There are so many things to do in Yellowstone National Park. Located in Wyoming, it’s one of the crown jewels of the United States National Park System because of its unique geological features and abundant wildlife. I highly recommend at least four days to explore the park. If you can stay within the boundaries of the park, even better. The Yellowstone Lodge is a historic lodge located near Old Faithful, but it stays booked – so plan months in advance if you want to make reservations there. The next options are camping or either staying in Jackson, Wyoming or West Yellowstone. We stayed about 30 minutes outside the park south of West Yellowstone in Island Park, Idaho. Going with a larger group, you can rent a cabin fairly cheap. That was our best bang for our buck.
Unless you plan on riding around on a snow mobile, plan your trip to Yellowstone for the Summer months. People always say it’s the worst time to visit because of slow RVs, but anytime the roads are clear, there will be RVs. Staying 4-5 days will allow you enough time regardless of traffic problems to see most of the hot spots. During our trip we managed to see the highlights, do a little hiking and some white water rafting.
There are several waterfalls in Yellowstone that are easily accessible. The best thing to do is download the Yellowstone Park Map and look for the waterfalls. Study it several times before your trip so you can get familiar where they are located in order to make the best use of your time.
The first one we saw was Gibbon Falls. It is right off the side of the road and there are areas to pull off near the falls, so it’s easily accessible. Expect a crowd near the falls pull off because of its easy access.
Mystic Falls was probably my favorite because it required a short hike and most of the people weren’t willing to do the hike, so it was less crowded. Not to mention, the waterfall was beautiful! There’s a parking area near Upper Geyser Basin to access the trailhead to Mystic Falls. The hike is probably 2 miles roundtrip – so not that bad at all.
Upper & Lower Falls
The Upper and Lower Falls are probably the most impressive, powerful waterfalls in the park. They are located in the Northeast part of the park. The Upper Falls are most easily accessible and is just a walk from the main parking area. The Lower Falls can be seen from the bottom via Uncle Tom’s Trail, which is a winding staircase of steps all the way to the bottom. The Lower Falls are much taller and more like a traditional waterfall. You can also see Lower Falls from Artist Point.
We didn’t get a chance to see Tower Falls because the trail was impassable, but would probably worth the stop if you get the chance.
Old Faithful, Geysers & Sulfur Pools
The geysers and sulfur pools in Yellowstone make the park unique. There are several geysers in the park, but the ones I would suggest seeing are of course, Yellowstone’s famous Old Faithful. Your trip wouldn’t be complete without seeing it! Some of the geysers in the park erupt at different time increments, so do your reading on which ones erupt at different times and plan accordingly. Another great geyser is Steamboat Geyser at the Norris Geyser Basin. A short trail takes you down a boardwalk that gives you access to Steamboat. I found this just as cool as Old Faithful and much less crowded. West Thumb Geyser Basin is another popular spot and it overlooks Yellowstone Lake, which is beautiful. There are others like Midway, Lower and Upper Geyser Basins that offer much of the same, but I suggest stopping at them all just because they are so easily accessible.
Yellowstone Lake Cruise
If you’re looking to take a load off and enjoy some nice scenery, I suggest going on the Yellowstone Lake Cruise. It’s a free cruise provided by the national park. You board the cruise at Lake Village in the eastern part of the park. The captain is great at giving you a history of the lake and the areas around the lake.
I didn’t get a huge opportunity to hike in Yellowstone. If you plan on doing much hiking make sure you are prepared for anything. Grizzly bears are abundant in Yellowstone as are wolves. I recommend taking some bear spray or some other form of protection as a safeguard. We did one short hike to Ice Lake (1 mile roundtrip) and we actually saw fresh bear tracks that certainly heightened our senses!
There are tons of hiking trails in the park. You can get a back country pass which will get you away from the frequented hiking trails that most sightseers tend to use. I have no experience on the back country in Yellowstone, so it would be my recommendation to do your research before you do wander off into the back country.
White Water Rafting
This was my first white water rafting experience and it was a rude awakening for sure! There are several adventure companies outside of Yellowstone that offer rafting for any age group. We drove up to Gardiner, Montana which is north of Yellowstone. The Yellowstone River runs through Gardiner which is where we launched our raft. You’ll want to book your trip in advance just because they work on a tight schedule. Make sure you are there in plenty of time to get dressed into a wet suit and get the quick run down of the entire process.
Last but not least, the wildlife in Yellowstone is simply amazing. Buffalo are practically everywhere. If you notice slow traffic, more than likely it’s a herd of buffalo crossing the road. They aren’t scared of people, but you should definitely be scared of them. They seem pretty laid back, but there are more people in Yellowstone attacked and gored by buffalo than attacked by bears. My advice is to stay in the car and admire them from afar! You’ll also notice mule deer and plenty of elk.