Shh! Secret Places in Yellowstone for an Intimate Experience
Check out these under-the-radar alternatives for a more serene and solitary experience
Pssst. We’re here to share some secrets that are certain to enhance your next trip to Yellowstone National Park.
Though the park gets 4.1 million visits annually, some estimates say a mere one in 10 visitors ventures more than a half mile off its roadways. And with 2.2 million acres of wilderness, that means there’s plenty of room to get away from it all.
Even in peak summer, finding a place of your own is simply a matter of getting out of the car and taking the path less traveled. Granted, most visitors — especially first-timers — won’t want to miss Yellowstone’s most iconic sites. But after you’ve seen them, consider these under-the-radar alternatives for a more serene and solitary experience. Before you go, brush up on bear safety tips.
Old Faithful Alternative: Shoshone Geyser Basin
Yes, Old Faithful gets all the fanfare. But with 500 or so geothermal features, Shoshone ranks as the park’s largest backcountry geyser basin. Its most direct route is via the 8.5-mile Shoshone Lake Trail. The moderate, lightly traveled path leads to active geysers and colorful hot springs and pools. Plan for a day-long hike, or reserve a lakeside campsite.
Hayden Valley Alternative: Lamar Valley
As part of what’s been dubbed the Serengeti of North America, both valleys are nirvana for wildlife watchers. But with its non-central location in the park’s northeastern corner, the Lamar Valley sees less human traffic. Bison, elk, pronghorn, and other large mammals abound, however. Lamar is also Ground Zero for avid wolf watchers, who flock here to spot the elusive creatures that were re-introduced into Yellowstone in 1995.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone Alternative: Mount Washburn
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone may be well known as the most spectacular sight in Yellowstone. But the Mount Washburn Trail, among the park’s most popular day hikes, offers a less-populated way to see it. The views on the trek up include stunning vistas of the popular Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Vistas from its 10,243-foot summit stretch 20 to 50 miles. Two paths ascend the mountain: One starts at the Dunraven Pass Trailhead (6.2 miles round trip) and the other, at the Chittenden Road parking area (5 miles round trip). Watch for bighorn sheep along the way.
Grand Prismatic Spring Boardwalk Alternative: Fairy Falls Trail
With its shimmering deep blue and orange hues, Grand Prismatic Spring is a top Yellowstone draw. And foot traffic on its expansive boardwalk reflects that popularity. For a more serene experience seek out the Fairy Falls Trail. There’s a small parking area near the trailhead and a half-mile trek leads to a viewing platform offering aerial views of the spring and the Midway Geyser Basin.
Yellowstone Lake North Shore Alternative: West Thumb
There’s plenty of shoreline (110 miles) surrounding the park’s largest body of water, which covers 136 square miles. And while Lake Village, the Fishing Bridge, and Bridge Bay Marina on Yellowstone Lake’s north shore are certainly worth visiting, the lake’s West Thumb area, named for its appendage-like shape, sports its own namesake geyser basin. A short trail leads to the shore, with views of Abyss Pool, Yellowstone’s deepest hydrothermal pool. Other features in the region include fumaroles, paint pots, springs, and, naturally, geysers.
Washington, DC-based freelance writer Jayne Clark has been a travel reporter at USA TODAY and several other daily newspapers.
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