National Park Tips – Yellowstone

Right now I’m about halfway through my stay at Glacier National Park. At some point in the future, I will write a post with tips for this park. But, as the summer vacation season reaches it’s peak, I thought it might be helpful to share my experiences at different National Parks in hopes that it may help you maximize your enjoyment when visiting these magnificent places.

I spent some time in Yellowstone last September and these are a few of the things I learned regarding photography, and just spending time there in general.

Above Grand Prismatic Spring

Yellowstone National Park’s Grand Prismatic Spring is the third largest hot spring in the world, so big it’s visible from space. The striking colors of the pool match the dispersion of light found in the rainbow.

1.) Give Yourself Plenty of Time

This is by far the most important thing to keep in mind when visiting Yellowstone. The park is vast! If you only have a few days, then you might want to pick a few of the sights you want to see and save the others for another trip. I was there for only four days and it felt like I spent most of my time driving from one place to another. When you look at the map and distances between places, DOUBLE the amount of travel time you think you will need. Thousands of other people are trying to get to the places you are trying to get to. Add to that road construction and wildlife delays, and the drive ends up taking far longer than you imagined.

Yellowstone Falls in the Mist

Lower Falls at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone on a misty, rainy autumn morning.

2.) Stay Where You Play

This is a tip I stole from an RV blog that I read, and it goes hand in hand with tip #1. There are four major “hubs” in Yellowstone. In each area, you will find campgrounds, hotels, shops, and restaurants. Mammoth in the northwest corner is an area of geothermal activity, rivers, waterfalls and canyons. Elk regularly wander through the village. The Norris/Madison area is also surrounded by geothermal wonders and in close proximity to Old Faithful. In my experience, this is the most crowded area of the park. The West Thumb/Fishing Bridge area is where I stayed on my visit. Fishing Bridge has the only full-hookup RV sites in the park. The area is adjacent to Yellowstone Lake and there are good wildlife viewing opportunities north in the Hayden Valley and east toward the Bighorn Pass. The Canyon Village/Tower area is the place to be for access to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, numerous other waterfalls, and the closest hub to the more remote Lamar Valley wildlife viewing opportunities. Keep in mind that you will likely see wildlife throughout the park, but certain areas provide better odds for certain species. Here is a link to a map that will give you an idea of how these places are situated.

Bison at the Yellowstone River

A wild bison browses near the bank of the Yellowstone River at Sunset. Herds of bison are ubiquitous in Yellowstone National Park in Northwestern Wyoming.

3.) Bring a Telephoto Lens

If you want to photograph wildlife, especially the large animals such as bears, bison and elk, you will need a long lens. With all the stories in the news lately about people getting too close to wildlife, I can’t emphasize this enough. Even if you happen to find yourself in close proximity to a wild animal, you put yourself and the animal in danger by lingering to take photos. When I visited, I observed too many people getting too close to wild animals, including bears. Stay back and zoom in.

Grizzly

A large adult grizzly bear in the forest at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

4.) Slow Down and Enjoy the Wonder

Again, this relates back to tip #1. If you don’t give yourself enough time, you end up being one of those stressed out, speeding, tailgating drivers who endanger the wildlife and other drivers. There will be times when you will get stuck in a “bison jam.” There will be times when parking lots are full and you can’t go where you wanted. Relax, take a deep breath and look around you. The place is amazing, even if it didn’t go exactly as you planned.

Orange Spring Mound

Yellowstone’s Orange Spring Mound is a large travertine mound created by the buildup of dissolved minerals, pushed to the surface by the geothermal activity of Mammoth Hot Springs.

5.) Get Up Early

Especially if you want to visit some of the more popular sights, like Old Faithful, you will find they are less crowded early in the morning than later in the day. As a bonus, the natural light for taking photos is generally better either just after sunrise, or just before sunset. This is more of a general tip for all National Parks and all photography, but it is worth mentioning.

These are just a few of the things I learned during my visit. If I go back, I will likely try to spend a few days in each major area, rather than try to see it all from one base. Or I will plan multiple trips focused on certain areas. A place as vast and full of wonder as Yellowstone cannot be fully appreciated in a hurry. Instead of trying to see it all, decide what you want to see most, and spend some time lingering. You’ll be glad you did.

Questions and comments are always appreciated.

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3 comments

  • Elaine Kische on June 25, 2016 at 1:12 pm said:

    Loree, your tips and insight are much appreciated. You really know your stuff and your photos are amazing! Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Loree on June 25, 2016 at 6:21 pm said:

    Thank you both. I want to share some of the things I wish I had known before I went.

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