Chapter 1: Five key things to prep before your 2023 vacation to Yellowstone National Park
“Mi tse a-da-zi” was the name given by the Minnetaree Tribe to a large river lined by yellow cliffs that flowed just south of their Montana home. It literally translates as “Rock Yellow River”. Lewis & Clark told the world about it and, over time, it become Yellowstone. Lying inside an active supervalcano, Yellowstone National Park now preserves over 10,000 hydrothermals (over half of the world’s total) and the largest concentration of mammals in the contiguous U.S. This makes it both an exciting and dangerous place to visit. So it’s critical to prep these 5 specific things before heading out on your vacation to Yellowstone in 2023 . . .
There’s something for everyone at Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park holds a special place in our nation’s history. Designated a national park, in 1872 (the world’s first), Yellowstone could provide a lifetime of adventure to even the most ardent wanderer. Whether you’re single, married, have children, or a senior, there is something for everyone to enjoy on a vacation to Yellowstone. That’s just one of the reasons we’ve added it to the list of 2023 Top 10 Travel Destinations.
Unable to walk far? No problem, just hang around the Old Faithful geyser basin. It can be more interesting than you might think. More of a hiker? Head north to the Norris geyser basin for a rare treck around some incredible geological features found no where else on the planet. Prefer a more risque outing far from the crowds? Pack a picnic basket and head to Lamar Valley for the most authentic wildlife viewing on the continent. Just be sure bring an extra basket for Yogi and his friends. Doing even these three things could easily fill a week or two. But be aware, they could also offer a glimpse of nature that you might not be ready for.
Understanding the “nature” of Yellowstone’s nature is essential before you wander its many gems. Harsh and potentially toxic landscapes, inhabitated by large numbers and variety of often aggresive wildlife can be an eye opener to many visitors, even those well travelled in the National Park System. Add quirky weather, and you’re in for quite a show. So it is important to pack your common sense and do a little research on the dangers before you go. By doing so you can experience some of the most inspiring and haunting landscapes on the planet. Most importantly, you can do so safely.
For wanderers in Yellowstone, this means prepping mentally and physically in 5 key ways before going on your 2023 vacation to Yellowstone.
5 things to prep before you go to Yellowstone in 2023
- Understand the risk. While the vast majority of visitors to Yellowstone face no dangers, many do. Yellowstone is notorious for people falling into the boiling hot geysers and being boiled alive. They’re usually young men, too confident in their physical abilities, and showing off. But not always – sometimes they are female or older. Plus, the wildlife is indeed wild. “Tourists” never seem to understand this. Every year visitors get too close to the “cute little animals” and are attacked, goured, or trampled by bison, elk, grizzly or black bears, even wolves. This “Disney effect” is due to seeing too many animated movies over the years and thinking . . . “yeah, all animals are cute and fluffy – and want to be my friend”. Well, that’s a lie. Wildlife is called wild for a reason and must be respected – keep your distance. The roads also have a reputation for danger, wether from wildlife or other humans.
- Pack for anything. The weather can spin on a dime in Yellowstone, thanks to the nearby Grand Tetons and numrous large bodies of water. Summers are trending increasingly warm. And winters are always come early and are cold. The weatherman is rarely right in Yellowstone and since you may be traveling great distance during the day, dress in light layers and bring a rain jacket that can double as a light jacket if the weather turns. The North Face Ventura 2 Waterproof rain jacket is a perfect one. It’s been my constant travel companion around the world. Columbia Silver Ridge convertible pants and matching quick-wicking Columbia PFG Tamiami™ II Long Sleeve Shirt with roll up sleeves are a god-send as well. They’re adaptable, easy to wash by hand, and add a layer of protection from UV rays when needed. Consider these items “essentials” on your vacation to Yellowstone – and long-term investments that will pay big dividends on future wanderings.
- Accept that there will be delays. The scale of Yellowstone is massive. It may not seem like it on a map, but due to topography, two lane roadways, and the abundance of stop-and-go traffic due to wildlife crossings/sightings, you’re travel times can easily double. There is not much you can do about this. However, it can also produce “happy little accidents” that more than make up the delays. So . . . be patient, wander with your mind at the majesty of Creation around you and slow down, drive safely – do so and you may even learn to love delays. Seriously. Oh, and we strongly suggest listening to the GyPSy Driving Guide as you travel. Affordable and chock full of historical and geological information, plus helpful tips for pitstops and food along your drive.
- Bring a solid pair of binoculars. As you wander Yellowstone, you’ll encounter just about every major animal it is known for. Elk, moose, and bison appear more often than you’d expect. They generally like to keep their distance, but they do understand that it is there home and will roam it in such a way that they establish ownership over it. That’s why typical tourists get attacked so often – simple lack of respect. So show the park’s inhabitants respect. The best way to do this is from a distance via binoculars. A good pair of solid binoculars will get you closer to any animal than you’d feel comfortable to do physically. We suggest the Adasion 12×42 HD binoculars. They gave us great magnification at Yellowstone and are ruggedized for heavy use. They also came with a padded neckstrap and smartphone attachment. Be aware: a good pair of binoculars can quickly become your most cherished asset in Yellowstone.
- Carry your own firstaid. You’ll encounter Park Rangers quite often. You may even wonder “Gesh, why are there so many?” The reason they seem to be everywhere is because they know where the action (and their help) is needed most. So they basically camp out there all day. They know all the most common wildlife crossings and what times of day they’ll happen. They actively track bears and always try to be between them and the tourists. Plus, they genuinely want to be as responsive as possible. They’re great folks – I use to work with them at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in a past life. But, in the end, they’re just human. So if you have an accident they may not be able to get there in time. That’s why it is critical that you carry a fully stocked First Aid kit. It must go above-and-beyond the typical bandaids and aspirin. First, it must be stored in a lightweight, waterproof container. At minimum, it must have the necessary tools to address open wounds and burns, including cold packs. Splints, emergency blanket, tweezers, a whistle and matches are also suggested. We have had great luck with this lightweight, waterproof starter kit here. It’s lightweight and durable. We highly recommend it.
One last thing about wandering Yellowstone
Lastly, I want to reinforce that there is a major difference between the outlook of a wanderer and a tourist. And it all revolves around common sense. It will prove more valuable than gold during your travels. So don’t leave it home, rusting away. Pack it first for every adventure. And on your vacation to Yellowstone in 2023, unpack it first.
“Always remember, you’re not a tourist on this planet. You’re a wanderer – one seeking the truth. And that’s what life and every little thing in it is all about. Truth.” -Kenneth R. Dodson, Wanderer
In my next blog, we’ll take a look at the best areas of Yellowstone and its surroundings for encountering wildlife, hiking rare geological formations, and taking a rest break.