Our last visit to Yellowstone was in the fall of 2013, just after we started our fulltime travels. We returned in early June this year with the hope of seeing baby animals, exploring areas we didn’t get to last time, and doing a lot more hiking. What we discovered is that 1) Yellowstone is bigger than we remembered, 2) There are always road closures and traffic jams that interfere with the best-laid plans, and 3) Many hiking trails don’t open until sometime in July.
The best part of coming to Yellowstone in early June? The waterfalls are flowing at full force, baby animals are plentiful, and the park is relatively uncrowded. Still, we got caught in a traffic jam on our way to the Old Faithful area that was so daunting we bailed in favor of an alternate plan. And we never got to Old Faithful (although we went last time we were here, so that was really okay). When you’re in Yellowstone, head for any attraction far earlier than you think is reasonable.
In four days, we only explored about one-third of the park, and some of it was a repeat of what we did the first time in 2013. Fortunately, the part we did see has some of the most stunning features and abundant wildlife in the park.
Now into the sixth year of our fulltime journey, we’ve realized that once we set up camp, we like to keep our explorations pretty close to home. Traveling fulltime and moving frequently, the last thing we want to do is spend a lot of additional time driving.
We concentrated our attention on the northern section of the park, revisiting Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Geyser Basin, exploring the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and driving the Lamar Valley in search of wildlife. As for the lower section of the park, we’re planning to base ourselves at the western or southern entrance to explore those areas on a future visit.
Geysers And Other Thermal Wonders
Yellowstone is unique because it sits directly on top of a giant, active volcano. Major eruptions are few and far between—the most recent was 630,000 years ago. If the volcano should blow, it will be a catastrophic event that will rain ash over the entire country. But no one reputable seems to think there is imminent danger of an explosion, so I just ignore the fact that we’re wandering around on a supervolcano.
There is no question that Yellowstone is a hotbed of thermal activity, though. The earth steams, bubbles, and explodes in great geysers of boiling water, little burbling fountains, and blooping mud pots in surreal shades of turquoise, brilliant orange, and emerald green. Throw in a bright blue, cloud-studded sky and the effect is dazzling. Even on a gray and rainy day, Yellowstone is stunning.
Geysers are among the rarest of nature’s features, and there are more in Yellowstone than anywhere else on earth. Miles of boardwalks wind alongside hundreds of geysers and hot pools throughout the park. Each has its own personality—Pearl is a dainty little thing. Dragon’s Mouth Spring erupts in great bursts of steam roaring from a cave. There’s Whirlygig, Pinwheel, Jewel, Emerald, Morning Glory, Kaleidoscope, Vixen, and hundreds more, including Porkchop (someone must have been hungry when they named that one).
Steamboat, in Norris Geyser Basin, is the largest geyser in the world and its eruptions can reach 400 feet into the air. Not knowing when it’s going to erupt is part of the allure.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Just a few miles inside the north entrance to the park lies Mammoth Hot Springs, one of the most beautiful and unique thermal areas in Yellowstone. Over centuries, hot mineral water bubbling up through limestone deposited thin layers of calcium carbonate, forming travertine terraces that look like waterfalls frozen in time.
Almost two miles of boardwalk wind around the terraces, offering close-up views of nature’s sculpture and wonderful panoramic views of the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District.
Norris Geyser Basin
The Norris Geyser Basin, about 17 miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs on the west side of the park, is the oldest, hottest, and most active hydrothermal area in Yellowstone. Three miles of winding, looping trails lead through a mesmerizing landscape of hissing vents, boiling hot springs, spouting geysers, and colorful runoff channels. It’s a festival of sound and color, and one of our favorite spots in Yellowstone.
The chalky white basin gets its porcelain color from geyserite, a mineral deposited over centuries of thermal activity. Heat-loving microorganisms called thermophiles are responsible for the riotous colors of Yellowstone’s geysers and hot pools. Apparently, these microscopic life forms were the beginnings of life on earth billions of years ago.
The Grand Canyon Of The Yellowstone
Our longest drive was to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, about 40 miles southeast. Carved over eons by wind and water, the canyon is nearly 20 miles long and almost a mile wide. We were there during peak runoff, with more than 60,000 gallons per second of water crashing over the falls. Later in the year, the runoff diminishes to 5,000 gallons per second.
You can see the canyon from numerous scenic overlooks, but the trails along the canyon rim are fun to hike. The views are breathtaking—and so are the hikes that descend steeply into the canyon.
And Of Course, The Wildlife
In the early 60s, my family made a cross-country trip to Yellowstone in a VW bug. (Doesn’t THAT sound like fun?) My most vivid memory is of feeding the black bears, an activity that was encouraged by the rangers. We rolled up slices of bread in the windows of our car, and the bears would lumber up and snatch the bread from the window. It was thrilling!
How times have changed. Now we don’t go anywhere in Yellowstone without our bear spray.
Early June is a wonderful time to see all kinds of animals and their young in Yellowstone. Driving the Lamar Valley is a good place to see bison, elk, and bear. But we had our best elk sightings hiking from Mammoth Campground to Mammoth Hot Springs. We gave them wide berth—elk are highly protective of their young, and we didn’t want to add our names to the roster of tourists who do stupid things in Yellowstone.
About The Campgrounds
We needed to do laundry, we wanted electric hookups, and we didn’t want to deal with trying to snag a first-come, first-served site within the national park. So we reserved three nights at Yellowstone RV Park, just outside the northern entrance to the park in Gardiner. Not a lot of privacy here, but we liked our site backing up to the Yellowstone River. Full hookups, laundry, wifi, and a convenient walk into the cute little town of Gardiner. It’s expensive, but so is every private park around Yellowstone.
After assessing that Mammoth Hot Springs Campground (a first-come, first-served national park campground) had sites available each morning, we moved into the park for two nights. It’s a pretty campground, close to the road (but traffic noise wasn’t an issue) and best of all, hiking distance to Mammoth Hot Springs. We saw more elk here than anywhere else in the park. No showers, but they have restrooms and potable water throughout the campground. Verizon was usable.
Yellowstone, we’ll be back! And we’ll finally get to the Tetons, too, when we return.
Yellowstone is great….but can’t believe you haven’t been to the Tetons! Our favorite place in the US…..there are no more beautiful mountains. But we haven’t been to Alaska yet:-) Really enjoy reading your posts about summer as I sit here in rainy Ashland….
Yeah, we can’t believe we haven’t yet been to the Tetons…or Glacier, for that matter! Or Alaska! We’d better get busy! :-)
Glad you’re enjoying our posts, Joan. And I’m glad to know we’re getting plenty of rain in Ashland (although I’m happy to currently be in Arizona!).
We are so glad we did the park more than a decade ago! But thank you once again for showing me the many wildlife and beauty of Yellowstone. All photos are great especially that lady in blue or is that a purple vest? Love that little cinnamon bear trying to climb that log and the header photo with colorful umbrellas.
ML, I can imagine Yellowstone must have been much more peaceful 10 years ago! That’s how we feel about Zion and Arches. But…it’s still so worth being there. And mid-June is actually a good time.
We had fun watching that little cinnamon bear wake up from a nap and try to climb over the log!
I love all your wildlife photos, especially the young bear and the magpies. The shot of the bison crossing the river is beautiful, too! Yellowstone is high on our list, but I’m even more anxious to see the Tetons.
Glad you enjoyed the photos, Les. Those magpie fledglings were right next to our campsite in the park. We’re looking forward to returning to Yellowstone to explore the southern end, and plan to link that with a trip to the Tetons.
Your photos are just stunning! And yes, on our list for a return visit because it is just so big, we didn’t hike enough either
and the northern part of the Park was closed. At this rate, none of will run out of places to stop.
Thank you, Leah—Yellowstone is a delight for photography! You are SO right—none of us are going to run out of places to explore. I need 10 lifetimes. :-)
No place is more outstanding than Yellowstone – and your photos capture it so beautifully.
We’re hoping to get back to the southern end in the Fall and also finally get to the Tetons :-))
Jodee, we think it makes sense to explore the southern end of the park and the Tetons at the same time, too. And we’re going to try to allow ourselves enough time to do it justice! Glad you enjoyed the photos. :-)
I can’t even pick a favorite photo, you’ve got so many great ones here (top contenders are the river crossing, the cinnamon bear, the pronghorn, and the bison with bird friends… ok, I might have a slight preference for wildlife photos…) We absolutely loved Yellowstone and were just floored by the diversity of natural wonders we encountered there. We could easily spend months exploring the park and never get bored. It is too bad that their summer season is so limited. I’m sure it adds to the overcrowding and traffic jams, but even that aggravation was worth it to experience such an incredible place. Wonderful photos and descriptions of a spectacular place!
Aw, thanks, Laura! I know you guys loved Yellowstone just as much as we did. We feel the same, that we could spend months there and never run out of things to do.
We’ve tried to avoid the summer season because of crowds, but since most of the hiking trails are only open in summer, we’re going to have to bite the bullet and go then. You seemed to have good luck getting on the trails really early or late in the day—that will be our strategy, as well.
Such a fabulous place…..and your pictures truly bring it to life. The colors aren’t to be believed and the feeling that one is walking on a very thin crust stretched over a boiling cauldron is a bit unsettling!
Where are you, right now? Maybe you could add a little sentence at the end of these blogs telling us where you are as you write? Just sayin….
Sue, Yellowstone truly is fabulous, and as you said, a bit unsettling! I’m grateful to the park service for the amazing network of boardwalks over the hot pools.
I’m glad you think our photos do it justice—it’s not an easy place to capture!
(In answer to your question, we’re currently at Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona, on our way to Tucson for Christmas. :-))
You got some really great photos! I especially like the pronghorn with the grass hanging out of its mouth.
After our last visit to Yellowstone and the huge traffic jams we encountered I don’t think I can talk Jim into returning. Grand Teton NP is our favorite of the two, even though there aren’t all of the interesting geothermal features.
Thanks, Gayle! It’s so much fun trying to capture the critters in action. :-)
From the comments here, it seems that most people prefer the Tetons to Yellowstone. I had no idea! Makes me even more excited about going there.
Love receiving the gift of your blogs throughout the year.
Every one is like opening a present.
Many blessings to you both in 2019,
Carol, thank you so much for your lovely comment! We’re happy that you’re continuing to journey along with us.
Wishing you all the best in the new year! :-)
Thank you, Terri. It was hard choosing which ones to post! :-)
I LOVE Yellowstone!! You are so right about how large the park is. I don’t think people realize that once you get to the entrance, you still have a long drive to get to the features. Each area has so many features to see. Our last visit was spent at the same RV Park you were in. We hiked around to see odd out of the way, little known geysers. That was great fun and we didn’t have any crowds, but we did walk many miles. Seeing the wildlife is the best part. We’ve been lucky on all our visits and seen lots beautiful creatures.
Pam, that was our second time staying at the Yellowstone RV Park. We think it’s the best option in Gardiner, but it was a lot more expensive this time because the rates go up in June for the season.
We loved staying in Mammoth Campground because we could hike to Mammoth Hot Springs and also along the Yellowstone River. Last time we were there we soaked in the Boiling River Hot Springs, but this time the springs were closed because the river was too high. :-(
Not to brag but I’ve been to Yellowstone, Tetons, Glacier and Alaska. However, I didn’t immerse myself in the experience like you two do. I think I’m missing out. Love the pics!
Wow, that’s impressive that you’ve been to all of those places, Brenda! I’d love to hear about your adventures. So glad you enjoyed the pics of Yellowstone—we love it there. Can’t wait to see what awaits us in the Tetons, Glacier, and Alaska! So much to do…
IMHO you selected the best part of Yellowstone to explore. I was fortunate last summer to support several geological and hiking classes that stayed within this area of the park. I also supported a bison class during the rut, which was fascinating. Loved seeing this magnificent park through your eyes. Happy holidays to you and Eric!
LuAnn, that makes me happy that you think we’ve explored the best part of Yellowstone! I enjoyed so much reading about your experiences supporting programs in the park a couple of years ago. Made me want to do the same. :-)
Happy holidays to you and Terry, too—have a wonderful time in Albuquerque!
Love your bear crossing the road. Yellowstone would require quite a bit of time to really experience it. We talk about volunteering there in the future. Stay warm in Arizona. We have been using our furnace in the morning.
Debbie, we’ve talked about volunteering at Yellowstone, too. I could easily imagine spending a couple of months there!
Temperatures have been perfect in Arizona for hiking. We like it on the cooler side.
Wow so many people in your great header picture at Mammoth. It’s my favorite section of the park. I can’t even imagine Yellowstone “relatively uncrowded”. For me the only way to really see the park is to spend no less than 2 weeks near every entrance and see that area without too much undo driving. I figure I could easily spend 2.5 or 3 months in the park and this post shows exactly why. Really wonderful pictures of the Grand Canyon and the Geisers. But the wildlife pictures are THE best! Are you actually wearing BLUE in that picture?
Sherry, I agree it would be ideal to spend a couple of weeks at every entrance to Yellowstone. But with so many places to go and so much we still want to see, that probably won’t happen. We’ll at least return to explore the south end and the Tetons!
Glad you enjoyed the photos. Haha, no, that’s not exactly blue—it’s periwinkle! :-)
What an incredible post!! I cannot believe I have never been there! The photos of the geysers and the wildlife are just amazing. Surreal out of this world landscapes. Seems like the kind of landscape one would never tire of… especially as it is forever changing. Just glorious! Thanks for sharing this wonderful place and all the wildlife – what a pleasure to see wildlife in their natural habitat. Love that pair of magpies, the swan, the elk calf, and the bison. The animals all look so relaxed and tranquil. So different to when one sees them in captivity and there is a look of sadness in their eyes.
Fabulous post! Sitting in a little cafe here in Penang Malaysia.. very urban, so this was pure joy to see and read about.
Happy new year and here is to another year of wonderful adventures for you both. In good health and happiness.
Peta, Yellowstone is a place you and Ben would enjoy. It’s wild, beautiful, and unlike any other place we’ve seen in this country. And the wildlife is spectacular!
Happy new year to you both, as well!
Love the wildlife photos….amazing! Can’t wait to visit this beautiful park.
Thanks, Debbie. Yellowstone truly is a beautiful park!
We spent almost three full weeks in Yellowstone this summer (20 nights split between Madison, Mammoth, and Canyon campgrounds, all in the month of September) and there are STILL things we didn’t have time to visit. We’re reflecting back on our 2018 travels this week and your gorgeous photos were a great reminder of this unique park. Of course, your post also reminded us about the insane crowds, especially at the most famous attractions!
Shannon, we would love to spend three weeks exploring Yellowstone! You did it right, exploring the park from three different campgrounds. I’m so glad that you enjoyed our photos. It’s fun to reminisce over the past year’s travels, isn’t it?
I’d have to say that Yellowstone is our all time favorite place. We’ve never been in early June and the smaller crowds and baby animals sound like a good reason to be there at that time. I think ultimately though we’re going to spend a whole summer in the Tetons and Yellowstone at some point.
Henry, I think Yellowstone is our favorite national park, too! It’s so beautiful, so vast, and with all of those geothermal features and critters…we definitely want to return for more time there. Your idea of an entire summer in the Tetons and Yellowstone sounds pretty perfect!