Must-see/do in Yellowstone NP?
August 15, 2005 6:32 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I will be spending two days in Yellowstone, and we're looking for input on what we must see/do while we're there. Good day-hikes, great vistas, "secret" places, etc. are what we're looking for. Also, while we'll be camping, any suggestions for fun local restaurants or museums would be great.

While we're both in reasonable physical condition, we're also from Austin, TX, so the altitude is probably going to limit us to some degree. We just want to make the most of our time in the park since it's hard to say when we'll get a chance to come back.
posted by abingham to Travel & Transportation around Montana (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Boiling River (scroll about halfway down the page), just a bit north of Mammoth Hot Springs. Certainly not a "secret" place, but highly recommended as a hot soak after hiking around. Also, hiking to Heart Lake and staying at a backcountry campsite there (with an optional day-hike up Mount Sheridan) is pretty sweet.

I'm sure you've probably got your maps already, but here are are a few to help if you need them.
posted by cog_nate at 7:00 AM on August 15, 2005

The Norris Geyser Basin is not to be missed, nor are the Fountain Paint Pots or Artist Paint Pots, as far as general geothermal activity goes. The hot springs at Mammoth are both gigantic and weird-looking if you're not used to such things, and Mammoth is pretty well visitor-center equipped.

Mt. Washburn is a neat hike as well as a neat vantage point. It's just over 3 miles to the top, I think.

The falls on the Yellowstone River are also worth seeing, and Specimen Ridge is a neat hike, as well.
posted by nicething at 11:45 AM on August 15, 2005

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
is about as magnificent as it gets. I’d say give yourself at least a couple of hours for seeing it from both sides, from Artist’s Point and Inspiration Point. This quote from an early visitor pretty much nails it:

"The place where I obtained the best and most terrible view of the canyon was a narrow projecting point situated two to three miles below the lower fall. Standing there or rather lying there for greater safety, I thought how utterly impossible it would be to describe to another the sensations inspired by such a presence. As I took in the scene, I realized my own littleness, my helplessness, my dread exposure to destruction, my inability to cope with or even comprehend the mighty architecture of nature."
posted by dpcoffin at 12:06 PM on August 15, 2005

This isn't particularly secret, but I really enjoyed the hiking trail along the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Although it's crowded right near the parking lot where the easy visitor access is, once you get out on the trail you're quite likely to find yourself relatively alone. The trail follows the rim about 2 miles with some really breathtaking views.

Norris Geyser Basin was a great evening-time walk. I'd say definitely a must.

And, though people might say that Old Faithful is too cheesy/touristy/whatever -- it's still a 'don't miss' phenomenon in my viewpoint. A walking trail in the Faithful area was nice though short. Do stop in to linger in the lobby of the grand hotel at Old Faithful. The interior was furnished by Frank Lloyd Wright. There are some wonderful, deep comfy chairs and writing desks where you can lounge in rustic splendor and absorb that turn-of-the-century mountain hotel vibe.

As always when in Nat'l Parks, look for the ranger-led programs. They're almost always excellent and will add to the depth of your experience.

Have fun.
posted by Miko at 12:32 PM on August 15, 2005

A friend who travels there every year suggests the following:

"I agree with the previous suggestions of Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and the geyser basin.

You might also visit the Lamar Valley in the northern part of the park, you might get to see wolves. Roosevelt Lodge is great place to hang out in the evenings, sit on the front porch and have a drink, dine, etc.

"The great thing about the park is that it's all different. Depending on where you are staying, you can see wildly different things.

"I suggest you pick up a copy of A Ranger's Guide to Yellowstone Day Hikes before you go. It has a lot of good information about the difficulty of the hike, when it's best to go, and that sort of thing.

"Oh, and buy Camelbak backpacks, too."
posted by mkhall at 1:12 PM on August 15, 2005

We had dinner at the Old Faithful Inn. They post the time for the next eruption of the geyser, so we all trooped out and saw it by the light of a full moon. Incredibly beautiful. 2nd on the ranger talks. The advice to see Old Faithful at night came from a ranger, and I really enjoyed the talks I went to. Even short hikes off the main road were really worthwhile.
posted by theora55 at 1:55 PM on August 15, 2005

dinner at the Old Faithful Inn has been great the several times I've been there, and it is a great place. call to see if you need reservations.
posted by madstop1 at 5:35 PM on August 15, 2005

I was lucky enough to work in Mammoth Hot Springs for a summer, and my favorite thing of all was being out on the terraces at dawn toward the end of the season, when the cool morning air made for lovely fog and mist. If you like taking pictures, it's a nice spot.

Second the Mt. Washburn recommendation, too, for an awesome view and a chance to spot bighorn along the trail. Not a bad midday sort of trip, but you'll want plenty of water.

I went back to Yellowstone a few years ago with a friend who'd never been, and I think he was most taken with the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Mammoth for breakfast, a hike up Washburn for late morning/early afternoon, then a trip to Canyon Village would make for a nice day if you got an early start. When my parents visited me the summer I worked there, they enjoyed the same itinerary.

I also think your chance of spotting a bear is better along the Roosevelt portion of the loop, between Mammoth and Canyon, just because it's generally less traveled. I saw a grizzly along that stretch the last time I was there.

And depending on how you're getting in/going out, the Grand Tetons are a nice way to drive out without requiring any tromping around if time's short.

And if you're driving and the passenger can read without getting carsick, the giftshops usually sell "Death in Yellowstone," a history of pretty much every way you can die in that place, from bear maulings to landslides/earthquakes to boiling alive in the mudpots.
posted by mph at 8:09 PM on August 15, 2005

I was awestruck by the Lamar Valley at dawn last september.... The Lamar is often referred to as the Kalahari of North America. Rent a spotting scope at the general store in Silver City and ask folks where the wolf spotters are hanging out ( look for cars parked on the shoulder of the road at dawn and dusk too) There is a resident wildlife biologist who is very friendly and a cadre of amateur spotters that follow the wolf packs around, they have their fingers on the pulse of the wildlife scene. I saw five grizzlies, bald eagle, elk, prong horn antelope, bison and several wolf packs. The spotting scopes are amazing, you can set up on the side of the road, put your eye to the scope and feel up close and personal with a wolf or grizzly that is a half mile away or more.If you are coming in from another direction other then the north east call around and find out where to rent a scope and tripod, get the best one you can. The Northeast entrance is very quiet and dumps you right into the Lamar Valley. The Beartooth highway is closed from what I understand but the regular road is really great too. The first two camping areas that you come to after entering the park from the north east are Pebble Creek and Slough Creek, both are primitive and highly recommended...In General I preferred the northern parts of the park. Have a good time.
posted by flummox at 8:32 PM on August 15, 2005

Just west of Yellowstone Park, right on the Montana-Wyoming border is a little town called West Yellowstone. Lots of cute little shops and restaurants. Bullwinkle's Saloon is one of the best restaurants around those parts; make sure you order a pitcher of Moose Drool. Right next door is Send It Home where you can stop in and use their satellite connection to get your Internet fix. If it's a museum you're looking for stop at the Yellowstone Historic Center, although I prefer the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, where you're guaranteed to see a bear or two.
posted by JT at 10:55 AM on August 16, 2005

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