista Point rest stop.
Chief Joesph Byway is a detour from Red Lodge, instead of going directly to Beartooth Mountains and over them, you set your GPS to waypoint to Dead Indian Summit Overlook, then to Cooke City / Silver Gate.
Past the entrance, though there are campsites in the northeast quadrant of the park, most of what to see, is in other parts of the park. From NE entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs is less than 50mi, so that is a viable day trip, if you choose to camp at one of the campsites there like Pebble Creek.
You can also enter Yellowstone from the NW. Bozeman, MT is about hour and half away from NW entrance to Yellowstone. In Bozeman is the closest Walmart, however, if you’re re-stocking for discount supplies. In the resort town of Gardiner, MT is the Roosevelt Arch, leading to the entrance of Yellowstone.
And is the closest entrance to the Mammoth Hot Springs, a hot spring whose limestone has been deposited in the shape of travertine terraces. You can walk up to an overlook position where you can see the pools of heated limestone saturated water in the top of the terraces or view the water from the springs flowing over the edges and down the steps reminiscent of a natural infiniti pool. Easily an hour hiking the boardwalk loop. All the geothermal sights have a boardwalk trail. There is a visitor center, shopping village and hotel nearby.
There is wildlife all over Yellowstone, the most prominent being the buffalo, whose slow grazing make them as photogenic as the landscape. But they are large wild animals, so keep your distance and don’t aggravate them. The largest herd I saw on the north side was grazing near the Lamar river. But I heard from the park rangers the bulls like to travel alone away from the herd. And you see them all over the park. I don’t know what they eat but they are fat for wild animals. They say most of the wild life can be viewed at the Tower-Roosevelt area, roughly midway between Mammoth and NE entrance. You can spot foxes at dusk. Mooses hiding in brushes. An action shot of deer leaping over fences. Or another panhandler.
Cars are frequently stopped at roadside by photographers of wildlife. And you should expect deer, or bison to block your way on the road at least once a day.
Tower Roosevelt has Roosevelt lodge, and gas station (I think the location’s significance is mostly that roads intersect there). Fly fishing is something you can do in Yellowstone Park. There are fly fisherman on the Lamar, and Gibbons rivers, mostly on north side of park.
Just a few miles south is the overlook for Calcite Springs. The link will describe the site’s volcanic features. Further south is Tower Fall, which has a campsite across the street from the parking lot of the sight. Yellowstone is full of small water falls but this one has a great roar to it.
That’s probably a half day on north side.
Road closures are common in Yellowstone. When I was there in the fall, the north side was completely isolated from rest of park due to road construction and snowfall at night for consecutive days.
If you go south from Tower Fall-Roosevelt (or Tower-Roosevelt, which is what the NPS maps say), you will practically be in center of Yellowstone park at Canyon Vilage which has a visitor center describing Yellowstone’s volcanic history. There is a campsite nearby, if you choose to set up shop from here to see the rest of the park. I could not reach Canyon Village from Tower-Roosevelt bc of the road closures. Rather than risk being in the park during a snowfall, I had to travel back to Bozeman and from there travel south to set up shop in West Yellowstone to see the other parts of the park, until the rest of the roads re-opened and re-connected. It’s actually a good place to stay, to see Yellowstone, if bus tours are more your thing, rather than roughing it.
Canyon Village is in the center of Yellowstone Park, and on the long loop of road (Grand Loop Road, but Norris Canyon Rd is shortcut to other side of Grand Loop to Norris Geyser Basin) that covers much of the geothermal sights inside the supervolcano caldera. Oh, I didn’t tell you that Yellowstone was a giant volcano in prehistoric days? But I’m going to assume you are too tired and wish to restart in the morning. And I will restart this tour from where I set up for the night in West Yellowstone, rather than the Canyon Campgrounds. And you can see the visitor center at Canyon Village later, before you see Yellowstone Falls.
Leaving West Yellowstone into the park (presumably the next morning), go north from Madison Junction, and one of the first cutouts on the road is for Gibbons Falls.
Continue north to see the Artist Paint Pots. Video is a better media for the dynamic nature of the hotsprings in Yellowstone (hint, hint, free WordPress.com people).
Then moving north to the see Norris Geyser Basin where you can feel the warmth from the Steamboat Geyser as you pass by the mist of it’s spray, and smell the sulfur in the air, and get hit by some solid particulates you hope is hail from above, and hope you aren’t getting a year’s worth of acid rain in 5 minutes. There is a museum there about the geyser basin, but it is entirely skippable.
Go east from there (Norris Canyon Rd), and you return to Canyon Village. Going south from Canyon Village (Grand Loop Rd), you will see turnouts for the north and south rim of Yellowstone Canyon. Take them both. They have different views of the lower falls on the Yellowstone river, with multiple places to stop to view or start a hike. The canyon itself is worth the stop to look with it’s different colored rocks at different striations. It’s not as big as the Grand Canyon, but with a little snow, very pretty. North Rim will take to Look Out Point and Grand View and multiple stops to see and stop to hike to Lower Falls.
Taking the South Rim road will take you to Artist Point, which has a another view of Lower Falls, the picture-worthy view of the Lower Falls (5th photo).
Sulfur Cauldron is a road cutout opposite the Mud volcano. It really smells of sulfur and the display reads it’s acidity as between battery acid and lemon juice. You can see the boiling churning like it had serious indigestion.
Mud volcano has a parking lot, and a boardwalk loop. Boiling springs in clear ponds, birds flying and picking at the coexisting vegetation. Multiple mud pots of steam bubbles popping at surface of mud. And a great steam vent inside a cave that creates a great bass roar has water rushing in and out of it, rhythmically pulsating with the steam venting called the Dragon’s Mouth Spring.
Keep going south from there and you see the huge Yellowstone Lake. Even on the lake, in the fall, you can see steam venting from geothermal features on the shoreline across the lake (perhaps west thumb geyser basin).
I can’t say much about the Fishing Bridge or Bridge Bay sites along the lake. It was cold. Water isn’t so appealling at 40F.
At West Thumb is the south side of the loop road and if you continue west, to Old Faithful. If you head south from here, you go toward Yellowstone’s SW exit and into practically adjacent Grand Teton National Park.
A great deal of the park’s geothermal sights are on the west side of this loop road. Heading back to West Yellowstone, you get to pass Old Faithful traveling west from West Thumb. Before you reach Old Faithful, you go up mountains and cross 2 signs that say you’re at the Continental Divide (rain water goes one way or the other). Same thing as taking your picture at the Yellowstone sign. Not much else to see.
That is probably a full day of sights. You may choose to postpone Old Faithful until the next day. The entire Upper Geyser Basin hike starts from Old Faithful. Or you can do what I did, and go there twice, and see it first up close. Then from the lodge the next day and do the hike.
West of Madison Junction is the west entrance of Yellowstone, which is 14mi away from the aforementioned loop road. Immediately outside is the town of West Yellowstone. This is where I returned to, rather than camp in Yellowstone Park. The town is a great setting up location, to leave and to see the sights in Yellowstone. It has gas at retail rate. A McDonald’s. A supermarket. Coffee shops with WiFi and power outlets. Hotels. Restaurants and diners. And mostly oddly, 4 Chinese restaurants (Red Lotus’s House Fried Rice is so good, if you get the cook who makes it w/o soy sauce) and a coffee shop w a Chinese menu. They must get a lot of Chinese tourists.
Also in town is a Yellowstone Visitor Center w a park ranger there. And the Wolf and Grizzly center which hold several birds of prey, at least 2 grizzlies, and wolves in captivity, relocated from other places in USA. I assumed they would have been euthenized if not for this facility, so I don’t feel bad when I see the tour guides hiding food, for the Grizzlies to come out and find it, for the pleasure of the tourists snapping pictures. It says it’s a non-profit organization.
Returning to Yellowstone, from the town of West Yellowstone, going south when you reach Madison Junction, there is Firehole Canyon Drive which you make a turn west into. A short one way road passing Firehole Falls, the walls of the small Firehole canyon, and a small swimming area.
Returning to the main road and heading south, the next sight is the Fountain Paint Pots parking lot. Mud pots and Paint pots kinda look the same to me. In this section of Yellowstone reminds me of what the park ranger said at the Old Faithful facility “In Yellowstone Park, is the highest concentration of geothermal sights in the world”.
Keep going south for the Midway Geyser Basin, or where the Prismatic Spring is. It is a small and very busy parking lot. After you park, you cross the Firehole River on a foot bridge to see multiple springs there. And the run off from the Prismatic Spring going into the river.
The Prismatic Spring, in the fall, is actually difficult to see the colors of the pool bc of the large cloud of steam above it. So I leave you with the professional overhead photograph of it, on the display for the sight.
Travelling south again from there, you can stop at the Biscuit Basin which has a parking lot. And walk around the boardwalk to see more geysers.
Further south, finally we get to Old Faithful. Old faithful has a huge facility, multiple lodges, a beautiful visitor center (that doesn’t allow food or drink) overlooking Old Faithful. An eruption approximately every hour and 20 min. They post the times of the next expected eruption of multiple geysers there, but Old Faithful is the most regular. There is semi circle outdoor seating around the geyser. If relaxing is your thing, you can see the old faithful eruptions from further away at an adjacent lodge cafeteria. And buffalo like it here.
And the trail to the Upper Geyser Basin is a right turn from Old Faithful. Which is a trail to see multiple geysers.
Possibly another day of sights. Or headed out south to Grand Teton, if you’re “geothermal’ed” out. Grand Teton National Park is on the southern exit of Yellowstone.
Heading out of Yellowstone toward Grand Teton, you pass by Lewis Lake and campground. And if you have a boat, I’ve seen boat pullouts on Lewis lake.
I now understand why 4×4’s and trucks are such popular sellers in the USA. A rock on US-191 going to West Yellowstone did that. This might be the 3rd or 4th tire lost on this trip (they were on their last legs anyway).