Everyone has heard of Yellowstone National Park. The Old Faithful Geyser is one of those geological wonders that tourists travel from far and wide to see, and I am certain you will have seen a huge number of photographs of the plume of hot water and steam in magazines and on travel websites. We had such a great time in the National Park, riding around looking for wildlife and seeing as many of the weird and wonderful geological features of this unique place as we could.
Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park.
I mentioned in my last post that Yellowstone is a hugely vast place. Our research told us that it takes several hours just to drive/ride around the main park loop, without stopping to walk along any of the trails, and so if you are visiting the area you really do need to allow a few days. We had four at our disposal, and plotted our route around the park so we travelled around both loops, via all the entrances, and stopped to look at as many of the features as we could fit in. I thought for the purposes of this post I would offer a few of my highlights (and share some of my favourite images) to give you a taste of what we experienced.
Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
Our first stop in Yellowstone (having ridden through the Grand Tetons) was the West Thumb Geyser Basin. This was our first real experience of geysers so we spent a bit of time walking along the boardwalk to see the bubbling and steaming water in this area. The water is hot because there is thermal activity underneath; we are on a volcano here. The boardwalk is provided to keep people safe – you don’t want to be swimming in those pools or falling through the very thin sediment crust. I found the variety of pools, even in this very small area of Yellowstone, fascinating. Some were bright blue, some almost black thanks to the depth, some you couldn’t really see they were steaming so much. And then there were the hot springs that were underneath the large lake.
West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park.
“Black Pool”, Yellowstone National Park.
Underwater hot spring, Yellowstone National Park.
Old Faithful is probably the feature that most people think of when you mention Yellowstone National Park. The spouting horn of steam is one of those “must sees” popular with tourists because it erupts on a fairly regular basis. The geyser is fairly large, and it has become so popular that Rangers have built a huge boardwalk around it with benches so that people can sit and wait for show time.
Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park.
Hugely busy, there were hundreds of people in large groups waiting to see the spectacle, we had been warned by friends that it’s not really as impressive as the hype might make out. But we were keen to tick off a few bucket list views on this road trip and this was definitely one of them. We checked one of the visitor’s centres for the next eruption, and headed to see what all the fuss was all about. The parking lot here was just enormous and there were shops and stores and restaurants all around. We headed down to see the geyser which bubbles away like the hot springs we’d already seen in-between eruptions. I have to admit I was a bit underwhelmed when Old Faithful did its thing, not because I didn’t think it was very impressive as it really is quite special to see a natural wonder like this with your own eyes, but more because there was no whooshing sound to go with it. Is it just me who thought there would be some kind of sound effect?
Grand Prismatic Spring and Midway Geyser Basin
I just loved how colourful this area of Yellowstone was. It was so orange in places, and just beautiful. I think I got some of my favourite photos of hot springs in this area, too. The Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the biggest hot springs in the whole park, and it was well worth the visit.
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park.
Bear Tooth Pass
We decided to ride from Cody north over a couple of mountain passes and into Yellowstone via the Bear Tooth Pass, one of those “all American roads” that people say you must ride if you are in this area. It was a lovely road I have to admit; quiet, winding, with some stunning views as you arrive in the park. While we were stopped in one of the turnouts we spotted a Tiger on British plates go past, but unfortunately didn’t get caught up with them so couldn’t find out who they were or what they were doing in the States with their bike. I was even more glad we came in this way when we rode through the Lamar Valley and spotted a herd of bison working their way through. Just spectacular.
Mud Volcano and Dragon’s Cave
One of the things I wanted to make sure I saw while in Yellowstone was pools of bubbling mud. Having been disappointed by the lack of sound to go with the Old Faithful geyser, I wanted to hear the gloopy bubble of mud gently simmering. Seeing “mud volcano” on the map I made sure we stopped there. We headed towards the Dragon’s Cave first, which roars as the steam comes out. The NPS are doing some work on the trail at the moment so you can’t do the whole loop, so we returned to the carpark to see the mud volcano from the other way. As we got to the path we came across a bison sat chilling right by the walking route; we stood for a while and watched him and the reactions of adults and kids as they walked along and noticed him for the first time. There was another sat right by the mud pool with mud splattered all over his face.
Dragon’s Cave, Yellowstone National Park.
Mud volcano, Yellowstone National Park.
Norris Geyser Basin
The largest geyser in Yellowstone National Park is Steamboat Geyser, but as it only erupts once in a blue moon we didn’t walk to that one – but we did walk around the Norris Geyser Basin which was very blue and very beautiful. It was windy here and there were lots of hats in the pools.
View across the Norris Geyser Basin.
Artist’s Paint Pots
This was the standout area for me; we turned off the main road towards it because in my head I imagined it would be colourful like the Grand Prismatic Spring and I’d read a couple of people’s blogs that said they got their best photographs in Yellowstone in this area. The walk from the parking lot is quite a way – about a mile in total – but it was well worth the effort (it’s quite steep for one section) as the area was stunning. The lower area is a series of geysers and hot springs similar to those we’ve seen in other basins, and the upper area was all about the mud. Thick and gloopy and very cool to watch, apparently it isn’t the heat that makes it spit and spatter, but rather the gas. It flicked a pretty long way – on my boots, on my camera, on my face. I loved it! And yes it came with the sound effects I’d been longing for – think witch’s cauldron bubbling away.
View from the top of the hill at Artist’s Paintpots.
Mud, mud, glorious mud.
Poor Mary Poppins.
We weren’t wearing the right gear to get very close to Yellowstone Falls, but we headed to the overlooks for both the Upper and Lower Falls and were treated to some great views including an awesome rainbow.
Mammoth Hot Spring is an area of Yellowstone with a lot going on. We did the Upper Terrace Drive which is a one-way road offering some more hot springs including one that comes out of the top of a huge rock in a really satisfying waterfall style.
The coolest waterfall on the whole road trip… along the Upper Terrace Drive.
We rode across the top of Yellowstone and headed on one of the few gravel and dirt roads in the park that we could access – the Blacktail Plateau Drive. A quiet single track road through six miles of meadow and forest, a lovely ride that took us away from the business of the rest of the park and made it feel like we were in the back country.
View across Yellowstone National Park.
Finally, our last little detour inside the park was off the main road towards West Yellowstone to ride along the Maddison River. This was a very peaceful short (mile or two) drive with plenty of opportunity for wildlife spotting along the banks and in the water. We spotted a couple of beaver lodges, but no beavers.
Maddison River, Yellowstone National Park.
On Exploring Yellowstone
Yellowstone is one of those National Parks that needs some planning – do some research before you go and decide on your must see places, and plan the journey between them so you are not disappointed that you spend all your day in the car.
Yellowstone National Park is super busy and there is a lot of travelling to be done around the park. We found parking was generally easy enough for us on the motorbikes, some of the more popular features had car parks with marked bays and they were busy but we didn’t have to wait in a long line to find a space. The parking lot for Old Faithful was unsurprisingly both the biggest and the busiest – and the most chaotic. There was plenty of space, though, when we worked out where we should head. The speed limit on the roads in the park is fairly low in the main to help keep the wildlife safe. There were toilets at all the main features and in some of the smaller pull-outs, and there are plenty of places to buy food (although the pre made sandwiches really are not worth the price) and sit and eat it.
Mountains in Yellowstone National Park.
I took hundreds and hundreds of photos and even when I chose “just a handful” for this post I had nearly 40 to start with – all different. Yellowstone National Park is a seriously beautiful and totally wonderful place to visit and if you’ve never been, please make an effort to go at some point in your life, you will not regret it.