testing: Xanterra Suggests Top 10 Yellowstone Adventures

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May 27th, 2009

With 2.2 million acres, Yellowstone National Park provides a lot of room for adventurers, no matter what their interest or ability. Adventures range from highly personal experiences, like listening to the howl of a wolf in the early-morning pre-sun quiet to incredibly physical activities such as backpacking into the Thorofare, the most remote geographic area in the lower 48 states. But no matter what the adventure, visitors will find none that are common since there is no place on Earth quite like Yellowstone.

Employees of Xanterra Parks & Resorts, operator of the lodges, restaurants and other concessions in the park, are not only experts on places to go and things to do throughout the park, but they are also adventurers themselves. Off-hours entertainment could be a three-day backpacking trip or a quiet day of fly-fishing in one of the park’s many trout-rich streams and rivers. Here are some of their favorite adventures, compiled below in “top 10” format, ranked from the easiest to the toughest physical experience.

1. Wake up before the critters. Get up before the sun and hightail it out to Lamar Valley to watch the sun rise and listen to the sounds of the world’s first national park greeting the morning. If you are lucky, you might hear the howl of a wolf, possible the wildest sound in North America. Sunset is also a great time to look for wildlife in the valley, often called the “American Serengeti” because of the abundance and diversity of wildlife. Go on your own or join a Xanterra tour such as “Nature of the Northern Range.”

2. Soak in the Boiling River, the only hot spring in the park where it is legal to bathe. A large hot spring enters the Gardner River, creating a steamy pool along the river’s edge where bathers can soak in bubbling warm water. Bathing suits are required, and visitors should be prepared for a half-mile walk from the parking area to the hot spring.

3. Photograph the valleys, mountains, mammals, birds, waterfalls, geysers, rivers, hot springs, mudpots, historic buildings, wildflowers, firescapes and people in the park. Visitors who run out of things to photograph are not looking very hard. For travelers who enjoy the camaraderie of other photographers, Xanterra offers daily “Picture Perfect Photo Safaris.”

4. Walk Norris Geyser Basin. This area is home to the some of the hottest and most acidic geysers in the world. The acid killed most of the lodgepole pines in the area, creating a barren, other-worldly-looking place that many find more interesting than even the famous Upper Geyser Basin featuring Old Faithful geyser. A series of boardwalks – some quite steep – circle the bubbling, mysterious and malodorous hot springs and geysers. Several Yellowstone tours included an extended stop at this popular area.

5. Hike to the Mount Washburn Fire Overlook. Considered by some employees to be the park’s best short hike, the three-mile trail from the Chittenden Road parking lot to the overlook is only 1,000 feet elevation gain. From the summit, hikers can see many park features, including the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone Lake and even the Grand Teton mountain range.

6. Cast for trout. There are more than 200 streams and rivers in Yellowstone, and many of them have abundant population of wild, stream-bred cutthroat, rainbow, brown and brook trout. Xanterra guides can suggest the best streams for fishing at various times of the year. Xanterra offers a full-day private fishing guide service.
7. Bicycle along the Blacktail Plateau Drive to the park’s Petrified Tree. Offering stunning scenery, this road is one of two in the park that allows two-way bike traffic and one-way car traffic. Mountain bikes are recommended. Bicycles can be rented at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Cyclists hoping to explore the Blacktail Plateau Drive should provide their own bikes or be prepared to transport rented bicycles in their vehicles as the lodge does not provide bike racks.

8. Saddle up and take a two-hour horseback ride in the Roosevelt area of the park. The guided trail ride heads up a wooded hill behind the corral and meanders through and around sagebrush flats, meadows, canyons, lakes and valleys. Horseback rides are also offered at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and the Canyon Lodge.

9. Paddle Yellowstone Lake in a canoe or kayak. Kayaking Yellowstone Lake was named the second of the “50 Best American Adventures” by National Geographic Adventure magazine. Xanterra provides a one-way or roundtrip backcountry shuttle service with five drop-off points for travelers, their gear and boats. Self-sufficient campers/paddlers can explore some of the most secluded areas of the park.

10. Hike to the most remote spot in the lower 48 states – the Thorofare region. Researchers determined the area’s designation because it is at least 20 miles from a road in all directions. Over the course of several days, backpackers are treated to the abundance of Yellowstone – wildlife, rivers, valleys, forest, thermal features and solitude. Travelers with limited time can eliminate the multi-day hike to get to the region by arranging to be dropped off and/or picked up at a location near the region by Xanterra’s Backcountry Shuttle Service.

Reservations at Yellowstone can be made by calling (1) 307-344-7311 or toll-free 866-GEYSERLAND (866-439-7375).