Yellowstone: Day 2+

This is a continuation from Yellowstone: Day 1.

Our travel details are followed by maps and sample itineraries for 2 days in Yellowstone National Park.


Starting Day 2

The sun rises early in Yellowstone in the summer, so Day 2 started after sunrise at around 6AM. We grabbed some coffee and breakfast in West Yellowstone and headed into the park via the West Entrance. (For information on our choice of lodging in West Yellowstone, see Yellowstone: Day 1) Staying in West Yellowstone was a great choice for park accessibility: we didn’t have to wait in traffic to get into the park and were quickly on our way to our first destination. That is, until…

Traffic jam!

Traffic jam!

That’s right, a bison traffic jam. We had known this might happen, and had planned extra time into our drive, so it was actually kind of fun to be in the middle of a bison parade. We got to watch them up close and personal from the safety of our Jeep Grand Cherokee while enjoying our coffee. They came very close to the cars, and I think some people were afraid either to hurt the bison or to damage their cars so they didn’t move at all. Eventually, we had to squeeze our way up ahead of the people in front of us, and by slow persistence, the bison were reluctantly herded back off the road.

This is a great time for a disclaimer: we never usually take the insurance from the rental company when we rent cars, but we did in Yellowstone and we were glad to have the peace of mind. Between unpaved roads with other cars throwing rocks at the windshield, bison traffic jams, and more, we repeatedly commented that not having to worry about it was worth the additional cost. If you’re traveling in the cold season or shoulder season, that presents additional risks and you should also highly consider renting a vehicle with four-wheel drive.

After passing the bison, we made our way to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone River

Here is a map of the area.

We parked at the area for Uncle Tom’s Trail/Artist Point Road (different than Artist Point), with a couple of hikes in mind. We started out west (left if you’re facing the canyon) to some great viewpoints for the upper falls. This trail is super short and highly rewarding, however it looked like some of the trails were closed for re-vegetation/restoration projects. We had arrived early enough that we had the trail entirely to ourselves, and it was magical. There’s nothing like looking out over the roaring, misty falls in the morning light, hearing only the crashing water and the morning birdsongs. Even later in the day, I think this trail is less crowded than Uncle Tom’s Trail and would be delight if you were nearby anyway. If you’re taking kids, make sure they stay with you and on the trail, because the edge of the canyon isn’t well protected in some areas. After some fantastic photos, we turned around and headed east to Uncle Tom’s Trail. The path on the way to Uncle Tom’s Trail is rather nice and offers some good canyon/waterfall views. Keep in mind that this trail passes through trees/loose woods in areas and bug spray is a must.

Upper Falls

Upper Falls

Uncle Tom’s Trail is actually a short path of switchbacks and then a 328-step steel staircase that takes you down near the base of the lower falls. It is roughly a 500 ft. vertical descent (152 meters), and there’s no way back up other than the stairs. Although it’s a climb to get back up, there are plenty of benches and landings to take breaks if necessary. If you make it there in the morning, before it gets hot, the climb is more pleasant and you’re likely to see a rainbow cutting through the mists at the bottom of the falls. When we arrived at the staircase, it was already fairly busy. I think it is a both a family-friendly attraction and a stop for some tour busses, so the earlier you arrive, the less of a crowd.

Here is the NPS site for Uncle Tom’s Trail.

After the quick descent and slightly less quick ascent of Uncle Tom’s Trail, we started down the trail toward Artist Point. We made it about half way before realizing that 1) we were running out of time for all of the other things we wanted to accomplish that day 2) that even once we made it to Artist Point we would have to hike back to the car and 3) that the best views were near Uncle Tom’s Trail and at Artist Point. So we headed back to the car to drive to Artist Point. If we had more days in Yellowstone, I think we would have taken most of the day at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone River, continuing on foot to Artist Point and then hiking all the way up to Sublime Point, taking our time much more. But short trips mean economizing our time, so we went back to the car and drove the short mile to the parking at Artist Point.

The view of the lower falls from Artist Point is picturesque, hence the name. You can see right down the canyon, all the way to the falls. This is an even more popular spot than Uncle Tom’s Trail for tour busses and caravans, so the crowd is definitely a factor. If your main goal is great photography, you may want to plan this spot for your very first stop in the morning so you don’t have to battle the crowds (we all know the light is better then anyway, right?). If like us, you are dropping by mid-morning, be prepared for busloads of selfie-taking tourists. As long as you bring your patience, you should still be able to enjoy the stellar views and snap some great photos. Overall, it’s definitely worth stopping here, but don’t expect to spend more than a few minutes.

View from Artist Point

View from Artist Point

Mount Washburn

Back to the car! Off we went to our next destination: Mount Washburn. Originally, we had planned to hike the shorter trail that begins at Chittenden Road, but we arrived to find out it had been closed due to bear activity. That was definitely a good enough reason to change plans. We headed back to the Dunraven Pass trailhead, and after a little difficulty finding a parking place, began our hike. The trail that begins at Chittenden Road is only about 2.7 miles (4.3 km) to the summit, while the trail from Dunraven is 3.2 miles (5.1 km). We knew the Chittenden trail is often less crowded, and that was the main motivator to try that one first. In the end, the trail from Dunraven Pass never felt crowded, and I really loved the views from this trail. I loved how the scenery changed slowly from flower-dotted meadows and thickets of trees to snow-dotted mountainsides, all the way to the windswept rocks above the tree line.

We each carried our usual daypacks (generally the same as the packing list for the Grand Canyon hike we did. Packing list here. You may want to add bear spray, bear bells, additional layers, etc.) as well as a good jacket (it gets very cold and windy above the tree line) and 2 liters of water. I felt that 2 liters was sufficient, and was glad to have some fruit, granola bars, and other snacks when we stopped at the shelter at the summit to relax, hydrate, and snack. They have bathrooms at the summit (yay!) and a place that you can get out of the wind but still enjoy the panoramic views from the top of the mountain.

Dunraven Pass starts out at 8,850 ft. (2,697 m) and climbs all the way up to 10,243 ft. (3122 m) at the summit. The trail was well kept although near the top there was still a section where you had to hike over a moderate area of snow.  We passed hikers of various experience and fitness levels and saw families with children as young as 7. Still, with the total hike clocking in at over 6 miles (over 10 km), I would be cautious of bringing small children or attempting to summit if you are not at least minimally physically fit. Make sure to drink plenty of water and take it slow on the way up. Photo opportunities are numerous and spectacular, so take advantage of the breaks not only for the amazing postcard opportunities, but also to catch your breath and rest a minute. You don’t want to make it to the top only to realize that you haven’t taken care of yourself on the way there and feel terrible. If you’re unsure about the difficulty of the hike, there were some great views about 1.5-2 miles (2.4-3.2 km) of the way up. Feel free to turn around after the first really great views from the first set of switchbacks on your way up.

In addition to the picture-perfect views, we met a several mountain goats on our way up. One even struck a pose for the camera!

If you plan to do this hike, know that this can be an area of bear activity. We never felt at risk on the trail from Dunraven, as we passed other hikers relatively frequently.  It seemed well traveled enough to deter any wandering bears from hanging about nearby. Although we never felt vulnerable or wished we had brought bear spray, I can’t attest to how the trail from Chittenden would be or if I would feel differently if we had been hiking at a different/less busy time. If you’re traveling during a less busy time of year, in the early morning, or later in the evening, consider bringing bear spray (and know how to use it), and make plenty of noise while hiking.

The trail from Dunraven was so beautiful, I would highly recommend it. This was another activity that could have taken most of the day. We could have arrived in the morning, hiked at our leisure, and finished in the early afternoon. If you have the opportunity, definitely split the Grand Canyon and Mt. Washburn into different days. They’re both so wonderful and can be as physically demanding as you make them. They deserve to have plenty of time devoted to each.

Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Bridge Bay Marina

After the Spectacular Mount Washburn hike, we were ready to spend some time relaxing. We headed to Lake Yellowstone Hotel for food and cocktails (after drinking plenty of water to recover from the hike, of course).  According to their website, this grand hotel hails from 1891 and it has been restored to its previous grandeur. There is a sunroom graced with big picture windows that look out over the lake. It’s a perfect place to sip a fresh cocktail and soak in the rugged beauty of the park from the refined elegance of the hotel. There is a café inside the hotel for quick, inexpensive dining, but there is also a fancy, white tablecloth restaurant with a delicious-looking menu. We weren’t dressed for that kind of an evening, so we opted for café dining and then cocktails in the sunroom. They had most of the windows open in the sunroom and the white curtains blew about in the gentle breeze. It reminded me of the passage in “The Great Gatsby” when the author first meets Miss Baker in Daisy’s home. Everything is buoyant, light, and airy.

Here is a link to the Lake Hotel.

Just like Old Faithful Lodge, Yellowstone Lake Hotel is worth a visit to experience the character of the old building. You can almost feel the times gone by as you recline in wing-backed chairs. As we sipped our cocktails, a string quartet began, not quite blanketing the creak of old floorboards and clink of glasses. Just lovely!

I should be clear though: all this talk of elegance might give you the wrong idea. We were still dressed in our “adventure pants”, hiking boots, and wrinkled T-shirts from our day of hiking. We were still toting backpacks adorned with bug spray, sunscreen, whistles, and canteens of water. We were not the picture of elegance, by any definition, yet I didn’t feel embarrassed or out of place. This is a national park after all. There were plenty of other hikers and boaters and motorcycle-riders. All sorts of attire were seen and accepted. Don’t forgo stopping in at the Lake Hotel just because you’ve had a long day outdoors. That is to be expected, and no one will give you a second glance.

Yellowstone Lake

We finished off our evening by doing some walking around both near the hotel and near Bridge Bay Marina (a 5 min. drive southwest from the Lake Hotel) before heading back to West Yellowstone for another late dinner (this time at a less-than-memorable Japanese restaurant), and then off to bed. Although there weren’t any mountaintop breathtaking views, I loved walking around near the marina. It was a perfect way to end the evening, just reflecting on all of the fantastic events of our day and listening to the sound of the waves rocking the sailboats at dock. The awe-factor of the beauty of Yellowstone is put into even sharper focus in moments of peacefulness. I am so grateful for all I experienced while visiting. Yellowstone National Park is truly a national treasure. 

Map of Our Day 2

Map Day2

For Day 1 Itinerary click here.

Ideal Itinerary (Split into 2 Days)

Day 2

6:30 AM - Wake up in West Yellowstone

-Shower, get ready, breakfast

7:30 AM - On the road to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone River

-Potential delays for bison, or photography stops 

9:00 AM - Arrive at Artist Point

-Photos while it's not crowded

9:15 AM - Hike to Uncle Tom's Trail, Upper Falls, & Return to Artist Point

-Go down stairs for views near base of Lower Falls

11:00 AM - Pass Artist Point, but continue on toward Point Sublime

11:45 PM - Arrive at Point Sublime

12:30 PM - Arrive back at car at Artist Point

- Drive to Lake Hotel

1:15 PM - Lunch at Lake Hotel (either at restaurant or cafe)

2:00 PM - Relax in the sunroom (cocktail optional)

3:00 PM - Walk around Hotel & Waterfront

3:30 PM - Return to car and drive to Bridge Bay Marina (5 min)

3:45 PM - Rent rowboat or motorboat. Information here.

4:00 PM - Enjoy the lake! Explore. Relax.

-Go fishing if that's your thing. 

7:00 PM - Return boat

7:30 PM - Begin the drive back to West Yellowstone

-Head southwest from the marina and with the day's drive you will have made a full circle 

-Stop for photos and wildlife spotting

9:00 PM - Arrive back in West Yellowstone

- Dinner, shower, bed

 

Day 3

6:30 AM - Wake up in West Yellowstone

-Shower, get ready, breakfast

7:30 AM - On the road to the Mount Washburn

-Potential delays for bison, or photography stops 

9:30 AM - Arrive at Dunraven Pass trailhead & begin hike

12:30 PM - Arrive at Summit

- Enjoy the view (and bathrooms)

-Have a hearty snack (you may want to pack lunch), drink plenty of water, relax.

1:15 PM - Start hike back down

2:30 PM - Arrive back at car

- Drive to Roosevelt Lodge

3:00 PM - Arrive at Roosevelt Lodge

3:30 PM - Late lunch/snack

4:00 PM - Enjoy the area, explore nearby 

5:00 PM - Hop back in the car & drive to Calcite Springs Overlook (5 min. drive)

-Enjoy the views & explore nearby

5:20 PM - Drive to Tower Fall (5 min. drive)

- Hike to Tower Fall (mini-hike)

- If open, hike to base of fall

- Enjoy the views & explore nearby

6:45 PM - Stop in at the trading post at Tower Fall for souvenir shopping

7:15 PM - Start drive back to West Yellowstone

8:45 PM -  Arrive back in West Yellowstone

- Dinner, shower, bed

The above drive time only shows one way, not returning to West Yellowstone, MT.

The above drive time only shows one way, not returning to West Yellowstone, MT.