Hopefully if you are reading this post, you have already read my post on the Grand Teton National Park. I hit up Yellowstone and the Tetons in the same trip since they are super close to each other. I flew into the Jackson Hole Airport, rented a car and after exploring the Tetons, I drove north to Yellowstone. This post I will give you all the highlights from Yellowstone! Things to see, hiking trails, backpacking trails, campgrounds and more!
As you enter Yellowstone through the south entrance, first you will have to pay the park fee. If you do not have an annual National Park pass and you are planning to visit at least 3 National Parks in one year, I highly recommend that you invest in one! 3 Visits and the pass pays for itself! I’ve already used mine 10 times since August!
-West Thumb Geyser Basin
Driving North from the South Entrance you will first come to Grant Village and the West Thumb Geyser Basin. The geyser basin is a boardwalk hike along the ‘West Thumb’ of Yellowstone Lake. There are lots of super cool hydrothermal pools that are very easily accessible. Perfect for the whole family!
-Camp at Grant Village
If you are looking for a spot to camp for the night, there is a campground in Grant Village. They are designated camp sites, with a fire pit, picnic table, bathrooms, garbage, water and showers (that were temporarily closed for Covid). While I’m not a big fan of the group campgrounds, this was a pretty interesting night. When we checked in at the permit office, the ranger warned us about wildlife activity in the area. Apparently, some visitors did not follow the rules of Bear safety, and left food out and a grizzly bear came rummaging through the campground. The ranger told us that not even a bear box is safe in this area so we had to leave all smelly items in the car over night. Luckily you park right at your campsite so that wasn’t a problem. After the sun went down, we were cleaning up from dinner and my sister turned her headlamp on to see a coyote staring right back at her in the middle of our campsite. The grizzly looking coyote stared at her for a bit then trotted off in the other direction. Sporadically throughout the night we would hear the pack howling together. That was our excitement for the night!
Old Faithful Geyser
As you leave Grant Village and West Thumb Geyser Basin, heading West, you will come to Old Faithful Visitor Center. Old Faithful is the main feature of Yellowstone, and it is definitely the most crowded. Old Faithful is a geyser that goes off every 1-1.5 hours (the longer the wait, the bigger the show!) This geyser can reach between 100-140 ft and go off for 2-5 minutes!
Its a very accessible feature of the park, lots of stadium seating, and amenities near-by. While you wait for the show, you can pop in to the visitor center for a bite to eat or grab a beer for the show!
Make sure you get to the geyser early because it gets VERY busy and you’ll find it hard to get a good seat otherwise.
Bechler Canyon Trail
I planned one backpacking trip during my time in Yellowstone, and it was along the Bechler Canyon Trail. I had done my research ahead of time and found some really awesome features along this trail that I really wanted to see, mainly waterfalls and a hot spring. Getting the backcountry permit for camping along this trail was a little tricky, but we got lucky and acquired a one night permit for campsite 9D3. Looking back on this trip I really would have liked to start from the southern end of the trail and stayed for more nights because we didn’t get to see all the waterfalls I would have liked, but you gotta work with what you got.
So we started the trail from the North, at Kepler Cascades/Lone Star Geyser where we parked the car.
→ Lone Star Geyser
Following a partially paved road, 2.5 miles into the trail, you will come to Lone Star Geyser. Every 3 or so hours this guy erupts up to 45 ft high. We hung around for a bit, but I guess we got there too early because we never saw it erupt more than a few feet. Even if you don’t see the full eruption, Lone Star is almost always spewing water 3-5 ft high, which was pretty cool to watch, just don’t get too close!!
I just want to point out that Yellowstone is one of the most dangerous national parks, as it is situated atop a super volcano whose eruption would wreak havoc across the whole continent. There are signs everywhere that tell you to be careful where you walk, and stay on the designated trails, because the ground is thin and you can fall into a thermal feature and scald yourself! Some people were making me reallllllly nervous with how close they were getting to the geyser for photos, but luckily I did not stand witness to a human BBQ.
Yellowstone has reported over 22 deaths by hydrothermal features, and many many more injuries. So, please, PLEASE, be careful!
Anyway, heading up the trail (the first 10 miles are a constant uphill battle), we finally made it to our campsite (9D3), which conveniently had a pit toilet nearby! I had never used one of these before but it was pretty cool doing the morning doo with all of nature to see hehehe.
The first day was a long and tough day, we were fighting against time and wanted to make it to camp before dark. It’s best to cook and eat your food in the daylight, since animals are more likely to come snooping around after dark… gotta be bear aware! So we were pretty exhausted by our 11 mile, uphill day. We got in a good night sleep and prepared for an even bigger day to follow.
We got up early the next morning and set off for Mr. Bubbles, a hot spring that meets with a cool river and right where they meet is a little pool that bubbles with warm water. It’s the perfect jacuzzi-like swimming hole. It was only 5 miles from our campsite, and we thought we got there early at 8 am but there were already 2 groups there when we arrived, so make sure you get there early (or super late) in the day if you want some alone time.
We sat in the pool and conversed with the other hikers, it was glorious, I could have soaked in that pool all day. The water was perfect temperature, sometimes changing from warm to cold. The geyser in the middle that was bubbling up hot water would occasionally spout out mysterious objects, which I suppose are coming from another water source in the park. Even a pair of sunglasses came out!
We couldn’t hang out there for too long because we didn’t have another campsite booked along the trail, and we had to head back the way we came, 15 miles back to the car, making it a 20 mile day. It was a tough, very tough, but beautiful day.
Midway Geyser Basin
As you continue North from the Old Faithful area, towards Madison Visitor Center, you will come to the Midway Geyser Basin, and there are lots of super cool (and easily accessible) features to check out! Like Grand Prismatic Spring, Excelsior Geyser, Fairy Falls, and Imperial Geyser.
Grand Prismatic Spring
There are two ways to view the Grand Prismatic Spring. The first way is via the boardwalk. It’s an easy walk along a boardwalk that takes you around the Basin, right up to the edge of Grand Prismatic Spring!
Another option is a longer trail that will take you to an overlook of the spring. It’s a .75 mi hike to the overlook. Its definitely more effort, but I think you get a better view (and photo opportunity) from there.
If you continue further down the trail, towards Fairy Falls, you will pass a couple backcountry campsites, which would be pretty cool to stay at. At about 2.5 mi you will come to a magical waterfall, called Fairy Falls. I was NOT expecting this hike to be so incredible and I wish I had reserved one of those campsites so I could spend more time here.
You can continue even further along the trail and at about 3-3.5 mi you will come to Imperial Geyser. This geyser is really cool because it feels like you stumbled upon it yourself, it just pops up on you. Not many people continue that far along the trail since altogether its a 6-7 mi hike round trip, so I had this place all to myself! I know it’s very tempting, but do NOT touch the water! You WILL burn yourself.
If you head North from West Thumb Geyser Basin, you will first drive through Hayden Valley, an open plain that is often filled with herds of Bison! You’ll know if there are Bison ahead based on the speed of traffic. When the bison are out, it can take you 2 hours to drive one mile, but you’ll probably want to stop to admire and observe. It was rut reason, or bison mating season!!! It was amazing to watch the male bison rolling in the dirt, following the females around, and showing their aggression and strength to other males, but also the baby bison following their mamas around.
The bison pretty much ignore that humans exist so long as you keep a safe distance. Once again, this is another way that people die in the park. They get too close to the large wildlife. We watched in horror as a man approached a resting bison, the bison got up and looked as if it were going to charge the man and for a few intense minutes, I thought I was going to witness a man die. Luckily, the man realized what could possibly happen and backed off.
Just North of Hayden Valley lies Canyon Village, right behind my favorite feature of the park, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. There are rooms in the lodge, cabins, a grocery store, dining hall, gas station and more. One of my favorite spots in the park is walking distance and it’s a great place to spend the night as well!
I booked a cabin in Canyon Village and it was pricey, but incredible! There was a trail in the woods behind our cabin that leads to Grand View! We set out to watch the sunset and hung around talking about the universe while we waited for the stars and moon to come out at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It was a long, dark, walk back, but we had our headlamps!
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
There are a few places that you can gaze into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and feast your eyes on the falls of the Yellowstone River. It’s quite breathtaking.
Grand View is on the North rim of the canyon, walking distance from the cabins at Canyon Village. Inspiration Point is another option on the North Rim, just a little further down the road from Grand View.
Artists point is on the South rim of the canyon and has an excellent view of the falls, just a short walk from the parking lot.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin trail takes you down into the mist of the falls, but it was closed when I was there due to maintenance. Hopefully you’ll have better luck when you go.
Like Haden Valley, another great place to catch some wildlife, specifically bison, is Lamar Valley. It’s a beautiful drive, and you’re almost guaranteed to see some bison. I’ve heard that packs of coyotes have been spotted in the early morning.
Mammoth Hot Springs
In the North area of Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs has some great and easily accessible features! I also stayed at one of the cabins here, which weren’t as good at the ones at Canyon Village in my opinion, but they were close to the general store, dining hall and information.
Upper and Lower Terraces
Backpacking in Gardiner
→ BLM campground, Carbella
So, we needed a place to camp on out way to the Bozeman Airport, and we heard that there are some campgrounds in Gardiner, just North of the park. We found a free BLM campground in Carbella. In the moments before sundown we saw a herd of elk heading down the mountain across the river from us. Our camp neighbors had a telescope and they let me and my pals borrow it to observe the elk. It was incredible!
There are so many ways that you can enjoy this park, whether you wanna take quick stops along the road and follow pavement or boardwalk trails, or maybe you wanna do a multi-day backpacking trip along Bechler River, or maybe you wanna do something in between, and it’s all possible here. There are way more awesome things to do any see in the park that I didn’t get to experience, but whatever you do you’re guaranteed to have a great time.
Camping in the Backcountry: https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/backcountryhiking.htm