Yellowstone National Park
As in most US National Parks, a network of highways exists to connect the most iconic sights of the Yellowstone National Park for tourists to easily access by motorized vehicle. We planned to drive through the park from south to north in one day and check out a few major sights along the way and joined thousands of other tourists doing the very same thing. Our first stop was the Upper Geyser Basin which is home to many geysers (including Old Faithful), steaming fumaroles, bubbling mudpots, hot springs and brightly coloured pools.
From there, we followed the Grand Loop Road north before cutting across eastward to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. By then we had stopped by many geothermal hot spots as part of a ridiculously large flock of tourists and we were getting a bit annoyed with it all. Just to clarify, the natural wonders were amazing but the crowds really deterred from the experience we had hopped for. By the time we got to the Lower Falls parking area, we were somewhat jaded. But when we reached the lookout, the sight of the Yellowstone River crashing down as a beautiful waterfall and flowing through the colourful canyon instantly lifted our spirits. We were reminded that Yellowstone is popular for a good reason: the raw beauty and power of its natural environment.
And what about the famous buffalo herds of Yellowstone? We found them as we were heading to the Northeast exist, one of the less busy access points to the park. Surprisingly, most of the terrain we had driven through until then was mostly flat coniferous forests similar to what we are used to in northwestern Ontario (with the exception of a few geysers here and there). But as we continued eastward, we entered mountainous terrain with picturesque rivers and creeks along which thousands of buffalo grazed and lazed.
East of Yellowstone and the Beartooth Highway
We left the boundaries of the Yellowstone National Park in Montana and continued to travel deeper into the mountains as we entered the Custer National Forest (Montana) / Shoshone National Forest (Wyoming). The sunset was beautiful and we ducked into an inconspicuous campground late at night. (Note: It was actually pretty hard to find a campground where tents were allowed – most on this stretch on highway were only open to motor homes.) The next morning, we walked down an embankment behind our tent to discover a stunning lake.
As we continued on highway 212, the landscapes became more dramatic as the highway steadily wound its way up mountainsides and we began to wonder how high the highway would climb. The answer is 3,337m! We later realized that this particular section of highway 212 is known as the Beartooth Highway, a National Scenic Byways All-American Road. Whatever the name stands for, it was one of the most beautiful drives we have experienced and the sparse traffic was a huge bonus. Whenever we stepped out of the car walk around and admire the scenery, we were shocked that we had just driven to this location. Eventually the road did start to loose elevation, and before too long we were down the mountain and back to travelling along straight highways in the sizzling summer heat.
To make good time on our way back to Thunder Bay we followed interstate highway 94, speeding through Montana and North Dakota back to the North Shore of Lake Superior. Once we reached Duluth it felt like we were on the home stretch of our trip and we slowed things down to savour the last moments of our travels. And savour we did, with the Canal Park brewery tour in Duluth and a delicious dinner on the lakeside patio at the Angry Trout in Grand Marais; a great way to conclude our US road trip.