In 2019 I spent 10 days in Yellowstone National park at the end of the season. I both camped and stayed in hotels. This is my story..
- The Journey Begins
I left my home town of New Quay in West Wales around mid-day, as usual my plans were pretty vague in that I was not sure where I would sleep tonight but I just had to be at Heathrow by 6am tomorrow morning. I wont bore you with the journey here, typical motorway travel, but about an hour out from Heathrow at the services (with a KFC ?) I consulted my travel booking secretary (Expedia) and she recommended a nice pub 10 minutes from Heathrow. The manager was really nice as he upgraded my room to one of the new ones in an extension. So I am now sat in the lounge relaxing with a pint.
My flights tomorrow start at 8.30 with the first leg to Chicago then on to Denver and finally Cody where I have a car booked and one night in a hotel. Then its….. I dont know, I will make it up as I go along. I have camping gear and am hoping the Bears will let me share their woods, or maybe the weather will force me into hotels? Who knows, and that’s part of the fun.
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- Day 1 Arrival in Cody
After three flights, 19.5 hours of travelling and getting younger by 7 hours, I have arrived in Cody at the edge of Yellowstone National park. My watch says its 6.30pm but my body says 1.30am. I think I may argue with my body a little longer before going to bed.
London sent me off with buckets of rain which meant a turbulent first 20 minutes. A quick trip over Scotloand and Greenland, both covered in cloud until this first view of Newfoundland
It was pretty much clear skies and fantastic views from that point.
Next flight was to Denver over Kansas Nebraska and Iowa. Farming country portioned into neat regimented little rectangles. The land of the free?
The last leg from Denver to Cody was on this teeny tiny plane. I was near the back in row 10! And I had a window seat and an aisle seat as well, thats only one seat. The seating arrangement is 2-1.
The views on this last leg were stunning. We followed the Rocky mountains North and then into the Yellowstone Caldera which a super massive volcano basin. The surrounding mountains looked incredible. I cannot wait to get in amongst it all in the next week.
- Day 2 Bears, Bison and Beurocracy
This morning was all about the bears, in fact it ends with bears too but more on that later…
I woke at 4am local time and could not get back to sleep, my body is adjusting from uk time and thought it had a lie in. I googled what time the local Walmart opened as I need supplies. I was there at the door on the dot… 6am. One of the essentials I bought was this
I think it’s some kind of deodorant I have to spray on me, I’m sure I will figure it out.
The next stop was the park entrance where they gave me an A4 sheet of paper with big writing telling me how dangerous Yellowstone is and I should go home and wrap myself in cotton wool immediately. I may find a use for that in the woods if I cannot find some moss.
Several miles later the empty road suddenly became traffic central, cars parked both sides, everyone out of their cars (was I the only one with a bit of safety paper!) And they were all pointing their cameras up the hill. I say all but in reality about 1/3 including me were looking perplexed. Theres nothing there! I asked somebody what they were looking at and after a few golden shot style left a bit right a bit instructions i found the bear, cowering behind a tree stump. Well, i can’t blame him there were a lot of us watching. Here is my photo and i can assure you there is a bear in it somewhere, possibly doing what bears do in the woods.
At the park entrance I asked for a backcountry camping permit, apparently you need a government official to give you permission, a permit, to do anything in the land of the free. I had to go to Canyon Creek for that, 1.5 hours later I was told they were closed and to either go North 1.5 hours or South 1.5 hours. She did give me a fishing permit though. 1.5 hours later I had my backcountry camp permit and by 2.30pm I was at the trail head, backpack on and ready to go. (Good job I started early) I am now set up camp about 4 miles from the nearest road beside a massive lake and seen nobody else around. I will let the photos of the day speak for themselves. Please try to get to the last one.. it’s that bear.
- Day 3 – Plans changed – Bears again
A beautiful day in a fabulous unspoilt part of the world.
My permit was for 3 nights at 3 campsites with the intention of walking right round the lake. I knew that was ambitious especially as I only had 2 days of good forecast, rain and snow were forecast for day 3. I decided this morning to hike to camp 2 and then turn back the way I came and camp at site 1 again giving an easy hike out in the bad weather. I was 2 miles from my camp and found this….
It looks like a bear footprint to me or maybe my imagination was running wild by then, I had been calling out every 50-100 meters “cominggggg through mr bear” like a market cryer. That gave me paws for thought, plus the weather was changing you can feel it in the air. I decided to turn back to a campsite I had passed 1 mile ago and have dinner. I felt refreshed and continued back toward site 1 where I have stopped extremely tired. I think i have done about 13 miles today carrying a 25kg pack. I will camp here tonight; illegally so sue me, my safety is more important than park rules. Tomorrow I have about 3 miles of easy trail back to the car, probably in the rain.
- Day 4 – Back to Civilisation
What a lot I managed to pack into one day. Overnight it rained but it stopped in the morning and held off the rest of the day. Once packed and had a quick breakfast bar watching the lake I did the 3 mile hike back to the car. The altitude (8,500 ft) and my age meant I was exhausted. I drove to the Old Faithful visitor centre because a priority was finding either a campsite with facilities or a hotel for the night. While I was there Old Faithfull faithfully did what she does best.
With directions to Madison 16 miles away I set off passing lots of geothermal features on the way, tomorrow I plan to go back down there to have a proper look. After booking in for 2 nights, setting up my tent, drying and cleaning my kit and myself I set off to West Yellowstone just outside the park to get mobile signal or WiFi to let everyone know I was safe.
At West Yellowstone I posted some postcards, uploaded my blogs for the last few days and caught up on messages and emails. I dont think the photos uploaded on the blog posts so I will try again next time I get a signal.
This evening I went for a walk around the campsite perimeter. In one hour I had seen a fisherman catch a fish, 3 bison and 3 drizzly bears who were eating an elk carcass about 300m away from the road.. wow what a day.
I have just finished cooking and eating dinner by the campfire and just about to retire for the evening. Although I know the bears are nearby, I feel safer here as there are lots of other campers around and I know the bears have had their supper tonight.
- Day 5 – What a day (updated)
Today has been one of the best days ever. Each time I see something amazing, I turn a corner and see something better.
It was drizzly rain this morning as I crawled out of my tent. I had no cooking shelter so decided to drive 16 miles South to old faithfull and have breakfast there, I would then wind my way back to the camp site taking in the sights on the way. I reached old faithful just as it started to snow.
A ranger tour was just heading off so I abandoned going for breakfast and joined the tour, by the time it had finished it was snowing heavily and I was wet and cold. I went for what was now brunch. I do like to eat local food when in a different country so bison burger seemed appropriate, it was good.
Old faithful was, well to be honest very unfaithful, she was 4 minutes late. The best sights for me were some of the other springs and geysers in the area.
I then started North and every place I visited seemed to improve on the last. I will let the photos speak for themselves.
It started raining again this evening so rather than go back to camp and having a wet evening trying to cook I decided to return to West Yellowstone where I am now sat enjoying liver and onions and using the Wifi.
Tomorrow I head north and will find a hotel for tomorrow night.
- Day 6 – Snow and a hotel
I woke this morning to this view.
So I lit a fire, and cooked breakfast
I spent the morning driving up to Mammoth springs and Gardiner where I have booked a Hotel for two nights. Much of the scenery was hidden in the snow storm but what I did see was breathtaking.
Luckily my hotel let me in early so I have spent the last few hours cleaning and drying myself and my kit as well as getting some dinner. I dont plan to do much the rest of the day.
Tomorrow I want to see the Lamar Valley.
- Day 7 – Lamar Valley and fishing
I had an early start this morning, I had heard so much about the Lamar valley and the wildlife that my expectations were high, always a bad sign. It was fantastic and I did see lots of Bison but I think the Moose and Elk have mostly migrated away for the winter. If I had not had all the build up from people I would not have been disappointed. Still I did see Elk grazing around the Hot Springs complex, saw a Cayote up close, saw hundreds of Bison (Buffalo) and lots of fantastic scenery. A couple of roads through the park were closed due to the weekend bad weather but they are re-open this afternoon so hopefully I will exit via canyon creek and the East park entrance tomorrow and meander back to Cody. Unfortunately I picked up a cold from that snowy camping but trying to ignore it till it goes away. I finished the afternoon with a bit of fishing in the Yellowstone river.
- Day 8 – Canyon and escaping the weather
The plan this morning was to visit the Canyon area of the park and spend the day there before leaving the park in the evening to go back to Cody. The weather had other plans though. I checked at the park visitor centre and the East entrance was likely to close that afternoon as more snow was forecast. I spent the morning at Canyon but as soon as the snow started I left, I got through the pass without problem but the snow was getting worse so I made the right choice. The route back was like stepping into an old Cowboy movies, I expected arrows to come flying from the hills. I am now in Cody and plan to look around a massive Wild West museum tomorrow.
- Day 10 – The last post
This is my last post on the blog as I fly home to the UK today via Denver.
Yesterday I went to the the Buffalo Bill Museum of the West. It is a massive place with different sections for Nature, William Cody, Native Americans, Art and a huge gun collection, including the archives of the Winchester company. I spent about 6 hours going around. It was really interesting but felt more could have been done in the area of native American history pre 1800. I.e before white settlers. The whole thing seemed to suggest history started with the arrival of settlers but humans had been in this area for thousands of years before that, so how did they get here? how did the horse arrive? Something for me to Google while waiting for planes today.
Thanks for following, see you soon. John