One Day (and gluten free) in Yellowstone National Park

one day yellowstone national park travel dejavu

Yellowstone National Park was established at the USA’s first national park in 1872, to help preserve and showcase it’s amazing surroundings. It is comprised of 3,500 square feet of pure natural beauty, and is sort of, kind of, in the middle of nowhere. So, doing it all in one day sounds a little much, right? Well, that might be all the time that is allotted to you, and due to our own extenuating circumstances, it was the only amount of time we had to explore. Regardless of your time-limit, any amount of your existence spent in the park will be worth the feat of your travels. Point is, it is possible, and here is how!

christina kantzavelos one day yellowstone nationalpark travel dejavu

Firstly, it is important to pre-plan your trip as much as possible. Some hotels within the park, or just outside of it sell-out a year ahead. Secondly, reserve a car. You will need that, unless you’re doing a day-tour with a company, in which case, this entire article might be entirely worthless to you. I digress…


Arrive/leave from Bozeman, MT (Saturday evening- Sunday morning)

We turbulently flew into Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, Montana, which is closest to the West Yellowstone entrance. My first thoughts were, why do I feel dizzy, and does it already feel like late Fall in early September? Bozeman sits at nearly 5,000 ft. above sea level, which explains the altitude shock. I also found out that this region only gets a couple of months of true Summer…Brrr. Bozeman is a cute city, and has some great eats. We arrived late at night, and after traveling all day, we were left exhausted and famished (‘hangry’ would be a nice way of putting it). We decided to eat at Blackbird, an exquisite restaurant on the main street in downtown, with some delish local, organic, and gluten-free options.

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Out of convenience, we stayed at the nearby Holiday Inn Express and Suites (Bozeman West) which costed us around $150 for the evening. You can almost always rely on a Holiday Inn Express to be clean, right? The front-concierge staff member gave us a Yellowstone map (see photo) and some of his own tips, and somehow, despite being half-asleep, we established a tentative plan of action for the following day. In the AM, we stopped by Cafe M for grade-A coffee and yummy gluten-free breakfast treats. Wish we had more time to explore Bozeman, as the public library looked amazing, and apparently, there are some awesome vintage stores to explore. Oh, well, next time!

En-route to West Yellowstone, MT

This is around a two-hour drive, mostly one lane, and mostly no cell phone coverage. There are only couple of gas stations on the way to make bathroom/snack stops, and a good midway point is Big Sky Resort. My recommendation? Snack up, and enjoy being off the grid for a moment! If you are lucky enough for clear weather, the drive is stunning and it will feel great to sit back and take it all in! Oh, and make sure to bring someone else to do the driving : )

West Yellowstone, MT (Part One)

We were ready for lunch when we arrived outside the entrance of the park. I had heard that food is hard to come by once inside, since there are not many restaurants or cafes, not to mention because it was a long-weekend (= crowds). We decided to make a stop at Serenity Bistro for lunch before heading inside the park. I was excited about their gluten-free menu, which was mentioned on Yelp, only to find out it is only available at night 🙁  I decided to eat french fries and salad, which was… fine. Apparently, their non-gluten free sandwiches were good, according to the family’s taste buds.

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Yellowstone National Park, MT/WY

Wow wow wow! But let’s talk fees first. $30 gets your entire carload in for a whole week. If you know you’re going to be a regular, then you can pay $50 for the year, or even better, you can pay $80 for a National Park annual pass and tour the countries’ best. Or, if you are over the age of 62, you can pay just $10 for an Interagency Senior LIFETIME pass, including your entire carload though the elder one does need to be present (thankfully my dad is an old dude, who purchased this lifetime pass a while back, which means we saved $$$ and didn’t have to wait in the enormous line to get in).

I think we underestimated how busy it would be (did I mention that enormous line just to get into the park?), and I am not certain I would recommend anyone visiting over a long-holiday. But again, this area doesn’t get much of a Summer, and I’ve heard that the months of July and August can be brutal, heat-wise. So I guess it’s slim pickings, and most are going to pick the weekend with the most consecutive work days off. Like we did. C’est la vie!

Back to wow-ing you.. It’s even prettier than what you’ve seen on Pinterest, in calendars, postcards, etc. While driving, it can sometimes feel like you’re on a different planet, with its bizarre topography masked by hot spring steam. It is sort of akin to Hawaii or Iceland, in terms of geography. Utilizing the map and some of the tips provided to us, we decided to do the Western Loop, and in five hours we were able to see the Fountain Paint Pots, the Midway Geyser Basin, Old Faithful (because duh!*), Yellowstone Lake and the Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon region, and even got to peak at some wild animals (including moose and buffalo). *see below for maximizing your time to make sure you see an eruption.

Following the map/loop we did the following in order:

Fountain Paint Pots: The Painted Pots aren’t far from the entrance, but it may seem like it, when there is LA-like traffic in a National Park. We realized that the traffic isn’t just caused by the crowd, but because people will completely stop to take a look at the wild animals strolling by. Some people even have the audacity not only to stop, but also to get out of their vehicles and Grizzly Man it up (PLEASE don’t do this. It’s not cool to place your life or the animal’s life in danger, or to cause further traffic).

fountain paint pots yellow stone national park travel dejavu

Side note, you will see some amazing wild animals grazing the land. If you make it to the pots, the hot springs and their vibrant colors will astonish you (the one time I am all about bacteria). Shout out to the Holiday Inn Express concierge for recommending this one!

Midway Geyser Basin: This was an impromptu stop…meaning, we saw a lot of hot steam and a bunch of parked cars and our curiosity was piqued. Besides the traffic, you may have to park a fair distance away, especially if you plan to see some of these highlights during peak tourist season. So, strap on that FitBit and good hiking shoes! This basin and surrounding hot springs and geysers are amazing. 400 gallons per minute of boiling water pouring out into steam is pretty fascinating to watch. The basin has an easy loop

midway geyser basin one day yellowstone national park travel dejavu

trail, but even with the hot steam, it was pretty cold. Add a winter jacket to that packing list! While checking out these amazing sites, please make sure to stay safe, and stay on the boardwalks created by the National Park Service. If you haven’t heard, a young man recently lost his life in the Norris Geyser Basin, because he left the boardwalk to hot pot (swim in the springs), and fell in while testing the temperature. Some of these pools are extremely hot (like boiling hot), as well as deep and quite acidic. Again, respect the rules, so that we can continue to enjoy this majestic land together.

Old Faithful: Holy geyser! Did you know the word ‘geyser’ is Icelandic, and is named after Iceland’s ‘Great Geyser?’ This area was hands-down the most crowded, which is also due to the Old Faithful Lodge (a really nice hotel) having food, areas to hangout, and most importantly, heating and bathrooms. By the grace of God, we found a parking spot, since otherwise people were parking a good distance away. Upon arrival, there was unsurprisingly a huuuuuge crowd which only continued to grow as time passed on. Old Faithful generally erupts every 45 minutes, or so. Check online or ask a park ranger for a rough schedule so you time it as close as you can. We got there about 15 minutes before the eruption, and grabbed decent seating. Keep in mind, people can get sensitive about seating politics.

old faithful geyser one day yellowstone national park travel dejavu

In one instance, as I stood up from the plank to stretch for a moment and move around to avoid frost bite, I really upset the woman behind me, who I was apparently now blocking (someone needs to breathe in some more of ‘em negative ions). You never know when she is going to actually erupt (not the lady I was blocking…but the geyser), since she likes to tease. I think I have a good seven videos from continuously pressing ‘play’, in anticipation that she was going to erupt. Luckily, it was captured at the right time, and it was glorious. You could feel the heat radiating from the blow, and feel the gratitude of not being a foot closer. Glad I got to cross this one of the bucket list!

Yellowstone Lake: Sitting pretty at nearly 8,000 ft above sea level, this lake is the largest fresh water lake over 7,000 ft in North America. If you are doing the loop, you won’t be able to miss it’s 110 ft of shoreline. We took a moment to veer off trail and take in the beauty. Did I mention it is frozen half of the year? I told you this place is cold!

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Grand Canyon of Yellowstone: Not to get it confused with Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, this is a lot more green, and a lot less canyon-y. But wow, what a stark difference compared to the western parts previously visited. The view of the waterfall, with its beautiful trail(s) are fantastic. Great selfie opportunities await!

grand canyon yellowstone national park travel dejavu

Two areas I was sad to not have time to visit were the Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone’s Boiling River Swimming Area, where you can soak in the warmth of hot spring water. Always leave some to enjoy for the next time, right?

West Yellowstone, MT (Part Two)
Once leaving the park, our two prerogatives were checking into our hotel/cabin and getting some real calories in (you can only eat so many snacks). We checked into our hotel-like cabin (Explorer Cabins), which is a two-bedroom stand-alone cabin. It has a beautiful communal fire pit outside (that turns on at night, on its own…mmhmm), and we were sad to not have more time to spend enjoying it.

explorer cabins yellowstone national park travel dejavu

We purchased this through the National Park Reservations website, and the cost was about $460/night. Yes, most things are expensive in the middle of nowhere. For dinner, we returned to Serenity Bistro, to finally have their wonderfully-acclaimed Gluten-free bread and food. Unfortunately, they ran out of gluten free bread and the dinner wasn’t anything to write home about. I wound probably check out a different restaurant, if and when I am there next. While waiting to take our food to-go, we stopped by one of the two grocery stores in town,

marketplace yellowstone national park travel dejavu

Market Place, where we found an entire frozen food section of gluten-free goodies! Wish we would have known about this prior to dropping a pretty penny on very mediocre restaurant food, since our cabin had a full kitchen. At least we grabbed some gluten free graham crackers for s’mores (the cabin included a kit!). We spent the evenings warming up next to the fire, enjoying s’more and talking to our neighbors who shared the flames with us. A perfect evening, to end a perfect day.

I don’t regret the little time we spent in the park, but instead treasure it, and look forward to planning our next adventure there. I hope this helps in planning yours!

As always, Buen Camino!

It’s an affair till eternity. Tell your stories to us for these stories should not be left unspoken. 

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Christina Kantzavelos

It only took her two masters degrees, and journaling an entire pilgrimage (Camino de Santiago) to realize her love for writing and the need to share it with others. To follow more of her writing, visit www.buenqamino.com or follow her on social media, @buenqamino!

Comments

  1. It sounds like you had an awesome trip. The photos were fantastic! We’ve never been to Yellowstone and didn’t manage to visit during our 3 months in the States this year, but it sounds like a great place to visit. I will definitely take your tips in hand when planning our trip. Thanks for sharing.

  2. It seems to be an amazing trip. I am sure you had lot of fun. Thanks for sharing with us all. Also, great pictures!

  3. Great post the USA national parks are on our bucket list, so will read this post again when we go.

  4. I didn’t realize that Yellowstone was the first US national park. I’ve always wanted to visit. The Explorer Cabins looks adorable.

  5. That sounds like a real whirlwind tour of Yellowstone but worth it. I’m glad you found some gluten-free food in the end, nothing more disappointing that going to a certain place with intentions and then it turns out to be whaw…. the self-lighting fire pit sounds like a dream!!

  6. Am visiting USA soon hopefully, definitely want to go here!

  7. Oh my god you’ve actually seen the geysers, which I only see on Pinterest photos! Wow I am so envious. I have always thought them to be so beautiful. I didn’t know that geysers also erupt, you got a nice shot there.

    I am curious about gluten-free food. I haven’t tried them as far as I know and I’m not sure how it is going to impact my life if I do. Might give it a try when I have a chance.

  8. What a comprehensive post! I liked how you covered the accommodation & park fees involved, as well as some of the gluten-free options available. Spectacular photos of the geysers too!

  9. This is one of my top 5 bucket list, hope to tick it off soon! You made me even more eager to go some day and your pictures are very good. It looks so wild and free, perfect for a city’s escape!

  10. WOW! Your pictures are stunning and comprehensive detailing. i really liked the Gyser pictures. Now I really wanna visit Yellowstone National pARK

  11. I would do the same than you, rent a car instead of going by tour is much better, much more freedom. You were lucky on getting your father permit :p
    Going to US and visit Yellowstone National Park is on my bucket list and I will follow your tips 🙂

  12. I LOVE geysirs!!! But I’ve never even heard of the pots before. That is insanely cool.

  13. Sounds like a great adventure! I really like your cabin. It looks so cozy. I think the communal fire pit looks pretty cool. Sad that you didn’t get to take advantage of it! The hot springs are also beautiful!

  14. Didn’t know so many interesting things about this beautiful national park. The pictures are gorgeous. Geyser basin and the Grand Canyon seems too interesting. Feels like a must-visit place. Hope I’ll visit someday. Thanks for sharing the details.

  15. I had read about Yellowstone National Park only in my Environment books. This blog post opens my mind to this beautiful national park! Thanks for sharing!

  16. Bookmarking this for our (next) future roadtrip! I missed this the last time and I won’t miss another chance! 🙂 Your photos are great, btw! Especially of the paint pots 😀

  17. Nice post! I’d love to discover that part of the states some day. The cabin price is unfortunately out of my budget, but it looks great with the fire pit. It seems you’ve had a full experience even though the restaurant was kinda crap 😉
    Thank’s for sharing !

  18. Woah, seems like there’s already a lot of things to do in just one day! But people also need to remember about their safety. Leaving their cars to see some wild animal is dangerous.

  19. Even though you only had one day at Yellow stone, I believe it’s still worth it. The hotspring looks awesome! And the gluten free foods sound perfect! More so, safety is a must here. Like there are some wild animals around.

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