Our adventures in Yellowstone and the Tetons from 2020 were part of our scouting mission to find places to revisit and spend more time hiking. So if you want to read about our itinerary to see the main attractions in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, click here.
This year, our goal was to focus on wildlife photography, and check out some hikes in the areas. Unfortunately, bad weather and smoke impacted part of our plans, but we still had a really fun trip.
Part 1: Wildlife Photography and Hiking in Lamar Valley
We attending a wedding in Eastern Wyoming before making our way to the parks, so we decided to make our way through the Big Horn National Forest (definitely recommend coming back here to hike) and enter the park through the Northeast Gate.
Surprisingly to us, Highway 212 is absolutely beautiful and has quite a few free campsites. This area is by far the fastest way into Lamar Valley, especially if you are trying to get there early in the morning.
Once we had camp setup, we had about an hour and a half before nighttime, so we swung into Lamar to see what animals were out. At that point of the evening, there were wolves and pups in the distance practicing their hunting skills. You'll know there are wolves (or another rare animal) when you see giant groups of people with spotting scopes on the side of the road.
The best times to see animals are usually early morning, and late evening. So the following day we made sure to be inside of Yellowstone by 6am.
Sure enough, the same spots with the wolves from the night before had wolves once again. Not too far from them was a grizzly minding its own business as it walked along a hillside.
These aren't the only animals in Lamar Valley, but they are much more rare to see. You will definitely see bison, some elk, and even some pronghorns.
Slough Creek Trail
As we were following random roads in Lamar Valley trying to find different animals, we found the Slough Creek Trailhead. Talking with some people who just finished hiking in the area, they said a momma black bear with cubs was nearby. So we decided to hike and see if we could take photos of them back in the meadows.
The Slough Creek Trail has a lot of options for hiking, whether you want to go the full 20 miles out and back, or only go part of the way. The first meadow is about 3.4 miles roundtrip, which is where we were thinking we could find the bears.
The trail itself is an old wagon trail, so it is actually a pretty wide trail. This works out very well if you have random bison walking towards you and you need to give them space.
The first meadow seems like it could be a mini Lamar Valley without all the people. I think it could be an excellent place to see wildlife first thing in the morning, which means you would have to get in there really early.
Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin is one of my favorite popular sections of Yellowstone that I think is a must-do when you are in the park. The problem is, it gets really busy there, so you have to time it well. If you go early in the morning, then parking should be better but the steam mixing with cold air can make it difficult to see around the area.
We have had good luck midday and in the evening, and somehow both times have gotten front row parking. But they often shut down the parking area because it is full, which means you are parking on the road and hiking in.
There are a couple miles worth of trails that take you through thermal areas. You'll see a nice mix of geysers and springs. Give yourself a couple hours to see everything!
Artist Paint Pots
Sarah is a huge fan of the mud and paint pots. She loves the molten mud as it is bubbling from the earth.
Not far from the Norris Geyser Basin you'll find the Artist Paint Pots. The parking area is tiny and it gets busy, but it is worth the quick stop. The full loop is around 1 mile in length. There are a couple different paint pots for you to see!