For 2 years this magnificent park was on my list to visit. But trust me visiting Yellowstone National Park needs tremendous planning. I was clear that to give this park a justice I need at least 5 days. Last year I tried to book park lodge and it was sold out 4 months in advance for the dates I wanted. So this year I kept my itinerary ready and was just waiting to book hotels. We booked our lodge 6 months in advance. We visited park in the summer (first week of July) and trust me that was the perfect decision.
We saw abundance of wildlife, especially getting to see offspring with their mommies was the cutest thing. We saw beautiful wildflowers and waterfalls were also in full force. Obviously it’s a popular time to visit so there were many tourists from around the world. But it didn’t bother us.
Places stayed: Lake Lodge – 4 nights | Old Faithful Lodge – 1 night
We entered park from North entrance accidentally; we didn’t plan it before. We were in South Dakota and mistakenly instead of Hayden valley I put Lamar Valley on GPS and we ended up coming from North entrance. It’s a beautiful route crossing Montana. When you come closer to Yellowstone; you drive above 10,000 ft elevation and get up-close to the mountain tops. There was snow on top of these mountains in summer. One of the best experience in the park. I think it’s the best thing happened unplanned; truly a blessing in disguise. See below picture.
Points we visited
It is a best spot to view wildlife. We saw bison, wolves, bears, pronghorns, elks, deer and beaver. Best time to view wildlife is dusk and dawn. We used to be there around 6:00 AM in the morning. Also, between 6:00 PM and 8:00 PM; you could see wolves hunting bison. But to see this you need to have good lenses. I would suggest carrying spotting lens.
Canon Village and Roosevelt lodges are closer to Lamar valley
This is also a huge valley and famous to view wildlife. We did see bison, elks, deer, coyote. You can see wolf and bears too but it is really very far and not at all visible without super good lenses. Between Lamar valley and Hayden valley, I would say Lamar valley is the best.
West Thumb Basin
This basin stands along the shore of Yellowstone lake. It is small but has concentrated geysers. The trail starts from large parking area and a round loop consist of a dirt trail and wooden boardwalk loops through the geyser basin, offering a 2/3 of a mile-long stroll. Fishing cone is one of the popular attraction here. We spent around 2 hours.
It is largest lake in the park, 7,732 feet above sea level. It is perfect spot to see wildlife as animals often come to drink water. Don’t miss to visit shore of the lake. We visited Fishing bridge, Pelican valley, Storm point and lake butte lookout around that area.
There is very short hike to go close to the falls. If you don’t want to hike; you still get a very nice view of the fall from the parking area. Lewis lake is also very beautiful. Once we were passing Lewis Lake in the morning around 6:00 AM and the entire lake was misty. It was one of the scenic thing we saw in our stay. You can see it in below picture.
You will know you are near Mud volcano from the smell of Sulphur. This is also a short hike. We spent around 1 hour here.
Mammoth Hot Springs
This is one of the not to miss attraction in the park. It is a yellow-white sculpture formed by water and is always changing. There are boardwalks. We spent around 2 hours here.
Upper Basin Geysers
The most popular attraction in Upper geyser basin area is Old Faithful geyser. It erupts every 60 to 90 minutes. There is a visitor center in Old Faithful area. They have live updates about possible eruptions from all the predictable geysers. Make sure to note down these timings and then plan your sequence of all the geysers. Old Faithful is always crowded but don’t worry if you don’t get a good spot you can wait more and watch next time. Grand Geyser was the most spectacular. We waited 2 hours to see it; but worth the wait. We also saw Daisy geyser eruption.
Take a picture of the live update of geyser eruption time when in visitor center. It may come handy.
Lower Basin Geysers
When we visited Lower Geyser; Great Fountain geyser just completed its eruption, and we missed it. It erupted before its estimated time ☹ our bad! We did not spend much of a time here and covered remaining geysers in 20/25 minutes.
The spectacular beauty of Yellowstone. It is the largest hot spring in the park. It is in Midway Geyser basin. There is limited parking and when we visited we had to wait 15/20 minutes. There are boardwalks here. To get picture of this spring from the top; there is a short hike. For that go to the Fairy Falls Trailhead parking and from there you will see board sign for Grand Prismatic Viewpoint. We took some amazing pictures here.
My favorite attraction in Biscuit basin is Sapphire pool. After looking at so many geysers from upper and lower basin on a single day, made us tired and at the end of the day all geysers were looking the same 😀 . We spent around 30 minutes here.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Upper Falls and Lower Falls are the main attraction in Canyon village. Unfortunately, when we visited the park; upper falls area was in construction and we couldn’t do Uncle Tom trail. But we had good views of the lower falls from Lookout point and Artist Point.
For Artist point; you can see rainbow between 9:00 AM and 10:00 AM
When we visited Artist point, there was not enough sunlight so couldn’t see the rainbow.
We also did Mt Washburn hike. Its 6.4 miles round trip. But it is 10,000 ft elevation so carry warm cloths as it is often windy there. Hike was really tiring. Honestly, we liked the views of mountains from northern entrance of the park than from this mountain but it was fun. We saw so many mountain goats here.
Carry some food and plenty of water with you for Mt. Washburn hike
My itinerary for Yellowstone
On first day we covered all the points in Yellowstone lake area listed below:
Lake Butte lookout
West thumb geyser basin
Lewis Falls and Lewis lake
On second day we covered points in the canyon village, listed below:
Mt Washburn Hike
On third day we first visited Roosevelt lodge as we heard that we could see bears there. We definitely saw momma bear with 2 cubs. Then we did below listed points:
Mammoth hot spring
We were in Old Faithful area on 4th day and we did below points
Old faithful geyser
Upper geyser basin
Midway geyser basin
Grand Prismatic spring
Lower geyser basin
If you observe, we made sure that we are visiting Hayden/Lamar valleys everyday and almost 2 times a day. Well that’s because we really wanted to see bears and we didn’t see bears for first 3 days of our stay so were desperate to get glimpse of them. Dusk and dawn are best time of the day to view wildlife. And I am so happy that we got to see so much of wildlife in our short stay.
Don’t forget to carry bear spray. There is a bear spray rental place in Canyon village area which we didn’t know about. But you can rent spray there. It’s much cheaper than buying one.
If you want to see all the geysers I would suggest allocating 2 days minimum as most of the geysers are very unpredictable and often need to wait for hours and this ends up with time overlapping with other geysers.
Carry plenty of food with you. There are limited Cafes in the park and when you are hiking or waiting to see wildlife it comes handy. Also having your own food saves lot of travel time to restaurants.
Plan your trip well in advance so you could book campgrounds/ lodges in the park. This park is so huge that to make most of it, you definitely want to save on your travel time.
Download NPS Yellowstone Park app. It gives live updates of geysers timings, road closures etc. if you have network coverage. I downloaded the app before our trip but didn’t have range, so it was of no use. Try your luck.
Most of the park area does not have network coverage so download offline maps. Also, roads are often close due to construction work and sometimes there will be traffic. So, plan accordingly. Try to visit popular attractions first thing in the morning to secure parking space.
Hope you have fun at Yellowstone and share your trip experience in the comment section.
Last but not the least have a look at animal pictures caught on our camera.