Yellowstone off-season mini travel guide

To be honest, I’m hardly qualified to write any travel guide for such a magnificent and vast travel destination after having spent only 2 days there. But as some people might be heading there for a short trip their very first time I thought some of the little things we learned on our short, but unforgettable trip might come useful.

Yellowstone…it has left an unforgettable and even magical impression on me. Yes, the landscapes are magnificent and vast. But what won my heart and made it a very unique experience was the abundance of wildlife we got to observe there. Passing by rivers on which stunning white swans are calmly floating, or seeing a bear strolling across vast expenses in search of something tasty (not easy to find in this time of year!) … what a real privilege to be able to observe what one can normally only see on TV. The only thing that could take it one more level up was to have Sir David Attenborough narrating the happenings. 🙂

First rays of sun over Teton National Park on the way to Yellowstone

Some of the most unforgettable moments of our trip were incredibly close encounters with bison herds who were traveling alone the same road where we were driving. We were carefully passing right by them, able to see their faces with those big noses and black jeweled eyes right outside our windows! And of course another very special experience was observing a family of wolves in Lamar Valley frolicking around at the dawn of the day.

Weather

Our trip was in October and while outside the park it seemed like late fall inside the park it was freezing winter!

Roads

Our trip to Yellowstone was off-season. Although undoubtably the nature wasn’t as lush and glorious as it is in warmer seasons one major advantage was the absolute void of crowds that typically overflow the roads of the Yellowstone park during summer. We were able to drive around at our own pace, pausing on the roads to take photos or watch wildlife as long as we wished. But one thing to know about off-season trip to Yellowstone is that some of the roads become closed. We were still able to get to any locations we needed, it just took longer due to detour routes.

This park’s website has information on the condition or the roads – https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/parkroads.htm

Waterfall at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Yellowstone Lake
Geyser at Yellowstone

Geysers

Cold temps were not really ideal for visiting the geysers as sometimes it was hard to see their brilliance and vibrance over the clouds of steam. Nonetheless, we felt we got a good geyser tour while on our trip. At the entrance to the park you can pick up a map listing all the noteworthy geysers. There are myriads of them of different colors…and smells!

Food

While we had plenty of food stocked up in our car my husband wanted to get something different for dinner. We quickly discovered that every cafe in the park we’ve stopped by was closed due to off-season. We planned to make it to the closest local supermarket located right outside the park, but it happened so that a herd of bison was traveling along the same route and we became stranded in their midst for over 40 minutes and then run into another closed road. We missed the supermarket hours and it seemed like all other local eateries were also already closed. We still had another 2 hour drive back through the park to our lodge. That was one experience that did spoil out trip.

So from that experience, I say stock up on as much of your favorite food as possible prior to leaving the last town/city on your way to the park!

Good to know:

  • there are no Wholefoods in the state of Wyoming or Montana, but there is one in Boise Idaho, which is over an hour drive from park’s boundaries
  • Natural Grocers also has some stores in Idaho and Montana
  • That said there are might be little local stores caring organic foods, but we haven’t run into any
  • During the day the only place in the park where food was served was near the Old Faithfull geyser (can’t miss it!), but the hours were also rather limited.

Lodging

Outside the park we stayed in The Lodge in Jackson Hole and definitely recommend it! We especially enjoyed all the little touches creating a charming woodland atmosphere, such as cute carvings of bears all around the building. We also looked into staying at one of the local ranches, but most of them were not available off-season.

On the second day we stayed as close to the park boundaries as possible in order to get the earliest start next day and catch seeing the wolves at dawn. So we stayed at a small cabin right outside the park. It gave us all we needed for a warm and comfortable night, while being just about 10 minutes outside the park. So if you are looking at starting your day early to beat the crowds or see some wildlife a place like that is a jewel!

Yellowstone

First signs of dawn during our drive to Lamar Valley to see the famous Lamar wolf pack

Wildlife watching

First, please be very careful driving in the park. The animals do cross the roads frequently.

Bison

You will have no troubles running into these gentle giants! They roam around everywhere! We only watched them from our car and on three occasions they were literally right outside our windows as they chose to share the road. Bison are very intelligent and non-agressive animals. However, as any wildlife presented with what could be perceived as a threat or challenge bison will protect himself by charging at you. So…needless to say don’t try to pet or challenge them, keep safe distance by respecting their space 🙂 They can be very fast and they are really massive!

Wolves

Wolf watching draws people to Yellowstone from around the world, yet how to find them isn’t so easy and for a good reason. Wolves naturally shy away from humans and like to keep their distance. Even though many animals in the park are much more accustomed to humans that those in the wild, seeing one strolling close to a road is still exceptionally rare.

So if you are traveling to the park to see the wolves I highly recommend you research wolf-watching communities on Facebook and seek for advise on where best see them and at what time of the day. We had to leave our lodge located right outside the park by 5am to make it to the famed Lamar Valley by dawn.

But even if you get to the right location in the right time you’ll be very disappointed if you didn’t bring along a telescope as most likely they’ll be hanging out in far distance near their favorite spots and not present themselves for a photo opp so easily 🙂

And lastly, watching wolves mostly means seating atop a hill watching them through a window of a telescope. You feet quickly become rather frozen. Having warm clothes and a thermos full of hot tea will make this so more pleasant!

Bears, eagles, coyotes and more!

Again, having a telescope will make a huge difference in you being able to observe some of these animals, as naturally most of them will not hang by the roads. 🙂

In closing of this mini travel guide I’m going to cheat a little bit by sharing a photo of a fellow wolf-advocate and photographer Monty Sloan / Wolf Park and not one of our one. It was not possible to take photos of the wolves without some very special equipment, which we did not have. But I wanted to give you a glimpse of these truly remarkable, highly intelligent, very social and sadly greatly misunderstood animals.

Wolves photo by Monty Sloan / Wolf Park

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