BOZEMAN — A summer drive into Yellowstone National Park often includes a journey around the grand loop with a stop at Old Faithful. Listed as a “must see” on a variety of top 10 lists for the park, visitors travel from all over the world to watch this geyser erupt.
Although most Yellowstone visitors would agree that Old Faithful is indeed a spectacular sight, those who have been off the beaten path know that there are a multitude of sites to see and experience in the park located mostly in Wyoming but also extending into Montana and Idaho.
Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash helped create this list of 10 things to do in the park this summer.
1. Visit the Bechler Region. Located in the southwest corner of the park, the Bechler Region is one that Nash said many people have not explored.
“The reason it is less visited and less explored is it is not connected to the park’s grand loop road system,” Nash said. “People are familiar with the figure eight in the middle of the park and the access roads to get there.”
Nash said this region of the park is known for its waterfalls and is a popular place for longer hikes and horseback trips.
“There are actually cave falls down there,” Nash said. “Our ranger station there is a historic soldier station from the time when the Army ran Yellowstone.”
Nash said the only entrance to this area is through Ashton, Idaho.
2. Explore the Museum of the National Park Ranger. If you’ve ever seen a log structure from the road as you approach Norris Junction, you have seen the Museum of the National Park Ranger.
“It’s a wonderful, small museum that talks about the evolution and the various duties that park rangers perform,” Nash said. “It gives you a bit of flavor over how the park ranger profession has developed.”
Volunteers, who are all retired former senior members of the National Park Service, staff the museum.
“That wonderful, unassuming person you may be chatting with could have been a park superintendent or a chief ranger,” he said. “You end up with someone helping you explore the place who has a really deep background and great experience with the National Park Service.”
There is no cost to tour the museum and it is accessible through the Norris campground.
3. Take a tour of Fort Yellowstone. Nash said many of the stone and wooden structures in Mammoth Hot Springs were constructed during the three decades that the U.S. Army ran Yellowstone.
Today, park visitors can take a self-guided tour of these structures to “get an idea of what life was like here when it was an active military facility.”
Nash said the tour takes about an hour and pamphlets to get you started are available in the temporary visitor’s center.
4. Hike Mount Washburn. One hike in Yellowstone that Nash said is not only a favorite of many park visitors, but also one that he likes to do each year, is a hike to the top of Mount Washburn.
Located at “the high point on the road between Tower and Canyon,” Nash said the hiking trail was once a road through the area.
“You wouldn’t realize it because it’s pretty steep,” he said.
Nash said there are two trailheads – a northern one, which allows for hiking and biking, and a southern one for hiking only. Nash said the southern trail– from Dunraven Pass – may be the better choice on a hot day because there is some shade available.
At the top, hikers stand at an elevation of more than 10,000 feet.
“On a clear day, the views are astounding,” Nash said. “You really can see the Tetons on a nice day.”
Nash said hikers should plan about a half day for this hike. Signs for the trail are posted at the Dunraven Pass trailhead or Chittenden Road.
5. Watch wildlife. Most trips to Yellowstone include multiple bison sightings. However, for those looking to see some additional wildlife, Nash said timing is everything.
The early part of the season during dawn or dusk is best for wildlife viewing.
“This is a good time of year because all of these animals are typically at lower elevations looking for easily accessible food,” Nash said. “This is predominantly where roads are constructed.”
Nash said two popular places to spot wildlife are the Lamar Valley – “famous as a place where you might see wolves” – and Hayden Valley, which is between Canyon and Fishing Bridge Junction.
6. Go mountain biking. For those hoping to explore the park on two wheels, Nash said there are only a handful of trails open to mountain bikes.
Fountain Flat Drive, located in the Old Faithful area, is one of these trails.
“It’s an old freight road through the area that you can take a mountain bike on,” Nash said. “It’s one of the few places in the park where you can ride a mountain bike off the road.”
7. Visit Monument Geyser Basin. Although Old Faithful has the reputation as the go-to geyser in the park, Nash said there are plenty of other thermal areas to explore as well.
“A nice, fairly short hike to a lesser-known thermal area would be to go to Monument Geyser Basin,” Nash said.
The trailhead is located off the road between Norris and Madison. He said the hike is approximately three hours round trip, with some steep elevation. He said the best time to take the hike is once the snow melts, before the weather gets too hot.
“It takes you back into a backcountry thermal area,” Nash said. “If you get 30 minutes off the beaten path somewhere, you are going to find a very different Yellowstone experience.”
8. Hike Avalanche Peak or Specimen Ridge. For anyone with a more adventurous spirit, Nash said Avalanche Peak or Specimen Ridge are two places to explore.
The trailhead for Avalanche Peak is located west of Sylvan Pass, along the park’s east entrance road, and is accessible once the snow melts in the later part of the season.
“It’s a place where you can get up high above the tree line and have some extraordinary views on a nice day,” Nash said. “It’s typically windier than all heck on any given day. It’s a great hike for the more adventuresome and hearty. That’s not something that just anyone is going to do.”
Nash described Specimen Ridge, located east of Tower Roosevelt, as “a little steep and a little daunting.”
“But it is an opportunity to hike and see some petrified trees,” he said. “Folks have probably seen the one petrified stump that is fenced, which is west of Tower Roosevelt Junction. There are more. They’re just not easy to get at.”
9. Take a boat tour of Yellowstone Lake. Nash said boaters can put a boat in at Bridge Bay or Grant Village, rent a boat, or take an interpretive boat tour on the lake, starting at Bridge Bay Marina.
“That’s certainly an experience I’m not sure everybody has taken advantage of,” Nash said.
He said boat tours will begin June 15, once the ice has broken up. Tours run at various times throughout the day. He said information is available in the paperwork provided at the park’s entrances.
10. Walk the rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. While Specimen Ridge and Avalanche Peak offer more strenuous climbs for the avid hiker, Nash said one that is a bit less physically demanding, but also quite scenic is the rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
He said the hike takes about an hour or two and offers “great views of the canyon.”
Before taking this hike at this point in the season, Nash said it is important to check in at the visitor’s center to make sure the trail is open.
“There is still a lot of snow on the interior of the park,” Nash said. “It may be a little while before some of these open up.”
No matter what you are exploring in the park, Nash said be sure to allow yourself plenty of time.
“Too many people try to rush a trip to Yellowstone,” Nash said. “You cannot rush through the park. Give yourself plenty of time to stop and pull off and take pictures. Have a picnic lunch. That’s what it’s all about. Your daily life is hectic. Your trip to Yellowstone should not be.”