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News you can use about traveling to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming with kids or friends.

Picnics in the Park

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flying pelican over Yellowstone River

American white pelican spotted over the Yellowstone River on May 17, 2020

All entrance roads opened on June 1. So you may be thinking of a visit, but it’s best to do your homework. For the time being, perhaps the whole summer season, there is no sit-down dining anywhere within the park. Instead, you should stock up on supplies at one of the gateway towns (such as West Yellowstone or Gardiner, Montana, or Cody or Jackson, Wyoming). Check in advance; some stores, such as Gardiner Market, will even do curbside pickup. Or buy grab-and-go meals in Yellowstone National Park. Some facilities are already open at Mammoth and Old Faithful Villages. The general stores at Mammoth and Fishing Bridge open tomorrow, June 5. On June 19, the eatery at Canyon Village will open. See this helpful “Operating Hours and Seasons” page on the official NPS website for all the details to help you in planning. And we’d love to hear from you in the comments how these new meal solutions are working for you.

Where will you take the picnic you bring or purchase? Yellowstone Treasures contains descriptions of all the picnic areas in the park. Some of our favorites are those along the Madison River, at Bridge Bay Marina, and at Gibbon Falls. Just be sure to keep your distance from the other visitors. See more about picnics in “Anyone for a Picnic?” by author Janet Chapple.

By the way, spring is a great time to see baby animals and for bird watching. Some of the birds recently seen include the American white pelican, the bald eagle, the osprey, the kildeer, the yellow warbler, and the dusky grouse. Our nugget called “Yellowstone for Birders” tells you where to see these and more. In the picnic areas you are most likely to see ravens, Clark’s nutcrackers, and gray jays, also known as camp robbers!

Photo credit: NPS / Jacob W Frank, May 17, 2020

Phased reopening

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Cow elk with calf

Roads in the lower loop of Yellowstone National Park opened to the public at noon yesterday. Certain restrooms and gas stations also opened up. That means people can drive through the East and South Entrances (from Cody and Jackson, Wyoming), but the popular North and West Entrances are closed.

Keep in mind that the restrictions may seriously hamper any trip you are planning. Please peruse the chart on the NPS “Current Conditions” page carefully. Lodge rooms and sit-down dining will not open in all of 2020; cabins and grab-and-go eating or picnics will be the way to go. It’s possible to try to reserve cabins at Old Faithful starting on June 8, or at Lake or Canyon starting on June 17 or 19, respectively. Camping is possible at Madison from June 15th, as well as in other campgrounds.

This being Yellowstone, the warning out today is look out for those aggressive cow elk!

ALSO, today Gov. Bullock of Montana announced that the state will move to phase two of reopening on June 1. The good news is that “the 14-day travel quarantine for out-of-state travelers and residents arriving from another state or country to Montana for non-work-related purposes will be lifted” on that date. And restaurants can reopen at 75% capacity with social distancing. But the bad news for travelers is that for phase two they still have the same guidelines to minimize nonessential travel. In particular they warn that vulnerable populations and the elderly should continue to stay home.

This year, careful planning and accepting that you can’t just get in your car and go are more important than ever.

Photo credit: NPS/Jacob W. Frank

Keep calm and read on with IPG’s book sale

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IPG Book Sale through May Update May 15, 2020: Today is the official print publication date of the Yellowstone Treasures, updated sixth edition! Because IPG has extended this sale I announced in April through the end of May, you can get the 30% discount off a brand-new book! Enjoy.

We sympathize with what you’re going through, whether you’re sheltering in place or working at an essential job in these risky times. So we’re happy to report that our distributor, Independent Publishers Group, has a 30% off sale on all orders via their website through April 2020. Use the code KEEPCALMANDREADON to get the discount on any of our books on IPG’s store as well as their wide selection, from children’s activities to cookbooks to escapist fiction. IPG supplies you with print or e-books, whichever you prefer.

Our books [link to IPG’s store] work as escapist armchair travel, but with a practical bent, since you can apply what you learn to a future trip. Become the tour guide for your family or other group! As Janet Jones, the cover photographer for the new edition of Yellowstone Treasures wrote me recently:

Yellowstone Treasures is a great way to virtually visit the place Yellowstone fans love.

Yellowstone is closed until further notice

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Were you, as we were, planning a trip to the park this summer? The COVID-19 outbreak means we all need to practice social (physical) distancing, which now means a need to cancel those travel plans. Last week, concessionaire Xanterra announced they are suspending their operations (lodging, campgrounds, dining, and tours) through May 21 (see https://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/coronavirus/). Yesterday, the National Park Service made the unusual but prudent decision in tandem with gateway county health departments that they have to follow suit. NPS closed both Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park to visitors until further notice. To quote from the news release: “There will be no visitor access permitted to either park. State highways and/or roads that transcend park/state boundaries and facilities that support life safety and commerce will remain open.” So one thing that is not clear at the moment is what happens to travel on the Northern Range road between Gardiner and Silver Gate. Another question no one can answer yet is, When will the parks be able to reopen?

Please stay tuned to this website, because we will soon have news about the guidebook and a short-term sale. On Friday we announced the publication date for the sixth edition of Yellowstone Treasures on our Media Kit. For now, the best advice is stay home, stay healthy!

Consider spring cycling

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spring cycling Yellowstone

Spring biking with bear spray at Silver Gate (The Hoodoos), March 29, 2017


Updated March 25, 2020: This post should be renamed “Consider spring cycling another year instead.” Xanterra has closed all park facilities through May 21st at least, and as of yesterday, the National Park Service closed both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks until further notice. More in the next post. For nostalgia value and future planning, we will still leave this post up!


Doesn’t this picture inspire you to get outside (well prepared for encountering cold and bears) in Yellowstone National Park this spring? Before the first roads open up again for public travel comes the spring shoulder season for cycling. Here is what our guidebook Yellowstone Treasures has to say about the road you see in the photo, which is about 4 miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs on the Mammoth to Norris Road:

3.7/17.3 The Hoodoos (or Silver Gate) one-way road. Go slowly to find and take the very short, unmarked loop road to the west—a remnant of the 1899 stagecoach road. Park here to look closely at some unusual rocks.

The massive, topsy-turvy blocks of silvery, gray-white travertine, strewn about so haphazardly, are the result of a large landslide from the slopes of Terrace Mountain to the west. No one knows when the boulders slid here. These boulders are not the same as the hoodoos you can see near the park’s East Entrance (see “What’s a Hoodoo?” on page 154). The other official name for this place, Silver Gate, is actually more appropriate.

The Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris road, the northwest segment of the Grand Loop Road (see map), closed to oversnow travel this year on Sunday, March 1st. The planned reopening date for cars for this road and out to the West Entrance is April 17th. So that means that for about two weeks before that, bicycles, including e-bikes, are allowed on certain roads! (They are never allowed on park trails.)

The following road segments may be opened to bicycling each spring:

  • Mammoth Hot Springs to the West Entrance
  • East Entrance to the east side of Sylvan Pass (six miles from the entrance)
  • South Entrance to West Thumb

Keep in mind, though, as NPS says: “Roads will not be free of cars during these times: bicyclists will encounter employees, contractors, plows, and other administrative vehicles on the roads.” You’ll need a helmet and high-visibility clothing. You’ll also want to do your research in advance; Camping for bicyclists is limited to the developed campgrounds located throughout the park. See the park’s Spring & Fall Bicycling and Bike in the Park pages for more.

Credits: Photo by NPS/Jacob W. Frank, in the public domain (see Yellowstone National Park’s Flickr page for more wonderful photos!). Road log section quoted from p. 269 of the 6th edition of Yellowstone Treasures, due out this May.

An unusual geyser basin closure

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Steamboat Geyser runoff

Click for a larger image.

A heads-up for anyone traveling to Yellowstone this week: Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone closed on Monday October 7, 2019, to all visitors. The area closure includes the entire basin, entrance road, parking lot, and Norris Geyser Basin Museum. (The Norris Campground and the Museum of the National Park Ranger already closed for the season in September.) The closure is for paving at the junction. The announced closure is for just two days, but weather and other factors could easily extend it.

This picture shows how Steamboat Geyser’s runoff looks during a minor eruption. According to Geysertimes.org, it’s been six days since the last major eruption of Steamboat Geyser, so it’s well within the expected window for its next one. So that is annoying to geyser gazers, but of course this is one of the last possible weeks to do any construction before the winter snows come.

The photo of Steamboat Geyser’s prodigious runoff channel, Norris Geyser Basin, was taken by Beth Chapple on June 28, 2019.

Spring is in the air

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overview map of Yellowstone

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As the snow starts to melt, the roads in Yellowstone National Park will be plowed and cleared in readiness for letting cars and trucks back in. (Of course, the road from the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana, through the park to Cooke City, Montana is open all year. But notice that travel east of Cooke City via the Beartooth Highway is not possible from late fall to late spring.) Here are dates to use in your planning this spring.

2019 Winter Closing Dates

Roads will close to oversnow travel by snowmobile and snowcoach at 9 pm on the following dates:

  • March 1: East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass)
  • March 3: Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris
  • March 5: Norris to Madison, Norris to Canyon Village
  • March 10: Canyon Village to Fishing Bridge
  • March 15: All remaining groomed roads close.

2019 Spring Opening Dates

Conditions permitting, roads will open to regular (public) vehicles at 8 am on the following dates:

  • April 19: West Entrance to Madison Junction, Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful, Norris to Canyon Village.
  • May 3: East Entrance to Lake Village (Sylvan Pass), Canyon Village to Lake Village.
  • May 10: South Entrance to West Thumb, Lake Village to West Thumb, West Thumb to Old Faithful (Craig Pass), Tower Junction to Tower Fall.
  • May 24: Tower Fall to Canyon Village (Dunraven Pass)
  • May 24: Beartooth Highway

Credits: The image is the overview map on pages 1-2 of Yellowstone Treasures. The helpful National Park Service Park Roads page provides the dates listed here and a live road map you can use to find out which roads you can drive on today.

This summer in Yellowstone National Park

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Recently we had an email conversation with a reader who wrote in via our contact form. With his permission, we are reproducing it here, lightly edited. You may find it helpful when planning your own trip.

1937 Yellowstone Bus Everett Washington

1937 Yellow bus from Yellowstone Park, on display at Historic Flight Foundation, Everett, Washington

July 23, 2018
Hi Janet,

I am reading your book Yellowstone Treasures. It’s very nicely written and packed with tons of information. Thank you from a first-time visitor like me.

I will be traveling for the first time to the park in the first week of August with my family and friends. The location we chose to stay in that was affordable is outside the west side of the park. I am coming over from Canada.

I will be staying for five days. Is this time enough? I have divided the park in 4 segments, and each day I will be entering the park from the west. Is this approach right? What are some of the things that I must absolutely need to know? Does the park have wheelchair facilities? My friends’ parents are in their 80’s and won’t be able to do long walks. Does the park have rentals for golf-cart-type vehicles?

I will really appreciate your guidance and help. Thank you in advance for your response.

Warm regards,
Sameer


Recommended Walks in Yellowstone July 26, 2018
Dear Sameer,

Thank you for your kind comments about the guidebook. I put your questions to the author, Janet, and she asked me to write back to you.

There is never time enough to see everything, unless you stay all summer! However, the most essential sights are on Yellowstone’s west side. Be sure to allow one or two days for the area between Norris Geyser Basin and the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, where there are so many fabulous thermal features to stop for. “My other personal favorites are the Mammoth Hot Springs area and the Lamar Valley,” says Janet. Don’t try to see everything since you need to allow time for travel and meals. Rather than seeing all your four segments, maybe choose two or three? If you do want to see the east or south sides of the park, look for lodging in Cody or Dubois, Wyoming, since those can be cheaper than lodging in the park or Jackson.

You will be in the park at its busiest time, so expect bumper-to-bumper traffic on some of the roads. If you can start very early in the mornings, you will do yourselves a favor. It’s always a good idea to check the official NPS Park Roads page the map showing current road status and for the closing dates of various roads. Another way to beat the crowds is to bring picnic food and drinks in a cooler for your lunches and snacks. Yellowstone Treasures tells you about the picnic areas.

You also asked if the park has wheelchair facilities and if the park has rentals for golf carts. The visitor centers at Old Faithful, Canyon, and Mammoth will loan you wheelchairs, or you can rent them at the medical clinics (Old Faithful, Mammoth, and Lake). See the NPS Wheelchairs & Mobility page for more information. But there are no golf-cart vehicles. One of the most rewarding short walks is around Black Sand Basin, the nearest short side road to Old Faithful Village, and of course Yellowstone Treasures has a list of more short walks on pages 366-68. And be sure to check the guidebook’s maps for the wheelchair symbol on trails and restrooms.

Another option to look at for your friends’ parents is one of the many yellow bus tours (see Xanterra’s Land Adventures page).

Enjoy your trip!
Beth Chapple

Editor and Publisher
Granite Peak Publications

Separate entrance fees for the two national parks

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View of Mount Moran with balsamroot wildflowers in Grand Teton National Park


After the proposal to raise the admission cost for Yellowstone and other US national parks (see the blog post on “Proposed fee changes for national parks”) was met with outrage, the raise was made somewhat more reasonable, but with one big change. You used to be able to get into both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks with one fee for a week, but the combined seven-day entrance pass to the two neighboring national parks ended on May 31.

As of June 1, here are the costs for a seven-day entrance pass for each park.
o Private, non-commercial vehicle, $35
o Motorcycle, $30
o Individual (by foot, bicycle, etc.), $20

Depending on your plans, it may make sense for you to buy the annual pass for Yellowstone at $70 or the annual pass for all federal lands for $80. And if you have a fourth grader in your family or you are a US citizen or permanent resident over the age of 62 you have even better passes available to you. For more information, visit the Fees & Passes page on the NPS website.

–Beth Chapple, Editor and Publisher

Credit: Photo by Beth Chapple, June 20, 2017.

Here is my answer to the 6/11/18 question on the Quora website: What are some sights to see in two days at Yellowstone National Park? (BTW, Two days is not nearly enough for a place as large as Yellowstone.)

Grand Prismatic Spring, the same one that is featured on the cover of “Through Early Yellowstone”


The century-long-and-then-some favorites are the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River with its two great waterfalls and Old Faithful Geyser. But before or after the always-predictable Old Faithful eruption take the Geyser Hill walk with or without an interpretive ranger and enjoy lovely hot springs and the possibility of other geysers going off. The other most remarkable sight near Old Faithful (a few miles north of it) is Midway Geyser Basin, but you *must* get there early or late in the day to find parking.

Be ready to stop as you drive between these major attractions, since there are pleasant surprises (sometimes including wildlife) all along the roads.

Photo credit: Grand Prismatic Spring in Midway Geyser Basin, taken by Bruno Giletti, can be seen on page 65 of Yellowstone Treasures, updated fifth edition.