It’s impossible to see all of Yellowstone in one day! But, when you have only a day, you can still see a lot of the popular hot spots.
Most frequent readers at Best of the Tetons already know I spend most of my time in Grand Teton National Park and the surrounding Jackson Hole area. It usually takes a little prodding to get me to drive through the Park during the busiest summer months.
My oldest son, Tyler, and his girlfriend, Laura, arrived into town last Thursday with Laura’s parents, Bill and Sally. Neither Laura or Sally had ever been to Yellowstone, and it had been many years since Bill had been there. That seems like enough of a prod! Darla and I became unofficial tour guides for a day.
Our day trip began at 5:30 am. I was trying to time the trip to be at Oxbow Bend at first light. It’s on the way, and always worth a few shots. To show them a bit of Jackson Lake, I took a quick detour to the boat launch at Leek’s Marina, then headed north.
Moose Falls: This spot often gets overlooked by tourists in a hurry to get to other parts of Yellowstone. It’s just inside the park a mile or two past the South Gate.
All six of our little group were quick to exit the vehicle, get some shots and get back to the vehicle. That helps! A one day trip like this means not getting too bogged down at one spot. It also meant I had to do a lot of “hand held” photos where I might normally have used a tripod.
Lewis Falls: This is often the first stop tourists make when heading into Yellowstone. It is near the roadway and just south of Lewis Lake.
I trimmed down the photo equipment for this trip. The back of the vehicle was full of picnic supplies and cooler, so I chose to take only my D5, paired with a Nikon 24-70mm lens and Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens. I had two cards and a full battery, plus my trusty Gitzo tripod. That’s a lean equipment list for me! A Nikon 70-200mm would have been my choice for a third lens for this trip.
Mud Volcano: I should mention a bit about my route. At West Thumb, I turned right and headed along Yellowstone Lake to Fishing Bridge. It would be equally fine to choose to go to Old Faithful, but I prefer the counter clockwise route. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Artist’s Point always looks best in the morning, and would be in shadows in the afternoon.
For this whirlwind trip, I should also mention where we “didn’t go”. There’s heavy construction in 2018 at Fishing Bridge and roughly 4 miles along the road to Cody. There can be Grizzly activity along Mary Bay and along the Lake, but it would add a lot of time—made worse by the construction. At the Fishing Bridge Junction, I continued on towards Artist’s Point, with a quick stop at Mud Volcano.
Artist’s Point: The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a “must see” location! During mid-summer, there can be a partial rainbow at the base of Lower Falls. There’s a hint of the rainbow in this shot taken at 9:59am. At she times of the year, one side of the canyon walls go into shadow, but in the summer, the morning sun is in the perfect location.
Artist’s Point Pano: This area can can “feel” crowded, but most tourists and photographers get a few shots and move on relatively quickly. I shot this one as roughly 6 horizontal captures with the 150-600mm lens, stitched later in Lightroom. If I were by myself, I would have taken a Nikon D850 for my landscape shots.
We did as everyone else does…get a few shots and moved on!
Tower Falls: We stopped for a few minutes at Canyon Village, then continued on North to Dunraven Pass and down to Tower Falls. I took this photo from the upper vantage point, but it is probably better if you hike to the river. I knew we had a long way to go, so I suggested we keep moving on this trip. When I was in college, a couple of roommates and I made a trip to Yellowstone. At the time, there was a large, round boulder in the middle of falls. It has since fallen to the pool below. That was back in 1974 or 1975.
We saw almost no wildlife on our day trip! I stopped at LeHardy Rapids to see with we could find any Harlequin Ducks, but they weren’t around. I was hoping to see a few bears, but again, nothing! We saw a few Bison around Mud Volcano and in the Hayden Valley, but not the large herds.
At Roosevelt Junction, I made the executive decision to continue towards the Mammoth Hot Springs area and not to the Lamar Valley. Looking back, I might have driven out a few miles to look for Black Bears and Bighorn Sheep near the Little America picnic areas. Unfortunately, I was paying attention to a large bull Bison as we passed Undine Waterfall. There were too many vehicles behind me to turn around. That’s usually a fairly quick stop between Roosevelt Junction and Mammoth. Next time!
Terraces Mammoth Hot Springs: I was prepared to stop to photograph the bull Elk at Mammoth, but didn’t see them. We continued on to the springs. Most of the parking spots were taken in the lower area, so I pointed the vehicle to the upper terraces and one way drive. We found a parking spot, then hiked to the active terraces. I didn’t try to carry my tripod down the busy walkways, so I hand held all of my shots with the telephoto lens.
Terraces: We had mostly clear skies all day, but had a few passing clouds while in the Mammoth area. It helped me with areas of dark and areas of bright light.
Mineral Springs: These mineral formations feel like visiting another planet or the work of a creative movie set designer.
Mineral Springs: I took enough photos of the Mammoth Springs, I could probably fill an entire Feature post on the subject.
Rustic Falls: This one is west of the Upper Drive at Mammoth. Check out this site for more info: Yellowstone’s Roadside Waterfalls
Road Work: Expect a fairly long construction delay between Mammoth and Norris Junction. It appears construction will continue there all summer, if not into next year.
There’s a point on a one day trip like this where you have to prioritize what features you want to see. We skipped the Norris Geyser Basin, and were forced to skip the Midway Geyser Basin. There were just too many vehicles to stop for Grand Prismatic. The boardwalks all looked very crowded. Tyler wanted to make sure Laura and Sally got to see Old Faithful and the other geysers and pools there, so it become an easy decision to pass on some of the other features along the way.
Gibbon Falls: After a picnic lunch at Gibbon Meadows, we headed south to Gibbon Falls.
Firehole River: This set of cascades are along a one-way drive just south of the Madison Junction.
Old Faithful Lodge: We eventually made it to the Old Faithful area. The sign inside the Old Faithful Lodge indicated it had just gone off and we had about an hour and a half to kill before the next eruption.
Castle Geyser: Thile waiting for the next Old Faithful eruption, we did a hike on the boardwalks to see some of the other geysers, mud pots, and springs. Castle Geyser was ready to go off when we made our way to it.
Hot Pool: I didn’t try to document the specific names of the small pools and pots, but would if I were making the same photos while on my own. D4 and D5 bodies allow for a verbal note to be included with a photo.
Colorful Streams of Hot Water:
Old Faithful Spectators: The Park Service posts the approximate eruption time, but people began filling the benches about 15 minutes before the posted time.
Old Faithful: Light rain began just as the geyser began to spew, then increased during the eruption. Only a few people left! Some had umbrellas, but most simply got wet.
Kepler Cascades: This feature is located a few miles up Sylvan Pass after leaving the Old Faithful complex. If we had plenty of time, we could have stopped at West Thumb, before heading back south towards Grand Teton National Park. Instead, we headed to Leek’s Marina for a pizza before driving the rest of the way to Jackson.
The Wrap Up: Call it a successful romp through Yellowstone! The weather was good. We found parking spots with relative ease (except at Midway Basin). There weren’t a lot of animals, but there were plenty of vistas, waterfalls, and geysers. The drive from Jackson, WY through Yellowstone going essentially around the figure 8 outer loops and back to Jackson usually covers around 340 miles. Much of trip restricts speed limits to 45 mph or less. Delays caused by a “Bison jam” or construction can make the trip feel even slower.
All the time were in Yellowstone, my “photographer” mentality was tugging at me. I would have liked to have been at each spot at first light. Of course, that would take a lot of mornings! I would also like to photograph a lot of the waterfalls on an overcast day. I’ll go back someday!