A Packed 3-Day Yellowstone Itinerary

A Packed 3-Day Yellowstone Itinerary

A week and a half through Yellowstone, the Tetons and across Wyoming to Cheyenne. One of the first things we learned while there is that Yellowstone is MUCH more than mountains, trees and animals – there is a ton of volcanic action and is one of the most unique places in the world, and I think the only place that has all 5 different types: geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, terraces and mud pots.

Pro tip: Read the bold stuff if you don’t have time for my ramblings!


Don’t Freak Out, Let’s Plan…

I’ll be frank, beginning to plan this trip with absolutely no knowledge of the park was really overwhelming. I thought everything was hours and hours apart so I actually planned to see way less then we actually ended up doing. We were able to see the entirety of Yellowstone in three days. Driving around is not that bad as the views are scenic and you’ll most likely run into a bison herd or some type of road jam. The longest we drove was 1.5 hours and we still stopped throughout that. You could push it to two days if you are into torturing yourself, though!

This incredibly helpful Yellowstone subreddit was a gem. I am also blessed to work with someone who was a guide in the area for a few years, so I took advantage of that to kick off the itinerary.

TOP 4 THINGS TO REMEMBER TO PACK
  1. Binoculars and/or Scope – do not scoff! Glass is on EVERY Yellowstone National Park packing list you can find online for a reason. You will not regret investing in a pair of nice binoculars or super-zoom lens for your camera.
  2. Download maps and music on your phone prior to entering Yellowstone. You will have little to no service through out the park.
  3. Refillable water bottle or bladder for your backpack.
  4. Cooler bag for meals on the go.
VISITING YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK TIPS
  1. Download apps: Yellowstone roads basically make a figure-eight with main points along the drive. Download the NPS Yellowstone app (to plan), offline maps from Google Maps (to drive) and the Yellowstone/Grand Teton tour from the GyPSy app (to learn). I used all 3 at once.
  2. Get bear spray after you’ve landed. You can’t take it on a plane, even packed in checked luggage, but you can buy, rent from the park or even purchase secondhand. Although you most likely won’t ever see a bear… you don’t want to be caught without it. It made my anxious-self feel better.
  3. Upgrade your rental vehicle. Get the minivan no matter how lame you think it is. We had luggage, snacks for days, cases of water and other beverages, and VIEWS! That Chrysler Pacifica was like Jeff Bezos’ rocket ship.

Lastly, this is your vacation – see what you want to see at your own pace. We have no children so we did anything and everything, including driving to each of the 5 entrances. At first, we skipped much of the popular geyser basins, but by the end of our third day we were in awe of everything .


Day 1: Travel Day, Bozeman, MT > Gardiner, MT

Fly to Bozeman. I loved flying into the Bozeman airport. It’s small, with only 3 luggage carousels, but everything that you would thing a Montana airport would be. This very small town is being built up as a hippie, trendy mecca in Montana surrounded by good food and exciting views. You will most likely find your first of many bison burgers and elk antlers over the bar.

Stay in Gardiner. Gardiner, MT is right on the edge of the north entrance of Yellowstone, where the Yellowstone Arch is. On the drive from Bozeman to Gardiner, Montana, you’ll see your first (but farmed) buffalo and elk. Gardiner is a nice little pit-stop town with the necessities plus all the trappings of a tourist town including wildlife tours. Tucked away from the main road, cow elk walked down street right in front of the Airbnb that evening.

Day 2: Lamar Valley > Mammoth Hot Springs > Norris Geyser Basin > Canyon

ROAD CLOSURE for 2021 and 2022: The road between Tower and Canyon (the top eastern part of the big loop) is closed.

Head to Lamar Valley for sunrise. From Gardiner, getting to Lamar Valley takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes, but we saw our first buffalo about 30 minutes into the drive! Of course that made us super excited to see more, and boy, did we!

There is a wolf den at Slough Creek Camp. I feel guilty sharing this to the public but it is not my place to gate keep visitors from seeing what I saw and I am grateful that I found this piece of info. This is the first time I saw several park visitors with spotting scopes on tripods. The valley has a lot of foothills that animals tend to disappear behind very quickly. After 15 or so minutes and trying to catch everyone’s whispers, we heard them – wolves howling!

Bison are throughout Lamar Valley. As we continued down the road to the northeast entrance, we saw so. many. bison. Giant herds of bison along the road and in the range and down by the rivers that wind through the valley. They were ornery in the early morning, their rut (mating season) lasts through the summer so you could hear the males grunting next to their ladies. On the way back, we got stopped by a bison that was headed toward our car in our lane. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place…

The GyPSy app will tell you the history of what you’re driving through and point out scenic side trips and how long they will take. I would have missed so many off-the-main-drag spots without this app!

Mammoth Hot Springs is almost like “Yellowstone Town Center.” There are also elk here grazing in the grassy square. You’ll see huge features as you approach, smoking earth, bright yellows and stark whites – and quite a few people. This area is fairly crowded, but there is plenty of parking and people coming and going. This was our first hot spring and we were shocked by the smell of sulphuric stank here.

Surprise number 1. Yellowstone stinks. Nobody tells you this.

After Mammoth we continued down the top southwest side of grand loop road. A couple overlooks are here as well as Golden Gate pass. Lots of pull-offs and picnic areas along this road. Once you get to Roaring Mountain, a mountainside that is literally smoking with furmaoles, you will realize that you’re not in Kansas anymore. This is volcano country.

Next stop was Norris Geyser Basin. Parking takes a while in this geyser basin. This was also where the smell really hit us and we were turned off by going too far in. I forced a walk around Porcelain Basin and we left.

A visitor told us there were elk in West Yellowstone, so we headed toward Madison Junction and the western entrance. No elk, but we exited the park and grabbed a drink at the Slippery Otter in West Yellowstone, MT – a very small entry town to the park.

We decided to skip Artist Paint Pot and Gibbon Falls and save those for our “geyser tour” on the last day in Yellowstone. After those stops, there is not a lot to pull over for on the road to Canyon, although scenic, of course. There are places to eat at each hotel location, which has a campsite and cafeteria, sometimes a restaurant.

Animals come out at dawn and dusk. We were so pumped about animals, that night we drove into Hayden Valley, which is just south of Canyon. Here we found our first bull elk and a lot more bison. Greg documented bison swimming across the river this like he was filming for the Discovery Channel.


DAY 3: Canyon > Hayden Valley > Yellowstone Lake > W. Thumb > Old Faithful Inn

We drove through Hayden Valley in the morning (can you tell we were wildlife-crazy by then? and stopped to see Mud Volcano and Sulfur Caldron. This was the smelliest place in the park.

If the road was open, this is where I would have driven up Canyon to Tower to see Dunraven Pass and do the Mount Washburn hike, see Tower Fall and other stops along this route.

See the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone in the morning. We hit quite a few overlooks, starting at South Rim Drive to Artist’s Point, which is breathtaking. Uncle Tom’s trail was closed – 300 steps bolted to the side of a canyon cliff – not sure if we’d do it if it were open. The South Rim offers Wapiti Lake and Ribbon Lake Trails – we decided to skip these and head to the North Rim for more views. Brink of the upper falls puts you right over the falls, with amazing canyon views. The North Rim’s “View of the Lower Falls” where rainbows appeared!

Surprise number 3. People say to be at Artist’s Point about 10 am for rainbows, but you can see one at North Rim’s View of the Lower Falls.

Rent a boat to check out Yellowstone Lake. A lot of the lake is off-limits to boaters, as the winds were a bit too heavy. Plus, there are hot vents and rocks and things all through these 45-degree waters. We packed our lunch and binoculars in a wet bag and stayed out for about an hour and a half, which will get you a loop around the accepted area and a 20-min stop for lunch.

Storm Point is a popular 2.5 mile loop hike. This takes you through the woods and along the lake. This is a nice hike with beaches and more hot features.

Drive the east entrance toward Cody. It is one of the most beautiful parts of the park. We considered driving to Cody, but it’s about 80 miles so we stopped at the entrance – but this was one of the most beautiful parts of Yellowstone in terms of scenic driving. Past this, huge mountains and dense pine forest showcase Yellowstone’s eastern backcountry. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Tour groups here were scoping out mountain goats.

The Old Faithful area is very developed, with three lodges and various dining opportunities, gift shops and otherwise. The Old Faithful Inn is an incredible work of architecture. Although crowded in the lobby, Greg and I climbed all over the place and read about the history of the place. It is definitely a unique marvel to behold. Our room was essentially a log cabin straight from 1905 and made of lodgepole pine and what we suspect to be bison hide. Shared bathrooms and showers, to boot. It takes you back.

Visit West Thumb Geyser Basin. This is a cool boardwalk loop that showcases some of the hot features along – and in – Yellowstone Lake.

We were staying in the oldest part of the Old Faithful Inn and had front row views of Old Faithful all day (and all night) long. Of course, after we got ready for bed we saw people gathering again at sunset and so I watched Old Faithful erupt for the second time at 10:08 pm in my PJs.


DAY 3 – Paint pots, Geysers, Pools & Springs

The geysers were growing on us, and whether it was the wind or just how it is, this area did not smell like our first encounters did.

The drive from Norris to West Thumb is full of geyser basins and other thermal features.

  • Artist Paintpot Trail, a quick loop for our first mud pots.
  • Gibbon Falls, along the side of the Yellowstone Caladra
  • Fountain Paint Pot (lower geyser basin) you will see at least 1 erruption
  • Firehole Lake Drive which holds Great Fountain Geyser and is 100% worth the side trip. There are a ton of geysers on this road but they are not marked on the Yellowstone app for some reason.
  • (skip Grand Prismatic on this drive)
  • Biscuit Basin, which is a cute, quick loop boardwalk.
  • Trail to Mystic Falls at the back of the boardwalk.
  • Old Faithful Area and Upper Geyser Basin

Skip Grand Prismatic until the late evening. Steam will be less in order to see the full colors, and crowds will be less. You have two viewing options: Fairy Falls trailhead lot for an above-view (recommended) and the boardwalk lot for an up-close view.

Later that night, we took some drinks and posted up at the end of the OF Inn parking lot, situated just at the right angle to see Grand Geyser go off around 9:30 pm, sunset. It was huge, larger than Old Faithful. Then, we noticed Castle Geyser erupting! Which was honestly one of my favorites and looks like an elementary school volcano. This one goes at intervals of around 14 hours, so we were lucky to see it. We finished off our night with a late night Old Faithful eruption and hit the hay. Safe to say we closed out the Yellowstone leg of the trip with a bang!

Nearby – Grand Teton National Park & Jackson Hole

Finish off your trip in the tetons. South of Yellowstone, worth at least the loop! Make this the beginning, middle or end of your trip as there’s much to be seen. But I digress, this is about Yellowstone, so I end here (thank goodness). Enjoy!

It’s 21-22 Spring Season Pass Sale Time!

It’s 21-22 Spring Season Pass Sale Time!

I know it seems impossible to think about, but your best ski deals for the next 2021-2022 season are right NOW! Aggressive? Yes. But find your Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Western New York or Maryland ski season pass deals are all right here and you’ll be happy you did.

My eye is on the Indy Pass (mega pass for single resorts), Timberline ($359!), Wisp (Closest) and Highland Pass (3 resorts and SO MANY perks). Plus, I always regret not getting Wisp’s Mission: Four’dable pack deal… How do I choose?! Someone tell Tucker County to make a Ski the Valley pass and I’ll be DONE!

Christina Skis Mid-Atlantic Mountains

To me, my favorite Mid-Atlantic mountain resorts are in the tri-state area, marked by Snowshoe in the south and Holiday Valley in the north. To get a full range, Whitetail is probably as far as I would drive myself for a day trip, even though I worked at sister resort Liberty Mountain. But with Roundtop, those three are really on the Harrisburg and DC side of PA. Plus, they’re all on the Epic Pass and I’m trying to get you a good deal.

As for the small guys, Tussey, Mystic Mountain and Boyce Park all in Pennsylvania – those are your best mountains to learn on, and I highly recommend them. However, this post is for season passers, the snow people who are already in love and can’t get enough.


Table Key

  • Pass X Payoff = how many times you have to ski or ride at the mountain to pay off your season pass, per weekend rates.
    *multi-packs are a good option if you don’t think you’ll go that much.
  • Regular Pass Rates Listed = any day, no blackouts, no discounts. Most mountains offer separate Jr/Sr or Military rates.
  • Buddy Tickets = usually mean 25-50% off lift tickets for a friend or family member, the same day you are there.
  • Swap Tickets = 1 free lift ticket and ticket discounts at… [See Full Details]
    • Resort Swap (7 Springs, Hidden Valley, Laurel Mountain, Wisp & Wintergreen)
    • Mountains of Distinction (Massachusetts: Jiminy Peak, Wachusett, New Hampshire: Cranmore, New York: Bristol Mountain, Holiday Valley, Ski Windham, Vermont: Bromley)
    • 3 days at Cooper Mountain in CO


PENNSYLVANIA RESORTS

HIGHLAND PASSSpring Pass PricePass X PayoffPerksOther Deals
Seven Springs,
Hidden Valley,
Laurel Mtn
ON SALE 2/27
$643
before May 1
7+ times8am Lift Access
March Buddy
Swap Tickets
Resort Discounts
Uphill! 7a-9a
Pass = $20
No-Pass =$50

Super 7 – $448
(lift tickets)
*There are no individual passes for the Highlands Resorts anymore. 
SKI AREASpring Pass PricePass X PayoffPerksOther Deals
Blue Knob
*ON INDY PASS!
TBD
($599 20-21)
TBDAny Resort SP =
$35 midwk lift tix.
TBD
Weird flex on the perks, but OK….
EPIC PASSSpring Pass PricePass X PayoffPerksOther Deals
Liberty Mountain,
Whitetail Resort, &
Roundtop Mountain
TBDTBDMega Pass?1-7 Day Options
Epic Pass is epically confusing. Plus, Vail doesn’t need my help – check them out if you’re interested here: EpicPass.com


MARYLAND RESORT

SKI AREASpring Pass PricePass X PayoffPerksOther Deals
Wisp ResortTBD
($399 20-21)
TBD8am Lift Access
4 Buddy Tickets
PGRI Resort Access
– Powderhorn, CO
– Ragged Mtn, NH
– Wintergreen, VA
– BC Canada Resort
Resort Discounts
4-Pack for $229


WEST VIRGINIA RESORTS

White Grass is a cross country ski area. While I highly enjoy the place ($20 for the day), I’m creating this for downhill season passes.

SKI AREASpring Pass PricePass X PayoffPerksOther Deals
Snowshoe (Ikon)
ON SALE 3/11
$429
Thru May 4
5 timesResort DiscountsSilver Creek
Pass – $199
Canaan Valley
*ON INDY PASS!
TBD
($600 20-21)
TBDNoneDiscount for
WV Resident
Timberline Mountain$359
by April 1
($389 July 1)
5 timesNoneNone
Perks and other deals subject to change closer to next season. This is Timberline’s 1st year back!
Unfortunately Snowshoe’s Ridiculous Pass super-deal has been discontinued.


WESTERN NEW YORK RESORTS

SKI AREASpring Pass PricePass X PayoffPerksOther Deals
Holiday Valley
ON SALE
$979
by April 30
12 timesEarly Lift Access
1 Private Lesson
4 Buddy Passes
Swap Tickets
Resort Discounts
Under 25
= $699

Ultimate
White Card

(9) 8-hr Tix
= $272
Peek’n PeakTBD
($499 20-21)
TBDTBDTBD


BONUS CONTENT! THE INDY PASS

#indyrevolution is is in everyone’s mouths right now, and for good reason. The Indy Pass is really good deal for 2 free lift tickets at 63 resorts all over the US, and they keep adding more. If the locations weren’t juuuust far away enough this would have already been in my pocket. Get Wisp on there and it’s mine!

This pass is all about the “core” skier and rider who doesn’t want lift lines and enjoys an authentic mountain vibe. Think hipster, that doesn’t know about White Grass yet. But I hate putting people in boxes. Just get the pass – it doesn’t matter if you’re the goth kid from highschool or Candide Thovex – you’re still going to enjoy it.

Mountains on the pass include Blue Knob (PA), Canaan Valley (WV), Winterplace (WV), Shawnee (PA), Massanutten (VA) and Bryce (VA). But hold up… JAY PEAK?! Come on!

Pass PriceHow it Works
TBD on 21-22, for an idea:
Indy+ Pass – $399 (no blackouts)
Indy Pass – $259 (with blackouts)
Spring Pass – $149 (March 1)
2 free lift tickets at each resort.
25% off daily rate after that.
No pass, just present photo ID.
Boom.

Did I miss one of your faves that you can get to with an easy drive? Do I need to add Ohio to my roundup of states?!?! Let me know in the comments. See you out there! ❄

The Art of Skiing Alone

The Art of Skiing Alone

It’s the middle of winter and I live in the middle of nowhere. I’ve moved around too many times to build relationships with other skiers and snowboarders as an adult. Sure, I had a crew at 12 and another at 22, but relationships ebb and flow. People get scared once they realize they can break bones, people get married, buy a house, have babies… all contributing factors that stop Sunday Fundays and end frivolous spending. Even my husband doesn’t ski, so it’s just me.

the night before

Late Friday night, I obsessively check the weather in the dark to make sure the roads will be OK. I’m not a great driver but the Subaru saves me enough. Rain Thursday mixing to snow, which ends by 10 pm. We won’t even get an inch of white stuff, and the roads will be bad regardless. There’s enough time for a plow to go through, though, and it’s all snow at the mountain when you take away 10 degrees. The sun icon on my weather app is steady from Saturday morning into Sunday evening and my timing is perfect. I’ll be able to snake down the road in the early morning and head to the mountains before dawn on the first day of the weekend. I set my alarm and roll over to sleep.

I dream of skiing midweek.

5 am blares into my ears, and my dreams are short lived. I lay there, wondering why I do this to myself. In dim light I rake a comb through my hair. I attempt two braids a few times–ok maybe just one braid, then–so I won’t have knots by Sunday. My favorite socks and base layers go on like an extension of my pajamas. Hat on now. Season pass around my neck. Snow pants and mid-layer on later. I make sure I have extra socks and layers in the Rubbermaid storage bin with my helmet and gloves.

My luggage is packed.

There’s no way I’m cooking breakfast right now, because my eyes are still half-closed. I’ll stop at Sheetz, maybe get a coffee. It’ll be an hour or so before I see one. I fill up the largest water bottle I can find. I make a sandwich with what lunchmeat is left in the fridge and search for snacks and a piece of fruit. I stick 3 cheap beer cans in the bottom of my oversized cooler lunchbox, telling myself they’ll work like ice packs, and stick the sandwich on top. An apple. An almost empty bag of Doritos. This’ll do. In the garage I put down a back seat so my skis can be a passenger. It’s 6 in the morning and if I leave now, I’ll park just in time to get my boots and helmet on for first chair at 9 am.

the drive

Everything’s in the car–wait, no. I forgot my phone. I have to pee.

I don’t have to get first chair. Well, first run because Snowshoe “starts at the top.” The place shows off one of the best sunrises I’ve ever seen, and I’ll bask in its glory Sunday morning. The car starts. I drive for miles with the radio cackling. The sun peaks over ridges as the winding roads present perfectly old barns set in valleys and foothills. Sheep. Cows. Brilliant pinks and oranges against a grey barn with a broken door. I always consider pulling over to take a photo, but what if they’re looking?

I’m driving too fast. I hit rumble strips as I stare out the window.

the mountain: saturday

A little more than 2 hours pass. Finally the sign with the white rabbit hops into view. Turn left and drive up, back and forth on switchbacks and coast through the resort. I’m finally parked at the “Top of the World” and hop out with gusto but regret it. I wince as the bitter, frozen wind hits me and scramble for my winter coat. I didn’t account for this. I balance on one foot as I take off a shoe and trade it for Ski Boot #1. Repeat the same for #2. I’m almost there. My hands are frozen as I maneuver layers on and thunk a helmet onto my head, goggles attached. Mask up, mittens on, I’m ready.

The snow, groomed into lines of corduroy, sparkle in the sun. I’m warm again.

A powder day is rare in the Mid-Atlantic. It’s too south for feet of snow, but north enough for the rain to freeze. Here, it’s a celebration when there’s no ice to skid over. And today, there’s no ice to skid over. I laugh. I whoop out loud to myself as pieces of hair whip around my helmet. That braid didn’t do much. First run and I’m flying with every transition of a turn. People should express themselves like this, I think.

But I’m the annoying neighbor. Yeeeeeeew!!!

In another year, I ride the lift and talk to people. If I read them right, I make fast friends and lose them even faster. We laugh and joke, and talk about how nice of a day it is. Go through the Where Are You Froms and How Far Is Thats. Oh, you bought a place here and fixed it up? Oh, the kids are skiing with your wife today? Oh, you’ve been coming here since the 70’s? Nice beard! Enjoy your day! You too.

Lunch is a tailgate in the parking lot. I sit in the car to de-thaw and eat my sandwich. The kids next to me have a cooler out and a leftover pizza box. Music from bluetooth speakers, here, there, a few rows down. Someone offers me a beer. Thanks.

We high-five, and then I’m back out.

après-ski

The slopes close at 4 as the sun begins to dip below the mountains, and I drive down a back road through an antique company logging town, whitewashed until you get to the train tracks. It’s only 15 minutes away. I’m not renting an Air BnB with friends. I’m not splitting a lodge on the mountain four ways. I’m being efficient, even if I have to check for bedbugs. There’s none. This place is the cheapest, cleanest room around. And they’ve got good pizza in the gift shop.

I found a review before I booked.

The cook stands at the table with me while my pizza order goes through the oven. He tells me about his oil and gas job. He mentions that his dog’s in the car. He asks where I’m from and if I want to eat my pizza here or to-go. To-go, please. I’ve got… people back in the room. I head to my room with my pizza box and he’s put a ridiculous amount of cheese on the pie and quite frankly I’m very happy about it. I can’t turn the TV on. There’s almost no wifi left to share. I hear the occupants in the neighboring room complain when they can’t watch videos on their phone.

Candy Crush offline it is. I fall asleep at 8.

the mountain: sunday

6 am wakes me up without an alarm. “Sun rises at 7, Christina, let’s go.” I rush, which is nothing new in the mornings. I don’t really have to do much as it was cold in the room and I slept in my base layers. With no one around, what’s the point of changing? I do put on new socks, though–that is a necessity. I go to the bottom of the mountain for breakfast on Route 66. A family sits at one table and 3 grey-haired men in snow pants sit at the other. I order egg, bacon, cheese on a bagel and sausage gravy slathered over a biscuit, all under $10. I paid $109 for the same thing and 3 screwdrivers in Aspen. I’ll take these prices any day.

I ski laps again.

This morning my legs groan because I was having too much fun the day before. My music lasted almost the whole day and I took my time riding each slope and memorizing chairlift locations for when I come back next time. Today, I’ll head home early before the snowstorm hits. The weather app changed the start time to 1. I’ll be stuck here, although I wouldn’t mind it. It’s 10 am, I’ll leave around 11. I refuse to call, “last run,” especially alone.

The sun beats down on me in the lift line, cutting out the cold wind from yesterday.

A woman asks if she could ride up with me. We talk about how she’s been coming here with friends for years, and her trips out west with family. We laugh about how it can be hard to find lodging, and she once booked a studio cabin with an outhouse just to be here. We part ways at the top only to find each other again at the bottom. We ski the same speed. My blue jacket must stick out. We ride together once more and talk about West Virginia, how beautiful and under appreciated it is. I think about skiing with her again, but it’s time to go.

We part ways for good this time. I’m tired.

the drive home

I drive home through the same ridges and past the same old barns and even stop again at a Sheetz to gas up. My dog and my husband are waiting at home. I’ll make dinner. It’s a good weekend, I think to myself. I found new places to stay, good food, and great conversation. I can’t wait to go back.

And I was never really alone.