Yellowstone National Park is, in my opinion, the most unique park within the USA. There is nothing quite like it, and that is proven by the fact that over 4 million people visit each year. Like with all parks, there are amazing sights along with some not so great inconveniences. One thing cannot be disputed though: the good outweighs the bad in this wild part of America, and the trip to this park is worth it whether you can only spend a day, or you explore the park for multiple weeks.
Yellowstone National Park Must-Sees
The Beartooth Highway
Located leading into the NorthEast entrance to the park, this stretch of winding road at almost 11,000 feet is a must-see. While not officially part of the park, it is just as wild. There is snow in the Summer, there are very vocal marmots, serene lakes, and not too many cars.
You are driving close to the tops of peaks in an area where you can have a snowball fight in July, making for a very unique drive.
The most wildlife I have ever seen has been within Yellowstone. On my first trip I was treated to a baby bear in the trees, a sleeping grizzly bear (way off in the distance, thankfully!), and prancing elk. The highlight of this trip was leaving the park at dusk and being surrounded by a passing herd of bison. I have never felt so at the mercy of animals before, as they were larger than our small little Mazda, and there were many of them.
I have also gotten up close and personal (while respecting the recommended distance) with bison crossing the road and standing alongside it. It is especially fun to see them rolling in the dirt to stay cool, or spotting little calves. The Yellowstone herd is the only herd in the USA that has lived since prehistoric times, so its quite a special sight to see them.
The Geothermal Features
I could write an entire post just on the thermal features in the park, there are that many. From bubbling mud pools to geysers, and from travertine terraces to hot springs, there is no lack of new and exciting things to see in the park.
This is truly what makes the park so unique. There are a handful of places around the world in which you can see geothermal activity, the most popular being Yellowstone, Iceland and North Island New Zealand. Some of my favorites in the park include: West Thumb Geyser Basin, a string of geysers which overlook Yellowstone Lake, Grand Prismastic Spring, Mammoth Springs and Old Faithful.
Yellowstone National Park Misses
Although the park is over 2 million acres, there are only so many roads. You can almost guarantee that driving through the park will be a slow adventure, and it is only projected to get worse.
Since my first visit in 2015, the crowds have gotten much worse. During my most recent trip this Summer we lost over an hour and a half of daylight because of bison crossing back and forth. Although that would be expected to cause some delay, the sheer amount of cars that needed to pass meant that the back up went for an unimaginable amount of miles.
My advice? Hike as much as you can through the park. The areas around geothermal features and boardwalks tend to be busiest, and there is so much more of the park to see!
The Limited Season
The fact that Yelloswtone is closed during the harsh Winters is one of the factors that leads to such a concentration of people in the Summer months, and it also means that many guests cannot enjoy what Winter in Yellowstone has to offer.
One entrance remains open, along with one road, which starts at the North entrance. Other entrances remain accessible by snowmobile, which is a cool option if you want to experience a different season in the park.
My advice? Go in the Spring or the Fall. Although you cannot predict with certainty when the park will open or close, going as close to these dates will allow you to experience a side of the park that many guests do not get to see!
One experience that may skew your view of Yellowstone (literally!) is the wildfires that happen around the park during the Summer months.
Last year, the smoke was bad enough that the sky was hazy and visibility was reduced. While this is an inconvenience to park visitors, it can also pose a huge safety risk if fires begin within the park. It seems as though more and more wildfires happen each year, so the problem may just get worse. The only upside to this issue is that the hazy sky can make for some pretty beautiful sunsets!
My advice? Check current fires before you visit the park, especially if you are visiting in August (when the climate has significantly dried). This is a website I have used before visiting the park, which offers helpful information in the form of a map you can zoom in and out of: https://www.fireweatheravalanche.org/fire/
No matter the inconveniences, Yellowstone National Park must-sees are greater. Each time I have had a different experience, and each time something new takes my breath away.
Adventure is always worthwhile!
Until next time,
A Truthful Traveler