The first U.S. National Park offers countless opportunities for outdoor adventures, scenic drives, and wildlife viewing. If you’ve never been to Yellowstone, figuring out what to do here can be overwhelming because there are so many choices. The park is huge, so it’s not one that you’ll be able to cover in just a day or two. The majority of the park is in the state of Wyoming, with small portions in Montana and Idaho as well. If you’re planning a trip to Yellowstone, start early! It’s one of the most popular national parks in the country.
Please check current road conditions around the park. As I write this, Yellowstone is experiencing unprecedented rainfall that’s causing major road issues. Inbound vehicle traffic through all entrances to the park are currently closed, along with several roads within the park. Although, Yellowstone has recently opened its northern loop and some entrances can be accessed on foot.
I was hosted for some of these activities. All opinions are my own.
1. Wildlife Tour Of Yellowstone
For a lot of people, the number one thing to see in Yellowstone is the wildlife. Where else do you have the chance to see bears, moose, elk, pronghorn antelope, wolves, foxes, coyotes, mountain goats, bison, and eagles? While all those animals (and more) are in the park, the trick can sometimes be finding them. Yellowstone is vast — over 2 million acres — with a lot of ground to cover. To increase your odds of spotting animals, go with an expert.
Our day-long, private wildlife tour with Yellowstone Dreamin’ Adventures, located in Gardiner, Montana, was an experience we’ll remember forever! Met by our guide, Ron Peterson, bright and early at 5:30 am, our day started with hot coffee as we cruised into the park towards the northern range and Lamar Valley. Warm and toasty in the comfort of a roomy Suburban, stocked with binoculars and spotting scopes, it was already clear that the tour wouldn’t be like your average bus tour. In fact, Yellowstone Dreamin’ Adventures doesn’t even do bus tours.
According to owner and hospitality expert, Deborah Mackey, they focus on providing a true adventure — not just a tour — making sure their guests have a truly memorable time! Ron is the ultimate tour guide. A fifth-generation Gardiner resident, Ron knows the park like the back of his hand and he’s got a lot of interesting friends that are in the business as well. What a day you’ll have! From spotting grizzlies to a family of playful coyotes and mountain goats up on the cliffs, there is so much wildlife in the park! And we saw it all.
The Serengeti Of The United States
Known as the Serengeti of the United States, Lamar Valley is one of the absolute best places to view wildlife in Yellowstone. Morning comes early for the animals and you’ll want to be ready. As we meandered down the road towards the next hot spot for animals, Ron’s running commentary proved to be just as valuable as his spotting skills. The fascinating historical information he provided — as well as his impressive knowledge of the animals, their habits, habitats, and the geological nature of the park — blew us away. As you’d expect, most of the guides know each other, as well as the park rangers, and they share tips.
Yellowstone Dreamin’ Adventures is also connected to a network that relays park information via radio. At one of our first stops, we pulled over after a tip about grizzlies on the ridge. Ron quickly got the spotting scopes in place and centered on a far-off mama and her cubs. Incredible! Next stop was for a close-up look at the osprey. A little later, it was time to watch the mountain goats high on the mountaintop. Our most excellent morning continued with a visit to one of the wolf dens in the park. Lucky for us, the elusive wolves and pups were home when we came calling. This once in a lifetime chance to see wolves in their natural habitat was beyond amazing. And to see the little black furball cubs bounce around was icing on the cake. All this before lunch!
Elevated Wildlife Tour Sack Lunches
And while we’re on the topic of lunch, the boxed lunches provided are delicious. I selected the turkey and Swiss on a croissant. Served with a side of cream cheese and cranberries for me to add myself to keep things as fresh as possible, the sandwich was scrumptious. The potato salad, chips, dill pickle spear, and giant cookie rounded things out. This is definitely a sack lunch, but elevated!
The afternoon played on similarly to the morning, with more incredible animal sightings. We saw a coyote family complete with pups frolicking about and black bears playing in the meadow. Priceless!
Yellowstone Dreamin’ Adventures Tour Options
In addition to the fabulous wildlife tours, Yellowstone Dreamin’ Adventures offers Upper Loop tours, Lower Loop tours, the Yellowstone Wildlife-Hike combo tour, photography tours, wolf viewing tours, wildflower tours, and custom tours for you to tell the folks here exactly what your goal is, and they’ll make it happen.
With five experienced guides to lead you and, backed by Deborah’s 20-plus years in the hospitality and tour business, you’re in good hands with Yellowstone Dreamin’. This locally-owned small business is first-class all the way.
2. Old Faithful Geyser
Old Faithful is on everyone’s must-do Yellowstone list. For many people, Old Faithful is the thing they come to see at Yellowstone. It’s a geological wonder, that’s for sure, and very cool to see. Stop into The Old Faithful Visitor Education Center or check the NPS Twitter feed to find when the next predicted eruption will be. The employees predict the time with crazy precise accuracy! But, you really don’t need to check the visitor center for the eruption time. The best prediction of a future eruption is based on how large the crowd is on the boardwalks around the geyser.
3. Yellowstone Lake
Filling what was once a caldera of a massive volcano, Yellowstone Lake is the largest high-elevation lake in North America, with a coastline of over 140 miles. Swimming in the lake is not advisable due to the very cold water temperatures, but you can fish for cutthroat trout here.
4. Grand Canyon Of Yellowstone
Located in the Canyon region of the park, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone offers what many consider to be the best view in the park. Surrounded by rocky canyons, the spectacular Upper and Lower Falls plunge into the Yellowstone River, making for a very picturesque landscape. Known as Artist Point, the view here has been depicted in countless famous photographs and paintings. The falls are so intense and dramatic that you’ll want to sit for a while and really appreciate the beauty.
Pro Tip: Access multiple viewing areas from sidewalks along the parking lots, or if you’re up for a challenge, there are nearby trails that offer a higher viewpoint.
5. Grand Prismatic Spring
You’ve almost certainly seen photographs of the Grand Prismatic Spring. The largest, most colorful, and most famous hot spring in Yellowstone, this 370-foot-diameter spring is unlike anything else you’ll see. Located in the Midway Geyser Basin, the Grand Prismatic is high on everyone’s list, which makes it very busy and parking can be an issue. While we waited for a spot to open, we saw many people opt to park up the road and walk down instead.
With a central pool of beautiful deep blues, surrounded by rings of yellows, oranges, and reds, the Grand Prismatic reminds me of a kaleidoscope. It’s cool to view the Grand Prismatic from a couple different viewpoints. First, take the boardwalk from the parking lot and view the Grand Prismatic Spring (and others) straight away. Then, for a birds-eye view of the Grand Prismatic, do the mile hike to the Grand Prismatic Overlook, where you’ll see the brilliant colors from above.
6. Old Faithful Inn
Located in Old Faithful Village, the amazing Old Faithful Inn is an incredible piece of architecture that you must see. Opened in 1904, this historic lodge was crafted from logs and stone in the Yellowstone area and is considered to be the largest log structure in the world. Walk in the immense lobby and prepare to be impressed by the rustic interior, as well as original fixtures and furnishings.
Furnished as it was back in the day, this National Historic Landmark is the most popular place to stay in the park, so plan ahead early if you want to stay here. Even with over 300 rooms, it can be tough to get a reservation. But, even if you don’t stay here, it’s worth a stop to visit.
Pro Tip: Grab a drink from the bar and find a spot in the lobby to relax and people watch. This is one of the best spots in Yellowstone.
7. Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs, just a few miles south of the north entrance of the park in Gardiner, was once home to Fort Yellowstone. Today, it’s most popular for being home to many of the hydro-thermal pools in the park. With two terraced boardwalks here — the upper and lower — the springs here are easily accessible. You’ll see steaming pools of water surrounded by limestone and rock, colored in shades of tans, browns, and whites. Looking through the morning rain and fog, the Mammoth Hot Springs area feels completely out of this world!
While you’re at Mammoth, make time to check out the historical buildings that were once part of the original Fort Yellowstone, including the original Mammoth post office. Stop into the Albright Visitor Center to learn about the history of the fort and also to view the animal exhibit. Cross the street and take a stroll through the lobby of the historic Mammoth Hotel.
Pro Tip: At the north entrance of the park in Gardiner, make sure to stop for a photo at the historic Roosevelt Arch.
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