Visit the Iconic Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
danger of visiting Yellowstone isn't the threat of a bear attack,
being gored by a bison, falling through a geothermal layer or
drowning. Although these dangers exist, the biggest danger is
that you might not be able to leave. If you're a city slicker
(or a suburban socialite) and your idea of wildlife is the local
bar after 9pm, then Yellowstone National Park will blow your
you already know that Yellowstone is the first national park
in the world, or that it has the largest concentration of
free roaming wildlife in the lower 48, or even that it has
more geysers and hot springs than the rest of the world combined.
But knowing that there are 3,468 square miles of wilderness
out there and experiencing them are two very different things.
you'll drive through in mid-July, stop and take a picture
of a bison grazing near the side of the road, get back in
your car and say, "So what?" But if you want a real
experience, get out of your car and hit the backcountry with
a naturalist and learn as you explore.
great way to do this is through the Yellowstone Association
and Xanterra Parks & Resorts "Lodging and
Learning" program. The Yellowstone Association
is a non-profit organization that has been fostering
the public's understanding of this wild place since
1933. Xanterra operates the Yellowstone National Park
Lodges, which means that you can learn about the park
through the Association during the day and stay in
civilized comfort at night.
are plentiful in Yellowstone
"Lodging and Learning" program that I recently
participated in is "Trails though Yellowstone."
I stretched out my stay to visit the Old Faithful
Lodge and the Lake Hotel, but normally, this is a
four-night package where nights are spent at Mammoth
Hot Springs Hotel and Grant Village. Days are spent
hiking the backcountry with a naturalist, who will
tell you everything you want to know about the area.
Having someone put all this beautiful landscape into
geological and historical context, as well as pointing
out wildlife, enhances the experience beyond measure.
National Park spreads across three states, although
it is mostly in Wyoming. The closest airports are
in Bozeman and West Yellowstone, MT, and in Jackson
or Cody, WY. I flew into Cody, met up with some friends,
and made an adventure of it. If for no other reason,
it's good to plan to stay for a day or so in Cody
in case your luggage doesn't come in on the same flight
as you do.
was founded by William F. "Buffalo Bill"
Cody in 1896 and his mark is very much still on the
town. If you have any interest in western history,
you must visit the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.
It's 300,000 feet of exhibition space-which includes
five separate museums. My favorite was the Draper
Museum of Natural History, which offers an in-depth
look at the flora and fauna of the area.
you're in Cody, you're in cowboy country. There is a nightly
rodeo in town from June through August where you can witness
cowboy hijinx first hand. While I was in Cody, there were
gun shows and rancher conventions. Guys really do wear cowboy
hats and Wranglers. These cowboys and cowgirls are downright
friendly-coming from Brooklyn, the people were so nice I kept
wondering what they wanted. Just to say "hey." One
night I even hitched a ride on the back of a Harley.
a few days of enjoying the wild wild West in Cody, we drove
into Yellowstone via the East Entrance. We had barely gotten
into the park when we ran into an "animal jam."
(If you see cars pulled over on the side of the road, there's
probably an animal in sight.) Right away, we saw a grizzly
bear and two cubs frolicking in the distance. Key words here: in the distance. Surprising a grizzly on the trail
would not have been so fun.
Faithful Inn, and view of the geyser
first hike we went on was a small trek to Storm Point.
We gave the grazing bison a wide berth, and marveled
the lake and forest. Then we went to Old Faithful
Inn-it's one of the largest log cabins in the world
and stands right next to the famous geyser. After
a delicious dinner at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge
(next door), I wandered the paths around the geysers.
Old Faithful is one of many-in fact, two-thirds of
the world's geysers are in Yellowstone. Watching the
earth bubble and steam was like being in prehistoric
times. Like many aspects of Yellowstone, the feeling
of being surrounded by untamed earth is impossible
to put into words. The morning I woke up at Old Faithful
Inn, I opened my window to check the weather and there
were bison and calves so close I could hear them chewing
of the Lake Hotel
next day, we hiked to Mystic Falls. We passed Biscuit
Basin, where sapphire hot springs steamed into the
sky. Then we climbed through the forest and up a trail
to see one of the steepest waterfalls in the park.
Later, we did the Elephant Back Mountain Loop where
there is a lot of climbing but the payoff is worth
it. At the top, there is a stunning view of Yellowstone
Lake (which looks more like an ocean) with the yellow
sunburst of the Lake Hotel in view. The hotel looked
so inviting, we scampered back down and checked in.
The Lake Hotel has been around since the late 1800s.
It still has a very classy, old fashioned feel to
it. From there we hopped on a Sunset Tour, a ride
on a bus from the '30s, and went to watch cutthroat
trout fight the rapids to go spawn.
another day we went to Hayden Valley - rolling hills
covered in sagebrush and rimmed with pines - where
we saw an elk and calf swim across a lake. On the
way to hike the Canyon, we stopped at another "animal
jam" and saw a moose with her baby, both walking
on gangly legs near a stream. We passed bull elk with
fuzzy antlers and more bison. Then we hiked up to
the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone where we saw an osprey
sitting on a nest, surrounded by two swooping ravens,
dying to steal an egg.
at Mammoth Hot Springs
evening, worn out from hiking, we ended our day at Mammoth
Hot Springs. This was the original entrance to the park. Here,
long paths wind up through icy-looking hot spring terraces.
Although we got in too late to walk the path to view the springs,
the next morning I traipsed around the terraces. The magpies
and I watched the sun come up over Mt. Everts.
a funny thing when seeing bison becomes mundane. There are
over 3,000 bison in the park but this was not always so. By
the early 1900s, the bison population was so low that concerned
people built the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, where they brought in
and protected the bison until the population could sustain
itself. That was the first big victory for conservationists
in Yellowstone. The second victory came more recently, with
the reintroduction of gray wolves in 1995. Now there are over
200 wild wolves in Yellowstone.
morning we got up early and went to Lamar Valley, where we
joined "wolf junkies" who were perched on a hilltop,
looking for wolves through scopes. It didn't take long before
a wolf appeared in the distance-I saw it through the scope.
We also saw a grizzly pawing at the dirt, elk and pronghorn
is different in every season. I went in June, which
I highly recommend - the park isn't very crowded,
there are baby animals to be seen, and the 50-60 degree
weather is perfect for hiking. But remember, all this
pleasure comes at a cost: Your hometown might seem
claustrophobic when you get back, you might long to
see wide open spaces instead of concrete and metal.
You might squint your eyes and try to see a geyser
in a broken fire hydrant, an elk out of a Great Dane,
try to see an osprey in a pigeon. The city might lose
some of her charm.
National Park Lodges
Operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts
PO Box 165
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190
PO Box 117
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190
For info on "Trails through Yellowstone"
836 Sheridan Avenue
Cody, WY 82414
Buffalo Bill Historical Center
720 Sheridan Avenue
Cody, WY 82414