OK Here goes:
So first thing you have to decide when you go to Yellowstone is which entrance you’ll be coming in from. There are 5 entrances and each have their pros and cons.
We ended up using the North entrance by Gardiner mainly because of the award availability at BZN. As it turned out, it seemed to work out real well for us because of the Altitude. Yellowstone is pretty high up, not high enough to cause serious issues but enough to cause my (then) pregnant wife some discomfort and shortness of breath. Turns out that the North entrance is the lowest one of the 5 helping us acclimatize by sleeping low.
The con is that if you are planning on visiting Grand Teton National Park then the North entrance is the farthest one.
Another thing to look into is someone to show you around, you can get a local guide for pretty cheap, or you can use a guidebook (we found Yellowstone Treasures
to be an excellent resource). We ended up using a Gaper Guide
which is basically like a GPS for Yellowstone. As you drive around the park it points out different landmarks and points of interest, suggests various hikes and gives interesting anecdotes about the park’s history.Day 1
We landed at BZN and picked up our rental car then spent the rest of the day in Bozeman picking up supplies at walmart, looking for anything Kosher at the local health food stores and dropping off a few packages of Kosher goodies at the local Shluchim. In the evening we headed out towards Yellowstone and got to Gardiner at around 11 (it gets dark really late in the summer, another plus because you can be out seeing stuff until 9-10 PM).
We stayed at a hotel called the Absaroka Lodge, a nice family owned place with beautiful views. Every room has a porch or patio overlooking the Yellowstone River and Elk come right up to the patios all the time. It’s very Heimish (when we arrived there was a homemade brownie on the table waiting for us). We stayed in a ‘Kitchen Suite’ which had a small kitchenette where we could prepare our meals. We arrived at around 11, there was no one at the desk but they left us an envelope with our key and room number along with instructions to come by the next morning to check in.Day 2
After Davening and eating breakfast with a family of Elk it was time to explore. We picked up our Gaper Guide and headed to the park.
Looking at the map you can see that the roads make a loop (actually a figure
called the Grand Loop Road. The Gardiner entrance is on the northwest, it joins the loop right at Mammoth Hot Springs. Being that we had 2 days to do the park, we decided to do the west side of the loop on the first day and then the east side the next day (though for some reason (I can’t remember now why) we decided to skip Mammoth Hot Springs and leave them for the next day).
So starting at the entrance we passed Mammoth Hot Springs. Somewhere along the road we saw steam coming out of the side of the road so we stopped to see our first hot springs. I guess I always imagined a hot spring to be something no hotter than a hot bath, but here we saw 3 small holes in the ground with water seemingly going down forever, and bubbling away like a pot of soup, that was when I realized what the hot in ‘hot springs’ meant.
We then stopped at Norris Geyser Basin which has many thermal features, including Steamboat Geyser which is known as the tallest Geyser in the world. When it erupts it blows water over 300 feet into the air! Trouble is it’s highly unpredictable, and intervals between eruptions can last anywhere from a few days to 50 years (the last eruption was in 2005).
Continuing along the loop, we reached Lower Geyser Basin which has a small loop drive through it, while driving we came across a Geyser that had a few people waiting near it, turns out it’s a small Geyser called White Dome Geyser with an interval of ~40 minutes, it last erupted 30 minutes ago so it was due soon. We decided to wait a bit, but even predictable geysers are not always reliable and after 20 minutes the sun did us in and we left (due to the altitude, the sun is ruthless. Take plenty of sunscreen and be really generous with it, even if you never burn).
We continued on the loop to Midway Geyser Basin, home to the Grand Prismatic Spring. There is no way to describe the awesomeness of the Grand Prismatic. All the famous pictures of it are taken from the air, and focus on the pretty color but from the ground you are struck by the sheer magnitude. It’s a huge spring 250 by 300 feet, pumping out 600 gallons of boiling hot water per minute.
From there we got to the bottom of the loop and the Old Faithfull area. We parked at the visitor center and were glad to note that Old Faithfull was due to erupt any minute. We quickly headed outside and saw an amazing site. A huge crowd, hundreds strong, was sitting around a HUGE circle, looking at a bump in the ground with some steam coming out of it.
Old faithful is known to erupt every 90 minutes +\- 10 minutes. We arrived at the beginning of this 20 minute ‘grace period’ and apparently just to spite us the geyser decided to take an extra-long interval passing the 90 minute mark and then waiting another 15 minutes before it erupted. As you can imagine, the crowd was getting more and more impatient. In the meantime we saw Grand Geyser erupt in the distance (Grand is bigger but less predictable then Old Faithfull).
Finally after 25 minutes of waiting we were rewarded with a spectacular eruption. I was hyping myself up the whole day to see a real geyser and yet I was amazed by the raw power that can send boiling water 160 feet into the air for a full minute.
When it was finally over we decided to head back. At 6PM there was another 3 hours of daylight which could have easily been filled at the Old Faithful area, but the altitude and my wife’s pregnancy was getting to her so we headed back to the hotel for supper.
That night was the Perseid meteor shower, so after it got dark we drove up to some dark hill in the area to catch some meteors. If you are an astronomy geek, or even if you just like looking at stars Yellowstone is an awesome place. The high altitude and the clear mountain air make for amazing star watching.Day 2
We started today by Mammoth Hot Springs with its famous terraces, then continued towards the east part of the loop. The east loop has less thermal features and more scenery and wildlife (although there is plenty of both wherever you are in Yellowstone).
We started through the North Range, all the while stopping for “Animal Jams” where traffic comes to a standstill because someone spotted a bear or a bull elk. Eventually we arrived at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which while obviously doesn’t compare in size with THE Grand Canyon is still really pretty, and the lower falls are probably one of the most photogenic spots in the park after Old Faithful.
We then stopped at the Mud Volcano, which is basically a cave churning out wave after wave of boiling hot mud and steam.
From there the drive took a turn for the scenic along Lake Yellowstone. We drove all around it until we got to West Thumb Geyser Basin, a Geyser Basin on the shore of Yellowstone Lake (some of the Geysers are underwater). We then completed the circuit at Old Faithful, again coming just on time to catch a beautiful eruption, then it was back to the hotel for supper and bed.
The next morning we checked out and headed back to BZN for home.