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What Yellowstone Does To You

Cinnaminson, New...
posts: 350
What Yellowstone Does To You

I know most of the topics are from new people to Yellowstone asking questions, but I thought I'd post my experiences in regards to what Yellowstone has done to me, in particular with regards to cameras and optics. I encourage others to post their experiences and if you've never been to the park, maybe post what you plan to bring with you. This June will be our (my wife and I) 4th visit to the park, first was August 2008. Here we go:

August 2008 - First visit - We didn't have much, but we brought with us a borrowed pair of 8x30 binoculars, I had a 5MP digital point and shoot, and my wife had her film SLR with a 300mm lens. We got some good pics, but after seeing other peoples equipment, we were a little disappointed. We still had an AMAZING VISIT!!! We quickly got hooked on wildlife, especially the bears and wolves.

August 2010 - 2nd visit - Got some upgrades. Still had borrowed binoculars but this time they were 10x50 which was an improvement. I did buy a 20-60x60mm spotting scope (cheap from Walmart) and had a better 12MP point and shoot with a 10x zoom, and my wife still had her film SLR. Better, but still I wanted more. The spotting scope was the best purchase I made. (only $60)

June 2012 - 3rd visit - My wife had a friend with her who brought her 10x50 binoculars. I bought for this trip 12x50 binoculars, had the same scope, and I also bought the Canon SX40 HS superzoom (35x) camera, wife still had the film SLR. While I really like the scope I had, I quickly saw it's shortcomings. The superzoom enabled me to finally get some great grizzly and wolf pics, and the 12x50 binoculars finally satisfied me. But, I still want more.....

June 2014 - 4th visit - This year I will be bringing my last 2 cameras (SX40 superzoom and the last point and shoot) along with my new Canon T3i DSLR with multiple lenses (retired the film SLR). I will be buying a new scope 20-60x80mm with better eye relief, and will have another pair of 12x50 binoculars. All this equipment for the 2 of us :-) Why am I doing this? I guess it's because Yellowstone is like no other place on earth that I have been to, and I want to enjoy it to its fullest extent.

We will be in the park for 10 days this time, and we will not have an itinerary. The first 5 nights will be in Roosevelt, and will spend the mornings and evenings in Lamar Valley. During the daytime, we'll go where we feel, just "winging it."

Is it June yet? I hope to hear from others what changes they've made or how Yellowstone has made them buy, what I call, more TOYS!!!

Ohio, USA
Destination Expert
for Bryce Canyon National Park, Bryce, Arches National Park
posts: 7,304
reviews: 373
1. Re: What Yellowstone Does To You

Good thread, Tom; thanks for starting this. I think that there are some interesting points (and counterpoints) that can come from this discussion that can certainly help future visitors.

I think a lot of how folks will evolve their “toys” (that is the correct term!) will depend a lot on what they want to do in the parks as well as has how much they want to carry. My mantra (and my wife is in on this also) is to keep it simple (I call this KISY, that is “Keep It Simple, Y’all!”). So we just go with the superzoom cameras (I do keep upgrading, having started with the Fuji S5200, then over to the Canon SX10, then the SX30 and now the SX50, and DW gets the hand-me-downs). At present we have one set of binoculars (8x36). We also enjoy looking for critters all of the parks we visit, but we spend a lot of our time hiking, so less and lighter gear is a key point for us. Still, we get a lot of great views and some pretty darn good photos. I certainly won’t get the animal views that someone with a scope will get or the shots that someone with a DSLR and a big lens will get, but I’m looking forward to seeing what I can see with the SX50. Still, a better set of binoculars might be a good addition so that DW and I can each have a set. But I am very pleased with our choice of cameras as they fit the way we travel and the way we like to experience the parks. I guess the one change that I made to camera equipment specific for our first visit to Yellowstone was to add a couple filters for shooting the springs and pools. They helped to cut the glare and protected the camera lens (that and keeping the lens cap on while walking through the thermal areas). BTW, I was using the SX30 for that first trip but I’ll be toting the SX50 when we return this summer.

My newest toy, which arrived just today, is a GPS. No, probably not really needed in Yellowstone (I was thinking more or the places to go in Utah where the trails are not always so obvious), but it will be nice to have the added security. Plus I like to track the hikes we take and the phone just does not always have enough juice to last all day.

Ah yes, boys with toys!

N. Idaho
Destination Expert
for Yellowstone National Park
posts: 11,823
reviews: 86
2. Re: What Yellowstone Does To You

Well, not much in to toys altho I am looking for better binocs than I now have. I will also admit that I do not even take a camera to the park anymore! I occasionally click something with my cell phone but that is it.

What Yellowstone has done for me is refined my *cooler technique*!! lol! Yes, I have gone thru several methods of layering ice and food for max chill and minimum sogginess so I know what works for me now.

It has also helped me refine my packing list both for food and clothing.

I know that is not really what you were after, TomK, but thought I would throw that in!


Statesville, North...
posts: 181
reviews: 19
3. Re: What Yellowstone Does To You

OhioHick...can't wait to hear how your camera works for you. Hubby is home after back surgery and has been reading up and playing with the SX50. Tell me more about filters.

Tom...I looked up the scope and binoculars at Wal-Mart. We, too, are like OhioHick and like to travel light. I always have a backpack full of water and snacks, maybe a jacket. Took our binoculars (old as the hills) to Grand Circle last year and hardly ever carried them. The camera we borrowed was heavy and bulky as our binoculars are. I guess we spend more time walking and looking then sitting and looking if that makes sense. I would love a really good and lightweight pair of binocs but not sure that I want to spend that kind of money.

DObby...so, tell us what you have learned about cooler techniques. We bought a styrofoam cooler this year (it was all they had and made too much noise!!) and kept stocked with food and beer :) Bought large containers of water and just filled our water bottles with ice water each day. Also, would love to hear your packing tips. Our trip will be mid Aug.

Destination Expert
for Alaska, Denali National Park and Preserve, Yellowstone National Park
posts: 9,465
reviews: 44
4. Re: What Yellowstone Does To You

After almost 15 years spending my summers backpacking in Denali with only a tiny *monocular* LOL when we moved outside Yellowstone 2 years ago & I was camping/hiking rather than lightweight backpacking, Mr Denalicat presented me with Nikon 8X42 binocs. Wow!

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
posts: 7,967
reviews: 29
5. Re: What Yellowstone Does To You

While I recently (July 2012) visited Yellowstone NP largely for the purpose of photography, my personal evolution of "toys" has occurred through other wildlife viewing opportunities. Let me chronicle . . .

December 2005 we are in Hawaii on a whale watching tour. I only have a P~n~S Canon SD600. The man sitting across from me has a DSLR of some sort and my camera envy begins! He got wonderful photos of the humpbacks more than 100 yards from us. Me? They were specks on the blue ocean.

March 2006 I learn that I am going to Alaska for work that coming summer! I decide to piggy-back a trip to Denali NP. I know my P~n~S won't be good enough and I had previously given up on my old Canon T-50 film camera as it just needed too much work to render in 100% functional again. It was then that I decided to upgrade to a DSLR. I shopped around for weeks, finally settling on an entry level Olympus with two kit lenses. My E500 was good for that Alaska trip, but slightly "not good enough" still.

January 2007 I decide to go to Alaska in the WINTER to experience all that is to see and do. I was especially interested in the aurora borealis but afraid my kit lens would not be fast enough so I bought a 14-54 F/2.8-3.6 to upgrade my equipment. I was not disappointed!

Summer 2010 I'm out on wildlife cruise of the Kenai Fjords (again, Alaska) and meet a guy with Canon DSLR equipment. He has "IS" (image stabilization) in his lens which helps with his longer lens when shooting on a moving boat at moving wildlife. His photos were better than mine w/o any IS. Again, I feel inadequate.

After that trip, I start my study on what Olympus has in terms of IS equipment. I learned that they build the IS into the camera bodies rather than lenses. That way, their lenses stay less expensive. I end up buying a used Olympus E520 through an Olympus forum. This camera is comparable to my E500 in features, only the E520 had the IS built in and slightly more MP (10 vs. 8).

As I planned for a safari in Kenya in 2011, I decided my longer kit lens (40-150) wasn't going to be enough distance so I bought a 70-300 lens. While it is a bit on the slow side (f/4.0-5.6) it performed admirably especially when on the E520 body. I got some great photos at some distance with it when the conditions were right.

So that is where I am today. I have Olympus DSLR equipment and generally carry both bodies and four lenses. I set up the E500 with the short range (either the 14-45 kit lens or the faster 14-54 one) and the E520 for distance (starting with the 40-150 and moving to the 70-300 when conditions warrant).

I am still in lust for something with more distance with better speed but that would put me into the four figure range on a lens, which I have a hard time justifying.

As for binocs, I never owned a pair before my trip to Africa. I bought a budget pair of Bushnell Falcons for around $35. They are 10x50's and do a decent job. Of course when I was in Yellowstone in 2012 I enjoyed using the scopes that several people (including park rangers) had set up in turnouts to view bears or wolves. I would love to spurge on such in the future as well.

Edited: 10:02 am, December 12, 2013
Ennis MT
Destination Expert
for Yellowstone National Park, Ennis
posts: 2,549
reviews: 26
6. Re: What Yellowstone Does To You

Ena - if you look under the Top Questions on the upper right of this page, there's a great article at the bottom of the list about packing for YNP - should be very helpful!

N. Idaho
Destination Expert
for Yellowstone National Park
posts: 11,823
reviews: 86
7. Re: What Yellowstone Does To You

Laughing, well Ena here is what works for me.

I have a middle sized hard-sided cooler as it is usually just me. This last year I discovered that I had a large Rubbermaid container (the kind with the red lids) that fits in the bottom of it perfectly with space on either end for bottles to stand up. I just measured the Rubbermaid lid and at the widest part it is just under 10 inches X about 16 inches. (The container is in the garage and even for this forum it is too cold to go rooting around out there!) A bag of ice, still in the plastic but loosened up a bit, fits in there perfectly. I then use middle sized containers that fit cross ways in the cooler on top of the ice and fill those with my smaller containers of salads, hummus, veggies and other stuff on top of the ice. The advantages to this are that the food stays dry and also when doing *cooler management* in the mornings I can lift out the mid size containers with food and then it is easy to pour off the water from the larger ice filled container. This probably is only useful because I drive from home so I have all these containers and a good non-squeaking cooler! It may also work because I don't need to keep animal products chilled to a certain temperature to keep them safe.

I need to work on a better system for non-cooler ingredients this year. Grocery bags do not work. I did think it would be helpful to have one of those small plastic 3-drawer cabinets that would have a drawer big enough for bread/rolls, couscous, oatmeal, a small container of oil and vinegar and almond butter and use the other small drawers for knives, a small cutting board and forks/spoons but I will have to do a trial run on that. I am thinking the largest drawer will not be big enough for my dry stuff. I am planning a Road Trip next spring (back to NC as it happens) and will need to work out some ideas for storage.

Here is a picnic thread from Summer of 2012. It has some good ideas but also gets off track a few times as well.


Here is a link to a Packing List article compiled by Voyaging.


I have started keeping packing lists for each trip I take. My brother started me on that when he convinced us (his wife and me) we needed to start traveling with just carry-on when we went to Europe last spring. I have a separate list for Yellowstone and I am sure it will surprise no one that I wind up taking more stuff to the park for 5 or 6 days than I took on a 3.5 week trip to UK in Sept!

You definitely need binoculars for Yellowstone. You will be trying to view wildlife at a distance. While you might be able to see them moving around without the binocs you will definitely want the magnification.


(editing to add....took too long to type out my response and see Paula pointed you to the Packing link as well!)

Edited: 10:32 am, December 12, 2013
Fruita, Colorado
Destination Expert
for Fruita, Grand Junction
posts: 4,537
reviews: 185
8. Re: What Yellowstone Does To You

I got my binoculars at Cabela's in the hunting department (they even have low light option, I love them). When the clerk helping me choose asked me what kind of game I would be hunting he nearly keeled over when I said, "Oh, these aren't for hunting. These are for my Yellowstone wolf viewing." I believe I was the first to ever utter those words in that store.

Atlanta, Georgia
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 18,709
reviews: 296
9. Re: What Yellowstone Does To You

I am not into gadgets or toys for traveling but some comments on things I've learned while visiting Yellowstone-

Late May/early June 2007- Weather was warm and sunny and saw an abundance of wildlife, float trip on Snake River was awesome with Barker Ewing, stayed in West Yellowstone for touring the park. Had a simple old Sure Shot camera and no cooler. Learned that the park was huge and in no way did we see it all on that trip.

Late May 2008/early June 2008- Weather was cold, snowing and icy and some of the roads were actually closed in the park. Stayed in Gardiner which we did not particularly care for. Again a simple old Sure Shot camera and no cooler. Learned that flexibility is key when visiting the park.

Late August/early September 2010- Weather was very warm in the park and did not seem to see as much wildlife. Had a new Canon camera and bought a soft sided cooler with us. The cooler was great and so nice to carry our picnic supplies and stop and eat when we wanted. Drove the Beartooth Hwy and found out how quickly the weather can change. We got into treacherous driving conditions with snow, ice and freezing temperatures. They even closed the road the next day!!

Mid September 2013- Weather was nice but cool in the mornings, even had a dusting of snow one morning in the park. Learned that staying in the park is the way to go. We stayed for the first time in the park at the Old Faithful Inn and had a wonderful stay. Saw lots of wildlife including a bear for the first time. Learned that there was still a lot of people in the park at that time of the year. Again brought our soft sided cooler. We don't travel to national parks without our cooler now.

Bought the book Yellowstone Treasures by Janet Chapple in 2007 and have used it for each of our trips. It has lots of yellow highlights and yellow sticky notes.

Cinnaminson, New...
posts: 350
10. Re: What Yellowstone Does To You

Great feedback everyone! This is what I was looking for. Yellowstone has become my favorite place on earth, and I have done some travelling in my time. I'm really looking forward to my experiences with my new DSLR. While I won't have one of those thousand(s) dollar lenses attached, I will have a few different ones. I'll have my 2 kit lenses, 18-55mm IS and 55-250mm IS, along with a 100mm fixed macro and I may bring my 135mm fixed soft focus. I will also bring a 10-20mm super wide angle, and maybe my 50mm f1.4 prime lens. I was given these other lenses and hope to try them out in YNP, especially the wide angle.

I will still rely on my SX40 for the far away shots. I figure this camera is a much better alternative right now instead of forking over a couple thousand dollars on a 400mm or 500mm lens.

As far as the coolers go, we did use a soft sided cooler, but the last couple of trips we've stuck with the styrofoam ones. We buy the 1 gallon ziploc bags for ice, and fill them up every morning. Works like a charm!