The Park that Started it All - Yellowstone! (part 1)
This was my pilgrimage to the Mecca of National Parks. A bucket list visit that I hope to make many more times over the span of my life. It’s not just the first National Park, but one of the absolute best (in my humble opinion).
The park itself is dauntingly large. I must confess, I 100% underestimated the size of this place when I was planning this trip. For some reason I had it my head that one could drive the “figure 8” (more on this later) of the park in relatively short order. Trust me you can’t. The place is massive.
If you take a look at the park website, they estimate the size of the park to be a little shy of 3,500 square miles, but it’s so damn big that that is still up for debate. Clearly measuring something of those proportions is easier said than done. For those of you who have trouble grasping land size in square miles, that is about 2.2 MILLION acres. If acres or square miles is not your thing, it’s roughly the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
I say all that just to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into if you plan a trip here. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can just “drive thru” this park and take in all the sights in a day or so. If you only have a day, then so be it, but just know that you’re only going to experience a fraction of what this amazing place has to offer.
Now back to that “figure 8” thing. The park itself is so huge that having road access to everything is impossible, but they did a pretty darn good job of getting you close to some of the most popular areas via a circuit of sorts that is shaped… you guessed it… like a big figure 8. The nice thing is that this route lets you hit all the major attractions such as Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone fairly easily. But again, don’t think you’re going to drive this loop in one day and enjoy yourself. Each of the “loops” take anywhere from 3 to 4 hours to drive with very little stopping.
The figure 8 is in the interior of the park, and obviously if you’re going on a trip to the park, you’ll need to pick an entrance that you’ll be using to access it. There are essentially 5 entrances to the park aptly named by the direction you’ll be coming from.
The North Entrance - located nearest to Gardiner, MT
The Northeast Entrance - located nearest to Silver Gate, MT
The East Entrance - not much out there, but good if you’re coming from Cody, WY
The South Entrance - best if you’re coming from Grand Teton NP
The West Entrance - located nearest to West Yellowstone, MT
For us, we were coming from Grand Teton, so we used the South Entrance, and since we booked a little late (best recommendation is to look at least a year before you want to go), we ended up staying in West Yellowstone, MT at a sweet little place called the Moose Creek Inn (https://www.moosecreekinn.com/). There are plenty of lodging options inside and outside of the parks, so definitely do your research on where you’d like to stay, and if I could do one thing differently, I’d try to spend a night or two in West Yellowstone, and then a night or two inside the park, and maybe even a little time in the town of Gardiner to the North.
If you do end up in West Yellowstone like us, I’d definitely recommend the Moose Creek Inn. It’s not going to have amazing views or 5 star accommodations, but it’s clean, staff is friendly, the beds were comfy (handy after all the hiking and travel), and it’s smack in the middle of town. Plus it’s cheap! Regarding the town itself, there are plenty of touristy little shops that are worth checking out during your evenings, and there are a few spots that are definitely worth grabbing some food or a drink at. Our favorites below:
Slippery Otter Pub - I was sold as soon as I saw the name, but truthfully it’s a good place to grab a beer or a cocktail after spending a nice day in the park and watching a game on TV. (4.2 stars on Google)
Wild West Pizzeria - Really solid pizza, cool environment, and it’s half bar half restaurant. It’s a busy place and for good reason. Go here. (4.3 stars on Google)
Running Bear Pancake House - Our favorite breakfast that we had while we were here. It’s small, cozy, and super friendly staff. I got this thing called the Cordon Bleu Skillet. It’s got everything you need to fuel you in the park for the day. (4.3 stars on Google)
We’ve covered a lot on this post, and we really haven’t even gotten to any of the epic stuff inside the park itself, so I’m going to call this good for now, and we’ll actually visit the park’s many sights and sounds in the next post. Trust me when I say, it’s a LOT to cover.