Yellowstone was the worlds first ever National Park. The unique make up of the land with stunning cliffs and waterfalls combined with the thermal activity of all of the hot pools and geysers make it a truly unique place. Having managed to get a spot online at the Grant Village campsite in Yellowstone for the night we were fairly relaxed heading up there and could enjoy the scenery a little more than the usual rush to get to a camp to find a spot.
Driving into the park we headed to the visitor centre at grant village to get some info on what to do, we already had an idea but like to check in with the rangers for any inside tips. Unfortunately we came across probably the most useless ranger in the park service who didn't seem interested one bit so headed out with our initial plan up to the geysers on the west side of the park. Yellowstone is BIG. To get the most of of the park we planned for 3 days there so we could travel around without having to rush and after a good 40 minute drive to the geysers, not even a quarter of the way around the park loop we were glad we planned so much time here.
We headed to the furthest point in the geyser section, the Lower Geyser Basin to check out our first geysers of the day. The landscape is so strange along this section, colourful thermal pools lining the roadway with steam rising up out of the ground.
We then drove back down towards the Mid Basin where we would find the Grand Prismatic spring, I'll let the photos do the talking on this one. We visited from both sides, the lower reached via a short boardwalk and the upper along a 1km dirt path with a short hike up to an overlook.
We then headed to perhaps the most famous thing in the park, the Old Faithful Geyser. Old faithful erupts every 90 minutes or so (give or take 10 mins) so we arrived early to ensure we didn't miss it and to get a good spot on the benches that surround it. Personally I was left a bit disappointed with it, I'd imagined this huge spurt of water going hundreds of feet into the air but in reality it reached about 50ft which looked pretty small. Maybe I've just seen too many amazing things of late but I'm sure the one we saw in Iceland a couple of years back was better(?).
We then stuck around to do a guided ranger talk around many of the other pools and geysers in the area as Georgina needed to do a ranger activity so that she could get her Junior ranger badge for the park. The junior ranger is a program that each of the parks run where kids (and easily excitable adults) complete a booklet full of activities in order to become a junior park ranger. You have to complete a page for however old you are, so if your 6 you have to complete 6 pages to get your page. George had to complete the whole book! Ha!
Back at camp we managed to have our second shower in two days (a record on this leg of the trip) and quickly set up camp before heading to bed.
With the west ticked off it was time to head east and just like Grand Teton we had to be up early to hit Hayden Valley at peak wildlife spotting time. Yellowstone famously reintroduced wolves a few years back and two spots, the Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley were excellent opportunities to see them (allegedly).
One good thing about this early wildlife spotting is that we generally get to see the sunrise and sunset each day which in these parts of the world can be pretty spectacular.
Our first spot of the day was two bison heading down to a small picnic area by the river (not sure what they had in their packed lunch) so we pulled in to watch them for a little bit until George accused me of engine herding them into crossing the river. Having seen the bison from afar it was great to see them much closer but I'd be lying if I didn't say they were scary. They are bloody huge!
Next stop was Canyon Village where many lookouts on either side of the Canyon rim give spectacular views of the Canyon, waterfalls and river cutting through the rock below. We also managed to spot some nesting ospreys on the nearby rocks which was cool.
With no camp booked and all of the ones in the park fully booked we decided just to take an incredibly slow drive north east to head out of the park stopping at every opportunity to spot the wildlife. Pleased with our two bison we were then left amazed when we stumbled across literally thousands of them in the Lamar valley in the afternoon. Considering they were reduced to only 20 males due to poaching it was an amazing sight to see after many hard years of conservation in the park.
Just outside of the park in the north east corner were a couple of campsites so we headed out there and got lucky by snagging the last spot at the first one we went to. Unfortunately the camp didn't allow soft sided vehicles or tents due to the bears/wolves so we made do and slept in the car once again.
Where are the wolves!! Having spotted bears in Grand Teton I desperately wanted so see a wolf in Yellowstone so we headed back into the park at sunrise to see if we could spot a pack in the Lamar valley. After driving up and down the same stretch of road at least 6 times and for about 3 hours dodging the bison along the way I had to make do with a coyote before eventually giving up to continue our journey west.
We eventually hit the mammoth springs area of the park where more thermal features can be seen and where Georgina swore her oath to the National Park Service and qualified as a junior park ranger after completing her colouring in/word search book. Geek.
Initially we had planned 3 nights in Yellowstone but with no camps available in the park and being satisfied that we had seen enough we instead drove north out of the park towards Glacier National Park in Montana. This was a complete change to our itinerary as we had planned to drive west after Yellowstone to visit Seattle before continuing north back into Canada however by heading north to Glacier we would then re-enter Canada near Calgary giving us opportunity to visit some parks in Canada along the way west to Whistler.
Having found a cheap(ish) motel in Helena, Montana we sat down and looked back at an incredible few days spotting the wildlife in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks and couldn't help think that including this part of America instead of travelling down to LA was a bloody good decision.