Yellowstone National Park Off The Beaten Path Tips by KimberlyAnn Top 5 Page for this destination
Yellowstone National Park Off The Beaten Path: 80 reviews and 172 photos
Buffalo Bill Center of the West
Ok, so maybe I am prejudice, but you are missing out on a special place if you don’t visit Cody. Located 53 miles from the East Entrance to Yellowstone, Cody is a small town snuggled up against the mountains, with lots to do and see. The locals are friendly and helpful and will try to make your stay an enjoyable one. If you can only come for a day and see nothing else, be sure to visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. This is a premiere museum, even if you are only a little interested in museums, this is a don’t miss. There are five sections to this museum. The Buffalo Bill Museum, for whom our town was named; the Whitney Gallery of Western Art with its wonderful paintings, sculptures, and art studio reproductions; the Plains Indian Museum, which is extensive and beautifully laid out, utilizing modern day technology; The Cody Firearms Museum with its huge collection of arms manufactured by Winchester and other major gun manufacturers; and the newest, the Draper Museum of Natural History. You may even catch the daily viewing the BBCW live raptors and/or Turkey Vulture. If you have more than a day there is Old Trail Town, with its collection of old early day buildings and western relics; a rodeo, float trips, and other activities. If you are interested in visiting Cody, see my VT pages on Cody.
My main photo is of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West (formally called the Buffalo Bill Historical Center). Photo two is of Old Trail Town. Photo three is an 1895 S. Cheyenne dress on display in the Buffalo Bill Center lf the West (BBCW). This dress is made with deer hide, basket beads, seed beading, and cowrie shells. Photo 4 is of an 1862 – 1873 Gatling Gun on display in the BBCW’s Cody Firearm Museum. In the last photo you will see me showing off our peregrine falcon during the Greater Yellowstone Raptor Experience program at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
Pelican Creek Hike in September
If you would like to take a really short hike off the beaten path in the park, consider the Pelican Creek Trail. This is a very easy 1.3 mile hike. Pelican Creek is a very pretty hike that travels through the pine forest to the lakeshore, then loops back across a marsh along Pelican Creek to the trailhead. You will get a beautiful view of Yellowstone Lake and the distant mountains that edge the east side of the lake. When you reach the lakeshore you can extend your walk by walking out on the sand beach. You may see squirrels in the woods, and geese or other waterfowl on the beach or in the lake. Be aware, however, that this is prime bear country, and at times, especially in the spring and early summer, this trail may be closed when bear activity is on the increase in the area. Always wear bear bells, or talk as you follow this trail. Bear spray is recommended. The trail head is 1 mile east of the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center. For information on some of the available day hikes in the area, visit the web page below.
Storm Point Trail in September
I love, love, love this hike! The Storm Point Hike may be my favorite short hike in the park. This is a wonderful 2.3-mile hiking trail. The trailhead begins at the Indian Pond pullout, 3 miles east of the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center. As you begin this hike you will walk along the Indian Pond, passing through open meadow. The trail then turns into the forest, and from there out to the stunningly beautiful, wind-swept Storm Point. Here you can look across the Yellowstone Lake to its beautiful mountain skyline. The trail then leads you along a high, barren shoreline where you will look down onto the waves, lapping or pounding against the shore, depending on the lake’s mood. Eventually the trail loops back through the lodge pole pine forest on its way back to Indian Pond. I consider this a five star hike. It is an easy trail with only a few small hills, and the beauty of the views is some of the best in the country. The lodge pole forest you will travel through on the return leg has old, tall trees that may sway back and fourth in the wind, creaking and emitting high pitched squeaking noises as they rub against each other. Many have fallen to the floor, emitting ribbons of light that encourages the new growth of young lodge poles, now growing below their ancestors. Be aware, however, that this trail is in prime bear country. For this reason this trail is often closed in late spring and early summer due to bear activity. It should be posted if there is a closure, but to be sure you should ask at the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center before hiking. Wear your bear bells if you have them, or talk as you walk along, and if you have Bear Spray, don’t forget to take it. The last time we walked this trail was in early September, and even then we spotted some fairly fresh bear scat on the trail. After checking with a scat book at a visitor center, I believe it was grizzly scat. So don’t let the time of the year put you at rest, and always hike with the possibility of meeting up with a bear.
Grand Tetons from the Snake River
If you can, fit in a visit to this neighboring national park, even if it is just a day to drive the park road. From Yellowstone’s South Entrance, the road leads directly into Grand Teton National Park. This park offers spectacular mountain scenery of one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the country. The peaks in the Teton Range stand a sheer 7,000 feet above the valley floor. I think it is the best view of mountains in the entire Rocky Mountain range, if not in the whole country. They just suddenly rise up above the Snake River, Jenny Lake, and the grassy meadows. Outside of Grand Teton Park is Jackson, Wyoming, a hot tourist destination. The cost of living, should you fall in love with it, is extremely high. Only the very wealthy can afford homes here, and a number of movie stars have residences here. The town is geared for the tourist, with lots of bars and shops just waiting to help you have a good time. You can also get float trips on the Snake River, which I did years ago. It offered some nice views of the mountains and the possibility of seeing wildlife along the river.
For detailed information on Grand Teton National Park, visit my VT pages, Enjoy the Beauty of Grand Teton National Park.
My second photo is of the Teton Glacier turnout along the park's main road. The third photo was taken while hiking in Grand Teton National Park.
View From Bridge in Sunlight Basin
This is a beautiful drive, and another way to reach Cody. This route will take you through Sunlight Basin along the Chief Joseph Highway. It is a longer route to Cody, but contains outstanding mountain valley scenery. Be prepared to drive winding mountain roads. You will leave the park through the Northeast Entrance, taking hwy 212 through Cook City. When you arrive at the junction of 212 and highway 296, you will take 296 to drive over Dead Indian Pass, which features one of the most outstanding vistas in the state. The spectacular bridge turnout will allow you to park and walk out to look down into the canyon. This is the highest bridge in the state, and the view is worth the effort. As you gaze at the river far below, think of this funny fact. Before the bridge was rebuilt there use to be a sign up here that stated No Fishing From Bridge. We use to get such a laugh out of it. You will find another turnout at the top of the pass. Be sure to stop, read the historical signs, and enjoy the expansive view. When you drive out of the valley and reach highway 120, turn right and head south another 20 miles to Cody. This route would not be a longer route to Cody if you were already in the Yellowstone Lamar Basin area, as to get to “our” East Entrance, you would have to drive the slow drive through the park to the gate. If, however, you are nervous about mountain driving, you may want to skip this suggestion.
Another route is instead of taking the Chief Joseph Highway (296) you can continue on 212. This route will take you to Red Lodge Montana. With this route you will travel up and over what is called the Beartooth highway, and past a number of small lakes. My last photo was taken of some of the small lakes along the Beartooth highway in August.
Although not as convenient as staying inside the park, if you are unable to stay within Yellowstone, the small community of West Yellowstone, Montana has a number of lodging and campground options, as well as restaurants, shops, and fun activities. In West Yellowstone you will find an IMAX Theater, a small museum, and the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, where you have the opportunity to learn about and observe both bears and wolves. Both summer and winter tours into Yellowstone National Park are available out of this small community. West Yellowstone is located 14 miles from Madison Junction, which is located on the west side of the park’s main road, making it the most convenient community outside of the park boundaries to stay in, unless you are planning to spend most, or all of your time in the Lamar Valley area of Yellowstone.
My third and fourth photos are of wolves and a grizzly bear in at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone.
For more information, visit my West Yellowstone VT pages.
Basalt Columns As See Along Calcite Springs Trail
Calcite Springs Overlook Trail is a short, but interesting activity if you are in the Tower Falls and Petrified Tree Area. The trail is located a short distance northwest of Tower Falls. This is an easy, loop walk that leads you to a platform overlooking the Yellowstone River and its canyon. From the trail you will have some wonderful views of the basalt columns across the canyon. These orderly columns were made by volcanic activity in the park about 1.3 million years ago. At that time lava welled up creating a flood of hot lava and fire 25 feet deep. As this lava cooled and contracted, it formed contraction cracks, producing the columns of basalt you see in photos 1 and 2.
Look down into the canyon. (photo 3) If it is a cool day, you will see wisps of steam rising from Calcite Springs, located on a pale colored slope near the Yellowstone river. In this area the river flows above a volcanic fracture zone, where hot water vents allow geothermal discharges to reach the surface. These vents are slowing causing the cliff around them to turn into a whitish, yellowish pulp.
The Petrified Tree consists on one, partial trunk of a petrified redwood tree. Located along the northern most road in the park, unless you are visiting Lamar Valley, or Tower Falls, this is too far out of the way to be worth the drive. Located a short distance northwest of the Tower Falls area, you will see a sign directing you to take a short spur road to the parking area. From there it is a short walk to the tree itself. At one time the Yellowstone area had a warmer, damper climate. The petrified trunk that you will view is of a tree that was exactly like the present-day redwoods in California. Today there are no redwoods at all in the park. Almost 50 million years ago, there was a chain of volcanoes in this area, which caused massive landslides, burying entire forests. Before the trees could rot, silica in the volcanic flow plugged the living cells, creating trees of stone. There use to be two other petrified trees here, but because of vandalism, only one remains.
Firehole Cascades on a Chilly Gray Day in Sept.
Firehole Canyon Drive is a beautiful, short drive that comes off the main park road on the west side of the park, just south of the Madison area. High walls rise on either side of the river that runs through this canyon. Make a stop to enjoy the Firehole Cascades falls. There is also a swimming area along this river. Swimming is illegal in most of the park, so I was surprised when we saw this area posted for swimming. The sign gives no information about the temperature or depth of the water. There was a man swimming in the area when we stopped by in 2004. He was snorkeling and did have a wet suit on. If you are interested in this swimming area, I would suggest that you ask at one of the visitor centers for information.
Scott on Uncle Tom's Trail
In 1898 a simple trail was built by Tom Richardson to lead visitors to the base of the Lower Falls, where he would serve his tour group a picnic before the return trip. Today Uncle Tom's Trail is a well developed route. It is still, however, a very strenuous walk into the canyon for a view of the base of the Lower Falls. The trail drops 500 feet (150 m) along a paved trail and in a series of more than 300 stairs. We walked this route when our son was quite young. In the photo you can see Scott, who was more tired than we were trying to get a rest, and this was on the way down!. Don’t walk this unless you and your family are in good health. Don’t forget that you have to re-climb those stairs and the trail on the way back. We thought the trip was worth it, however, as you get a completely different perspective of the falls from this lower level. Uncle Tom’s Trail is located in the Canyon of the Yellowstone area, and comes off of the spur road that leads to Artist Point.
For a view of part of the Uncle Tom's stairway from across the canyon see photo 2.
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