This Memorial day, I finally got a chance to check the Yellowstone National Park off my bucket list. Believed to be the first national park in the world, you can expect to be transported to a different planet as soon as you step in! From lush greenery to alien landscapes covered by eerie fog emerging from the many geysers to the wildlife taking a stroll alongside humans, Yellowstone is a marvel of nature.The fact that this park actually sits atop one of the biggest super volcano only adds to its quirky charm.
How to get there:
We took a direct flight to Salt Lake City from Houston and drove to our cabin in Idaho (about 4 hours away) because it was cheaper to do so. The airport at Jackson Hole apparently has a stunning view of the Rockies and definitely is the most convenient to fly into if you are willing to pay a bit extra. Apart from that, the other nearby airports where you can fly into are Bozeman and Billings in Montana, Cody in Wyoming, Idaho Falls and Pocatello in Idaho. If you wish for a very scenic road trip and have ample time in your hands, you can also fly into Denver for cheap but it’s a 10 hours drive to Yellowstone.
Where we stayed:
We rented a log cabin via Airbnb in Victor, Idaho because it was conveniently midway for everyone in our group of friends. It’s also around 1.5 hours away from both the South Entrance (Jackson) and the West Entrance (in West Yellowstone). Most places inside the park book out well in advance, especially in summer when they notoriously sell out a year before! So plan ahead and if it’s a smaller group, you should definitely call them up to find out about last-minute cancellations.
The most beautiful place to stay outside the park would be the quaint charming city of Jackson. Additionally, its proximity to both the Grand Teton Park and Yellowstone slightly tilts the odds in its favor. If you are looking for cheaper basic accommodation, than West Yellowstone is a decent option.
P.S: Please keep an eye on road closures in the official Yellowstone Park’s website. Google map fails to identify such road closures and you might be forced to take a very long albeit scenic detour through the park, which some of us learned the hard way.
If interested, there are also RV and regular campsites which get filled on a first come first serve basis.
How to get around:
If you are an adventure junkie, do bike or rent a RV to travel in the park. But, if you are a mere mortal like us, please rent a car cause the park is massive – and covering one teeny tiny portion of the park takes a significant amount of time due to the terrain, weather and as well as traffic jams due to the wildlife which is plenty and very easily seen. Be prepared to be in a car all day, so dress for comfort. The weather is unpredictable and changes from sunny to snowy within moments.
What to see:
The park is in itself quite majestic and there is something for everyone to do. One of my favorite areas was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We hiked on the Uncle Tom’s trail to see the Lower Falls here and it was an exhilarating experience. It makes me wonder what Uncle Tom’s earlier guests would have felt when they climbed down the original narrow steps and rope ladder steps to the abyss below.
Another favorite was the Middle Geyser Basin, which houses the Grand Prismatic Lake which was quite impressive with its different colors and atmosphere. Frankly, the Old Faithful Geyser was a let down after the other areas, but we hit pretty rough weather by the time we got there and having to wait for around 20 mins in cold freezing rain only dampened our moods. However, the Old Faithful Inn nearby had a different old charm in itself and I plan to go back one day just for a vacation at this place.
What to eat:
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, please make sure to stock that picnic basket as we did not see a lot of options. For meat lovers, there is bison steak and burgers to be had at the Old Faithful Inn restaurant. Otherwise, there are plenty of spots where you can barbecue and have a picnic near the waterside.
What not to do:
Like I mentioned earlier, Yellowstone sits atop an active volcano. So parts of the park are actually toxic to humans, spewing sulfur gases and other stuff into the air. In spite of visible boards warning people, we came across people who decided that taking the perfect closeup shot of a rock was more important that their personal safety. Additionally, its wildlife is, surprise surprise, actually wild and not accustomed to human interference. But there were many people who followed these animals in close proximity to get a better shot. I was surprised that none of them were mauled by the beasts despite their immature behavior.
On the whole, Yellowstone was a refreshing experience and I am already stocked of being able to visit this place in the depths of winter. A quick google search will tell you what I am talking about!