by Shelli Johnson
Here are what I consider some of the must-dos on your Yellowstone vacation:
Canyon Area of Yellowstone: This is our favorite place in the park to see world-class, breathtakingly beautiful scenery. Here, the Yellowstone River carves its way through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a colorful canyon with walls 1,300 feet high in places. Two waterfalls, the Lower, 308 feet high, and the Upper, 109 feet high, tumble down into the canyon below. We recommend you spend a good portion of a day in the Canyon area.
Our favorite points of interest or hikes in this area are Artist’s Point, the Upper Brink and Uncle Tom’s Trail. The latter involves hiking down 500 metal steps to the base of the Lower Falls. It is a treat to view the glorious Lower Falls from above at the Artist’s Point vantage, and then to walk to its base and get the different perspective.
Yellowstone Lake: Yellowstone Lake is the largest high altitude lake in North America. Spend a sunset walking its pristine shore while eating an ice cream cone from the Yellowstone General Store, or get a seat with a view on the banks and enjoy a glass of wine at sunset.
Old Faithful: A Yellowstone trip is not complete without watching America’s most famous geyser erupt. This geyser is the leading star in the Upper Geyser Basin and erupts every 60-100 minutes. Check with the ranger station/visitor center for estimated eruption times. Old Faithful can erupt up to 184 feet in the air and is worth the wait.
Mammoth Hot Springs: Located in the northwest corner of the park and home to park headquarters, Mammoth features many hot springs and the Minerva Terraces. Elk are commonly seen here. If you’re looking to spend a night in Yellowstone in a cabin, I highly recommend the Mammoth Hot Springs cabins. We’ve spent many an evening or morning on a cabin’s porch enjoying a front-row view of elk.
September is my favorite time of year in Yellowstone, and we spend as many fall weekends as possible in this region. This past September, we camped in the campground at Mammoth and were treated to elk bugling throughout the night, and enjoyed watching two bull elk corral their harems from our camp.
Mud Volcano: Here you can see steam vents and smell rotten eggs (sulphur). If you have kids, this is a “must stop.” We made up a story about Dragon’s Cauldron when the boys were tiny and still it’s a favorite. Legend has it that a dragon lives in one of the springs and that during winter when visitation is at its lowest, the dragon emerges and wanders around. The “burps” and “sighs” of the spring are the dragon under the water.
Fountain Paint Pots: These are a great collection of colorful springs. Enjoy a nice short walk in this area to get a glimpse of colorful pools and pots.
Hayden Valley: The Yellowstone River bisects this enormous, lush valley, creating ideal habitat for wolves, bison, elk, bears and numerous other wildlife. One April, I watched a grizzly bear fresh out of hibernation dig pocket gophers out of the ground and eat them whole.
Lamar Valley: Well, this is often called the American Serengeti and I don’t think anyone in the world would argue against this. Lamar Valley is a spectacular valley that is home to all the park’s “charismatic” animals as well as almost every other animal found in Yellowstone. Mountain peaks rise abruptly from the valley, and you can enjoy some of the park’s most scenic, open country from your car.
Dunraven Pass: The drive over Dunraven Pass between Canyon and Tower is a must. You’ll be treated to stunning scenery. We recommend that you also hike to the top of Mt. Washburn in the process.
Calcite Springs Overlook: This provides you with a unique glimpse of a rock formation that looks like a manmade stone “railing” or fence. It’s beautiful and is situated across the Yellowstone River, far below you.
Midway Geyser Basin: The colorful Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest spring in Yellowstone and the third largest in the world. You can see it by taking the short boardwalk hike in this basin.
OTHER TOP PICKS:
Great “lung-buster” workout: Bunsen Peak
Great “jogging stroller” run: Upper Geyser Basin trails
Great short hike: Fairy Falls
Great extended hike: Pebble Creek