Lamar Valley, Yellowstone

Guest post by Nicole Qualtieri.

David Attenborough calls it The American Serengeti. In February of 2014, it was recognized as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of North America. In 1872, it became the United States’ first recognized National Park, one of many protected areas to come. If it’s not on your list of places to visit yet, put it on the highest priority level right at this moment.

No matter where you’re coming from, Yellowstone’s landscape and wildlife viewing capabilities has the ability to transport its visitors to another place in time. Planning for a Yellowstone trip can seem a bit overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few insider tips that can make your trip truly unforgettable:

1. Come to Yellowstone in the offseason.

When school’s out, Yellowstone is in. The highest traffic areas are maddeningly packed, campsites are full, the surrounding tourist towns are full to the brim. The best times to come to the park for both wildlife viewing and a quiet, more private experience occur when the tourists are fewer and further between. Winter is prime wolf season, spring brings the babies and the birds, and fall is elk bugling season. All of these offer some incredible, up-close-and-personal experiences that are not to be missed.

2. Go to Lamar Valley.

For the best wildlife viewing in the park, spend a day or more in Lamar Valley (pictured above). The wide open landscape lends itself to seeing wolf packs, grizzlies, black bears, moose, bison, elk, pronghorn, fox, coyotes, eagles, and more. You can camp at Mammoth for $20 per night, grab a bite to eat in Gardiner, head out to Cooke City, or even drive the Beartooth Highway and experience one of the most beautiful highways in the world.

3. Don’t limit yourself to Old Faithful.

When it comes to the geysers, mud pots, and hot springs, Old Faithful is one of the tamer features to catch, albeit one of the easiest. Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin is the third largest spring in the world, and grand barely begins to describe it. The mud pots at the top of the Artists’ Paint Pots might be the most fun to watch, and you can actually sit in one of these springs if you venture to Boiling Springs along the park’s northern road.

4. Get off the beaten path.

95% of tourists visiting Yellowstone won’t leave the boardwalks. Be a part of the 5% who actually get out into the park. Yellowstone has some of the country’s most spectacular backcountry waterfalls, including Fairy Falls, Mystic Falls, and Firehole Falls. The National Park Service has an awesome breakdown of Yellowstone Day Hikes here:

5. Hire a Guide.

In the wintertime, you can take snowcat rides into the park, offering a completely isolated and private tour of the nearly unseen aspects of the park. Nearly any time of year, you can hire hiking guides that will take you to secret spots, like a few that overlook the Grand Prismatic, or that will take you to those beautiful waterfall spots, or wildlife viewing that is truly a special experience. Here’s a list of legal guides in the park: And if you’re doing this on a more budget-friendly plan, invest time into researching the things that interest you most. People aren’t shy in sharing information when it comes to the parks.

6. Understand the safety regulations of the park.

In just this year’s tourist season, two people have been gored by bison due to their close proximity to these large and dangerous animals. If you are camping, don’t eat near where you camp and make sure all food is safely out of reach of wildlife. Familiarize yourself with bear spray and how to use it, park rangers are happy to help you with this. This highly reliable and effective tool works against many types of wildlife should the very rare instance arise that you have a negative encounter. Stay safe and stay prepared. More on that here:

If you have any questions or inquiries about specifics of this article, feel free to email Nicole at She is a frequenter of the park and is luckily connected to some great people with much bigger and better knowledge than what she’s grasped in her time visiting Yellowstone. Also, check out her post on must-see spots in Montana.

Posted by Nicole Qualtieri