Yellowstone National Park
From the UNESCO Description: “Yellowstone National Park is a protected area showcasing significant geological phenomena and processes. It is also a unique manifestation of geothermal forces, natural beauty, and wild ecosystems where rare and endangered species thrive. As the site of one of the few remaining intact large ecosystems in the northern temperate zone of earth, Yellowstone’s ecological communities provide unparalleled opportunities for conservation, study, and enjoyment of large-scale wildland ecosystem processes.”
If you go: Stay in the park, either at one of the nine lodges or five campgrounds, if you can. You’ll save yourself the trouble of having to drive into the park each morning. The park is 3,500 square miles so even if you stay inside the park, you’ll find yourself driving a half hour to an hour to get to your destination. Make reservations several months in advance or you likely won’t get your choice of accommodations.
Each lodging area has its own dining options and they can vary greatly in quality. The two places we ate, Old Faithful Inn and Grant Village restaurant, were both decent. There are some decent regional microbrews on the menu, as well as some bison and elk. Be sure to make dinner reservations at least a couple weeks in advance. One night we got delayed on the trail and missed our reservation. We were out of luck when we tried to get seated without a reservation and ended up eating cereal, potato chips and ice cream we bought at the general store.
Of course, the reason you visit Yellowstone is to see the geysers and geothermal features.You’ll find boardwalks at all the main sites. You could spend an entire week there and not leave the boardwalks. Don’t. There are lots of trail options. The hikes range from easy trails that are well kept and even paved in places, to some serious back country expeditions. You should carve out at least one day for a hike along the Grand Canyon. The views of the upper and lower waterfalls are spectacular. You can actually drive to various lookout points on the north and south rim trails and skip the hiking, altogether, if you want. As such, the lookout points are usually choked with tourists. However, if you hike the rims, you can find yourself in relative seclusion.
Be sure to read up on bear safety and watch the videos posted by the U.S. Park Service. Chances are you won’t see a bear on your hike, but if you do, you need to know how to react because it could be the difference between life and death.
Photos by Joe Newman.