Spending a weekend in Yellowstone – Where we live is almost a dead center between Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park. We love that we are so close to these National gems – and wanted to share our experience of Yellowstone with you. First, here are some Yellowstone facts:
Yellowstone was the first established National Park on March 1, 1872.
This excerpt from a National Park Service resource provides info on native tribes that first used the area:
“Prior to Yellowstone was somewhat of a battleground for the four tribes who lived around it, the Crows, the Blackfeet, the Bannocks, and the Shoshones. The Indian name for the Yellowstone was “Burning Mountains,” and it is easy to understand their superstitions. Only when they were pursued and sought refuge to save their lives would parties of Indians come into the Burning Mountains.”
Yellowstone is home to one of the largest elk herds in North America. It is home to the largest free-roaming wild herd of bison in the United States. It holds one of the few grizzly populations in the contiguous United States and is known for holding several wolf packs.
Day 1: Drive down Paradise Valley to Gardiner
- PARADISE VALLEY
The drive from Butte to Yellowstone is about 2.5 – 3 hours. Once you get off the Livingston exit to head south. The road follows the Yellowstone River at the bottom of the valley and features wide open-valley views leading up to the surrounding mountain ranges. About two-thirds the way down the valley, the road winds through a canyon that has a number of pull-offs where you can get a better view of the Yellowstone River. Soon enough you will arrive at Gardiner, Yellowstone’s north entrance.
We spent the night in Gardiner because of how late in the season we visited. In mid-October, Gardiner had elk all throughout the town. They were in people’s yards, walking the streets, and grazing all throughout the town. After signing in at our lodging – we had a few evening hours to take a better look around the area. We drove up towards Jardine and the backcountry roads beyond it get an elevated view of the Absaroka Mountains and Gallatin Mountains. We returned to Gardiner for a casual pizza diner before turning in for the night.
Day 2: Northern Part of Yellowstone Loop
- ARTIST PAINT POTS
After Mammoth, we continued South towards Norris. We took a turn towards the Artist Paintpots and hiked the very easy 1-mile trail to the paint pots. The Artist Paintpots featured colorful springs and somehow humorously burbling mud pots. The boardwalk is fairly short with paths going above and beside the springs giving you different vantage points. After the Artist Paintpots, we backtracked a little going back to Norris and then east towards Hayden Valley for wildlife watching. The drive between Norris and Canyon Village is fairly forested with not many views but we did have a small bison jam next to the road.
- YELLOWSTONE FALLS
Once we got to the Canyon Village side of the northern loop road, we stopped at the Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls. We first took in Yellowstone Falls from a short trail leading down to the Lower Lookout. This trail was short but takes you down a steep series of stairs and switchbacks. We then drove to the South Rim trail and took in the golden views of the falls from the opposite side.
- HAYDEN VALLEY
We planned our day in hopes of catching wildlife moving around in the evening hours at Hayden Valley. Once we arrived at Hayden Valley, we noticed several cars in the pull-offs with large scopes set up. We pulled over and set up our own spotting scope and eventually found a large grizzly bear in the distance. Thankfully we had the scope to even see it because it was very far. After taking some poor quality phone pictures through the spotting scope, we continued along the length of Hayden Valley seeing several bison before backtracking the northern loop road route back to our next night’s lodging in West Yellowstone.
Day 3: Southern Part of Yellowstone Loop
- GRAND PRISMATIC SPRING
We started our second day exploring Yellowstone by heading south from Madison. We stopped at the Midway Geyser Basin which has the Grand Prismatic Spring. We walked around the boardwalk taking in the mesmerizing colors and textures of the spring. It did seem like the Prismatic Spring was smaller than our minds had built it up to be. Across the spring, you could see a viewing stand that gave an elevated distant perspective of the spring. If you drive south slightly past the Grand Prismatic Spring, there is a trailhead that will take you to the Fairy Falls Trailhead which has an offshoot trail to this viewpoint.
- GRANG PRISMATIC SPRING OVERLOOK & FAIRY FALLS
The hike to the Grand Prismatic Overlook is about 1-mile from the Fairy Falls Trailhead. Once we took in the grand view of the Grand Prismatic, we decided to stretch our legs a little more and hike to Fairy Falls. The hike to Fairy Falls is about 1.75-miles from the Grand Prismatic Overlook. The trail hikes through some very dense forest with not many views, but the falls are a treat. If you combine the overlook and the falls, it is about a 5.5-mile hike round-trip.
- OLD FAITHFUL & YELLOWSTONE LAKE
From the Midway Geyser Basin, we went to see Old Faithful. The parking lot for this is quite large. We didn’t end up waiting for the Old Faithful Geyser (which was one of the busiest areas) and we were in need of a restroom (most restrooms here were closed because of COVID when we visited). Instead, we continued on towards Yellowstone Lake. It was a very moody day with high winds, so we didn’t stop too often around the lake. Towards the north end of the lake, we decided to check out Pelican Valley in hopes of spotting wildlife. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much wildlife here. It may have been because of some road construction that was happening here on our visit.
- HAYDEN VALLEY
We decided to take the northern loop back to our lodging in West Yellowstone again. We experienced a Bison jam at Hayden Valley and saw a fox in the far distance.
In hindsight, we wished we had chosen a couple more hikes instead of mostly spending our time driving around the loop. We visited Yellowstone during the off-season which is quieter, but we might have enjoyed more solitude on the trails. This weekend in Yellowstone did provide a good taste of what Yellowstone is like.