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Making a pilgrimage to the world’s first national park should be on everyone’s bucket list. For sheer breathtaking beauty and the ability to experience the vastness and grandeur of nature, nothing surpasses an adventure to Yellowstone National Park.
The best time to visit the park is early spring or late fall. Yellowstone is open to cars from the first weekend in May to the first weekend in November. Visiting at either of these times means sharing the park mostly with locals who tend to stay out of the park during the height of the summer tourist traffic.
Besides fewer visitors, spring and fall offer the best wildlife viewing. In spring, rusty orange bison calves dot the landscape, giving color to the brown meadows. Bison have no fear of cars and often graze or loaf right along the roads, or even on the roads. Driving next to one of these prairie behemoths is an awesome experience as you truly understand how massive they are. Other wildlife, including grizzly and black bear, coyote, the occasional wolf, marmot, eagle, waterfowl, deer, elk and even bighorn sheep are most easily seen in spring.
Fall brings the elk into the picture as bulls vie for control over harems of cows and mating rights. The best time to witness this ritual is late afternoon. Find a spot at an overlook along the Yellowstone River in Hayden Valley, make yourself comfortable on the ground and wait. You’ll soon be rewarded when a small herd of elk slips out of the forest and wanders down to the river. The cows arrive first, followed by the bull with a rack so massive it’s a wonder he can hold up his head. He will soon “bugle” his presence to any other bull in the vicinity. This high-pitched wheezing squeal will make your neck hairs stand up with its echo of the primeval wilderness.
Geysers and Waterfalls
Besides incomparable wildlife viewing, Yellowstone is also known for its thermal features. Old Faithful is still a must see. Approximately every ninety minutes this geyser erupts a majestically tall column of boiling water and steam. This thunderous rush of water can awaken sleeping visitors in the north wing of the nearby historic Old Faithful Inn. The many thermal basins of the park are crowded with azure-colored springs, bubbling molten clay mud pots and hissing fumaroles of steam.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is considered by some to be the park’s finest feature. Standing at the Brink of the Upper Falls puts you within dizzying closeness to the rush of the river as it hurtles over the 100 foot tall precipice. Across the river, the nearly vertical steps of Uncle Tom’s Trail hug the wet rock down to the base of the falls. Downriver at Artist’s Point, the view of the even taller, Lower Falls makes any visitor want to whip out brush and canvas to forever memorialize the scene. Most folks simply choose the easier media of a digital camera.
Yellowstone is a land of mythic proportions. The vastness of the landscapes, the depths of the falls, the heights of the geysers and the wildness of its animals make for an unforgettable experience. But Yellowstone is also intimate – the courting of tundra swans on the lake, the fragile beauty of fringed gentians growing in the sterile soil of the thermal basins or the whistle of a furry pika as it gathers grass for its nest in the talus slopes. A visit to Yellowstone never disappoints if you’re open to experiencing all the park has to offer. It is truly a “once in a lifetime” adventure.
Kevin Caldwell wrote this article for bellinghamairporthotels.com. Kevin enjoys traveling and sharing his travel experiences with others.