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Saturday, May 7, 2022

Top Things to do in Yellowstone National Park

Explorer Lens

This national park requires no introduction but let me try to put some words together to describe the beauty and awesomeness of it.

Yellowstone National Park holds the trophy of being the first national park of USA and also the most popular of the lot. It is the most diverse national park I have ever seen, with otherworldly geysers, beautiful canyons, majestic waterfalls, thriving wildlife especially Bison and colorful hot springs.

After exploring the mesmerizing Grand Teton, we were quite excited to delve into the magical world of Yellowstone.

One of the best parts of Yellowstone other than of course the natural attractions are the different facilities made available for public. There are well maintained boardwalks, food courts, souvenir shops, restrooms etc. for a comfortable visit.
In short, this national park is for everyone and it is also one of our favorite national parks.

Finally coming to the best part of the post, here are the top things to do in this iconic national park of USA.

Major attractions in Yellowstone National Park:

1. Old Faithful Geyser

World’s famous geyser – Old Faithful is at the top of the list when it comes to famous attractions in Yellowstone. For decades, this geyser has been erupting at a regular schedule among the 500+ geysers present in the park, hence it is quite famous.

It erupts normally after an interval of 90 minutes, but you might have to wait additional 10-15 mins depending on your luck. The eruption lasts for around 2-5 minutes. Eruption predictions are mentioned on the board maintained by the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center.

The best way to enjoy the view of the Old Faithful Geyser eruption is from the front row of the benches surrounding the Old Faithful, but for that you will have to come atleast 20-30 minutes before the prediction time.


2. Upper Geyser Basin

Old Faithful is part of Upper Geyser Basin, which is home to 150+ geysers and several hot springs. It is highly recommended to explore Upper Geyser Basin also on your visit to Old Faithful.

The entire Upper Geyser Basin loop is around 4.5 miles, but I would recommend you to go till Morning Glory Pool which is about 1.5 miles from Old Faithful. On the way, you will get to see major geysers like Castle Geyser, Grotto Geyser and Daisy Geyser. These geysers don’t erupt as frequently as Old Faithful, but once they start the eruption can even go for hours.

Morning Glory Pool is the prettiest and one of the famous hot springs in Yellowstone. The colors of the pool are just mesmerizing.

Keep atleast 2-2.5 hours to cover Upper Geyser Basin + Old Faithful.

Morning Glory Pool

3. Grand Prismatic Spring and Midway Geyser Basin

I think this was my favorite spot in Yellowstone and one of the most popular pics on internet of the park. This colorful and vibrant hot spring is the largest hot spring in the USA.

There are boardwalks build at the edge of spring to get a closer view. The color of the spring changes with season mostly because of the microbial life present in the spring.
In the middle the color is blue, followed by yellow and orange on the edges.
The colors are most vibrant on a sunny day, so decide to go accordingly.

To get an eagle view of the spring, there is a viewpoint – Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook which can be reached by a hike. I preferred this point as it gives you a full view of the spring and also the various colors. The hike is 1.6 miles roundtrip.

Grand Prismatic Spring is located in the Midway Geyser Basin. Apart from this star attraction, there are other points too like Excelsior Geyser, Opal Pool and Turquoise Pool.


Turquoise Pool

4. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

You must have seen the pics of majestic waterfalls of Yellowstone on internet, well they are as grand and beautiful in real too. This is a must visit point even if you have only one day in Yellowstone.

There are two rims (North and South rim) which have various lookout points from where you can get amazing views of the Upper and Lower Falls.

South Rim is more famous as it is home to Artist Point from where you can take the iconic pics of Lower Falls. This is the point from where most of the amazing pics on internet of lowers falls are taken.

Artist Point

The North Rim has more lookout points of interest:
Brink of lower falls, Inspiration Point, Grand View Point and Lookout Point.
If you are short on time, I would suggest to cover Brink of lower falls and Lookout Point.

Lookout Point

Brink of lower falls

Upper Falls

5. Lamar Valley

If you not short on time, this is the best place in Yellowstone to see wildlife. You get to see tons of bison, bears, coyotes, elks, normal deer and if you are lucky also grizzlies and wolves.
The landscape of the valley is also quite spectacular.

Just keep in mind that Lamar Valley is located in north Yellowstone and it takes a long drive to reach here if you are staying on the west side which has proximity to major attractions of the park.

Plan your visit either in the morning or evening hours, when animals are the most active.
Also, always keep a safe distance from the wildlife.

Credit - Reddit

Credit Here

6. Hayden Valley

Another popular spot in Yellowstone to watch wildlife is Hayden Valley. Though you might not be able to see wolves and grizzlies here, but if you are looking for herds of bison, you can get lucky.
The landscape here is equally mesmerizing as that of Lamar Valley.

It is near to the west entrance, so it is more popular among the tourists.
Plan your visit either in the morning or evening hours, when animals are the most active.
Also, always keep a safe distance from the wildlife.


7. Mammoth Hot Springs

This is one of the most unique and artistic features of Yellowstone. You will be enchanted by its terrace structure similar to the one built for tea farming and diverse colors.

It is divided into two parts – Mammoth Lower Terraces and Upper Terraces.
All the viewpoints are connected via boardwalk and stairs.

I really liked the Lower terrace and the fact that its not too big and can be covered mostly in an hour.


8. West Thumb Geyser Basin

This is another great basin to explore, especially because it is situated right next to Yellowstone Lake.
It is a short visit as you can cover the major points in 30 minutes all connected by boardwalk.
I loved Abyss pool which is the deepest hydrothermal pool in the park and fishing cone geyser which is situated right on the lake.

If you have more time, you can also explore the Yellowstone lake by taking guided boat tours or rent boats.

Fishing cone geyser

9. Norris Geyser Basin

This basin is not as impressive as the other basins, but it is definitely worth a visit.
It is divided into two sections –
Porcelain Basin and Back Basin

Back Basin
I wanted to visit this basin because of one main attraction – Steamboat Geyser which is the tallest active geyser in the world. When the geyser is active, the water can reach upto 300 feet.
There are also other amazing pools, springs and geysers here.

Porcelain Basin
Porcelain Basin is more beautiful than Back Basin. You can see lot of geothermal activities happening here round the day. There are numerous hot springs, turquoise blue thermal pools and geysers here.

If you are short on time, I would suggest to cover Steamboat Geyser and then Porcelain Basin whose boardwalk trail is 1.1 miles long.


10. Waterfalls

Apart from the Upper and Lower falls, there are other famous waterfalls in Yellowstone – Tower falls and Fairy falls. Again, depending on the time you have planned for Yellowstone trip, you can visit these falls.

Tower Falls - Pic Credit Here

Fairy Falls - Pic Credit Here


11. Boiling River Hot Spring

This is a famous swimming spot in Yellowstone which is located in the vicinity of the Mammoth Hot Springs. It is near the north entrance and open mostly during the summer times.


12. Mount Washburn

This is a recommended hike if you are not short on time and love hiking.
There are two ways of doing it, either start from Dunraven Pass or from Chittendon Road.

As we had only 2 days in Yellowstone, so we were not able to do this hike.

Credit Here

Tips from our experience and learning

1. If you are just planning to cover the major attractions listed above till number 9 except Lamar valley, 2 days are good, but if you are planning on covering all the attractions list above then 3 days or more is recommended.
2. Make sure to keep proper distance from the wildlife, especially while viewing elk, bears and bison.
3. Best time to visit the park is from mid-May to October when all the roads of the park are open.
4. The best time for wildlife sighting is dawn and dusk.
5. Yellowstone comprises of many geothermal areas which are quite hot and toxic, so always be on the boardwalk and never get down from it. Also, never throw anything in the pools or springs.
6. Parking fills up very quickly, so make sure to check Yellowstone park official page for parking status.
7. Yellowstone is famous for traffic jams, especially on the entrance and in the valley areas, so make sure to take that into consideration and plan accordingly. Keep plenty of water and also some food.
8. Water is the key here during the summer season, as the basins in the park can get really hot. Make sure to carry ample water with you and also sunscreens as most of the attractions don’t have a shade.  
9. It can snow in the Summer season too, so make sure to take proper precautions and gear.

Yellowstone National Park is a great place for people of all ages, so enjoy your visit and let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Top things to do in Grand Teton National Park

Explorer Lens

The state of Wyoming is nature lover’s heaven. It is the home to two most iconic national parks of USA which are also world famous – Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.

After exploring the natural wonder of Colorado – Garden of the Gods, we were on a 10-hour drive to Grand Teton National Park.

The first impression of Grand Teton is just Wow!!
I have never seen such mesmerizing, massive and jagged mountain peaks in the entire state of USA.
The Teton range rising above the Jackson Hole is a treat to eyes, especially when they are covered in snow. They provide breathtaking backdrop to wildlife viewing or historical sites and amazing reflection in lakes, which are like dream come true for photographers.

Teton range is not the only thing to see here, there are also scenic drives, beautiful lakes, abundant wildlife, historical sites, boat hours, fishing and great hiking trails.
In short, Grand Teton National Park has something for everyone and it is also one of our favorite national parks. Sometimes, it gets overshadowed by its neighbor, the first national park of USA - Yellowstone National Park, but believe me it will fascinate you just like it did us.

Finally coming to the best part of the post, here are the top things to do in this iconic national park of USA.

Major attractions in Grand Teton National Park:

1. See the iconic T.A. Moulton Barn on Marmon Row

In 1890, several Mormon families settled in the Jackson Hole area and established these historic barns.
Today these barns are quite popular among the photographers and the iconic shot of the barns with Tetons in the background is like a dream photo. 

2. Drive the 42-mile scenic loop

The 42-mile scenic loop is one of the best things to do in Grand Teton National Park, as park’s major overlooks and sights are located on this loop. It takes you through the heart of the park and you can drive through the entire Teton range.

The loop starts at Craig Thomas Visitor Center and then ventures north to Jackson Lake on the Jackson Hole Highway. Along the way you have option to detour to Jenny Lake scenic drive, Signal mountain and other popular sights and trails.


3. Schwabacher Landing

I think this was my favorite spot to get the most scenic views of the Teton range. It is calm, less crowded than other overlook points and at the right time of the day, you can get the reflection of the Tetons in the Snake river.

To get to this viewpoint, you will have to take a small detour from the highway to a dirt road which is around 1-mile drive.


4. Snake River Overlook

In 1942, famous photographer – Ansel Adams snapped an iconic photo of the Tetons with the Snake River and today that photography location is popularly known as Snake River Overlook.

Though we can’t get the same shot as the trees have grown considerably, but this is still one of my favorite viewpoints of the park as we get to see Teton range from a different perspective.


5. Oxbow Bend

Oxbow Bend is a popular spot for wildlife lovers and photographers. There are good chances to spot moose, bears and other wildlife here. Sunrise and Sunset are the best times for photography.

If the water is calm, you can get the iconic view of Mount Moran in the bend of Snake River.


6. Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls

One of the most popular hikes in the Grand Teton National Park is Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls. As these two spots fall on the same trail, you can combine them into one hike.
Hidden falls is one of the most famous falls in Grand Teton National Park and Inspiration Point at an elevation of 7200 feet provides breathtaking views over Jenny Lake.

There are two ways to reach the trailhead:

By Boat – As these points are located on the western side of the Jenny Lake, you can’t drive to the trailhead, so taking a shuttle boat is a good option. Shuttles run every 10-15 minutes throughout the day. You get option to pick either round trip or one-way shuttle.
Cost per adult for round trip is $18 and that for one way is $10.
The Hidden falls is 0.5 mile from trailhead and Inspiration is 1 mile, so total hike is 2 miles roundtrip from the trailhead.

Hike the way – If you are looking for a longer hike, you can hike 2.4 miles taking the Jenny Lake Trail around the south end of Jenny Lake and reach the trailhead. After exploring Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, you can take the same trail back to the boat dock parking area or take a shuttle boat.


7. Signal Mountain and Jackson Lake Overlook

Driving up to the top of the Signal Mountain and taking in the scenic views over the park from the summit is one of the best things to do in Grand Teton. The overlook point is around 7720 feet from sea level. You need to take the Signal Mountain road to reach the top which is 4.4 miles long.

You also have Jackson Lake Overlook just in the vicinity, so don’t miss out on it as it provides scenic views over Jackson Lake.

Do remember to use your binoculars or zoom lens here as these viewpoints provide great opportunity to watch herd of Bison, Elk or other wildlife.


8. Jenny Lake Scenic Drive

Jenny Lake Scenic Drive is a one-way road which is 3 miles long and provides spectacular views of the Jenny Lake and the peaks.
The speed limit is 25 m/h, but it is advised to go slow and take in the views. Especially, stop at Jenny Lake Overlook for great views of the lake.


9. Get on the trails

One of the best ways to explore the park is to hit the trails. There are lot of amazing and scenic hikes here ranging from easy smaller hikes to strenuous multi day treks through the mountains.
You can plan for overnight camping also if you like.

Some of the famous ones are listed below:

- Leigh Lake Hike
This hike takes you along String Lake to Leigh Lake. It is a 3.7 miles roundtrip hike, but we did only the 1.8-miles roundtrip to Leigh Lake. At 1.8 miles, there is a wooden bridge from where we turned back toward the trailhead. If you keep walking along the eastern shore of Leigh Lake, the hike becomes 3.7 miles roundtrip.
This hike is easy and good for people of all ages. You get to see scenic views of the lake and stunning reflections of the mountains.

- Taggart Lake Hike
This is a short and easy to moderate 3 miles roundtrip hike which takes you through meadows and aspen forest area, finally to the Taggart Lake. The water of the lake is crystal clear with amazing reflection of the mountains.

Credit - Here

- Phelps Lake Hike

This is one of the most scenic lake hikes in the park. It starts at Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve off Moose-Wilson Road and is 7 miles loop trail.

                                                                        Credit - Here

- Cascade Canyon Hike
You can combine this hike with your Inspiration Point hike as per time availability.  Once at Inspiration Point, continue to follow the trail into Teton range. This hike leads to stunning views of amazing canyons. It is roughly 10 miles hike and of moderate level.
                                                                            Credit - Here

- Lake Solitude
If you wish to continue ahead of Cascade Canyon, the trail offers you stunning views of Solitude Lake. It is additional 6 miles roundtrip from Cascade Canyon and a total of 15-16 miles roundtrip.
This hike is for seasoned hikers as it is long and physically demanding.

                                                                          Credit - Here

10. Spot Wildlife

One of the best things to do in Grand Teton National Park is to observe variety of wildlife in their natural habitat. You can see Grizzly bears, black bears, brown bears, Moose, Elks, Pronghorns, Bison, Fox, Eagles and other variety of birds.
For us, spotting a Moose and Grizzly bear was the highlight of the trip, as we don’t get to see them often in other parts of USA. We saw Grizzly bear in the grasslands near to Oxbow Bend and spotted Moose in the meadows opposite to Jenny Lake parking.

If you are trying your luck in spotting a moose, few suggested areas are:

- Moose Ponds
It is near to the Jenny Lake Trail and is worth checking out for an opportunity to view a moose from close.

- Moose Wilson Road
This road is famous for wildlife viewing, especially moose and bears. A great spot is near the beaver ponds at the northern end of the road. Just keep in mind that it is a narrow and rough road, so driving a SUV or 4X4 is a good choice.

- Oxbow Bend
This is a good place to spot wildlife, especially during sunrise or sunset.


11. Go Canoeing or Kayaking

Grand Teton National Park is home to some of the most scenic lakes and mountains in USA and one of the best ways to explore them is through Canoeing or Kayaking.
You can rent kayaks and canoes from Grand Teton Kayaking & Canoeing per hour with a minimum of 2 hours.

Whitewater rafting is also available in Jackson Hole area.


12. Explore Jackson Hole

Jackson Hole is great mountain destination and a beautiful town to spend any season. It is a great mountain biking destination and also heaven for outdoor enthusiasts. It is also home to National Elk Refuge where you can get close to the magnificent elks. There are also tons of amazing things to do in this beautiful town, so if you are not short on time, do plan to explore this amazing place.

Tips from our experience and learning

1. If you are just planning to cover the overlooks, viewpoints and short hikes, then 2 days are enough, but if you love hiking and are planning to see Teton range up close, then 3 days or more are better.
2. Make sure to keep proper distance from the wildlife, especially while viewing elk, grizzly and moose.
3. Best time to visit the park is from mid-May to October when all the roads of the park are open.
4. The best time for wildlife sighting is dawn and dusk.
5. It really gets chilly with the increase in altitude and Grand Teton is already at a higher altitude, so if you are planning on taking the longer hikes in the Teton range, make sure you have the proper gear, food and other important stuff.
6. It can snow in the Summer season too, so make sure to take proper precautions and gear.

Grand Teton National Park is great place for people of all ages, especially photographers, hikers, wildlife lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, so enjoy your visit and let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.

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