This is part of a much larger road trip across the western US - link at the bottom:
And so we were off to Yellowstone. We had a nice scenic drive through Washington, Idaho and Montana broken up by a night in Moses Lake, Washington and Missoula, Montana. And finally we were in Wyoming and approaching the north entrance of Yellowstone!
This was our second visit to Yellowstone and we had four nights which we broke up by one night in Mammoth, two nights in Old Faithful and one night in Lake. We arrived for our first night in Mammoth just after lunchtime and decided to have a drive out to Lamar Valley for some wildlife spotting. It wasn't long before we encountered a number of cars abandoned on the side of the road and lots of people excitedly looking through binoculars and cameras. We hadn't been in the park more than half an hour and we had seen our first Yellowstone bear. He was a young black bear eating berries not too far from the side of the road. So cute!
In Lamar Valley we saw the resident buffalo herd and on the way back to Mammoth we saw a moose by the side of the road. I was very excited by this as we had not seen one last time in Yellowstone or in Canada. Back to Mammoth and we had dinner in the dining room before walking around the hot spring terraces to see the beautiful cascades and travertines. So ended a brilliant first day in Yellowstone.
Our second day was taken up by a slow drive down to Old Faithful, stopping at all the geyser basins along the way.
The park was very busy and we had to give a few places a miss because we couldn't get parked, but we managed some pretty spectacular hot pools, fumaroles and mud pots. On top of this we had a fantastic wildlife spot when we saw a wolf not too far from the side of the road hanging around what looked like an elk carcass. He was a beauty, and we were having phenomenal luck with wildlife.
In the afternoon we stopped at the Fairy Falls trailhead and did the walk and scramble to get the birds-eye view of Grand Prismatic Spring. Until you get a bit of height you have absolutely no idea what this hot pool looks like - you can just see the steam from ground level. But it is so beautiful when you see it from above - like a giant multicoloured eye. Ok, the scramble down is quite tricky but if you can make it this is a fantastic hidden gem of a walk.
From the ground:
We ended our day at Old Faithful. Still going strong, still as reliable as ever. Every 90 minutes without fail this magnificent geyser erupts spectacularly to woops and cheers from the crowd. We sat and watched it three times on that first day - once in the afternoon, once before dinner and once after dinner as the sun set - it's certainly addictive!
On our next day we drove up towards Canyon village, stopping off to see some more geyser basins on our way, my favourite of which was Black Sand Basin very close to Old Faithful village.
Canyon village is right next to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone which is a stunning multicoloured canyon with huge thundering waterfalls.
We then pushed onto Hayden Valley, another wildlife hotspot, and it didn't let us down. We saw many, many bison all over the valley, and it is such a beautiful place. I have read various things that refer to it as the "American Serengeti" and how America used to look a few hundred years ago before the roads and towns came and the buffalo were hunted to extinction. It's a really lovely spot and despite all the cars it is quite peaceful - many people spend happy days in Yellowstone sitting on a picnic chair with their spotting scope and waiting for the wildlife to appear.
Back in Old Faithful we did the walk around the boardwalks to see the other hot pools and geysers of the area - which were very quiet at that time - and we got a fantastic view of Old Faithful spouting from the other side, away from all the people.
We ended the day with a terrible meal in the Geyser Grill and a lovely evening in the Old Faithful Inn - eating huckleberry ice-cream on the deck watching Old Faithful and then sitting in the lodge listening to the fiddle player with a beer. Another perfect day in Yellowstone!
Our final day in Yellowstone saw us leave Old Faithful and (thankfully) the crowds and meander slowly towards Lake village. We had been very lucky with the weather so far - it was 80 degrees and gorgeously sunny, but on this last day it was cold and rainy so our stop at West Thumb Geyser Basin was pretty disappointing - I'm sure it looks better in the sunshine though. We warmed up with a coffee at Grant village and then drove on just past the Lake area to do the Storm Point trail. The weather had cleared up a bit but it was extremely quiet there and we were the only people around. To be honest the warnings at the trailhead about being in bear country and to always carry bear spray nearly put us off altogether. But then a few more people turned up and probably much to their irritation we stayed fairly near them for the whole of the hike - safety in numbers and all that. We walked through meadows and through forests shouting "hey bear" and clapping our hands all the way - thanks to Brooks Lodge in Alaska for these valuable lessons!
The trail then came out to the huge Lake Yellowstone and we walked along the shore for a bit before turning back inland and being absolutely delighted that all reports were correct and there were indeed a colony of yellow-bellied marmots there. We saw about four of them eating the grass and scurrying around.
This is a really great nature hike and much recommended. It is only two or three miles round trip and pretty flat and best of all you lose ALL the crowds and really find the solitude of the park. Just make sure you've got your bear spray!
After this hike we had another quick drive up to Hayden Valley where we got caught in multiple bison jams when the buffalo decided to wander into the road and then stay there for half an hour. If you have to get stuck in a traffic jam, this is the best kind.
We then had a quick stop at the south rim drive of the Canyon (which I think has the better views) before driving back to Lake for the evening.
We had a lovely meal in the very classy Lake hotel and spent our last night in Yellowstone listening to a string quartet in the hotel lounge and walking back to our cabin as the sun was setting.
Yellowstone is a wonderful, wonderful place. It is huge, unique and very diverse - it has wildlife, thermal activity, a huge lake, a stunning canyon and much more. I would put it as the best national park in the US by quite a long way. We are lucky to have seen it once, let alone twice and are already planning when we can go back again - next time maybe in winter and we'll get the snowcoach in!
A word about the cabins - the Mammoth cabin was lovely, the Old Faithful cabin was cramped and the Lake cabin was the winner - although we were upgraded here. Next time I would spend more time in the Lake area as the lodge and hotel here are the best, the quietest and it's got a pretty good location. We stayed in Canyon last time and that is also very well located but the cabins are like Old Faithful - small.
Photos and more trip reports here: http://kiwisam.blogspot.com/