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Tips for Yellowstone National Park | Roadtrip USA (36)

Oh Yellowstone, where do I start? This absurdly big national park in America actually has everything that makes a nature lover's heart beat faster. Huge waterfalls, mountains, volcanic activity and a wide variety of wildlife. We thought in Grand Teton National Park (which is directly adjacent to Yellowstone National Park), to have seen everything. But how wrong we were! Yellowstone does share the animals with the aforementioned park, but is otherwise completely different.

Nowhere in the world is there so much volcanic activity. You drive and walk here on one of the largest and most dangerous stratovolcanoes in the world. In this article I will tell you everything about the park, the geology, the animals and of course our personal experience.


Plan your vacation to America here


Our journey through the United States and Canada

This article is part of a major one-year journey that we (Chris and Malou van Wereldreizigers.nl), are currently making by the United States en Canada† We started in New York City and are through Washington DC en Baltimore (where we shipped our RV), first traveled south (Florida) and then made a full round of the country.

Organizing this trip took a lot of time and energy. So we had to US B1/B2 visa of one year and we spent weeks working on it renovating our 4×4 camper† Then we got to work on the RV to America to ship and in hindsight it turned out to be a Dutch vehicle insurance in America to be one of the biggest challenges.

When that was all over, we could finally focus on the anticipation: figuring out and planning all the beautiful places we want to visit. I built the ultimate roadtrip route through America and Canada of roughly 50.000 kilometers in Google maps and we are now making our dream come true! The interactive map can be viewed below.

More blogs from our trip through America and Canada

About Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is a national park in the United States and is mainly located in Wyoming. The park also has small areas in the neighboring states of Montana and Idaho. Yellowstone covers an area of ​​8983 km², making it one of the largest national parks in the United States. In addition, Yellowstone National Park borders Grand Teton National Park, which makes a combined visit to the two completely different parks extra attractive.

The name

How did Yellowstone get its name? It is named after the Yellowstone River, the major river that flows through it. The river gets its name from the Minnetaree Indians, who called it Mitse a-da-zi or Yellow Rock River, most likely because of the yellowish formations of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

The river gets its name from the Minnetaree Indians, who called it Mitse a-da-zi or Yellow Rock River
The river gets its name from the Minnetaree Indians, who called it Mitse a-da-zi (Yellow Rock River).

The geology

The Yellowstone Plateau volcanic field forms the high continental divide between the northern and middle Rocky Mountains. Due to its immense size, Yellowstone is seen as one of the most dangerous super volcanoes in the world. A new eruption could cover the entire world with smoke and ash, blocking sunlight for quite some time. The thick smoke and ash in the stratosphere could trigger a sudden new ice age in extreme amounts. Weird to think about that.

But how did it all come about? Over the past 2,2 million years, the 17.000 km2 Yellowstone Plateau has gradually formed through explosive eruptions and deep ground collapses. Thick lava flows and extensive fractures in the Earth's crust caused eruptions of unprecedented power. The result is a crater with a diameter of +- 45 miles, roughly 70 kilometers. Just realize how huge this is! With a diameter of 70 kilometers, the crater would cover a large part of The Netherlands fogging up.

Yellowstone National Park| Upper Geyser Basin
Yellowstone National Park | Upper Geyser Basin

The giant crater is therefore capable of spewing massive amounts of magma from the volcano should it erupt again. Fortunately, it doesn't look like the volcano is about to erupt for the time being. It is estimated that this happens once every 600.000 to one million years.

The animals

The wildlife that visitors love to see in Yellowstone include bears, wolves, moose, deer, bison, badger, otters, and foxes. Gray wolves were reintroduced in 1995 and with success. More than 370 gray wolves currently live in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, and the numbers continue to grow. A small number of Lynxes also live in the park, but it will be very difficult to spot these extremely rare mammals.

A bison was walking quietly on the road as we drove into Yellowstone early in the morning
A bison was walking quietly on the road as we drove into Yellowstone early in the morning

No matter how sweet and relaxed they look (this bison walked quietly past our car and ignored us), they can still be very aggressive. To each other, but also to people. Below is a short video of the brute strength of these beasts.

The dead

Since Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, eight people have been killed by bears in the park. However, this number is insignificant compared to the number of people who have drowned (121 incidents). The icy water surprises many experienced swimmers.

The number of people who died from burns or the complete dissolution of their bodies (very sinister) is also considerable, with 21 incidents. Some hot springs are so toxic that it dissolves the skin, body, and even bones.

Yellowstone National Park| Upper Geyser Basin
Yellowstone National Park | Upper Geyser Basin

Finally, there have been 26 fatal incidents by suicide. These are people who have deliberately fallen into one of the poisonous wells.

The best travel time

The best months to visit Yellowstone are basically (weather permitting) April, September and October. These “off-season” months offer the best chance of spotting wildlife. Bears come out of hibernation between March and April, migratory birds arrive just before May and moose is suffocating from early September to late October.

High season is in May, June, July and August. Much busier than in the other months, so the animals move into the woods much more and it is more difficult to spot them.

Important note: Heavy snowfall in the early and late seasons can seriously disrupt 'best travel time'. This year (2022), for example, there was still so much snow and ice in April that the park was barely passable. At the end of May it still snowed regularly and in early June there was even massive flooding after heavy snowfall and rain, destroying and washing away entire roads and even bridges.

The America The Beautiful pass

This pass is a must-have for anyone traveling through America and costs $80. The pass gives you free access to all national parks in America and can therefore also be used for Yellowstone National Park. The pass costs only 80 dollars, so you already have this amount if you visit three or more national parks in America within one year.

Tip:: America The Beautiful pass is for sale at all visitor centers of the national parks† It is not necessary to order these in the Netherlands, for example – you will then save unnecessary shipping costs.

Yellowstone National Park Attractions

Madison River

The Madison River meanders west of Yellowstone National Park to the town of the same name, West Yellowstone (location here ). We stayed for two nights in the woods near West Yellowstone and therefore drove back into the park early in the morning along the Madison River.

Bison in the early morning in Yellowstone on the Madison River
Early Morning Bisons in Yellowstone on the Madison River

This ride is not a punishment early in the morning, because you already see so much beautiful nature and wild animals on the way. We saw groups of bison on the northern side of the river just after sunrise, as the fog slowly lifted.

Early Morning Deer and Elk in Yellowstone on the Madison River
Early Morning Deer and Elk in Yellowstone on the Madison River

On the south side of the river we saw deer and elk grazing in the valley. Again I would like to emphasize to therefore leave as early as possible. It is a busy park and as soon as the train of cars and campers enters the park (after 08:30), all these beautiful animals move back into the forests and hills, so that you can hardly spot them.

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin is Yellowstone National Park's most active, hottest, and most dynamic basin. Here you can hear a constant hiss from the countless geysers around you. In the first part you walk past the famous 'steamboat', the Steamboat Geyser. With the very constant plume of steam above it, it is not very complicated to understand why it has been given this name.

Steamboat Geyser in Norris Geyser Basin
Steamboat Geyser in Norris Geyser Basin
Steamboat Geyser in Norris Geyser Basin
Steamboat Geyser in Norris Geyser Basin

If you walk a little further along the beautifully landscaped paths, you will spot dozens of other geysers in the hills. The geyser-filled hills are very dynamic. Due to the immense pressure from under the earth's crust, parts sometimes rise a few meters, and then sink again. This is not visible to the naked eye, this is a process that takes months or years.

Numerous geysers in the hills of the dynamic Norris Geyser Basin
Numerous geysers in the hills of the dynamic Norris Geyser Basin

Midway Geyser Basin

This is where the world famous Yellowstone photos come from. The place where every nature documentary shows you the most beautiful shots, the extremely colored geysers.

Midway Geyser Basin
Midway Geyser Basin
Midway Geyser Basin
Midway Geyser Basin

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

The Grand Prismatic Hot Spring is the most famous hot spring in the world. You can take a nice walk around it via the landscaped walkways. It can get very busy here, so go early in the morning or in the evening. During the day, depending on the weather and the position of the sun, the colors you see in the source change.

Grand Prismatic Spring | Midway Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic Spring | Midway Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic Spring | Midway Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic Spring | Midway Geyser Basin

Where the splendor of this source really comes into its own is from a distance. From a distance and a bit in height you can see all the colors of the rainbow in the edges. The colors are caused by different algae that somehow manage to survive in the extremely poisonous, boiling hot water.

Grand Prismatic Spring | Midway Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic Spring | Midway Geyser Basin

We were there early in the morning with a cool temperature, that's the reason you see so much steam. Later in the day, on hot days in the summer, you see less steam and more colors, but it is also very crowded. To really get a good picture of this beautiful natural appearance, you actually have to get up into the air. I had my drone with me, but flying here is strictly prohibited. To give you an idea of ​​what it looks like in its entirety, I took the image below from the internet (Wikipedia) picked.

Photo by Jim Peaco, National Park Service - https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=326389
Photo by Jim Peaco, National Park Service – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=326389

Upper Geyser Basin

Another cool place in Yellowstone National Park is the Upper Geyser Basin. You can get very close to some of the most toxic sources in the park here.

Yellowstone National Park| Upper Geyser Basin
Yellowstone National Park | Upper Geyser Basin

We had already mentally prepared ourselves for the smell of rotten eggs (the smell of sulfur), but it was actually not too bad for us. So not something to worry about.

Yellowstone National Park| Upper Geyser Basin
Yellowstone National Park | Upper Geyser Basin
Yellowstone National Park| Upper Geyser Basin
Yellowstone National Park | Upper Geyser Basin
Yellowstone National Park| Upper Geyser Basin
Yellowstone National Park | Upper Geyser Basin

Old faithful

Old Faithful is Yellowstone's most famous geyser in the park. It got its name from its frequent and fairly predictable eruptions. The geyser is located at the Upper Geyser Basin and attracts a lot of attention!

Old Faithful and a Rainbow in Yellowstone National Park
Old Faithful and a Rainbow in Yellowstone National Park

It can spray up to 30 to 55 meters high. Between 14.000 and 31.800 liters of water, with a temperature of almost 100 degrees, is released. It erupts approximately every hour and a half and for several minutes. The park rangers predict the eruption using a math formula and the previous eruption.

Yellowstone National Park | Old Faithful and the public
Yellowstone National Park | Old Faithful and the public
Old Faithful in a quiet moment
Old Faithful in a quiet moment

Western Thumb

West Thumb is close to Lake Village and from here you have a beautiful view of the icy Yellowstone Lake in addition to the various mud pools, boiling hot springs and geysers.

Yellowstone National Park | Western Thumb
Yellowstone National Park | Western Thumb

It's crazy to think that the boiling—and highly toxic water—in these springs seeps into the lake almost constantly and still allows fish to live in them.

Malou in West Thumb | Yellowstone National Park
Malou in West Thumb | Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park | Western Thumb
Yellowstone National Park | Western Thumb

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and its waterfalls are located in the northeastern part of the park. This part was temporarily closed in June, exactly when we wanted to visit the park, due to heavy rainfall that washed away roads and bridges. Fortunately we had the time to wait. After a week or two, most of it opened again and we were able to go there anyway.

Upper and Lower Falls of Yellowstone

We visited the upper and lower falls of Yellowstone (location here ) towards evening on a fairly cloudy day. Still, even without bright sunlight it was a great spectacle to watch.

Yellowstone National Park | Lower Falls
Yellowstone National Park | Lower Falls

The yellow rocks on either side of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, that's where the name Yellowstone comes from. We took the pictures from the viewpoint called 'Artist point' (location here ). From there you have a beautiful view of the falls and the Yellowstone canyon on both sides.

Yellowstone National Park | Lower Falls
Yellowstone National Park | Lower Falls
Squirrel at Artist Point, the viewpoint over the falls
Squirrel at Artist Point, the viewpoint over the falls

Lamar Valley

In addition to all the natural violence of the canyons, waterfalls and geysers, there is also Lamar Valley. Suddenly you imagine yourself in a completely different landscape. As if you are suddenly in the green hills of Germany or France with lots of flowers and cows (Bisons in this case). Even with the cloud cover this day, the valley was still beautiful to look at.

Bison in Lamar Valley
Bison in Lamar Valley
Elk in Lamar Valley
Elk in Lamar Valley

Wild camping just outside Yellowstone

Right in between Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone we found the most beautiful wild camping spot (location here ) where we have stayed so far! We found him through iOverlander and stayed there for four nights.

Snake River with morning dew at 06:00 in the morning
Snake River with morning dew at 06:00 in the morning

We were right on Snake River. The water temperature was very pleasant due to the nearby natural hot springs. Every morning we looked out over the river with a cup of coffee in hand. We were hoping to see bears, but unfortunately that didn't happen. We did see deer, elk and otters!

Snake River with morning dew at 06:00 in the morning
Snake River with morning dew at 06:00 in the morning

Besides being a beautiful place, it was also cozy. We have met many other travelers and we like to tell about them.

The cyclists from the Netherlands

Jacko and Marijn, cycling through Canada and America all the way to South America
Jacko and Marijn, cycling through Canada and America all the way to South America

We had just settled in when these Dutchmen arrived by bike! Jacko and Marijn cycle from Canada to Argentina.

We shared travel stories, drank some beers and were attacked by a billion mosquitoes. The next day we shared another breakfast before they had to pack everything up and set off.

Hi Jacko and Marijn, have a good cycling trip!
Hi Jacko and Marijn, have a good cycling trip!

Bus Lightyear and thatcutelittlervfamily

John was also at the campsite with his French bulldog Carlos! John has a cool school bus with which he travels around America. He bought this one from NASA with the name Bus Light Year. He has an Instagram page full of cute pictures of Carlos; bus_light_year. John told us a lot about his adventures with the bus and dog.

Malou and 'pig dog' Carlos
Malou and 'pig dog' Carlos
Fun while wild camping at Yellowstone National Park
Fun while wild camping at Yellowstone National Park

The children of our camping neighbors were always struggling in the water. Four years ago, the family lived in San Francisco until they decided to travel. They have visited almost all (!) states of the United States since then. They share their adventures and family life on the road on Instagram; thatcutelittlervfamily.

Campfire Fun - Wild Camping at Yellowstone on the Snake River
Campfire Fun – Wild Camping at Yellowstone on the Snake River

We made it up late one night with John, Sandra, Julio, a campfire, whiskey, gin and of course lots of fun!

Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

Normally Malou and I don't go to places where they keep animals in captivity, but there are some exceptions. The Grizzly and Wolf discovery center in West Yellowstone (location here ), is one such exception. Here you will find animals, mainly Grizzlies and Gray Wolves, that can no longer live in the wild for various reasons. The park is more or less part of the national parks, is run by the US government and is not for profit. All the animals there are there for a reason and unfortunately that usually has something to do with people.

Also read: Do not swim with dolphins and do not take elephant rides

The people have ruined it

The main reason they have grizzlies here is that humans have ruined it for them. The grizzlies that live in the center have all come into contact with people, especially the food and waste they leave behind in the national parks.

Grizzlies seek high-calorie foods

Once a grizzly bear has eaten the high-calorie food of humans, it's the end of the story for the bear in 90% of the cases. Not because the food is necessarily bad for him, but because they then look for more. They break open cars and trash cans and get dangerously close to people, in cities and towns, in search of more. Usually the only option is to kill the grizzly bears to avoid casualties.

The largest grizzly bear in the Grizzly and Wolf discovery Center, a thick 475 kilos of muscle power
The largest grizzly bear in the Grizzly and Wolf discovery Center, a thick 475 kilos of muscle power

With every bear a personal story

The bear you see in the photo above is the largest you can admire here, weighing 475 kilos. I can't remember his name, but I read this bear's story on the information board.

The bear once encountered high-calorie foods from humans and then went in search of more, climbing on pickup trucks, breaking open several cooler boxes and cars. He moved more and more into the towns and cities and became very aggressive and dangerous to people.

Twice the bear has been sedated, captured and released deep into the forests of the park in the hope that he would stay away. Unfortunately, every time the bear came back to the people in search of high-calorie food.

In many cases the bears are killed

Normally there is only one thing left to do: kill the bear to protect the people. Unfortunately, hundreds of black and grizzly bears are killed for this reason every year. However, this bear is one of the lucky ones who was allowed to live. He was given a new life in captivity to inform people about, among other things, the impact and the dangers of our actions.

Grey Wolf

The wolves in the Grizzly and Wolf discovery Center were born elsewhere in captivity and can no longer live in the wild. The institutions they were born into had no room to keep them, and the GWDC was able to provide them with a home, rather than finish them.

Gray wolf at the Grizzly and Wolf discovery Center | West Yellowstone
Gray wolf at the Grizzly and Wolf discovery Center | West Yellowstone

More than 370 gray wolves currently live in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, and numbers have happily continued to grow since reintroduction and active conservation. Yet it is very exceptional to spot one or more in the park, because they are not often seen during the day. This is probably your best chance to see one up close.

Birds of prey

All birds of prey permitted to reside at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center have been identified by veterinarians as non-releasable in the wild. Some birds have been hit by vehicles and can no longer fly or see well.

Below is a Bald Eagle named Josh (right), a male American Bald Eagle. Josh was shot in the left wing by someone, resulting in severely broken bones and the presence of lead particles in his wing. Unfortunately, the wing had to be amputated at the wrist. It is named after an army veteran who served in Iraq. Josh and the other raptors at the center are used for outreach and educational programs in an effort to generate a better understanding and deeper appreciation for the species.

Jordan (left) and Josh (right) are bald eagles at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
Jordan (left) and Josh (right) are bald eagles at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center

Below you can see Clark, a male great horned owl. He was found in 2015 on the ground under his nest with an eye injury. After spending some time at the Montana Raptor Conversation Center, it was determined that he cannot hunt alone and therefore can never be released back into the wild.

Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
Clark, a male great horned owl with one eye | Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

Conclusion

Yellowstone belongs on the bucketlist of every nature lover. It is a huge and very special park not only for the extreme geology and volcanic activity, but also for the countless beautiful animals that you can spot. You can drive here for a short while and end up in a completely different landscape, around every corner there seems to be a new surprise.

Yellowstone National Park actually has everything that makes a nature lover's heart beat faster. Huge waterfalls, mountains, volcanic activity and a wide variety of wildlife. The park is therefore a must-visit if you are traveling through America.


Plan your vacation to America here


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Chris

Owner of Wereldreizigers.nl † Discover the world!

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➡️ 2022 - 1 year United States & Canada

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