7 day Yellowstone National Park from San Francisco

Days: 7 days 6 Nights
Dates: 1 July 2017 to 7 July 2017
Route:  Bay Area, Lake Tahoe, Reno(1 night), Twin Falls, Idaho Falls(1 night), Yellowstone(3 nights), Grand Teton National Park, Idaho Falls(1 night), and Bay Area.
Miles: 2800
Cost for 6: 2000$ (Fuel, Hotel, Food)

July:  Avg. High Temperature 79.6 F, Avg. Low Temperature 46.7 F. The busiest month in Yellowstone. Expect traffic and lots of people.  Expect lines at the park's entrances, especially the West Entrance.

Allow 2-3 days for sightseeing; The Park’s Grand Loop is shaped like a figure 8, divided into the Upper Loop and Lower Loop. Remember to Start Early, Finish Late. First of all, be disciplined about starting early. Don’t waste daylight hours. And stay out until there is no more light

And allow at least 3-6 days to fully enjoy the drive through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and more time if you plan on enjoying some of the hike

Yellowstone National Park main attractions
·      Mammoth Hot springs
·      Norris Geyser Basin
·      Old Faithful Upper Geyser Basin
·      West Thumb
·      Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
·      Lower and Midway Geyser Basin
·      Mud Volcano and Sulphur Cauldron
·      Wildlife

I am listing the attractions in order visited:

After entering the park from West Entrance, it takes about 25 minutes to drive from the gate that is beside the town before you reach the Grand Loop.

Madison River
The Madison Region will be the first area of the park you experience. The scenic West Entrance Road follows the Madison River through valleys rich with wildlife and waterfowl until meeting up with the Grand Loop Road at Madison Junction. The Madison Region is named for the Madison River which begins in the park at Madison Junction where the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers meet.

Throughout the Park we should always be watching around us for wildlife, especially in grassy meadows.  Opportunity for spotting wildlife is always best in the early morning or at sunset - but you can be lucky anytime. 

The Firehole Canyon Drive is a hidden gem amongst the pine trees. This 2-mile one-way drive will take you through the beautiful canyon where the Firehole River flows, past Firehole Falls, and up to a swimming area the whole family can enjoy. Firehole Falls is a 40-foot waterfall carving its way into the hard rhyolitic rock that the canyon is made of. There is a small parking area available near the falls. Further down the drive there is the Firehole River swimming area within the canyon. Parking is available along the road and sets of stairs will lead you down to the swimming hole. This is a great place to have fun and cool off on a warm summer day.

Fountain Flat Drive is the access point for many different activities. At the front of the drive is the Nez Perce Picnic area, situated at the confluence of the Firehole River and Nez Perce Creek. The picnic area is closed between 11p.m. and 6a.m. At the end of the mile-long Fountain Flat Drive is the trailhead for the Fountain Freight Road, a wide gravel path 3.9 miles long (7.8 miles round trip). Hiking as well as biking are allowed on the Fountain Flat Road where travelers will see the Ojo Caliente Springs just 0.3 of a mile down the path, and views that you can't see from the road suddenly appear as you make your way farther down the trail. Keep an eye out for the elk and bison that frequently travel through the meadows of Fountain Flat Drive in the spring.

Fountain Paint pot (Allow approx. 30-40 minutes for this activity)
The Fountain Paint Pot area is very active and displays all four types of thermal features that are found in Yellowstone. On your walk around this half-mile boardwalk you can encounter hot springs, mud pots, geysers, and fumaroles. Only a few short minutes after you begin your walk, you will be at the Fountain Paint Pots. The paint pots might be one of Yellowstone's weirdest and funniest thermal features. Plopping and bubbling as gasses escape the Earth, the Fountain Paint Pots will be like nothing you've ever seen. The dancing bubbles are at their most active state in the spring, when the melting snow provides abundant water. As the summer sun heats up, the mud gets drier and thicker. You are almost guaranteed a show by Clepsydra Geyser as it erupts almost constantly since the earthquake.

Lower & Midway Geyser Basin
The Lower Basin geysers and thermal features are best viewed by driving on the short side trip along Fire hole Lake Road.  This is the area where we find the spectacular Great Fountain Geyser.  Though it is the only predicted geyser outside the Upper Basin, the window for prediction is roughly 2 hours.  But if you are patient, the reward is outstanding.  There are other young and old geysers on this drive and some impressive hot springs.

Midway has relatively fewer features than the other basins, but what amazing sights they are.  By far the most colorful of the hot springs in Yellowstone is the Grand Prismatic Spring, the third largest in the world.  We'll suggest a nearby hike that gets you to an elevated view above the giant spring where you'll get a better view of the colors, but even down at spring level, the scene is amazing.

Excelsior Geyser used to put on a great show, it was once the world's biggest geyser, and until an earthquake damaged it plumbing so it doesn't erupt anymore.  But in its current state it’s an impressing hot pool and throws out an incredible volume of boiling water into the Fire hole River. 

The Turquoise Pool also provides great color for impressive photos.

Biscuit Basin (Allow approx. 20-30 min.)
Biscuit Basin is only a few miles north of Old Faithful Village on the Grand Loop Road. A 1/4 mile boardwalk will guide you through Biscuit Basin which got its name from the biscuit-like deposits that once surrounded the bright blue water of Sapphire Pool. In 1959, Sapphire Pool began erupting violently as a result of the Hebgan Lake earthquake which measured a magnitude 7.5 on the Richter Scale over 20 miles away to the northwest. Sapphire's violent eruptions destroyed most of these biscuit-like features that it was known for. Although the "biscuits" are not as prominent as they were in the past, this amazingly blue pool is still worth a visit, as are the other thermal features in Biscuit Basin.

Black Sand Basin (Allow approx. 20-30 min.)

Black Sand Basin is located less than one mile north of Old Fatihful Village on the Grand Loop Road. It sets at the base of a wall of rhyolite which was part of a lava flow during one of Yellowstone's volcanic eruptions and is the smallest of the geyser basin boardwalks in the Old Faithful area, with the boardwalk only being about 1/4 mile in length. The name "Black Sand" comes from the crushed Obsidian (or volcanic glass) that is present around the geyser basin. The frequent eruptions of Cliff Geyser and the colorful waters of the Sunset Lake thermal feature are a couple of the natural wonders you will see at the small but spectacular Black Sand Basin.

Old Faithful Upper Geyser Basin
Old Faithful is without a doubt the most famous in the entire Park - and with good reason.  Since we have been watching it, it’s erupted spectacularly every 60 - 90 minutes or so.  It’s the most regular and predictable geyser in the Park.

At least a 1/2-day is recommended for the Upper Geyser Basin. There are so many things to see if you are willing to walk a couple of miles on easy trails.  Go as far as the Morning Glory Pools, explore the boardwalks with so many hot springs, small and large geysers and amazing formations - just too many to suggest them all.

It’s best to call in to the visitor center to see the prediction times for the geysers that follow a semi-reliable schedule.  Then plan how you explore the trails, so you arrive at the different geysers with the best opportunity to see some of the bigger eruptions.

This is also home to the most services in the Park and you must call in to at least take a look at the lobby of the Old Faithful Inn.

Kepler Cascades (Allow approx. 5-10 minutes for this activity) 

The Kepler Cascades flow rapidly through a rocky canyon just south of Old Faithful Village, drawing in crowds of visitors in a region mostly dominated by geysers and hot springs. With a height between 100 and 150 feet, Kepler Cascades is an easily accessible waterfall on your way to or from Old Faithful Village. A large pullout is available for parking where a very short walk leads you to a wooden patio on the canyon's edge where this large cascade of the Firehole River becomes visible, just waiting to be photographed.

Craig pass, at 8,262 feet on the Continental Divide, is about eight miles east of Old Faithful on the Grand Loop Road.

West Thumb Geyser Basin
West thumb sits in the unique position of being on the edge of a caldera within a larger caldera.  Situated on the edge of Yellowstone Lake, West Thumb is curious with hot pools and thermal features rising up right beside the cold water lake and some thermal cones rise right out of the lake itself.

The short loop walk is surprisingly good value, with many different thermal features close together.  Elk and deer are often seen there.

Even if you arrive at West Thumb after seeing Old Faithful and the bigger geyser basins, West Thumb is still an excellent stop, beautifully back dropped by the lake and distant mountain ranges.

Bridge Bay
The Bridge Bay Marina is your source and main access point for a fun-filled time out on Yellowstone Lake. Hop aboard the Lake Queen II for an hour long scenic cruise on Yellowstone Lake. Scenic trips head out on the lake several times a day during the summer, making it easier to include this activity into Your Yellowstone Vacation. For a more personal sightseeing excursion on the lake, rowboats and boats with small outboard motors can be rented by the hour at the marina on a first-come, first-served basis.

Lake village
Yellowstone Lake is the largest alpine lake in North America which means Yellowstone Lake is the biggest lake above 7,000 feet on the continent. With shoreline geyser basins, under water thermal features, and 141 miles of shoreline, this lake is truly one of a kind. Sections of the East Entrance Road and the road from Fishing Bridge Junction to West Thumb Junction offer amazing views of the lake and surrounding mountain ranges.

Lodging at Lake Lodge Cabins
The natural look of the log cabin style Lake Lodge inspires a real western feeling. The Lake Lodge plays host to over 100 cabins in this back region of the Lake Area. The cabins have a "western" feel as well. Here, you never know when a little yellow-bellied marmot or a huge bison will come wandering through to say hello. The Lodge sports a large porch furnished with a couple dozen rocking chairs and a view of Yellowstone Lake to satisfy any vacationer.

Day 2.

Fishing Bridge
Located on the banks of the serene Yellowstone Lake, the Fishing Bridge, Visitor Center and Museum is a wonderful place to make a pit stop when you're out and about in the Lake Area.

LeHardys Rapids (Allow approx. 20-30 min.)
LeHardy's Rapids is a part of the Yellowstone River where the river bed drops a little bit, throwing the water against large rocks creating turbulent white water. This is also considered to be the geological boundary of Yellowstone Lake. There are two pullouts from which you can access the rapids, both will get you to the rapids via a short trail or boardwalk. The lower pullout also offers a small picnic area with two tables right along side the Yellowstone River. The river is pretty wide here and the rapids are most impressive in late spring to early summer when the snowmelt runoff is at its highest. If you are here in late June and July, you will likely see native Cutthroat Trout leaping into the air, working their way up the rapids during their spawning run.

Mud Volcano & Sulphur Cauldron
At the Mud Volcano and Sulphur Cauldron areas, we will even find a thermal feature in the car park! 

Sulphur Cauldron is one of Yellowstone’s most acidic features.  Its PH is 1-2 so that makes it about as strong as battery acid.  Staring down into the boiling and steaming mud is mesmerizing and even a little scary, but don't worry, you'll be safe.

When the Mud Volcano was first documented by the Washburn Expedition in 1870, it had a cone of hardened mud over its opening.  Just 2 years later when revisited, it looked like it does today, so some type of steam explosion must have ripped the old cone apart.  The boiling mud is like an endless self-feeding cycle.  Dragons Mouth Spring is another dirty, boiling, steaming thermal feature to observe. If you love seeing dirty, scary hot springs – you’ll love it here. 

Bison are common in this area, so keep an eye out and your camera ready.

Drive through Hayden Valley

The Grand Loop Road takes you through five miles of Hayden Valley, a wildlife viewing hot spot in Yellowstone, where sagebrush dominates the hillsides and large herds of bison roam wild across its expanse. Hayden Valley is another favorite spot for wolf watchers to set up their spotting scopes in hopes to catch these amazing predators in action. Grizzly bears, coyotes, bison and elk are also often seen from the road as they wander through the valley. There are plenty of photo opportunities to get a quick snapshot of wildlife, or an amazing landscape photo of the mountains from the Washburn Mountain Range to the north of Hayden Valley.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
This is the single location that will consume the most amount of time during your day. Expect to spend a few hours viewing the magnificent Upper and Lower Falls from several viewpoints on both the South Rim and North Rim drives. Though it might sound repetitious, each of the six major viewpoints provides a different perspective and I dare you not to take photos from each one. If you are fit, take on Uncle Toms Trail for a less crowded viewpoint and a quick workout. You’ll see what I mean by quick workout!

Incredible forces have carved a 20 mile, 120-foot deep canyon along the path of the Yellowstone
River.  And thermal effects have been at work here too, creating 2 magnificent waterfalls inside the canyon.

There are 2 aspects to see both the Upper and Lower Falls from, with multiple viewpoints for each.  2 short side trips provide access to the North and South Rims of the canyon.  Most of the viewpoints are situated right next to car parks and require no physical effort to enjoy.  If you are willing to do some short hikes, you can see the views from different angles, and with less people sharing your experience.

Artist Point is the most famous view of the larger Lower Falls.  And if you need a work out to stretch out your legs after too much driving - Uncle Tom's Trail requires 300 stairs down, and then back up again, but gets you close to the power of the falls.

Dunraven Pass
(8,859 feet) is the highest road pass in Yellowstone National Park, and because of this, it can get snow at any time of year- even summer.  It's always the first to close during a regional snow storm, and it is always the first road to close in the fall as Yellowstone Park winds down for the winter. Great place to see grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, wildflowers, and a host of other amazing wildlife.

Chittenden Road
This road spurs off of Dunraven Pass, the highest road in the park, and takes you even higher to a point where the views are priceless. The Chittenden Road is a two-way dirt road about a mile and a half long. There is a big parking area where the road stops, at which point you can continue the journey to the peak of Mt. Washburn on foot via a 2.8-mile (5.6 round trip) hiking trail.

Tower fall
Driving north away from Canyon Village we drive to almost 9000 feet elevation through Dunraven Pass on route to the Tower Roosevelt area. Keep a close eye out for wildlife in this
section, especially looking down into the beautiful Antelope Valley. The “Tower” in the Tower Roosevelt area is Tower Falls

An easy 150-yard paved trail from the parking lot at the Tower General Store will get you to Tower Fall. Tower Fall is the point where Tower Creek drops 132 feet over a rocky ledge with some interesting and unique looking rock formations on the cliffs around it. Your adventure at Tower doesn't have to stop at the viewpoint platform. A 3/4-mile trail goes down to the confluence where Tower Creek meets the Yellowstone River. The hike down can be steep in some places and may be a somewhat strenuous climb on the way back up. Before or after viewing the falls, stop into the Tower General Store, operated by the Delaware North Company, for a souvenir or a bite to eat.

Calcite Springs Viewpoint
Within 5 minutes of leaving Tower Falls it’s worth making another 10-minute stop to view the downstream end of the canyon at the Calcite Springs viewpoint. Across the canyon, and along the roadside, you will be impressed a fantastic display of columnar basalt.

Tower Roosevelt to Mammoth Hot springs
From Tower Roosevelt, with limited time we should drive directly to Mammoth Hot springs, with no must-do stops. But no get the wrong idea, the landscape as we drive through is stunning and extremely wildlife friendly. Always be scanning the wide-open grassy meadows and gentle streams are perfect places to spot large animals.

Petrified Tree
Trying to fathom that something can be tens of millions of years old is hard to do. Well, that is how old the Petrified Tree is. This now solid rock was once a giant redwood tree surrounded by a forest of trees just like it. During violent volcanic eruptions millions of years ago, mudflows and volcanic deposits rapidly filled the open pores of the tree, solidifying it into the rocky trunk that you see today.

Undine Falls (Allow approx. 5-10 minutes for this activity)
Out of the hundreds of waterfalls in Yellowstone, only a handful of them can be seen from the road. Undine Falls is a section of Lava Creek that pours 60 feet over the edge of tough basaltic rock into a small canyon down below. Undine falls is a two-tiered waterfall and should be most spectacular in the springtime when the water from the snowmelt gives the falls more water to pour over its brink.

Rustic Falls (Allow approx.5 minutes for this activity)
Rustic Falls is a 47-foot high plunge of Glen Creek just south of Mammoth Village. This fanning waterfall plummets into a ravine between reddish yellow rock walls just off to the side of the road in a scenic area known as Golden Gate. Two roadside pullouts make it possible to view the falls; one just downstream from the falls, which gives you a head-on view, the other right at the top of the falls providing another excellent photo opportunity.

Mammoth hot springs
Mammoth Hot springs was the original entrance to the National Park and is the site of much of the Park's original and attractive buildings. 

The hot springs are roughly divided into two terraces, Upper and Lower.  The terraces are

constantly changing and have built an impressive variety of terraces, cascading pools, and sometimes colorful mounds, as underground limestone has been dissolved by the boiling hot water, and then deposited above the surface.

Liberty Cap is the most striking formation, a tall, slender mound that is no longer connected to a hot water source. It makes for a great photo.

It’s recommended to spend at least 1 to 2 hours exploring the different boardwalks and to drive the Upper Terrace Loop and to soak up the sights and smells.

Mammoth has a comprehensive choice of services and is an ideal place to stop for a meal break.

Roaring Mountain Fumaroles.
There are several tempting short stops to make on the way to Norris Junction, but even if we are hurried, the Roaring Mountain Fumaroles should not be bypassed. On this tour of the Upper Loop, these are the most aggressive thermal features will see and hear.

Mammoth to Norris.
Driving away from Mammoth, heading south towards Norris, there are 2 fast and easy places to see. Take a drive around the short loop at the Upper Terrace of Mammoth. See mineral trapped trees; colorful mounds pouring out hot water and cascading terraces of travertine. Another easy roadside stop is at Rustic Falls and the view back to the Golden Gate.

Day 3.
Roaring Mountain (Allow approx. 5-10 minutes for this activity)
This hissing mountain of steam is the only thing like it in the park. Roaring Mountain is a barren hillside of thermal features called fumaroles. It got its name from the loud hissing and roaring that it makes due to thermal activity and could be heard miles away in the days of its discovery. Nowadays the roaring has quieted a bit but can still be heard if you listen carefully. There are no trees on the most active parts of Roaring Mountain due to the intense heat and gases that emanates through its vents. Its slopes are inhospitable to all but the toughest microorganisms. Stop by and see Roaring Mountain on your drive between Mammoth and Norris. There are places to park right off the road directly across from Roaring Mountain.

Virginia Cascade (Allow approx. 10-15 minutes for this activity)
Here, the Gibbon River turns into a 60-foot cascade of whitewater known as Virginia Cascade. The gently sloped Virginia Cascade will remind you of a natural waterslide as you admire its beauty. To catch a glimpse of this waterfall, you need to take the one-way Virginia Cascade Drive located on the Norris/Canyon Road. There are pullouts along the road near the falls that allow you to get out of the car and fairly close to the water. Keep in mind that RVs, buses and trailers are not permitted on Virginia Cascade Drive.

Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest of the geyser basins in the Park and is divided in to 2 walking loop trails and you'll find yourself saying "wow" as you explore.

All of the thermal features can be found here.  The porcelain basin looks like a scene from another newly forming planet with steam and hot water jetting out of so many places. The white mineral deposits provide the porcelain effect.

The back-Basin trail walk is the home to of Steamboat Geyser the tallest active geyser on the planet, but Steamboat is truly on its own schedule, often going many years between major eruptions, but minor eruptions are more regular and exciting to watch.  Explore further around the trail for smaller geysers, dirty muddy hot pools and acidic geysers. 

Norris is not to be missed!

Artist's Paint Pots (Allow approx. 45 min. - 1 hr. for this activity)
The Artist's Paint Pots trail is so full of vibrant colors, comparable only to an artist's palette, it will be easy to see how they got their name. The short 1/3-mile trail begins at the parking lot just off the main road across from a wide-open meadow. When the trail gets back to the paint pots, it climbs up a small hill to give you a bird’s eye view of the area and a close look at the mud pots.

Gibbon Falls (Allow approx. 15 - 20 minutes for this activity)

As one of Yellowstone's spectacular waterfalls that can be seen from the road, Gibbon Falls is the spot where the Gibbon River flows 84 feet over the erosion-resistant rock of the giant caldera rim. There is a newly built parking lot available where you can escape the car and stretch your legs. A paved trail guides you high above the banks of the Gibbon River giving you great views of the falls.

Day 4.

Moose Falls (Allow approx. 05 - 10 minutes for this activity)
Moose Falls is the first waterfall you will see when coming into the park from the South Entrance. Just a couple of miles from the entrance there will be a sign for Moose Falls and two large pullouts, one on each side of the road. Follow the short path down to view the falls where the thermally heated Crawfish Creek drops 30 feet over erosion-resistant rock.

Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is a visually stunning place like no other. From a perfectly flat valley of Jackson Hole, the Teton Range rises with peaks over 13,000 feet.  At the base of the range, lakes formed by ancient glaciers provide beautiful places to go hiking and sightseeing.

Grand Teton is a part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and has abundant wildlife viewing opportunities.

For many visitors, Grand Teton is surprisingly different than its immediate neighbor to the north, Yellowstone, and yet it completes the experience with dramatic mountainscapes, animal sightings and historic ranches and cabins.

Things to See in Grand Teton National Park
·      Jenny Lake Area
·      Snake River Overlook
·      Signal Mountain
·      J P Cunningham Cabin
·      Teton Glacier View
·      Lawrence S Rockefeller Preserve
·      Moose

Suggested items to bring:
       Shorts or jeans; t-shirt or a thin long-sleeved top, comfortable sneakers or hiking boots.
       Lots of water, energy drink, food, sandwich…
       Sunscreen, bear spray
       Camera with extra batteries
       Just in case: Lightweight jacket or fleece for windy or chilly mornings/evenings, lightweight breathable rain jacket or poncho.

Download a GyPSy Guide Driving Tour App for Yellowstone - APP
You must have this app to get the most out of your time there! "Ranger", as we called him, was our own personal tour guide to the park. It was as if the narrator was riding with us, our own personal tour guide! Everything was right on the mark!  This is what an app and a GPS were meant for! Since cell coverage was effectively non-existent while in Yellowstone this worked great as a GPS and as a narrated guide.

The commentary adjusts for your location at that moment. He filled the drive between major sites with informative talks on the park's animals, geology, history, etc.


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