Yellowstone National Park



That was the caption that caught my attention when I was scrolling through Instagram photos from a former classmate's road trip earlier this summer. She was in Yellowstone and had just learned that the park was actually a supervolcano, something that was also news to me. 

A quick Google search from a lazy Saturday morning in bed confirmed that Yellowstone is, in fact, a supervolcano. And while the chances of its next eruption occurring during my lifetime are slim, it's still going to erupt again one day. 

And I wanted to be sure I'd seen it before it does and the earth plunges into volcanic winter.

In fact, I wanted to see a lot of the sights that my former classmate had seen on her adventures. And while I was at it, why not head up to Canada and try to see the Northern Lights again?

So I worked out a half-PTO, half-Work-From-the-Road schedule at my job, packed up Brewer and hit the road with only a loose idea of where I was going, how I'd get there, what I'd see and when I'd come back.

Yellowstone was actually the third stop on our journey (a trip I started calling "Bri and Brew Go North" can check out the hashtag #BriAndBrewGoNorth on Instagram for all of the pics!), and it was a whirlwind. We arrived at the South Entrance of Yellowstone around 6am on Tuesday in early August and drove past the Roosevelt Arch at the park's North Entrance 12 hours later.

Honestly, I think I did a pretty great job of making the most of my 12 hours in Yellowstone, especially given the rainy start and the fact that I had a dog in tow.

I mean, Yellowstone is no joke... it's a trip that, when carefully planned, can last at least days, if not weeks. Cramming it into 12 hours while limited to dog-friendly sightseeing isn't necessarily an accomplishment... it's more like a giant compromise. Which is actually pretty standard travel protocol for me: after all, I crammed Iceland into 4 days.

Still, I'm pretty satisfied with my Yellowstone experience. I got to see everything I wanted to see, do everything I wanted to do and most importantly, soak up all the beauty the park had to offer.

Old Faithful

Coming from the South entrance, Old Faithful was my first stop. I had heard about the geyser as a kid, I'm sure, but totally forgot about it until I was in Iceland, feet away from Strokkur.

Someone in the crowd that day in Iceland mentioned that Strokkur was nothing compared to Old Faithful and I remember thinking that I was kind of embarrassed: here I was, seeing one of Iceland's most famous geysers before our own in America.  So I was glad to finally be checking the good ol' US of A's  off the list 3 years later as my first stop in Yellowstone.

And while Iceland may have the geyser (Geysir) that all other geysers are named after, Yellowstone contains 60% of the world's geysers.

I arrived in the cold, rainy parking lot around 8:30am and there was virtually no one there. Brewer was still sleepy so he could care less as I put up the window covers, raised the sunroof and locked the car.

How do the two, Strokkur vs. Old Faithful, stack up?

Well for starters, for a geyser that's called Old Faithful it's not really frequent. It's predictable within 10 or 15 minutes but it can go off anywhere between 60 and 110 minutes. Meanwhile Strokkur goes off every 6-10 minutes.

Height-wise, that guy was right. Old Faithful does dwarf Strokkur on average. Old Faithful regularly reaches heights around 130-140 feet and hit 135 when I saw it that Tuesday morning. But Strokkur caps out at around 50-65 feet.

But I think the biggest difference is how you experience the two geysers and, at least when I went to Icelend (I don't know if they've changed the layout since), I'd pick Strokkur hands down. With Strokkur you were feet away from the geyser when it exploded. But at Old Faithful, even the closest viewing spot felt pretty far in comparison. And because of the distance, Old Faithful actually felt shorter to me than Strokkur even though it was probably more than double the size.

Luckily the geyser was set to erupt 30 minutes or so after I arrived, so I was able to experience it right away, take a quick walk around the beautiful old lodge and head back to the car within an hour. If you're trying to get a sense for it's eruption timing within an hour of your visit, one idea is to check the webcam where they post the next predicted eruption time.

If I hadn't had Brewer with me though, I definitely would have checked out one of the Old Faithful Inn tours (free daily in the summer at  9:30am, 11:00am, 2:00pm, and 3:30pm) and the trails to the other geyser basins.

But as it was, by the time I got back to the car the parking lot was completely packed and I decided to get a headstart on the tourist traffic by making my way to the next most popular tourist stop: the Grand Prismatic Spring.

Fairy Falls and the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook

In the days preceding leaving for my fairly last minute trip, I found out about the new Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook trail.

I had known about the Grand Prismatic Spring and was probably most excited for this stop than any other in Yellowstone. But reviews online were mixed: when you pull off at the parking lots for the Spring and walk around the steamy boardwalks, you don't really get the full experience of the colors like you do from above.

The best way to see it that way, as it turns out, was a unmaintained scramble of a trail that park visitors had been taking for years when hiking around or to Fairy Falls, which is a 5-mile RT flat trail to a gorgeous waterfall.

This year, Yellowstone decided to turn that unmaintained scramble into a real trail and after a year of construction, they opened the trail in late July 2017. To accommodate the anticipated influx of visitors to the Fairy Falls trailhead parking lot, they also added an overflow lot that was still unpaved and empty when I pulled up that morning. There was no signage for the new trail, only people who were in the know and who weren't.

And I, luckily, was part of the former.

You start down the path for Fairy Falls and less than a half mile in, you reach a fork in the trail. Straight, you continue to Fairy Falls. Take the hillside to your left and you will officially be on the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook trail, a short quarter mile hike uphill to a platform overlooking the Grand Prismatic Spring.

The thing was, it was totally overcast. And I knew that the Spring's true brilliance wasn't really on full display without a bright blue sky to reflect against. I was bummed and suddenly very hungry, so I headed back to the car to make myself a peanut butter sandwich and read with Brewer for a bit.

I read through the itinerary I'd drafted and my notes on all the sights I would try to see if I had time. I reread through my section on Fairy Falls... I had wanted to hike the 5 mile trail badly when I wrote this guide, but wasn't sure how hot it'd be (anything over 55 or 60 degrees and I wouldn't leave Brewer), if I'd get a parking spot near the trailhead, and if the trail would feel safe enough to hike solo.

But I had my parking spot, it was 54 degrees out, and the trail was packed with people... my fears about solo hiking and bears were (almost) put at ease. So I took Brewer for a quick walk, rolled down all the windows and the sunroof (since the rain had stopped), hung up my curtains and decided to run the trail.

Luckily, the trail is flat and shaded for much of the way, so it made for an easy running trail. I ran through forrest fire damage and pine groves and finally heard the sound of rushing water. I had reached the falls.

And they were breathtaking.

I spent a few minutes taking photos and enjoying the scenery before turning to jog back to the car. On the way back, the sun started to come out and by the time I'd reached the trailhead for the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook again, the bright blue skies I had been missing earlier had appeared! I jogged back up the trail for some better photos and then headed back to Brew bear.

After catching my breath and getting the car road ready again, Brew and I continued on to our next destination, The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. On the way, we passed the extremely overcrowded parking areas for the boardwalks surrounding the Grand Prismatic Spring and after seeing it from above, I was convinced that I'd gotten the better experience. 

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

By the time we got to the Grand Canyon, the sky was dark and overcast again and thunderstorm clouds loomed ominously. Luckily this was mostly a driving experience for us, with quick stops in each of the parking lots to get out and snap photos from the viewpoints. 

There is hiking around the Grand Canyon too, obviously, including the famous Uncle Tom's trail (which happened to be closed while we were there), but even if I hadn't had Brewer I think I would have been too tired to hike after my 5-mile Fairy Falls run.

I started on the North Rim Drive at the Upper Falls, then made my way to the Lower Falls, Lookout Point and finally, Grand View (Inspiration Point was closed). Then we swung around to the south side to view the Canyon from the famous Artist's Point. 

While Artist's Point seems to be the most popular viewpoint, my favorite spot was actually Grand View. The photos I have from that vista are some of my favorite from the trip. 

Truthfully, I was unprepared for the beauty of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I knew the least about this area of Yellowstone and wasn't expecting much. But the palette of colors in the landscape, the way the sun beamed rays above the river... it was nothing short of majestic. And a beautiful way to close out our Yellowstone tour. 

Leaving Yellowstone

By the time we finished the drive around the Grand Canyon, I was starting to get really, really tired. So we drove straight past the Mammoth Hot Springs on our way to try to secure a camping spot at the Mammoth campgrounds, with the intention of checking out the Springs in the morning.

But when we found out the campsite was full (most of Yellowstone's campgrounds are first come, first serve and fill up extremely fast in the summer), I gave up on returning to visit Mammoth Hot Springs on this trip. 

Instead we headed out of the park and rogue-camped on a cliffside overlooking Montana, in a small gravel parking lot for the Gallatin National Forrest.

We fell asleep to a gorgeous Montana sunset and woke up snuggled up right before the rangers arrived to kick everyone out. As we hightailed it out of there, we paused for a few moments to enjoy one last incredible feature of Yellowstone, the Roosevelt Arch, which reads: "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People."