Yellowstone National Park is so many things – a national treasure, an active volcano, the first National Park, home to geysers, hot springs and boiling mud spots. There’s not a more iconic representation of the National Parks than Yellowstone. When I was planning the cross-country trip, a stop at Yellowstone was a no-brainer!
CHECK OUT THE VIDEO OF MY YELLOWSTONE VISIT ON YOUTUBE!
While I wanted to see everything in every single Park we visited, I only had a limited amount of time (usually a day or two), so I had to choose hikes that gave me the best and most expansive view of the Park. In Yellowstone, I settled on Mt. Washburn because the entire length of the hike offers breathtaking view after view of the Yellowstone wilderness, including the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. My visit to Yellowstone turned out to be the place where all of my plans went awry for reasons out of my control.
We made the short drive from Grand Teton National Park and got to Yellowstone mid-day. Although Yellowstone is known for its heavy traffic, we were lucky to get there towards the end of the season and escaped much of the crowds. We had a beautiful drive through the park to our campground, including a stop at the Dragon’s Mouth Spring (truly impressing and scalding spring that pushes out water, steam and the foulest odor imaginable) and plenty of bison sightings. Although I wanted to experience the thrill of walking on the precarious steel platforms and making my way down to the base of the 308 foot high Lower Falls. Unfortunately, the trail was closed for construction, so we had to settle for taking the view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone from the Artist Point, an accessible trail that’s less than a quarter mile long but provides the most expansive views of the Canyon area. Because we visited late in the season and towards the end of the day, we again escaped the large crowds.
When we checked into our campground, the friendly staff person informed us of the weather that evening and the next day. It turned out the beautiful, pleasant summer day would give way to falling temperatures (below freezing!) and snow overnight. I also learned the Mt. Washburn trail was closed for construction. While we were able to identify an alternate hike, I was not prepared for winter hiking. I went to bed and hoped for the best in the morning. Because the temperatures dipped into the 20s, I didn’t have a restful night. The morning didn’t alleviate the cold temperature and it brought with it a cold and steady rain. I reassessed and decided I was not mentally or physically prepared for a winter hike.
After a warm breakfast at a restaurant near the campground, I opted to explore the Park by car. This gave me the opportunity to see a lot more of Yellowstone than I would’ve been able to in a short time. Winter arrived early to Yellowstone but it was also a beautiful and unique way to see this iconic place. The dark skies and steady beat of the rain gave some of the most famous places in the Park a sense of mystery and magic. I was so enamored with much of the Park that I lost track of time and made my way to Old Faithful and the Midway Geiser fairly late in the day as the sun was setting. I was excited to see these things at night under the moonlight. On our way to the Midway Geiser, we narrowly missed a rock fall where huge boulders came loose onto the road. Just as we navigated the car around the boulders, the rain started again. At this point, it was getting fairly dark as well. We decided the safest thing to do was to turn around and go back to our campsite, which was still another 45 minutes away. Nearly 15 minutes into our drive, the rain turned to snow that was blowing sideways. Visibility was low and there was barely a car on the road. It was a white-knuckle drive the rest of the way, but it was an exciting adventure nonetheless and I was thankful we avoided any misadventures that day.
Sometimes the best-laid plans go awry. My type-A, planning personality goes into overdrive in these moments trying to come up with a new plan. I was lucky to have a travel partner who is the complete opposite. My time at Yellowstone was a good reminder that having a plan is good but veering from it can equally fun and adventurous. I will return to Yellowstone in the near future with a plan but also the knowledge that I can experience the unique beauty of this amazing place even if my plan is waylaid!