Yellowstone Summer 2021
July 30, 2021 3:23 PM   Subscribe

Spouse and I are headed out to the American West for a wedding soon (early Sept 2021) and planned to sneak a brief day trip into Yellowstone while we were out there. I'm mostly interested in advice from anyone who has been there this summer regarding how disorganized or busy it is; the Yellowstone website says there's no entry reservations going on.

Other details:
- I was at YS back in...1994 or 95 and spouse hasn't been; we'd know it's insufficient time for really getting into the park, but the wedding itself is at an isolated and boring area and we wanted to add other destinations to make the trip worth the flights.
- We're not interested in doing anything extreme or strenuous.
- We already have lodging in a recommended non-park location, but it's a bit over an hour away by car, so arriving early to the park is going to be tough.
- We are also headed to Craters of the Moon in Idaho, which I suspect is much less popular and I'm less worried about accessibility, but insights into this are also welcome.
- Both long-since vaccinated.
posted by cobaltnine to Travel & Transportation around Park County, WY (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I was just there this summer on a Monday the day after the 4th of July. We got there around 9, maybe? And we felt like we were trailing massive crowds. Showed up for late-ish lunch at Canyon Village and it felt like loads of people were leaving. By the end of the day we were at Old Faithful and it was a very manageable crowd. We did the reverse West Yellowstone route, heading North and ending at Old Faithful. So, in our minds, going a little later wasn't necessarily a bad thing but we ended up stopping at Grand Prismatic Spring on our way out (it was sunset and it looked amazing and there was like a dozen people there) and didn't end up getting back to the West Yellowstone (it's a long drive!) until close to 10pm.

It's really tough to gauge crowds and length of walk to the features from the little map they give you. Do some time ahead of time picking your route and bring lots of snacks and water! Driver needs a lot of patience. And be flexible. We managed to time Old Faithful for the magic hour - about an hour or so before sunset and that was cool, too. So, I can't help but suggest timing it like that.
posted by amanda at 4:40 PM on July 30, 2021

Which way do you expect to enter and exit YP? Yes, it's incredibly busy this year, but tourists generally follow predictable times and patterns. There are always some striking areas that aren't overcrowded, though, and oddly few people walk more than a quarter of a mile or so away from any given parking lot.

Depending on where you're staying in and around WY and ID, you might also find a great experience in one of the national forest or wilderness areas.
posted by Last_wave_by at 7:41 PM on July 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I haven't been there this year, but I used to live nearby. My general advice is, if you only have a little time, choose one area of the gigantic park to focus on -- and plan a hike that will get you away from the teeming masses. 2 miles is usually enough to leave the hundreds of thousands of people driving the main road and find a second of solitude for yourself. I like the Canyon area, personally, but you can find good areas in many parts of the park.

Craters of the moon is a surreal landscape -- not full of wildlife -- and much much smaller than Yellowstone. Nearby "atomic city" Arco, Idaho, is one of the strangest places I've ever been; look out for the mountain that every graduating high school class has written the year of their graduation on in rocks for more than a century now, as well as the half of a submarine labeled "666" in the middle of the main city park.
posted by Theiform at 7:53 PM on July 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Last_wave_by: We should be coming in from the west and leaving via south to make a portion of a loop; lodging in West Yellowstone and somewhere middle-of-nowhere south of GTNP (no plan to go there.)
posted by cobaltnine at 10:59 PM on July 30, 2021

Best answer: I was there in late June! I didn't find the park to be too crowded to be enjoyable. The corner of the park you'll be visiting was definitely the busiest -- the Grand Prismatic Spring was packed, in particular, and was the only place we had trouble finding parking. Old Faithful was also very busy, but it didn't seem that different from pictures I've seen from past years, and there's a ton of parking nearby.

Doing stuff early or late was definitely key -- so for you, early! (Especially coming in from West Yellowstone, where lines can get long, or so I heard.)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 8:40 AM on July 31, 2021

Lonestar Geyser is a walk (not really a hike) from your route and erupts pretty regularly. YP should have an eruption forecast for it for the day that you're there to guide your timing. There are usually far fewer people there than at other geyser viewing points in the park.

You might also consider hiking to Lewis or Shoshone Lakes. For example, you could hike a chunk of the Lewis River Channel Trail to a nice viewpoint along Lewis Lake.

If you're hiking at all, bring bear spray and read the directions carefully or watch a video on how to use it beforehand. It's very seldom needed, but so clutch when faced with a startled, aggressive moose or grizzly bear.
posted by Last_wave_by at 1:26 PM on August 27, 2021

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