Our summer National Parks tour wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t explore America’s first National Park, Yellowstone. We’ve spent eight days in and around the park and there’s so much to report. And let’s be honest, eight days is not nearly enough time to fully explore this incredible place, but we did our best to get a taste of the highlights.
We first arrived to our campground in Island Park, Idaho and got settled in. Valley View RV Campground was a good location from which to explore Yellowstone. We were about 15 miles from the park’s west entrance in West Yellowstone but far enough away from the crowds that there was space to relax.
As soon as we were settled, we rushed to the park, getting slowed down by the massive crowds as soon as we entered the park boundaries. Yellowstone is always busy in the summer but we were overwhelmed with the volume of people all around us. We learned right away that it’s best to go into the park early or late in the day and avoid the popular sights during mid-day.
Yellowstone is a massive park made up of eight regions around which key attractions and tourist services are based. The main areas are: Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower, Canyon, Fishing Bridge, West Thumb, Old Faithful, Madison, and Norris. Our goal was to visit each of these areas in some way during our time in the park. This summer, the road from Tower to Canyon was closed and other services were also shuttered due to construction. Nevertheless, we covered as much ground as we could.
Norris Geyser Basin
The first main area we explored in depth was the Norris Geyser Basin. Yellowstone features numerous places where thermal features abound. Norris is the oldest and hottest of Yellowstone’s thermal basins. It is filled with acidic waters that allow different classes of thermophiles to live. The thermophiles create different color patterns within the springs and vents based on the water temperature. It’s otherworldly.
We followed the self-guided boardwalk tour and read about the different thermal features. Mostly we enjoyed the cool morning, the rainbow of colors, and the incredible views. By visiting early in the morning, we avoided the crowds that flock to this area mid-day.
Like on most days, we followed our early morning explorations with lunch or a snack alongside one of Yellowstone’s many beautiful rivers and streams. On this day we stopped at the Gibbon River picnic area and took in the sights and sounds around us.
Biking to Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook
Another popular area in Yellowstone is Midway Geyser Basin with Grand Prismatic Spring as the star. Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone at 370 feet wide and 121 feet deep. It is encircled by a boardwalk that is normally packed with tourists. In fact, it’s hard to get through the traffic in this area during the day. That’s why we decided to instead visit by bicycle.
Yellowstone is not overly bike friendly, but there is an old road, Fountain Freight Road, that runs to the backside of Grand Prismatic and leads you to the Grand Prismatic Overlook. We enjoyed a nice six mile round trip pedal through the geyser basin and surrounding landscape. Once we reached the overlook trail, we left the bikes and climbed the hill to get a birds-eye view of the massive, colorful spring.
Along the way back we even stopped to check out a few off-the-beaten-path thermal features. I’m telling you…the bike is the way to see Yellowstone!
We visited Norris and Grand Prismatic in one day and it was a full one! Yellowstone is so big that it’s impossible to see it all. Even if you lived in the park you’d never really see it all as the area is constantly changing. But you know us…when we travel, we try to do as much as possible. So, we have a few more blog posts on the way featuring more of our Yellowstone adventures..