My Favorite National Park
As we’re about to embark on our 5th trip to my most favorite National Park in the United States, I thought I’d better write to you about it at least once! Yes, I’m talking about Yellowstone National Park, my reason for this blog.
Yellowstone National Park is located mostly in the northwest corner of Wyoming, but spills over into parts of Montana and Idaho too. It’s a long ways from our hometown of Albuquerque, NM, 2288 miles round trip to be exact lol; so we usually plan this to be a two day trip and stay in our favorite town of Estes Park along the way.
In 1872, YNP became the first national park in the United States. It consists of 2.2 million acres with geysers, waterfalls, rivers, forests, hot springs, and Yellowstone Lake. It is home to all creatures great and small; hundreds of species of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have been documented here, but the main attractions seem to be bison, elk, pronghorn, wolves and bears. This 3,500 square mile park has five main entrances, and some are affected by the weather, so be sure to check the park website when you’re planning your trip.
Speaking of planning, this is not a destination where you should be in a hurry. The maximum speed limit in the park is 45 mph, and some roads are marked lower than that, so it does take a while to get from Point A to Point B. Factor in 100+ other tourists in their cars, and an occasional buffalo road block, lol, and then it takes even longer. Take your time, and plan your trip accordingly, (I suggest a minimum of four days) and you’ll have a blast!
YNP sits on top of four overlapping volcanic depressions called “calderas”. The first volcanic eruption took place about 2.1 million years ago, and the most recent was about 630,000 years ago; which all have contributed to the current landscape of the Park. Half the geothermal features and two-thirds of the world’s geysers are concentrated in Yellowstone. So who actually knows when and if another eruption will take place!?
The park didn’t have webcams back in 1989, when we went for the first time, but now they have ten different ones, so be sure to show your children when you’re planning the trip – it will make the adventure even more exciting for them!
The park usually has a road construction project every year – so be sure to check their website for road closures and/or delays. One time there was construction was on the road to Old Faithful, and we had seen it before, so we decided not to go there at all. If you decide to revisit YNP, like we have, then you’ll grow fond of your favorite places to go and not go lol.
Forest fires occur in YNP each year, and 1988 had the largest fire the park has ever seen; it even has its own Wikipedia page. Almost 250 different small fires started in Yellowstone and the surrounding National Forests between June and August. The winds and drought caused them to all grow into one. Over 9,000 firefighters were assigned and it burned for several months. The fires burned continuously leaving areas looking blackened and dead, but this particular year YNP was overdue for a large fire. Thankfully the plants and trees have been highly successful at regeneration and growth. This particular year was our first road trip to Yellowstone. We went in the summer of 1989 and we were shocked at the immense amount of remnants leftover from the fires of 1988. We were also in awe of all the natural wonders that the park has to offer. Despite the areas which had evidence of a recent burn, we were still able to enjoy this 2.2 million acre majesty.
There’s so much to see and do in YNP that we’ve been four different times, and as you can probably tell, we plan to return many more! The first year we went, we were a bit overwhelmed and wanted to see everything. We have since grown to love certain areas of the park, and know where to hang out. I think the main number one attraction that everyone wants to see is Old Faithful Geyser. From there, you can have your pick of what to see next.
On our second time to the park, our main goal was to visit all of the geysers and mud pots. We did spend quite a bit of time “trolling” in Lamar & Hayden Valleys in search of elk, bear and wolves. It wasn’t until towards the end of our third time there that we really fell in love with Lamar Valley; home to the wolf packs. The wolves were reintroduced in YNP in 1995, and one of the most common and active viewing areas is in Lamar Valley.
Our third time to Yellowstone, we spent the majority of our time in the Mammoth Hot Springs area; where we saw tons of elk. We stayed in Cody, Wyoming, and it was an awesome town. The rodeo was in town, so we went to that one afternoon. It was around July 4th, and everyone in the town was preparing for the annual parade; everyone lined the sidewalks of the main road with their lawn chairs – marking their spots for the next day’s parade. They just leave the chairs there overnight, and undisturbed; it was a rare, yet enjoyable sight indeed.
When our fourth time to go to Yellowstone rolled around, you’d think we’d be expert planners by then, but we were far from it! We began our stay in Jackson, Wyoming, and quickly realized that we made a stupid mistake. We love Lamar Valley; because that’s where the wolves are seen, however, we did not actually think and process that it is about 147 miles from Jackson…each way! We quickly cancelled the rest of our reservation and made a new reservation in the town of Cooke City, which is much closer (129 miles closer to be exact lol). Cooke City might not be the most popular destination, because it only has a few hotels and maybe one restaurant; our picnic basket came in quite handy. This time our flexible itinerary paid off, because the next day we did see a pack of wolves and followed them for two hours!
WHERE TO STAY
In my opinion, West Yellowstone is the most common place to stay; but it really depends on what part of the park you want to see the most. Take the time to do your research beforehand.
We are big fans of PB&J; we love to pack the cooler and have picnic lunches on the roadside, preferably by a river if possible. However, if you’re not a fan of the pb&j, Yellowstone has about 19 different places to grab a bite to eat; from fine dining to cafeterias to snack bars. Here we are at one of the snack bars, enjoying an ice cream treat after our roadside lunch.
In closing, I’d like to talk a bit about respecting Mother Nature and our National & State parks and forests. As you can see in the photo below, this gentleman is standing on top of the arch. This is not in Yellowstone, but it still proves my point: (a) is he disrespecting nature and putting himself and others around him at risk, or (b) is this ok? You decide. I obviously don’t think he should be up there, but park rangers cannot regulate everyone at every moment. If you’ve read my “About” page, then you might remember that I mentioned that our country has over 280 million acres of National & State parks and forests (and grasslands). These are a gift from Mother Nature; let’s help preserve them for future generations to enjoy. Use your common sense and stay off the arches, lol!
#BeRoadTripReady: All I can say is plan, plan, plan; and then be flexible, flexible, flexible. No itinerary should be set in stone; remember the journey is half of the fun! Changing hotels in the middle of your trip might not be the most enjoyable part of your trip; after 30 years of road tripping, I’ve learned that it’s better to stay flexible and find a way to make unexpected changes fun for everyone involved.