Visiting Yellowstone as a Full-Time Traveler

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Yellowstone National Park, one of the world’s oldest National Parks, and one of the most popular…as evidenced by the line of cars waiting to get in on any given morning. So, why, as a full-time traveler, one who works from the road, and really not on vacation, would you choose to visit Yellowstone?

Quick Glance Itinerary to Visiting Yellowstone as a Full-Time Traveler

Because it’s beautiful! Not only that, Yellowstone National Park is home to hundreds, if not thousands of species of animals, some rarely seen elsewhere. With around 1,000 miles of hiking terrain included in almost 50 trails, and Yellowstone’s diversity of natural wealth such as its hydrothermal features, wildlife, vegetation, lakes, and geologic wonders like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, vacation or not, people or not, Yellowstone is a must-stop-and-see-site, not a drive-thru site.

Yellowstone River

Old Faithful

We drove into Yellowstone’s East Entrance on a Sunday afternoon. Coming from Ten Sleep, Wyoming, and the Bighorns that morning, it was less than six hours to get to our destination of Old Faithful. We had made the decision the night before while sipping on some craft brews at Ten Sleep Brewing (they offer camping, too), to drive all day, hike all afternoon, and enjoy a beer with friends in the evening. In layman’s terms, we took the day off.

Entering in from the east, you’ll go through Cody, Wyoming, and from there, while it doesn’t take long to enter the park itself, it is still about 3.5 hours to get to Old Faithful. We never ran into traffic entering the park. We’d like to believe that is because it was just after noon when we entered the park. Everyone was already in the park. There was definitely proof of that when we pulled into Old Faithful’s parking lot around 3:30 that afternoon. I don’t think we have ever seen so many RV America RVs in one place. It was almost as though it was their sales floor.

At any rate, there was still space enough for parking RAIF (our RV), and plenty of daylight time to “hike” the geysers. Why in quotes? Because my version of hiking is definitely not the boardwalks and paved paths around all the geysers near Old Faithful. I’d call it walking in nature. Put on some comfortable shoes – Chacos are fine, in my opinion – grab a jacket, and put some water in your backpack. Yes, bring a backpack. While you may not be going on a full-fledged hike, you will be walking for at least two hours, and water is always nice. Plus, you are at altitude, so you need to drink more water. Don’t forget the sunscreen.

The boardwalk around the geysers

Yes, head towards Old Faithful, but unless you have some sort of idea when she might erupt, I don’t suggest waiting there for too long. She’s a beaut, Clark, but there is so much to see, including many more geysers that also erupt. So unless you have unlimited amounts of time (really, you do?), soak in her glory, but then get a move on. It really doesn’t matter which way you go, just go. Don’t rush, just don’t put all your eggs in one basket with Old Faithful.

We spent a couple of hours wandering the geysers; you could definitely spend more time than that, but we had friends to meet and beer to drink.

Camping In and Around Yellowstone as a Full-Time Traveler

Ok, so most of you won’t know the camp store workers, so you won’t be able to crash at the employee camping spot, like we were lucky enough to do that night, but there are plenty of campgrounds within Yellowstone, some with RV hookups, most without. There are also plenty of campgrounds, including free camping just outside of Yellowstone. Regardless of what you choose, nothing is nearby in this expansive park.

After a night of drinking and debauchery (Not quite, we were in bed by 10:30, the crazy adults that we are), we fell into bed with RAIF tucked nicely under the whispering pines.

What beers did we drink, you ask? Oh, several, but I recall a few:

Elk, Pancakes, and Traffic Jams

The next morning offered a chill in the air – fall is on its way – but the sun broke through the clouds (and the smoke from nearby wildfires), and off we went, heading into West Yellowstone for breakfast at Running Bear Pancake House.

From Old Faithful area of the park to West Yellowstone is about an hour’s drive. Do you feel lucky? We were heading out of the park on a Monday morning mid-September, so no traffic jams for us. But those heading in, well, let’s just say they had great views of Yellowstone National Park for a very long time. The traffic was backed up at a standstill for about eight miles. Granted, there were some elk in a valley that everyone had to stop and see, but there were more cars than elk on that highway that beautiful Monday morning.

Camping and Working as Full-Time Travelers

Breakfast with friends is always grand, but if you recall we are not on vacation, so work had to be done. And there is no work to be done within Yellowstone if you need any kind of signal that functions enough for you not to pull out all your hair while waiting. Saying good-bye to friends, but not Yellowstone quite yet, we headed about 8 miles from West Yellowstone into the West Fork Denny Creek area, a beautiful boondocking spot right next to a babbling brook tucked in with the autumn colors of the aspens that surrounded us.

After hangin up the hammock – priorities, man – we hunkered down for the next few days, staying in this quiet spot for five nights, hammering away at work, with backcountry roads to hike, hammocks to lie in, and campfires to reflect on our days.

The Lamar Valley

Knowing that we did see the geysers, we felt as though we still hadn’t really experienced the wilds of Yellowstone. You see, there are wolves in the wild at Yellowstone…oh to see a wolf in the wild, or to at least hear their mysteriously magical howls as it travels through the open plains. We had to at least try.

Lamar Valley – north central and north east portion of Yellowstone – this is where I’ve heard you might just spot a wolf or two. And the best time to do so, dawn or dusk. Remember, nothing is close in Yellowstone. Getting up at 4:00 am to make sure we were hiking around 7, that’s a chore. But that day – oh, let me tell you about that day.

Yellowstone is a magical place.

4:00 am on a Saturday. Careful, driving out in an RV in the dark has its disadvantages (we found a bush that didn’t like us, but that’s a different story for another day). Driving to the Lamar Valley area towards Mammoth and the North Entrance and just before Tower Junction from West Yellowstone takes about two hours, depending on how long the Bull Elk and his harem decide to stay in the road right in front of your car. How can you complain about that?

Hellroaring Creek Trailhead

Along the way that early morning drive we saw elk, deer, and bison, and maybe ten other vehicles on the road. Don’t like people? This is the time and the place to be. Arriving at the Hellroaring Creek Trailhead around 7:30, we felt we already had a full day and more of a true experience of what Yellowstone has to offer.

Ok, the hike. First and foremost, rewind to when you were at any location in and around Yellowstone where there are stores. Go into any of those stores, purchase bear spray, read the instructions on how to use it, bring it with you on the hike. Or, click here, and buy it now, delivered straight to your door, wherever you may be. I’ve had a few experiences with black bears, seeing them off in the distance not caring at all if I was in existence or not. However, in Yellowstone, there are over 600 grizzlies living here, and crossing paths with one if them may turn your hike into more of an adventure than you bargained for.

Hiking boots, water, lunch, snack, sunscreen, camera, layers of clothing, bear spray, excitement. Let’s hike. I’m not here to give you a full review of this hiking trail, but I will say this: the trailhead starts at the top, which means you hike down to get started, which means at the end of your hike, you hike back up, so just be prepared; save a bit of energy to get your ass back up that hill.

We hiked for over five hours, 10.5 miles, and 1300 feet of elevation gain. You can choose your trails, just be aware of where you go, as there are many backcountry trails that break off from here. While we planned this as a day hike, if you are a bit of a backcountry enthusiast and like backpacking, I recommend taking a few days off from work, it at all possible, applying for a backcountry permit (it’s all done online and appears to be a simple process) and getting “lost” in nature for at least a night.

Bears and Bison

We didn’t plan well enough for that, so we had to settle for a day hike. Oh, let me tell you about that hike. Kenny and I love to look for animal tracks or scat as we hike, and we were not disappointed. About a mile into the hike, we came across tracks, all right. Big Ones. Bear Ones! While we never saw the bear that left those tracks, coming up over a hill a few miles later, we were pleasantly greeted by a great big bison about 50 yards from us. Sitting atop a rock, we watched him and a few of his buddies for awhile, grateful for this opportunity.

Wolves…In the Wild!

Then, our ears perked up. Was it really? Could it be? And then it became obvious. The howling of wolves in the wild. Several of them. And that glorious sound lasted for at least 30 seconds. Thirty seconds of something that I never imagined I would hear. Why is this so glorious, you ask? That in itself would be an entirely new article, having nothing to do with beer and everything to do with being an outdoor enthusiast understanding why wolves cannot be taken out of an eco-system, like they did from Yellowstone in the 1920’s. But now, they’re back, baby! Back where they belong…in the wonderful wilds of the world. To learn more, please check out Mission:Wolf and The Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Me, when I first heard the wolves howling.

Continuing on with our hike along Hellroaring Creek where it junctions with the magnificent Yellowstone River, storm clouds above threatening rain, bear tracks threatening my peace of mind, and wolves off in the distance possibly threatening each other, we never once felt threatened. Actually, the only thing that threatened me that day was the fact that I couldn’t stay longer, that I didn’t hear the wolves howling anymore after the first and only time. That the roar of the river would eventually leave my ears, and the beauty of a world so untouched here, can become threatened by the mere fact that we are in it.

Leave No Trace

My take on this, is be kind to Mother Nature and all her glory. Enjoy everything she has to offer. Soak it in, play in it. Revel in it. Love her like family. Care for her. Treat her well. We need her, and maybe, just maybe, she might realize she needs us.

Practice Leave No Trace Principles when enjoying all the world has to offer.

Dig Deep – Go Beyond the Surface

Driving back to the North Entrance towards Mammoth and Gardiner, Montana, we couldn’t help but get a bit reflective on our day. Yes, Yellowstone is know for her geysers, but do you really gain everything you know from the surface of something? The more than 10,000 hydrothermal features in Yellowstone should teach us skills better than that. If we only studied the surface, we would know nothing about the true characteristics of these natural phenomenons.

So whether you only have one day or ten, visit Old Faithful yes, but go a bit deeper into her beauty, get your feet wet, maybe dive straight in (not literally). You would be doing her and yourself a huge injustice if you didn’t.

Elk and Beer

Beer? After Yellowstone? Why, of course! To exit the park, we went back through Mammoth to exit out the North Entrance, where we were initially stopped in the predawn hours by that big bull elk if you recall. Well, around 2:00 in the afternoon, they had not gotten very far. It was quite entertaining to watch the tourists and the Park Rangers, maybe even more so than watching the elk. These wondrous creatures (the tourists) really don’t pay much attention to the fact that the truly wondrous creatures (the elk) are wild animals, let alone very big wild animals.

Don’t be that person that the Park Rangers have to yell at to get in their car or back away from the elk. Admire from a distance. Your memories will have to tell the tales better than your iPhone camera.

Anyhow, beer. There are a few restaurants that serve some craft beer in Gardiner, Montana, just outside of Yellowstone; however, there are no craft breweries. So we decided to drive a bit further north to Livingston, Montana, where we proceeded to pump some money into Montana’s economy while enjoying handcrafted brews at Katabatic Brewing Company. And, if you feel so inclined, there’s another cool little brewery just down the road less than a mile away, Neptune’s Brewery.

Cell Service? Not in Yellowstone!

Yes, there are still a great many camping spots nearby Gardiner, just outside of Yellowstone. Beware, though, the signal here is still quite spotty, and while you may get enough service to work with Verizon; AT&T? Sorry, customers, there’s not much of that here.

Depending on where your full-time travel dreams are taking you, you’ll have to wander to other places to get your work done through AT&T. We wandered to a glorious Walmart parking lot in Bozeman that night. Only about an hours drive or so from Yellowstone. Work had to be done, so Walmart was the golden place.

Yellowstone: Full-Time Dreams

However, that night, in our dreams, instead of the trucks roaring their engines as they drove through the empty lots, all we heard were faint howls off in the distance.

Tips and Tricks

  • Go the speed limit. You’ll see more beauty.
  • Enter the park in the afternoon or before sunrise.
  • Camp outside of the park.
  • Do the Yellowstone thing and hike around Old Faithful but go elsewhere afterwards.
  • You need at least two days in Yellowstone. More is nice, but we’re on a time budget, here.
  • Plan for limited to no internet or cell signal.
  • Always watch for animals. Better yet, watch for the cars that have stopped in the middle of the road because of the animals.
  • Listen to the Park Rangers.
  • If you don’t like people, you don’t have to see them.
  • If you don’t like animals, you shouldn’t be here.
  • If you want a great beer after hiking, bring your own, or be prepared to drive a while to get one.
  • Don’t go in the summer if you can help it.

Resources

Summarized Itinerary for Visiting Yellowstone as a Full-Time Traveler

  • Day 1 – From the East Entrance near Cody, Wyoming, drive into Yellowstone and explore the Old Faithful area. (#’s 1 and 2)
  • Camping – Exit out the West Entrance into West Yellowstone, Montana, and camp at Denny Creek Dispersed Area (there are other areas, but this site is about 18 miles from the West Entrance) (#3)
  • Days 2 through 5 – Enjoy your camping spot and hunker down for a few days to get your work done. (#3)
  • Day 6 – Pack up camp, and go back to Yellowstone through the West Entrance. Get an early start so as to enter the park around 5:00 am. (#3)
  • Enjoy your drive through Mammoth and towards Lamar Valley in the early morning hours and arrive at Hellroaring Creek Trailhead (about 3-4 miles before Tower Junction) around 7:30 am. (#’s 4 and 5)
  • Hike all day (#5)
  • Head out the North Entrance through Mammoth and Gardiner, Montana, and drive to Livingston for some celebratory after Yellowstone craft beer at Neptune’s or Katabatic. (#6)
Click the map for a pdf version.

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For more travel resources getting you to the best adventures and the best beer, check out our travel section where we will take you to Maine, Austin, Montana, the Midwest…all over the U.S.


PRO TIP: When possible, please check ahead anywhere you go. Many places are re-opening, but some may not be. Due to the C-word, you need to be prepared for restrictions and closures. Be flexible.

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