At the end of August, Liann and I went on our big Yellowstone trip to relive one of Liann’s childhood trips. On our week long adventure, we flew 3,735 miles, drove 1,811 miles, and walked 23 miles. It was wonderful. Yellowstone National Park is filled with natural beauty and breathtaking views, but the days are also filled with long drives if you are wanting to catch all of the sights.
Our Experience in Yellowstone
We flew into Salt Lake City, Utah, rented a mid-size SUV, and tackled the 7-hour drive to Cody, Wyoming, which was our home base for our time in Yellowstone. Cody has more affordable accommodations than the North or West side of Yellowstone, but it is also a lot further away from the National Park entrance. This means that we had a few extra hours of of driving between getting to the park entrance and getting back to Cody.
We were in Yellowstone National Park for the last week in August, which is the beginning of the park’s off season. In Yellowstone’s off-season, there are 2 major differences that we noticed – 1) less crowds and 2) more construction. While it was great to have less crowds and almost no traffic jams, it was pretty annoying to encounter the amount of construction that was going on. The construction also meant that about a third of the attractions we wanted to see were closed due to maintenance. So, if you want to travel to Yellowstone National Park out-of-season, you want to be prepared with alternate plans as you may run into sights that are closed for maintenance.
Yellowstone National Park surrounds you with nature and wildlife. There are plenty of times we just pulled the car over and got out to admire it. The park covers a vast area, so driving between the different sights can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. Not to worry, though, there are plenty of views to keep you interested along the way.
Day 1 – Yellowstone National Park (Central)
Our first day in Yellowstone was a whirlwind of weather. We encountered snow, rain, sleet, hail, overcast, and beautiful sunshine all within an 8-hour timespan. The temperature ranged from 30 degrees to 85 degrees. It was nuts! It gave us a unique perspective of Yellowstone as we were able to experience it in different ways.
Our 1st stop was at the Mud Volcano, a muddy landscape filled with geysers and hot springs. There was a short hiking trail there that took us to see all of the different sights. Liann was cold at first, but all of the the hot springs generating heat made it bearable. The coolest thing there was Dragon’s Mouth Spring.
After Mud Volcano, we drove through Hayden Valley to see if we could spot some wildlife. Supposedly, Hayden Valley is a good viewing area for wildlife, though we didn’t see any until we were almost through the area.
Next stop was the Norris Geyser Basin. This was a pretty unique spot as it looked like a wasteland you would see in a movie.
We rounded out the day in West Yellowstone visiting the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center and grabbing some late lunch at an excellent sandwich shop called Ernie’s.
Day 2 – Yellowstone National Park (North)
On our 2nd day in Yellowstone, we focused on doing some hikes and going on some epic drives.
We started out the day with one of the most beautiful drives I have ever been on. Instead of going to Yellowstone National Park’s east entrance, we drove the northeast Cooke City-Silver Gate entrance. It was a breathtaking drive along Highway 296 and Beartooth Highway.
Once inside the park, we hiked the Trout Lake Trail and, later, the Bunsen Peak Trail. Bunsen Peak Trail was a strenuous hike, but the views were fantastic.
We were pretty secluded on this trail and were worried about bears. Thankfully, we never came across any. Yellowstone is pretty serious about bear spray, but it was surprisingly hard to find in the park. When we did find it, the price was insane. We stopped outside of the park later that day and bought it for half of the price.
Here are some of the other things we saw throughout the day:
Day 3 – Yellowstone National Park (Central & South)
This was our favorite day in Yellowstone. The weather was perfect all day and we visited some the best sights. But before we get to all that…we got a flat tire!
We got a flat driving into the park, which set us back about 2 hours. However, I can definitely say it was the most beautiful view I have ever had while changing a tire!
After getting the tire patched, we were off to Artist Point. It was beautiful, but incredibly packed with tourists. We happened to find a trailhead here called Artist Point – Point Sublime Trail and it turned out to be our favorite trail of the trip! The sights are stunning as you walk along the Artist Point canyon.
We hit a couple of other spots in the area like Upper Falls of the Yellowstone and Inspiration Point before heading towards the southern part of the park. The next sights we visited were our 2 favorite of the whole trip.
The Grand Prismatic Spring was very unique and popular. It was pretty busy when we showed up, so we opted to park along the street and enjoyed a short and sweet walk up to the entrance. The Grand Prismatic Spring is truly extraordinary, highlighted by all of the different colors and steam coming off of the spring. Unfortunately, there is no great vantage point to get a full view of the spring, but it was still a brilliant sight to see.
Lastly, we saw Old Faithful and it did not disappoint. This was the busiest sight in the park (as expected), but we eventually found parking. We had good timing as we waited less than 10 minutes for Old Faithful to erupt. We got some great photos and then rushed out of there to beat the mass traffic jam that was about to occur.
After Old Faithful, we drove south to Driggs, Idaho, which was our home base for the next 2 days for our visit to Grand Teton National Park.
2 Days in Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park was a great ending to our trip. It is a lot smaller than Yellowstone National Park, which means it’s easier to get around. Really, you can do the park in one day. We did it in 2 short days while taking on 2 great hikes.
The Taggart Lake Trail was my 2nd favorite hike of the whole trip. The views of the Teton Range were spectacular. I could have sat staring out at the lake all day.
The Jenny Lake Trail was a more strenuous hike, but had 2 big payoffs: Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point.
Liann and I budget travel pretty much all of the time. While we did our best to keep costs down through discounts and cashing in reward points, we realized that planning ahead and booking about a year in advance would have allowed a more budget-friendly trip. Yellowstone and its surrounding areas tend to book up early on, which doesn’t leave many options (and low-cost ones, at that) for those who are budget-conscious! Now we know and can plan ahead for next time. We will venture out that way again and look forward to seeing and doing much more (especially since half of the things we had on our list were closed)!