7 Things you MUST do when you’re in Yellowstone National Park

After taking our road trip from Denver through Wyoming, we arrived late (and tired!) to Yellowstone. We woke up still tired, but ready for some action and excitement. For the three following days that we spent in Yellowstone, we had plenty.

If you’ve got Yellowstone on your bucket list, I highly recommend you do the following: 

  1. BYOF (bring your own food)
    Though we were staying in a lodge, and not camping (because BEARS and in general we’re kind of like this

    but with hiking boots) we figured it was best to come with our own food. However, when we found ourselves in the last town just after the sun disappeared behind the horizon, we were less concerned with food and figured we’d deal with park options.

    If three nights of grilled cheeses and just lettuce salads or hamburgers and hot dogs aren’t your jam, there’s a cafeteria. With cafeteria food. We shopped in the general store and got a lot of produce, but none of it tasted fresh. Yellowstone has one contracted company for all of it’s food services, so they’re not shipping in the best of the best. But, we didn’t come for the food!

  2. See the hydrothermal features
    I mean, duh. Most of Yellowstone National Park sits atop a massive supervolcano. Geological studies have shown that there have been three supereruptions from the caldera over the last 2.1 million years, which has caused the features of Yellowstone to be unique. At Yellowstone, you can find the highest concentration of geysers in the world–in fact, over half of the world’s geysers can be found here. You’ve certainly heard of the always on time Old Faithful, but there are many other geysers that are more powerful, yet less timely.The hydrothermal wonders of Yellowstone don’t stop there.  You can find many hot springs, travertine terraces, fumaroles, and mud pots. In fact, they’re everywhere and hard to miss. The first we saw were fumaroles, or steam vents. From a further distance, I thought it was a forest fire.  Geothermal features of Yellowstone National ParkThere were tons of hot springs. Inside the hot springs live millions of thermotolerant and thermophilic microbacteria, meaning they can live and thrive in temperatures that would kill all other species. The different types of bacteria cause the water and areas surrounding the spring to appear to be an array of vivid colors. The springs can be very small, like this one:Geothermal Features in Yellowstone National Park: Springs
    Or very large, like the ever-so-Pinterest-popular Grand Prismatic SpringGrand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National ParkGeothermal Features in Yellowstone National Park: SpringsGeothermal Features in Yellowstone National Park: SpringsGeothermal Features in Yellowstone National Park: SpringsGeothermal Features in Yellowstone National Park: Springs
    This is what a geyser looks like when it’s not erupting.Yellowstone on an EPIC U.S. Road Trip-11
    As tempting as it may be, stay on the boardwalks!Yellowstone on an EPIC U.S. Road Trip-12
    Morning Glory Pool is the second most popular of the hot springs, because of its vivid colors. However, over the years people have thrown so much trash into the spring’s center that it has clogged some of the heat source which disallows for some of the thermophiles to thrive. Seriously, folks?! Trash? I would believe it less had I not overheard someone’s conversation at a more open spring saying, “Is that a hat in there? I wonder if my flip flop would melt. I’d throw it in if so many people weren’t around.”

    I feel ya, Professor Farnsworth.

    Yellowstone on an EPIC U.S. Road Trip-13Morning Glory pool in Yellowstone National ParkMorning Glory pool in Yellowstone National ParkMorning Glory pool in Yellowstone National ParkEPIC U.S. Road Trip-26EPIC U.S. Road Trip-27EPIC U.S. Road Trip-28Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park
    This is one of the Terraces. They’re known as “living sculptures” because their shapes and colors are always changing, due to the water consistently trickling from the top and the thermophiles that live on them.EPIC U.S. Road Trip-37

  3. See Wildlife
    ♪♫♪Where the buff-a-lo roam, and the deer and the antelope play♪♫♪
    I’m pretty sure this song was written about Wyoming. When we were planning our trip, I was worried we wouldn’t actually see any wildlife. Boy, was I wrong!
    Bison in Yellowstone National Park
    Bison are the most prevalent large mammals in the park, but in the late 1880s, they were hunted to near extinction. The park service took measures into their own hands in 1902 by introducing 21 Goodnight bison to Lamar Valley, then managing them as livestock for sixty years. The park remains the only place in the U.S. where bison have not been completely extirpated.The park now maintains a policy of natural regulation, but the bison’s large stature (up to 2,000 pounds!) and shaggy fur are perfect for the harsh winters of Yellowstone–the number one killer of animals in the park.

    Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park
    From Lamar High School to Lamar Valley: 13 years of friendship! 🙂

    Bison in Yellowstone National ParkBison in Yellowstone National ParkBison in Yellowstone National ParkBison in Yellowstone National ParkBison in Yellowstone National ParkBison in Yellowstone National ParkBison in Yellowstone National ParkThings to see and do in Yellowstone National Park flipAnother great place to check for wildlife is in Hayden Valley. We passed through it during sunrise, but the fog didn’t allow us to see many animals. Sunrise and Sunset are the two best times of the day to look for wildlife.

    We saw many elk as we were driving around, and on our final morning, as we were leaving, we finally saw a black BEAR! And it was far, far away, just as we had hoped. EPIC U.S. Road Trip-39
    Remember: these are WILD animals. The Friday before our arrival, an employee of the park was brutally murdered by a grizzly bear. Photos you see that appear to be taken up close were shot with a telescopic lens. Be safe out there!

  4. Get on the beaten path
    When we told our friends in Denver about our plans to go to Yellowstone, we were warned for the first time, “It’s like f—ing Disneyland over there. People are everywhere and you’ll get in a traffic jam so some [sic] can take a picture of a buffalo.”Nothing in my online research prepared me for the sheer amount of people that were there. It was like Disneyland.Three million people visit the park each year, most of which come in the summer months, but only five percent of those visitors get off of the boardwalks (built around the hydrothermal features) or roads and enjoy the trails of the Yellowstone backwoods. Bring bear spray, and go for a hike,Yellow-bellied Marmot in Yellowstone
    ride a horse,EPIC U.S. Road Trip-41
  5. Or get into the water!
    The Thumb Geyser Basin Day Paddle kayak tour was one of the highlights of the whole trip. Only in the cool water of the lake were we able to reach out and experience the warm runoff from the hydrothermal features, and we saw everything from a new perspective.Kayak Thumb River Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park
  6. Get high and see the sunset
    But not like, Denver high. Altitude high, from Mt. Washburn. As the elevation got higher, Tina and I got sillier and sillier. Altitude sickness is real for southerners like us, y’all. Yellowstone on an EPIC U.S. Road Trip-50
  7. Fall for it
    Yellowstone is home to hundreds of waterfalls, some of which are still undiscovered, even by waterfall hunters like those interviewed in the documentary, Secret Yellowstone (available on Netflix, currently). If you’re wanting a workout, go down Uncle Tom’s trail for an up close view of the grandest fall, in the heart of The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.EPIC U.S. Road Trip-32
    Or check out Artist’s Point, the most photographed view in all of the park. It’s the same fall.EPIC U.S. Road Trip-33
    OR, you can stop off at some smaller falls and quietly enjoy nature without the crowds (our preferred method.)Yellowstone on an EPIC U.S. Road Trip-30 Yellowstone on an EPIC U.S. Road Trip-24 Plus, when you get away from the crowds, you can give yourself some relaxation. This is a vacation, after all!EPIC U.S. Road Trip-31

This post was the fourth in a series about a girls’ trip I took for seven days driving from Denver, Colorado to Yellowstone National Park, to Grand Teton National Park.

If you’d like, head over and read the first post about Indian Peaks Wilderness Trail in Arapaho National Forest, the second, which is about The Highest Road in the U.S., and the third, which tells of the sights and experiences as we took a drive from Denver, through Wyoming, to Yellowstone National Park

For more Yellowstone tips, check out Yellowstone Dos and Don’ts.

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