Exploring Yellowstone

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Exploring Yellowstone
Adventure waits at every corner inside Yellowstone's borders. Trek to the pinnacles of grand mountains, camp under starlit skies, join a cowboy singalong, and marvel at America's animal majesty in Wyoming's wild country.
Photo by Megan Ahrens
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    Giddy Up, Partner
    Xanterra Parks and Resorts offers horseback excursions that allow visitors an opportunity to see Yellowstone the way the first explorers did, though hunting or trapping your own meal is no longer necessary. Rides are available from Canyon, Tower-Roosevelt, and Mammoth, and last for one or two hours. Since reservations for in-the-park rides can be hard to get, know that just outside the park, in the Gallatin Canyon, the historic 320 Ranch offers horseback rides from one-hour to a full-day. This is unique: most dude ranches don't offer activities a la carte, but only as part of 3-, 4-, or 7-night stays. You don't even have to spend a single night at the 320 to go on a ride with one of its wranglers. If exploring by horse isn't adventure enough, outfitter Jackson Hole Llamas can arrange a fully guided three-, four- or five-day trip into the park, with optional fishing, climbing, and trekking to keep you busy.
    Photo by Megan Ahrens
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    The Bike Ride of a Lifetime
    A bicycle trip through Yellowstone is a thrilling challenge, though there are routes available for cyclists of all skill levels. A week before the park opens to regular automobile traffic, bicyclists and hikers are welcome to explore under the power of their own two feet. The same opportunity is available to visitors in the fall. The five-mile Yellowstone River route between the Reese Creek park boundary and Gardiner is a great introduction to Yellowstone cycling, while Fountain Freight Road near Old Faithful is a classic 5.5-mile route through geyser country. Bike to the 10,243-foot summit of Mt. Washburn via the 5 mile (round-trip) Chittenden Road. Xanterra Parks and Resorts rents bikes from their Old Faithful location, while Cycling Escapes offers a spectacular six-day, 400-mile trip that rips along the Beartooth Scenic Byway. Outside of the park, the 30-mile Ashton-Teton Trail State Park connects Tetonia and Ashton, winding through eastern Idaho's bucolic scenery (think riparian areas, aspen stands, and potato and wheat fields) and over three historic trestle bridges.
    Photo by David Maska/age fotostock
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    Land the Big One
    Yellowstone is the original breeding ground of tall tales, and nothing inspires exaggerated boasts like fishing. Wading into chest-deep water and tossing a fly out over a raging river in an effort to land a cutthroat trout is a quintessential park experience. Cutthroat and arctic grayling are native, while the park's rivers and lakes are home to non-native species like brook, brown, rainbow, and lake trout. Permits are required, and rangers are a great source of information regarding which locations are open for fishing. Slough Creek is regarded as one of the world's premiere fly fishing destinations; Yellowstone Fishing Guides and Yellowstone Wilderness Outfitters arrange trips to Slough as well as the Snake and Lamar Rivers. Looking for a lesson? At the 320 Ranch outside the park in the Gallatin Canyon 30 minutes from West Yellowstone, there are lessons and fisheries for all abilities: Two miles of the Gallatin River, where most of the fishing scenes in the movie A River Runs Through It were filmed, run through the ranch (expert) and the ranch also has a private trout pond (beginner).
    Photo by Patrick Orton/age fotostock
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    Take a Dip in Big Sky Country
    Dipping your toes into Yellowstone Lake is one thing, but diving into the chilly waters is an adventure in and of itself; temperatures rarely rise above 66°F, even in the summer. The lake, at 7,732 feet above sea level, is covered with a sheet of ice nearly three feet thick during winter; it rarely thaws before late May. Geothermal activity keeps Boiling River near Mammoth nice and warm, though water flowing into the hot springs from the Madison River can spark a chill. Thrill seekers can take a dip at Firehole Cascades, a half-mile upstream from the beautiful Firehole Falls.
    Photo by Joseph Diaz
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    Backpacking for the Intrepid Traveler
    Facing off against the wild Wyoming backcountry is a tremendous experience, though proper preparation and certain precautions are important when considering any backcountry day trip or overnight pack adventure in Yellowstone. The National Park Service runs an efficient campsite system, and backcountry use permits are required. Sleeping under a canopy of stars is exactly why visitors venture out into untrammeled territory; Heart Lake is one of the park's most popular destinations, with a 16.2-mile trail that extends to an 8,140-foot viewpoint over the lake and Factory Hill. The remote country near Tower Junction is the gateway to grizzly, elk, and wolf territory. The three-mile Lost Lake and Petrified Tree Loop begins at Roosevelt Lodge.
    Photo by Megan Ahrens
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    The Kingdom of Photographic Bliss
    If you've packed a new camera and you're not quite sure how to use it, Yellowstone Park Lodges can arrange a Picture Perfect Photo Safari that will help you learn to use your gear so you can return home with a portfolio of beautiful Yellowstone images. Expeditions will help unleash your inner Ansel Adams at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Artist Point, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone Lake, and Grand Prismatic Spring. Guides are experienced professional photographers and knowledgeable naturalists. Once you've got the hang of your gear, you'll be prepared to take on other thrilling locations on your own, among them, the majestic North East Entrance, the often-overlooked Upper Falls, and the wildlife of Lamar Valley. In spring 2017, Jackson Hole-based photographer Brad Boner published a book, Yellowstone National Park: Through the Lens of Time, that includes his photographs of many of these places side-by-side with images of the same spots taken by William Henry Jackson while traveling around the area with the 1871 Hayden Expedition. Jackson's images are widely credited with garnering the government support necessary to make Yellowstone the world's first national park. Boner's rephotographed images are a credit to the idea of national parks: in most photos, you'll see very little has changed.

    Photo by Rodney Buck
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    Walk a Mile in these Snowshoes
    A multi-day cross-country skiing trip out of Yellowstone Expeditions' Yurt Camp may be the park's most unique winter adventure. Led by guides from Yellowstone Expeditions, skiers traverse Cascade Creek, the rim of the Grand Canyon, and numerous boiling hot springs. Strapping snowshoes to your feet is every bit as adventurous. Excursions can be arranged via the Bear Den at Mammoth Hot Springs (accessible by car) and Old Faithful Snow Lodge (accessible by snowmobile or snowcoach). Blacktail Deer Plateau Snowshoe Route, at 9.5-miles, is challenging, but the panoramic winter views are well worth the effort. The Upper Terrace Loop at Mammoth Hot Springs is less strenuous, and offers tremendous views of the area's geothermal wonders.
    Photo by Kimberly Walker/age fotostock
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    The Power of the Paddle
    If you plan on bringing your own boat and motor, you can launch at Yellowstone and Lewis Lakes; the rest of the park is generally reserved for non-motorized watercraft. Gardiner-based Flying Pig Adventure Company can save you a seat on one of their eight- or 18-mile raft trips that take on some of the Yellowstone River's best whitewater (just outside the park), while their Paddle & Saddle program combines the eight-mile whitewater trip with a two-hour horseback ride. Lava Creek Adventures can toss you into a canoe or kayak for self-guided trip, or take you on an adventure that lasts between two and eight nights. Exploring the uninhabited islands and 136 miles of shoreline around Yellowstone Lake is the perfect way to spend a week.
    Photo courtesy of Jim Peaco/Yellowstone NPS
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    Chart a Course by Snow Yacht
    Conquering Yellowstone from the seat of a souped-up snowmobile is possible thanks to a number of park outfitters (guided), and, since the winter of 14-15, a court ruling (nonguided). Guides from Rendezvous Snowmobile Rentals can lead you on a West Yellowstone adventure that traverses the Continental Divide and heads through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and along some of the area's 300+ miles of well-groomed trails. After a decade of nonguided snowmobiling in Yellowstone being illegal, in fall 2014 opposing sides finally came up with a compromise. Permits for a do-it-yourself snowmobile trip are limited—daily only one party of up to five is allowed into the park from each entrance—but worth the planning to see Yellowstone at your own pace (provided that pace is slower than 35 miles per hour, the park's speed limit). Visitors looking for a more leisurely or luxurious way to explore the park in winter can purchase passage on a snowcoach or snow yacht (with room for up to 30 passengers). Skirt the Firehole River en route to Madison Junction, rumble past Fountain Paint Pots and Biscuit Basin, and picnic at Old Faithful. Other options include a Grand Canyon expedition that delivers visitors to the icy Lower Falls.
    Photo courtesy of Jim Peaco/Yellowstone NPS
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    Dogsled Just beyond Yellowstone
    Certain adventure activities are prohibited within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park, but can be enjoyed on private and public lands in the nearby countrysides of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Jackson Hole Adventures can put you into the saddle of a mechanical bull or take you on a breathtaking motorcycle ride through untrammeled country courtesy of their friends at Eagle Rider. Yellowstone ATV drives off-road through National Forest land that skirts Yellowstone's border, and Absaroka Dog Sled Treks can plan an adventure that ranges from two hours to two days from gateway towns in Montana.
    Photo by age fotostock