Visiting Yellowstone Park and neighbouring Grand Teton Park, is quite a journey. You can access from many US gateway cities but Salt Lake City, the elegant capital of Utah is a good place to start. Salt Lake City has an enviable reputation as one of the safest cities in the USA and is famous as the centre for the Mormon religion, now known as the Latter Day Saints.
For all its attractions Salt Lake doesn’t have any bears and so it was a 5-hour drive north to the small town of West Yellowstone, in neighbouring Montana, on the quest to find Yogi and Boo Boo. Yellowstone was established in 1892 as America’s first National Park, and is one of the few places where you can spot grizzlies and black bears.
Staying just outside the west entrance to the park has a number of benefits, accommodation is more plentiful and slightly cheaper and there are a couple of great attractions to set you up for exploring the real thing. The IMAX theatre in West Yellowstone has daily showings of ‘Yellowstone’ a larger than life documentary of the park. The nearby Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Centre is well worth a visit to find out about these great creatures and support the charity that researches the animals and their habitats. It was originally set up as a sanctuary for ‘nuisance bears’ who have learnt to get food from humans and are a subsequent danger, and orphaned cubs that are unable to fend for themselves in the wild.
The greater Yellowstone area is home to 27 National Forests and black bears can sometimes be seen amongst the trees while the grizzlies make for more open ground. As with all wild animals in the parks, bears can be very dangerous and so rigorous safety regulations are in place to protect the public. Driving into the park it is not long before you spot your first bison as they like to hang out by the roadside next to the Madison River. These huge beasts lumber along looking deceptively calm and cuddly, but Bison attack more people than bears and so must be given a wide berth.
The park area covers almost 3,500 square miles and stretches into 3 states, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Conditions are harsh with a long and bitterly cold winter season that tests the endurance of the wildlife and even at the height of summer the tallest mountains retain a dusting of snow. But when spring and summer eventually arrive the landscape blooms and visitors pile in.
The centre of the park is a massive rim or caldera of a vast volcanic eruption that took place over 600,000 years ago. This immense area is where the many geysers and hot springs evolved. There are 180 geysers in the aptly known Upper Geyser Basin and you can check the times of the geyser eruptions at the visitor centre. The time will just be a guide, and you may have to be patient. Old Faithfull erupts approximately every 90 minutes and spouts thousand of gallons of steaming water into the air. There are colourful hot springs and bubbling mud pots with a very distinctive smell! Vast lakes and petrified forests, deep canyons and meandering rivers all contributing to a unique ecosystem that supports a breathtaking variety of native wildflowers, trees and shrubs.
As well as providing incredible vistas around every corner, visitors to Yellowstone can really enjoy the great outdoors with an array of sports and activities. Hiking and backpacking is the best way to avoid the summer crowds and experience the beauty of the park. Trails range in length and difficulty with some accessible for wheelchair users and many are laid out as boardwalks.
As you drive south through Yellowstone you will eventually come to the smaller, more compact Grand Teton National Park. The park is dominated by the dramatic triangular peaks of the Grand Teton Mountains, their beauty reflected into the sparkling Jenny and Jackson lakes.
Signal Mountain Lodge is a picturesque place to stay where you can get close to nature by camping or lodging in rustic cabins situated beside Jackson Lake. Visit www.signalmountainlodge.com for details of prices and facilities.
A scenic float trip along the Snake River is a perfect opportunity to spot more wildlife. Moose and Elk come down to the riverbank to feed, and it is not unusual to spot beavers and otters. An early morning drive up Signal Mountain is the place to find your bear. Patience is the key, and eventually we glimpsed a huge grizzly bear wander out into the open sagebrush and look directly at us from about 50 yards away. We watched each other for a few magical moments, and then he turned back into the dense forest and was gone.
Going on a bear hunt in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons is not for the faint-hearted, but the rewards are worth it.
American Sky has a selection of tours and fly-drive packages including:
- ‘National Parks of America’ where you can tour the American West, visiting six national parks including Zion National Park, a breakfast cruise on Lake Powell and a scenic drive through the Bighorn Mountains before seeing Mount Rushmore.
- Canyon Country
- Scenic Parks Explorer
Silver Travel Advisor recommends American Sky