Yellowstone is big (duh) — really big — and things you want to see are scattered in distant parts of the park. For example, the best animal viewing area is in the northwest (Lamar Valley), but the geysers are in the center/south portion (Norris Basin/Old Faithful), and Mammoth springs (ultra cool) are in the west. That’s a lot of driving and we haven’t yet seen the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (seems like we need a better name for that one), Old Faithful or even had lunch 😉 You can see a lot in one day, but two days (by spending a night in the north and one in the south) will be a more relaxing and comprehensive trip. I have a few other notes.
Buy GyPsy Guide for iphone/android and download the Yellowstone guide. It has to be downloaded by wifi and costs roughly $5. I’d easily pay 10 times for the app. It watches your progress on the roads of Yellowstone and provides extremely helpful information and suggestions exactly when you need it. Its like having a ranger in your car, but without the awkwardness of having to make small talk when there isn’t something to see.
If you love watching the back of the car in front of you, sleep late and get a lazy start – otherwise, go early. The drive from Jackson to the grand loop in Yellowstone is simply beautiful, but you will see more animals and fewer car bumpers by starting early.
If you leave from Jackson, Old Faithful is the first “attraction” at which you will arrive. If you get there early enough Old Faithful will be crowded, a bit later it will be ridiculously crowded. Sit upwind from the geyser so you can see the geyser — not just a cloud of mist;) (some geyser also smell, btw) If you are hungry, don’t wait in line for the restaurant at the Old Faithful inn as it is usually a very long wait. Instead, head to the general store which has packaged sandwiches and snack bar stuff. There are other snack bars in the area, but the general store is overlooked and often less crowded. Culinary selections are not inspired, but rather appropriate for a placed called “General Store”. But the point is Old Faithful, not fine dining and you have lots to see. However, you really should look inside the Yellowstone lodge, its uniquely beautiful inside and has great ice cream downstairs. Even better, skip the entire thing and return to Yellowstone in the winter and take a snowmobile tour to old Faithful! No crowd, no traffic jams (no cars allowed).
After Old Faithful, If you are up for a hike, take the Angel falls trail to a lookout point above Grand Prismatic springs – great views (scratch that — unparalleled world class views! — assuming good weather of course). GyPsy guides will show you where. Remember that you are at 8,000 feet elevation so the altitude will be an issue. Take it slow, drink water often, etc. (In fact, drink water the day before you head to Yellowstone as well.)
Roughly in the order of your drive Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic springs, Porcelain Basin, Dragon’s Mouth, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (Artist’s Point) are great stops. There are thousands of geothermal features and you can’t stop at all of them, but the ones mentioned above are pretty special.
If it is animals you want, head to Lamar valley. Its hard to drive through the area without being awed by the herds of Bison. If you are lucky and patient (mostly patient), you may see the Lamar valley wolf pack. Lamar valley is more open and always offers lots of animals. There are a number of enthusiasts that station themselves on the road side to point out wolves when they are around. More productively, early (really early) morning guides will lead you to the wolves.
You can see moose (shouldn’t this be meese – I mean, goose/geese right?) in Yellowstone, but honestly, don’t spend much time searching — just head back to our condo in Jackson and look out the windows, especially with a cup of coffee in the mornings. The area around the condo is the most productive area for moose sightings in the entire valley. If you don’t see any in the backyard, try driving to Rendevous Park at the corner of Moose-Wilson road and Hwy 22.
Obviously you can’t go wrong here. I’ve mentioned just a few of my favorites, but there are tons of fascinating places and stories. I could spend all day in the Norris basin alone. You can ignore everything I’ve written here and have a great, great trip — but starting early and buying GyPsy (I don’t own the stock, btw;)) will make a much smoother day.
Pro tip — Yellowstone via snowmobile in the winter!!!
As always, we would love to have you stay at one of our two Jackson Hole Condos. You can book on Airbnb, VRBO, or on our site, sunnybear.com, for the best rates.