3 Day visit to Yellowstone National Park

I knew the visit to Yellowstone national park would be special. The first national park of the world and home to Yogi bear himself, it had to be special. I had no idea until I actually saw it how insanely awesome this place would be!

Purva and I were going to Yellowstone with my USC friends. I was meeting them after almost 2 years so we were looking forward to the trip. We finalized our holiday plans a bit late, as usual, and hence our travel was a little more expensive than we would have liked. We were traveling in 3 groups — one each from Seattle, San Diego and San Jose. We flew to Salt Lake City which is very conveniently connected for everyone. Our flights landed within minutes of each other and after a few hugs and jokes we were already walking towards our “beast” of a car that would be our companion for the next 3 days.

After leaving SLC and having dinner at a cool little cafe on our way, called Kneaders, we headed to the West Entrance of Yellowstone. Our destination was a hotel called Clubhouse Inn where we would spend the night before a magical 3 day weekend!

Day 1

To our surprise we found that our college friend Bhushkya and his wife Pragya were also in Yellowstone at the time. They had rented a cabin nearby and invited us over for breakfast where we had a delicious omelette. From him we came to know about the bad weather in Yellowstone and how it rained all day long. After breakfast, we started our journey south towards Old Faithful.

Our first encounter with Geysers was special. It looked “Supernatural” and “Extra Terrestrial” as some of us described it. Looking at the mud pots, hot springs and fumaroles makes you wonder about the impending volcano at Yellowstone and where we would all be when it erupts in future.

By the time we reached Old Faithful it was raining heavily and we had already witnessed hail. We spent time at the visitor center while waiting for the geyser to erupt looking at the various exhibits which was a treat. When finally the geyser erupted, it was immediately compared to a pressure cooker blowing off steam. It was amazing! We got drenched in the rain and decided to buy a poncho which is a recommended accessory in Yellowstone at this time of the year (May) although it makes you look like you are getting a hair cut. Cafeteria also serves a heavenly vanilla ice cream dipped in hot chocolate which we relished in the rain and cold.

Old Faithful Geyser!

By the time we reached Midway Basin, hailstorm had started again because of which we could not see the Grand Prismatic very clearly. After seeing the turquoise and opal pools we started our journey north towards Mammoth Springs.

Be sure to catch the awesome views of Gibbon Falls and the magnificent Yellowstone valley on the way to Mammoth Springs. By the time we reached Mammoth Springs it was already getting dark. The terraces formed by prior volcanic activity and hot water from central yellowstone look like castles that we used to build at young age.

We had dinner at The Grill restaurant which was quite good. The cafe next to the restaurant also serves a killer huckleberry ice cream that’s not to be missed!

Our dwelling place for tonight was in Cooke City just outside the north east entrance of the park at a Soda Butte Lodge. It takes around 2.5 hours to get there from Mammoth Springs. We were warned about the wildlife on the road at night and were advised to drive extremely slow. Despite being super careful we almost head banged a bison at a tricky turn. We had to call early and ask the lodge to keep our keys at the front desk as we were going to reach late in the night. We finally reached there at 1 in the night and decided to leave at 6AM next day to go wildlife watching!

Day 2

Purva and I were the only ones who could muster the will to get up at 5 in the morning. At 6 we were on our way to Lamar Valley which promised to be a prime area for viewing wildlife.

Lamar Valley — 1
Lamar Valley — 2

Photo Credits : Ashish Joshi

North east Yellowstone, the Soda Butte Creek, Lamar River and Valley all the way up to Roosevelt Lodge is absolutely gorgeous. There is plenty of wildlife to be seen early in the morning here. We saw hundreds of bisons, Elk, Moose and a Coyote while driving. It was a mind blowing experience.

Moose, near Lamar Valley

We reached back the hotel and slept for a couple of hours. After having a breakfast at the lodge itself, we left to see the Tower Falls. But we did not know yet about the awesome treat Yellowstone had in place for us and if someone had told us, we would not have believed it to be true!

We stopped plenty of times to capture the beauty of Lamar Valley. The lush meadows with abundant wild life, meandering rivers and creeks and forests and mountains in the backdrop are any photographers dream!

As we started towards the Tower falls from Roosevelt lodge, we had to stop just past the bridge. There was a black bear sleeping in the woods around 500 feet away. It was our first bear sighting in the park and it was very exciting.

After a couple of stolen glimpses of the bear hidden in the forest, we left the sight and had to stop again in another 5 minutes. Right next to the road, there was another bear family — A Black mamma bear with 3 cute black cubs just 100ft away from the road! It was the most amazing bear sighting possible. We spent half and hour watching the bears eat berries from the shrubs and the cubs playing around their mom.

When we finally, unwillingly, left, to our extreme delight we had to stop again! There was another Black Bear with 2 more cubs right next to the road again. We were happy beyond measure — we had seen 8 bears in less than 1 mile. This bear had 2 cubs — one black and other cinnamon in color. We were missing our zoom lens but the sight was one that we would never forget. Our Yellowstone trip was successful!

Drive from Roosevelt to Tower Falls is breathtaking. It goes through the Mount Washburn and Duraven Pass and the views are absolutely stunning. You get to see tall snow covered peaks, beautiful vast forests and the wide expanse of the entire Yellowstone Valley from numerous lookout points along the road. I definitely recommend spending time at these points and enjoying the magnificent views

Somewhere near Mt. Washburn. Photo Credits : Ashish Joshi

We finally reached Tower Falls at around 4 in the evening. The canyon and the falls are gorgeous. The entire area, it feels, has been sketched out by a master painter with the canyon walls painted in vibrant colors and the magnificent falls at the head of the river. We drove along the north and south rim of the canyon and clicked plenty of amazing photos. Late in the evening we left for our final destination in Yellowstone — the Yellowstone Lake.

We reached lake at dusk. Sunset at the lake is extremely beautiful. We would have loved to sit by the peaceful lake and soak it in had we not been so hungry at the time! We made our way to the Yellowstone Lake Lodge. The restaurant at the lodge is right by the lake and serves amazing food and wine.

After feeding ourselves to the brim, we left for Colter Bay Village near Grant Teton where we would spend the night. It was the best day ever.

Day 3

The Grant Teton

Grand Teton is one of the most beautiful places I have seen. The view of the Jackson Lake and the surrounding mountains from Jackson Lake Lodge is extra ordinary. Next time I come to Jackson Hole, I would definitely stay in Jackson Lake Lodge.

We only had a few hours to spend in the area. So we drove around the lake and decided to take the tram ride to the top of the mountain from the Jackson Village. Drive around the lake is beautiful and offers plenty of spots to take photos. By the time we reached Jackson it was raining and that dampened our spirits to go to the top of the mountain. Instead we decided to have lunch at the village which has some really awesome restaurants.

After a delicious lunch we left for Salt Lake City which where was magical weekend would come to an end. At the SLC Airport we all grabbed dinner at Qdoba which was great and then bid each other farewell with a promise to meet again at another national park sometime soon!