Yellowstone National Park, WY/MT/ID

Just down the road from Grand Teton National Park was the famous Yellowstone National Park. In doing research I didn’t really understand why people loved Yellowstone so much. Missing was the exaggerated landscapes that I found in Utah. It almost felt like Michigan except with a geyser and a few more dangerous animals.

I stopped at the sign to take the usual national park picture. There was a beautiful river next to the road. I really wanted to go fishing but also knew I did not have a fishing license here and didn’t want to push it inside the park.

Summer in Yellowstone is buys so if you want a campsite in the park you better show up early in the morning. Since I was arriving later in the day I knew I would have to find alternate camping arrangements. Camping in the park (outside of campgrounds) is not an option. Yellowstone rangers are strict about this and if you are found  camping in your car in the park you will face a heavy fine.

Let me just say that this park is HUGE. You can’t see everything in a day. I would say that two days minimum are needed. If you are carting around a family I would say that you would probably have to set aside three days.

Right inside the park I ran into a traffic jam. Eventually I figured out what it was. An elk! I quickly noticed though that a number of people were jumping out of their cars with cameras in hand to chase it. The elk ran into the water and was trying to swim away. I was not sure if I was tired or not but being around so many people again and seeing (what I thought) was a disrespect for this animal was disgusting. I was immediately concerned about how much I was going to like this park. Luckily though, over time, I was really able to understand and appreciate the park.

I drove around the park exploring but then, as the sun was dropping in the sky, I decided to take care of my main concern… finding a campground for the night. I went towards one of the exits (I believe the south-east). When I say this place is huge I really mean it. It took me about 40 minutes to pass the gate, exit the park and find a few campgrounds. They all had a lot of signage indicating that they were full and/or that a high grizzly bear presence and that only hard sided camping was allowed. This confused me and I didn’t know what to do so I decided to make one of the biggest mistakes of my trip. I headed back towards the park…

I told the ranger that everything was full and I was going to go out the north-east entrance (which my friend Jeff suggested earlier in the day). The ranger suggested I keep going and find something here but I decided to continue back into the park. It was a 90-minute drive to get out of the next entrance. Once out of the north-east entrance I was faced with a few campgrounds and a few more grizzly infected hard-shelled camping only campgrounds. It was dark so I had no interest in spending a lot of time outside of my car. I filled out the camping form and dropped it along my $10 in the tube and went to rearrange my car and get ready to sleep for the night. I slept well but headed out early in the morning. I wanted to get into the park and get a campsite reserved for the next few nights.

I was able to get a nice spot at Tower Falls campground. The north-east corner was a great place to view bison and wolves. Wolves though are really hard to find as they don’t hunt every day and they shy away from humans. There was also a gift shop nearby that had snacks and ice. I still had a number of backpacking meals and plenty of instant coffee so I didn’t need much. All I needed was a place to cook meals, sleep and to use as a base camp for the next few days.

The campground had plenty of trees for putting up a hammock, a nearby outhouse, a fire ring, picnic table, bear proof trash dumpster and a place to throw away used fuel canisters. There is also one person that works in the campground so if you have questions or need anything they are nearby.

Over the next few days I saw waterfalls, wild animals, geysers, hot springs, traffic accidents and a million RV’s.

Because everything was so congested during the day one of my favorite moments was waking up before dawn and visiting Mammoth Springs. I had seen pictures of the springs and knew it would make for some nice photographs. I met a girl from Germany (unfortunately I forgot her name) and we hung out for the next 90 minutes taking pictures and enjoying each others company. She was visiting the U.S. for a conference and decided to make a side trip to see the park. I think what made this special was the fact that there were no crowds and you were left alone with the beauty of the park. Before we parted ways she let me know of a great swimming hole near Gibbon Falls.

After visiting another one of the 6 visitors centers and collecting my last stamps at the park I decided to head for the swimming hole. It ended up being a river and was perfect. It refreshed me and prepared me for the rest of the day and eventual exit from the park.

As I headed out of the north-east entrance I said goodbye to Tower Falls and the herds of Bison that I was lucky enough to see every day. I figured I would have a couple of hours to get out of the park and to the freeway but I couldn’t have been so far from the truth. Like most entrance and exits from the park you have to travel around and over mountains. This exit took us up at least 10,000 feet and as slow as 15 mph in some places. What also complicated things was that around every corner was another great view of the sunset. I stopped no less than 10 times in exiting the park.

Eventually though I came out of the mountains and I started what would be a looooong night of driving. I stopped in the middle of the night at a rest area. I had no clue where I was but knew I was not too far from Devils Tower.

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