Yellowstone Vacation Tips

Heading off on vacation starting this afternoon. Starting near Detroit and the final designation is Yellowstone. Stopping by the Black Hills for two days and two days in Bozeman before getting to the Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone for four days.
What sites should I check out on the way there?

Received an email saying the lodge dining areas are shut down due to lack of people to work them, so cold breakfast and dinner is being offered (no lunch). Not allowed to cook in the rooms or the park but I’ll have fridge, any inventive food ideas to get me through this roughing it time? :slight_smile:

Plan on doing some hiking as well as checking out Old Faithful (of course), anybody got some must check out spots or trails I could investigate?

Looking to stop off in Jackson Hole before heading back, but the hotels look expensive. Is it worth staying there a day and spending the night?

Get yourself up to the northern part of the park, to Mammoth and then along the Grand Loop Rd, and then to Lamar Valley for wildlife herds.

We hired a guide for a couple of days, and it was expensive but from our perspective worth it. Without our guide I don’t think we wouldn’t have nearly seen all the wolves, bears, moose, and elk that we did. (to give on example, we were driving through Lamar Valley one late morning and she said “there’s a bison carcass that’s been out there for weeks, but it looks funny, let’s pull over”. It turned out she’d spotted a young wolf’s ears poking up behind it.)

Some advice:

  • You absolutely want to go to Lamar Valley as @icarus said, but despite my story above, your odds of seeing wolves or bears decrease significantly after 10am. We got there before dawn on two different days and saw wolfpacks, plus a young loner, plus a bear.
  • If you see a crowd gathered in a random spot, slow down and look, they’ve often found something interesting.
  • Bring really, really strong binoculars, or some kind of scope. We also rented a digital camera with a big telephoto lens, it was less expensive than I would’ve guessed (though it was off-season).

I will say that we were pretty uninterested in the terrain - one you see one fumarole, you’ve seen most of them - but Grand Prismatic is really amazing.

Well, now I want to go back. Have fun!

PS - I missed your Jackson Hole question before. We stayed there two days, and in my opinion it wasn’t worth it. The other three days we stayed at various hunting lodges, including one in Grand Teton, and they were very basic but also much less pricey. I mean, you want to eat lunch there and wander around, but I’m not sure there’s much else to recommend it…even in Autumn it was overrun with tourists.

The canyon area is great – waterfalls and funky rock colors. Norris geyser basin is cool (well, it is literally hot) also.
Early morning is also less traffic.


Yeah, the canyon is my favorite part, too. It’s not as BIG as the Grand Canyon, but it’s much more impressive.

As for lunch ideas, I would recommend against hard-boiled eggs.

The trails that overlook Old Faithful (Observation Point Trail) and The Grand Prismatic Spring (Fairy Falls/Overlook Trail) are less crowded and give you an arguably better view of the iconic Yellowstone sights. (The Grand Prismatic Spring might be obscured by steam depending on conditions though.)

If the crowds are anything like they were last year at this time, the parking lots at the major attractions were almost full by late morning and there were cars stacked up waiting for spots to open up. Norris Geyser Basin parking lot was completely full and people were parking on the main road and hiking in from there.

I like to stop at the Sheepeater Cliff area–it’s usually not very crowded. You can get a close up view of the geologic formations and take a stroll along the river there.

We did the exact same 2 day guide trip (maybe the same guide?) We got so good at spotting wildlife with the naked eye that we saw some before the guide did with his scope! One day we saw a total of 10 bears throughout the day. It was late spring so there were many sets of mother + cubs. The highlight was seeing a wolf take down an elk not far from the road - yowza! If I ever go back I’m going to invest in my own scope and join the spotter brigade.

I was going to suggest Boiling River, but apparently its closed, hopefully a temporary Covid thing and not permanent. Its a truly special place, a swimming hole where you can be in hot spring water and cold melt water at the same time (surrounded by the scenery of Yellowstone)

The other thing I’d add is if you aren’t staying in the park itself (and even if you are but want to travel to somewhere not close by) its way bigger than other National Parks I’ve been to, and the roads are slow (lots of people stopped to look at buffalo) so allow basically 2 hours to reach anywhere.

Yellowstone encompasses 3,472 square miles (2,221,766 acres) which makes it larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

Be aware that the portion of the Grand Loop Road between Canyon Village and Tower-Roosevelt is completely closed until May 2022. To get to the Lamar Valley from the Canyon area requires heading west to Norris, north to Mammoth Hot Springs, then east across the park to the Lamar Valley. With that 19 mile long section closed, it’s a total of 80 miles from Canyon Village to the Lamar Valley (vs 48 miles if the road was open). So you’ll need to leave well before daylight to have a good chance of seeing wildlife in the valley. Good luck and safe travels.

MREs? I bought a 24-meal pack a few years ago when I found a great deal on Amazon. They’re great for camping and hiking and stuff like that. The kids got a kick out of eating them too. I’d use them for convenient on-the-move lunches and do something fancier for dinner, like steaks on the grill. If all cooking is banned in the park it may be about the only way you’re going to get a hot meal- they have heating pouches you just add water into and a chemical reaction gets your entree good and hot. They’re surprisingly not bad, and pack a lot of calories.

Just type ‘MRE’ into Amazon and you’ll see a lot of choices. Only drawback is they got quite a bit more expensive during the lockdown, though that may have eased up some.

Wow! We saw way more wolves than bear, and nothing nearly as exciting as that. [our tour guide was a lady, but it’s a big tour group…did you overnight in some little town way up north?] Also a lot of moose! 24 years in New England, and I haven’t seen one here, but plenty in Yellowstone.

Reading about the road closures earlier in the thread, a lot of this will be more difficult to do…

There’s a zipline operation in or near Jackson that looks very fun.

Yes, small place, we had dinner at some quaint fish restaurant.

Pack warmer clothes than you think you will need. It’s already below freezing at night there. There’s a reason everyone comes home from Yellowstone with a new sweatshirt. We went on the Summer Solstice in 2019, and woke up to at least an inch of snow.

The morning thing is critical. Lots of people stay outside the park and have an hour drive in, so they don’t get there till 10 or so, and they leave pretty early to get back. We were camping, and we discovered the best plan was to get up, pack up camp, drive to where we were going and eat in the car. Food prep when you are camping takes so much time because of the bears: you have to completely unpack everything, cook, eat, and clean/repack it.

We got an app that used GPS to trigger little descriptions about what we were seeing as we drove by. It was like $10 and totally worth it.

The last time I went to Yellowstone, it was the week before Memorial Day. So, not quite summer but getting close. We had already had weather in the 90s here in Kansas, so I packed a bunch shorts and t-shirts. When we got to Yellowstone, there was still a foot of snow on the ground in some places, and the northern loop wasn’t even open yet!

If you have the time while you are in the Black Hills area, stop by Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. There is also Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse, if you are into that sort of thing.

Oh, and Old Faithful is far from being the most impressive geyser in the park. It’s just (relatively) predictable and (relatively) frequent, such that you can plan to block out a couple of hours at that visitor center and probably see it go off at some point in that interval. But the ones with longer intervals are much bigger: If you’re going to be there for three days, then as soon as you get there, try to find estimates for when some of the other geysers will go off, and then try to be there for when they do. The estimates for other geysers will be much looser: You’d basically need to plan to be there for half a day or more, waiting.

Or, if you want to go to the other end of the scale, even more predictable than Old Faithful is the Perpetual Geyser, which as the name suggests is always erupting. It’s about a foot tall.

I’m thinking that while I am in Bozeman it may be easier to get to the Lamar Valley than from the Canyon Lodge in the park since the road is closed.

Sadley there is no cooking allowed outdoors either at the lodge. Only charcol fires on designated camp sites are allow due to fire harzard and bear activity. Can’t cook or boil water in the room at all so even heating an MRE would technically violate the park rules. I’m lucky to have a coffee maker.

I am roughing it. :cowboy_hat_face:

I would think a ban on boiling water in the room would be more about the fact that a source of flame is typically used to boil the water rather than a ban on the hot water itself. I’d imagine if you activate the chemical heating pouch of an MRE outdoors it wouldn’t be a problem. But I could be wrong and good for you for strongly adhering to park rules.

You could always attach some fishing line to the MRE entree pouch and dunk it in a hot spring for a few minutes!

(Just kidding, that would likely be a very bad idea :wink:)