Yellowstone is Unbelievable, Even if You’ve Seen It More Than Once – A Local’s Insider Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park, From a Montana Native– Part One
2012 is the 140th anniversary of Yellowstone National Park, the place we Montanans call “Colter’s Hell.” This name was given to it in honor of the adventurer who was the first to traverse the place. When he reported back to civilization with incredible stories about its geo-thermal wonders, he was promptly disbelieved by almost everyone.
Though the park’s main entrance is in Wyoming, it is so big (3500 square miles) that it spills into two other states: Idaho and Montana. Because of its sheer size, it might seem a bit daunting if you’ve never been there before. After all, it’s still daunting to me now, and I’ve been there at least once every year of my life. I keep going back because Yellowstone has more natural attractions in that one park—wildlife, history and geothermal miracles—than anyplace else in the world. But there are a few secrets I wanted to share with you, including one from John Colter himself—to help you see as much as you can during your next visit to Yellowstone National Park.
Time It Out
Yellowstone isn’t well traveled in a day or even a weekend—there’s just too much to see. Though it is true that you can see the major attractions in a couple days in your car, the whole experience is much better enjoyed over a longer period of time and on your feet. Like most everything else in life, the fewer corners you cut in Yellowstone, the more you will be rewarded. Get out and hike or take a horseback ride. After all, fresh mountain air is a drug by itself.
Here’s Where to Start
The best entrance, but only if you’re the adventurous type, is through Cooke City. The Cooke City entrance is the northeastern-most, and is only accessible via Montana’s Beartooth Highway. Frequently thought of as the highest and most spectacular stretch of road anywhere in the world, the Beartooth Highway will take you over entire mountain ranges. Because of its altitude however, it’s only open from April to late September due the snow and ice that are prevalent in the area at other times of the year. Before you take on the Beartooth though, make sure your car is in great shape. I’ve had one or two breakdowns on that pass in my old jalopies back in the seventies.
Suggested Route- 2 Days by Car
Once inside the park, you’ll notice that its roads are shaped like a figure 8. The best route to follow to see everything is straight down from Tower Junction (a few miles past Silver Gate) to the Petrified Tree, and then to Artist and Inspiration Point. You absolutely must see both of these, especially Artist Point—it’s the most splendid view of the Yellowstone Grand Canyon and waterfalls anywhere in the park. And yes, there are always artists there painting away, trying to capture the glories of the Upper and Lower Falls.
Keep Heading South
Head on down the same route to the spectacular Mud Volcano (and while you’re there, take a few minutes and travel a mile to see the Black Dragon Cauldron). Then stop at the picturesque Fishing Bridge for lunch; if you’re feeling adventurous afterwards, head east a few miles to see the massive Sleeping Giant Mountain. Then, head back to the Bridge, around the circle to West Thumb, there you will be able to drink in the spectacle of Yellowstone Lake’s clear, glorious waters, as you head to Old Faithful.
At Old Faithful
Plan on a night’s stay here at Old Faithful Lodge, and you better book in advance; I had to wait a year to get a summer reservation in. It was totally worth it though. It’s the finest, most remarkable log cabin hotel and indoor mall in the world. Plus, you’ll be treated to hourly views of the glorious and ever-reliable Old Faithful. Have some patience with Old Faithful. The geyser is going to spit and sputter for awhile before it goes off, but it’s always a spectacular spume when it finally erupts in all its glory.
About The Author: This guest post was written by Teresa Fikes on behalf of Chevrolet of Turnersville. Keep an eye out for the second half of her Yellowstone guide, which is coming soon!
Photo Credits – Flickr: #1 puroticerico, #2 BW Tounsend, #3 Great Wohead, #4 jmenard48