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Yellowstone National Park Planning Guide

Gray Jay by John W. Uhler ©

Areas of Interest

What are your interests? This will help in determining where to spend your time in the park. If you are interested in geysers and thermal features you will want to spend your time in the lower or southern area of the park. If you are interested in wildlife you will want to spend your time around Fishing Bridge, Hayden Valley, Mount Washburn and Lamar Valley. If you are interested in waterfalls you will need to consider other areas.

Length of Time - What to See

I would recommend at least four days to see the major areas of interest in the park. Here are some recommendations for different time frames.

Must See

If you have a limited time in the park, these are the areas that you will want to consider:

Bullet  Geyser areas from Madison to Old Faithful and Firehole Drive and Firehole Falls

Bullet  Mud Volcano Area

Bullet  Canyon - Artist Point, Inspiration Point, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Lower Falls and Upper Falls

Bullet  Tower Falls

Bullet  Lamar Valley - wildlife - antelope, bears, bison, birds, coyotes, elk, mule deer, wolves and more

Bullet  Mammoth - thermal area and Museum

Bullet  Norris Geyser Basin

Bullet  Gibbon Falls

Trip Planning

One Day in the Park

If your interests are Geysers and Thermal Activity, then you will want to visit the area south of Madison Junction. This would include the Lower Geyser Basin, Fountain Paint Pot, Midway Geyser Basin, Biscuit Basin and the Upper Geyser Basin or Old Faithful area. You could easily spend more than half a day at the Upper Geyser Basin / Old Faithful area. Check at the Old Faithful Visitor Center for predicted eruption times of the different geysers in the basin. There are many geysers to watch and enjoy besides Old Faithful and many that are more spectacular. Beehive is tremendous, as is Castle, Giant and others. This total area is filled with geysers, hot pots and pools that are beautiful and fun to enjoy.

If your interest is Wildlife, then you will enjoy the drive from West Yellowstone to Madison. There are buffalo, elk, sometimes moose, Canada geese, ducks, trumpeter swans, coyotes and other wildlife on the hillsides and meadows along the Madison and throughout the area.

Wildlife viewing is not an exact science. They have daily and seasonal habits, but also tend to do what they would like when they like. Usually, the morning and evening is the best time for viewing wildlife as they come out to eat. During the day they normally go into the trees and shade to rest from the heat and from eating.

Grizzly bear watching has been good at Lamar Valley, Fishing Bridge and Hayden Valley. Buffalo, elk, eagles, geese, ducks, otters, black bear and some wolves have been seen from the Mud Volcano area north through Hayden Valley to Canyon.

Two Days in the Park

Geysers - Continue from the first day listed above and then travel to the West Thumb thermal area and then along Yellowstone Lake to Fishing Bridge and then north to the Mud Volcano area for hot pots and mud pots. From this area you can drive north through Hayden Valley to Artist and Inspiration Points, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Upper and Lower Falls in the Canyon area.

From the Canyon area you can then head west to the Norris Geyser Basin for a couple hours. The last major thermal area to see is Mammoth Hot Springs which is north of Norris.

On a two day trip you can get a good glimpse of the park but not much more. Four days would be more ideal to be able to see and enjoy the many different facets of the Yellowstone geyser and thermal areas. I recommend that you make plans to explore one specific area and see all that is there. That way you get to enjoy many things and areas you did not know existed in Yellowstone. It will also help keep you off the roads with all the traffic and conditions mentioned above. Don't be afraid to take a short walk. You really have to leave your car, truck or RV to enjoy the park.

Wildlife - Continuing from day one above, the Lamar Valley area has been fantastic for watching both bears and wolves for the past several years. They are again usually out in the mornings and towards evening. The area from Tower to Roosevelt has been very good for watching black bears. Moose have been seen in the area north of Roosevelt, from the Petrified Tree area to above Elk Creek.

There are moose, elk, mule deer and other wildlife along the drive from Tower Junction to Mammoth. The Blacktail Lakes area is great for watching waterfowl and birds.

The ponds along the highway (Tower Junction to the NE Entrance) from Roosevelt to the Slough (pronounced Slew) Creek campground road are always great for bird watching. We have seen elk, moose and mule deer from the Pebble Creek area to the NE Entrance.

The cliffs and ledges just a few miles north of Mammoth or just inside the north entrance has been great for watching bighorn sheep. Also along this road from the north entrance to Mammoth has been great for watching elk. No one can or will guarantee that wildlife will be in the same spots at the same time, but over the years these areas have been very good for having the best chances for viewing wildlife.

Four or More Days

If you have more time to relax and enjoy Yellowstone, you may want to consider: a few short Hikes, or a fishing excursion on Yellowstone Lake or Boating on the lake. Fishing on the lakes and streams is just about always fantastic. You may also want to consider heading into the Backcountry or photographing all the Birds, Wildlife or Wildflowers. One of my family's favorite things is the Ranger Led Activities and Campfire Programs.

There is no shortage of things to see and do in Yellowstone. It is always changing and evolving. It is great to enjoy Yellowstone in the different seasons - Yellowstone is nature in its grandest splendor and majesty - there is no place like it on earth! Enjoy the wonders, peace, beauty and spirit of Yellowstone.

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