USA 2011 – 2. Yellowstone

Part 2, following Home to Yellowstone

All photos from Yellowstone are in this Flickr album.


Yellowstone National Park (wiki) was the focus of our road trip, and is the oldest National Park in the US.

It is know for its wildlife and geothermal features, and is very large, approximately 40% the size of Wales.

Day 7 Continued – Cody to Yellowstone

We drove into Yellowstone via the East entrance, heading over some forested hills until we could see the lake ahead.

As usual, we kept the roof off the car.

More roof-down motoring

It wasn’t long until we say our first Yellowstone Bison happily strolling along the side of the road.

Yellowstone Bison - Taken from car

We headed over to the Lake Lodge to find it closed for lunch, but the Lake General Store did fast food, so we had a burger before heading up to our hotel.

Lake Yellowstone

On the drive North to Canyon Village we stopped alongside the river where a coyote was hunting for food in the grass. The coyote was quite close, and happily searching while ignoring he people. See the Flickr set for more coyote photos.

Coyote hunting

We drove on to Canyon Lodge,where our request had been granted and we had a high floor room in Dunraven Lodge (Ranked No. 1 on Tripadvisor when we stayed). This room was expensive, but by far the nicest National Park accomodation we have stayed in. The room was modern, well equipped and clean. As with all National Park rooms it did not have a TV or a phone. There was a coffee machine, and I was a little annoyed that the coffee was not replenished during our stay.

There are a lot of cabins in the Canyon Village, a few of which were occupied but most were being boarded-up for the winter. It was the end of the season and when we checked out was the last day it was open. The cabins were quite basic, but probably ok.

Canyon is a good place to stay in the park unless you move between hotels. Being in the centre, everywhere is a reasonable drive. If you were at the top or the bottom of the park it would be more awkward. Splitting a stay of 4 nights or more between Canyon and maybe the Old Faithful area might be a reasonable plan.

After we had settled in, we drove to the top of Uncle Tom’s trail in Yellowstone Canyon.

Uncle Tom's Trail

Since we were up at 8000 feet, very high compared to high points in Britain, the walk down was easy but the walk back was taken at a steady pace. It did give good views of the waterfalls and canyon.

Waterfall by Uncle Tom's trail
What a fine hat I have...

After hiking back up, we followed the ridge to an observation point.

Naomi didn’t like one of the signs, espcially given there had been attacks already in 2011.

Bear warning

We reached the end of the trail, which had a car park and quite a few tourists, but gave good views back down the Canyon to where we had started.

Waterfall where we had started our walk
That's still a fine hat

We walked the trail along the Canyon rim in reverse as it started to get dark, leading to further bear concerns.

 Day 8 – Yellowstone (Kayaking and Hot Springs)

As usual we had an early start to drive down to the lake for our morning of kayaking.It was well below freezing when we set off (about -6 C), as winter arrives early at this altitude – Canyon Village is at 8000 feet. the drive back down through the valley was very pretty and misty.

The kayaking was organised with Geyser Kayak Tours and they were great. Our guide was very friendly, informative, and we had a really good time. We did the day paddle, which was a good distance for novice paddlers, taken at a steady pace, and included a tasty lunch.

A lovely morning on the lake

All the safety gear was provided, and dry-bags for any valuables. The kayaks were stable, and we set out across the lake chatting with our guide, and recieving lots of useful information.


We passed very close to geothermal areas, and there was a lot of hot-water running into the lake. If you put your hand into the water the top few inches were pleasantly warm, but then a sudden change to cold water below.

Geothermal area

We paddled on to our lunchtime stop at the West Thumb Geyser Basin. We had a guided walk around some of the bubbling mud pools and clear hot springs, before sitting on the beach and eating our tasty packed lunches.

Mud pool
Clear pool

After lunch we paddled back across the lake, and had a good view of some Elk which had come down close to the water.

Paddling back

When we had finished our trip, we used the laundrette at the Lake Campground to do the washing which we had accumulated so far. The laundrette at Canyon had closed when the campground closed, but Lake stays open later. We realised that the low settings on tumble dryers are no good, only hot works if you don’t have forever, so try to travel with clothes that can cope.

With that done, we drove on down to the Old Faithful area, arriving in time to see an eruption, made more interesting by the fact that a bison walked between us the the geyser immediately before it errupted.

Bison and Old Faithful
Plenty of other people. Cafeteria in background

The erruption was impressive and quite long. A video I took is online here.

Old Faithful erupting

After watching the geyser we took a look at the interesting interior of the Old Faiful Lodgeh before going into the Old Faithful Cafeteria for substantial and relatively cheap meal. The cafeteria has a really good view of Old Faithful from some of the tables, and from a big terrace outside (view from our table).

As the sun set, we north to the Norris Campground for a ranger-lead star-spotting talk. We stopped at one waterfall on the way and took some long exposure pictures.

Waterfall - 6 second exposure

The star-spotting talk was good. The 2 rangers who lead it had a keen interest in astronomy and this was the first time they had run the talk. It was a shame they weren’t able to find an accessible location further from ambient light, but we had fun.

After a long day, we returned late to our rooms to rest before an planned early start.

Day 9 – Yellowstone (Wildlife and Hot Springs)

We had a tremendously early start, and set off in the dark for the Lamar Valley for wildlife spotting.

One the drive-up we stopped to let a Porcupine coming down the road pass us. We hadn’t seen a Porcupine before.

The distances in Yellostone are substantial, and the driving speeds are low, which makes sense given the wildlife. When we arrived in the valley it was clear that the keen people with spotting scopes had been there for some time.

A very nice chap let us have a look through his scope at the wolves of the Druid Pack that he had been watching that morning. Apparently there had been a grizzly bear earlier in the week.

The range from his location was too great for useful photos even with out 600 mm lens, so we drove farther on and stopped closer to the wolves (still a long way away) where more people had gathered.

Wolf disturbing birds (click for larger version)
Wolf (click for larger version)
Lamar river

When we had finished our animal spotting, we drove back along scenic roads to Canyon Village, and ate a hearty buffet breakfast in the restaurant.

Naomi had a siesta while I went for a walk around the site, past many different cabins, and became slightly lost before finding my way back. The cabins were mainly empty, but some people were still arrving despite all the cabins closing in 2 days time.

Canyon Village main building
Everybody else is out... Dunraven Lodge and Cascade Lodge in the back left

Following the brief break from being really busy, we headed out for some geothermal feature tourism in the Norris Geyser Basin.

It was fairly warm in the afternoon sun, and walking through clouds of sulpherous steam makes it feel even warmer.

Geothermal wasteland - Norris Geyser Basin


Steamboat Geyser splashing away

Having walked all the paths of this geyser basin we drove on up to Mammoth Hot Springs in the north of the park. This was another scenic drive with some impressive roads.

We took the car for a drive past the massive Travertine Terraces above the town (like those in Thermopolis but much larger), which then lead to some very interesting features, and all accompanied with the noise of Elk in the forest.

Very big terrace

Heading down into the pretty town of Mammoth, some of the green lawns were occupied with elk, and a large male elk standing watch. There were a few park staff present to make sure tourists didn’t wander too closer and upset the animals (who could then upset the tourists). Too many people try to get very close using the cameras on their phone, rather than keep a respectful distance (and use a big lens).

Elk in Mammoth

We decided that since we were this far North we would drive into Montana, and in doing so went past the 45th parallel. It seems strange that Yellowstone is so far South (compared to the UK) when it gets so cold – but the elevation and being at the centre of a continent is a big factor.

45th Parallel

We stopped briefly to take a look at a spot where hot water flows into a river and people can bath. We wanted to, but I was worried about leaving cameras and car keys etc. unattended some way from where we would be bathing.

Hot pools

We returned to Mammoth for a burger and fries in the cafe, before heading back to Canyon as it was getting dark. it was on this drive, coming over Dunraven Pass, that we saw our best wildlife spot of the holiday. A mother bear and 2 cubs crossed the road right infront of us. Another reason why you should never drive quickly in Yellowstone. As we were driving steadily, we could stop easily and take a photo which just about shows there were some bears. We had a good look at them ourselves, but the rushed photo wasn’t much good.

Mother bear and 2 cubs crossing the road

Then it was back to our room for some sleep before yet another early start!

Day 10 – Yellowstone (Geothermal)

Yet another early start (before 7am). We headed South from Canyon ready for a day of geothermal features.

Stopping part way down the valley, there was a mother and baby Bison just getting up for the day.

Bison family

We carried on to the Mud Geyser area, where a coned-off drain cover showed the effects of the acidic steam coming from the ground. There was a nice boardwalk up the hill, which was still slippery with ice / frost at this time of the morning.

Acidic steam corrosion
Dragon's Mouth Spring (click for more information)
Sulphur Cauldron- ph 1 (click for more information)

Having finished looking at this area, we headed further South, stopping briefly at the lake, where we found some interesting tracks.

Lake, with small enclosed pool in foreground
Tracks - Click for another picture

We passsed over the Continental Divide (which was a frequent occurence on this holiday), and returned to the Old Faithful area.

Continental Divide

Here we saw another Old Faitful eruption before heading off on a long walk around the Geyser basin and away from the crowds.

Colourful part of hot pool
Very hot pool
Grand Geyser
Castle Geyser (click for larger image)

We also took a few videos:

As we walked back, Old Faitful erupted in the distance. The walking loop we did therefore took a little longer than 90 minutes.

Old Faithful

We we had walked back, we ate lunch in the Old Faitful cafeteria, then took a seat on the balcony to wait for the next eruption.

Old Faithful

We then drove up to the Midway Geyser Basin which contains the Grand Prismatic Spring.

There are some interesting features in this area, but I think you would have to do the walk up the nearby hillside to get a better view of the Grand Prismatic Spring. From boardwalk level there isn’t a lot to look at. However, despite the cold temperatures in the morning, it felt quite warm and we had walked enough not to need to go up the hillside.

A video of a small twister over the Grand Prismatic Spring is here

Hot water flowing into the river
Grand Prismatic Spring - View from boardwalk

Leaving Midway, we took the pretty Firehol Lake Drive, which was a bit quieter than the sites we had been visiting, but still had lots of good features and a nice lake towards the end.

White Dome Geyser - Click for video
Might be "Young Hopeful"
Nice hats...

To finish our day of geothermal features, we then went to the Lower Geyser Basin.

This had more pools, geysers, steam vents, bubbling mud pools etc.

Not good for trees
Another geyser...

We then drove back to Canyon, via a small detour loop on the south side of the road which connects Norris and Canyon. This had a pretty little river, so Naomi could go for a paddle.

As the sun was getting lower in the sky, and this was our last evening in Yellowstone, we drove to the observation point on the opposite side of the Canyon to the one we had walked to on our first evening in Yellowstone.

Waterfall in Yellowstone Canyon
Glacial Pebble

To finish the day, we returned to our room, then walked into tjhe Lodge for a dinner where very tasty prime rib was served.

Our last day in Yellowstone was complete, and the Grand Tetons await for tomorrow.

Next  – Grand Tetons and back towards Denver