Montana, US National Parks, Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park (part I) – North Entrance to Norris Geyser Basin

I’ve been blogging for well over a year now and yet I’ve somehow managed to barely mention the one place I’ve visited more than any other: Yellowstone National Park.

I’ve been there at least 50 times (not an exaggeration) and it just never gets old. Consequently, I have well over 2000 photos of the park. Which is a large part of the reason I’m just now getting around to writing about it. That’s a LOT of photos to sort through.

You’d think I’d just stop taking pictures of places I’ve been before. Yeah, not so much. My mom always jokes that she has other photos of Yellowstone, but “not with this camera.” And so our Yellowstone photo collection continues to grow.

I grew up less than 2 hours away from both the north and west entrances to Yellowstone, so a visit to the park was a day trip, a weekend camping getaway, or a winter cross-country ski destination. Usually all three in a given year.

Yellowstone is huge. And filled with incredible variety. Where else can a person see geysers, hot springs, lakes, waterfalls, canyons, elk, and bison all in the same day? Of course, if you’re not from the area and are going on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Yellowstone, I recommend spending much more than one day there. We took Pat there last summer for three days and even then there was plenty we didn’t see. Heck, there are things I still haven’t seen. My point is, there’s something there for everybody and you’ll never run out of things to do. 

My advice: take every hike, stop at every pullout, and visit every geyser basin, because each place offers something different. Plan enough time to really enjoy the park.

The park is relatively square in shape and the main roads form a rough figure-eight. There are five entrances so the park can be accessed from all directions, and since the roads are loops everything is reasonably well-connected. With the photos below, I’m going to start in the northwest corner at the Gardiner, MT entrance and work my way counterclockwise around the park in a series of posts.

Map source: http://www.nps/gov/yell

After much deliberation, I’ve managed to narrow my photo collection down to the few that best represent the variety the park has to offer.

Well, okay, so “few” might not be the right word.

From the north entrance station, the road hugs the Gardner River and immediately begins to climb. Rather steeply. It’s not the most fun road to navigate. But the views from the top are fantastic and we sometimes catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep on the cliffs that rise above the road. The road also passes the 45th parallel, which is the line of latitude that lies exactly half way between the equator and the North Pole.

Gardner River


At the top of the hill is Mammoth Campground. We’ve stayed here a lot, and there are always plenty of elk wandering through. We’ve also seen bears, pronghorn, bison, and deer in the area.


Beyond the campground (and up another rather steep section of road) is Mammoth – both the small town and the hot spring. Yellowstone is more famous for its geysers, but there are also many hot springs in the park. The heat of the water provides the perfect environment for heat-loving thermophilic bacteria to flourish, while the minerals in the water accumulate over thousands of years, contributing to the unique formations at Mammoth.


Baby elk!

There is a parking lot and boardwalks at the base of the Mammoth Hot Spring terrace and also a 1.5 mile (2.4 km) loop drive on top of the terrace. I recommend doing both; the terrace looks very different from each vantage point.

It is, of course, very important to stay on the established roads, trails, and boardwalks. The ground at Yellowstone is very fragile and easily damaged, not to mention the fact that there’s often boiling water just beneath the surface that can cause third degree burns if someone’s foot should happen to break through.

Okay, safety spiel completed.

dscn0646-120150722_202910-120150722_204647-120150722_202312-1dscn0661-1Palette SpringMain TerraceCanary Spring

Canary Spring
Photos from the Upper Terrace Loop

From Mammoth, there are two options; head east towards Tower Junction or south towards Norris Geyser Basin. For this post, we’ll head south.

On the way to Norris are many roadside attractions: Golden Gate Falls, Sheepeater Cliff, Obsidian Cliff, and Roaring Mountain are the main ones, but of course there are forests, lakes, and viewpoints all along the 21 mile (34 km) route. Yellowstone also has an abundance of picnic areas so you’ll never be far from a place to stop and eat (and pee).

Golden Gate Falls
Swan Lake Flats


Roaring Mountain
Six years ago, I climbed Sheepeater Cliff. My mom happened to take this photo just as I slipped and slammed my shin into the rock. I still have the scar. But I made it to the top!
In 1988, over one third of Yellowstone burned in historic forest fires. Here, the forest has started to regenerate.

The one thing I haven’t done in this area that I’d really like to do is summit Bunsen Peak. My mom and sister did this hike a couple summers back and the views were amazing! Unfortunately their time on top was cut short when a giant grizzly bear appeared, so I guess they’ll just have to hike it again… with me this time!


(Bunsen Peak photos taken by my sister)

At this point we’ve arrived at Norris Geyser Basin. This is one of the most active basins in the park, and it’s certainly the most rapidly-changing one. Yellowstone is very dynamic; every time I visit, something is different. Thermal features change all the time. One day hot water bubbles up and the next, things have shifted and what once was a spring is now a dry bed of minerals. This is because Yellowstone experiences hundreds of tiny earthquakes each day that shift around the underground plumbing.


Emerald Pool
Norris Geyser Basin
Echinus Geyser
Echinus Geyser
Steamboat Geyser is the world’s tallest geyser. It erupts every 4 days to 50 years; it’s extremely unpredictable. Nevertheless, seeing it erupt is on my bucket list.
Cistern Spring drains right before Steamboat Geyser erupts. If you ever see it emptier than this, it’s your lucky day!

The pastel-colored springs of Porcelain Basin are also accessible from the Norris boardwalks. I haven’t spent as much time down in Porcelain Basin, but I absolutely love the views from above!

Porcelain Basindscn8562-1

Porcelain Basin

This post is getting really long, so I’m going to end it for now and I’ll pick up here in the next post.

19 thoughts on “Yellowstone National Park (part I) – North Entrance to Norris Geyser Basin”

  1. Wow, it’s a lot bigger than I thought it was! You only ever see photos of the big stuff so I enjoyed this (and looking forward to reading the next few posts!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For once, I’m speechless! Yellowstone looks absolutely stunning – it’s lovely to see more of what the park has to offer in your post, as so many other articles I’ve seen focus primarily on the geysers. The abundance of wildlife must make for some interesting hikes – the baby elk is adorable, but I think I’d rather not come across a grizzly at the summit of a mountain! Looking forward to the rest of your Yellowstone series 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So true, I see so much about the geysers and that’s not even my favorite part of the park! And yes always the chance for a wildlife encounter…definitely something we keep in mind when hiking there. Thanks for reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I suppose the geysers also get a lot of publicity as a result of the brainless tourists who step off the boardwalks and end up in geyser-related accidents, which is a terrible shame but also extremely ignorant of them in the majority of cases. I’ve nominated you for the Blogger Recognition Award as I really enjoy reading your posts and seeing your photos from across the US –

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoyed this visit to Yellowstone, and clearly you are a devotee to this remarkable place in the world. Your photos capture so much of the geologic and wildlife beauty, and lend a great tribute to this unique park.

    Liked by 1 person

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