To many travellers, exploring Yellowstone National Park represents the quintessential American outdoor experience; this vast natural wonder is home to dramatic peaks, multi-coloured pools swirling around steamy hot springs and rich wildlife, and infinite pristine pine forests really make for a nature enthusiast’s playground.
Although it spans over 8,000 square kilometres in the state of Wyoming and extends into Montana and Idaho (its West, North and Northeast park entrances are in Montana while the East and South entrances are in Wyoming), Yellowstone is probably one of the United States’ easiest national parks to sightsee in a day — without having to embark on strenuous hikes to get up-close to some of its most iconic natural attractions.
Those willing to spend more than a day here can pursue more activities such as hiking, staking out animals and birds, having leisurely picnic lunches or joining some of the free ranger-led programmes, but exploring the park within a day is also feasible especially with a car. Travellers behind the wheels can soak in the landscapes by taking one of America’s most scenic drives — the Grand Loop (shaped like the figure eight) stretching a total of 142 miles or 228.5 kilometres.
Tip: Most visitors drive the Grand Loop in an anticlockwise direction, but I found our drive clockwise afforded more serenity as we often were out of sync with the general crowd.
For a sneak peek of a whirlwind road trip in Yellowstone National Park, here are my favourite photos from a trip earlier in the year to this geothermal and wildlife wonderland.
Towering verdant pine trees line the well-paved road at the South Entrance in Yellowstone National Park. From the rear-view, the Teton mountain range looms large, creating an image to cherish a lifetime.
The Grand Prismatic Spring at the Midway Geyser Basin area boasts vibrant colours thanks to heat-loving bacteria that call the hot spring home. With heat radiating from the ground, the hot spring seems indeed surreal, which is why travellers are always in awe when admiring it.
A herd of bison (a large terrestrial animal which is also a good swimmer) can be seen peacefully grazing at Firehole River between Midway Geyser and Madison. Thanks to my African safari ‘training’, I actually managed to spot this herd from a distance of two kilometres — while driving!
Fly fishing is a popular activity at Firehole River. It was interesting to watch these men move in slow motion in the spring-fed river, oblivious to the nearby herd of bison. While everything appears calm on the surface, there are currents in the stream, so fishermen require a certain degree of skills to catch the rainbow and brown trout.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is for me more dramatic and iconic a sight than the Old Faithful geyser. At Artist Point, a cliff located on the south rim, travellers can admire the Lower Falls grand waterfall hugged by a canyon of pastel yellow, brown and orange colours. From the parking lot, you can also take Uncle Tom’s Trail down 328 steps to the base of the Lower Falls.
A stunning view of the thundering Lower Falls from Lookout Point along the North Rim Drive. This road winds deep into the Grand Canyon following the canyon wall and leads to Inspiration Point, a natural observation point with superb views of the rapids. Along the way to Inspiration Point, you can’t help but notice the house-size granite boulder by the road.
Although elk is considered the most abundant animal species in the national park, we only managed to take a glimpse of this majestic animal at Grant Village. This fellow was nestled among fallen logs and posed gracefully as we snapped a photo even though it is notorious for chasing people and vehicles.