Into The West: 5 Reasons To Visit Yellowstone

29 September 2014

Way out west, in an unassuming pocket of the United States, sits Yellowstone National Park. Growing up in the north-west, I had the privilege of spending my summers exploring this vast wilderness area and it's not an exaggeration to say that every inch of it is impressive. It's nigh impossible to pick out the absolute best features, but here are my top five reasons to visit Yellowstone.

.........................................................................................................................................................

1. Ol' reliable Old Faithful

.........................................................................................................................................................

 Old Faithful puts on a show

A trip to Yellowstone is not complete without witnessing Old Faithful. Way, way back in the black and white days, visitors could walk up to the cone and toss in random objects to watch the scalding jet of water shoot this debris 50 metres into the air. Thankfully this isn't allowed anymore, because I can't think of anything worse than a tourist precariously leaning over that opening to toss in a penny.

Make a quick stop at the historic Old Faithful Inn for eruption times on many of the park's geysers.  Stop off for a scoop of huckleberry ice cream, and then head over to Old Faithful a few minutes early for a front row seat. Literally. There are benches along the boardwalk offering unrestricted views.

.........................................................................................................................................................

2. Mother Nature's best assets

.........................................................................................................................................................

 Follow the Grand Loop Road

Sprawling across three US states, Yellowstone is nearly 900,000 hectares of dense pine forests, jagged mountain peaks, dramatic canyons and serene mountain rivers and lakes. It doesn't matter where you go in the park, or how many times you've been, this landscape is among the best in the world.

The Grand Loop Road extends across a large portion of the park in an easy-to-navigate figure eight. This is a 225-kilometre stretch of incredible views, including the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone - an especially arresting display of beauty, particularly below the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River.
.........................................................................................................................................................

3. The terraces of Mammoth

.........................................................................................................................................................

 Yellowstone bubbles over with geothermal energy

Near the North Entrance of the park, a collection of hot springs flow over a travertine hill, creating a series of terraced steps known as the Mammoth Hot Springs. The terraces are constantly changing in colour and formation; their crisp white crust can be stained with vibrant reds, blues, greens and yellows.

Boardwalks all around the hot springs offer views from nearly every angle, including a scenic mountain panorama over the top of the Main Terrace. As an added bonus, the Liberty Cap is located here – a 13 metre tall travertine deposit created by a now extinct  hot spring.
.........................................................................................................................................................

4. The bubbling geothermal activity

.........................................................................................................................................................

 Sunset over Firehole River

Yellowstone's mountainous landscape can transform to a Martian wasteland at the snap of your fingers. Paint pots sputter, geysers gush and fumaroles release endless columns of steam and gas, tinging the air with the unmistakable scent of sulphur. There are over 10,000 geothermal features in the park, with marked trails providing a safe vantage point.

The Geyser Hill Loop Trail through the Upper Geyser Basin is a great starting point for exploration. It's an easy two-kilometre trek leading straight to the baby-blue beauty that is Morning Glory – my personal favourite feature. The Firehole Lake Drive and Mud Volcano trails are also recommended.
.........................................................................................................................................................

5. An animal encounter like no other

.........................................................................................................................................................

 Spot the tiny chipmunk

It's no secret that the animals of Yellowstone roam wild and free; however, you may be shocked at just how up close and personal they can get. I have a distinct memory of a herd of prairie dogs flooding down the mountainside at the sound of my family unpacking our lunch. So many, in fact, that we had to grab what we could and make a hasty retreat or face certain death by marmot stampede.

Since then, park regulations on interacting with the animals have tightened up and the days of picnic-induced frenzies are long gone. Nevertheless,  it's normal for buffalo to hold up traffic as they traverse the park using the roads as their own personal boulevards.

Carlie Tucker

Travelling is for discovering the unexpected. From fantastic meals in ramshackle joints to stumbling upon a best kept secret, I love those fortuitous travel moments that couldn't be planned if I tried.