In early July 2019, we set off on our Harley Davidson motorcycles for Yellowstone National Park. Because our home in Saskatchewan, Canada is about 1000 kilometres from the North entrance of Yellowstone, we took two days to make the drive south.
We stayed one night on the Canadian side of the border, at Grasslands National Park. The following day we drove to Livingston, Montana, with a lunch stop in Lewistown on the way.
It was later in the afternoon when we arrived in Livingston, so we enjoyed a drive through the town and then went to our KOA campground.
We love staying with Kampgrounds of America! We rented a cabin, so upon arrival we quickly got to work making supper- kabobs over the fire. After supper, we headed over to the pavilion where they were selling ice cream that evening. We went for a walk around the campground to check out our surroundings before getting showered up and heading to bed.
Day One: Mammoth Hot Springs and Beartooth Highway
The next morning we had breakfast at that same pavilion, where KOA offers an a-la-carte selection each morning for a very reasonable price. We drove the hour down to Gardiner, and from there we were just moments away from the park entrance.
Just beyond the North Yellowstone entrance is the area of the park known as Mammoth. Here, there is a visitor centre, campground, gas station, tourist shops, and a couple of restaurants.
The highlights of this area are the steaming hydrothermal features. Enjoying this area can take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, or more. There is an Upper and a Lower Terrace. Each terrace includes nice boardwalks for easy and safe viewing of all of the hot springs and other hydrothermal features. The Upper and Lower Terraces are connected by a staircase, but if you want to avoid the steep climb, you can drive up to a parking lot above and explore the Upper Terraces from there.
There is a guided, 90 minute ranger-led hike around the Upper Terraces offered in the morning. You can check the park newspaper for times. There is also a short scenic drive when you leave the parking lot for the Upper Terraces. There are some additional parking spots along this drive and in the likely event that the lot is full, you could continue on and try your luck at one of these spots. There are a few more small hydrothermal features to enjoy along this drive.
Once we had walked along the terraces, we headed East towards Tower Junction. Originally, I thought we could stop and see the Undine and Wraith Falls and maybe have a picnic lunch. I was not expecting the falls to be so close to Mammoth, however, and we ended up driving past them without stopping. Being on motorcycles with no way to communicate is not the easiest way to road trip! It did look like the pullout for Wraith Falls had a nice picnic area though.
We drove through Lamar Valley, spotting several herds of bison along the way. Lamar Valley is Yellowstone’s number one spot to view the park’s abundant wildlife, but early mornings and evenings are the ideal time for viewing . We both experienced a bit of motorcycle trouble along this route, but nonetheless made it to Cooke City, Montana for a late lunch.
From Cooke City, we hit the Beartooth Scenic Highway, which is a 68 mile stretch of road that rises to 10 947 feet at the Beartooth Pass in Wyoming. Because we were still experiencing some difficulties with the motorcycles, we only stopped a couple of times during the drive along the Beartooth. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful journey to experience on a motorcycle.
The Beartooth Highway ends (or begins) at Red Lodge, Montana. Once we arrived there, we continued South towards Cody. We camped for the night in Buffalo Bill State Park.
Day Two: Yellowstone Lake
Luckily, by the next morning Travis had remedied the problem with his bike, and we were able to get an early start on our journey back into Yellowstone. Highway 14 from Cody to East Yellowstone is also know for being a scenic drive. We had such a nice drive on a beautiful summer morning.
Once we arrived in the park, we stopped to enjoy Yellowstone Lake. We went to the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center to poke around. We also stopped at the General Store across the road, which was loaded with any kind of souvenir you could imagine. We ate lunch outside the Visitor Center, and walked down by the lake for a bit. The temperature was a bit chilly so we decided to move on.
We headed North and stopped at the Mud Volcano area. It was a slow drive due to vehicles stopping to view large groups of bison- a regular experience on the Yellowstone highways. The Mud Volcano thermal area is an area of muddy hot springs and fumaroles located near one of the Yellowstone Volcano’s vents. It was a pretty awesome stop, with a short trail around the bubbling mud pit itself, and some of the most acidic springs in Yellowstone (think sulphur smell, lots of sulphur smell).
From Mud Volcano, it was a 16 mile drive to Canyon Village where we were staying at the campground there. We set up camp, cooked a campfire supper, and then headed back out on the road for a bit more sightseeing. We went North to see Tower Falls, and had some ice cream in the store that is located there.
We ended the evening with another drive through Hayden Valley for some wildlife viewing. We saw elk and bison, but no bears!
Day Three: Canyon Village
The next morning was a morning for chasing rainbows! I was excited to see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, but even more excited about catching a glimpse of the rainbows that are rumoured to show up on both the Upper and Lower Falls each morning. We started on the South Rim at Uncle Tom’s trail, which is the easiest spot to see the Upper Falls. The Upper Falls drop 109 ft over a lip of volcanic rock. We took an easy walk around to two viewpoints where I had heard that the rainbow can be seen between 9-9:15AM. We didn’t see a rainbow at first, so we walked to the upper viewpoint. But, when we got back down to the main viewing area, we could see the rainbow! It was a bit faint, but beautiful nonetheless.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone varies from 800 to 1200 feet in length, and is about 24 miles long. The upper 2.5 miles, where the falls are, are the most colourful of the whole canyon. Hot spring activity in the area has altered the colours of the lava rock to give it such a lovely appearance.
From Uncle Tom’s Point, we continued along South Rim Drive to the Artist Point parking area to see the Lower Falls. Wow! They were stunning! The deep canyon’s colours popped so beautifully against the river running through it. We spent quite a bit of time here, taking in the sights from all different angles. After awhile, we looked back over the Lower Falls and could see a rainbow there, too! Can you see it??
After we had soaked up the view, we decided to hike the Clear Lake Trail from Uncle Tom’s Point. The trail is just over 2 miles and takes you through large rolling meadows and forested areas to Clear Lake, which is a hydrothermal area. The trail ended back at the Artist’s Point viewing area, so we enjoyed some really nice views of the canyon along the last bit of the hike.
We spent the next few hours on the North Rim Drive, stopping at all three of the big pullouts: Lookout Point, Grand View, and Inspiration Point. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone area was by far my favourite part of the trip. It is so beautiful!
We had another KOA booked in West Yellowstone for that night, so we started heading that direction. We took a wrong turn and ended up in a very long lineup heading into Norris. Since we spent so much time waiting to get in, we decided to have a look around. There was a bit of a walk from the parking lot to a lookout point, where you could then walk around on boardwalks to get a closer look at the Geyser Basin. We decided we had seen enough for the day, took a quick picture, and headed out towards West Yellowstone.
We got rained on while riding out to our KOA, and so decided to upgrade from a regular campground to a campsite for the night. Of course, once we had finished checking in the rain stopped, so we got back on the bikes and went back into West Yellowstone for supper at Beartooth Barbecue.
Day Four: Geyser Country
We packed up early and were at Ernie’s Bakery and Deli in West Yellowstone at 7AM when it opened. We had breakfast and also got sandwiches and cookies to have for lunch later.
Our destination for the day was the entire Geyser Country region. To begin with, we started with the Upper Geyser Basin, which is home to Old Faithful. We arrived to the parking lot at just before 9AM, and it was already filling up fast. We walked to the Visitors Center where we found out the Old Faithful was estimated to erupt at around 9:50. Old Faithful erupts every 35 to 120 minutes and lasts from 1 1/2 minutes to 5 minutes long. They can predict the eruption within plus or minus 10 minutes.
We ended up just waiting around Old Faithful area, which has accommodations, shops, and fuel. When it was getting close to 9:40, we moved towards the Old Faithful viewing platform. There is lots of room to watch it so you only need to be there about 15 minutes early to grab a spot. We weren’t sure exactly where it was going to come up from, but our spots ended up being great, although I am sure anywhere would have provided a decent view. There were people walking along the lower loops and I imagine that would be an interesting viewpoint.
You can spend a lot of time in this area- a half day easily and a full day would not be a stretch. There is a loop around the Upper Geyser Basin which is a paved road one way and a boardwalk the other for a total of 3 miles. To this you can add a small hike up to Observation Point for views of the basin. We got our bikes down and rose the paved portion of this loop, stopping and walking along the boardwalks when there was something we thought we wanted to see more closely.
When we got back from the loop, we ate our sandwiches near the visitor centre, and realized it was really close to another Old Faithful eruption. We decided to go into the Old Faithful Lodge for a quick look around, then we went up to the second story balcony to sit and watch Old Faithful erupt again.
After leaving the Old Faithful area, we went to Grand Prismatic Spring, which is Yellowstone’s largest hot spring, and most beautiful. It is 370 ft wide and incredibly colourful. There are two ways to explore Grand Prismatic. We first parked in the main parking lot and walked around the spring:
Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest of Yellowstone’s many colourful hot springs. The high temperature of the water (70 degrees Celsius) ensures that the spring is often cloaked in steam. I had read that the steam often dissipates in the afternoon, making it a better time to explore Grand Prismatic than the early morning. The Spring’s heat come from the magma of an active volcano deep beneath the ground where heated water rises to the surface through fissures in the rocks.
From this area, it was hard to really see all of the brilliant colours of the hot spring. The second option for viewing Grand Prismatic offered a far superior view of the hot spring. We drove just up the road to the next pullout, and biked up the Fairy Falls trail, and then hiked to the overlook. We were rewarded by this bird’s-eye view of Grand Prismatic:
On our way back out of Geyser Country we drove along a couple of the pullouts along the way. We got to see the Young Hopeful Geyser:
We also drove along the Firehole Canyon and stopped to see the Firehole Falls:
We were staying at the KOA again, and on the way to our campsite we stopped in West Yellowstone at the Wild West Pizzeria and Saloon. The pizza here was delicious!
Day Five: Leaving Yellowstone
Even though driving through Yellowstone was not the quickest way to get to Great Falls, our next destination, we were not quite ready to leave Yellowstone, so we decided to take a slightly longer route and got to drive through the park again. We drove from Norris to Mammoth, stopping at the Artist Paintpots, to take in one more area of hydrothermal activity. Artists Paintpots is a small but lovely thermal area with a one-mile loop trail that goes to colourful hot springs, and two large mudpots.
From here, we continued North to the Mammoth area, where we very randomly ran into T’s parents and their travel buddies at a roadside pullout! We spent a bit of time hanging out and visiting with them, and then we were on our way out of the park. I wasn’t really ready to leave Yellowstone, I felt like there was still so much to see and do, but it was time to start making our way towards home.
We enjoyed our time in Yellowstone and definitely see why most people say you need a lot of time to see this park! It is HUGE, with so many things to see in different areas. There is a lot of driving involved in order to see Yellowstone, which takes up a lot of time. That is why it would be better to try and limit the things you do each day to one or two areas- so that you can see more of each area and spend less valuable touring time in the vehicle.
We did not do nearly enough hiking while we were in Yellowstone, which is a huge part of what the park is famous for. When we go back to Yellowstone, our priority would be to go for a longer period of time so that we could both sightsee and do some hiking (maybe even backcountry!) is each area at a more leisurely pace.
Please comment with any questions you have about Yellowstone, I would be happy to share more information!
Also, here’s a link to our YouTube video from the trip. We’d love if you to watched, liked, and even shared both the video and this post! Thank you!