How to Visit Yellowstone

A deep-green hot spring at the West Thumb Geyser Basin. We got into Yellowstone late, the first day, because we drove up from Grand Teton and came through the South Entrance. But the line was very short, as this gate doesn’t get as much use as other gates. But by the time we reached the West Thumb Geyser Basin it was afternoon, very crowded, and we barely found parking. Parking is very competitive at the hot springs sites of Yellowstone.

Our national parks are becoming more and more popular as tourist destinations, and thus, more and more crowded. These crowds makes it challenging to visit the most popular of our parks, due to long lines at entrance gates, and full parking lots at the most beautiful and celebrated natural features of any park.

An aqua-green hot spring, with the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake in the background.

Yellowstone was our first national park, established in 1872. So by default, it was our most popular park for a long time. But now others have surpassed it. According to National Geographic, in 2018 Great Smoky Mountains National Park was our most popular by attendance. It received over 11 million visitors. Number 2 was the Grand Canyon, with 6 million. Number 3 was Rocky Mountain National Park, with 4.5 million. Number 4 was Zion National Park, with 4.3 million. And straggling in at number 5 was Yellowstone, with 4.1 million.

This runoff from a hot spring at West Thumb Geyser Basin empties into Yellowstone Lake. The orange colored substance is called a bacterial mat. It’s produced by extremophiles that live in the boiling hot water, with names such as Pyrolobus fumarii, and Pyrococcus furiosus. I don’t think they cause diseases in humans, but if they did, could you imagine the fever you’d run?

But that’s still a lot of visitors, with long lines at entrance gates, and many full parking lots. I know, because I was at Yellowstone last month, with four of my relatives. And I learned the best way to beat the crowds to see this magnificent paradise in all its splendor. If you want to learn my secrets, consider the following advice from your tour guide, Tippy Gnu:

These two hot springs are nestled on the shore of Yellowstone Lake. They convert the nearby waters into a naturally heated swimming pool.

First, get the hell out of bed! Get up as early as possible. Way before dawn. I emphasized the importance of this to my relatives, and was somewhat successful. But while I was rising at 4:00 am, these sleepy-heads slept in until 5:00 and 6:00. Just the same, I was able to gather their corpses and stuff them into my car, and hit the road by 7:00, every morning.

Great Fountain Geyser, in the Lower Geyser Basin, along Firehole Lake Drive. If you look closely at the top-middle background, you can see an eruption of nearby White Dome Geyser.

If it was just me, I would have been on the road at least an hour earlier. But these bumbling coffee addicts simply can’t function until they’ve slurped down their first cup of java.

A white mud hot spring at Artists Paint Pots, near the Norris Geyser Basin. There’s a pool near this spring that shoots globs of white mud through the air. These sometimes strike spectators, leaving them speckled and perhaps a little annoyed.

Which brings me to my second piece of advice. Don’t drink coffee. Quit that nasty habit months before you reach Yellowstone, and you’ll discover newfound abilities to wake up early, and start functioning just as soon as your feet touch the floor.

A bacterial mat from a hot spring at Biscuit Basin. Or perhaps it’s marmalade, that spilled from one of the biscuits.

My third and final piece of advice is, if you insist on drinking coffee, then wear Depends. These coffee addicts carried mugs around with them all day, drinking and slurping and guzzling the brown stuff like it was a magical elixir. This delayed our travels from one spot to another, with their constant need to use the restroom. But if they had only worn Depends, they could have pissed their pants all day, and we could have seen more of nature’s wonders while simultaneously accommodating nature’s calls.

Every day that we sortied into Yellowstone, my coffee drinking companions had to find a piss-pot at least half a dozen times each. And these were two males and two females. Gender and supposed weaker-sex bladders had nothing to do with it. Nor did age, as one of the pissers was my 20-year-old grandnephew, Wiley Cody, Jr. You know, the Starbuck’s barista. Coffee was the culprit, my friends. Coffee.

As for me, I don’t drink it. And the most I ever had to use a restroom was once.

The Sapphire Pool at Biscuit Basin looks cool and inviting. But every overheated tourist who’s plunged in has been boiled alive, disintegrated, and never seen again.

We left at 7:00 am every morning, from the town of West Yellowstone, Montana, and quickly reached the West Entrance gate to the park, just a few miles away. And we never had to wait in a line. That was dandy.

An emerald green river flows through the Norris Geyser Basin. It’s been known to stimulate the bladders of many a coffee drinker. In fact after we finished our tour of this basin, I was anxious to get on the road before all the parking spots were taken at our next stop. But no, I had to wait. Because all four of my traveling companions had to hit the potty. Sigh. Frickin’ coffee.

Then we motored along a pre-planned route, to visit various sites in the park that we had in mind. And because we left so early, we almost always found a parking spot. We discovered that from about 7:00 to 10:00 AM, a place to park could always be had. But after 10:00, it gets iffy. Especially around the most popular sites, such as the Grand Prismatic Spring, and Mammoth Hot Springs.

Cliff Geyser, on the right, and Iron Spring Creek as it runs through the Black Sand Basin.

Also, we saw more wildlife early in the morning, than at other times of the day. The osprey, elk, and deer don’t drink coffee. So they’re able to be out and about during the wee hours, and without having to go wee-wee all the time.

New hot springs have a way of popping up in the middle of stands of trees, in Yellowstone, such as what occurred in this copse at Black Sand Basin. The mineral-rich water is nearly as poisonous as coffee. It’s sucked up by the trees and kills them. Meanwhile, silica in the water stains the bottom of their trunks white.

Let me illustrate the dangers of coffee, with a true story. We pulled into Biscuit Basin on a late-Sunday morning. We were in luck. We’d gotten there just in time, before the parking lot filled completely up. It’s a very popular hot springs site, and this was the first time we were able to find parking there, after several attempts.

And then my sister-in-law, Connie, announced, “I have to pee. Real bad. It can’t wait!” No surprise. She’d been drinking coffee all morning. We looked all around for the usual pit toilets that the park service plants at these sites. But there were no facilities.

We all gulped. I muttered to myself, “Ah shit. Fuckin’ coffee.” But my kind sister-in-law saved the day. She knew how disappointed we’d feel if we had to drive off to find an outhouse, then return to find no parking.

She reassured, with resignation in her voice, “That’s okay. I think I can hold it.”

Wonderful, I delighted, as I yanked the keys out of the ignition and sprang out of the car.

But my brother, Rowan, knew his wife better. “I’ll take you over to those woods,” he offered, “where you can find a private place to go.”

So the rest of us enjoyed the marvelous sights of Biscuit Basin, while Rowan and Connie attended to a different feature of nature. A little while later they returned, and quickly drank in the hot springs before we left. But before we could climb back into my car, Connie turned toward me with a glint in her eye.

“Hey Tippy,” she growled, “Wanna see something? I hurt my leg while trying to find a place to go.” Then she rolled up her pant leg. Up, up, up, it rolled, until finally it was near the pantyline. I felt uneasy gazing upon this much of her inner thigh.

Her exposed flesh revealed a long gash, incurred while trying to climb over a log that had a sharp, protruding branch. It looked nasty. In more ways than one. I shuddered. And I also felt the guilt-pang that Connie, the fucking coffee drinker, intended me to feel.

She healed up okay, but geez, if a nearby bear had smelled that blood, it would have been curtains for her.

So you see, coffee not only inconveniences yourself and others, it can be downright dangerous.

Therefore, to save your ass from bears, I’m going to recapitulate on the advice I gave earlier in this post. Here is the best way to visit Yellowstone:

  1. Get the hell out of bed. Early.
  2. Quit the coffee habit. Way before your visit.
  3. If you can’t quit, wear Depends.
  4. And I’ll add a fourth piece of advice. Never climb over a log with sharp branches sticking out of it. No matter how badly your coffee makes you want to go.

This is your bladder on coffee.

Categories: Travel

24 replies »

  1. Well there is coffee and then there is coffee.

    The ‘coffee’ that many people drink is half sugar and cream, so it is really just coffee flavored candy drink. You drink this candy in a hurry and have to go pee.

    Black coffee, on the other hand, is sipped slowly during the course of the morning and provides a slow, but steady, stream of caffeine into your body without all of the candy to make your body go crazy. I sipped coffee all through Yellowstone without a problem with bathrooms.

    But, there is your dehydration option too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Then they must have been drinking candy coffee, because they were pissing all day. I just drank tapwater, and never had a problem.

      On the other hand, my bladder must be the size of a tanker truck, because I can usually last eight or ten hours without needing to use facilities. That comes in handy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve heard that Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon are so crowded there’s little parking and poor viewing, much less being able to get close enough for decent photos You did well, Tippy How many people did you have to knock over to get to the good viewing points?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. According to National Geographic, in 2018 Great Smoky Mountains National Park was our most popular by attendance. It received over 11 million visitors. ~ Been there a number of times.

    Number 2 was the Grand Canyon, with 6 million. ~ Been there twice.

    Number 3 was Rocky Mountain National Park, with 4.5 million. ~ Been there a few times.

    Number 4 was Zion National Park, with 4.3 million. ~ Been there twice.

    And straggling in at number 5 was Yellowstone, with 4.1 million. ~ Been twice.

    And most of my visits took place before the parks became overcrowded with coffee swilling, Depends wearing, bladder-challenged, sleepy-headed visitors.

    So, YAY!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. BTW: Our local Museum of Science and Nature, The Bishop, just announced its next Special Exhibit (9/21/19 – 1/5/20):


    Not sure if it will coincide with your visit, but it’s a traveling exhibit from the American Museum of Natural History in New York so you might be able to catch it somewhere.

    Of course, you can’t catch a Unicorn without a great degree of luck and skill.
    And personality and panache.
    But I’ve heard that if you offer them a cup of coffee they won’t turn you down.
    Of course, that could just be a myth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the heads-up. But that’s a little out of our time frame, and a little distant from where we plan to be (Miami and The Keys). Those unicorns sure can be elusive. But the ones that drink coffee can be found at any restroom.


  5. Mmmmm…coffeeee! I don’t have a bladder so well depends wouldn’t work for me. Even without coffee you wouldn’t want me on the trip. I’m unable to work due to not having a bladder and the extreme frequency I live with.

    And I ‘m not a morning person so getting up early to go anywhere and I don’t mix.

    I’ve been on this trip too with my blasted family as a kid. I do remember some of it.

    It sounds like you had an interesting trip that may have been better with out extra people along. lol

    Love your pics.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yeah, I guess you can’t be more than a dozen steps from some sort of facility. But at least you have a good excuse. I can be patient with good excuses.

      The extra people were actually worth the extra pain. They were fun to be around, in spite of their addictive behavior. It was just a matter of tolerating the annoying things, in order to appreciate the good things.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I hear they’re very dependable, though I’ve never tried them.

      We always returned to the campground by five or six, and that after a long drive from visiting whatever the last site was that we saw. So I’m not sure how the parking is, late in the day.

      The park stays open 24/7. And I imagine there’s plenty of parking anywhere, around midnight.


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