Yellowstone National Park: Enjoy the park while avoiding the crowds
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Old Faithful and the Castle GeyserAs you might expect Old Faithful gets a lot of attention and this geyser that shows itself off every hour or so is immensely popular with tourists, especially since there is a nearby parking lot for the tour buses and visitors as well as a long row of seats for observers. Old Faithful is fun to watch, but just a short walk away (when I say short walk I mean less than a mile) the Castle Geyser puts on a much more interesting display. Old Faithful will give you a nice, brief show, but Castle will put on a demonstration lasting for a half hour or longer although not as frequent.
In the Castle/Old Faithful area you can walk past many lesser known geysers while waiting for your favorite to erupt. You might even consider climbing the short hike up to the observation point above. I even spotted a bison just 10 yards off the path, grazing lazily on the hillside grass on my way up to the point.
Old Faithful Inn and the Lake HotelThe historic Old Faithful Inn is one of the most famous structures in the entire National Park System so you would be correct in guessing that is one the most popular places to stay. You can find a number of different types of accommodations there It may well be filled when you inquire, but at least go in and look around, especially to see the 76 foot tall lobby and the enormous fireplace.
There really is a much quieter and quite beautiful alternative. Believe it or not you could reach the Yellowstone Lake Hotel by steamship in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Much more relaxing than a stagecoach and not nearly as dirty and dusty while cruising across the largest lake above 7000 feet elevation in the country.
The Lake Hotel, open for business but currently undergoing some renovation, is the oldest hotel in Yellowstone. It was expanded during the time the Old Faithful Inn was being built and has had several renovations since. It currently has 153 guest rooms, with 36 more in the annex and an additional 110 nearby cabins. The rooms are spacious and the bathrooms have tub & shower combinations.
You can dine in the Lake Yellowstone Hotel dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner will require reservations and you can enjoy Montana natural lamb, wild Alaskan salmon or even Bison tenderloin. There is also cafeteria featuring items like Prime Rib and Turkey, carved to order. You may want to join the free Lake Yellowstone Hotel Tour to learn more about the fascinating history of this fine old lady. This year, 2016, the Grand Old Lady of the Lake celebrates its 125th anniversary.
Hiking Yellowstone National ParkA couple of easy to moderate hikes in this area are the 3 mile Elephant Back loop trail with great views of Yellowstone Lake and the 3 mile Storm Point trail through an open meadow, some pine forest and then beside the lake. Near the point you will likely spot a colony of yellow-bellied marmots, always fun to watch.
There is also a more serious hike not far away, but be prepared for a very steep uphill climb. Take plenty of water, maybe some energy snacks, bear spray and a friend. I hiked it alone, but met some people along the way with whom to stay in contact. The Avalanche Peak Trail begins at an elevation of 8,466 feet and is only about 2.5 miles to the summit. But, that short 2.5 mile hike includes a 2,100 elevation gain leaving you on top at 10,566 feet. You may struggle with the thinner air if you’re from the lowlands, but the views are terrific. You’ll be looking down on snow capped mountains or at least mountains with large pockets of snow on their north faces. The rocks at the top are a bit tricky to cross, but just keep in mind that at the end of the day you can relax in your tub back at the Yellowstone Lake Hotel before heading downstairs to your Montana lamb dinner. Afterwards you can regale your new friends in the lounge with your climbing exploits of the day.
Even if you have limited time be sure to visit some of the spectacular waterfalls. It’s hard not to because they’re all over the place. The upper and lower Yellowstone Falls are impressive and easy to reach from the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. If you’re hanging out around Old Faithful be sure and take the drive north from there to the Madison junction. Besides passing a number of geysers you’ll want to turn off onto the Firehole Canyon Drive and see the waterfalls along the Firehole River. If it is a hot day take along your bathing attire. There is even a place to swim in the river. Yeah, it was a surprise to me, too.
Enjoy your Yellowstone visit and . . . Keep on Traveling!
When you goCheck out this link for more information about climbing Avalanche Peak For information, rates and reservations for lodging in Yellowstone National Park Up-to-date predicted geyser eruption times https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm National Park pass information – including the $10 senior pass, the free 4th grader pass and other passes. If you have a 4th grader in your family you may have a free pass for him/her and the entire family for a year – thanks to President Obama’s Every Kid in a Park initiative.
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Robert Painter is an Outdoor Adventure Travel Writer/Photographer currently residing in Southern Utah. When not traveling around the globe his time is spent hiking and exploring the wonderful and beautiful red rock surroundings of his home.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author