From the world’s first national park

Our first blog happens to be on the world’s first National Park established in 1872! A surreal landscape which might blow your mind and space! Yeah you read that right!! This place doesn’t contain volcanos rather this is a hugeee volcano in itself with fuming springs, geysers and many more geological wonders. Every inch of the 2.2 million acres tells a story that can be traced back millions of years. Who doesn’t want to experience this magic..? So did I and went there! Oh wait… after all the hype, some destinations won’t feel as charming as they are portrayed. Is Yellowstone one among them ..? Keep reading to know 😉

Will you enjoy this park ?

After that intro, I better get my facts together to put out the statement that justifies this blog 🙂
Let’s try this – if you’re a nature enthusiast or interested in Geography / Geology kind of things or a wildlife enthusiast or a creative soul who seeks unique perspectives or have a family with young children or an adventure seeker… you may enjoy being at Yellowstone.

If you don’t fall into any of the above categories read the rest of the blog to know if it’s for you 🙂 Moreover if you are sorted to go there – just gooo and trust me – you won’t be disappointed completely!

Okay… when do I go there then?

Like for many things timing matters for tourism as well. With weather being accommodating to majority of the crowds and the park’s schedule – Summer months i.e., May to August turn out to be the most popular times. Please bear in mind the demand pushed queues, crowds and inflated prices for certain logistics (like accommodation) as a consequence.

If you really want to get better deals and feel less suffocated (*relatively) then September will be your go to month. The perks being the fall season around the corner the park starts to radiate in the warm tones and all the park facilities including camp grounds, visitor centers will be open through the month (October calls for quite a few closures in the park, please watch out). The con would be the temperature drops. It gets cold at nights by then and higher altitudes around the park will start experiencing the snow.

I made up my mind to go! Next, where do I stay ?

Along with timing, a bit of planning is demanded by very popular locations like Yellowstone. With around 3-4 million recreational visitors per year who’re mostly distributed in the summer months quite a few bookings for staying inside the national park are done a year in advance, can you believe that ?? Here’re a few options:

  1. Inside the park
    If they’re affordable and available consider staying the park lodges. They save the driving time and provide a first hand experience of Yellowstone by staying within.
  2. Outside the park
    Time for some Geography!

    Map Courtesy : Google Maps

    With it’s vast area spanning across three states i.e., Montana, Idaho and Wyoming the park has multiple entrances. Five entrances to be precise – North, NorthEast, East, South and West.

    – The blue marker spots are to show an estimate of where the accommodations start outside the park (Again, this’s just an approximation).

    – In terms of proximity and options, West Yellowstone wins in my view. But, in terms of access North and Northeastern Yellowstone regions will have the edge with the respective entrances being open 24 * 7 through out the year.

    – For budget stays the farther you go, the cheaper it gets. East side cities like Cody were of that kind when I checked while writing this blog in August, 2023 . Please remember the farther it is the more time it takes to get to the park’s entrance and to your destination(s) inside the park.

    – Airbnbs, Hotels, Campsite, Unique stays are all available as options. Please check what suits your needs.

    – *** Depending on where you stay the length of your stay, driving times and itinerary may get effected.

Ufff!! Tell me now, how long do I stay here ?

The next obvious question – how long does it take to cover the park ? Honestly, it depends on the definition of “covering the park?”

  • If it’s standard sightseeing with minimal hikes or other activities to do – 3 days will be okay.
  • With a decent amount of hiking, laid back sightseeing and activities like ziplining, boating tours etc., it might take a good 4 days atleast.

Alright! Where do I start now ?

Finally, yayyy!

The national park itself is laid out in loops which means if you’re staying at only one location you may have to pass through the same route morethan once!

Map Courtesy: National Park Services, USA.

(** Assuming that your stay is outside and closer to West Yellowstone here’s a sequence or plan. For other locations, check your closest entrance and modify the plan accordingly )

Day 1
Hope you’re rested well from the journey and looking forward to step out for the day! The majority of the day is all about geysers and hot springs.

What’s happening beside the road ?! Welcome to the Yellowstone drive. All is well – well as we’re driving on the edge of a volcano!

The first stop for the day is at the Lower Geyser Basin

  • * If interested you can checkout the two ribbons trail which’s closer to the entrance and comes before this stop. It’s a short and easy trail for birding, fishing and walking.
  • A basin is a group of geysers. It is designated with safe walking trails accessible for visitors.
  • This’s the largest basin spanning over 11 square miles in all of the park with fumaroles, hot springs and geysers.
  • Geysers and Hot Springs are hydro thermal features with large amount of water where as fumaroles and mud pots contain lesser quantity of water.
  • As you leave the parking lot the paved trail leads to a series of geysers. Please stay on the designated walking path. It’s dangerous to both environment and life otherwise.
    The microbes from this sensitive ecosystem were pioneers in developing the PCR test for Covid-19
  • Along the trail don’t miss the fountain pots trail. This small path has all the above mentioned geological features.
  • Another not to miss activity is Great Fountain Geyser. Though there’re large predicted geysers in the park this one is accessible by car. The eruption occurs once every 30 minutes approximately for about 100 ft height. If there’s someone with you who can’t walk the trail they can enjoy this as well.
  • Another thing to do in the lower basin is to drive the one way Firehole Lake Drive which’s off the Grand Yellowstone loop. Geysers and hot springs can be enjoyed from the road side. This’ll be helpful specially during the leg season or unseasonal weather conditions.
  • Give your self atleast an hour to two to explore this region at your own pace (though it can be completed earlier if needed).

Then comes the Midway Geyser Basin which hosts the famous Grand Prismatic Spring

  • We drive about 25 miles from the West entrance to reach the midway geyser basin.
  • The midway basin is smaller compared to the lower basin but has a depth of ~120 feet.
  • The major attraction here is the Grand Prismatic Spring, the biggest hot spring in North America and 3rd in the world.
  • Multiple layers of microbes around the mineral rich water produce the vibrant colors.
  • The colors change based on the weather conditions, precipitation and chlorophyll content in the microbes. They tend to be in orange to red shade in the summer where as greenish during the winters.
  • Tips
    – on a foggy morning try to visit the prismatic spring after the mist is gone for vibrant colors.

    – For an amazing overview of the Grand Prismatic Spring head to the Fairy Falls trail. It’s worth the short hike!

Another cool feature in the mid way basin is the Excelsior Geyser Crater

  • The calm pool you see in the above picture is a hot spring now. During the 19th century it used to erupt for upto 300 feet!
  • A sudden eruption happened here twice in 1985 out of the blue! This is a great example to understand how the thermal features change rapidly at Yellowstone and what the future holds – none knows!

    Moving on to the Upper Geyser basin
  • Great views call for huge wait lines – this’s a time tested fact at this basin where the world famous Old Faithful geyser erupts predictably through out the day.
  • The upper basin has the highest concentration of thermal features in the entire park.
  • There’re atleast 4 predictable geysers including Old Faithful.
  • Old faithful tends to erupt in 70-120 minutes interval. Please plan your visit accordingly. The eruption is visible from a distance. There is also limited seating available to sit and watch.

    For predictions please check

    For all the geysers
  • This is a good opportunity for some refreshments, food or rest rooms.

By this point you might have spent 4-6 hours in the day atleast ?? Next in the loop is the West Thumb basin.

  1. If you are in a mood to check out another basin – continue driving up to the West Thumb basin.
  2. If you’re not having plans to visit Grand Teton National Park and also looking for a change of scenery, drive towards the South entrance from West Thumb.

    – As you move miles away from Yellowstone you feel the – Welcome to another world kind of scenery 🙂

    – Look out for a pull over area called “Lewis Lake”. It’s a campground as well. The road side pit stop provides a great view of Lewis falls.

– Further down the drive just 2 miles before Grand Teton’s entrance there’s a pull out for Moose Falls. Unlike the Lewis falls, it’s not visible from the road. But, it’s just under a 5 minutes hike to get there! Park and go ahead to explore the Moose Falls.

Whatever you decide for the day make sure you have enough time to reach your stay. As it gets darker the frequency of encountering the wildlife increases which poses higher risk both for yourself and the animals.

Day 2
**As mentioned in the beginning the itinerary depends on the entrance you choose. Pick and choose the things to do accordingly.

**If you plan on starting the day early I would suggest to start the loop from Hayden Valley (continue reading to know – “the why”?)

The first spot is Gibbon Falls.

  • With a 84 foot cascading drop of Gibbon river, Gibbon Falls is formed.
  • A short and easy 15-ish minutes hike from the road takes you to the view point. Unless you’re in a rush this will be a good starting point for the day.
  • Like in many trails around the park pets aren’t allowed. Please plan accordingly.

Following is the Gibbon Geyser Basin

This region contains partially burnt pine forests, many hot springs, geysers, vents and mud pots.

  • The most interesting feature here is the Artists Paint Pots. These are ofcourse, mud pots with temperatures around 185 Fahrenheit.
  • Have you ever seen the process of clay pot making or played with clay ?? If so, the pot here boils the clay continuously in Summer giving a similar texture.

The next stop in sequence is the Norris Basin. You can check this out on this day or come back the next day. I will include about the Norris Basin under Day 3 because I’m excited for you to head to the spectacular Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

  • Let’s take a step back… About 600,000 years ago a massive explosion happened in Yellowstone. The eruption and the magma eroded the surface and created uneven landforms called “faults”.
  • Fast forward there were more volcanic events followed by the most recent Ice Age (Pinedale glaciation) 22,000 years ago thick snow covered Yellowstone.
  • Eventually the source, Yellowstone river started flooding as the ice retreated. Already having uneven surfaces with the forces added – the Grand Canyon was carved out!
  • The distinct yellow color of the Canyon is due to the constant erosion of volcanic rock named Rhyolite.
  • Okay, coming to our current context. The Grand Canyon has two main access point namely the North Rim and the South Rim.
  • Both the rims have look out points and trails. The hikes seem to be short but many are moderate atleast with an elevation gain / drop.

  • North Rim (ToDo : Update the hikes with more details)

    – North Rim trail is an 6.4 miles moderate out and back trail that goes around various look out points. If you’re not up for the hike even otherwise I would suggest to drive to each of the highlighted spots in the map below (some trails are not mentioned in the Google Maps, please refer to the park map) and hike from there.

    The main lookout point. It’s easily accessible from the parking lot offering panoramic views of the Canyon and the 308-foot drop of the Lower Falls.

    – Right after the lookout point there’s a trail head which leads to Red Rock Point. It’s a moderately difficult trail but gives an at level perspective of the Lower falls and the canyon.

    Grand View point doesn’t show the Falls itself. Rather it’s a viewpoint for the Canyon and the river meandering through the Canyon.

    Inspiration Point – This’s at the end of the North Rim road. With a few steps descent a viewing platform is available. The location is more about a grander perspective of the whole Canyon (the Lower Falls is far at this point, if that’s what you are after).

    Brink of the Lower Falls – A short but steep and challenging trail takes you up close to the Lower Falls.
  • South Rim

    Uncle Tom’s Trail – A steep stairway which takes closer to the base of the Lower Falls. At the time of writing the blog this’s temporarily closed. Please check when you’re heading out.

    Artist View point – The most famous of all the South Rim hikes where that perfect post card picture can be clicked! It’s a short hike from the parking lot. Don’t miss this!
  • Overall the time taken at the Grand Canyon varies from an hour to half a day! Depending on how many view points and / or hikes you add up. Atleast plan on spending 2-3 hours.
  • If you can be here at Sunrise, the look out point on the North Rim will have a beautiful light traversal as the Sun rises. If not head here during the sunset for sweeping views with the canyon overlook.

If you hiked through the Grand Canyon and tired… it’s time to sit back and enjoy the next few miles of drive. Because it’s Hayden Valley, the wild life viewing area.

  • The ideal time to watch wild life in their natural habitat is during the dawn or dusk when there’re lesser crowds driving around.
  • A variety of wild life from Grizzly Bears, Elks to Bisons can be spotted. However, Bisons dominate by showing up on the road in groups more often than not.
  • When you find the wild life please refrain from disturbing their eco system by honking or passing by at a higher speed. Indeed maintaining a safe distance from the wild life is recommended (25 yards / 23 meters for Bisons, Elks etc., and 100 yards / 91 meters from Wolves and Bears) .

Time for another stop – Mud Volcano

  • If Yellowstone is a volcano… is this a volcano inside another ?? Well, this site was one of the most terrified volcanic eruptions hundreds of years ago. Probably the eruptions left behind the crater we see today.
  • Mud Volcano is also a resurgent dome which means the land is lifted up due to the movement of magma underneath the earth indicating the on-going thermal activity beneath the layers.
  • As you walk in the mud volcano region you see and smell acid! Some microbes living in the region depend on Hydrogen Sulphide which is supplied from the inner layers of Earth. These organisms convert the gas into Sulphuric acid which melts the rocks to mud.
  • Note : Dear Friend, when they say not to walk off of the trail or consume the acidic water here please don’t!

This day has been a lot… isn’t it ?? If you’re still up for more head to the Yellowstone Lake

  • At 7,730 ft above the sea level this’s the largest waterbody at a higher altitude in the North America and the second in the world!

***** Please come back in a day for the below section and AN OFF THE BEAT / hidden gem kind of an activity at Yellowstone ******

  • Day 3
  • Norris Basin
  • Mammoth Hot Springs
  • Tower Falls
  • Lamar Valley
  • Washburn Hotsprings overlook
  • Soda butt creek