Yellowstone National Park is the first national park in the world. It is home to at least 500 active geysers including Old Faithful, which erupts every 35 to 120 minutes. The park is located mostly in Wyoming but also spreads to Idaho and Montana.
The best time to visit is between April to May and September to October when the weather isn’t too hot and there is less people. We planned our week-long trip in the last week of May.
Day 1: We flew in from SFO to HLN and picked up a rental car upon arriving. Since we still had some time to spend in Montana we explored the city and went to Montana Capitol and Cathedral of Saint Helena.
Day 2: We started driving to Yellowstone National Park, which is three hours away from the hotel that we stayed in HLN. The weather was promising when we arrived at Yellowstone. It was a little overcast but not cold, just perfect. After taking pictures at the park signage we went straight to Mammoth Springs Area.
When we got out of the car, we were greeted with the strong odor that’s similar to rotten eggs. It made me gag, but I got used to it after awhile. There was a bison eating on the side of the parking lot so we stopped to watch it. I was too excited to finally see wildlife up close. We were getting comfortable because it was not moving and it was at least two to three cars away from us. All of a sudden it started running towards our car. I’ve never been more scared as I ran for my life and circled back to get in the car. I learned my lesson to keep my distance and be alert at all times especially around wildlife. The National Park Service recommends that you stay away from bisons at least 25 yards away. A bison can weigh up to 2,000 lbs and can run up to 40 mph.
After visiting Mammoth Springs Area we took a trail to the Brink of the Lower Falls. The trail is very easy and only a mile long. At the end of the trail you will be overlooking the waterfall.
Our next stop was Lamar Valley. This has to be the best spot for wildlife viewing out of all the places we’ve been to. We saw a number of bisons in the middle of the day. Although they said that the best time for wildlife viewing is at dawn and dusk. Find a nice spot to park your car and bring a pair of binoculars.
We checked in for the night at Hibernation Station, which is located outside the park. We stayed in a pretty decent size log cabin for $200/night. Considering it’s only three minutes away from the National Park, I think it’s a pretty good deal compared to the prices of the cabins and hotels inside the park. After getting dinner we went to check out Madison Amphitheater where they usually hold an organized stargazing activity. We found a small group in the parking lot where they were setting up what looked like small telescopes. It was pitch dark and I was embarrassed to have my headlights disturb them so I immediately parked the car and turned off the lights. We got out and put our red light headlamps on and scanned the parking lot for any wildlife. I was paranoid that an elk or a bison would sneak up on us because it was an open space and we couldn’t see well. I was also constantly making noise so that the animals will stay away. We stayed there for half an hour but it was too cloudy to see any stars.
Day 3: We checked out of our hotel and explored the Canyon Area. We were walking on wooden boardwalks for the most part so it was pretty easy. We didn’t break a sweat, in fact, we had to wear another layer of clothing because the temperatures in the park could be unpredictable.
Day 4: We stayed in Old Faithful Lodge for the night. This lodge is unbeatable for its price and location. You would have to book months in advance because it can get expensive and usually gets sold out fast. Our lodge had a queen bed, twin bed, and a small bathroom. There is no TV or wi-fi. It’s walking distance to Old Faithful. It also has a cafeteria and bake shop where you can dine and watch Old Faithful at the same time.
After breakfast, we had plenty of time to walk around Old Faithful area. I felt like this trip was the most relaxed trip we’ve ever taken because none of the trails were hard and we weren’t rushing to get from one place to another. After three days of seeing a ton of geysers and smelling rotten eggs I was getting bored and was hoping to see more wildlife. We took our time to watch Old Faithful, walked around the trail loop and went to see Grand Prismatic Spring. Unfortunately, we couldn’t view the Grand Prismatic Spring from the hill above because the trail was closed. It was hard to capture the spring due to the steam and heavily trafficked, narrow boardwalk. We left Yellowstone in the afternoon and headed down to Antler Inn in Jackson, WY to spend the night.
Day 5: We had the whole morning planned out to hike Colter Bay Lakeshore, Grand View Point, and Inspiration Point trails in Grand Teton National Park. But after hiking Colter Bay, somewhere in between car rides we decided to be lazy and just drive around to look for wildlife. We ended up seeing bighorn sheeps. It was quite interesting to watch their behavior. When we spotted the group they were all at the top of the hill. We waited and waited until one of them, I assume the alpha male, started going downhill. The next one waited several minutes before going after the alpha, as if they were surveying the area for any predators. We found out that they had a baby bighorn sheep in the group that’s why they were being extra cautious.
We had lunch and enjoyed a couple of beers at the Old West Day event in Jackson Hole. The event had a number of exciting activities like rodeo, music, arts and crafts, food trucks, and brewfest. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect that day.
Day 6: We left the beautiful, small town of Jackson Hole in the morning. Since it was only a couple of hours away, we decided to go to Idaho Falls and Shoshone Falls. Our first stop was Idaho Falls River Walk. We didn’t really plan on spending a lot of time here. We took a couple of pictures and stayed for a few minutes. Shoshone Falls is located about 2.5 hours away from the River Walk. I was surprised to see how crowded it was. We had to pay an entrance fee of $3. The parking lot was full but we only had to wait a few minutes to get parking. The trail to the observation deck is wet and muddy due to mist from high water flows. Nonetheless, it was an easy 10-minute walk to see the waterfalls.
Day 7: We stayed at Crystal Inn & Suites in Salt Lake City, UT. I highly recommend this place for their clean rooms, inclusive breakfast buffet, and friendly staff. After having breakfast at the hotel we drove around the city. Some of the places we went to were Cathedral of Madeleine, Utah Capitol, Temple Square, and Bonneville Salt Flats. Out of all the places we went to, I was most excited to see the salt flats. I’ve seen the pictures posted on the internet when we were planning this trip and I couldn’t wait to post one myself. It looks different in person. You have to get the right angle and lighting to capture the perfect optical illusion. You can also drive on the salt flats at your own risk.
Day 8: All good things must come to an end. We checked out of the hotel early to drop off our rental car and catch our flight from SLC to SFO. Overall, I was very happy and satisfied with this trip. There were a lot more things we could have done or seen but I’m glad we just took our time and didn’t have to follow a tight schedule like we usually do.