Yellowstone, our first national park, was intriguing. It lacked the grandiose Mountain views we had grown accustomed to in the Tetons but around every turn there was something magnificent: a range of thermal features (hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, and mudpots), a canyon with colorful watercolor-like walls, endless rivers through gorgeous valleys, wildlife, mountains, and lakes. Though crowded, it didn’t take much to avoid crowds – they weren’t on trails or parked at trailheads longer than 0.5 miles. They leave at night. They don’t tend to sit on the banks of rivers for entire days as has become our custom.
We added yellow-bellied marmots, badger, some kind of quail, pikas, and black bears (not the kind that dash in front of your car like a shadow in the dark) to our list of wildlife sightings.
- We stayed: Madison Campground in the park
- We explored: Yellowstone felt organized around some hubs and we prioritized getting to them all: the Old Faithful and geyser-heavy west side, Mammoth Springs in the northwest, Yellowstone Lake (and Hayden Valley) in the center, Lamar Valley in the north, and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone north of center. We debated kayaking on Lewis Lake in the south, but didn’t make it.
- We hiked: the short geyser boardwalks around the Upper, Midway, Lower, Biscuit Basins, as well as the Mud Volcano area (✨pro tip: do all this at sunset; no crowds, no heat, and beautiful colors✨), Clear Lake and Artist Point (around the Canyon), Storm Point (around Yellowstone Lake)
- We fished (so much!): the Gardiner (at Sheepeater Cliffs), the Lamar, Soda Butte Creek, Slough Creek, the Gibbon (at the Museum of the Park Ranger), the Firehole and the Nez Perce Creek, the Yellowstone River (downstream of Leyhardys rapids)
- We swam: all of the above fishing spots but also at the de facto swimming hole on the Firehole (since the technical swimming hole was closed)
- We drove: hard stop! It’s worth noting that it’s a half hour to two hours to get from section to section within Yellowstone. But the drives are epic, particularly Lamar Valley. And don’t miss some of the turn-offs like Firehole Canyon Road for sweet picnic spots.
- We read: Empire of Shadows (such a great companion read!)
- We ate and drank: ten days, we planned, prepped and ate three meals a day without water/electric hook up. It felt like quite an accomplishment. Most lunches were picnics and most dinners were on our fabulous flat top propane grill.
- Next time: a swim in the Boiling River (it was closed), a drive past Mount Washburn (road was closed), a bike ride to Lone Star Geyser (planned for the last day but we all just needed a day of rest instead), backcountry camping near Lamar Valley