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marymarra Aug 18th, 2010 01:53 PM

GTNP, Yellowstone, Montana Trip Report, Part 2
From GTNP, we drove into Yellowstone through the South Entrance. The drive in is mostly lodgepole pines so not the most exciting introduction to Yellowstone, but that changed quickly when we got to Old Faithful. We were lucky enough to get room reservations at the Inn for two nights; we were in a westside room with a renovated bathroom and it was great. A note on the room reservations: I made my reservations in January for this trip and initially did it on line and then called every couple of months to check for upgrades, etc. Because people book so far in advance, it seems like there are quite a few cancellations; for example, I was able to improve my OFI reservations by calling. My daughter was delighted that a stuffed bison had been left on the bed with the helpful information (for me) about how easy it would be to take the bison home with us! Actually, I thought it was a very clever promotion for the Yellowstone Foundation (I don't think that name is quite right) which received a portion of the sale for its work. We hustled it down to the lobby to see the geyser which was minutes away from erupting--we ended up seeing it multiple times and it was just as fun to see if go off the last time as the first time. The Old Faithful Inn is such a cool place--we loved staying there and, again, we were up early to do a ranger hike so we were able to enjoy the hotel and lobby without throngs of people. It is a busy place, but if you can swing it AND score a room, I would highly recommend staying there. It is a great location for the thermal features and really added to our enjoyment of Yellowstone. We missed the opening of the brand new Visitors Center--slated for 8/25-but it looks beautiful and I am sure will be worth a stop. At the old Visitors Center (just a trailer), we picked up the Junior Ranger newspaper and were warned that their program was alot more involved than Grand Teton's (a funny little competition between the parks). We had dinner that night at the Old Faithful Inn restaurant which was very nice (not quite as nice as the Mural Room but they are feeding alot more people). The next day, we actually hired a guide. Totally not necessary, but I hadn't been able to do the research on Yellowstone that I wanted to do before we left, so I am glad we did. We learned so much--it goes without saying that Yellowstone is a HUGE park and is actually about 4 parks in one so we really learned alot and it was a nice break for my husband on the driving. The next morning we took an 8:30 ranger hike around the geyers (I cannot stress enough the payoff from getting up early--we were with about 6 other people and had the geyer field to ourselves). That afternoon, we drove up to Mammoth which was our least favorite part of the Park. To be fair the weather had really turned (hail!) and it was packed up there and their computers were down so they were handwriting lunch tickets (not to mention the fact that noone knows how to make change in their head anymore. . .okay you get the picture!); also, the Park is in the midst of a ten-year drought and it has really impacted the hot springs up there--when you see pictures of what it looked like in the 70's, it must have been spectacular; having said all that, it is still cool and for history buffs, Mammoth is the original Fort Yellowstone (from the days when they literally had to call in the cavalry to save the park from tourists who were destroying it) so that was interesting to see. We went back and had dinner in the Snow Lodge dining room which was delicious and is a fun, cozy spot. Back to OFI where we had a nightcap and sat in the rocking chairs on the second floor and listened to the pianist. From here we moved to Canyon. This is one of the busier areas of the park. We really lucked out and got a Western Cabin which was great. They are newly renovated and they are back in the woods (there was a herd of elk behind our cabin each evening). The Western Cabins are beautiful with big bathrooms; I said we were lucky because we talked to some other folks who had regular cabins and they said they were on the rough side so I would definitely try and get a Western Cabin. Canyon has a big campground and it rained that night so lots of campers came into the restaurant to eat so we faced a long wait. This was our least favorite meal of the whole trip--so much so that we couldn't face eating there again the next night (more on that later). For breakfast, we ate at the Canyon cafeteria (you can eat in the dining room too); we aren't really cafeteria people, but my daughter insisted--it was fine, more filling than good. On this day, we went to the Lamar Valley, a spectacular part of Yellowstone that is completely different from any other part of the park. The vistas look like old Western paintings and you see hundreds of bison. It was on this day that we saw 4 bears--2 grizzleys. We had box lunches from the restaurant and had a picnic outside then stopped at a trailhead called Trout Lake which looked like a nice easy hike. When we got to the Lake, we had the treat of our trip--three otters played and played and then caught a fish; they are not afraid of people so we had a great time watching them play and wrestle over the fish. On the way back to Canyon, we stopped at the Roosevelt Lodge and had a beer on the porch; it is very old West and looked like a fun place to eat. We (me!) didn't feel like dealing with the Canyon dining room again so I had the front desk at Roosevelt call the Lake Yellowstone dining room and see if they had a cancellation--they did, so we hustled back to Canyon and took showers and got on the road to Lake Yellowstone--only to be caught in a major bison jam!! It was more fun than annoying and everyone was late getting to Lake Yellowstone. The food was delicious and it is another fun hotel which evokes another time. For those of you who have been to Yellowstone--it took us close to two hours to get from Canyon to Lake Yellowstone and twenty minutes to get back! The next morning we finished up our Junior Ranger (we had diligently worked on it every day) and my daughter was duly sworn in at the Canyon Visitor Center (a very nice facility with interesting exhibits on the park). For those of you going to Yellowstone soon, there is hard-to-avoid construction between Madison and Norris--we went through it a couple of times--depending on when you join the queue, the wait is 15-30 minutes. We left the park via the West Entrance and had a jarring entry into West Yellowstone (remember we had come from Grand Teton so we had been in these peaceful parks for days); if you need a McDonald's or Dairy Queen, you've got it. Our destination was a ranch in Montana for the last couple of days of our trip, so we hightailed it out of West Yellowstone.

Happy to answer Yellowstone questions, we saw so much that it is impossible to describe what an amazing place it is. . .

Will post later about the ranch in Montana.


marymarra Aug 18th, 2010 02:00 PM

One other Yellowstone detail--the Rangers consistently tell you it will take longer to get places than it actually does (maybe we just lucked out) but you still have to give yourself time to get places (and you never know when you will be stuck in a bison jam). If you see people parked alongside the road, definitely stop, every time it was a bear (often with a ranger there directing traffic and stopping people from doing unbelievable things) or a moose sighting.

spirobulldog Aug 18th, 2010 03:51 PM

Definately one of my favorite places. We were there in June 08 and hope to go back. I actually would like to see it again later in the suumer, then in the winter, and then in the fall. I think winter would be really neat.

MsSteinrunner Aug 18th, 2010 05:15 PM

What is the procedure for hiring a guide and the cost range?

marymarra Aug 18th, 2010 05:57 PM

spiro--we talked to staff who stay the winter and we were really intrigued--it sounds amazing!

MsSteinrunner--we used Alpen and I arranged it all via e-mail; if you google Yellowstone Guide a bunch of companies pop up; we saw several smaller bus companies (I'm not a fan of big buses) that looked good including the Yellowstone Association that seemed to be one guide and fewer than 10 people; suffice it to say that ours was not inexpensive, but worked for our family. Had I had the time to plan out what we were doing, we might not have done it. It is my opinion (others may differ) that Yellowstone is one of those places that if you wing it, you will just end up wasting time. It is a huge park and you don't want to spend your time driving and not using your time efficiently. Hope that helps.

the_scarecrow_in_oz Aug 19th, 2010 03:01 AM

Very nice report. I'm going to Yellowstone in a couple of weeks. Beside the road construction between Madison and Norris, did you run into any other construction-related delays?

marymarra Aug 19th, 2010 04:26 AM

Hi Scarecrow, that is it and it is really no big deal, the flagman will even come and tell you how long you will be there; the longest we waited was 20 minutes.

Have a great time.

Myer Aug 19th, 2010 07:44 AM

A guide for touring Yellowstone!!!! Yikes!!!!

I guess that ensures that you'll be among the 85% that don't venture more than 50 yards from the car.

If you know your travel style (some get up late and end early, I'm pretty much non-stop all day, etc), post a few questions and read half a dozen trip reports (I'm still writing mine and reviewing 1,500 photos) you should be able to put a plan together in a few days.

It's not rocket science.

In fact, if you average out what others have said, you come up with about 2 days in the Old Faithful area and 3 days in the canyon area.

I was least interested in Mammoth and Lake so I planned accordingly.

marymarra Aug 19th, 2010 12:42 PM

Hi Myer, I knew somebody would give me a hard time which is why I explained why we had a guide; actually we took long hikes everyday and did ranger hikes and talks so don't "guess" about how far we were from the car.

Myer Aug 19th, 2010 01:37 PM

I'm not saying you were one (or two) of the 85% (actually after being there I would guess it's somewhat less than 85%) that didn't venture more than 50 yards from the car.

I just wouldn't want to encourage somebody to hire a guide and join a group of 10 people.

Suddenly they'll take the easy way out and hire the guide for 3-5 days and then what do you think they'll see.

If I have to criticize anything you did it's write your report in one paragraph. Is it ever tough to go back and see what you wrote about a topic.

I definitely agree with you about Mammoth. After researching it I decided it wouldn't be of great interest to me. However, we got everything done in the Old Faithful area that I wanted to and left a couple of hours early. By taking the long route to Canyon and going thru Mammoth we got to see two waterfall: Rustic (a bit small but very nice - good shape, good viewing angle) and Undine Falls. We also passed Tower Fall so stopped then to visit.

Mammoth was neither "hot" to a "spring". It looked like a bunch of white rock.

I'm curious which hikes you did, why and whether you enjoyed them. I'd like to compare them to what we did and see if I felt the same way about any we did in common.

MsSteinrunner Aug 19th, 2010 04:27 PM

Thanks for the information on hiring a guide. I understand your logic. It is a good way to give the driver a break and learn a lot. When combined with your other activities, it sounds like a smart move to me.

marymarra Aug 20th, 2010 04:37 PM

MsSteinrunner --thank you!

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