Yellowstone National Park is a 2 million acre geological wonderland containing hot springs, geysers, mountains, canyons, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. This park is a must visit and should be on everybody’s bucket list! We decided to spend the bulk of our time discovering the geological features the park is known for. We spent 3.5 days viewing hot springs, mud pots, fumaroles, and geysers. As a bonus we saw much wildlife while traveling around the park.
We spent the 3 nights of our visit in Shoshone National Forest on the east side of the park about an hour’s drive away.
On our first day in Yellowstone, we decided to drive the Grand Loop so that we could get familiar with park and stop at all of the geothermal features noted on the park map. This drive is 142 miles and can take 4 to 7 hours. We started from the East entrance and headed South toward West Thumb Geyser Basin.
Once we parked at the basin, we walked the boardwalk loop and saw our first collection of steaming hot springs, mudpots and geysers. SO COOL! This was my first time at the park and Alan’s second so, he was recollecting memories from his first time there while I was just in awe. Because this basin sits on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, we had great views and could see the hot water of the springs flow into the cool water of the lake.
Our next stop was Upper Geyser Basin, near the most famous geyser in the park, Old Faithful. Old Faithful is the most predictable geyser and erupts approximately every 90 minutes. It was getting ready to blow when we were walking up to the viewing area. We opted out of taking pics or videos of the eruption so that we could simply take in the geyser’s natural beauty.
After watching Old Faithful, we explored Upper Geyser Basin via the Geyser Hill Loop. This area is has the largest concentration of hydrothermal features in the park. Upper Basin also has 5 out of the 6 geysers for which the park provides prediction times. We tried to catch Daisy Geyser but weren’t able to walk to it quick enough and saw the eruption from a distance. Luckily, there was plenty more to see in the area. I mean, look at this gorgeous hot spring!
We moved on to Midway Geyser Basin, which is home to the largest geyser in the world, Excelsior and the third largest hot spring in the world, Grand Prismatic. Grand Prismatic is one of the most strikingly beautiful features of the park with its deep blue center surrounded by bright yellow and orange streams that tail away from its edge.
Our second to last stop of the day was, Lower Geyser Basin. This basin had the most mudpots than any other area we had seen so far. Our favorite feature here was the Fountain Paint Pots, a boiling mudpot that had created multiple “pots” over time.
Since it was getting late and we had a long drive back to our campsite, we headed out of the park with a final stop at Gibbon Falls. While driving out, we spotted many bison near the Hayden Valley area. We took the photo below from a safe distance and inside the van. A few days after leaving the park, we learned about a 72 year old woman being gored by a bison for getting entirely too close for a photo. Talk about scary!
After entering the park on the East side again, we headed north so we could complete the Grand Loop drive. On our way into the park, we noticed a few people on the side of the road with binoculars. I looked up the hill to see what all the fuss was about and saw a grizzly bear! Alan quickly pulled over and we grabbed our binoculars so that we could get a better look. Some locals that frequent the park informed us that this particular grizzly was more aggressive than most. A park ranger arrived shortly after and used aerial charges to scare it away. Shortly down the road there was another “bear jam”, so we pulled over and saw a grizzly mother and cub. PRETTY AMAZING!
After the bear high, we continued our drive to Mud Volcano and Sulphur Cauldron. These formations were different than what we had seen on Day 1 and, as the name implies, were a lot smellier.
Next we stopped at the Canyon Village area to overlook the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. This was an awesome overlook of one of parks main attractions.
From Canyon Village, we drove to Mammoth Hot Springs to see the famous travertine terraces. We were a little underwhelmed however because the hot springs were not flowing and appeared to have been dry for quite some time. Regardless, we were excited to see some different formations and elk just hanging out in the village.
From here we worked our way south back towards the Grand Loop stopping to see the Artist Paint Pots. These paint pots were similar to the mudpots we saw the day before.
We had some extra time so we decided to try and catch some geyser eruptions at Upper Geyser Basin. Grand Geyser was predicted to erupt at around 5:50 PM with window of +/- 45 minutes. As we walked up at 6 PM, we could see that there was still a crowd gathered awaiting the eruption. By 7 PM, Grand Geyser had still not erupted! There were some people that had been waiting for 2 hours to see the eruption and the crowd was starting to dwindle down. We decided to call it quits because of the long drive back to the campsite and planned to catch as many geyser eruptions on Day 3.
More grizzlies! Apparently the entrance that we entered the park from the past two days was the best place to spot bears. Lucky us! I decided to get creative this time and tried taking a picture of the two bears through the binoculars. Alan had his doubts but it worked! Not the best photo but definitely better than anything our phones or camera could have taken.
We then made our way to see Grand Prismatic for the second time via Fairy Falls trail. Fairy Falls leads you up a hill behind Grand Prismatic for an elevated overlook of the magical hot spring. It was cold and rainy day so the steam coming off the hot spring was heavier than usual. Still very beautiful!
After viewing Grand Prismatic, we drove over to Upper Geyser Basin and committed our day to seeing as many geyser eruptions as possible. We were able to catch Daisy and Grand Geyser erupt. You can check out the videos of the geyser eruptions in the photo/video gallery, here.
We didn’t originally plan on spending a fourth day at the park but we couldn’t leave without seeing Riverside Geyser erupt. So we headed into the park around 6:30 AM to catch the scheduled 8:30 AM eruption. It was a cold and rainy morning but we were still surprised to see that we were the only people awaiting the eruption. This geyser is unique because when it erupts it flows into the Firehole River. After this, we were able to catch the Grand Geyser eruption for a second time (just as impressive the second time) then called it good. The Tetons were calling us so we had to get moving!
WOW! Yellowstone did not disappoint! We had a fantastic time exploring this park and cannot wait to return. Each day was filled with unexpected wildlife sightings and stunning geological features. This is one national park you do not want to miss!
Side note – In the future we will definitely pay to stay inside the park. Driving an hour to our campsite outside of the park was a bit of a drag at the end of a long day exploring the park. Regardless, we had an awesome time here and made lots of awesome memories!
Thanks for reading!
-Alan and Ashby