Have you ever been to Yellowstone National Park? Would you like to see a TON of animals in their natural habitat? If you do, then you should move Yellowstone to the top of your bucket list! Animals are so close you could touch them, even though you definitely shouldn’t, unless you aren’t attached to the limbs you have left (see what I did there). Have you ever wanted to be stuck in a traffic jam due to wild bison running down the road in front of you? Lucky for you, you most likely won’t have a choice in the matter. You could always eat a bison burger in retribution afterwards though.
Early September is the perfect time of year to go visit Yellowstone. The crowds have died down, it’s not too hot, and the roads haven’t closed due to snowfall yet. Make sure to pack some warm clothes in case you do get caught on a mountain in an early blizzard like we did. September is also the beginning of the rut for the elk so they are going to be EVERYWHERE! If you have never witnessed an elk bugle this is the time to hear it!
Bison and elk are great and all, but you may be lucky enough to see some other wildlife such as wolves, moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, mule deer, whitetail deer, mountain goats, bear, and various big cats. We were lucky enough to see all but one of these animals during our stay (which was only three days).
If animals aren’t your thing, there is always Old Faithful which still erupts just about every hour. The signboard in the lodge shows the expected time of eruption gives or take about 10 minutes. If you want a good seat you will have to get there early as everyone flocks to the area for the eruption. You can always find someone tall and beg to sit on their shoulders; I saw that work quite well for some people.
As much of a showstopper as Old Faithful is, make sure you don’t miss out on the geothermal pools in the area. I have never been big on following the rules (and I gently bend them on occasion). With that being said, this area can be very dangerous if you decide to venture off of the designated paths or boardwalks. The ground is very unstable and the pools are about 199 °F (93 °C). Falling through the fragile crust would be the end of your Yellowstone vacation to stay the least. The pools are a sight to behold; the only downside being the rotten egg smell (sulfur) in the area. Don’t worry though you’ll get used to it or you’ll become a mouth breather (your choice).
One of the things I love about Yellowstone is the variety of different things to see and do. You can enjoy Yellowstone from the comfort of your vehicle but you will enjoy it even more if you get off your butt and go for a hike (plus you can get away from a lot of the crowds). Mt. Washburn is one of the most popular hikes in the park and is located on the Northeast side of the park. It is 6.4 miles (10.2km) round trip with about 1400 feet (426.72 meters) of elevation gain. It was extremely windy and actually snowing sideways on the day that we went. Luckily for us, the storm clouds parted long enough so that we could snap a couple of pictures at the top. The views from the summit and observation tower were well worth freezing our fingers off (please pack gloves).
If you want to experience some of the backcountry, but don’t feel like walking, the park offers ATV rentals as well as guided horseback riding. If you are excited about seeing wildlife I would not recommend the ATVs for obvious reasons.
Alright, it’s confession time… I am a waterfall chaser. I cannot travel someplace new and not attempt to see every waterfall in the area. Yellowstone did not disappoint in these regards. There are over 45 named waterfalls that are over 15 feet tall (4.6 m) in the park. The larger falls still had plenty of water even in September. If you don’t have time for anything else I would recommend seeing Tower Falls and Yellowstone Falls, the views were stunning!
If you are going to Yellowstone I would plan on being there for approximately a week if you want to make sure you have time to see everything the park has to offer as it is enormous. If you plan on entering and exiting the park on more than two days during your stay I would recommend getting the “America the Beautiful” pass. The cost of this pass is $80 and allows entry into any U.S. National park for one year. The entry fee without the pass is $15 per person or $30 per vehicle per day. If you are feeling overwhelmed you can always stop at a visitor center and talk to a ranger. They are all super helpful and will point you in the right direction.
Katie Thurlow @globetrotterkt
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