Justin had wanted to go to Yellowstone National Park for years and so we finally used the long weekend over Labor Day to make the trip. I was 5 months pregnant at the time which only led to some slight inconveniences but overall it was a stunning park and we were so glad to have made the trip.
Yellowstone National Park was the first ever US National Park. It covers 3,500 acres (larger than Delaware or Rhode Island) and sits on volcanic hot spots. It’s an area of geological wonders, in colors, smells and sights. Yellowstone is also home to the highest elevation lake in North America so if you go, know you’ll be pretty high up and you can blame the elevation on the reason you’re huffing and puffing on your hikes (Note: also not great for morning sickness).
Despite being one of the most visited National Parks in the country, the main attractions in Yellowstone are not easy to get to. We flew into Salt Lake City and drove for 5 hours through Jackson Hole and the Grand Teton National Park to get there. It is a long drive and there are no large airports very convenient to the park, but the drive through the Tetons is gorgeous.
Where to stay
We split our time between Canyon Lodge and the Old Faithful Inn. We spent three days staying and exploring around Canyon Lodge which is at the East side of the park near the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and then two days near Old Faithful. Canyon Lodge had very comfortable lodging and decent food options at the main village area. The highlight of this area is definitely the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone as well as some great spots for popular hikes and wildlife viewing.
Old Faithful Inn is…old. It was built in 1903-1904 and it felt like it! It was actually quite charming (which is another word for old and pricey) but the location can’t be beat. It is directly next to not only the famous Old Faithful geyser but a half dozen other major geysers, making its location a prime spot. It also is close to a lot of geothermal activity which provides a different viewing opportunity than the East side of the park.
The dining room at the Old Faithful Inn was a bit underwhelming but the real standout were the huckleberry pancakes. They huckleberry butter and huckleberry syrup were outstanding!
What do to in Yellowstone
There is so much to do in this huge park. Here were some of our highlights.
This is something so unique to this part of the country and the smells, temperatures and colors are out of this world. A lot of the highlights are near Old Faithful so spend time at that side of the park exploring and walking around. The walks are very accessible and often quite flat.
The absolute highlight was Grand Prismatic Spring. You can walk around it, but I recommend skipping that and walking up the backside and up the hill so you can see the colors from above. It was just stunning.
In that same area near Old Faithful are tons of Geysers. The Old Faithful Visitors Center has a geyser tracker that gives you estimates for the eruptions which was so helpful. You can use that as a guide but wander around and explore!
There are A LOT of bison in the park. Everywhere you go you’ll see bison. They move slowly so when they block the roads traffic can get pretty jammed. But they are amazing creatures and really fun to see.
We also got really lucky and saw a black bear walk right by our car during one of our evening drives. We had passed about 50 people watching a bear in a field about a mile away and then 10 min later this guy passes right by us.
Dusk is a great time to see wildlife and we set off to the Lamar Valley to see elk and bison. The entire valley was stunning as the sun went down and was well worth the drive from Canyon Village.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone was such an incredible highlight. Every picture looks like it could have been Ansel Adams inspiration. There are some easy, flat walks around the rim as well as look outs you can drive right to. We did a few of various lengths and each was stunning.
They say that you should walk with bear spray in case you see a bear. We were on the fence about if it was worth it or not. But, why not. The last thing we wanted was to be in the forest and see a bear only to say, “Yeah, I guess we could have gotten the bear spray.”
- Stay in the park and split your time at different parts. It is too far to drive in and out of the park each day so book accommodation in the park so you can spend your time exploring the sites and not commuting to them. It was great splitting our time between the East side and near Old Faithful which allowed us to explore the areas without too much driving to go back to sleep since the two sites are over an hour away from each other.
- Download GyPSy Guide. Justin downloaded this guide which was a GPS activated audio tour with history and highlights. It was so cool to hear it offer us a “choose your own adventure” when we’d hit forks in the road. It had some great history highlights and kept the drive so interesting. It was definitely worth $10.
- Take your time and meander around. The beauty of Yellowstone, like so many national parks, are the spots and highlights you see that you can’t plan. The scenery and wildlife can’t be scheduled. Take your time. Drive and hike around. See what you see. The beauty will astound you.
Have you travelled to Yellowstone National Park? What are your favorite tips for visiting the park?