Stop 3: Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake is the second largest freshwater lake in the world over 7,000 feet in elevation and a perfect place for lunch. There are several parking areas and picnic tables spread out around the lake. We stopped at area 19 but skipped the picnic tables and carried our packed lunch down to the shoreline. For a while, it felt as if we had Yellowstone Lake entirely to ourselves. It was not to last. Soon enough, a small fishing boat (the only one we saw) dropped anchor right in front of us. No matter; nothing can spoil views like these. We followed up lunch with a short walk along the shoreline. As expected, the water was very cold (about 45 degrees F). Click for larger images.
Leaving the lake, we headed north closely following the Yellowstone River. We soon entered the lush Hayden Valley, an area where buffalo still roam. We stopped the car at one point to snap a few photos of a large herd.
Stop 4: Yellowstone Canyon
At Yellowstone’s Canyon Village, it was time for some exercise. We ventured down a series of steep, but paved, switchbacks to the brink of the Lower Falls. From there, the Lower Falls drop 308 feet. The overlook here offers amazing views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and may test your fear of heights. The hike back up the trail (about 1/2 mile) is fairly strenuous, but we saw several people pushing kids in strollers all the way back up. The Brink of the Lower Falls Trail also offers good views of the Upper Falls.
Traffic jams at Yellowstone are fairly common and are almost always caused by animal sightings. We encountered one stoppage on the way to Mammoth Hot Springs. Soon enough, we discovered the source of the traffic tie-up–a mother black bear and her cubs foraging by the side of the road.
Park rules require that visitors stay at least 100 yards from bears and wolves (and 25 yards from other wildlife) when approaching on foot.
Stop 5: Mammoth Hot Springs
At this point in the day, I was hard to impress. Needless to say, the Mammoth Hot Springs were a tad underwhelming. While the formations were interesting-looking, there was very little flowing water in the springs to dazzle us or sustain our interest. Perhaps we expected too much after all the wonders Yellowstone had shown us. It was time for a little disappointment. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones looking for more water. The National Park Service explains:
Q. Are the springs drying up?
A. No, but they almost surely look different from the last time you saw them. Most of these springs are intermittent in their activity. The direction of flow down the hillside and the amount of water discharged by the springs changes all the time. Those of us who live here and are lucky enough to visit these springs often notice changes even on a day-to-day basis. We think that although individual springs dry up, there are at the same time new springs forming and other springs that become more active so that the overall volume of water discharged by all the springs remains fairly constant. Just because it doesn’t look the same today as it did last time you were here doesn’t mean that it won’t look the way you remember again some day.
Last Stop: Chico Hot Springs
From Mammoth, we left Yellowstone heading north on Highway 89 and entered the aptly named Paradise Valley. After a 45 minute drive, we stopped at the Chico Hot Springs, located a few miles off Highway 89 near Pray, Montana. While far from luxurious, Chico Hot Springs was a perfect respite from a long day. The natural hot spring water is piped directly into two pools: a smaller pool averaging 103 degrees and a larger pool at 96 degrees. Day passes for adults are a reasonable $7.50. We relaxed our aching muscles in the hot pool while enjoying a few margaritas. It was a perfect close to the day. From there is was about an hour’s drive back to our home outside Bozeman, where we rested soundly that night.
Special thanks to Ryan and Alex for being our tour guides on a wonderful tour of Montana and Yellowstone, without whom this article would not be possible. Also, special thanks to Ryan and his parents for letting us stay in their beautiful Bozeman home.