The grandeur, the geysers, the flora and fauna. There's no mistaking Yellowstone, America's oldest national park, and, according to many observers, still the best.
With more than 2 million acres of unspoiled natural beauty to behold, your list of things to do will easily outpace your allotted vacation time. Among the most popular attractions:
- Visiting Old Faithful Geyser and some of the nearly 10,000 other geothermal features within the park's boundaries
- Viewing the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
- Spotting some of the more than 60 animal species, from endangered gray wolves to black and grizzly bears to bison
- Or simply observing the golden-hued rock that inspired the park's name
No matter where you enter the park - Idaho from the west, Montana from the north or Wyoming from the south - the drive alone is enough to make the trip worthwhile. The Beartooth Highway from Red Lodge, however, is particularly spectacular and was once called "the most beautiful drive in America" by a popular television news correspondent.
Once you enter the park's gates, paved roads allow easy access to many of the park's main attractions, including the most popular geysers, picturesque waterfalls and lakes.
Of course, the Rockies offer more than just one amazing national park. Grand Teton National Park is Yellowstone's lesser known southern neighbor, but, in many ways, it is just as impressive. Named after the largest mountain in the Teton Range, Grand Teton rises swiftly from Jackson Hole and surrounding glacial lakes and offers 200 miles of hiking trails and more than 300 species of birds (bald eagle, osprey, trumpeter swan, to name a few).
In Jackson Hole itself, guests are afforded access to a long list of outdoor activities, fine dining and shopping.
Bear Creek Saloon and Steakhouse (Red Lodge). This famous local eatery garners regular attention on national television shows, and it's is a perennial winner of the annual Taste of Red Lodge event. Charbroiled steaks are their specialty and the Bear Creek Downs Pig Races are their idea of quality weekend entertainment.
Couloir (Jackson Hole/Teton Village). If you don't mind reserving your table a little in advance, consider this award-winning, glass-covered restaurant overlooking Corbet's Couloir from 9,095 feet. Food and Wine Magazine and Conde Nast are just a few of the reviewers giving Couloir kudos.
Old West Dinner Cookout (Yellowstone). Held from mid-June through early September, this cookout offers a great way to end the day: a steak dinner in the great outdoors. Guests are transported via horseback or covered wagon from Roosevelt Lodge to Pleasant Valley (about 3 miles) for the buffet-style meal and entertainment (usually a cowboy singer).
Half Moon Saloon & Restaurant (Big Sky). Half Moon's Saloon is a great place to grab a cold beer and hit the sand volleyball court. The restaurant, on the other hand, is very family friendly and serves up "Big Sky's best burgers."
Cruise Lake Yellowstone. Cruises are available for exploring the lake at a leisurely pace. Or consider catching your evening meal on one of the many guided fishing trips available. Boats (non motorized and outboard) also may be rented during the summer months.
Find a new way to fish. Massive trout are yours for the taking in the areas around Yellowstone and Grand Teton, and there's more than one way to get them from the rivers, lakes and streams to your dinner plate. Ice fishing, fly fishing, trolling or floating are just some of the possibilities.
Tour the backcountry by horseback (Yellowstone). Horseback rides (one and two hours) are available from Xanterra Parks and Resorts from Mammoth Hot Springs, Roosevelt Lodge, and Canyon Village. Guided backcountry trips may also be arranged with one of several licensed stock (horse or llama) outfitters.
See bison, bighorn sheep or black bears (Yellowstone). More than 60 animal species and more than 200 bird species inhabit Yellowstone's over 2 million acres, including wolves, mountain lions, mule dears, Canada geese and bald eagles. Although black bear sightings aren't as common as they used to be, these magnificent creatures occasionally can be spotted from park roads.
Catch some air on a snowmobile (Island Park). Island Park is home to more than 500 groomed snowmobile trails, and rentals are available anytime.
Boyd's Garage (Red Lodge). Where else but at Boyd's eccentric Biker Queen Boutique can you find an extensive selection of "biker bling."
Jackson Hole Resort Store. Get everything you need to hit the slopes from the official gear to the lift tickets.
Mountain Mall and Plaza (Big Sky). Bring back something to remember the Rockies by. Here you can pick up an original JP Woolies cap, secure a special gift at Plum Logo or purchase a photo taken of you and your family on the mountain by the photographers at Crystal Images.