Yellowstone Day 1: Madison, Norris, and Canyon, Lake, and Grant Village areas

Our itinerary for first day into the park was:

Madison, Norris, Canyon Village, and Lake Village/Bridge Bay and Grant Village areas

(This is another post in my “How the West Was Won: Vacation” series: Intro | Idaho | Grand Tetons and Jackson WY | West Yellowstone and the Park | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Days 4-7)

Madison and Norris Area

Gibbon Falls, near the west entrance
Gibbon Falls, near the west entrance

Coming into the park from West Yellowstone took us just past the top of the Madison area, where we stopped at Gibbon Falls. Very pretty with a nice wide lookout area with plenty of places to snap some pretty photos.

We were thrilled to see our first herd of bison on our way to the Norris Area. Of course we didn’t realize it at the time, but it didn’t take long for “Wow, BISON!” to turn into “Oh….more bison” after a couple of days in the park. Nonetheless, they are freakish-looking but impressive, built like tanks, and you can’t help but look at them.

Norris Basin is a collection of mud pots, vents, and sulphur springs. While I can’t say it was pretty, it was interesting, mostly due to the alien nature of the terrain, including the milky blue of the pools of hot water, and geothermal features. The noxious sulphur fumes smelled like rotten eggs, as advertised, but after a while you get used to it.

Canyon Village Area

Relieved to be away from the sulphur fumes of Norris, we headed to the Canyon Area, which is full of beautiful features, including the Upper and Lower Falls.

Upper and Lower Falls and Uncle Tom’s Trail

We walked part of the way down the trail to the Lower Falls but it was pretty steep and we were able to get some good views of the falls so we didn’t go all the way to the bottom. This turned out to be a good call since our next stop at Uncle Tom’s Trail was probably the most physically demanding hike/trail we did.

Going down the combination of trail and stairs was pretty easy, but going up – not so much. If you’re in at least average physical condition, you should be able to do it, but if you’re not used to the altitude or have breathing trouble, it might be more challenging for you. There are plenty of places to stop and rest.

 The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Inspiration Point

The canyon was one of the most awe-inspiring stops we made. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was not aware that the park even had a “grand canyon”. Here are some views of the canyon from Inspiration Point.

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Hayden Valley

The valley is a gorgeous open area stretching between foothills and the road. We were excited to spot a small herd of bison relaxing in a shallow river and mud flats. They are majestic beasts, if rather pugnacious looking, but perhaps I’m just seeing that based on tales of their aggressiveness. If a bison was a person at a bar, they would be that guy who looks like he’s fine as long as you leave him alone, but bother him and he’ll jump off his barstool and kick your butt.

At one point, a bison crossed the road right in front of us, which happened several more times during our stay. They don’t even hesitate to step out in the road among the cars – they just take for granted that the cars will stop for them. Observing this nonchalant behavior the first time, my husband said with some measure of both awe and irritation, “Well, that’s pretty arrogant.” That struck me as funny, but I suppose when you’re as big as the cars, you can just walk into traffic with impunity.

Bison at Hayden Valley
The arrogance!

Mud Volcano, Dragon’s Breath Springs, and Sulphur Cauldron

We continued from Hayden Valley towards the Lake Village area where we stopped at another of my favorite spots, the Dragon’s Breath Springs in the Mud Volcano area. I have to say the mud volcano itself was a little disappointing. I suppose I expected something cone-shaped and eruptive, instead of a cauldron of bubbling clay mud.

Mud volcano
Slightly anti-climactic “volcano”

Nothing can quite prepare you for the smell of this area. You could even smell the fumes from inside the car with the windows up. It made the Norris Basin smell like a bouquet of flowers in comparison. This picture sums things up:

Mud Volcano
Man, that sulphur smell! So bad!

Here’s a video of one of the other features in the area, the Churning Cauldron:

Our favorite thing in the area was the super-cool Dragon’s Breath Spring. The water temperature is a roasty 170°F and as it sloshes in and out of the cave, the gases expand, creating clouds of steam, angry hissing, and deep belching noises that sound very much like its moniker.

From there, we stopped at another smelly spot, the Sulphur Cauldron. Not much to look at, terrible to smell, but impressive that it is almost as acidic as battery acid, yet things live in it.

Lake Village and Grant Village Areas

We wrapped up the day with a trip to the eastern side of the park. Aside from the lodges, there’s not much to see other than the lovely Lake Yellowstone.

Lake Yellowstone
Lake Yellowstone

Oh, and this guy who walked almost right up to the car:


We made one last stop of the day, where no one but me would get out of the car to pose for a pic. To be fair, it was a long and exhausting day, but it’s not every day that one crosses the continental divide, right? 🙂

Continental Divide

We spotted this coyote hunting for dinner just before we left the park.


Next up:

Yellowstone Day 2: Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower-Roosevelt areas

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