Wyoming

Wyoming is one of my favorite states in the U.S. It's a joy to drive through and has some of the most impressive sites in the country, possibly even the world. Its diversity includes volcanic caulderas, alpine forests, snow capped mountains, impressive rock formations, and rare wildlife. There are plenty of outdoor adventure activities including hiking, boating, fishing, climbing, hunting, skiing, you name it.

My Favorites


1. Yellowstone National Park

Grand View

Highlights: Nature, wildlife, volcanic activity, forests, mountains, waterfalls, hot springs, hiking, fishing
Suggest Staying: 5-7 days
Stay Around: West Yellowstone (Yellowstone Self Catering Lodge) or Madison
Internet: Weak
Show more...

Yellowstone is magnificent, probably the most diverse national park I’ve visited. There are thermal geysers all over the place, beautiful colors from the bacteria that live in these boiling hot waters, forests, mountains, waterfalls, tons of hiking, and wildlife you’d be hard pressed to see out in the wild anywhere else in the country, possibly the world. The park is massive and protected, so animals are free to roam. Although rangers encourage them to stay away from heavily populated areas, especially grizzlies. Chances of seeing bison, for example, are pretty much guaranteed, grizzly bears are elusive but you have a decent chance of seeing them, depending on the time of year. Moose, elk, coyotes, and tons of birds can be seen with pretty high probability as well. Wolves and eagles are the only animals I didn’t see, as they are exceptionally difficult to spot.

See & Do

  • Scenic Drive. Comprised of highway 20, 89, and Grand Loop Rd for 142 miles, 3 hours 11 minutes driving.
  • Grand Canyon. Includes Upper Falls to Tower Falls (20 miles). Upper Falls, Lower Falls, Lookout Point, Red Rock Point, Artist Point, Bring of the Lower Falls, Crystal Falls. Hike some of the trails, they’re not long, but can be steep and slippery.
  • Artist’s Point. Amazing river/falls view. Your view faces West, so it’s a nice spot for sunset. Good for pictures if you have a good camera to get the lighting right. One of my favorite spots in the park. Gets crowded so go early or later in the day.
  • Inspiration Point. Most scenic in Yellowstone. 300 foot waterfall.
  • Grand Prismatic & Excelsior Crater. Located in the Midway Geyser Basin, this is the quintessential photo you’ve likely seen of Yellowstone, with the magnificently colored rings around the spring and clear water to see deep down. You can walk around on a walking path, but there is no way to get a good arial view unfortunately. In colder weather, there will be lots of steam and wind, really cool to walk through.
  • Norris Geyser Basin. Porcelain trail 0.6 miles loop, Black trail 1.6 mile loop. Beautiful.
  • Sapphire Pool. Located as part of Biscuit Basin, one of the most beautiful pools in the park with it’s amazing blue color.
  • West Thumb Geyser Basin. Fantastic trail through beautifully colored pools and springs.
  • Mammoth Hot Springs. Unbelievable hot spring terraces and nearby waterfalls.
  • Hanging Valley / Tower Falls. Waterfall stands at 132 feet high. After seeing the waterfall, hike down to the river about 10-15 minutes down the stairs just before the waterfall viewing point for a beautiful view. And no people! Best lighting is late afternoon for pictures. There is a smell of sulfur, so I assume there are geothermal spots around there. Stay on the path!
  • Lamar Valley. Great place to spot wildlife and beautiful views of the valley.
  • Madison. Relaxing area by the river most popular for fishing. If you want to get away from the crowds to hang out, have lunch, fish, or catch a beautiful sunset among wildlife, check this place out. Hidden gem.
  • Artist Paintpots. Geyser basin with unique mud pots that offer nice spring colors as well as boiling mud. Cool, short trail to wander through.

By Area

  • North. Mammoth Hot Springs, Boiling River (where hot springs meet Gardiner river), Roaring Mountain, Tower Falls, Calcite Springs Overlook (river through canyon).
  • West. Norris Geyser Basin, Madison, Gibbon Falls (84 foot high beautiful waterfall), Virginia Cascades.
  • East. Canyon Village, Grand Canyon, Mud Volcano (highly acidic, disintegrates rock, boiling cauldrons), Fishing Bridge.
  • South. Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic, West Thumb Geyser Basin, Firehole Canyon Drive (river, waterfall, 2 miles), Firehole Lake Drive (geysers), Sapphire Pool (Biscuit Basin), Fountain Paintpots.

Wildlife

  • Mammoth Hot Springs. Elk, bison.
  • Lamar Valley. Bison, elk, coyotes, wolves (if you’re lucky).
  • Hayden Valley. Bison, elk, coyotes, wolves (if you’re lucky).
  • Yellowstone Lake. Fishing Village area. I saw two grizzly bears, a mother and cub, on my way into Yellowstone. I got real lucky.

Tips

  • Time Management. Yellowstone is huge, and if you end of having to stay outside the park, it will take at least 30 minutes to get to your first destination. I suggestion picking an area of the park and plan to spend the day there, especially if you want to get out of the car and hike the paths or even some of the trails.
  • Closures. Keep an eye on road closures and campground/lodging closures. Things start to shut down starting in October due to the weather. Snow can result in road closures, and many campgrounds or lodges will be closed depending on the area of the park. Call ahead or plan to stay outside of the park in a hotel/motel.
  • Lodging. There are quite a few places to stay inside the park, but they are expensive and fill up fast. A mix of lodges, fancy and economy, as well as campgrounds. Some close for the season as winter approaches as early as October. You can also stay in towns near any of the several park entrances. I found West Yellowstone to be the most convenient in terms of cost, location, and food options.
  • Stay On Paths. Be mindful to stay on designated paths and don’t throw stuff into the pools. These are rare and magical feats of nature that can be easily damaged by carelessness. Even something as simple as walking on fragile ground can damage what has been developing for thousands of years. It can also get very windy, so either leave your hat in the car or hold on to it. I saw a couple hats that flew off into the geysers and it made me sad. These aren’t easily retrieved and can severly damage the ecosystem. Don’t be one of those tourists who causes unrecoverable destruction just to get a picture!
  • Wildlife. The best time to spot wildlife is early in the morning and at dusk around sunset. For the larger animals, it will be cooler, plus they’ll likely be out looking for food. Bison are everywhere, but elk, moose, and coyotes are more easily spotted during these times. Open valleys, thick forests, and quieter places away from tourists offer better chances for spotting wildlife, not to mention a more serene experience. The backcountry is probably best, but you can still see plenty of wildlife in the main areas of the park. I would suggest bringing binoculars, as the valleys are vast and sometimes far from the roads. You’re also not supposed to get close to the animals, especially the bigger ones as they could potentially be harmful. Remember this is not a zoo, it’s the wild. Look for people stopped on the road, as they will likely be looking at something cool. Remember not to block traffic.
  • Bears. Depending on the time of year, many people carry bear spray. This protects against bears, especially grizzly bears which are pretty prominent through the park. While unlikely you will encounter one face to face, there is still a possibility. Hike with at least 3 other people, make noise, carry bear spray, and try to avoid bringing food (especially with a strong odor).
  • Old Faithful. This predicable, ultra famous geyser goes off at a scheduled interval which is posted just outside by the visitor center. Get there early if you want a seat. You can also hike around the basin and up into the hill for more of an arial view. It gets crowded. Definitely worth seeing, but there are many other cooler spots around Yellowstone I would do first.
  • Hot Springs. The only place I found to actually sit in hot springs was at Boiling River near Mammoth Hot Springs. Don’t go directly in the hot springs or you will burn your skin off. Go where the spring and river meet. It’s super cool, you can have one foot in very hot water and the other in freezing water. From Mammoth Visitor Center, drive towards the North entrance 2.25 miles to the sign “Entering Montana” and park on the right (or across the road if full). Trail is 1/3 mile walk upstream going south along the river to the fenced area.
  • Sunset. I had the most amazing experience at Madison Campground & Picnic Area. I just happened to pull off and found an open valley with a beautiful mountain view in the background as the sun was setting. While there, I was surrounded by bison munching on the grass. Fish were jumping out of the river catching flies, and eventually a bull elk came into focus, walking through the river bellowing out calls to his harem. There were just a few other people there, and it was so calm and serene. There are very few quiet places in the park where you can avoid the hoards of tourists.

2. Grand Teton National Park & Jackson Hole

Signal Mountain

Highlights: Mountains, hiking, fishing, skiing, wildlife
Suggest Staying: 3-5 days
Stay Around: Jackson (The Hostel)
Internet: Weak
Show more...

Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole are in the same general vicinity and are definitely worth visiting together. In fact, you may even choose to stay in Jackson (about 30 minutes from the park). If you’re heading to Yellowstone, this is a nice add-on. Only 1 hour away. The snow capped mountains are absolutely beautiful as are the greenish/blueish colored lakes. It’s especially nice in the fall when the leaves change color. There is plenty of hiking and outdoor activities to keep you busy. The park itself is located in Moose, WY. Jackson, WY is the main town nearby. Jackson Hole is the area that is a “hole” between the mountains which formed as from volcanic activity and erosion. Jackson is famous for its mountains, climbing, skiing, and fishing. Also a popular place for tiny houses if you’re interested. Check out Fireside Resort, tiny houses rentals and RV park. It can be pricey to stay in and around Jackson during peak seasons over the summer and winter when ski season gets going, consider shoulder seasons like fall and spring.

See & Do

  • Grand Teton Loop. Drive 44 miles, 1 hour 22 minutes.
  • Teton Park Road. Drive through the park.
  • Signal Mountain / Summit Rd. Jackson point overlook (all the way at the top) has an unbelievable view. Pictures don’t do it justice. Can drive or hike (3 miles from the campground).
  • Moose Wilson Rd. Wildlife, narrow, winding, 8 miles. I saw two actual moose in Moose.
  • Inner Park Loop Rd. Great scenery, 20 miles.
  • Jenny Lake. A 1-way road 3-mile long road off the main park roadway that’s a bit less traveled as an alternate way to get there. The lake itself is beautiful and has several hiking trails.
  • Kelly Loop. 16 miles. Gros Ventre Junction (take to the river and even to the lake about 5 miles down the rough but paved road). Mormon Row (popular for pictures). Mouton Barn. Shadow Mountain. See bison just before sunset.
  • Teton Pass. Wilson, Jackson Hole, Teton Valley. Be mindful of potential road closures during snowfall, as this is at a higher altitude.
  • Oxbow Bend. Great views. Chances to spot wildlife.
  • Antelope Flats. Wildlife.
  • Schwabacher Rd. Mountain views, off the beaten path trails. Off of main road 191 / Hwy 26. Really beautiful and no other people.
  • Hiking. I didn’t do a ton of hiking due to the weather and mild fear of solo hiking amongst grizzly bears (was right before hibernation season when bears are filling up on food), but there are lots trails around the lakes, forests, and into the mountains.
  • Hoback River. South of Jackson past South Park. Nice scenic drive.
  • Granite Hot Spring Pool. Located 30 minutes south of town. Costs $6. Nearby Granite Falls is where A River Runs Through It was Filmed. The catch is that you must drive 10 miles on a dirt road. If it rains or snows before or during your planned visit, you will need 4WD.

Tips

  • Closures. Keep an eye on road closures. Being north and at altitude, the area can get a lot of snowfall, and it can be different amounts up into the mountains.
  • Wildlife. The best time to spot wildlife is early in the morning and at dusk around sunset. For the larger animals, it will be cooler, plus they’ll likely be out looking for food. Good chances to see elk, moose, and coyotes. Grand Teton is also one of the best places to see grizzly bears. I would suggest bringing binoculars, as the valleys are vast and sometimes far from the roads. You’re also not supposed to get close to the animals, especially the bigger ones as they could potentially be harmful. Remember this is not a zoo, it’s the wild. Look for people stopped on the road, as they will likely be looking at something cool. Remember not to block traffic.
  • Bears. Depending on the time of year, many people carry bear spray. This protects against bears, especially grizzly bears which are pretty prominent through the park. While unlikely you will encounter one face to face, there is still a possibility. Hike with at least 3 other people, make noise, carry bear spray, and try to avoid bringing food (especially with a strong odor).
  • Moose. These massive animals are actually considered the most dangerous in the park to humans. More so even than grizzly bears, so keep your distance. Especially around mothers and their young.

3. Beartooth Highway

Beartooth Highway (Rock Creek Vista Point)

Highlights: Mountains, lakes, hiking
Suggest Staying: 1/2-1 day
Stay Around: Red Lodge
Internet: Weak
Show more...

Touted as one of the most beautiful drives in America with valleys carved by glaciers. Starts at Red Lodge and runs west through the northern part of Wyoming. Nice route to take if you’re on your way to Yellowstone or as I did, the scenic route going north to Bozeman. I would highly suggest combing with Chief Joseph Scenic Byway which is a lovely drive, very colorful, and great views. You’ll then continue on to the Beartooth Highway which is more mountainous and higher elevations so you’ll likely see snow. A few notable stops include Yellowstone Overlook, Beartooth Lake, Beartooth Basin Ski Area, Rock Creek Vista (look for Marmots!), and Greenough. There are shops and restaurants in Red Lodge, including Prerogative Kitchen which is super cool and has good food. Weather can be unpredictable, especially outside of summer, so check the forecast to make sure the summit pass is open. My route from Cody to Bozeman took over 6 hours, including picture taking and meandering, so I would definitely plan for the entire day. Apparently you can go skiing near the top which looked both incredible and terrifying.

4. Devil's Monument

Devil’s Tower

Highlights: Monument
Suggest Staying: 1/2 day
Stay Around: N/A
Show more...

I thought this would be a quick drive by of a rock formation that frankly seemed kind of boring. But let me say, it’s quite magnificent in person. Definitely worth the trip. The way the rock is formed, especially out in the middle of the plains, is quite astonishing, not to mention the colors and shapes left over from an ancient volcanic eruption. You can hike around the base 1.3 miles (Tower Loop) which takes about 35-45 minutes through boulders, nice forest setting, and of course an interesting perspective looking up. You can also climb it! This requires a permit and gear, but I saw at least 6-8 people up there.

5. Cody & Thermopolis

Buffalo Bill State Park

Highlights: Lake, river, hot springs, museum
Suggest Staying: 1/2-1 day
Stay Around: Cody or Buffalo Bill State Park
Internet: Good
Show more...

I stumbled upon the town of Cody after being redirected from my original route through the Beartooth Highway which was closed at the summit due to snow. As I was driving through Cody, I saw a sign for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Hoping for cowboys, I discovered this is a 5-in-1 museum! I didn’t realize this was the actual hometown of famous cowboy, buffalo hunter/tracker, and showman Buffalo Bill Cody. Museums include: Buffalo Bill, Gun Collection (hundreds of all different kinds over the centuries), Natural History (of the area’s ecosystem, nature, and wildlife), Old West Art, American Indians, and even a small exhibit about famous Old West gunslingers like Billy The Kid and Jesse James. If you’re into, or are just curious about, the Old West and/or the nature in the area, you must stop in. Costs $19 and takes about 2-4 hours to visit. Each museum is a full size museum, they all just happen to be under the same roof and connected. It’s huge. The town of Cody is also a neat little town you can either pass through or spend the night on your way to/from Yellowstone or Grand Teton. Fast forward some years later, I ended up back in Cody for a night and discovered beautful Buffalo Bill State Park and its Lakeshore Campground which is a great camping spot. Minimal amentities. On my way to Cody, the drive along highway 20 through Boysen State Park and Thermopolis was gorgeous. There are several hot springs facilities in Thermopolis, including the city one which is free for 45 minutes. You can also drive around the nearby hills for views and bison.

Leave a Reply