2017 Yellowstone Spring Road Opening Dates
- April 21: Mammoth to Old Faithful; Madison to West Entrance; Norris to Canyon.
- May 5: Canyon Junction to Lake; Lake to East Entrance (Sylvan Pass).
- May 12: Lake to West Thumb, West Thumb to Old Faithful (Craig Pass), and South Entrance to West Thumb; Tower Junction to Tower Fall.
- May 26: Tower Fall to Canyon Junction (Dunraven Pass)
- May 26: Beartooth Highway
2017 Yellowstone Fall Closing Dates
- October 10: Beartooth Pass (US 212 to Red Lodge, Montana); Dunraven Pass (Tower Fall to Canyon)
- November 6: All roads except the road between the North Entrance and the Northeast entrance close at 8:00 am
Driving the Lower Loop of Yellowstone from Jackson, WY
There are really only two choices when it comes to the lower loop, clockwise and counter-clockwise. Generally speaking, most folks choose to go counter-clockwise when they are coming from Jackson. Their reasoning is this: there is more detail to learn and the famous sights are earlier in the trip if you turn toward Old Faithful at the West Thumb junction. In my experience, their reasoning is sound. Get to Old Faithful early, avoid some crowds, and get your bearings. It’s good way to start. That said, plenty of folks do it the other way around because they are more interested in getting to the lake early, usually for a tour or fishing. Get yourself a GaperGuide so that you won’t miss anything along the way. It will tell you where everything is, as well as science, history, where the animals like to roam and where the bathrooms are!
If I had some kids in the car, I’d want to get to the big new visitor center and geyser basin near Old Faithful while everyone was still fresh. Go in the visitor center first and find out when the next eruption is happening. You’ll either get out there to see it right away, or have time to do a few things first; it erupts about every 90 minutes. The Old Faithful Inn is definitely worth exploring, and there’s ice cream and observation deck on the second floor. There are several places to get lunch in the area, and it’s not a bad idea because the next opportunity will be Canyon Village. There are a lot of geysers other than Old Faithful, so take at least one of the great walks around the Upper Geyser Basin. You might even see some bison hanging around. Be sure to stay 25 yards away from them!
After leaving Old Faithful, there are more geyser basins in short order, so if everyone is excited about them there is plenty to see. As you work your way around, Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin, and Norris Geyser Basin are both spectacular, but for different reasons. If you decide to pack lunch, there are designated picnic areas all along the way with bathrooms, picnic tables and often some kind of view. The GaperGuide will mention all of these things.
Canyon Village will have snacks, drinks, coffee for the adults, and a great visitor center all about the supervolcano. This is my personal favorite visitor center. There are huge dioramas explaining how the giant caldera you are standing in actually works, rangers to answer questions and a bookstore with souvenirs, excellent books and maps, and toys and games for the kids. There’s also a gas station here, a general store for hats and sweatshirts, and nice places to sit down outside.
When you leave Canyon Village be ready for a little deja vous because I recommend taking the next left you come to, which will be the North Rim Drive and it leads you back into Canyon Village. It seems strange, but there’s only a little backtracking and the canyon views along the drive are worth it! After that loop you’ll go south again and reach the entrance to the South Rim Drive, across the Chittenden Bridge. Also worth it! There are several good hikes in this area, and lots of short walks to amazing views of the waterfalls.
After all of this action, you’ll be ready for some relaxing driving which is exactly what comes in the Hayden valley. It has wide open grassy rolling hills, the Snake River winding through it, and plenty of possibilities for seeing animals. I haven’t mentioned animals much, or “charismatic megafauna” as we often call the big guys, because the areas you will have been driving through have had a lot of trees. Don’t get me wrong, there are hundreds of meadows and other clearings where you could easily catch a glimpse of anything from an otter or beaver to a coyote, elk, bison or moose. I’ve even seen bears and wolves, but your chances get better in the open space of the Hayden Valley.
You’ll have a couple more chances to see thermal features at the Mud Volcano pullout and at the West Thumb Geyser basin, but you are now on the eastern side of the park, and Yellowstone Lake dominates the scenery. If you are looking for a boat tour of the lake, pull in to the Bridge Bay area and look for the marina. The Lake Queen has hour-long tours around Stevenson Island, but you can also rent small boats to take out on your own. Depending on how late it has become, you’ll probably be hungry again. My favorite restaurant on this side of the park is in the Yellowstone Lake Hotel. If you’re looking for something quicker or more rustic try the Yellowstone Lake Lodge, and grab a rocking chair out on the front porch.
As you are driving along the lake you’ll be able to see mountains across the water and the drive is very peaceful. For those last views of thermal features stop at the West Thumb Geyser Basin and see them right up against the lake. If you need a cup of coffee for the drive back down to Jackson, or food you didn’t get earlier, Grant Village has everything! It’s a great stop, and there might be a Ranger Talk at the amphitheater that evening. They are very entertaining.
These are just the basics of what’s on the Lower Loop, but the GaperGuide will fill in the rest as you drive!
for FREE trip planning assistance and reservations:
• Visit: The Hole Concierge
• Or send an email to: [email protected]
• Or call: (307) 690-7406
for GREAT information on Jackson Hole and the Greater Yellowstone Area, with a calendar of events
here are some helpful links for planning your trip inside the national parks
Presented by St. John’s Hospital in Jackson, WY. They also have DVDs of the presentation that can be checked out – for free – from the Community Health Information (CHI) Center. The CHI Center is located just to the left, after you enter the main, covered entrance of St. John’s Medical Center. They’re open daily from 11am – 4pm.