Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming were the planned destinations of our road trip last June across the Great Plains, although it didn’t quite work out that way. Including travel time through the parks, we originally planned to have three days exploring the various corners. In the end we stayed for just two. But this change to our itinerary was well worth it, as I explain in another post.
We entered Yellowstone through the northeast entrance, and had planned to depart through the north gate.
Northeast entrance to Yellowstone
We also stayed at hotels well outside the parks – in Red Lodge (Montana), and Jackson and Cody (in Wyoming). Our scheduled third day in Yellowstone would have meant a long drive back west from Cody (about 70 miles) and then we faced a long journey north to get to our overnight stop in Billings from where we would fly back to St Paul. But there were major roadworks on this north exit road from Yellowstone and considerable traffic delays forecast. So we decided that rather than return to Yellowstone from Cody, we would head east and see what that landscape had to offer. But more of that another time.
As I have blogged elsewhere, Yellowstone was a little bit of a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong – the landscapes are truly magnificent, and the geothermal attractions all that I expected them to be. But there are quite long stretches of road that are almost completely closed in by forest on either side, and there’s not a lot to see. Fortunately we visited in early June so the tourist load was not that significant. I hate to think what Yellowstone must be like at the height of the summer. Nose-to-nose car bumpers I expect. And even in June we encountered several traffic jams as visitors hurriedly pulled off the road, whatever the prevailing condition, to catch a glimpse of a lonely elk or bison.
And the wildlife – or should I say the lack of it – was the other disappointment. I suppose my expectations had been raised through the many TV programs about Yellowstone that I watched over the years. Wall-wall wildlife? It was never going to happen. We did see a few small concentrations of bison (herds would be too strong a description) and a few elk dotted along the horizon. But that was it. although we frequently saw evidence that the wildlife was about and they visited the various geyser sites.
Nevertheless, we did enjoy our visit, and you can’t help yourself if the panoramas do sometimes take your breath away.
On our first day, we traveled through Yellowstone and Grand Teton from Red Lodge, MT to Jackson, WY following (for the first sector before we entered Yellowstone) the spectacular Beartooth Highway. We were fortunate that the road between Tower Falls and Canyon Village, just 19 miles, was already been open for the season, instead of a 51 mile journey via Mammoth and Norris. Click on the map below for an interactive version on the National Parks Service website.
And then we skirted west shore of Yellowstone Lake on our way south into Grand Teton National Park, and on to our accommodation in Jackson, WY.
The following day, we headed north along the west bank of Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park and the base of the Teton Range, heading back into Yellowstone, where we took the west loop road from West Thumb to explore the Geyser Basin including the mandatory stop to watch Old Faithful put on ‘her’ display. On the way to Old Faithful we crossed the Continental Divide at least a couple of times, then headed north through Madison, on to Norris, back to Canyon Village and the east entrance skirting the north shore of Yellowstone Lake. What’s special about the Tetons is that they just rise out of the plain to more than 6,000 feet above (12,000 feet above sea level). It’s just like a wall of mountains aligned north-south. No wonder the Rockies were such an obstacle to cross for the early pioneers.
There’s so much out there on the Internet to read about both national parks that I’m not going to attempt to emulate or surpass those sources. Let me however, provide a small pictorial guide to our visit below.
Scenes in the north of Yellowstone from the northeast entrance
The Yellowstone River canyon
Colors of the Geyser Basin
Hot springs in Yellowstone National Park
Land of fire and brimstone
Landscapes of the northwest
Grand Teton National Park
The Grand Teton range
And finally, we left Yellowstone heading for Cody by crossing the Absaroka Range once again.
We also don’t regret our decision to find hotels outside Yellowstone. Within there park there is limited – and expensive – accommodation. Taking hotels in Red Lodge, Jackson and Cody ensured that we really did see as much of both parks in a limited time.