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To check out one of the great American treasures, Yellowstone National Park.
When We Went
It had just snowed at the park the day before we arrived. Yes, snow in the forecast is typical weather for the end of May. Some areas of the park had just reopened at this time, others were still buried and waiting to thaw. Several roads in the area are not passable due to feet of snow for many months of the year.
Length of time
We had 4 days to spend in the park. The entire road trip took us 9 days – this also included visiting Grand Teton National Park and lots of driving time. Most western states are very, very large rectangles, and you can spend forever driving from one end to the other.
How We Got Around
We Flew Into Denver
Bozeman and Idaho Falls were closer airport options, but Denver ended up being the cheapest route that worked for everyone in our group. Not to mention Colorado is always a good time – and scenic too.
We Rented A Car For the Road Trip
If you’re doing a road trip like we did, you’re probably interested in any and all scenic drives. Here’s a few notable ones. Just keep in mind that if you’re traveling October-May some of these may be closed due to 20+ feet of snow. (I’m not exaggerating.)
- Chief Joseph Scenic Byway – Also known as Wyoming 296, this byway crosses the Shoshone National Forest through the Absaroka Mountains. It connects the town of Cody with Beartooth Highway and the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone.
- Bear Tooth Highway – This section of highway crosses over the Beartooth Pass in Wyoming, 10,947 feet above sea level.
- Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway – This scenic byway follows the Shoshone River through Wapiti Valley to the East Entrance of Yellowstone.
Where We Stayed
Most places we stayed were strategically placed an hour or so drive away from the park.
Keep in mind YNP is HUGE, larger than many US states.
A Basement in Cheyenne, Wyoming
We spent our first night in a basement in a couple’s home we found on Airbnb, to break up our drive from the Denver airport to YNP.
The $500,000 house (we looked it up on Zillow) was very modern and comfortable with updated tile and wood work, not to mention the basement we stayed in was larger than my entire house.
The couple who owned the home went above and beyond with the hospitality and even gave us souvenir bison coasters they handmade themselves.
A Buffalo Tipi at the Trout Ranch, Cody, Wyoming
The Trout Ranch
Unique stays on Airbnb are my favorite, and I never pass up an opportunity to stay in a tipi.
We fished at the hatchery on site, it was catch and release. I got a little over-zealous hooking a trout and almost sent myself tumbling down the side of a mountain reeling it in. Luckily, there were a couple of bushes to catch me.
Old Trail Town
Also located in Cody is Buffalo Bill’s original old trail town dating back to the 1890s.
Buffalo Bill Dam
A short 20 minute drive from our tipi was the Buffalo Bill Dam, also worth checking out.
An A-Frame in Big Sky, Montana
With it’s unique architecture and interior design, we enjoyed staying in an A-frame in Big Sky.
Big Sky is a small, but sophisticated ski town. During our stay it was also a ghost town, with the busy season starting on the 4th of July.
Here’s me and Jeff outside while grilling out one evening:
Many of the trails in the area we wanted to hike were still covered in snow, but we did manage to find a disc golf course located on the side of a mountain. The boys got pretty competitive in their disc golf match, with the loser having to eat a dandelion. Jeff, always the good sport, obliged.
A Grizzly Cabin in Island Park, Idaho
For the last night of the trip, we stayed in a cabin seemingly in the middle of nowhere in Island Park, Idaho.
It was a nice cabin, but I distinctly remember it being one of those Airbnbs with an obnoxious cleaning/check out list. Gross.
What To Pack
- Hiking boots are a necessity.
- Binoculars are a big plus for safely viewing wildlife if you have them.
- I suggest packing your clothing in layers.
- You’ll want to have bear spray on you, you can rent it through the park or buy your own. We bought our own and gave it to the park when we left since we thankfully did not need to use it.
This Is Beef Country
We brought a lot of snacks and sandwiches with us while in the park, but also treated ourselves by going out to eat a few times. While in Cody, Wyoming we popped into Cassie’s. The restaurant had an old Time saloon feel and a ribeye that melted in your mouth.
Buffalo Burgers Make a Tasty Treat
Buffalo burgers are a favorite of the area. The meat is quite delicious, similar to beef in texture, but with a slightly sweeter aroma.
What We Did
Wildlife of Yellowstone
This Is No Petting Zoo
Many species of animals call Yellowstone National Park home. These are wild animals, treat them with respect.
Valleys Are the Best Wildlife Viewing Areas
From our experience, we found that both valleys in the park were the best areas to view wildlife.
In Lamar Valley in particular we saw an unbelievable amount of bison, each weighing a ton, respectively.
In May, little red calves can be seen close to their protective mamas:
Bison Frequently Cause Traffic Jams
If you find yourself at a standstill while driving, it’s likely due to a herd of bison crossing the road. Let’s just say they’ve got the right away.
This Is Bear Country
Grizzlies and black bears alike call YNP home, so you’ve got to have a bear aware mentality at all times.
Being bear aware means being mindful of your trash, especially food waste, and placing it in the proper bear-proof receptacles. Don’t hike alone. When you do hike, carry a canister of bear spray and make lots of noise to announce your presence.
We saw multiple bears during our time in YNP, thankfully all from a safe distance or while in our vehicle.
Through a pair of binoculars, we even witnessed a grizzly sao and her cubs, which is as close as I would ever want to be to a mama bear.
Other Ungulates (Hooved Herbivores)
In addition to bison and bears, we also saw elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep.
Exploring the Features of Yellowstone
Yellowstone sits on top of the caldera of a supervolcano. The area is quite literally bubbling and smoldering with activity at all times. It really makes you think about what would happen if it erupted again…
These pools of hydrothermally heated water can be found throughout the park.
Perhaps the most captivating of them all is the grand prismatic springs. An amazing rainbow of colors can be observed.
Mudpots are hot springs acidic enough to dissolve the rocks around them.
The mesmerizing layers observed in the terraces are just hot springs that have risen up through the surrounding limestone.
Geysers are hot springs that erupt due to pressure, the most famous being Old Faithful, named of course for it’s predictable outbursts.
We caught the show one day, it was pretty neat.
Constantly releasing hot steam, these holes are how I imagine hell. Gaping cracks in the earth’s surface, rolling with steam, and emiting low gurgling sounds.
Pungent air exudes from these cauldrons, thick and yellow.
I’ll never forget the nauseating sensation of walking through a dense fog wreaking of rotten eggs.
The Yellowstone river cuts its way through the park in the most stunning way.
We spent a whopping 4 days in Yellowstone National Park, but honestly we could have easily explored for at least another day or two. There’s so much to see in YNP, but we were off to see the towering peaks of the Grand Tetons.
Special thanks to Alex, Bentley, and Jeff who let me steal their pictures for this post. I’m notoriously awful at taking my own pictures. You guys rock! Until the next friendcation!