Before I begin this post about our recent trip to Yellowstone National Park, I want to express my great appreciation for accessible travel expert Candy Harrington and her suggestions regarding accessible lodging and sights to see while visiting Yellowstone. Her very thorough research and excellent advice was invaluable in making this trip a wonderful adventure. [I’ve talked about Candy and her books in previous posts.] Thank You, Candy!
When Carrieanna’s cousin approached me last year to ask if I would perform her wedding ceremony in Montana in June 2015, I enthusiastically said “Yes” – and began planning a trip that would include a visit to Yellowstone National Park.
Growing up in Utah, my family vacations always included camping, fishing and boating. I remember visiting Yellowstone two or three times as a child, back in the days when the bears would approach the cars begging for handouts, and people would roll down their windows – or get out of their cars – to give them food. (Obviously, that’s no longer allowed.)
The last time I visited Yellowstone was in July of 1987, the summer before the last big wildfire there. And since Carrieanna had never been there, I told her “If we’re going to be in Montana, we have to go to Yellowstone too.”
Accessibility in Yellowstone
I wanted to make sure that Carrieanna would be able to see and enjoy as much of the park as possible, and in my research I learned that the park has a booklet devoted to Accessibility in Yellowstone.
I contacted the Visitors Services Office (307-344-2107) and requested that a copy of the booklet be mailed to me. (It is also available at the Information Center; however, I was glad to be able to study mine in advance.)
The booklet includes maps of the 8 areas of Yellowstone (Old Faithful, Canyon Village, Norris, etc.), along with suggestions on what to see, where to find accessible parking and restrooms, and the exhibits and trail guides available in each area.
A Little History About Yellowstone National Park
Established on March 1, 1872 as the nation’s first national park, Yellowstone covers 3,472 square miles, most of which is in northwestern Wyoming – although it does spill over slightly into northeastern Idaho and southern Montana as well.
The name comes from the dramatic gold-hued cliffs lining the Yellowstone River canyon.
As noted in AAA’s Tour Book Guide (2016): “Yellowstone is unique for its geysers, hot springs, mud pools and fumaroles [steam vents] – the largest concentration of geothermal features in the world. The park sits atop one of the largest active volcanoes on earth, a ‘hot spot’ that first erupted some 640,000 years ago.
“In addition to its geologic wonders, Yellowstone National Park is also one of the most successful wildlife sanctuaries in the world.” Grizzly and black bears, moose, elk, bison, wolves, eagles and a number of other species can be found in Yellowstone.
We spent two and a half days in Yellowstone, and while that isn’t nearly enough time to see the entire park we were able to visit some of the most famous features (i.e., Old Faithful and nearby geysers, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone) as well as enjoying a panoramic view of Yellowstone Lake.
Knowing that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” I hope you enjoy the following photos (and brief site descriptions) of our Yellowstone adventure.
Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basins
Old Faithful, though not quite as predictable as its name suggests, is a 120-foot waterspout that erupts every 80-90 minutes (daily predictions are posted at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center and the lodge).
We followed the paved bike trail to Castle Geyser
then took the boardwalk to Grand Geyser, the tallest predictable geyser known, erupting every 7 to 15 hours.
Grand’s fountain reaches a height of as much as 200 feet with a duration of 9 to 12 minute. (We were fortunate enough to see it erupt; click on this link and you can watch too.)
At the suggestion of a friendly stranger we continued along the boardwalk until we came to the beautiful hot spring known as Morning Glory Pool.
While the trail to the hydrothermal area known as Artists’ Paintpots was technically accessible, there was no shade and the day was too warm for Carrieanna to make that trek. Instead, she sent me with my camera and asked me to take photos of what she was missing. I was happy to comply.
Norris Geyser Basin is just north of Norris Junction on the main park road. Boardwalks and trails lead across this barren valley of steam vents and rainbow-colored pools. This is the oldest and hottest geothermal area in the park, with water temperatures above 200 degrees.
Emerald Pool was easy to reach by boardwalk
and we continued on to Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser, reaching heights of 300-400 feet. This geyser often remains quiet for months or years between major eruptions. (The last time it erupted was September 3, 2014.)
While I walked down to Porcelain Basin (not accessible), Carrieanna enjoyed the view and a chat with a Ranger at the museum, who advised us to drive to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a section along the Yellowstone River between Canyon and Tower-Roosevelt. Noted for its spectacular yellow coloring, the deep river canyon offers striking views of the Yellowstone falls.
Among the best vistas are Artist’s Point on the south rim and Inspiration Point on the north rim; according to the accessibility booklet both are accessible.
Perched at the top of one of the rock formations, we discovered a juvenile osprey in its nest.
Covering 132 square miles at 7,733 feet above sea level, this lake is the largest body of water in North America at so high an altitude. Boat and fishing are popular summer sports, but because the water stays so cold swimming is not advised; the lake freezes over completely in winter.
While in Yellowstone we saw some magnificent creatures …
We also saw coyotes, a porcupine and a pair of swans – and we saw/heard/felt some very hungry mosquitoes.
We were careful to follow Park law and stay at least 25 feet away from the bison – although this big guy walked within 10 feet of the car, and the look in his eye was clear: I have the right-of-way, lady!
Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
Although we did not see bear or wolves within the park, on Candy Harrington’s advice we visited the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center before leaving West Yellowstone. The exhibits and films were excellent, and we especially enjoyed seeing the grizzlies and wolves, as well as bald eagles and other rescued birds.
As their website notes, all the animals at the Grizzly and Wolf Discover Center are unable to survive in the wild and serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts.
At Candy’s recommendation we stayed at the Grey Wolf Inn and Suites in West Yellowstone, Montana, located just outside the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
Although I had specifically reserved an accessible room with a roll-in shower (Room 116) and the room we were given (Room 214) was accessible but had a bathtub and shower stool, the hotel personnel was very helpful, we were moved the next day, and our stay there was very pleasant.
The hotel is located directly across the street from the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.
A Few Last Words …
If you have not been to Yellowstone, I strongly recommend that you go. It’s one of the most beautiful and spiritual places I’ve ever visited.
Book your lodging (accessible or otherwise) in advance, as it’s a popular destination.
If possible, plan to spend more than one day in Yellowstone. It’s too vast to be adequately seen in a one-day drive through.
I’m sure we’ll return, so if you have suggestions or stories to share, please leave a comment!
(All photos: ©2015 ImagesByRJM)