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September 25, 2016 / mws

2016 Yellowstone Sept

Yellowstone National Park covers over 2 million acres. It is served by about 300 miles of paved roads.  The main road  travels in a figure 8 configuration and is called the Grand Loop Road.  With all the landmarks, hiking trails, wildlife and places to be, here is what we enjoyed the most.

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Top Ten Moments from our 2016 trip to Yellowstone.

September 16 – 24

10. Picnics Almost as soon as my husband and I arrive in Yellowstone, I am whining about having a picnic.  There are many places to picnic, but we like the Madison River area on the West side, the Yellowstone River on the north side and the Nez Perce Ford Picnic area on the east side.

Yellowstone River Picnic Area

Yellowstone River Picnic Area

The 14 mile stretch from West Yellowstone to the Madison Junction has multiple areas for a picnic. Visitors can picnic by the riverbanks with great views of the mountains.  Almost every time we picnic there we see wildlife, and several times saw a bison herd crossing the river.

The Yellowstone River Picnic area is an iconic landmark in northeast Yellowstone.  It is a highly used picnic area and in the midst of some great wildlife sightings.  In this area, we have seen pronghorns, badgers, bison, bear, elk and it is especially known for bighorn sheep.  There is a very well known hiking trail here which travels along the ridge of the canyon. We enjoyed hiking here with great views of the Yellowstone River and the Tower Canyon.  Along this trail there have been sightings of ospreys and eagles and we were lucky enough to see an osprey.

Between Canyon and Fishing Bridge in the southeast section of Yellowstone is the Nez Perce Ford Picnic area. This is one of the largest picnic areas in Yellowstone. With the Yellowstone River as a picnic buddy, nature is at it’s best here.  This area is a great landscape for wildlife watching with bare hills backed by a pine forest. 

9. Bozeman, Montana area   Curiosity was the instigator for our visit to Bozeman.  As the county seat of Gallatin County, Bozeman is home to Montana State University and has a population of about 45,000.  It is a little over a one hour drive from Gardiner, MT at the north end of Yellowstone.

There is lots of shopping, dining and lodging available.  Bozeman boasts a thriving art community along with symphonies and theater. The town was alive with Montana State University students, strolling musicians and outdoor cafe diners.  We stopped at Starky’s to join in with the outdoor dining.  A downtown driving tour was interesting with lots of western flair.


Palisade Falls

Our next adventure took us just south of Bozeman where we entered the Hyalite Canyon.  This was definitely Lance’s kind of place.  With towering rock walls, a lake, pines all around and multiple hiking opportunities, the canyon was hopping with outdoor enthusiasts. We found a trail head for Palisade Falls and hiked up to see the view.  It was well worth the effort to see the towering falls drop 80 feet over the rock cliff.  We considered this hike a good warmup for later Yellowstone hikes.


Blacktail Plateau

8. Blacktail Plateau

Fall is a great time to travel this one-way dirt and gravel road through the natural back country of Yellowstone.  Elk and bison are usually visible and if you are lucky, you may see a bear.

The road is rocky with some deep ruts and we poked along, but some vehicles raced through. It’s hard to understand the impatience of some visitors to Yellowstone.  We take in as much as we can and travel at a slow, safe speed.  We pulled off several times and looked around.  It was early in September and there was some fall color already evident.

The Blacktail Plateau is one of the only drives in Yellowstone where you can feel like you are “off the beaten path”.  The 6 mile long road can get rough in a few sections and  RV’s,  buses, and trailers are not permitted on this drive.  This is not a regularly ranger-patrolled area though there are places to pull over and look around.

7.  Dunraven Pass This 8,878 foot high mountain pass is between Canyon and Tower on the Grand Loop Road.  With multiple drives on Dunraven Pass, there are opportunities to see wolves, bison, bear, elk and fox.  It is a curvy, narrow drive with just a few opportunities to pull over.  At the top of the pass, there is a very nice parking area where you can expect wind and lower temperatures. Dunraven Pass is the first to close in fall and the last to open in Spring.

Dunraven Pass Bear

Dunraven Pass Bear



Hayden Valley Elk

6.  Hayden Valley  In past trips to Yellowstone, Hayden Valley was not teaming with wildlife like we expected. But that may have to do with our timing.  Many times, we drove through the valley somewhere from 10AM-2PM.  This is NOT prime time for viewing wildlife.

This year, since we stayed in Canyon, we had better access to Hayden Valley.  Though only seven miles long, the landscapes alone provide a delightful experience. We did have a great early morning drive with good elk viewing. It was foggy that morning and a male elk ambled slowly  across the road in front of us.  The elk posed for some photos before he moved into the woods.

Boiling River Springs

Boiling River Springs

5. Boiling River Spring

Just south of the 45th Parallel Bridge and the border of Wyoming and Montana is an area where visitors can take a dip in a mixture of cold river water and hot springs.  There is parking about 2 miles north of Mammoth Hot Springs on the east side of the road and a little further there is overflow parking on the west side.  It was hot and dry the day we visited, so there were a lot of visitors taking a dip!

A half-mile walk upstream from the parking area leads to the place where the footpath reaches the river. This spot is also marked by large clouds of steam, especially in cold weather. This is where the boiling springs bathers can wade into the river from dawn to dusk. The hot springs of the Boiling River mix with the cold water of the Gardiner River to provide just the right mix for relaxation. Water shoes are recommended as the river bottom is very rocky and slippery. There is no alcohol or nudity permitted and there are no lifeguards.  We like to call this area “Nature’s Hot Tub”.  🙂


Cooke City

4.  Cooke City  It’s difficult to describe Cooke City.  The best word I can use is genuine. I include Silver Gate which is adjacent to Cooke City.  The two small villages are occupied full time by about 125 hearty folks. There are true nature advocates here, with great local lore.  There is one small church, a nice Visitors Center, several great dining establishments, gift shops and quite an assortment of lodging.

One of the locals told me about the high school students.  There is a very small schoolhouse in Cooke City.  Once the students reach a certain age, they must attend school in Gardiner, Montana.  To do this they travel west via the main northern corridor of Yellowstone, then north at Mammoth Hot Springs to Gardiner.  The families take turns with the driving, and the road is kept open through the winter.  That is one looong commute to get to school!


Madison River Heron

3.  Madison River  The drive coming from West Yellowstone into the park is so peaceful.  As you watch the flowing waters of the Madison River, you can feel your soul relax.  We stop at the pull offs and the picnic areas.  Many times we see elk at the river and watch as they amble along the water’s edge.

Because of the great fishing in the area, many visitors like to spend time along the Madison River.  The active geysers in the area help to keep the river warm and provide a prime waterway for fish. The river also attracts many animals. There is an eagle nest along the river and eagles can be seen in flight, diving for fish, or on the nest.  However, when there are eaglets in the nest, there is no stopping in this area.  This is to protect the eagle family.

I have talked to visitors who have seen lynx along the Madison River, but our luck didn’t include an opportunity to see them.  I am told that it is more likely to see a Madison River lynx in winter.


Lamar Valley Rainbow

2.  Lamar Valley  Here is where we spend the majority of our time. When I first visited Yellowstone, I had no idea the vastness of this area.  In Lamar Valley, the park is at it’s best!  This is where the wolves are at home and wolf watchers are evident in the early mornings and evenings.  A scope is an excellent tool for this area to watch the wildlife. There are hiking trails and picnic areas but mostly we just like to pull over and wait!  Many times, we will spot a bear on a hill or enjoy the massive herds of bison on their natural range. On this trip we joined many others in watching a bison carcass.  The first animals to circle were the coyotes.  Then the wolves arrived.  It was very exciting to see an act of nature in the wild Lamar Valley!

1.  Being there!   We don’t go to Yellowstone every year and for the years that we are away from the park, I get a melancholy feeling from April thru October. It’s difficult to explain to people who have not experienced the natural enchantment of  Yellowstone.  For the years that we do travel to Yellowstone, it’s a high that cannot be attained through anything else that I do. I enjoy sharing my passion for Yellowstone with others who have the same love for this incredible National treasure.

Trout Creek

Remarks about Yellowstone

Our first major trip to Yellowstone was in September 1996.  It was then that our 20 year love affair with Yellowstone began.  The park left a lasting impression on our minds and hearts.

This year, on August 25, 2016, the US National Park Service celebrated it’s 100th Anniversary!  The National Park Service was officially signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916.  Before that is was an “act” of Congress.  Of course, today’s Yellowstone National Park was the first national park, but was originally designated on March 1, 1872 as the Yellowstone National Park Act.

Our 20 years of visiting Yellowstone provided us with great  joy, awe-inspiring thrills, and a true connection with nature.  I think Theodore Roosevelt said it best as stated below….

Yellowstone Park is something absolutely unique in the world, so far as I know. The lakes, the mountains, the canyons, and cataracts unite to make this region something not wholly to be paralleled elsewhere on the globe. Here all the wild creatures of the old days are being preserved. – Theodore Rooseveltt

Link to itinerary for our entire 2016 trip

For more photos of our 2016 trip to Yellowstone, click here

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