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The Great American Road Trip: Yellowstone – Grand Loop Road

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Today’s morning wake up was cold cold cold. I loved getting up at 6 am with the sun when we were in the Badlands, but since then our campsites have been shaded and mornings are freezing. It’s 30 degrees outside, but I’m toasty in my new Shopko sweats. Useful and stylish Yeahh. (No no, just useful).

On the agenda today was exploring the Great Loop Road (also known as the Rim Road). Sights along the way were Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Falls, Dunraven Pass, Norris Geyser Basin, Steamboat Geyser, Monument Geyser Basin, Lower Geyser Basin, Fountain Paint Pot, Upper Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, and Yellowstone Lake. We even made a quick pit stop to boop Montana. Running around and ogling all the geothermal activity felt like I was back in high school science class. The sights on the Rim Road are beautiful and interesting and must sees, but they’re also crowded and you lose that in-the-middle-of-nature feeling. Old Faithful embodied that most of all, with hundreds of people crowding around it on the man-made boardwalks and benches, eating ice cream and snacks from the lodge only yards away. How beautiful and amazing these geothermal sights are, but we felt a little like we were in a zoo. On our way home we pulled over and sat on the shores of Yellowstone Lake for a while, splashing in the still waters and reflecting on our day. Back to camp to unwind!

Quick tip: the hot springs let off poisonous gases. Don’t spend hours camped out at one and if you start feeling faint or dizzy, retreat back to fresh air or your car and move on. In the winter, animals such as the Buffalo, hang out by the hot springs for warmth and have died if they linger too long.

 

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Travel

The Great American Road Trip: Yellowstone – Seven Mile Hole Trail

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The Grand Canyon is a must for your visit to Yellowstone. It is a magnificent sight to behold, with gushing waterfalls, red-hued soil and rocky sloping cliffs. The viewpoint names say it all: Inspiration Point, Artist Point, Point of Sublime. Although a lot of the lookouts are accessible from the road, it is much more rewarding to get out on the trail and away from the crowds. As I mentioned in my Yellowstone guide, the crowds here are frustrating. Yellowstone is the most visited U.S. destination after all. More than NYC! Thankfully (but also sadly), most visitors to the Park do not venture away from the loop road, geysir boardwalks and air conditioned cars, leaving the trails nearly empty. We only saw one couple on our hike. How wonderful to have this slice of heaven to ourselves for the day!

We explored the northern rim of the Grand Canyon via the Seven Mile Hole trail. Starting at the Glacial Boulder trailhead, this hike combines all the best aspects of Yellowstone. You begin at the northern rim with stunning views of the canyon below before descending through pine forests and passing by meadows. This is prime Grizzly viewing area so keep your eyes peeled. (And your bear spray ready). Next the trail makes its way back to the canyon wall and descends 1,690 feet to the river past geothermal activity and hot springs. This hike is roughly 10 miles roundtrip and moderate to strenuous. You can make it a day trip or extend it into an overnighter using one of the three backcountry campsites. Note that fires are not permitted in the backcountry, so plan meals accordingly.

We stopped to eat lunch, perched on the cliff’s edge. Watching the wind swish the trees, listening to the rapids rumbling below, and breathing in the sweet-smelling pines, I had a “This is exactly why I quit my job!” moment. Today I felt wonderfully joyous, rejuvinated, and thankful to experience the sun on my cheeks, and the peace of the evergreens.

**We later learned that due to the geothermal activity under the canyon, the cliffs are extremely unstable and have been know to collapse and calve without warning. Ahhhhhh what?? Good thing we definitely veered off the trail to peer over them and ate lunch perched on their edge. Seriously, there should be signs at the trail head! (I read them and this no biggie lifesaving fact was not mentioned). So stay on the trail by the cliff edge people!!**

The Glacial Boulder trailhead is here. Coming from Canyon Campground/Canyon Village, make a left onto Grand Loop Road. Make your first left onto North Rim Drive. Make your first right onto an unmarked road and a minute or so down the road you will see a very large upright boulder on the left. This boulder marks the trailhead as well as a bulletin board with notices and information. You will most likely see cars parked on the side of the road too.

For more info of the Grand Canyona and Seven Mile Hole, check here and here.

 

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Travel

The Great American Road Trip: Guide to Yellowstone National Park

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Wyoming has been the most beautiful state thus far. Today we spent 11 hours in the car on our way to Yellowstone via US-16, I-90, US-16 again, WY-31, WY-30, and then I-14. Let me just say wow! We are in big sky country and I’m experiencing a vastness I never have before. There is nothing to block your view and the eye stretches so far here. So much so that you can see whole weather fronts pass through and the exact line where they start and end.

We’re all giddy as we pass into the Yellowstone borders and are soon met by a Buffalo traffic jam! They are majestic beasts, larger than I ever imagined and very fluid-like in their movements. I also am overly entertained at how they appear to be wearing furry pants on their front legs.

Stay

We are staying at Canyon Campground, in the north eastern quadrant of Yellowstone. We chose this site to be close to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, the Grand Loop Road, Yellowstone Lake, and Mammoth Hot Springs. Note that the campsite is at 8,000 feet above sea level and we felt it! Give yourself time to adjust when planning out hikes. We, for example, planned to drive the Grand Loop Road for our first full day, giving ourselves time to adjust before our day hike.

Hallelujah we have water! You forget how much of a luxury it is to have access to drinking water, sinks and flushing toilets. And the best part is…we have showers!! Happy dancing going on over here. The showers are attached to the check-in office/ranger station and you are given tokens to use them when you check in to your campsite. Two showers per day. We had three people so we pooled out tokens for the three nights and each had two showers. Either way, if you feel so inclined to shower two times a day or maybe you slip and fall in mud on your walk back from your shower and need another one, you may pay for extra showers.

See & Do

Well all of it duh! But since you most likely are only here for a couple of days I would say these are your top 5 musts

  • The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Do an all day hike here!
  • Mammoth Hot Springs
  • Lower Geyser Basin and surrounding hot springs. This includes Old Faithful but to be honest I didn’t enjoy it. (gasp!)
  • Hike the Union Falls trail. It is 15.6 miles out and back and lets you explore the southern region of the park.
  • If you find yourself here for a long stint, hike the Thorofare and South Boundary trails for an immersive and varying Yellowstone experience. It is an 8 day trek.

For more information on a Grand Canyon hike, the Grand Loop Road, the geysers and the hot springs, check back next Monday and Wednesday!

Miscellaneous Tips

It is cold here at night. We’re here the last week of July/first week of August and the nights are 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Our pajamas weren’t cutting it and we stopped somewhere off I-90 to buy matching sweatsuits…yes matching and yes we acted out a lot of 90s boy band dance moves in them. Judge away.

Go to the Ranger talks! We went to one and learned that the Magma below Yellowstone is 2 to 7 miles below the surface. In the rest of the world, magma is usually 25 to 50 miles below the surface. We learned that Yellowstone is home to over 50% of the world’s geysers. We learned that scientists have only discovered 3% of microorganisms in the park. To put this in perspective of what is yet to be discovered and harnessed; Yellowstone is where scientists discovered the enzyme to replicate DNA. And last but not least, we learned to not veer from the path when hiking by the canyon. (This is very important information we could have used a day prior! Read next Monday’s post to see why).

You will want to buy everything in the Canyon Village market/gift shop. Or at least I did. Beautiful ceramic mugs and coffee table books and locally made jams and jerky and beers and goodies. Plan your budget and suitcase accordingly.

Every day around 5:00pm you will encounter Buffalo traffic jams on the road through Hayden valley. It’s both awesome and annoying. Also keep your eyes peeled when driving through this valley for bear and wolf sightings. Lamar Valley is great for wildlife spottings too.

For more information check here and here.

Keep adventuring,

xo Alina

 

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