Yellowstone: Interdit de Toucher L’eau (French: It’s forbidden to touch the water). To our surprise, there were a lot of French-speaking visitors at Yellowstone National Park. While there a little French boy shouted, “interdit de toucher l’eau” when he saw my friend trying to test the water right next to a warning sign that clearly said, “hot water will scald.”
Yellowstone National Park has long been one of my dream destinations. I admire the beauty of nature. To celebrate graduation and summertime, three buddies from college and I decided to take a week-long road trip to see the wonders Yellowstone has to offer. Exhausted yet very excited, we finally got to our first campground after a long 14 hour drive through three states (Washington, Idaho, and Montana) – when planning a road trip you tend not to anticipate your friend getting sick or hungry constantly, but that’s another story for another time. We quickly learned that there are only three campgrounds with shower facilities inside the park. So reserve early if you don’t want to smell like a grizzly after a week.
Yellowstone National Park has many attractions, Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful Geyser, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, just to name a few. Following a pretty extensive list of must-sees, we went on a few hikes and explored all the amazing sites. Some of my favorite activities (in order) have to be hiking up the Grand Prismatic Spring, soaking in the Boiling River, and watching wildlife in the Lamar Valley.
More than 3 million visitors come to Yellowstone for its gorgeously colored volcanic rock in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and/or the ever so famous Old Faithful. Don’t get me wrong, these sites are wonderful, however hiking up the Grand Prismatic Spring was the most memorable experience of all and here is why. After a full day walking some tourist trails and seeing the beautiful geysers and hot springs, my friend Papi, who was the one planning the trip, reminded us that we hadn’t seen the biggest and supposedly most spectacular hot spring of the park. Between seeing a 250 by 300 foot hot spring and more time for showering (last admission to showers was 9pm), for some reason, it was not an easy decision to make. When it eventually came down to me, I said, “why not? Since we’re already here and the Grand Prismatic Spring is only 5 minutes away by car.”
The guidebook said the trail was one mile long – however, you actually first walk a mile to get to the real hiking trail. After walking in 100-degree sunshine all day, I couldn’t stand the heat anymore and changed into my flip-flops, thinking it was just going to be another one of those relaxing boardwalk trails. I was dead wrong. It was a rather difficult hike, composed of dry soil, debris and a steep slope. Flip-flops were not a smart choice. If you’re reading this, don’t make the same mistake as I did. Gear up and wear comfortable hiking shoes. The hike itself takes about 15 minutes. The panorama view from the top is mind-blowing. You will not only see the Grand Prismatic Spring, but also the entire valley and everything surrounding it. From the ground, the Grand Prismatic Spring looks like a boiling lake with beautiful layers of colors (and a lot of smoke that comes from the hot spring). From the top though, you see a giant azure blue eyeball and the scenery is magnificent. The hike was an unforgettable experience and I would totally do it again, with proper hiking boots of course!
My friends would probably argue that Boiling River should be the #1 must-see. And yes, it was a very close runner up. This is probably one of the worst kept secrets of the park though. To avoid the crowd, try to go in the morning or later in the evening. The swimming area is open from 5am to 9pm and is about a half mile from the parking lot. This natural hot tub is a result of a hot spring called Boiling River flowing into the icy Gardiner River. In this hot pool, you can sit or stand and have one side of your body soaked in the icy cold water and the other half in the hot spring. It was an amazing experience. Tired from a long day of sightseeing? No fear. Take a dip in the Boiling River and enjoy the exquisite view of the Gardiner River canyon walls.
Our biggest regret, which is also a good reason to go back to Yellowstone, is that we did not see a grizzly. Nonetheless we saw many beautiful wild animals. Yellowstone National Park is home to approximately 600-1200 bears, 300 wolves, 15,000-25,000 elk, 600-800 moose, 2,500 mule deer, 250 bighorn sheep, and some other smaller animals like trumpeter swans, coyotes, chipmunks, and bald eagles. Even though the elk and bison might seem tame, the best advice is to keep a good distance around these wild animals. They may weigh 4 times as much as you do, and run much faster! Lamar Valley is said to be the best wildlife spotting point, but occasionally we saw herds of wild bison or elk driving through the park. We even made friends with the elk that happened to share the same camping site with us!
Our trip to Yellowstone was amazing and mostly because we’d done some research beforehand and we enjoyed each other’s company. Everyday Yellowstone is a different adventure. If anyone is planning to go visit this marvelous place, make sure to check out these attractions and activities.