Yellowstone National Park
As well known as national parks can be, yet as alien as another world, Yellowstone is a spectacular mix of sulfur spewing geysers and iconic roaming wildlife. There are few places left in the lower forty-eight where you can view wolves attacking prey in packs, bison strolling in herds while deer prance through your campsite. This place is a wonderland for anyone who enjoys natural spectacles and larger than life animals, surely that’s everyone right?
Yellowstone can be so calming and rejuvenating that you forget (for the most part) that you’re stood atop a super volcano. Wandering over some of its pastures might have you believing you’re in a midwest countryside. A morning spent aside the boundary of Yellowstone Lake and you might think you’re in Michigan, but no no. You look left and notice a great spewing jet of steam erupt 90 feet into the air, a herd of bison pull your eyes back toward the ground and you become intensely aware that you’re not in Kansas anymore.
For me, its this unique nature of the park which makes it stand apart from the rest. The geothermal activity provides excessive nutrients and warmth to the ecosystems here all year round, which has produced a diversity of biological and physical phenomena unmatched anywhere else. Yellowstone was the very first national park in the world and it’s obvious why people decided to protect it.
Road Trip Map:
Where to stay:
You have a couple of options regarding accommodation. If you want luxury and a king size bed then head to one of the towns along the park entrances. The most popular and my favorite is West Yellowstone, a lovely town that gets a little crowded in summer, but packs a nice rustic, edge of wilderness punch. There are plenty of lodges, Inns and motels in this general area and you will find a variety of price points.
Of course, being Unearthed World, we much prefer to get right in there and camp. Yellowstone National Park is a huge park, and there is so much to see, like many other parks, it just makes more sense to get in and be permanently located inside the national park; driving endless hours in long lines of visitor RV traffic is simply not worth suffering. So with that in mind, we should mention some of the abundant campgrounds around the area.
Lewis Lake and Grant Village campgrounds are at the park’s epicenter. If you ever wanted to sleep atop a huge active volcano, this is (maybe) the safest way to do it. Being located where they are will mean they book out on the day they go live, so plan well ahead.
Norris, Canyon and Madison campgrounds are located well within the park boundaries, a little north-west, while Three Mile and Eagle Creek are about the same distance from the Yellowstone Lake but east.
If you can’t get a site in the park, the Grayling area, just a couple of miles out, near West Yellowstone, is swarming with campgrounds!
What to do:
Oh my goodness, there is almost touch to chose from! Yellowstone National Park is essentially a figure of eight loop road, with adventure waiting at every turn. Depending on how much time you have, it’s likely you’ll not even come close to seeing enough, but here are a few of my personal favorite highlights:
Mammoth Hot Springs
The springs are made up of the Lower and Upper Terraces and are essentially an ever-changing landscape built by a process many people equate to a mountain turning itself inside out. Over a ton of travertine (limestone deposits) arise from beneath the ground and end up here every year, creating some of the most surreal landscape you’ll ever see.
Canyon Village’s Upper and Lower Falls
There are plenty of waterfalls in the park, but this double whammy is so picturesque that no one should drive the loop and not stop to admire it. I’ve spent a nice bit of time just staring at the water and listening to the powerful sound of the water rushing by, another reminder of the epic natural power all over this park.
The grandest of the park’s many explosive geysers. You can jump out of your car and stroll by the large visitor center before heading to find a nice bench from which to enjoy the moment a 90ft blast of water will shoot from the earth before your very eyes. The event occurs roughly every 90 minutes, which is good enough for me. On my last visit, I was perplexed when a herd of large tourists to my right had to wait a couple of extra minutes for the thrill, one blurting loudly “we could find Osama Bin Laden but we can’t get this timing right?” My jaw dropping at his stupidity, I couldn’t help thinking some people should not be allowed into the parks.
Grand Prismatic Spring
This is the parks largest and deepest hot spring, and possibly the most beautiful geological feature I’ve ever seen. The thermal spring is both huge and multicolored, with bacteria and algae living in the largely inhospitable waters. In summer you’ll need to road park and walk, it’s gorgeous but popular.
When To Visit
Summer is busy. Very busy. it’s an impressive place in the summer sun, and the weather is hot, clear and intense, however so are the crowds. Be aware that this time of year is popular for a reason.
Winter in the park is absolutely incredible, and it becomes even more so due to the lack of visitors at this time of year. In January you can snowmobile around, watch park bison’s powerful exhalations while the local coyotes trot around. It’s magical.
April and October are great times to avoid the huge crowds, without having to face -30 degrees!