What: Yellowstone National Park, the crown jewel of the U.S. National Park Service, in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
How to Get There: There are five entrances to Yellowstone from all directions. We entered from the east, taking US 20 from Cody, and exited to the south on US 287 (an added benefit is that US 287 runs directly to Grand Teton National Park, which lies immediately south of Yellowstone).
Best Kept Secret: When you leave Yellowstone National Park on US 287, stop at the Flagg Ranch just outside the south entrance. Their elk chili is amazing!
Avoid: The winter months, arriving late in the morning (the traffic is heavy), leaving without checking the weather first, and traveling there without cold weather gear. Stay away from the wildlife. The bison, bear and other large animals are not Disney characters!
More Info: National Park Service
More Photos: CSC Blog
Nestled high in western Wyoming, spanning the Continental Divide and spilling over into Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone National Park is the crown jewel of the U.S. National Park System. Declared the first national park in 1872, Yellowstone set in motion the national park concept for the U.S. and the rest of the world. I’ve been to many national parks in the U.S. and other countries; without question, 2.2-million-acre Yellowstone stands at the pinnacle. Yellowstone’s combination of beauty, geological oddities, wildlife and size makes it a magical place.
Yellowstone remains geologically active to this day. Steam from deep in the earth punctuates forests, lakes, meadows and mountains. A deep sulfur aroma permeates much of the place. Mud ponds, hot springs and geysers add to the effect. Riding through Yellowstone is surreal. You’ll see and smell sulfur-laden steam rising from the ground throughout the park. In many ways, a motorcycle ride through Yellowstone is like riding through the set of a superbly scenic science fiction movie. The feeling is heightened by the effects of a massive fire that swept through Yellowstone in 1988, eventually affecting 36 percent of the park. The burned areas are recovering well, with bare trees emerging from scorched ground alongside fresh growth. It makes for interesting scenes and great photo opportunities.
Yellowstone holds the world’s largest concentration of geysers, and of these, Old Faithful is the most famous. Old Faithful is named not so much for its punctuality as its predictability (it erupts roughly every 60 to 90 minutes, throwing thousands of gallons of boiling water a hundred feet or more into the air). It’s an amazing natural event, and one that deserves a spot on your bucket list.
A ride through Yellowstone takes you up to well over 8,000 feet, and even in the summer months it can get mighty cold up there early in the morning. The day I rode through Yellowstone it was only 3 degrees above freezing, and that was in July. On days like that, you can simultaneously see geologic steam emerging from the earth and in front of your face as you breathe.
Wildlife abounds in Yellowstone, including grizzlies, black bears, mule deer, antelope, bison, bighorn sheep, coyote, elk and, since 1995, wolves. It’s not unusual to see several of these species in a single day. None are fenced and none should be approached. On that 35 degree morning mentioned above, I didn’t notice a locomotive-sized dark shape to my immediate right — until I was directly alongside it. When I did take notice, I was shocked. I had passed within 10 feet of the largest bison I’ve ever seen. The locomotive analogy is a good one; the big buffalo exhaled as I rolled by on my 250 and the clouds escaping from its nostrils looked like steam from a locomotive. Yellowstone is that kind of place.
After the last eruption some 640,000 years ago, an ice blanket covered Yellowstone for several hundred thousand years. Then the glaciers receded, leaving behind sediments that supported grasses, trees and other plant life. That brought animals and, about 13,000 years ago, people. Not much is known about the earliest human inhabitants, and active archeological investigations are underway to learn more. We know that Crow and Sioux Native Americans entered the area from the 1500s to the 1700s, and they were followed by the Shoshone. U.S. explorers first entered the region in the early 1800s. Greater public access occurred when the railroad reached Yellowstone in 1883, and roads opened travel to automobiles (and presumably, motorcycles) in 1915. — Joe Berk