Day Trip: Yellowstone National Park
It still feels a bit unreal, like a dream, that I was at Yellowstone National Park recently. And, that I was there by myself. Driving through mountains. Two feet from elk. Hiking up to a hot spring.
Getting to the park
If you were following me via social media in late August, you saw that I was visiting Billings, Mont. The largest city in Big Sky Country is about 170 miles from the North entrance to the national park in Gardiner, Mont. The North entrance is about five miles from the Wyoming border. So, I got to check another state off my list of places visited.
When I was planning my trip to Montana, I looked into Yellowstone, but I thought it would be too far for a day trip. If you do a quick Google map from Billings to the park, you’ll find a much longer route than the one I drove last month. The park has five entrances — none of which have addresses easy to find on the web to plug into your GPS. If you are coming from Billings, take I-90 W to Livingston, then take U.S. 89 S into the touristy town of Gardiner, Mont. From there, drive straight down U.S. 89 until it dead ends and turn right — even though your iPhone might tell you to turn left. There are signs, so just follow those if your GPS is confused. The scenic, mountainous drive takes you through Gallatin National Forest and is about 2.5 hours, but it’s about three hours before you get anywhere of interest within the park.
Entering Yellowstone National Park
I was flying solo, so I qualified for a car pass. It costs $25 and gets you into the park for seven days. If you are also coming by car, it’s an additional $12 per passenger. To see more about entrance fees, go here.
Upon arrival, you are provided a park map. From the map, I could see that Old Faithful was pretty far away. Instead, I went to the Mammoth Hot Springs, which are the first major attraction when entering from the North entrance.
You will see wild animals inside the park. Unlike a zoo, they are free roaming. So, be careful and be aware of your surroundings. Keep your distance and stay in your car if the animals are really close. Some animals you may encounter are grizzly bears, black bears, bison, elk, wolves, squirrels and birds.
The only animals I saw were elk. I first spotted them grazing in someone’s campsite across the road from a pullout. There I felt safe to exit my car to take these photos.
Mammoth Hot Springs
There are approximately 50 hot springs, where hot water flows to the Earth’s surface, in the area of the Mammoth Hot Springs. The hot springs terraces can change in appearance, so if you haven’t visited Yellowstone in a while or have only seen pictures, the terraces may look different than you remembered or expected.
Near the hot springs there isn’t a lot of parking. There are three or four small lots where you might luck into a vacated spot. If you don’t mind walking, you might have better luck parking down near the touristy area, which includes a lodge, restaurant, ice cream shop, general store, post office, visitors’ center, gas station with a snack shop and public restrooms.
Overall, I had fun exploring a small portion of the park as a day trip. I’d like to go back someday to see Old Faithful and the park’s other attractions. You can find out more about the park and plan your visit at the Yellowstone National Park’s website.
Wish you were here,