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Yellowstone Highlights?: Trip planning

justsayno

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I am thinking of visiting Yellowstone in late Spring. What should I check out around the area? Should I camp or stay in a lodge? How many days should I spend there?
 

yerfdog

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Originally Posted by breakfasteatre
I have heard that you can only camp in yellowstone in a trailer because of the bear population, but i could be wrong

You can camp in a tent if you want. I was there in this September (camped outside the park) and I definitely saw tent campgrounds in the park. You may have to make reservations early to stay in the park, especially in a lodge in the park.
http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisi...ellowstone.htm

It can get pretty dang cold there - it's pretty far north and elevation is like 7500 feet. In early-mid September it got down into the high 20s at night. There could quite easily be snow on the ground depending on when in the spring you go. That might make it a little chilly to camp unless you are well prepared.

If you can be in the park around very early morning or around dusk you will likely see more animals, since that's when they are out and about. Old Faithful was cool, and that is the big draw, but really there are tons of other geysers/hot springs/waterfalls right near there that are equally amazing and have way fewer crowds.

It's impossible to see the whole park in one day (or 2 half-days, like I did). If I wasn't in the middle of a longer trip I would have definitely wanted to stay 2 nights at the absolute minimum.
 

mr. magoo

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I grew up nearby and have spent a good amount of time there.

Re: timing -- spring will be somewhere between bitterly cold and very cool. Unless you enjoy cold camping, I would look into the various lodges in the Park. If you go in early spring, a lot of the park will still be snowed in, actually, so I would consider that as well. And it's likely to be below freezing at night.

Re: bears -- you just need to be careful and you'll be fine. That means following the recommendations for how to handle food, etc. The bears of real concern are grizzlies. Generally, they stay clear of humans, especially the big campgrounds, and rangers will tranquilize the transport those that come around. Black bears are pretty ubiquitous -- they can attack, but they're not the bears that eat people. When people get eaten, they're in the back country. Btw, the real concern from an animal safety issue are moose and bison, who tend to injure or kill more people than bears.

Re: what to do -- obviously, there's general sight-seeing (below). But there's also hiking, fishing, boating, skiing (up to about April), etc. Give some thought to some activities and that can allow you to get away from tourists.

Re: what to see --

1. Yellowstone Park itself is pretty manageable in about 1-2 days if you just want to see the big sights, such as Old Faithful, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a few geyser basins, etc. Those a well-traversed route and easy to conquer. In spring, the park is pretty quiet too, so not too much competition. Of course, you could spend weeks there hiking if that's your thing.

2. Outside of Yellowstone, there's a lot more to see, and I think that actually makes your trip worth a full week:

a. Teton National Park -- possibly the most beautiful place in the Lower 48. This park starts about 15 miles south of Yellowstone and you get in free with your pass to YNP. Teton is fairly small, has wonderful flat or vertical hikes, lakes, and, on the other side, a pretty swanky, fun little town in Jackson. If you ski, there are 3 areas around Jackson (Jackson Hole/Teton Village, Snow King and Grand Targhee).

b. Beartooth Highway -- one of the most beautiful and interesting drives in the US with a huge number of cut-backs and stunning scenery above the tree line on the Beartooth Plateau NW of Yellowstone. Lots of car commercials are filmed there. On the way out of Yellowstone, there are two little towns (Silvergate and Cooke City) with a couple hotels and restaurants. The Beartooth doesn't open until May or so, btw.

c. Fly fishing -- the area just to the north of Yellowstone is generally regarded as the Lower 48's best fly fishing area with the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley and the 3 forks of the Missouri (Madison, Jefferson and Gallatin) forming a big web of fishable territory. If you've ever wanted to try it, if you go in-season there are about 5,000 guides waiting to take you. Town with fly-fishing options are Ennis, Gardiner, Livingston and Bozeman, MT, Island Park, ID, Jackson, WY, etc.

c. Surrounding Mountain ranges -- outside of Yellowstone, there are several MORE beautiful mountain ranges that you can ski in (Big Sky resort in MT), hike in (Absarokas or Beartooth are my preference) or just look at if you want to drive around.

If you have specific questions, feel free to PM and I'll see what I can do for you.
 

romafan

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Yellowstone is an amazing place! If you are camping-inclined, that is definitely the way to go (back country - not campgrounds). Anytime off-peak (i.e. not the middle of summer) is better for crowds, but will be cooler. The park, as you know is quite large, and there are not a lot of roads. Again, off-peak allows you to get around quicker. Main attractions aside, the Lamar valley in the northeast is also worth a 1/2 day - spectacular. The geological history of the area is quite intersting - the Yellowstoone Center(?) is located just outside the park's western entrance in West Yellowstone and is worth a visit for a good overview. If you have the time to incorporate a trip down to Grand Teton you should do so....People like Chico Hot Springs which outside the park's northern entrance (Gardiner?) on the way up to the Paradise Valley.

I would echo magoo's fishing recommendation. Yellowstone and SW Montana is arguably the premier trout fishery in the lower 48. In addition to towns magoo mentioned, West Yellowstone has a plethora of guide shops.
 

justsayno

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wow mr magoo thanks for the write up, the forum benefits from your insight
 

Tokyo Slim

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An excerpt from A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson

In the 1960s, while studying the volcanic history of Yellowstone National Park, Bob Christiansen of the United States Geological Survey became puzzled about something that, oddly, had not troubled anyone before: he couldn't find the park's volcano. It had been known for a long time that Yellowstone was volcanic in nature - that's what accounted for all its geysers and other steamy features - and the one thing about volcanoes is that they are generally pretty conspicuous. But Christiansen couldn't find the Yellowstone volcano anywhere. In particular, what he couldn't find was a structure known as a caldera.

Most of us, when we think of volcanoes, think of the classic cone shape of Fuji or a Kilimanjaro, which is created when erupting magma accumulates in a symmetrical mound. These can form remarkably quickly. In 1943 at Paricutin in Mexico a farmer was startled to see smoke rising from a patch on his land. In one week he was the bemused owner of a cone 152 metres high. Within two years it had topped out at almost 430 metres and was more than 800 metres across. Altogether there are some ten thousand of these intrusively visible volcanoes on Earth, all but a few hundred of them extinct. But there is a second, less celebrated type of volcano that doesn't involve mountain-building. These are volcanoes so explosive that they burst open in a single mighty rupture, leaving behind a vast subsided pit, the caldera (from a Latin word for cauldron). Yellowstone obviously was of this second type, but Christiansen couldn't find the caldera anywhere.

By coincidence, just at this time NASA decided to test some new high-altitude cameras by taking photographs of Yellowstone, copies of which a thoughtful official passed on to the park authorities on the assumption that they might make a nice display for one of the visitor centres. As soon as Christiansen saw the photos he realized why he had failed to spot the caldera: virtually the whole park - 9,000 square kilometres - was caldera. The explosion had left a crater nearly 65 kilometres across - much too huge to be perceived from anywhere at ground level. At some time in the past Yellowstone must have blown up with a violence far beyond the scale of anything known to humans.

Yellowstone, it turns out, is a supervolcano. It sits on top of an enormous hot spot, a reservoir of molten rock that begins at least 200 kilometres down in the Earth and rises to near the surface, forming what is known as a superplume. The heat from the hot spot is what powers all of Yellowstone's vents, geysers, hot springs and popping mud pots. Beneath the surface is a magma chamber that is about 72 kilometres across - roughly the same dimensions as the park - and about 13 kilometres thick at its thickest point. Imagine a pile of TNT about the size of an English county and reaching 13 kilometres into the sky, to about the height of the highest cirrus clouds, and you have some idea of what visitors to Yellowstone are shuffling around on top of. The pressure that such a pool of magma exerts on the crust above has lifted Yellowstone and its surrounding territory about half a kilometre higher than they would otherwise be. If it blew, the cataclysm is pretty well beyond imagining.

According to Professor Bill McGuire of University College London, 'you wouldn't be able to get within a thousand kilometres of it' while it was erupting. The consequences that followed would be even worse...

... Since its first known eruption 16.5 million years ago, it has blown up about a hundred times, but the most recent three eruptions are the ones that get written about. The last eruption was a thousand times as big as that of Mount St Helens [which 'exploded with the force of five hundred Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs, shooting out a murderous hot cloud at up to 1,050 kilometres an hour']; the ones before that was 280 times as big, and the one before that was so big nobody knows exactly how big it was. It was at least 2,500 times as big as St Helens, but perhaps 8,000 times as monstrous.

We have absolutely nothing to compare it to. The biggest blast in recent times was that of Krakatau in Indonesia in August 1883, which made a bang that reverberated around the world for nine days, and made water slosh as far away as the English Channel. But if you imagine the volume of ejected material from Krakatau as being about the size of a golf ball, then that from the biggest of the Yellowstone blasts would be the size of a sphere you could just about hide behind. On this scale, the Mount St Helens eruption would be no more than a pea.

The Yellowstone eruption of two million years ago put out enough ash to bury New York State to a depth of 20 metres or California to a depth of 6 metres. This was the ash that made Mike Voorhies' fossil beds in eastern Nebraska. That blast occurred in what is now Idaho, but over millions of years, at a rate of about 2.5 centimetres a year, the Earth's crust has travelled over it, so that today it is directly under northwest Wyoming. (The hot spot itself stays in one place, like an acetylene torch aimed at a ceiling.) In its wake it leaves the sort of rich volcanic plains that are ideal for growing potatoes, as Idaho's farmers long ago discovered. In another two million years, geologists like to joke, Yellowstone will be producing French fries for McDonald's and the people of Billings, Montana, will be stepping around the geysers.

The ash fall form the last Yellowstone eruption covered all or parts of nineteen western states (plus parts of Canada and Mexico) - nearly the whole of the United States west of the Mississippi. This, bear in mind, is the breadbasket of America, an area that produces roughly half the world's cereals. And ash, it is worth remembering, is not like a big snowfall that will melt in the spring. If you wanted to grow crops again, you would have to find some place to put all the ash. It took thousands of workers eight months to clear 1.8 billion tonnes of debris from the 6.5 hectares of the World Trade Center site in New York. Imagine what it would take to clear Kansas.

And that's not even to consider the climatic consequences. The last supervolcano eruption on Earth was at Toba, in northern Sumatra, 74,000 years ago. No-one knows quite how bit it was, but it was a whopper. Greenland ice cores show that the Toba blast was followed by six years of 'volcanic winter' and goodness knows how many poor growing seasons after that. The event, it is thought, may have carried humans right to the brink of extinction, reducing the global population to no more than a few thousand individuals. That would mean that all modern humans arose from a very small population base, which would explain our lack of genetic diversity. At all events, there is some evidence to suggest that for the next twenty thousand years the total number of people on Earth was never more than a few thousand at any time. That is, needless to say, a long time to spend recovering from a single blast.

All this was hypothetically interesting until 1973, when an odd occurrence made it suddenly momentous: water in Yellowstone Lake, in the heart of the park, began to run over the banks at the lake's southern end, flooding a meadow, while at the opposite end of the lake the water mysteriously flowed away. Geologists did a hasty survey and discovered that a large area of the park had developed an ominous bulge. This was lifting up one end of the lake and causing the water to run out at the other, as would happen if you lifted one side of a child's paddling pool. By 1984, the whole central region of the park - over 100 square kilometres - was more than a metre higher than it had been in 1924, when the park was last formally surveyed. Then, in 1985, the central part of the park subsided by 20 centimetres (about 9 inches). It now seems to be swelling again. The geologists realized that only one thing could cause this - a restless magma chamber. Yellowstone wasn't the site of an ancient supervolcano; it was the site of an active one. It was also at about this time that they were able to work out that the cycle of Yellowstone's eruptions averaged one massive blow every 600,000 years. The last one was 630,000 years ago. Yellowstone, it appears, is due.

... 'And how much warning would you get if Yellowstone was going to go?'
He shrugged. 'Nobody was around the last time it blew, so nobody knows what the warning signs are. Probably you would have swarms of earthquakes and some surface uplift and possibly some changes in the pattern of behaviour of the geysers and steam vents, but nobody really knows.'
'So it could just blow without warning?'
He nodded thoughtfully. The trouble, he explained, is that nearly all the things that would constitute warning signs already exist in some measure at Yellowstone. 'Earthquakes are generally a precursor of volcanic eruptions, but the park already has lots of earthquakes - twelve hundred and sixty of them last year. Most of them are too small to be felt, but they are earthquakes nonetheless.'

A change in the pattern of geyser eruptions might also be taken as a clue, he said, but these too vary unpredictably. Once the most famous geyser in the park was Excelsior Geyser. It used to erupt regularly and spectacularly to heights of 100 metres, but in 1888 it just stopped. Then in 1985 it erupted again, though only to a height of 25 metres. Steamboat Geyser is the biggest geyser in the world when it blows, shooting water 120 metres into the air, but the intervals between its eruptions have ranged from as little as four days to almost fifty years. 'If it blew today and again next week, that wouldn't tell us anything at all about what it might do the following week or the week after or twenty years from now,' Doss says. ' The whole park is so volatile that it's essentially impossible to draw conclusions from almost anything that happens.'
 

yerfdog

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Yeah, I was kind of freaked out about the supervolcano possibility when I was there. My wife reminded me that if it did blow, we would only last a couple seconds so we really shouldn't worry about it. I was very comforted.
 

mr. magoo

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The main body of Yellowstone Lake and the "West Thumb" portion of Yellowstone Lake are two craters from two separate volcanic explosions. Guess I would prefer instant incineration to starving during a years-long volcanic winter, but then I am still freaked out by Cormack McCarthy's "The Road."
 

unpainted huffheinz

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I would wait until the Beartooth Highway opens and take advantage of that route in or out of the park. It is one of the most magnificent drives in the world.

Also, you can head to Cody, WY and spend some time at the Buffalo Bill Museum which has a ton of exhibits that easily take a day to see. It is a must for Old West buffs. Cody has a small Sierra Trading Post store too, but it pales compared to the main warehouse near Cheyenne.

I fish the streams and rivers in the Beartooth and Absoraka ranges and prefer them to the more crowded and over fished famous areas of Montana. There are a lot of trained trout on a river like the Big Horn!

If you want to see the Park in a completely different way, consider going on a snowmobile tour in late winter. My parents really loved the one they did, and they consider it their favorite of the dozens of trips to the Park over the years.

There are some great small breweries in Montana and Wyoming to try. Red Lodge Ales (my local), Bayern (good German styles), Big Sky (makers of Moose Drool), and a host of small brewpubs offer a lot of great beer to try.
 

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