Yellowstone National Park – May 2009
People living in the cities of Boise, Denver and Salt Lake City are all within our same driving distance – slightly less than 600 miles, but for everyone else in the country (and the world), a road trip to Yellowstone works best as part of a larger itinerary that includes other destinations. However, for those on a limited time budget, a visit to Yellowstone Park is one of those travel vacations worthy of a “fly drive” travel plan – because this is a trip worth taking even if the park is the only place you visit. The town of Jackson, Wyoming – aka Jackson Hole – is a great starting point, and is served by the Jackson Hole Airport.
Although we could reach Yellowstone by car in one day, we purposely took our time and some detours along the way – partly so that we could spend our first night in Jackson about 100 miles from our final destination. Jackson is a lively tourist town with plenty of good restaurants and reasonably priced accommodations. As we were traveling in the heart of their off season, between winter skiing and summer touring, we did not bother to make hotel reservations. This plan is not recommended if you are traveling during the high seasons.
As you travel to Yellowstone through Jackson, the best reason to start your day from here is a very special bonus called the Grand Teton National Park. The Tetons rise abruptly from a wide, flat valley, a series of lakes at their feet, forming one of the most dramatic and beautiful mountain ranges on earth.
After entering Yellowstone Park from the south, the first of many thermally active areas is encountered at the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake. Here the warm waters of thermal pools, springs, fumaroles, vents, mudpots, cones, and geysers appear along the banks and under the surface of an enormous high mountain lake. This outpost of warmth keeps a small area of the lake free of ice, a feature well appreciated by the ducks on the scene when we arrived.
The remainder of the drive to the Old Faithful Inn passed quickly, though it included stopping to see Kepler Cascades, and a lone bison along Firehole River. Our decision to visit Yellowstone in May had allowed us to book our accommodations a mere two months in advance. The park receives about three million visitors a year, peaking at about 26,000 people per day in July, and Xanterra, the company that manages park lodging, lists a total of nine properties with overnight accommodations. Inside the park Yellowstone lodging is very scarce, and booking a year in advance is not an extreme strategy.
Camping is also an option, and there are numerous accommodations just outside the park in the towns of West Yellowstone, Gardiner, Silver Gate, and Cooke City, or within easy driving distance in Jackson and Cody.
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