From mid to late June until after Labor Day. Just a few things I’ve learned during my first summer in YNP. Yes, this might be a little snarky. But, seriously. Everyone we invited to visit this summer (originally from Montana) was like “Sure! I’ll come in the winter!” Smart.
Thanks to Ryan for most of the photos, since my computer is out of commission.
-Drive into the park ridiculously early (like 5 am). Or drive into the park ridiculously late (like midnight). Otherwise you will be stuck in very long entrance gate lines with city-like traffic. And then when you leave, leave super early before everyone else is trying to get out. If you enjoy traffic jams, long waits, and erratic drivers, enter the park entrances anytime between 9 am and 6 pm. If this was a zombie apocalypse, this would not be a good place to be.
-Basic rules of the road still apply within the borders of YNP. For example, when the speed limit says 45 mph that does not mean 10 mph and it does not mean 65 mph. If there are two yellow lines and a blind corner, you should not pass the car in front of you even if they are driving 10 mph. You must drive on the right side of the road. Crossing the center-line is dangerous and may result in a head-on collision. You may not stop in the middle of the road unless you are about to hit someone or something. If an ambulance is driving behind you with lights and sirens, pull over and let them pass. You may not, under any circumstances, stop in the middle of the road to take pictures of bison, elk, bears, squirrels, or geysers from your car window. If you want to look at the animals from a safe distance, pull over in a safe location. If you are the result of a 45-minute traffic jam because you “had to take a picture of the bison!” you are simply a jerk.
-Do not take pictures while you are driving. This is stupid.
(Besides, you will enjoy the view so much better when standing still).
-Bears probably aren’t going to kill you. But a traffic accident might.
-A note on bison: If you are ten feet away from a bison with your camera, someone might yell, “THAT THING IS GOING TO KILL YOU!” out their car window. And you better believe them, because this is a real possibility. The entrance station pamphlet is no joke. (No, I wasn’t actually the person who yelled that).
-A note on other animals: Do not get so close. If other people are getting close, it is not suddenly okay for you to get closer. In fact, if other people are getting close you are also in danger because of their careless actions. If you want a good picture, get a good zoom lens. Please just respect the animals.
-Grand Prismatic Spring is very beautiful. If you arrive anytime past 9 am you will not find a parking spot. The viewing is a forced march. A better solution is to arrive at the Fairy Falls trailhead by 7 am and view Grand Prismatic from the ridge above. Also, Fairy Falls is a short, flat, and pretty hike. Beyond Fairy Falls is Imperial Geyser. Nobody else will be there.
You shall not pass. (This was in June, not peak season yet).
-Yes, everyone must see Old Faithful. Arrive early. Leave early. Don’t park in handicapped spaces if you are not handicapped. This is illegal and incredibly rude. The overlook is short with minimal elevation gain and a beautiful spot to watch Old Faithful with a sunset. Also, much more enjoyable to watch from above. Maps are $1 of the Geyser Basin and worth your dollar. Go on a walk, but do it early or late.
-On walking: Take water. If you have children or you get hangry or hypoglycemic, take food. A short hike? Yeah, take water. Note: your children might pass out if it is in the mid-90s and they don’t drink or eat anything for four hours. Water, people. It is sort of important.
Moonscape thermophiles at Mammoth. So gorgeous. I don’t want to listen to your phone conversation right now.
-Boardwalk étiquette. You are in a National Park. Stop talking on your cell phone. Also, I realize you and your twelve family members must walk together and hold hands, but other people are walking on the boardwalk. Shoving other people because you can’t not hold hands for seven seconds is really unnecessary. And there is a 200 degree hot spring on the right. Be slightly courteous at least.
-Old Faithful is not the only thing in Yellowstone. Other popular visits include: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mammoth, Lamar Valley, Lake, Hayden Valley (which I would avoid at all costs in the summer)…and of course the handful of geyser basins, springs, mud pots, etc. in the Old Faithful area. Give yourself plenty of time to drive from place to place.
A view from Mt. Washburn.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
-And if you hike 2 miles beyond the popular areas, you will get away from all of the crowds rather quickly. We didn’t backpack in Yellowstone this summer, but there are many opportunities for backpacking. Backcountry permits are easy to obtain and free of charge.
-If you are going to Yellowstone in the summer, go somewhere else. Come back in the fall or spring.
Alternative ideas (in no particular order):
-Grand Teton National Park. Weirdly, people generally follow driving rules in this park. We found a campsite later in the day. It is also very pretty even when it is pouring rain.
-We explored the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness (see Portfolio for photos and a short story)
-Hiking/exploring near Bozeman, MT.
Sacajawea and Naya Nuki Peaks.
-Cowboy Margaritaville (Ryan’s term, not mine). AKA Cody, Wyoming via the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway and Dead Indian Pass. Take a dip in the Buffalo Bill Reservoir. Murky water, but not too cold?
Chief Joseph Scenic Byway.
Buffalo Bill Reservoir
-Lee MetCalf Wilderness.
From Bacon Rind across Snowslip Mtn. and Monument Mtn.
-Hikes around Big Sky, MT.
BeeHive Peak on the left.
So, yes, Yellowstone is quite fabulous in so many ways. Summer is a zoo. Maybe you can survive a visit. Good luck.