Yellowstone: Mammoth Hot Springs & Norris Geyser Basin

This is the first of my recaps of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, the 14th and 15th of the national parks my husband Dave and I have visited. I'm going to also include some tips on logistics for those planning a Yellowstone trip. When I was planning it, I couldn't find many tips, and there are some things I wish I'd known.

About Yellowstone National Park

Established in 1872 as America's first national park, Yellowstone contains about half the world's active geysers, has more geysers and hot springs combined than any other place on earth, and sits on top of a volcano. Most of the park is in Wyoming, but there are parts in Idaho and Montana. It's 2.2 million acres and in the top five of the most popular of the national parks. Just this week, Yellowstone set a record for most visitors this year so far--3.8 million visitors.


There are many beautiful lodging options within Yellowstone National Park, some that sell out a year in advance. We prefer staying in rental homes so that we can have a kitchen so that it's easier for me to eat vegan meals and so that we can prepare snacks and lunches to take with us into the park. We stayed in Island Park, Idaho, which was 15 miles but took 40 minutes to get to the West Yellowstone entrance. I wish that we would have stayed in the town of West Yellowstone because it would have saved us a lot of driving every day. Because Yellowstone is so large and because there was frequently cars stopped or going very slowly because of wildlife on or around the roads, it would take us anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours to get from our cabin to where we were going in Yellowstone. That's a lot of driving, especially for us city folks who spend very little time in our cars. West Yellowstone, by the way, has a ton of hotel options plus gift shops and restaurants. I'd stay there next time. I do recommend the West Yellowstone entrance, though, because it is centrally located to the majority of the park.

This was the most crowded national park we have ever been to, and we went in the off season. Most of the crowds at national parks will be at easily accessible observation points and not out on long trails. In Yellowstone, most of what to see in the park is easily accessible, so there were a fair amount of people everywhere, even on the one longer trail we went on. The biggest crowds were at Old Faithful. About 50% of the visitors were Asian, the majority of whom were on bus tours. About another 25% were European. The rest were American and were mostly senior citizens. We actually did see one young couple who were in a Just Married car, and I congratulated them and told them we were there for our 13th anniversary. They said they hoped to celebrate their anniversaries at national parks like we were doing, and I hope they do too!
From a lookout point driving through Yellowstone.

If you drive through Yellowstone, be prepared to relax, go slow, and not be in a hurry. There is wildlife--mostly bison and elk--everywhere, including walking in the road. Because Yellowstone is so scenic, most people will slow down or pull over to take pictures. And, of course, if bison are walking in the road, you have no choice but to let them go! While the elk seem curious but keep their distance, the bison seem to know that they rule the land, and they go anywhere they want. Just this year, a bison gored a young girl who got too close (she lived, thankfully), and we even heard stories of them charging at cars if they get grumpy. Best to keep your distance!
One of the ever-present bison.

As for weather, the week before and even while we were there, the forecast was sun and 60s. Well, we learned that 60s in Pittsburgh is much different than 60s in Yellowstone, where it's a lot of intense sun, no shade, and heat from the geothermal areas. Plus, it actually got into the upper 70s, which felt like the 90s. Before we left, I posted how one of the things I was looking forward to on vacation was the cool weather. Yeah, that didn't happen. We had both packed mostly cool-weather clothes, and I was boiling most of the time. You definitely need a hat and a light, long-sleeved top to protect yourself from the sun, but we wished we'd brought lighter clothes.
On the drive to Mammoth Hot Springs. This was one of only two times it felt cool.

Mammoth Hot Springs

On the first day of our trip, which was actually our wedding anniversary, we went to Mammoth Hot Springs. This is a hot spring area that has a boardwalk through its upper and lower terraces, the product of dissolved subterranean limestone that is continuously deposited as the spring waters cool on contact with the air. It took about an hour to walk through the boardwalk. It was amazing and otherworldly.
Mammoth Hot Springs

Me before I started boiling.
The terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs.
More terraces. This is an active spring though it's hard to see the water. You can see steam from the hot water.
Another shot of the terraces.
The boardwalk going through the Mammoth Hot Springs area.
Our shadows, looking down into the hot springs and formations from the springs.
Our 13th anniversary picture.

Norris Geyser Basin

Not too far from Mammoth Hot Springs is Norris Geyser Basin, North America's most volatile and oldest continuously active geothermal area--in existence for some 115,000 years. Norris is also home to the most of the world's most acidic geysers, fed by sulfur. Whew--we smelled it! Walking through this basin was amazing--geysers were spewing and springs were gushing sulfurous steam like crazy. Again there were boardwalks going through the basin. Much of the ground is unstable, and there were warnings everywhere to stay on the boardwalk.

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin
Dave in the steam in the basin.
Norris Geyser Basin
Me in Norris Geyser Basin (I was so hot!)
View of the boardwalk going through Norris Geyser Basin.
More bison! And I have a ton more bison pics!

Stay tuned for the next recap, where I'll be posting about the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone!

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