I just returned (Aug 2-10, 2010) from a great visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
I planned 2 days in the Old Faithful area, three in Canyon and two in the Grand Tetons.
As a result of comments by others I expected to spend more time waiting around (somewhat) and less time hiking (not really) than on previous trips.
I expected Old Faithful and the Lower Falls to be stars out of convenience. They are stars and deserve that status.
I was pleasantly surprised how easy the Mt Washburn hike turned out to be. A little long and thin air but the actual trail is smooth, wide and gradual.
Tower Fall due to the poor view. The hike down to the base is now permanently closed.
The Jenny Lake hike to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point due to the crowds. I should have planned this hike for a weekday rather than a weekend.
Not seeing a Grizzly Bear and only seeing Pronghorn/Bighorn Sheep from a distance.
Old faithful and Canyon cabins. While the cabins were a little sparse (expected) they had bathrooms and were fine.
Grand Teton. Signal Mountain Lodge. The cabins were a definite upgrade to those in Yellowstone. There was a phone in the room and computers in the lobby with an internet connection.
My style of travel has not changed over the years. I definitely do not rush through sights and stop for as long as I like. However, I start early in the day, end late and I’m non-stop in between.
Travel. We arrived in Jackson Hole about 12:30 and took over 5 hours to reach the Old Faithful area. This included quite a few stops on the way.
Geysers and thermal features.
There are five predicted geysers. All the rest erupt whenever. I suggest timing those with long eruption intervals. Seeing Old Faithful erupt is quite simple. At any time you’re not more than 90 minutes from an eruption. The best time is between 7:00 and 9:30AM as the sun will be up and to the rear but not too high. Obviously a clear day with no wind is best.
Predicted geysers with interval times longer than Old Faithful are Grand, Daisey, Riverside and Castle. Approximate eruption times are listed in the Lodge.
Clearly the Upper and Midway Basins are the place to view geysers and thermal features.
Without waiting for geyser eruptions it takes a couple of hours to walk through the Upper Basin. I would suggest at least a walk through the Upper Basin and several at different times of the day through Geyser Hill. The light coming from different directions and angles causes very interesting effects.
Grand Geyser erupts at 10 hours intervals with a window of plus or minus 2 hours. When we were there it erupted quite close to the end of its interval window. Since Riverside Geyser erupted less than an hour later we saw both.
Old Faithful was unexpectedly the most impressive geyser. The setting and height of eruptions make this a multiple “must see”.
As you move into afternoon a better location for viewing OF would be on the viewing platform but around to the side so that the sun isn’t in your eyes. Late in the day I suggest going over to Plume Geyser on Geyser Hill on the opposite side of OF and sitting on a bench together with less than 10 other people to watch the OF eruption.
Another option for OF is to take the relatively short but steep walk up to Observation Point and viewing the OF eruption from there. This provides another viewing perspective but due to the distance and angle I didn’t find it as dramatic as ground level.
Obviously Old Faithful had the largest crowds but they were never a problem.
There were two other areas that I really enjoyed.
Morning Glory Pool is at the far end of the Upper Basin just past Riverside Geyser and its colors were nothing less than spectacular. Due to its very small size it’s easy to get a good view.
Grand Prismatic Spring is in Midway Basin. Its colors and very large size make it a “must see”. It’s probably about the size of two or more football fields.
Due to its size, the official viewing area is far from the best location. I suggest driving back to the Fairy Falls trailhead and walking the first mile of the hike. After reaching the opposite side of the Spring there’s a small, “unofficial” trail up (quite steep) to what has to be the best viewing area. This is almost a hellicopter view and the colors are amazing. There were about a dozen people there when we went.
Since we saw everything of interest to us multiple times in the first day and a half, we left the Old faithful area at mid-day rather than in the evening. As a result, instead of driving directly to the Canyon area we drove up to Mammoth and around to Canyon. This allowed us to stop at a few extra waterfalls (see below).
In my opinion I was correct in leaving the Mammoth area out of the plan. Mammoth Hot Springs was neither hot nor were there springs. After about an hour of viewing white rocks we moved on.
I was on a mission to see waterfalls.
It didn’t take me long to determine my favorite viewing angle which was straight on and below the top. Preferably at or below the middle.
Moose Falls. This waterfall is located just inside the south entrance to Yellowstone and a couple of hundred yards from the parking lot. Although it’s relatively small, it’s very nice with excellent views from the bottom and top of the falls. Definitely worth the stop.
Keppler Cascades. Located just before the Old Faithful area. The viewing deck is feet from the parking area. Not one of my favorite angles of view since the viewing area is quite far away and well above the top. Never the less worth the stop.
Mystic Falls. A relatively short and easy hike from Buscuit Basin (Midway Basin). A very nice waterfall and definitely worth the hike.
Fire Hole Falls. I enjoyed the scenic drive and sheer canyon views (I believe this was the only canyon we visited where we were at the bottom looking up) from the stops we made more than the actual Falls. The view was from way above, the falls are small and we were there in midday with a glaring sun. The scenic drive is worth it so you might as well stop to see the falls and/or go swimming in the river as many others do.
Rustic Falls. Located just below Mammoth. Easily missed and dismissed but I really liked the angle of view and the shape of the falls. It looked like a staircase. Right by the roadside and worth the stop.
Undine Falls. Locate just east of Mammoth. These falls should be more impressive than they are. There’s an upper and lower part to the falls but the high viewing angle and distance take something away. If you are in the area stop as the falls are visible from a roadside parking area.
Tower Fall (yes it’s Fall and not Falls). Located just south of the Tower Junction about 100 yards from the parking lot. Unfortunately, with the trail to the bottom of the falls permanently closed, the high viewing angle, the distance and amount of the falls blocked by foliage viewing these falls is disappointing. Visit only because of the reputation and the crowds who must believe otherwise.
Lower Falls. Located in Canyon. Clearly the star of the show. What isn’t so clear is the best viewing location.
The famous Artist Point? I don’t think so. While the view up the Canyon to the Falls is beautiful it’s really far from the actual Falls and too far above the top. This is a definite early morning stop (not too early as the sun must be up to light up the Canyon).
Uncle Tom’s Trail. I don’t think so. The trail/stairs take you down over 300 steps to about midway from the bottom of the falls. While worth the effort, it’s actually a little too close to the Falls and not the best of angles since you view from the side.
Inspiration Point? No.
Lookout Point? Almost. On the way from the car to this viewing area I noticed an Osprey nest at the top of a spire. Those birds will have only one chance to fly and had better get it right. The viewing point is a very good distance from the Lower Falls and the horizontal angle is pretty good. But the vertical angle is a little too high.
Red Rock Point? Bingo!!! This is a 15-20 minute hike down into the canyon below Lookout Point. The trail starts between the parking lot and Lookout Point. Not many people bother to go down. In my opinion, the best seat in the house!! I met a couple with a camera on a tripod that was just standing there. At about 9:30 I realized why. A rainbow started to form on the bottom and over the next several minutes began to stretch across the lower part of the Falls from lower left to upper right. Let me repeat. In my opinion the best view of the Lower Falls is from Red Rock Point.
Grand View/Inspiration Point. Since you’re there you might as well get out of the car. Grandview provides very nice views down the canyon.
Upper Falls. Located in Canyon. Clearly overshadowed by its much larger and more impressive neighbor. You are there so you might as well see it.
Crystal Falls. Located a five-minute walk from the (before) Brink of the Upper Falls. This is the surprise of the area. Nobody knows about it and it doesn’t appear on many maps. We were the only ones there and possibly the only ones there all day. Actually not so because on the way to the car I met a family from Germany and asked them if they had seen this waterfall. I walked them over and they couldn’t get over a sight like this with absolutely no other people. A very quiet and peaceful stop. Definitely see it.
Brink of the Upper and Lower Falls. I grouped them together as that’s what I think of them. You see very little other than spray. I wouldn’t waste my time. The Upper is very close to the parking area. The Lower is not.
The only waterfalls easily viewable in GTNP is Hidden Falls. While the hike was not very enjoyable due to the number of people (could have formed a human chain) (maybe we should have pick a day other than Sunday), this waterfall was a very pleasant surprise. Good size and excellent viewing angle. Worth the effort. As a bonus, close to the top of the falls and to the left I saw some climbers rapelling down part way and then climbing back up.
Bison. The first one I saw was a stray between Old Faithful Inn and the Upper Geyser Basin. A ranger did his best to park in my line of view and kept yelling to move. I was about 50 yards away. These photos have since been deleted since there are more bison in Lamar Valley, Hayden Valley and between Canyon and Hayden than all the rest of the wildlife together. They walk around you and over you. By the end of our trip we weren’t even stopping to see them. But they do put on a show!!!
They are masters of the road and cause many traffic jams. Partly because people stop to watch them and partly because they walk all over the road and stop as they like. I guess if I were that size I’d do what I want as well.
Grizzly Bears. I didn’t see any but spoke to a few people who did. We were in Lamar Valley several times but no grizzlies.
Black Bears. I saw three of them. One was in Lamar but was too far away and the photos are basically unusable. I saw two others on the way up Signal Mountain. The first wouldn’t cooperate and was too busy eating to lift its head. The second put on a bit of a show quite close to us in the dim light of dusk.
Deer. Deer, and more deer. At least some have antlers and others don’t. Some have white butts and others don’t. Some have speckles and others don’t. They’re all very easy to look at and are around early and late in the day. The best viewing was between Canyon and Hayden Valley and in GTNP on the way up Signal Mountain.
Moose. I expected to see some near Moose but I think that’s a diversionary tactic. I saw one in a stream just below the road at Colter Bay. So did about a hundred other people. The road was wide at the junction so it didn’t cause any traffic issues.
Coyote on the Mt Washburn hike.
Coyote or something else (I’ll try to identify) was walking along the highway near Mt Washburn. I stopped and it walked in front of and around me before moving on.
Marmot or something in the beaver family at the top of Mt Washburn and on the hike to Taggart Lake.
Upper Geyser Basin. Obviously in the Old Faithful area. Allow several hours for this walk. Consider doing this twice at different times for the lighting effect. Early evening reminded me of a Sherlock Holmes movie. Otherwise, walk Geyser Hill at different times of the day. Or both. Most of the five predicted geysers are in this basin. Grand, Riverside and Daisy are quite close to each other.
Geyser Hill. A relatively short walk just past and beside Old Faithful. This is an excellent mini tour of geysers and other thermal features very close to Old Faithful Lodge. Again, consider doing this walk twice and at different times of the day. The bench at Plume Geyser provides an excellent view of Old Faithful erupting in the late afternoon hours with just a few people. Quite peaceful.
Observation Point. A short and relatively steep walk up to a lookout point above Old Faithful. A different and worthwhile viewing perspective of Old Faithful but not as dramatic due to the angle and distance.
Hellroaring Creek. Located between Mammoth and Tower. A very nice hike ending at a suspension bridge. However, there’s a change in elevation of about 800 feet. Down on the way in and up on the way back. While there are no dropoffs, the trail is relatively narrow and is shared with horses. The area around the bridge made the hike worth the effort back up.
Yellowstone Picnic Area. Located just east of the Tower junction. Starts with a short, steep walk up but then levels off and provides excellent views of the Canyon. A good length for an afternoon hike.
Mt Washburn. This is a classic hike and highly recommended. From the southern trailhead to the top over 3 miles. The starting elevation is 8,800 feet and the top is at about 10,300 feet. It’s cold and windy at the top so take with a sweater, windbreaker, rainwear and a snack to have in the indoor lookout. In spite of all of the above this is a very easy hike. The trail is actually a dirt road that’s smooth with a gentle incline all the way up. There are no chains or narrow trails hanging over a cliff. If it weren’t for the lack of oxygen due to the elevation, this would be a walk in the park. On the way we saw a coyote, chip monks, marmots and pronghorn sheep (unfortunately these were on the next mountain). Just walk slowly, drink water, have sunscreen on and rest as required.
Uncle Tom’s Trail. On the South Rim. Worth the effort for an up close and personal view of the Lower Falls. Almost too close.
Red rock Point. On the North Rim. This requires a 15-20 minute hike down below Lookout Point. This is the best view in the house and the 9:30AM rainbow put the icing on the cake. Don’t miss this vantage point!!!
Jenny Lake to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. This was the least enjoyable hike on the trip due to the number of people. Maybe late morning on a Sunday was bad timing. In spite of the crowds Hidden Falls was one of my favorites due to its size, distance and angle of view. The climbers/rapellers way up and to the left of the falls also added something.
Swan Lake-Pond – Colter Bay. I had hopes of seeing some wildlife here but it turned out to be just a nice walk in the forest.
Natural Bridge – Lake area. This is not in the same league as the Natural Bridge at Bryce Canyon. It was a longer hike than I expected and although it turned out to be an interesting site, the late day sun could have been better used on sunset photography in GTNP. A nice hike if you have little else to do.
An excellent trip. Thanks to all who made recommendations.
Would I go back again? Other than seeing more wildlife, I probably saw everything of interest to me. I wouldn’t be opposed to going back if I was with somebody who hadn’t been there. However, with so many other places to see, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons might have to wait a while for a return visit.
When I think about these two parks, they are really the equivalent to four or five other parks. Yellowstone has several distinct areas that could each have been its own park.
You can see my photos at:
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Trip Report - Yellowstone and Grand Teton NPs - Oct 2-10, 2010
I just returned (Aug 2-10, 2010) from a great visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.