Yellowstone, the National Park that draws people from all around the world to sit in a meadow all day long, trying to grab that perfect shot of wildlife. The park where hot springs bubble and geysers rage. And then you have the typical, old school, nostalgia park were you can be educated- learn about how the environment operates and how wildlife depends on each other in this diverse ecosystem.
To be honest, Yellowstone took a while to win over my heart. Yellowstone has been on my bucket list ever since I first hear about it, but actually being there was another experience. It was Summer, the crowds of tour buses were rolling in one after the other and the sun was beating down hard. It’s hard to believe that people will travel to Yellowstone for only a day, there is so much to fit in! If I’m honest, the sheer amount of people really affected my first day at Yellowstone. I had an expectation of quiet stillness and no distractions surrounded by serene nature – but, alas, it was clear that many other people had the same picture in their head. Our first day was as crowded as Disneyland, but at least the spectacle was amazing enough to distract us from the busy boardwalk!
Lower Geyser Basin
Our first day in the park was where we followed the main tourist route. We wanted to find and see all the geysers that Yellowstone had to offer, so did everyone else, apparently. We started the day at the Lower Geyser Basin at the Fountain Paint Pot section. I recommend if you are wanting to snap a few photos without crowds, get here early. It was around 10 am and the tour buses and crowds were filling the boardwalks trying to get a glimpse at the geysers, and it took us quite a number of laps in the carpark before we managed to pry a space from other travellers. Crowds aren’t the end of the world but when you have selfie sticks poking out everywhere, people ploughing down the walkways in a single-minded attempt to get to the front of the queue, and hot springs on either side of a narrow boardwalk, it is quite frustrating and distracting. We managed to find a quiet spot above the geysers that was away from crowds which, in the video, made me happy.
The lower geyser basin was incredible. when you first arrive it reminded me of what the world would look like in the future if it was all cleared out and only old roots sticking out of the ground. It was mysterious but intriguing how minerals react and affect the environment around it. Make sure you wear steady shoes as the boardwalks are can be uneven in some spots and you don’t want to slip. As you make your way around the basin, the geysers almost take turns to erupt and everyone will stand around waiting to see what happens next. Here the earth really is putting on a show for you.
Midway Geyser Basin
When visiting Yellowstone, many people travel to see the Grand Prismatic Spring. This spring is located in the Midway Geyser Basin, along with the Opal and Turquoise Pools. The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest in the United States and the third largest in the world. I had seen this spring before in photos and docos and was keen to see it with my own eyes. My golly gosh, what a ripper! This very colourful hot spring constantly changes as you walk along the boardwalk – depending on the mineral mats apparently – I am not a scientist so please don’t hold me to the actual facts – I can say though that the colours are mind-blowing. They range from vibrant turquoise to deep blues and oranges and reds! As we walked around the spring you can see the steam over the water and there is no way, as tempting as it could feel on a cool day, I’d want to go for a swim in there.
From the boardwalk, I could see people on the other side of the spring on a lookout up the mountain. I was determined to find out how to get there and see the Grand Prismatic Spring from a higher vantage point.
The way to get up to that lookout was not clearly signposted. It took a few google searches and assumptions to find the right point. We drove south from the Midway Geyser Basin to the Fairy Falls car park. From here we hiked over the Firehole river up the short track to the lookout. The view from above revealed all the colours of this beating geyser and definitely gave us the shot of the day!
Old Faithful has been on Stephen’s bucket list for years since seeing it on a Looney Tunes cartoon in the 90’s. So we had to visit it, after all, Old Faithful is the most famous landmark in Yellowstone National Park.
We had finished our time at the Midway Geyser Basin and drove south to Old Faithful. To our surprise the car park here was full. We had to wait until Old Faithful had finished blowing a gasket before the crowds from that session would give up their car-space. We ended up grabbing some lunch at one of the restaurants and saw that the diner had a clock of when Old Faithful was most likely to erupt next – handy! We finished our burgers and made our way over to the viewing area. We waited around 20 minutes under the shade of some trees and waited for the estimated time. But the seats were beginning to fill up with people wanting to see the famous treasure so we thought it best to fight the sun for a few minutes to get a good clear shot. We were able to get front row seats and squeeze in between a family of ten to share viewing. Everyone eagerly waited and then.. it begun.. a couple of minutes early. We had cameras rolling, Old Faithful was shooting to the sky, shining in all of its glory – and then, it finished about a minute later. All of the build-up, for a minute of an eruption.
Stephen and I looked at one another and said, “Was that it? Really?”
In hindsight, we had perhaps built this moment up a bit in our heads, and really the notable element of Old Faithful is not so much his ability to spray everyone in the vicinity, but that we can predict within a few minutes when he will erupt. That is pretty special.
We got up and decided to walk the Upper Geyser Basin. This basin is very accessible and a great way to finish the day. The Upper Geyser Basin is home to some of the world’s largest geysers. They are a number of different trails you can do, depending on how much time you have in this area.
Written by Stephen
Route Type: Out and back hike
Allocated time: approx 3hrs including stopping to admire the views.
How to get there:
From Mammoth Hot Springs, travel 4.7 miles south. Immediately past the Golden Gate Canyon park on the left is the Glen Creek Trailhead parking lot.
After a full day of inhaling steam and sulphur, and pushing through crowds of tourists to see the many, honestly quite stunning, geysers that populate the lower half of Yellowstone National Park, we were quite keen to step off the beaten track.
We spent our second night at Yellowstone NP in a cabin out the back of Mammoth Hot Springs hotel. It was cozy and was all we needed, considering we checked in after 8 pm and were out again the next morning before 6 am. It had been a few days since we had adequately hiked up a mountain, so I was particularly keen! A few days early as we were driving through Boise I had purchased a pair of Men’s Trail Glove 4, zero drop shoes for hiking and I was pretty interested to know how I would go with them.
I wanted some new hiking shoes as my Timberlands were a bit heavy and giving me blisters – and yes I know the timberlands are definitely styling over substance, but I wanted to look cool. Deanne loves listening to the podcast “The First 40 Miles”, and I have to admit their weird banter doesn’t bore me either, and they were talking about “Zero’s” like they were a thing I should know about by now. So when I went to REI, I asked about them, though I’d try some on, and in-store really liked them. So I thought – how much can it hurt? Well here I am, going hiking with them for the first time, no time to wear them in, this could turn out bad.
We drove south from Mammoth Hot springs, through the Golden Gate Canyon, which is a simply stunning drive. We were so taken by its beauty the night before this, that we had stopped and climbed out on to the rocks by the side of the road to watch the last of the sun go down and it made for some pretty spectacular shots looking up to Bunsen Peak. But today we weren’t stopping, the peak was ahead of us, and I wanted to get to the top.
We arrived at the Glen Creek Trailhead, and we weren’t the only ones there – seems there are other keen adventurers in this park as well. But the trail was clear and uncontested, and the people we did pass along the way were friendly and excited about their morning hike.
Much of the path is lined by pine trees which gave us some respite from the heat of the early morning sun. But when the trail opens up, the views this trek offers up are nothing short of extraordinary!
Early on in the hike, we got a fantastic view of the Golden Gate Canyon and the road snaking its way through the landscape. The trail then switchbacked to the other side of the peak where it opened out to the valley, giving us vistas of Gardners Hole, Swan Lake and the Gallatin Range in the distance.
After this, we walked up into thicker bushland where squirrels and pheasants would frolic through the woods in front of us. About 300m from the peak the trees thin out and the shale rocks become very prominent at your feet. But it hears you realise the reward of that steady incline from the start.
At an elevation of 8564 feet, Bunsen Peak offers panoramic views of the Golden Gate Canyon and Mammoth Hot Springs to the north, and Gardners Hole, Swan Lake and the Gallatin Range to the south. It was peaceful and relatively quiet up here and was a great spot to stop and take in the views.
Now I bet you’re all wondering how my new Zero Drop shoes went. I am pleased to say, that I became quite enamoured with them. I found them super light, grippy, and really comfortable. I came back with no blisters and honestly couldn’t believe how much I liked them. Now admittedly this was a short three-hour hike, and it may yet be found that I will miss that extra cushioning on a long walk, but for this purpose, they were great!
So overall, Bunsen Peak was a great hike to escape crowds, and dig deeper into the heart of Yellowstone. I don’t think it is a destination hike at all – you wouldn’t drive halfway across the country to do this hike, but if you’re in the area, have a spare few hours and want to climb above the urgent sight-seeing of the tourists below, then I reckon it’s definitely worth considering.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Written by Stephen
After trekking up Bunsen Peak, we headed back into Mammoth Hot Springs. It was getting fairly hot at this point, and I was glad we had done the high-energy activity early.
Back at Mammoth, the carparks had already filled up around the Lower Terraces Area, so we pretty much had to park back at the hotel. We downed a large quantity of water and Dee bought a huckleberry lollypop.
Ok, weird thing to bring up, but she was excited about it. It was shaped like a bear, and we don’t really get much huckleberry anything in Australia, and she was curious to try it. Turns out, it’s kinda like a blueberry.
We thought we’d take the time to visit the lower terraces area while we were here. Now, I have no idea how to describe this, but Google says that “These springs were created over thousands of years as hot water from the spring cooled and deposited calcium carbonate (over two tons flow into Mammoth each day in a solution). Because of the huge amount of geothermal vents, travertine flourishes.”
Yep, that pretty much sums it up! Apologies for the flagrant plagiarism, but I honestly don’t know what it all means. Suffice to say some pretty unique salty/calcium looking formations would harbour forms of life that are very different to you and me, and I’m pretty sure it would cause some kind of terrifying skin irritation if you came in contact with it.
Luckily they have taken the effort to build a wooden boardwalk over these springs so that we can look at them up close without becoming some sort of mutant.
The smell can be overbearing so be ready for that, but overall it’s a pretty exciting thing to see, and a quite fantastic insight into what is happening beneath the core of our planet.
Written by Stephen
We were promised wildlife! That’s what everyone said. Bring your bear spray, because there are bears out there! You’ll spend your days dodging bison on the roads, then the pronghorn will be out in force.
Where were they all?
Apparently in the Lamar Valley.
Now we would never have headed out here unless we had been told on competent authority that we would see bison, and sure enough, merely a few miles in and we stumbled upon a herd. Dee was ecstatic!
“IT’S A BISON! OH MY GOOOOD!!” – Deanne in the background of one my shots.
The bison are placid, and all over the road, so drive slowly and give them right of way. There are spots where you can pull over and grab a quick snap but keep your distance – these beasts are not to be trifled with.
But we had finally seen some legit Yellowstone wildlife, and that was a massive tick off the to-do list. After the Lamar Valley we did spot bison again all the way back out the east entrance, and down near Yellowstone Lake, but Lamar valley bison are the best! We like the vibes they give off.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Written by Stephen
Wow! I was not expecting that!
I have been to the Grand Canyon, I figured that if something had the name, “The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone” it would, at best, resemble somewhat of a sad homage to the epic landscape that borders the Colorado River in Arizona and I would probably leave thinking, yeah it was nice, but not worthy of the name.
I guess that’s an insight into my psychology – if you build something up for me, rather than get excited I will prepare myself for disappointment. Never tell me something is the best, it places the bar way too high in my expectations.
So here we were, day three, driving back into Yellowstone from the east after spending a night out at Cody WY, and the last thing on our list of things to see was the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We found a carpark at the start of the North Rim Drive fairly quickly – which was actually pure luck because finding a place to park in late August was proving quite difficult.
After lathering up with sunscreen we walked to the start of our first trailhead that will take us down into the canyon:
Brink of Lower Falls
Up to this point, I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be looking out for. We hadn’t spent any time exploring the top of the canyon looking in, so we just wandered blindly in. This, I guess, shows the lack of knowledge we had heading in.
The sign at the start of the Brink of Lower Falls hike read;
“3/8 mile + 600 feet drop.”
Now my imperial to the metric brain was going into overdrive trying to figure out what exactly that meant, but I stopped myself overthinking and said to Dee, “it’s less than half a mile, we can do it.” Of course, she was going to do it anyway, regardless of how good my math skills were, and she leads the way down the steep descent.
The walkway is paved the whole way down. However fine dust can gather on the path making it slippery at times so definitely bring some shoes with reliable grip. The trail zig-zags back and forth all the way down, the whole time you can hear the roar of the river below getting louder and louder.
When I did get to the brink of the lower falls and stand at the lookout point which is perched right above the falls, it is here that my jaw dropped and it’s safe to say I spent the next 30 minutes trying to pick it up off the canyon floor – because this view was incredible!
Here we were, standing right at the edge of a roaring, 308-foot waterfall, that cascades over the ledge into the stunning canyon below, and to top it off the afternoon sun had created a rainbow in the mist below. We weren’t there at golden hour, but at any hour, this is going to rock your socks! My words fail me – just look at Dee’s photos!
Lookout point and Lower Lookout Point
After being blown away by the initial views of the canyon, we climbed back up out of the Brink of Lower Falls. We charged up there, high on a form of adrenaline only available after being blown away by natures beauty, but don’t get me wrong, this is a steep ascent. Take your time if you need to and listen to your body.
We decided to walk along the trail that weaves its way parallel with the North Rim drive up to Lookout Point. The trailhead starts at a car park, and you can either merely head around the paved section which connects Lookout Point, and Grand View, which offers stunning, top of the canyon views of the valley below, or you can do what we did, head down into Lower Lookout Point for an even closer look of the Lower Falls. Again this was a steep descent, but more rugged and unpaved than the last trek. The drop finishes with a wooden boardwalk and stairs that take you to the viewing platform. This view was a great view of the falls through the valley, and I would recommend it if you are keen to see the canyon from every angle.
Brink of Upper Falls
We headed back to the car and headed back around to the other side of the canyon to view the upper falls. Brink of the Upper Falls is a different experience again, you can’t see the canyon from this vantage point, it merely gives you a glimpse further up the river of the other falls.
While still stunning as far as waterfalls go, after spending so much time in the canyon it felt a bit underwhelming. That, and we must have arrived right with the tourist buses. The crowds were so thick on this path that you were pretty much expected to walk down in single file and if you stop for too long a moment you might find yourself, as Dee did, being shooed along by a frustrated old lady who has only precious moments to see this spot before heading to the next.
The final lookout on our to-do list was Artist Point. This must-see destination for Yellowstone was honestly the perfect way to take one last look at the Canyon. By the time you reach Artist point you are a fair distance from the Lower Falls and it is from here you can really step back and take in the entire canyon in all its glory.
The walls glow yellow in the sun and water roars in the distance. It is an incredible part of the world, and I can’t believe I haven’t seen more of this come across my newsfeeds, and Instagram before.
I get it. It’s not exactly off the beaten track, and every man and his dog who has ever got an RV goes to Yellowstone as all its landmarks are so accessible, so it’s hard to stand out and be unique in this landscape. But if you ever get a chance, I would highly recommend taking the time to visit this, America’s oldest National Park.