Are you stressed out, tired, ready to get away from it all? Then Yellowstone park and the surrounding area is the perfect destination for your escape! Yellowstone combines majestic scenery, entertainment, relaxation and great opportunities for fun and fitness! Yellowstone itself boasts over two million acres of gorgeous wilderness terrain. There are more than 1100 miles of trails to tackle. In the area surrounding Yellowstone you will find many opportunities for horseback riding, bird watching, fishing, camping, biking, boating, picnicking, animal watching and sightseeing. For a change of pace you can visit a dude ranches, attend an authentic Indian pow-wow, watch a rodeo, or for the really adventurous, try white water rafting! Read on for an overview of the many activities available.
Generally when people think about a visit to Yellowstone, the first thing that comes to mind is the abundance of wildlife who call this beautiful land home. Yellowstone boasts more free roaming wildlife than almost any other place in the States! There are many opportunities for viewing the wildlife in their natural habitat. Depending upon the time of year and the location in the park, you may see water fowl, deer, elk, moose, owl, osprey, grizzly and black bears, trumpeter swans, bighorn sheep, buffalo, wild horses, pronghorn antelope, gray wolf or peregrine falcons. Of course, there are an abundance of ground squirrels which can be both entertaining and a nuisance. The ground squirrels provide a source of food for many of the park’s wildlife including hawks, badgers, and coyote. Early morning and evening are the best times to view the wildlife. This is when they are naturally more active.
There are approximately 3500 bison in the various herds roaming the park. These bison can reach upwards of 2000 pounds and, although they may appear to be tame, it is very important to remember that these are wild animals. Never approach a wild animal. Park recommendations are that visitors stay 25 yards away from bison and 100 yards away from bears. Although there are many signs reminding visitors to stay away from the wildlife, there are still those who choose to ignore the warnings and find out first hand that the animals are not tame! According to reports from the National Park Service, there are visitors who are gored by elk and/or bison every year. There may be anywhere from 250 to 500 grizzly bears and even more black bears who call Yellowstone home. If you watch closely you may spot one from a distance. If you are extremely lucky, you may see one close up. Of course, if you are too close up than you may be extremely unlucky! Actually, when a bear is sighted at the park the rangers are called so they can allow hikers and tourists to safely view the bears from a distance. Feeding the wildlife is against the park rules. Never try to feed the bears or, for that matter, any of the wildlife you might see.
There can be anywhere from 12000 to 25000 elks living in Yellowstone at any particular time. They are fairly easy to spot, particularly in the Lamar Valley and Mammoth Hot Springs areas as well as Norris Junction, Elk Park and Gibbon River. During the month of September the bull elk begin to gather for mating season. You can hear them bugling throughout the day. The bull elk can be very dangerous during this time and it is even more imperative that visitors keep their distance.
Yellowstone is now home to around 350 wolves. At one time, gray wolves were eliminated from Yellowstone park, but in 1995 and 1996 31 of them were reintroduced to the park. The largest pack in the park is the Druid Peak pack which lives in the Lamar Valley. The northern range of Yellowstone is the most popular site for viewing wolves. If you are patient and watchful it is probable that you will see a gray wolf in the park. Commonly people will see coyote and think they have spotted a wolf. The gray wolf actually comes in a variety of colors ranging from solid white, solid black, chocolate brown and a mixture of black and gray.
There are also about 800 moose in Yellowstone. The moose is the second largest animal in the park, averaging 1000 pounds when full grown. The moose are vegetarians and enjoy the water and aquatic vegetation which surround the streams, ponds and lakes in the park. It is most common to see moose in Grand Teton National Park which is just South of Yellowstone, as the elevation of Yellowstone is not as prime of habitat for moose. That said, the most likely place to spot moose in Yellowstone is along the banks of the Gallatin River.
Although there are many places along the road to park and view the scenery, hiking is a perfect way to view the true beauty of nature in Yellowstone. Plan your hiking trips with safety in mind by following a few basic guidelines;
● Let someone which trails you intend to hike.
● Water, water, water…food is nice, but in the short term, water is essential! Bladder packs, such as the Camelback, are a great method for packing water for a day hike. Most designs have small pockets for other essentials as well.
● Sun protection. Sunscreen that is waterproof and has a high SPF is very important. It is also a great idea to invest in a light weight, large brim hat. Don’t forget the Chapstick or lip balm with an SPF as well.
● Wear layers. Lightweight layers can be added or removed based on the weather. Mountain weather can change quickly. Even though the day may start out beautifully, it is not uncommon to be caught in afternoon showers. Check the forecast when planning your hikes. You should include rain gear in your packing. One option is to carry plastic bag which can be worn as a rain cover and performs double duty as a carry case for anything that does get wet.
● First aid supplies. Basic first aid supplies such as band-aids, alcohol wipes, gauze pads and an ace wrap can treat minor wounds until you get back from your hike.
● Snacks. A snack that mixes carbohydrates and protein is great. Find what works for you. Trail mix, energy bars, dried fruit, jerky, bananas and apples are all easily portable ideas. A PB&J is also a great option for a quick lunch that won’t spoil.
● Proper footwear. By wearing appropriate socks and shoes, designed specifically for comfort during day hikes, you can avoid blisters and other foot discomfort during your hike.
For longer hikes, outdoor recreation experts will also generally recommend carrying a map, compass, flashlight, water purification tablets, extra clothing, matches, a candle, and a pocket knife or multi-purpose tool.
There are a variety of hiking trails designed for day use or overnight hiking. Some of the easier hikes are:
Pelican Creek: Distance: 1 mile loop.
Overview: Pelican Creek is a short look which will meander through both forest and marshland. Observant hikers may see a variety of birds along the trail as well as bison.
Natural Bridge: Distance: 3 mile round-trip.
Overview: A forest trail with short but steep areas follow a switchback trail to a natural bridge that is 51 feet high.
Storm Point: Distance: 2 mile loop.
Overview: Storm point trail offers an incredible view of Yellowstone Lake. The trail meanders through meadows filled with wildflowers. Bison and birds are common wildlife in the area. Storm Point trail is also extremely well known for grizzly sightings. Rangers should be consulted before beginning this hike to assess the grizzly danger.
Howard Eaton: Distance: 7 miles round-trip.
Overview: Howard Eaton trail takes you through meadows, forest, and sagebrush fields. Grizzlies have been seen along the trail on occasion. At the end of the official 3.5 mile trail, the trail does continue unmaintained for another twelve miles to South Rim Drive.
Cascade Lake: Distance:4.5 miles round-trip.
Overview:This easy trail meanders through forest, meadows and over creeks.
Cygnet Lake: Distance:8 miles round-trip.
Overview:This trail takes you through forest and along marshy ponds before reaching the lake. You may see bear along the trail, so caution is recommended.
Harlequin Lake: Distance:1 mile round-trip.
Overview:This trail takes you through burned pine forests to a marshy lake. Birds are plentiful, however so are mosquitoes!
Two Ribbons: Distance:1.5 miles round-trip.
Overview:This is a simple boardwalk trail showing excellent examples of fire recovery and regrowth. You will also see buffalo wallows on the trail.
Wraith Falls: Distance:1 mile round-trip.
Overview:This is a simple hike through forested areas to the falls.
Ice Lake: Distance:.3 miles.
Overview:This is an easy, handicap accessible trail leading to a small, picturesque lake. There is a network of trails which continue on to Wolf Lake, Grebe Lake, Cascade Lake, and Canyon Junction.
Artist Paint Pots:Distance:1 mile round-trip.
Overview:This hike is all on a boardwalk encompassing colorful hot springs, small geysers and mud pots.
Geyser Hill Loop: Distance:1.3 mile loop.
Overview:This stroll will provide you with a view of a variety of geysers including Anemone and Beehive.
Lone Star Geyser: Distance:5 miles round-trip.
Overview:This trail is, for the most part, a level walk to an overlook of Lone Star Geyser which erupts every three hours.
Black Sand Biscuit Basin: Distance:½ mile each.
Overview:Boardwalk trails lead hikers to views of Emerald Pool, Sunset Lake, Jewel Geyser, and Sapphire Pool. This trail is handicap accessible.
Midway Geyser Basin: Distance:½ mile loop.
Overview:This handicap accessible trail is a boardwalk stroll leading to excellent views of Excelsior Geyser and Grand Prismatic spring.
Fountain Paint Pot: Distance: ½ mile loop.
Overview:This easy trail leads to some beautiful and interesting thermal features. Along your walk you will see geysers, mud pots, hot springs and fumaroles. Fumaroles are small holes found in volcanically active areas from which steam emits.
Fairy Falls: Distance:5 or 7 miles, depending upon which trail head you begin at.
Overview:There are basically two ways of reaching the incredible, 200 foot tall, Fairy Falls. You can choose to cross the suspension bridge and travel along the edge of Grand Prismatic pool through previously burned forests. This allows you to see the regrowth of the forest as well as affording views of some thermal features. Your other option is to drive along Fountain Flat Drive until you reach the barricade. At this point you walk South for a mile before turning West until reaching the falls, approximately 1.6 miles further.
Upper Geyser Basin: Distance:Varies.
Overview:This area encompasses approximately two square miles of highly concentrated thermal activity. There are spouting geysers, colorful hot springs, and fumaroles, providing unique views.
Boating and Fishing:
There are many beautiful lakes and rivers in and around Yellowstone. With over 800 miles of rivers and 175 Lakes, Yellowstone is arguably one of the best fishing sites around. There are great spots for experienced or beginning fishing. The following overview may help you decide which sites to visit during your stay:
Hebgen Lake: Located 10 miles northwest of West Yellowstone, Hebgen Lake is unique because in 1959 it was the location of the strongest earthquake ever recorded in the Rocky Mountains! Hebgen Lake is greater than 16 miles long and, at some points, is four miles wide. Because of it’s location Hebgen Lake can be windy and, therefore, motorboats make a great option for fishing. Rainbow and Brown trout are plentiful and can range in size up to an average of 16 inches long. Hebgen Lake is a popular place to fish due to it’s easy access, beauty, and fascinating history.
Yellowstone Lake: Within the park itself, Yellowstone Lake is the largest lake with 89000 acres of fishing available. Cutthroat between 15-17 inches in length are consistently caught. With a depth of up to 140 feet, the majority of the trout are found nearer to shore.
Shoshone Lake: The second largest lake in Yellowstone, Shoshone Lake is only accessible by trails or by boat from Lewis Lake. This beautiful lake is home to Brown trout, Lake trout, Cutthroat trout and Brook trout. The best fishing seems to be in the fall in this particular lake.
Lewis Lake: Lewis Lake sports mainly Brown trout, although there are other trout as well. There is a boat ramp and road access, which make this a popular lake as the best fishing is often done from a boat.
Yellowstone: This river location is a prime fishing spot for anglers of any experience level. Cutthroat weighing up to two pounds and averaging 17 inches are common. At the Buffalo Ford access a daily catch upwards of 50 trout is not uncommon!
Falls River: Another excellent fishing spot, Falls River is an excellent fly-fishing stream. It also provides beautiful hiking and entertaining scenery due to the mainly waterfalls and cascading water from which it’s name is derived.
Cranes, Osprey, Owls, White Pelicans, Canadian Geese, Loons, Eagles and Ducks are all inhabitants of the Yellowstone area. Hebgen Lake, Yellowstone Lake, and the myriad of other water sources are prime locations to pull out the binoculars and watch the birds. Remember to be respectful of the birds. If you spot a nest, do not disturb it. If the birds appear to be agitated or angry, you are too close. Do not feed the birds. Remember that they are considered wildlife and by feeding them you are actually damaging their ability to survive in the wild.
Yellowstone offers some of the best camping available. There are numerous sites for ‘roughing it’ as well as RV sites, cabins, and tent sites. There are facilities available within Yellowstone as well as comfortable and affordable options only a short distance from the park. Hebgen Lake offers RV sites for as little as $35.00 per day and cabins from $65.00 per day to $110.00 per day. There are seven campgrounds within Yellowstone that function on a ‘first come, first serve’ basis. These are Indian Creek, Lewis Lake, Mammoth, Norris, Pebble Creek, Slough Creek, and Tower Falls. Reserved camping is available at Bridge Bay, Canyon, Fishing Bridge RV Park, Grant Village, and Madison. These campsites vary from %12.00 to $17.00 per day. Two KOA camps are available just outside the park, the Cody KOA and the Yellowstone Park KOA.
Biking around Yellowstone
The West Yellowstone area boasts superb mountain and road biking. Day riding is provided as well as two annual bike tours which are hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. These are in the spring and the fall. The spring tour takes place on the roads surrounding the park, while the fall tour is actually in the park with a route from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful. Rendezvous Ski Trails is a popular and easy biking route. There are plenty of access routes which allow beginning cyclists to choose a shorter route while providing a longer route for the more experienced cyclist.
Half day and full day horseback riding is available through various companies around Yellowstone. Seasoned professionals will help you plan the perfect riding trip for your time and experience level. Horseback riding offers a fun and different way to view the beauty of Yellowstone and the surrounding areas.
Sources: www.yellowstonepark.com, www.nps.gov, www.yellowstone-bearman.com, www.bigskyfishing.com, www.yellowstonevacation.com, www.free-press.biz