Hey again everyone! Here is the second installment of the virtual Yellowstone road trip/guide! Here, you’ll learn about every little thing to see and do in Yellowstone National Park.
This post will cover the stretch of the Grand Loop road between Mammoth Hot Springs village and Norris Geyser Basin village that takes visitors through the gorgeous Swan Lake Flats and along the Gallatin mountain range. While the villages are hot spots for things to see, the Grand Loop road of Yellowstone has no shortage of natural and geothermal phenomena all along the way. The numerous pull-offs along this stretch of road will introduce you to some fantastic hiking trails, stunning rock formations, roaring mountains, and serene lakes.
When driving through the gold-colored canyons of North Yellowstone, you’ll cross a historic section of road called Golden Gate. This is another great piece of Yellowstone history, as it contains sections of the original roads through Yellowstone as it winds along the Glenn river. There’s also pull-off where you can enjoy sweeping views over the valley as well as Rustic falls.
1. Bunsen Peak
The Bunsen Peak trail comprises a path through pine forests followed by a set of switchbacks (winding sections of trail that gain altitude quickly) to the top of its titular mountain. Even though its only about 2.2 miles to the top, it gets quite steep for the last 0.5 mile. There’s a little shack at the top for resting and celebrating your victory over this trail. At the top, you’ll get to revel in the fact that you’ve conquered one of the peaks of the Gallatin range and some stellar views over the Swan Lake Flats.
Bunsen Peak’s makes for a great sunrise hike, and I’d say its a reasonable hike for kids considering I saw lots of families on this trail. One thing to know about this trail is that in the late Spring/ early Summer, the peak is covered with snow and ice that may obstruct sections of the trail. So don’t say I didn’t warn you not to fall off the mountain!
I’d rate its difficulty as 1.5/5, hike time is 2-3 hours
2. Osprey Falls/Sheepeater Cliff
Osprey Falls is about a 8 mile hike through the forest and down a massive canyon to the base of Osprey Falls. Along the way, you’ll get to enjoy views of Sheepeater Cliffs, lava formations named after the Shoshone native american tribe that uses the horns of bighorn sheep. These cliffs line the edges of the canyon you descend in a way I’ve never seen before. It kind of reminds me of a zipper, with the teeth-like pillars of rock sticking vertiacally up in a row. If you don’t feel like making the hike, there is a nearby picnic area where you can also get a good view of sheepeater cliffs.
Osprey falls is a formidable 150 foot waterfall, one of the biggest in Yellowstone! Once you make it to the bottom of the canyon, you can get very, VERY close to it. Here, you can see me hanging on for dear life as the powerful spray nearly knocks me over!
We took a picnic lunch down to the falls one time, and although it was kind of tricky to eat under the constant drizzle, it was a great way to enjoy the base of the roaring falls.
I’d rate its difficulty as 5/5, hike time is 4-5 hours
3. Electric Peak
This hike actually almost killed me.
Starting just across the road from the Bunsen Peak trailhead, it’s 6 miles through the valley to the base of the mountain, and the 2-3 miles up a nearly vertical slope to the summit. The one time we tried this one, we camped at the base which I think is a good bet. The views are spectacular, but it’s a huge undertaking. It took us a full day to get to the base, then a very early wake up to hike to the summit and back to the road where we began.
I’d rate its difficulty as 5/5, hike time is 2-3 days (I’d recommend 3)
Indian Creek Campground
If you’re looking for a campsite between villages, the Indian Creek Campground is a great place to enjoy the pure quiet of the Swan Lake Flats at night. This is one of the smaller, less frequented campgrounds, so if you’re looking for secluded and close-to-nature camping, this campground may be the one for you.
Nearby is its namesake Indian Creek, which provides a great opportunity for wildlife spotting.
As you drive through the Gallatin mountain range, you may notice areas of darker, shining cliff walls. If you’re like me, you may assume that the stone is damp with snowmelt, but on the stretch of road between Mammoth and Norris, you may actually have found yourself at the Obsidian Cliff of Yellowstone. This cliff is made of shining black stone that forms when the Yellowstone supervolcano erupted, and then dried quickly. Yet another geological wonder of the park to look out for when driving along!
Ah, here’s my favorite stop to make between Mammoth and Norris!
Yellowstone contains five major geothermal features: geysers, hot springs, mud pots, travertine terraces, and fumaroles. Roaring Mountain is undoubtably the best place to see fumaroles in the park.
When you arrive at this pull-off, you’ll hear roaring mountain before you see it. True to its name, as gas escapes through holes in the earth’s crust, it emerges from Roaring Mountain with a hissing-bellowing type of sound and a plume of steam. With hundreds of columns of geothermal steam and deafening noise, Roaring mountain is a sight you won’t see anywhere else on earth.
Twin Lakes and Nymph Lake
I lumped these two together because they’re fairly similar sights.
As I mentioned, the grand loop road has several small pull-offs, and right on these pull-offs are an overlook to both Twin and Nymph lakes. Besides offering an scenic view, lots of different bird species can be spotted, and if you look closely, you can see a few hot springs that dot the shore of Nymph lake.
I tend to stop here for a good leg stretch and to look out with my hands on my hips thinking “that sure is a nice view” but it’s not an absolutely must-visit in my opinion.
So that was everything to see in between Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Geyser Basin! Next, we’ll explore the Norris Geyser Basin, another major village of Yellowstone. It’s colorful hot springs-galore, and I can’t wait to show you around!