Montana’s nickname “The Treasure State” came about because of its wealth of minerals, including gold and silver, but for me that name resonates most in regards to Yellowstone National Park. Though most of this national park, which covers 3,468 sq miles of land, resides in Wyoming, four out of the five official entrances to the park are in Montana – making this great state the gateway to Yellowstone.
Given my love of US national parks that spawned from my last road trip out west, you can bet the number one question on my mind after winning a week at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, MT (via Passports with Purpose) was “Will we be visiting Yellowstone?”. The answer: of course! Bozeman is one of the most popular means of getting to Yellowstone. Big Sky was about an hour drive from Bozeman Yellowstone Airport and the West Entrance to Yellowstone about a 45-minute drive from Big Sky.
During my week long visit to Lone Mountain Ranch, they offered two day trips to Yellowstone, which are included in the overall price of staying there. Plus, they drove my friend Erin and I out to the West Entrance for free to see the Grizzly Bear and Wolf Discovery Center on another day.
I took the first chance I could to go on a day trip to Yellowstone. We left at about 8 a.m. and didn’t return until about 6 p.m., so it was a long day – but it kind of has to be if you want to see the park in just a day.
Yellowstone is the USA’s first national park. While I always think of Teddy Roosevelt when it comes to America’s national parks, especially this one, the designation of this space as a national park was actually signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. The park is most well-known for its geothermal activity. Home to Old Faithful and at least 300 more geysers, Yellowstone is placed on top of an active volcano. The park also has close to 300 waterfalls, including Lower Falls, located in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which you’ll see on a lot of vintage posters and post cards from the park.
Beyond an active earth – this park also has a very active wildlife scene. It’s home to 67 species of mammals, two of which are threatened (the Canadian lynx and grizzly bear) and one of which is endangered (the gray wolf).
Anyone who has been following this blog will know that I’m more of a do-it-yourself, spend-as-little-as-possible sort of traveler. So going on a week-long trip to what is basically an all-inclusive ranch (minus alcohol and a few activities) was quite the luxury. In regards to things like park tours, I’ve almost never had someone to drive me around, let alone a highly-educated naturalist, so that was quite a treat. Our guide Kaitlyn knew pretty much everything there was to know about Yellowstone as well as the plants and animals there. She knew exactly where to take us and even better spots to see certain sights, like Old Faithful. Most watch it erupt from Old Faithful Inn, but she took us to a less crowded area.
Kaitlyn drove us around the Lower Loop and made sure to stop at Old Faithful, Fountain Paint Pots and Lower Falls. We spotted one bald eagles, a few osprey and several elk and bison while in the park. Plus, we got to see Old Faithful as well as Beehive Geysers erupt, which was a treat as the latter is bigger and usually only goes off every four hours.
The only criticism I have about this trip, which was in no way Lone Mountain Ranch’s fault, is the crowds. I always like visiting places like this at low season to avoid annoying drivers and congested natural areas. Since Yellowstone is one of the USA’s most popular national parks to visit, I recommend going sometime outside of high season, which can be hard because the park closes certain times of year.
Oh, and one other thing – I saw a guy smoking a cigarette in the middle of a wheat grass field in the park during one of the worst times of year for forest fires there. It really annoyed me. Please don’t be a jackass while in Yellowstone. You’ll ruin it for everyone else.
It was an incredible day to say the least – but actually it was my least favorite activity of the week. Not because it was bad in anyway – but I just felt the other activities during the week, like canoeing and back country horse back riding allowed us to see the same beauty Yellowstone has to offer without having to be in a bus all day. Still, saying this is my least favorite is like saying Godiva came out last in a chocolate competition. It was still amazing, but means there are even better things to write about in the coming days!