Living in NYC allows for easier travels around the US. It is still a very big country and although some flights are up to 6 hours long it is well worth it to try to do some of the things I would not be able to do as easily from Europe. Visiting some of the National Parks in the US is one of those things on my bucket list.
For the 4th of July I decided to visit Yellowstone. It is one of the biggest parks on «main land» US, not counting Alaska. It is also the oldest of the National Parks. So what else is so special about Yellowstone? Well, first of all the name comes from the yellow color of the stone in the grand canyon of the park which is super beautiful and scenic with a waterfall at the end. The park is also home to a big population of wildlife including bison, black bear, grizzlies and wolves. It also has some of the biggest geysers and hot springs in the world. For me a lot of these experiences were a first since I have not yet visited the parks in Utah (the Grand Canyon, Bryce etc.). It is also a great place to go hiking and just enjoy the nature while being off the grid.
Yellowstone is also best combined with Grand Teton National park which is just south of the park and gives some more scenic mountain views not to be missed. The Grand Teton is much smaller but offers beautiful lake side views of the mountains.
Many people claim you need lots of days to visit these parks and sure, it is great if you have about 6 days for both parks as there is some traveling involved. But as an architect in the US, with few days off we managed to optimize it in 4 days and still saw all the main sites of the park. So don’t hesitate to go even for a shorter time. It is well worth it. I will share my itinerary for anyone who is interested in how we did it in 4 days.
Day 1: Early morning flight to Salt Lake City. Drive to Grand Teton. First stop at Mormon row. Stop at Jenny Lake outlook and the trail. Short walk around the lake (45 min). Dinner with a view at Trapper Grill. Get the sunset views from Oxbow Bend (we were lucky the sun would set at around 9.30 pm). Camp at the Colter Bay Village.
Day 2: Breakfast at Jackson Lake. If the weather allows, you could fit an hour of kayaking on the lake. It is beautiful. Drive to Yellowstone National Park. First stop at West Thumb Geyser Basin, hot springs by the lake with less people. Continue the drive along the scenic Yellowstone lake and head to Hayden Valley for some Bison spotting. Then drive to Mt Washburn for a hike. It is quite uphill, but gets you amazing views and takes about 3.5 hours. Head to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Don’t miss out on the Artist point on the south rim as well as the lookout point on the north rim. The Grand Canyon is at its best in the afternoon/towards the sunset as the yellow colors get enhanced. We spent the night at Old Faithful Inn, to be ready for day 3.
Day 3: Check out the schedules for when the geysers erupt. The Old Faithful erupts about every hour and they can predict down to +/-10 min. The Grand Geyser which is the biggest, predictable, geyser in the world has an accuracy of +/-90 minutes. Based on the predictions we started with the Prismatic hot spring in the morning. You should try to get there before about 9/9.30 am as the parking gets full very quickly. Do the small trail up close, and then head to the overlook. Try to catch the geysers erupting. The Old Faithful you will get for sure, and if you’re lucky the Grand as well. Then it’s time for some more driving. Head up to Mammoth Hot springs and do the upper terraces. Continue to Lamar Valley in the afternoon for some more wildlife spotting. Finish the loop in West Yellowstone at the end of day.
Day 4: We woke up at the Yellowstone Wonder Camp and pretty much had time to drive back to Salt Lake City as our flight left at 5.15 pm. If you have a red eye or can fly back through Bozeman you have some more time. I would suggest taking a horseback ride in the landscape, or go for another hike. We did a detour and visited the Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson on our way back.
And that was all. I hope this inspires more of you to go on shorter roadtrips throughout the US.