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America’s first National Park, Yellowstone, is high on many adventurer’s road tripping list.
It’s not hard to see why; amazing geothermal features that are abundant throughout the park, spectacular mountains, Yellowstone Lake, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and rivers.
And a diverse range of wildlife including grizzly bears, bison, wolves, elk and pronghorn.
We’ll help prioritize the must-see places vs suggestions, based on your time and interest.
Along the way, we’ll do a little thermal geology 101 lesson so you can better appreciate the plumbing behind the features you are viewing, such as Mammoth Hot Springs’ cascading travertine terraces.
Share stories of wildlife behaviour and their habitat, for when you are quietly watching animals in Hayden and Lamar Valleys.
And check off the most important landmarks in the area like those in the Upper Geyser Basin, location of Old Faithful, and Midway Geyser Basin with Grand Prismatic Springs and nearby Norris Geyser Basin.
Plus many other stories, tips and directions that will help enrich your Yellowstone National Park experience.
Gardiner, West Yellowstone, Northeast (Cooke City), East (Cody) & Grand Teton Entrances
It is recommended to have a minimum one day for each of the Upper and Lower Loops. You can drive the entire Grand Loop in a single day, and the commentary will help with selecting which stops to make. Multiple days to explore all areas of the Park and allow time for wildlife watching, geyser eruptions and other adventures in the Park is best.
Around 125 miles to complete the whole Grand Loop drive.
Geysers in Yellowstone fall into two categories of predictable and unpredictable. Some, like Old Faithful are regular, erupting every 90 minutes or so, others, like Steamboat are more erratic, laying dormant for years and suddenly active with a string of eruptions.
So with an erratic schedule how do you plan your geyser watching?
The National Park Visitor Centers have latest predictable times listed on their website, in their app (must be on wifi) and in person. And geysertimes.org is updated by dedicated “geyser gazers”.
So it’s worthwhile to check in the night before if you want to spend some of your day geyser gazing.
There is no better way, clockwise or counter-clockwise are all excellent. It may be determined by which entrance you arrive through. If you have limited time, it can be nice to leave Old Faithful until later in the day so that you “build up” to this spectacular highlight. But allow enough time to spend at least a couple hours at Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin.
It’s quite exciting to see the many animals in Yellowstone – both big and small. They are wild, so you need to remember their movements are never guaranteed and you always need to respect the recommended safe distances, keep in your vehicle and never feed.
You can rent spotting scopes, camera lens and binoculars to safety see animals up close.
Suggested areas to spot some of the 67 species of mammals, 300 species of birds, fish and amphibians you’ll find in Yellowstone include;
Bison – Hayden and Lamar Valleys
Bears – Grizzles in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys and Black Bears around Tower and Mammoth
Wolves – Lamar Valley
Pronghorn – Lamar Valley and Gardiner
Elk – Gardiner
Moose – Grant Teton
Yes, and there is bonus content on the road that connects the 2 Parks, the John D Rockefeller Jr Memorial Parkway.
The Yellowstone Grand Teton Combo tour is the best value choice if you plan to visit both Parks.
Unfortunately each park now collects its own entrance fees so you will need to purchase a separate pass each for Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
Depending on the length of your stay it might be best value to purchase an America the Beautiful annual pass which gets you entry into any national park without any time restrictions.
While more visitors have died by drowning or suffered burns from hot springs than bear attacks, you are in bear country. Anywhere from backcountry to the boardwalks around Old Faithful.
It’s good to prepare for bear encounters no matter where you go.
Take some time to know what to do if you encounter a bear and how to use bear spray.
You can rent and recycle bear spray at hotels, stores, visitor centers, backcountry offices, and ranger stations, as well as area camping stores, and the Bozeman airport.