Monday, September 30, 2013

Yellowstone National Park- Some insider tips, hikes, and must see places in the Fall.

I wasn't really sure what to expect when we started planning this trip . We watched some youtube videos as well as some PBS documentaries. I tried to do some research online but was overwhelmed with the amount of generic information. Of course a lot of websites I found suggested to go during the summer, well, we just didn't haven't that option. It was either go now or not be able to see everything because things close after October. I even had a hard time just finding a decent map. It wasn't until we pulled into the east entrance where we finally had some type of game plan or organization. For those that are planning a trip here are some tips and tricks we wished we would have known before we made it to Yellowstone.

First off,, TA- DA , the map

OK,'s much, much easier if you think of Yellowstone as two clocks (VERY big clocks) . The campgrounds are very spread a part. That's the other thing we didn't really know, Yellowstone is HUGE. We came from Cody (the east entrance ) with only a few stops for pictures, we ended up driving for almost 2 hours to get to Norris campground

OK.. so Tip #1, deciding when to visit. 
     This place is already RV city. I HATE, HATE going to places like this when it's high season. Since we don't have kids yet we don't have to plan around the school year. We just relocated to this area and decided to go as soon as possible (September) to avoid the closings in October (and the cooler temperatures). SO.. I would suggest avoiding the high seasons (aka spring break, 4th of July, memorial day, labor day, almost all of July). I would go early may, early August and on. Otherwise you will wait in line to see the geysers, fight traffic for a parking spot for a rare animal sighting pull off, and fight a sea of tripods to get one shot of some of the most scenic areas. Be warned, if you wait too long (late September/Mid-october) you will be dealing with colder nights, snow/rain, closed roads, rare animal sightings, and closed camp grounds. So, Plan accordingly.

Tip #2 Deciding where to camp. 
   OK, so this could be something you plan OR you could just wing it, like we did. We had a tent and mostly camped just so we could avoid spending $80-$150 on a lodge/cabin or hotel outside of the park. Before coming to the park we had originally planned to stay at Canyon Village. This is a VERY nice area. It has gas, showers, and a general store.  Below is a list of all the sites that are available (depending on the time of year.)
In order of openingDates*Nightly Fee/**SitesElev (ft)FeaturesRV Sites
MammothAll year$20856,200A,F,GMost are pull-through
Madison ΔΩ5/3-10/20$212786,800A,F,NS,DS,GCall for availability & reservations
Fishing Bridge RVΔΩ‡5/10-9/22$45>3257,800F,S/L,DS,G, hookupsCall for availability & reservations
Norris5/17-9/30$20>1007,500A,F,G2 @ 50' (signed); 5 @30'
Tower Fall5/24-9/30$15316,600VAll @ 30' or less; has hairpin curve
Bridge Bay ΔΩ5/24-9/2$214327,800A,F,NS,DS,GCall for availability & reservations
Canyon ΔΩ5/31-9/8$25.502737,900A,F,S/L,DS,Gcall for availability & reservations
Indian Creek 6/14-9/9$15757,300A, V10@ 35'; 35@30'-pull-through
6,900VSome long pull-throughs
6/15-10/31$15236,250V14 @ 30', walk through first to assess sites
Lewis Lake6/15-11/3$15857,800VAll @ 25' or less
Grant Village ΔΩ6/21-9/22$25.504307,800A,F,S/L,2S,DS,GCall for availability & reservations
*Campgrounds close for the season at 11 am of the last date listed
Δ Sites you can reserve
Ω Rate does not include tax or utility pass-through
 Site with full hook ups
A Accessible sites available
F Flush toilets
V Vault toilets
S/L Pay showers/laundry onsite
NS Showers not included
2S Two showers included each night
DS Dump station
G Generators OK 8 am-8pm

Here is the link to contact info for the campgrounds 

When we arrived to the East gate entrance there was a sign with all the campsites and their status. Sadly Canyon village was closed for the season and we ended up decided that Norris would probably be the next best camp site for us because of its location. When we arrived to the campsite there was sign saying that it was full. We arrived around 8pm and was extremely frustrated (and exhausted). We went ahead and drove in, and saw a ranger. I went up to his desk and he said if we just had a tent there were a few "walk up" sits available. We soon realized a lot of the "Full" signs were mostly for the RV sights. Most campgrounds have walk up sites where you park your car in a lot and walk a short distance to your tent site. Be warned, even though you paid to get into the park you must pay to camp. If you go after hours you must leave a cash envelope. We brought cash as an emergency and were VERY glad we did. Most sites are $20ish for tents, not sure what the rates were for RVs. So, make sure you double check which sites are open, which allow whatever you're camping in, and which ones have have the amenities you want. During the high season some sites fill up by 8-9am. We arrived around 8-9pm most nights and were able to snatch up the last spot. 

 ANYWAY, we stayed at Norris and had a beautiful morning

Day 2-First full Day in Yellowstone

This was one of the BEST hiking websites I've found for Yellowstone

The next day we decided to hike up to Mt. Washburn. This was probably one of the best hikes in the park. Here is a link I found from trip advisor that had many reviews of this hike

The trail head is pretty easy to find. It has a parking lot as well as a vault bathroom to use before you hike. 

Trailhead - Dunraven Pass
From Canyon Village: Drive approximately 4.8 miles north on the Grand Loop Road heading toward Dunraven Pass and Tower Fall. The trailhead is located on the right at the top of Dunraven Pass

Location: Northeast Section (See map to the right)
Difficulty: Moderate - An out and back
Distance: 6.4 mi/10.2 km round-trip
Elevation Gain: 1,405 ft. -

Getting out of the car at the trailhead, we were met with strong winds. I ended up adding an extra pair of socks and my patagonia "puffy " jacket. Ironically the car lot was the coldest part of the hike. Once we got moving, the sun and the effort of the hike warmed me up pretty quick. I ended up taking off two layers. 

Here are some wildlife / scenic views during the hike

A video of perfect timing: Bear and Deer(sheep?)

The views from the hike were amazing. 

The building is the over look where the hike leads to

Once you get to the top you are greeted with a wonderful view as well as an enclosed building to shelter you from the wind. A GREAT place to eat a packed lunch

I was really glad we did this hike. It was well marked and offered great views.

After the hike we decided to head out to Lamar Valley .

Lamar Valley is off of the Tower Roosevelt junction. It's a huge prairie like area famous for animal spottings. We had probably our best buffalo spotting on our way to Lamar valley as well as once we arrived.

During a huge stop, due to road construction we were treated to a wonderful sighting of a herd of buffalo at a watering hole

One of the reasons why I LOVED being there during the off season. A lot of the times you're driving down the road and you'll just randomly see animals. A lot of times we were the first ones to spot them. We would pull off the road and try to get pictures of them. Then other tourists would pull in front of us (blocking our view) or pull up really close to our car  (almost hitting us) to see the animals as well. I can't imagine what it would be like during high tourist season. For some reason when people go on vacations, they seem to leave their manners and common sense at home. I almost got side swiped by 2 cars at a pull out because they weren't paying attention to where they were driving instead, they were gawking at the animals...*sigh*..

Canyon Rim Trail
  Afterwards we headed back to Canyon village and decided to check out the "Grand Canyon of Yellowstone." It was pretty but I wasn't extremely impressed. Again, it was extremely touristy and we had to dodge people in an out of the parking lots. We walked around the North Canyon Rim trail, again, The view from inspiration point was pretty, but I wouldn't plan a whole day around this area.

We had 2 hours before sunset. We decided to drive 30-40 minutes up to Mammoth and check out the hot springs area, little did we know how much of a treat we were in for.

Josh was filming the hot springs and out of the corner of my eye I saw an elk, finally! our first spotting!
Apparently we were in the middle of elk migration season, there was females and his bull.

They were literally in the middle of this downtown area.

The bull was so aggressive that he had actually rammed the window of this car and broke it. 

This guy was SO big :)

TIP #3 BRING A CAMERA- you never know what you're going to see

That night was the beginning of a nasty storm front . We had AMAZING luck. Our tent was pretty covered with our rain fly but we were in the middle of a huge thunder/lightening storm. I did not sleep well at ALL that night.. So..

TIP #4 have a reliable tent and bring many layers of clothes.
    Now, I'm not saying go out and buy a $300 tent, the one we used was actually 6 years old but in great condition. However, without our good rain-fly all of our bedding (and us) would have been soaked for the rest of the 5 day trip, 3 days into it.
    The websites say be prepared for any weather and during spring/fall I would completely agree, I basically went through many, many layers , less in the afternoon, more in the evening and morning. I was always putting on or taking off layers. Funny enough when we went to buy bear spray at the sporting goods store, before we left, we saw their clearance section. They had ski pants on sale for $25 from $120. I slept in these every night and my legs were never cold. :)

Day 3
   We had planned on doing another hike but had to stick to plan B with the storm and rain that was upon us all day. We decided to pack up our campsite (in the rain) and head down what I like to call Geyser row. The section of Yellowstone (starting at Norris campground and heading south) has the most Geysers in the park, including the Norris Geyser Basin and ending with Old Faithful

Along the way we also found a couple of beautiful waterfalls

Old Faithful
This was the highlight of our day. We arrived about 40 minutes before it shot off again. There was a huge storm approaching. Luckily, it didn't get too bad until after the Geyser erupted 

The visitors center was pretty nice! I enjoyed the video it had playing discussing how important the Geysers and the basins are to Yellowstone

We passed this waterfall (Lewis Lake) on our way south towards the Grand Tetons National Park.

Tip #5- Make a plan
  So, I may have stated this earlier but Yellowstone is HUGE. I did not realize just how big of a park this was. You can spend a whole day driving from Campground to Campground. If you have only a certain amount of days, Make a plan as well as a backup plan for weather.
   We knew we wanted to hike, so we discovered Mt. Washburn, We made loose day itinerarys, things that we really wanted to see. We pretty much saw everything we wanted to see minus a hike or two. It just helps if you are limited to the  time you have to spend in the park

Tip # 6- Scout out gas
   Every time we passed a station (located in the main village campgrounds..btw prepared to pay $$$) I made mental note of the location and how we were doing on gas. Last thing I wanted to do was end up in the middle of no where and have to hike 10-15 miles to get gas.

Packing list-things we loved having 
   OK, so again, we went during the fall. You don't know how amazing it was to have a hot meal every time we ate . I packed a lot of food, and even pre-made some of it before we left. Considering we were mostly used to backpacking trips (aka no car, we carried everything on our backs), having a car to put our stuff in felt like SUCH a luxury.
  1. A burner / little propane tank.
  2. A little pot and pan set
  3. Lighter
       We bought both of these from walmart. That propane heater ended up being our FAVORITE investment for this trip....ok so rule Number 1. Leaving food outside in your campsite is a  BIG BIG BIG no no. Bears are there, they will go into your tent for food. We kept all of our food with us in our car. We only used our campsite at night, a place to sleep . SO, having that burner was like carrying a microwave with us everywhere. IF we were cold we made hot chocolate at a turnout. When we got hungry we heated up soup and/or a meal I had prepared.  Let's just say we got a lot of jealous stink eyes from those that were eating little sandwiches, which taking a sunset picture, when we walked up with hot chocolate and soup.
4.. 2-3 pieces of silverware
5. A pack of water (or a huge canteen container)
    we used water to cook with as well as to consume. Buying a 24ct of water never made me worried I would be thirsty
6. Trashbags
   We actually used these for seats AND 3 out of 5 mornings/nights we ended up with a soaking wet tent and rainfly we still had to use. Instead of getting the bag they came in wet, we ended up just rolling them up and putting them in trash bags until we got to our next camping spot.
7. Headlamps
    Most of the time we spent all day seeing the sights and arrived at our camp spot by dark. Headlamps were awesome when it came to putting up our tent and needing to see. It kept us hands free and we didn't have to use our headlights.

Here are some of the pictures I took of our meals
   I did search Pinterest for meal ideas but a lot of the meals included eggs, beef, hot dogs.. AKA things that would go bad after 1-2 nights of camping, SO I had to become resourceful, What would be warm, good, didn't spoil, and could be eaten after 5 days.

Funny enough, this last picture (with the tile) happened because of the rain. You don't want to use the burner in a closed room (not in the car). Almost every bathroom on the campgrounds had a middle room with only a sink to use as a dish wash area. Well, it was around 9pm when we arrived to our campsite that night and still hadn't had dinner. SO, we sat on some trash bags, under a covered roof, in the sink wash area and cooked/ate our dinner. It worked, we had a warm meal, and we stayed dry.

Some of the items I brought/prepared:
     Quinoa (rice)- Cooked at home
     Oatmeal, Ramin , Soup,  Chocolate Muffins-Baked at home
     Chopped up peppers - Prepared at home,  Pico de gallo
     Red baked Potato pieces- Prepared at home
     Watermelon - Cut up at home
    Poptarts, Swiss miss hot chocolate, Peanut Butter, Bread, Mac and Cheese,

It was really nice in 30-50 degree weather to have something warm in our stomachs.

8. Wet wipes- You can use these for almost any type of mess. PLUS some of the campsites that were closed were the only ones that had showers. The only one that did have a shower was not free. 5 days of camping= not the greatest smelling. Thank goodness for wet wipes, deo, and body spray.

    So, I hope this is helped. We actually continued on to Grand Tetons National Park Once that article is written and posted I will add a link onto the bottom of this page.
    If you have any questions please feel free to email me at


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