The Best of Yellowstone

It doesn’t matter what order you do these days in, but after spending most of a week in Yellowstone National Park, we thought these were very full days. Without further ado, behold the best of Yellowstone!

Day 1 – Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring

Of course Old Faithful is the most well-known geyser in Yellowstone (and probably the rest of the world), but it’s definitely not the most impressive in the park. And you don’t have to go far to see a much better one. The catch is that you need to have both patience and timing. Grand Geyser is a 5-10 minute walk away from Old Faithful, but it’s eruptions are more impressive in every way. Old Faithful is no doubt worth seeing, and no trip to Yellowstone is complete without seeing it a time or two. But, as you’re sure to notice, the eruptions last all of about 30 seconds and then there’s nothing else to see.

Grand Geyser Erupts

Grand Geyser Erupts

Grand Geyser, on the other hand, lasts 10-20 minutes. Steam and water pour out of the earth, while a nearby vent shoots out a constant jet of steam. It’s worth grabbing a good seat and hanging out, but you have to be ready to sit for a while. Grand Geyser only goes off every 8 hours or so, and the timing isn’t very accurate, so you have to be ready to wait. Old Faithful shoots off about every 90 minutes. The first thing you should do in the morning is call up the line that predicts the geyser eruptions. Base your day around Grand Geyser, not Old Faithful. If GG goes off sometime between 8-10 a.m., that’s when you should be in geyser country. You can catch Old Faithful before or after GG erupts. There are plenty of other geysers, but many of them are unpredictable, so it all depends on how lucky you get.

It’s also worth the walk all the way to Morning Glory Pool, which is at the end of the geyser path. Also, don’t miss Grand Prismatic Spring, which is a short drive away from Old Faithful. The GSP is one of the highlights of Yellowstone. There’s a great hike up the Fairy Falls trail (note that I said “great,” not “easy”) a short way up on the left that gives you the top view we got in some of our pictures. The trailhead is just south of the GSP parking lot. Hike about a half mile up the trail, then veer left almost directly up the hill to get to the view.

Day 2 – Mammoth Hot Springs, Porcelain Geyser Basin

Moreso than any other place in the park (and probably any other place I’ve ever been), this place looks like another planet. Steam pours out of geysers and springs, carrying with it the unmistakeable odor of sulphur – a rotten egg smell that reminds you that without modern amenities, you wouldn’t last long here. Nature separates life and death here in its own way. As water pours down the hot springs, mineral deposits of limestone build up, spreading a layer of white (and in some places red) that covers and eats up the land. No trees, no shrubs, not even grass. It’s so void of what we normally consider “life” that it almost looks sterile. Almost. The earth here is more than alive. It is angry. And it is awesome to behold.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs

Walk around the lower level of the Mammoth Hot Springs, then drive around the upper part. Take your time and take plenty of pictures. It’s very cool here. The first view of the lower hot springs is arguably the best view in the area, but it’s well worth walking/driving around the rest of the area. If it’s summer, stop and get some ice cream afterwards at the bottom near the amenities. It’s a well-deserved treat.

If you finish Mammoth Hot Springs in half a day (and you don’t have to move all that fast to do so), check out the Porcelain Geyser Basin, which is a fairly short drive south from Mammoth Hot Springs. The two areas in the park make for a perfect full day – spend the first half at MHS and the second half at PGB. If you think of Mammoth Hot Springs as the mountain range from another planet, then the Porcelain Geyser Basin is the great plains of that planet at the foot of the mountains. You’ll see what I mean.

Day 3 – Canyon Country, Mud Volcano, Sulphur Cauldron

Any hike you do in Canyon Country gives you fantastic views of waterfalls and rivers carving their way through wide open canyons. The catch is that many of the hikes go down into the canyons, which means lots of stairs. Just be ready to work up a sweat and you’ll be fine. We hiked Uncle Tom’s trail along the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, a fairly short but very steep hike. One way down the stairs. One way up. And at 8,000 feet, you get tired fast. The view here is one of the best canyon views in the park. Pick any one or two hikes and enjoy.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

All of the “points” here are worth stopping at for at least a quick view, and you can drive to most of them. North Rim Drive takes you to Lookout Point, Grand View, and Inspiration Point. From there, the short drive to Artist’s Point – Cassie’s favorite Point – is absolutely worth it.

Nearby is the Mud Volcano and the Sulphur Cauldron (which are across the road from each other). This is a great one hour stop – more of what makes Yellowstone truly unique. Bubbling mud pits and vents spewing steam, including the aptly named Dragon’s Mouth Spring. It looks and sounds like a slumbering dragon is breathing fire somewhere deep inside a cave. Since we stayed in Canyon Village, these were a very easy stop at the end of our day. The Mud Volcano walk is pretty short with very little incline. The sulphur cauldron is even shorter with less incline – a 2 minute walk from the nearby parking lot.

Additional Thoughts

Yellowstone also has a beautiful lake (not surprisingly in Lake Country). This area has classic outdoor activities – boating, canoeing, etc. We spent a half day there and thought it was well worth the stop.

One night while you’re staying in the park, join one of the groups in the Lamar Valley or Hayden Valley to look at wildlife at dusk. Don’t worry if you don’t have a set of binoculars or an uber-scope. Others will have the right equipment and are more than happy to share if you wait in line a minute or two. We saw wolves, elk, and bison. Sadly, no bears that we saw, but I’m sure you’ll have more luck than us!

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