Yellowstone is celebrating 150 years in 2022 as the world’s first national park! To commemorate this momentous occasion – American Nomad is blogging through Yellowstone.
In our previous entries overviewed the park and its geology…today we are starting our Northern Discovery of Yellowstone with a stop Yellowstone’s original gateway town of Gardiner and a stop at The Albright Visitor Center.
As we virtually tour YNP – I recommend downloading a free map from nps.gov
- West Yellowstone MT (western edge) = great option if focusing on Lower and Upper Geyser Basins/Old Faithful areas; a tourist hub with tons of restaurants, fly shops and the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
- South Entrance – coming in from the Tetons
- East Entrance – 70 miles from town of Cody, WY
- Northeast Entrance-Cooke City: connector of the Beartooth Highway
- North Entrance-Gardiner MT = Mammoth Hot Springs – only entrance open all year to vehicular traffic (road to Cooke City open all year)
Yellowstone is a large park and it can be daunting to know where to start on your journey. I’m happy to provide advice (just email me) on your specific trip, but typically I recommend breaking up your journey into the Upper and Lower Loops.
As you can see on the map – Yellowstone is connected via a system of interconnected roads. The main road is called the ‘Grand Loop’ Road with an upper loop (Mammoth/Tower/Canyon) connecting to the Lower Loop at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone/Hayden Valley area. The Lower Loop is geyser country – hope of the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins including Old Faithful and West Thumb. The Upper Loop is equally impressive but a bit more solidary – with high peaks, vast valleys and some thermal features.
The main loops are truncated with connector roads that also offer extraordinary beauty.
You can technically drive the Lower Loop and Upper Loop in two consecutive days and still have time to walk around the geyser basins/viewing areas a bit. That being said I definitely recommend breaking up each loop and its unique features over a period of days so you have ample time for hiking, exploration and relaxation.
We are starting our journey at Yellowstone’s northern gateway town of Gardiner…I will be doing a blog series specifically on Gateway towns with more detail about Gardiner – but here is a quick overview:
Gardiner is the original gateway to Yellowstone. Accessible via Montana’s glorious Paradise Valley to the north, Gardiner was founded in 1872 specifically to service visitors to the newly formed Yellowstone National Park.
Two rivers run through Gardiner – the intersection of the Gardner (this spelling is correct – Gardiner – town/Gardner-river) and Yellowstone Rivers slice through town with gorgeous mountain views cradling this historic gateway. In a bygone era the Northern Pacific Railroad would bring travelers via train to Gardiner.
Today the drive from Livingston MT, south to Gardiner is one of the most scenic drives in America. I recommend stopping for a quick breakfast/lunch in Gardiner.
If you like to fly fish or raft – you’ll find lots of great outfitters in town.
Gardiner is the only drivable (via car) entrance to YNP that is open all year. To learn more about this fantastic town and its history click here.
Visitors to Yellowstone are greeted with the ‘Golden Arch’ – the Roosevelt Arch, welcoming tourists to the northern entrance since 1903. The cornerstone was laid (in 1903) by conservationist and National Park advocate President Theodore Roosevelt. To learn more click here.
The five mile meandering road from Gardiner MT into Mammoth Hot Springs (North Entrance) zig zags with wow and ooh ahh moments that define Yellowstone. Drive slow with the bends and curves – the max park speed limit is 45 degrees.
This stretch of road is home to the ‘Boiling Springs’ of the Gardner River – one of the few safe spots for thermal soaking in the park.
You also cross the 45th parallel – halfway between the equator and the north pole!
As you near Mammoth Hot Springs the steam of thermal features seethes like air above boiling water in the distance. In our next post we’ll explore highlights of Mammoth. Mammoth Hot Springs is an otherworldly thermal jewel and appears as a castle of travertine overlooking the high valley below. Mammoth has zero geysers but it’s thermal features (ever changing season by season) are absolutely stunning…
Pulling into the Mammoth area (home of the Mammoth Hotel, restaurants and shops)- you’ll notice a block of historic buildings including the Albright Visitor Center.
I recommend stopping briefly at each visitor center – they are all slightly unique providing a different perspective on Yellowstone. The Albright Center is one of the older visitor’s centers – but has tons of character. It showcases the human history of Yellowstone in an interactive and meaningful way – from the Native Americans who lived in the area to mountain men like Jim Bridger and eventually the explorers and government officials who advocated for Yellowstone to become a national park. Block off at least an hour here to really soak in YNP history and plot your journey.
Park rangers are available at each visitor center to help you figure out the best itinerary/hiking trails/adventures for your family.
Right next door to the Albright Center is Fort Yellowstone…Until the creation of the Park Service – Yellowstone was protected by the army. You can take an interactive tour of Fort Yellowstone on the NPS website here
You can enjoy a quick bite to eat at the Mammoth Terrace Grill (fast food and great ice cream) or a sit down meal at the Mammoth Hotel.
Yellowstone is home to some of the finest park-architecture (‘parkitecture’) – several historic hotels, including Mammoth were designed by renowned architect Robert Reamer. Mammoth Hotel is a blend of Reamer’s design and a 1936 addition. We’ll learn more about him as we tour The Old Faithful Inn…
Beware of Elk…Mammoth is a popular hang out for Elk and while they seem gentle these giants will charge you and are deadly. I was charged by an elk on a hike (accidentally as I rounded the bend) and I have seen many tourists make silly decisions with Elk at Mammoth.
Most animals don’t want to harm you but like people they need their personal space. How would you feel if a stranger walked up and started trying to touch you? You’d freak out too 🙂 – so be respectful and Fear the Elk – keep a safe distance of 25 yards at least.