This is Part Two of my blog post on Yellowstone. If you haven’t read Part One (or if you just want a refresher or re-read), definitely check it out. You’ll find out how we started this whole trip, plus my experience and tips on camping, hydrothermal activity, and animal spotting.
Now it's time to share the outdoor portion! If you know anything about me, I never really have a lazy dazy, lounge around vacation. Tom and I got in some biking, a lot of walking, and a nice hike with a good friend.
After setting up camp, we hopped onto our bikes to explore the area. We were planning on biking on the path toward the Natural Bridge, but it was closed due to bear activity. Tom was all for riding head on into a bear. I was not. We biked a short distance on the road until we came to a sign for Gull Point. Once we turned onto that side road, we were free and clear. No cars were using the road (probably because it didn’t lead to a hot spring), so we could take up the whole path. A couple smooth turns and some baby hills brought us to a long, flat path that led to Gull Point. It’s pretty interesting how one small strip of land can have two different waterscapes on each side: wide open and small pond with trees.
While biking is allowed in the park, the main roads around the park aren’t really set up for it. They were made in the 1870s, and haven’t been expanded. Hence, the shoulders aren’t big and there aren’t any bike lanes. Biking on the main road would mean sharing with the cars. The people driving around the park are coming from all other the world, and aren’t really on the lookout for bikers.
TIP: Here are a few options if you decide to bring your bike with you.
- Use one of the park’s designated bike trails.
- Use side roads for places that aren’t heavily trafficked.
- Some of the roads around the park are open year-round, but others are closed due to snow. The park plows the roads a couple weeks before they’re open to cars, so this is a good time to have the road all to yourself.
- Most of the people activity happens between 10 am and 6 pm. There are even less cars on the roads early in the morning. Just be on the lookout for the animals since this is the time they like to be out and about.
We were lucky enough to get the opportunity to meet up with Tim, one of our friends who recently started working in the park. That day, we decided to hike the area around the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone South Rim. We took the Wapiti Lake Trail towards Clear Lake and further on to Point Sublime. Along the way, we crossed wide open grass plains with the majestic mountains of Specimen Ridge in the background.
When we neared Clear Lake, we could smell sulfur (think rotten eggs) before we could even see the water. Once we got closer to the water, we could even see air bubbles rising up to the surface. Swimming was not happening that day. (Besides, because of all the thermal activity in the park, possible injuries like third degree burns or death, and damage to hot springs; swimming is only allowed in designated areas.)
We crossed what seemed like a barren desert of white dirt, rocks, and thermal activity before reaching the woods that separated us from the canyon.
Once out of the woods, we came to a wide open clearing and the beginning of many views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Seeing those high walls with the river running through it was breathtaking and very humbling. I marveled at how long it took to cut the walls of the canyon, and wondered how much deeper it would get in the future as the river and falls continued to wear away at the rocks underneath.
Since we were near the other lookout areas, we decided to take the short walk over to Artist’s Point (where the buses drop off passenger), Lookout Point (where you can catch the iconic view of the falls), and Red Rock Trail (where you have to climb down stairs to get to the viewing area). Red Rock Trail was a little steep for some people, and we saw them turn around before reaching the bottom. For us, this just meant it was less crowded once we reached our destination.
TIP: There are so many opportunities for hiking in the park: walking from one geothermal attraction to the next; hopping onto a side trail next to the attraction loop; day hikes; and back country camping. In fact, only a small percent of the park is accessible via car. The Grand Loop, the main road that takes you all over the park, is only 142 miles. There are over 1,000 miles of trails! If you want to see the rest of the park, you’ll need to do it on your own two feet. You can pop into any information center for info on a day hike.
With flexibility, an open mind, and a little bit of luck; we created a very enjoyable and memorable trip for ourselves. While planning and reserving is more secure, there’s this nice flexibility that happens when itineraries aren’t so ridged. You can see something not planned or stay at a cool place you found along the way because there's nowhere you have to be.
Are you willing to go somewhere without planning and see where it takes you?