2 million acres, the world’s largest concentration of geysers and thermal features, majestic mountains, beautiful lodges and wildlife roaming everywhere. That’s just a few of the things you can expect at the world’s first national park. Yup, I’m talking about Yellowstone National Park — a place that has been on my own bucket list for years.
I finally had a chance to make my dream a reality and can say that every single minute spent in Yellowstone was truly special. Part of this was due to the fact that I was guided by a few very knowledgeable locals who know the park inside and out — such a privilege because the park is HUGE and can be overwhelming to navigate. I highly recommend doing a Historic Yellow Bus Tour if you can, but if you want to go at your own pace, I have a top 10 must-see list from Sarah Bierschwale (one of the amazing locals I travelled with who has explored the park for over 10 years). Here are her insider tips for visiting Yellowstone National Park:
1. The Northern Range: A Year-Round Wildlife Playground
The only part of the park open year round, the northern range from Mammoth Hot Springs to Lamar Valley provides some of the best hiking, wildlife watching and skiing. Each season offers something unique. Come in spring to experience adorable newborn bison and elk calves, summer for premiere hiking, fall to witness the elk and bison rut with males battling it out, or winter to hear the howl of a wolf or to cross country ski.
Tip: Head early in the morning or late in the evening for the best chance to view wildlife.
2. Fountain Paint Pots: A Multi-Sensory Experience
I love this boardwalk because it’s a full multi-sensory experience. Hear the gurgle of mud pots, the sulfuric smell of fumaroles, the mist of geyser on your cheek, and the beautiful colors of hot springs all within a short walk.
Tip: Go at sunset for a more intimate experience and beautiful light. Don’t forget to stay on the boardwalks while traveling in thermal areas. Venturing off can be dangerous and sometimes even deadly
3. Old Faithful Inn or Lake Hotel: Iconic Architecture
Yellowstone is home to some historic buildings and iconic architecture. The two gems that stand out to me the most are the Old Faithful Inn and Lake Yellowstone Hotel. Designed by Robert Reamer, he set the standard for national park architecture.
Tip: I love to sit in the lobbies in the evening, grab a drink from the bar, and enjoy live music from local artists.
4. The Bechler Region: A Backcountry Experience
For a longer, backcountry camping experience, head to the southwest corner of the park known as the Bechler. Hiking in this remote corner of the park makes you feel like an early explorer. Discover waterfalls, hot springs (including one you can soak in called Mr. Bubbles!), and amazing wildlife.
Tip: Fall is one of the best times since the snow is melted and the mosquitos are gone.
5. Yellowstone Lake: A Serene Setting
Yellowstone Lake is a region of the park that is beloved by so many locals. I think one of the best ways to experience the vastness of America’s highest alpine lake is to rent a boat or take a Scenicruise. For a grand adventure, take a backcountry shuttle and camp on a remote shore of the Lake in the Thorofare, which is the furthest you can get from a road in the lower 48.
Tip: Head out early in the morning for calm waters.
6. Old Faithful In Winter: A Snowy Wonderland
Everyone has Old Faithful on their bucket list for summer, but they should have it on their list for winter! Head to the heart of the park on a snowcoach (large vehicle with big tires) to experience the silence, solitude and beauty of the geysers and hot springs.
Tip: Adventure out to the geyser basins on skis or snowshoes in winter and practically get it all to yourself! Skis and snowshoes can be rented from the lodges in Mammoth and Old Faithful.
7. Roosevelt Arch: A Grand Entrance
Yellowstone was the first National Park in the world set aside in 1872. It’s full of a rich history and places with a story. The Roosevelt Arch in the North Entrance town of Gardiner, Montana is a grand entrance to the park. The Arch was dedicated and named after President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. It’s my favourite way to enter the park.
Tip: Just past the arch is the entrance sign to Yellowstone National Park. So you can grab a photo of the Arch and sign in one stop. It’s also a great spot to see some wildlife: bison, elk, and pronghorn are known to hang around the area.
8. Roosevelt Lodge: A Wild West Adventure
The park was open long before cars. In those days people would travel for weeks in the park on stagecoach or horse. You can get a small taste of that wild west adventure today at Roosevelt. Hop on a horse, stagecoach, or enjoy an Old West Cookout to transport yourself to the old frontier days in America.
Tip: Feast on the ribs at one of my favourite dining options in the park: the Roosevelt Lodge Dining Room.
9. Mount Washburn: A Bird’s Eye View
For a hike that takes you to soaring heights, hike up Mount Washburn. This is one of my favourite spots to get a bird’s eye view of the park. You can see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the geyser basins in the distance, and on clear days all the way down to the Grand Tetons.
Tip: Get an early start, this hike can get busy later in the day. Plus you’ll have a better chance of seeing wildlife — big horn sheep are known to hang out on top. Keep in mind when encountering any wildlife that you need to keep a distance of at least 25 yards (100 yards for bears and wolves). Take the #YellowstonePledge on social media to help spread the word and lets all explore the park safely!
10. The Grand Canyon Of The Yellowstone: Grand Inspiration
For a grand view, I like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Head to Moran point, which was named after artist Thomas Moran. Moran painted a stunning rendition of the Canyon in April 1872. His art helped inspire congress to preserve and protect Yellowstone as a national park.
Tip: Visit in the morning to possibly get a shot of a rainbow at the base of the lower falls.
One last bit of advice from Sarah:
“The adventures in Yellowstone are nearly endless. There are 2.2 million acres and over 900 miles of trails. I’ve been traveling, living and working in this area for the past 10 years and feel like I’m always discovering something special. Take your time, hit the trails, and be prepared to be surprised by whatever Yellowstone throws your way.”
All of my transportation, meals and accommodations were covered as part of a press trip arranged by the Wyoming Office of Tourism. As always, reviews and opinions are my very own. A huge thanks to Sarah for taking the time to share her insider tips for visiting Yellowstone National Park! I missed some of her fave spots on my own journey and will def be back to experience them!!