Resuming writing about our trip out west, the following morning (this is now June 15) we got a fairly early start to head out to Yellowstone. However, getting a campsite in Yellowstone is a real challenge.
So we had a strategy.
Everything I’d read about camping in Yellowstone said that the campgrounds usually filled up by (or before) 9:00. That’s 9:00 in the morning. Many of the campgrounds are run by a vendor and you can get reservations . . . if you have the foresight to get them well in advance.
We hadn’t solidified our plans while back home early enough to do that.
So we had to go with trying to arrive early enough in the morning to catch a site shortly after somebody else headed out.
The Badlands is about 8 hours away from the east side of Yellowstone, so our strategy was to camp in the Shoshone National Forest a bit out of Yellowstone, and then head in early the next morning.
You hit the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming, and with that the mountain passes. We went over the Bighorn Mountains near Burgess Junction, at an elevation of 9,430 feet.
That elevation in June means lingering snow. Who can resist a picture?
Who can resist a picture in the snow barefooted? I certainly couldn’t.
We then camped in Dead Indian Campground outside Yellowstone. I was concerned that everybody going to Yellowstone would have adopted the same strategy, so I thought the campground might be filled by the time we got there.
But it wasn’t. There was one other camper, far, far away from us.
That evening it rained cats and dogs. And we discovered that our Coleman “WeatherTec™” special inverted seams were not as rainproof as advertised. I guess that’s what umbrellas are for.
The next morning we were up bright and early (sunrise around 5:30am). We hit the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone by 7:00am. There wasn’t even anybody staffing the gate yet, so we got in free. (That didn’t matter. You are supposed to then pay inside the park. But in our case, we also had a yearly pass.) The sign at the entrance said that most campgrounds were full. But not the one we were headed for, Tower Fall.
Here’s a map (click for full size) of Yellowstone. As I said, we came in at the Northeast Entrance and headed for the Tower Fall Campground near that first intersection.
It worked out perfectly. When we got there (a little after 8:00am), there were 3 empty sites and we got a perfect one, with Tower Creek right below us generating white noise for sleeping. I also have to add that the campground host (Deanna, if I got her name correctly) was really, really good and shepherding people in and out of the campground. She kept track of who was coming and going and what sites would be available. She made things really easy.
It didn’t take us too long to get set up, so then we headed out to do the touristy thing. Mostly on this trip we intended to do day hikes away from most tourists if possible. But for a first day, heading over to the massively crowded Mammoth Hot Springs was okay. But somehow we managed not to take any pictures.
So let me pull up just a few from 9 years ago, when my sons and I went to Yellowstone along with their Boy Scout troop.
This is the troop getting out of the tour bus at Mammoth Hot Springs.
You ought to be able to spot me barefoot back then.
Here’s a classic look at part of the Hot Springs.
It is, though, a more-or-less generic picture. You can find a zillion similar ones online. Or, you can even see live shots if you look at the Yellowstone webcams.
Here is one more picture from back then. With the Scouts, after viewing Mammoth Hot Springs, a group of us went hiking past the Hoodoos. On the way back, near the base of Clagett Butte, we had a nice overlook of the Hot Springs, which you can see in the distance below. (The Hot Springs are the clear areas, since the heat kills any vegetation.)
Here’s a closer look at the Tower Fall area. After Mammoth Hot Springs, my son and I wanted to do a get-away-from-people hike.
There was a relatively short hike available from the picnic area near Tower-Roosevelt, so we decided to do that.
Along the way, we had a spectator.
The trail itself started at the Yellowstone Picnic Area, which sits right at the tail end of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
The Picnic Area is marked with the blue dot. We walked along the road to pick up the Specimen Ridge Trail, headed up it, and then walked along the ridge above the river back to the Picnic Area. (The Yellowstone River flows south to north here.) (You can also see the campground at the bottom.)
We stopped for pictures at the top of the ridge. Here’s my son as we look south up the Yellowstone River as it emerges from the canyon.
And here I am at the same place.
You can see that the sky was a bit threatening.
On our way back down the ridge it started to rain (yes, we had rain gear with us), and then it started to hail, with maybe quarter-inch balls.
By this time, most sensible people had cleared out (we’d met a few people on the trail, but it was nothing like Mammoth Hot Springs) so we were pretty much alone on the ridge with the rain and the wind.
But then, there was a couple headed towards us. All I could do was greet them. I raised my hand with an open palm, and said, “Hail!”