Staying near Yellowstone, and things to see in Yellowstone

I’ve got a trip planned over Labor day weekend to the Yellowstone area. I’m now looking at places to stay and quite frankly it seems to be kind of a pain to find places. I know it’s not going to be cheap, but some of the places I’ve seen seem to have bad reviews.

I’ve been looking at West Yellowstone since it seems to be the closest. Are there any really good places to stay there? How about inside the park for around the same price point of $150. What about other towns around the park, Google maps isn’t really bringing up too many, but I’m sure there are.

While I’m more concerend about the hotels right now, what are some of the not to miss type things. We are minimal hikers, as in 4-5 miles in a day will be enough, so no long hikes. My traveling partner likes waterfalls. We will be in the area for a week and we’re thinking on seeing Craters of the Moon for a day and maybe Twin Falls.

I stayed in West Yellowstone when I went, and loved it.

Unfortunately, I went in about 1998, so my information is a little out of date…

Yellowstone is a really big place, and you’ll be driving a lot to see it all. West Yellowstone is the only town close enough to stay in if you’re going into the park each day. If you can get a place in the middle areas of the park i.e. lake, canyon, or old faithful, it’s worth it.

Don’t miss Norris Geyser Basin or Grand Prismatic Spring. See Old Faithful, and also take some time to explore the rest of that geyser basin. You’ll see bison for sure, but the best wildlife viewing is a bit out of the way in Lamarr Valley, in the northeast corner of the park. Take at least one day to go south and visit the Grand Tetons.

Be aware that Twin Falls is a 3-4 hour drive from Yellowstone.

I do know the Yellowstone area is a big place, that’s why I asked where to stay. It took me awhile to even find out about West Yellowstone so I wanted to know if there were other places to stay that I hadn’t heard about yet.

What direction will you be driving in from, as Idaho, Montana and Wyoming all have interesting sites along the way?
A nice day trip from lower Yellowstone is Jackson Hole Wyoming and Grand Teton National park. Also The Henry’s Lake area in Idaho (not too far from West Yellowstone) is nice and has some nice cabins for rent. Harriman State Park in Idaho is also nice, and don’t miss the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery center if you have kids (probably your only chance to see bears these days).
I’m only really familiar with the sites that are on a round trip from Idaho, through the park, and down around Jackson Holes to the Idaho side of the Tetons and back up through Idaho. That’s the route we a take every year so we can visit family along the way. We live about 150 miles from there so it’s really just a long weekend thing for us.

We will be flying into Jackson Hole, after that it’s all up in the air for right now. No kids are going along this time, just two adults. My thought for now was to fly in and maybe get a place in Grand Tetons, then head to West Yellowstone for a few days, then over to Craters of the Moon for a day and then head back to Jackson.

If you go to twin falls don’t miss a chance to see Shoshone Falls near there, it’s beautiful this time of year. When you leave Craters and head to Twin there’s also some ice caves. And of course Hells Canyon is between Twin and the Freeway so you’l pass right over it. Before Craters is a little town called Arco that boasts the honor of being “the first city in the world lit be atomic power”, if you can consider a town that now only has about 1200 people a city. Above the town is number hill, where drunk senoirs have hung off cliffs to paint the class number since 1918. If you see “77” that would be the one I broke an ankle painting.

Craters of the Moon is cool, but the drive there from Yellowstone is long and that part of Idaho is not particularly interesting otherwise. For an excursion out from the park, you might consider taking the spectacular Beartooth Highway up to Red Lodge and then maybe down to Cody instead.

The first electricity-generating reactor, the EBR-1, is on the road between Arco and Idaho Falls and is now a pretty interesting museum. It’s definitely worth a stop if it’s open.

Well, there’s Gardiner MT (quite near the north entrance), Cooke City MT (near the northeast entrance; rather small) and Cody WY (~20 miles from the east entrance).

If you happen to pass by the tiny town of Spencer, Idaho just off I-15, stop at the Opal Mine Cafe. They have the best damn burger I ever ate (order the Triplet Burger), and a huge opal shop. Craters of the Moon, while very interesting in a blasted landscape sort of way, will take you less than a day to see (probably only a couple of hours or three), so plan accordingly.

That’s around a 4-hour drive (one way) from West Yellowstone. The route is not without some scenic appeal, but you’re turning your back on some first-rate things that are much closer.

First of all, YNP itself takes at least 2-3 days itself for even the most cursory view - much more if you want to see it at all well - which would have to including a few short hikes and time to do some wildlife viewing.

All the well-known spots are worthwhile to mandatory, including:
[ul]
Norris geyser basin
Old Failthful geysers (there are many near the most famous one)
Midway geyser basin
Lower geyser basin
Mammoth hot springs
All Yellowstone waterfalls
Artists Point
West Thumb[/ul]

If the new owner of the mine runs it like the late owner did they’ll let you mine your own opal for a fee, if your so inclined.

Sorry - posted the above before it was done. Should have added Tower Falls to the list.

Less famous YNP spots that are really good include:
[ul][li] Firehole Canyon Road (connects with the main loop road just south of Madison Junction)[/li][li] 45th parallel swimming hole (my name for this)[/ul][/li]The last one (last visited by me about 6 years ago) is reached by starting at a parking lot east of the main road, just south of a bridge across the Gardner River. It’s about 2.5 miles south of the park’s north entrance, and half a mile south of latitude 45 N (halfway between the Equator and the North Pole). From the parking lot, grab your towel and bathing suit and follow a trail along the river around half a mile, to a place where the outflow of some hot springs joins the river. River water is too cold for swimming, and the hot water is much too hot, but where they mingle ideal temperatures can be found. You need to know about this - no signs will tell you, nor (it is said) will the park rangers.
Worthwhile attractions reasonably close to YNP include:
[ul][li] Beartooth Highway (from Cooke City to Red Lodge) - absolutely stunning; not to be missed.[/li][li] Quake Lake (along Rte 287, ~25 miles northwest of West Yellowstone) - formed when a earthquake-triggered landslide dammed the Madison River in 1959; has a good visitor center.[/li][li] Gallatin River (follow Rte 191 north out of West Yellowstone) - very scenic, and actually includes a slice of YNP, which happens to be a good spot for seeing grizzly bears.[/li] Paradise Valley (follow Rte 89 north out of Gardiner) - very scenic. Raft trips available in Gardner. Chico Hot Springs (~35 miles north of the park) is worthwhile for bathing and upscale dining.[/ul]

Around Grand Teton, try the following:

Flagg Ranch, between the two parks.

Signal Mountain Lodge

Colter Bay
Within Yellowstone itself, all the lodges are owned by the Xanterra Corporation. They tend to be pricey and the service is not all that good.

As far as planning what to see, the big question is whether you want to avoid crowds or not. Everyone wants to see Old Faithful, but there’s a small city surrounding it. If you’re willing to get on the trails, you can quickly get out to places where you won’t see another human being all day.

In Grand Teton, I highly recommend taking the Ferry across Jenny Lake. From the other side, you can begin hiking up between two of the mountains. The views are amazing.

But really, the truth about this area is that no matter where you go, there’s something amazing to see. So don’t get hung up on visiting any particular site.

I suggest you stay in the park to minimize your driving and maximize the fun stuff. There are many places to stay within Yellowstone itself and reservations are all handled by the same place.
From the nps.gov website:
“Lodging in Yellowstone National Park is operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts. Visit their website for information about accommodations or phone 307-344-7311 or 1-866-GEYSERLAND (439-7375) for reservation information.”

We stayed in the Canyon Area within Yellowstone. I liked it because it is centrally located and gives you good access to both the upper loop and lower loop.

Other areas include:
The Lakes area, also a good dining destination.
Old Faithful Inn, books way in advance, so you might not be able to stay here. Also a good place to eat. We were lucky and caught Old Faithful before dinner and then again after dinner.
There are others, but I don’t remember them.

I suggest you dedicate one day to the upper loop and one day to the lower loop. Simply look at a map and stop at places of interest.

Highly recommend:
Grand Prismatic Spring
Old Faithful
Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces
Canyon
Norris Geyser Basin

The nps website is quite good:
http://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm

I don’t know about the mine, but they haul in loads of slag and dump it behind the Opal Cafe. You can rent a bucket and shovel and dig out there to your heart’s content, and people do find opal there. To me, opals are the most beautiful gemstones on earth.

My wife and I went on a bus tour that had an overnight stay in Gardiner. The motel we stayed in was definitely no-frills, but we hardly spent any time there so who cares?

No one has mentioned it so far (unless I missed it), but there’s always The Irma Hotel in Cody, WY. There are some interesting Wild-West type shows, rodeos, etc. (see Cody Gunfighters and the Area Attractions links there).

Cody also has some cheaper alternatives for staying such as camp grounds, etc.

IIRC, it’s about 35-40 miles from the East entrance to YNP. About half-way there, if you look to your left, you’ll see this up on the hill… weirdness.

As for seeing bears, my father used to live very near the weirdness of that link, so we visited YNP frequently when visiting dad, and we’d see bears maybe 50% of the time depending on the time of year, of course. This was maybe a decade ago.

I couldn’t agree more the late owner who took over the mine from his father-in-law was my cousin and he hand crafted me some beautiful opal jewelry. When my daughter passed away he knew she loved alligators, so he made me a silver and Spencer opal alligator brooch.

Yellowstone is a little too crowded for my tastes these days, but if you have the time, Lewis and Clark Caverns aren’t all that far. Maybe three hours or so from the park, depending on which part of the park you leave from.