YELLOWSTONE-Should I Go?

napatony13

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Feb 5, 2021
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First off, I've never been there and I know it's something that I should want to see. I know I'd enjoy the animals, the waterfalls, and the geothermal features. I've been talking about doing a Fall trip for a couple of years now. Trouble is I just can't seem to generate enough enthusiasm to actually plan anything. I've come to the realization that I'm a desert/Southwest person...it's the ruins, rock art, arches, and slot canyons that grab my attention. The other factor is I really like to avoid crowds and traffic, so if I do go to a "touristy" spot I either go off-season or as early in the morning as possible. Going to the popular spots in Yellowstone isn't going to be the backcountry experience I tend to seek out.

So as you can probably tell I'm on the fence about making this trip. Part of me is saying "wait 10 or 15 years and maybe you'll have grandkids you can take". Then again I might not live that long and as they say, "there's no time like the present".

With time getting somewhat short I went online today and found a 3-day itinerary that loops around the Park and covers most of the highlights a first time visitor would enjoy seeing (see below). Can anyone suggest any changes of substitutions that I might find more appealing? My wife (visited Park as a child) doesn't backpack but is game for challenging day hikes. What will crowds be like in late Sept? We have a truck camper and can boondock outside the Park if it helps.

All feedback is welcome!

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wsp_scott

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I just went to Yellowstone this summer for the first time with my wife and kids (8, 10, 12). We did all of the tourist stuff and very little "real" hiking. I generally hate crowds and I thought Yellowstone was fascinating. We spent 5 nights in the park and I could easily have spent 5 more.

Thoughts on that itinerary

That first day would be exhausting. The Upper Basin is a minimum of 2-3 hours and you will likely spend more time waiting for something to go off. Norris Basin was super cool and I think we spent about 3 hours there as well. If you stay close by, you want to walk the upper basin late at night or early in the morning (or both). Artist Paint Pots is nearby and worth the hour or so to check out. We went to Grand Prismatic in the morning and the steam hid a lot of the pool, go in late afternoon to really see the colors.

Day 2: Mammoth Hot Springs is worth lingering, but you probably won't spend more than 1 - 2 hours. The Lamar Valley is not exactly close by. Don't know about the rest.

Day 3: Uncle Tom's is closed. I could spend day along the North and South Rims of the Canyon even without doing "real" hikes" The Hayden Valley has awesome sunsets and sunrises. West Thumb was crowded but worth it. Storm Point was a great 3ish mile dayhike that has great views of Yellowstone Lake.

Long story short: You should go to Yellowstone and you should plan on more than 3 nights. Also check out when the campground close, a lot of them shut down in Sept.

I'm traveling tomorrow so won't be able to reply, but I'm sure you will get lots of feedback
 

TractorDoc

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Should you go to Yellowstone?

I'd answer that with a definite Yes. Even if it is to catch some of the touristy stuff first. Get that out of the way then know there is so much more to the backcountry that you could probably go days with seeing fewer people than you'd think.

You also have to remember that the park is so big it can be a challenge to cross off all the "must sees" in one trip. I typically go for a week once a year and still don't cover as much as I'd like to in that time -- even after repeat trips.

From your list I'd favor staying in/around the Old Faithful/Upper Geyser basin region with a side trip to Grand Prismatic (Day 1).

For Day 2 you could loop around towards Yellowstone Lake on the Grand Loop Road and drive up thru Hayden Valley, maybe taking in West Thumb GB and the Mud Volcano area. You could take the North/South Canyon rim drives in the evening if staying around Canyon.

Day 3 could be spent driving up to Lamar Valley but I'd take in the views along the Canyon once more in the morning -- best time to visit the Lower Falls is before/during sunrise.

Don't try to see everything at once as you'll become overwhelmed. As far as crowds I always pick September as in normal years most kids have gone back to school, the bugs are less bothersome, and the weather is more to my liking. Last year was a bit busier with everyone wanting to get out when they could not go anywhere else -- when I was near the big name areas I did notice the park more busy than usual.

If you really want to avoid crowds/people the best thing to do is stay inside the park and enjoy it in the early morning/evening when all the day trip folks are not there. Some of my favorite times in the park are when its just me watching Old Faithful erupt, seeing the geyser basins full of steam on a crisp fall morning, or watching the sunset across a backcountry lake. There is a lot you can experience without another person around. . . you just have to be in the right place at the right times. ;)

Finding those moments is how Yellowstone hooked me and how it keeps me coming back. I also have a love for the South-West/Desert as you do and would like to return there someday, I just have not had my fill of what Yellowstone has to offer yet.

I'm sure others will have more experiences to convince you to visit -- I certainly hope you do!
 

LarryBoy

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I'm also a Yellowstone skeptic. I don't find the terrain within the park itself that enchanting (though there are exceptions, largely along the peripheries), and the tourists are a huge downer in the frontcountry.

That said, if you haven't seen that stuff before, you really should. It may not merit a repeat visit in your book, but I'd definitely recommend visiting once. Those thermal features are really one-of-a-kind, and it's a classic piece of Americana. To me, visiting the Yellowstone frontcountry is like visiting the Golden Gate Bridge or US Capitol. And that's special and unique in its own way, even if it doesn't fit what I typically prefer in the outdoors.
 

Bob

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Unfortunately everyone should visit the front country of Yellowstone.... And there are great easy or hard Backcountry places to see...

Boiling river is closed. Tower falls, dunraven is closed. Uncle Tom's is closed. Bag petrified tree.... Go up to trees on specimen ridge.

You need four days.....
 
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Bob

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Lonestar geyser. Upper falls overlook. Black sand basin. Artist paint pots on way to norris. If you can hit a eruption of great fountain it's worth it. Look to stay at Madison cg...more central.

EVERYWHERE up here has crowds ... Can't escape the last 2 years.... I know I live 20 miles from west Yellowstone. Goes into early October. I go in right before they close...nice then.
 

napatony13

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Lonestar geyser. Upper falls overlook. Black sand basin. Artist paint pots on way to norris. If you can hit a eruption of great fountain it's worth it. Look to stay at Madison cg...more central.

EVERYWHERE up here has crowds ... Can't escape the last 2 years.... I know I live 20 miles from west Yellowstone. Goes into early October. I go in right before they close...nice then.
I buckled down and put all the sites mentioned here into my GPS mapping program to get a better feel for locations and distances. Then I started trying to figure out which campgrounds made the most sense. That place shuts down early! Most of the CGs close by mid-Sept...Madison and Mammoth look like the only options and they don't list any openings until early October. I'm going to have to do some more research and see if they hold out some first-come first-serve sites and if they fill up in late Sept. It looks like they didn't fill today or yesterday, so maybe there's hope. I'd rather fit this trip into Sept. as I have another already booked for October.
 

Rockskipper

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The first time I went there was with my brother and we had different rigs and had trouble matching our plans. I wanted to get up to Glacier, and he wanted to putz along. I wasn't thrilled with Ystone, I thought it was kind of boring with its miles and miles of trees. We visited the major features then headed north. My heart wasn't in it.

Let me say that I grew up in the high desert of NW Colorado and have been a desert rat all my life. I love the desert and it's the only place I truly feel at home, even though I lived in the San Juan Mtns for a number of years, as well as other Colorado and Montana mountainous areas. I lived in Moab for many years, and I always return to the desert.

I went back to Ystone after I moved to Livingston MT some years ago. Coming in from the north felt different, as well as being in the Lamar Valley. I was totally enchanted with it and gradually explored the southern areas more. Now, if I can't get up there at least once a year, I feel it calling me and feel like something is lost inside me.

You HAVE to go if you love nature. The tourists won't be bad this time of year and you can pretty much avoid them by going to more difficult to get to places (like the Lamar). Part of the attraction is the animals, and the elk and bison will be in rut, which is interesting, and the bears will be coming down from the high country to fatten up for winter. You get a feel for what real wilderness is like. Don't hesitate - just go!

ETA And don't write off the Tetons. They're worthy of at least several days. Gros Ventre campground is really nice.
 

swmalone

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I think everyone should go at least once. We have taken several trips with family where we show them the main touristy things and then usually add in some day hikes. The thing I find interesting about Yellowstone is that a trailhead can be completely packed but if you get half a mile away you can find a fair amount of solitude.

My wife and I have been making trips where we camp at a campground and then explore areas that are within a few minutes drive of our campground.

One thing to note with the campgrounds. If you can get in in September you should be fine, but if you reserve in October it is possible they may close early and cancel your reservation. This happened to us last October due to cold temps.

Good luck with your trip and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
 

napatony13

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You HAVE to go if you love nature. The tourists won't be bad this time of year and you can pretty much avoid them by going to more difficult to get to places (like the Lamar). Part of the attraction is the animals, and the elk and bison will be in rut, which is interesting, and the bears will be coming down from the high country to fatten up for winter. You get a feel for what real wilderness is like. Don't hesitate - just go!

ETA And don't write off the Tetons. They're worthy of at least several days. Gros Ventre campground is really nice.
Thanks for the confirmation, I'm definitely feeling better about it. I was a bit ignorant about the crowds...I thought late September would still be very busy, but it looks like most of the campgrounds have already shut down by them.

Part of the reason for picking Sept. is I was hoping the elk would be rutting. I've seen them on their Winter grounds in Jackson Hole, but would really like to see them when they're bugling and fighting.

Thanks for the Tetons recommendation. I have a couple of hikes there on my to-do list, but probably not on this trip. My wife's sister worked at the Jenny Lake Lodge for a Summer and she always raves about how beautiful it was there.
 

napatony13

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I think everyone should go at least once. We have taken several trips with family where we show them the main touristy things and then usually add in some day hikes. The thing I find interesting about Yellowstone is that a trailhead can be completely packed but if you get half a mile away you can find a fair amount of solitude.

My wife and I have been making trips where we camp at a campground and then explore areas that are within a few minutes drive of our campground.

One thing to note with the campgrounds. If you can get in in September you should be fine, but if you reserve in October it is possible they may close early and cancel your reservation. This happened to us last October due to cold temps.

Good luck with your trip and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Thanks for the info. I think the advice about the trailheads is true in most places...things thin out considerably once you get away from the dedicated viewpoints.

Do you have a feel for how crowded the campgrounds are in late Sept? I'm trying to determine if showing up midweek without a reservation is an issue or not.
 

swmalone

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Do you have a feel for how crowded the campgrounds are in late Sept? I'm trying to determine if showing up midweek without a reservation is an issue or not.
I am not sure about late September but I was able to make a reservation for 2 sites at Madison for early October last year only a couple of weeks before our planned trip, of course they later canceled due to cold temps. Most of those campgrounds have become reservation based so if you have an idea of your dates you could check to see if there are any available openings. I am a compulsive planner so want to make sure there is a site available when I arrive, but if I were to try without a reservation I think your late September, mid-week idea would be the best bet.
 

balzaccom

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Swimalone is right. A mile into the trail, and you will leave the crowds behind. Your list includes a lot of the tourist hotspots, but I'd make a few changes.

Through-hike to Grand Prismatic Spring down from the Fountain Flats Trailhead. We did it in the middle of July, and saw about six people (Four of them were lost) until we got to Fairy Falls. We did see Bison, and have a wonderful hike, including Imperial Geyser.

We hiked Pelican Valley and saw only four people all day--although we did see some great wolf footprints on the trail.

Lamar Valley is best at dusk. We took a picnic dinner and were treated to an amazing wildlife show, including a herd of bison walking right through the picnic area as we were preparing dinner. Then we found a spot to observe...and saw two coyotes chasing a wolf away from their den.

Yellowstone is America's premier big game park. Go for the wildlife in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys. And hike off into the meadows and forest to see more animals and fewer people. Swim in the Firehole and drift through warm and icy currents.

If you stick only to the "highlights" that everyone else does, you will have plenty of company. Those are worth doing. But get off the beaten track and you will have remarkable encounters and adventures.
 

napatony13

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Swimalone is right. A mile into the trail, and you will leave the crowds behind. Your list includes a lot of the tourist hotspots, but I'd make a few changes.

Through-hike to Grand Prismatic Spring down from the Fountain Flats Trailhead. We did it in the middle of July, and saw about six people (Four of them were lost) until we got to Fairy Falls. We did see Bison, and have a wonderful hike, including Imperial Geyser.

We hiked Pelican Valley and saw only four people all day--although we did see some great wolf footprints on the trail.

Lamar Valley is best at dusk. We took a picnic dinner and were treated to an amazing wildlife show, including a herd of bison walking right through the picnic area as we were preparing dinner. Then we found a spot to observe...and saw two coyotes chasing a wolf away from their den.

Yellowstone is America's premier big game park. Go for the wildlife in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys. And hike off into the meadows and forest to see more animals and fewer people. Swim in the Firehole and drift through warm and icy currents.

If you stick only to the "highlights" that everyone else does, you will have plenty of company. Those are worth doing. But get off the beaten track and you will have remarkable encounters and adventures.
Thanks for the suggestions, they sound great and I feel better about going. I was only able to get a reservation for one night at Madison so I'm going to have to adjust the itinerary to allow for travel time to campsites outside the Park.
 

Kmatjhwy

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Now personally I say 'Go For It'. Yellowstone has much to offer. But I would not restrict myself just to Yellowstone, there is much to see all over NW Wyoming and the surrounding country. September is a great time with less tourists, the fall colors, and everything. As others have said, The Lamar Valley is Great! Now first saw Yellowstone many years ago and thru the years have hiked all over here in NW Wyoming. Think if you go that you will not regret it. Wishing You the Best!
 

Rockskipper

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Thanks for the suggestions, they sound great and I feel better about going. I was only able to get a reservation for one night at Madison so I'm going to have to adjust the itinerary to allow for travel time to campsites outside the Park.
The dry cabins at Flagg Ranch (called Headquarters now that Vail has taken over the contract) are really quite nice and affordable at around $80 each. They're not all that far from the southern stuff in Ystone. Their campsites are a bit too crowded for my taste. And there's Grassy Lake Rd. just north of there that has free campsites, but all but the first couple are too far for daily travel, as the road's too washboarded.
 

Bob

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Firehole swimming area is closed
 

napatony13

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Now personally I say 'Go For It'. Yellowstone has much to offer. But I would not restrict myself just to Yellowstone, there is much to see all over NW Wyoming and the surrounding country. September is a great time with less tourists, the fall colors, and everything. As others have said, The Lamar Valley is Great! Now first saw Yellowstone many years ago and thru the years have hiked all over here in NW Wyoming. Think if you go that you will not regret it. Wishing You the Best!
Thanks, I'm sure it will be beautiful and I'm looking forward to it. I'm hoping to get over to Dubois and visit a couple of rock art sites there, but beyond that I still have a few days to fill.
 
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