Trip timing

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 11:37:47 04/07/17

In Reply to: 1st trip to Yellowstone: itinerary help posted by Shannon


You obviously have done "some" research on Yellowstone, because you have a list of many of the major attractions. What you may not be aware of is that at present, all the interior roads are closed. The first roads open on April 21, and that will only provide access to about half of the Grand Loop Road. The remaining segments open in stages, on May 5, May 12, and May 26. By May 12, all but the Dunraven Pass road, linking Canyon and Tower, will be open. I have included a link to the National Park Service website's page that provides information on park roads.

The vast majority of early season visitors to Yellowstone are wildlife watchers/photographers, who take advantage of the lack of crowds, the fact that high elevation snow has most wildlife concentrated in the valley bottoms, and the arrival of babies (and the predation that accompanies it). These folks tend to be repeat visitors and locals, who are well familiar with the paucity of services available within the park at that time. The opening of gas stations, lodging facilities, restaurants, and stores tends to parallel the staged opening of the interior roads. Until mid-May, Yellowstone is a way different place than what you see in guidebooks and videos. On the east side, depending on how snowy the winter was, and how cold the spring has been, you can still have sizeable snow drifts along the road. We have skied in Hayden Valley in early to mid-May a number of times, and snowshoed to thermal areas near Mud Volcano in early June.

You might want to reconsider the timing of your trip. If you are stuck with April and May, then go as late as your calendar will allow.

Your list, while containing most of the heavy hitters, does lack a few that I would recommend adding, like Firehole Lake Drive and Mud Volcano. If you simply drive the Grand Loop Road after Dunraven Pass opens on May 26, the road will take you to or through most of your hit parade. That cursory inspection could be accomplished in 2 days, but there will inevitably certain attractions that you find so appealing that you want to spend more time investigating. One of your dilemmas will be the need to prioritize certain classifications of features. Do you want to spend more time checking out thermal features (like geysers, hot springs, and mud pots), seeing/photographing wildlife, or try to see the majority of the large waterfalls that are along the road system. That still leaves out more niche features/activities like non-thermal geology, history, fishing, hiking, etc.

The Bozeman airport is the closest to the park of those served by major airlines. You might want to invest a half day making a run out the South Entrance and down to Grand Teton National Park to at least see the unparalleled scenery, so you know if you want to include it in a future trip. This trip will be primarily a "scouting trip" so a future trip can be better planned. Yellowstone is to large, with too many major attractions, to prescribe a comprehensive 2 or 3 day itinerary. You should book lodging in or very close to the park, so you don't waste time commuting.


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