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Is the Upper Grand Loop a must do?

Posted: Fri Sep 11, 2020 9:08 am
by ntrtainr
We are first timers from Connecticut and we are renting a 31' Cruise America RV in Denver from September 21st-28th. We're traveling to Mt. Rushmore, Devil's Tower and other attractions, ultimately seeing Yellowstone, the Tetons and Jackson before heading back to Denver. Due to the section of the road between Dunraven Pass and Tower Junction being closed (and due to time constraints), we have planned to enter from the East Entrance (coming from Cody) and head north to Canyon Village. We could take Norris Canyon Road and head directly to our next overnight in West Yellowstone at the Grizzly RV Park but we are currently planning to drive north on the Grand Loop to Dunraven Pass, then turn around and take North Canyon Road to Grand Loop, up to Mammoth Springs, then to Tower Junction to head south as far as we can with the closure, then turn back around and head back north to Gardiner and ultimately to West Yellowstone. We don't plan on hiking unless it's a short hike. Are there must sees on the Upper Grand Loop that would be worth going quite a bit out of our way for or should we just go directly from Canyon Village to West Yellowstone? Sorry to ask all this but we have no idea what to expect. Thanks in advance!

Re: Is the Upper Grand Loop a must do?

Posted: Sat Sep 12, 2020 12:06 am
by karenandbill
It is so exciting to be making that first trip! How much time can you spend in Yellowstone? You could spend the whole time there and not see everything, but since your time is short, I'll give you some suggestions. Yellowstone park is huge in comparison to most other places you visit. While the other places are neat, Yellowstone/Grand Teton are truly amazing. I would shorten or forego my stops at some of the other places to squeeze out an extra day for these two parks if possible.

I will give you some suggestions for you to consider for a quick trip through, but you won't be able to do all this in one afternoon. Be aware that wildlife can be anywhere at anytime, but I will give some places where animals are more often seen. Coming in the East Entrance is a beautiful way to enter the park with a lot of elevation gain and some twists and turns up through Sylvan Pass. This area was heavily burned in the 1988 fire and it has recovered nicely, but you can still see some scars from the fire. As you get close to Yellowstone Lake, be on the lookout for a couple of grizzly bears that have been seen on occasion throughout the summer. There will probably be a bison here and there and maybe some elk as well. I believe the road construction will still be happening so you could have a delay of 20-30 minutes.

After you turn north, you will pass the Sulfur Calderon geyser area. If you are into smelly, bubbling pools, it's worth a quick stop to check out Dragons mouth and the pools on the right side of the road. But since your time is short, you may want to skip this one. You will then come through Hayden Valley, a broad valley with hills behind. You should see some bison, likely elk, and there has been a wolf pack, the Wapitis, that are occasionally seen. If you see people in the pullouts or especially if up on the hills looking intently through spotting scopes, you may want to stop and see if the wolves or a grizzly bear are out. Going further north, you will definitely want to stop at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. There are 3 roads to the right that take you to the falls. I prefer the first one you would come to as you can see both Upper and Lower Falls after short walks from the parking areas. After leaving Canyon you will have to head toward Norris because of the road closure.

Once you get to Norris you will need to decide what your time constraints are. You can turn left and head toward Madison Junction and out to West Yellowstone. But you will miss some neat areas of the park. If you have time, turn right and head up to Mammoth Hot Springs. You'll pass Roaring Mountain (doesn't roar anymore, but there are still steam vents), Swan Lake Flats (look for trumpeter swans on the lake), The Hoodoos (neat rock formations), then Mammoth Hot Springs. Once down the hill, park at the restroom parking area or the parking area just south of that by the dormant large cone. Take a short walk between the cone and calcite rocks and you can see the water flowing down one section. Much of the water has stopped flowing but this area is still active.

Again you will have to evaluate the time factor, but if at all possible, I would head east toward Lamar Valley. There is beautiful scenery and possible wildlife sightings all along the road toward Roosevelt Junction. Once at Roosevelt Junction, you can't keep going towards Tower and Dunraven Pass. That road is closed. But you can turn left and head towards Lamar Valley. It is truly worth seeing in my opinion, especially if you enjoy seeing wildlife. After several miles with open hillsides, the valley opens to this very wide area to the south. This is where a lot of wildlife can often be seen including grizzly bears and wolves. Watch for crowds looking through scopes along the road. Finding a parking space with your vehicle may be a challenge but it is possible. Make sure you have a good pair of binoculars and preferably a spotting scope along for the best chance of seeing the grizzlies and/or wolves. Before Covid the wildlife watchers would offer to let others look through their scopes, but fewer do that now. If you have kids, your chances increase.

I assume that after spending the night in West Yellowstone you will head back into the park and down to the Tetons. There isn't much between West Yellowstone and Madison Junction except for possible bison and elk. After turning right at Madison I suggest a stop at Fountain Geyser Basin (not the fountain flats road). A short walk gives you a look at a beautiful blue bubbling pool, bubbling mudpots, and a couple of shooting geysers. If you have time, I would stop next at the parking area for Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook. It's about a one mile hike each way to the overlook, but you get to see the steaming blue pool with all the rainbow of colors radiating out from its edges-a truly iconic Yellowstone image.

Then, Old Faithful Geyser would be the next stop. There should be plenty of parking at that time of year. Besides Old Faithful there are other geysers and thermal features along the board walk, again if you have time. Then it's on to the Tetons.

I hope this helps. It may have been more information than you wanted. I get a bit carried away because I just fell in love with this place the first time I saw it. There is so much more than I mentioned, but you will be hard pressed just to see the above in a day or two. Whatever you see will be good and whatever you don't see can be saved for the next time! I always tell visitors to just relax and enjoy what the park has to give you that day. Let us know how it goes with a trip report. Hope you have a great trip!

Re: Is the Upper Grand Loop a must do?

Posted: Sat Sep 12, 2020 9:00 am
by ntrtainr
Thank you SO much Karenandbill. GREAT info!

We were originally going north from Canyon Village to Dunraven Pass but since you can't go north on that road and also can't go south from the Roosevelt Junction, that will save us a lot of time!

We will take your info to heart and we will plan our stops to what you suggested! Again, thank you so much!!

Re: Is the Upper Grand Loop a must do?

Posted: Sat Sep 12, 2020 10:32 pm
by Dorothy
@karenandbill gave you some great advice. They are the best!

I can give you only a couple of additional thoughts -- Mammoth Hot Springs is often a great place to see elk -- there is a "resident" elk herd that hangs out in there through most of the year, and at this time of year there are often a couple or three big bulls around trying to round up their harems. They're great to watch, but BE CAREFUL and smart and don't approach them or try to get close to them. We've seen them attack cars (once a bus!) because they were feeling feisty. But in Mammoth and around it (both heading toward Gardiner and heading down toward Roosevelt) you should have a chance to see lots of elk, especially mornings and evenings. There is also a pair of great horned owls that generally nest near the Mammoth visitor's center and they or their chicks (they had at least one this spring) can sometimes be spotted in the area. That's always fun.

I echo the suggestion of making sure you get to Lamar if possible. Usually quite a few bison around (and they are often seen in Hayden, too), plus the possibility of wolves, bears, coyotes, foxes and sometimes moose. As mentioned, you might not see much of anything, or you may see a lot, but the possibility always makes it exciting, and the scenery is beautiful. @karenandbill are your best bets for what's being seen, as they've been in quite a bit and have been very generous in sharing their trips with us!

If you make it down to the Tetons (and you should if at all possible -- again, spectacular scenery and some great animal possibilities) I'd suggest you check out the Oxbow Bend area (when we were there a week or so ago, there were a couple or three grizzlies hanging around the area, often crossing roads, some with cubs), and try the Gros Ventre road to Kelly and around to Antelope Flats Road (or cut across on Mormon Row), as there have been some moose and bison in the area. If your vehicle will fit (and there IS a size allowance), try Moose-Wilson road, as the berries have been ripening along there and there have been several black bears seen along the road, along with some moose (I understand there was a grizzly sighted in the area a few days ago, and if it is seen along the road, they will close the road until it moves on). That road was closed earlier in the week after a strong wind storm in that area covered the road with trees, limbs and branches, but I understand it is open again.

Anyway, good luck. The advice to not try to do TOO much is good -- do what you have time to do without rushing too much. Remember, if you DO see something "cool," you may end up staying in that spot for 15-30 minutes and that will take some of your time. My suggestion? If you see something you are really interested in, stay and watch and don't worry about maybe cutting short your time somewhere else, but this is what you came for -- to see beautiful sights and interesting things (whether thermal features or animals or whatever), so enjoy what you come across and don't feel you have to "move on" from something you are enjoying just to "get somewhere" on a map.

Have a GREAT time!

Re: Is the Upper Grand Loop a must do?

Posted: Sun Sep 13, 2020 7:20 am
by ntrtainr
Thanks so much Dorothy! More great info!