We love Yellowstone, and we visit at least every other year. We’ve put together posts about Yellowstone’s Geothermal Features, Finding Animals in Yellowstone, and Yellowstone Kid Hikes. Another fun thing to do, though, is take a scenic drive. As true adventurers, we feel the need to know what is at the end of every road. So we are going to tell you which drives are worth your time in Yellowstone.
Before we get started, it’s important to get oriented. Think of Yellowstone as a large figure eight. The top two corners are Mammoth and Roosevelt. At the bottom of the upper part of the figure eight are Norris and Canyon. The top of the lower circle are Madison and Fishing Bridge. And the bottom of the lower circle has Old Faithful and West Thumb. We think of this basic shape of Yellowstone to help all of our conversations. There are several drives that you don’t want to miss in Yellowstone, but you should drive most of that figure eight while you are there.
The first, and most important drive that you don’t want to miss is Lamar Valley. The Lamar Valley Road runs from Roosevelt Junction out to the Northeast entrance. Why would you want to go to the Northeast entrance? Because that’s where all the animals are. Just on our last trip, we saw a black bear and her cubs, big horn sheep, mountain goats, otters, coyotes, buffalo, elk, otters, and a fox in Lamar Valley. This is our favorite place in the park. You don’t have to drive all the way to the entrance, just as far as Trout Lake, which is also our favorite hike in the park, but do not miss Lamar Valley.
The other must-do drive is actually on the figure eight. It is the road through Hayden Valley. It runs between Canyon and Fishing Bridge, so you’ll probably drive it out of necessity. This road is prime habitat for grizzly bears. Elk, moose, and deer are also common. The road follows right along the Yellowstone River, and it is clear, wide and very beautiful.
The first small road we recommend is the Firehole Canyon. This road is a paved one-way road (heading south) between Madison and Old Faithful. The road parallels the main road, but follows the Firehole River. There is a beautiful waterfall that you can see from a small parking lot. There is also a swimming hole if you come in July or August, so bring your swimsuit! Firehole Canyon road is only 2 miles, but large vehicles cannot drive this road.
Gull Point Drive
Gull Point Drive is one of our favorite drives because it is a perfect place to spot birds. This road runs about two miles and is paved the entire way. The road is shady and nice until it reaches the lake, then it runs right out on a causeway with the vastness of the lake on one side, and a nice lagoon on the other. Our boys think this is the greatest rock throwing place in Yellowstone.
Virginia Cascades is another road that parallels the main road between Norris and Canyon. It is one-way running west to east, so it is best to drive as you head from Norris toward Canyon so that you don’t double back. This road is a little rough, and like Firehole, it is not recommended for large vehicles. It runs right past a large beautiful waterfall. The view of the waterfall is partially obscured by trees, but it is still worth the ride.
Roads that are non-essential
Lake Butte Road
Lake Butte Road is paved and runs about a mile. It is located east of Fishing Bridge. This road winds up to the top of a hill where you can overlook the lake. There are bathrooms at the end of the road, and the view of the lake is beautiful. It is also one of the few places in the park where you might actually be alone. If you find yourself out that way, do this drive, but don’t go for the drive alone.
Fountain Flat drive is only a half of a mile on a paved road. It leads to a trailhead for a short hike. There isn’t a lot to see down Fountain Flat Road, but we always see bison in huge herds here. You can also park at the end and walk around, but there isn’t a formal trail.