The particular route we took on our last road trip had us driving to Yellowstone, down to Tetons, and back up to Yellowstone before headed up to Glacier. So we had one day to follow our own advice and take some hikes through the park while driving from south to north.
Our hike around Two Ocean Lake in Grand Teton completely soaked our hiking shoes. A night of airing them out in our tent rain fly area wasn't enough to dry them out and we weren't game to wear wet shoes while hiking. We packed light for the summer. So short hikes with our Chacos were in order (I consider it a personal win that I convinced Kelly to buck style and go with function as the cold morning air dictated we started the day in Chacos + socks). After shooting the Milky Way and sunrise over Jackson Lake, we headed north to Yellowstone.
Grand Prismatic Overlook
Our first (and really our only) mission was to get up to the Grand Prismatic Overlook. There is a pedestrian walkway around this giant geyser but we had seen so many photos of the geyser from above that we wanted to try to get the upper view. Internet research told us that there was an off trail path to an overlook. Better internet research told us that the park had now created an established trail to protect the fragile area that had been trampled by photographers. This established trail leaves on a broad gravel road from the Fairy Falls parking lot (side note, the Fairy Falls hike is supposed to be awesome but we didn't have the footwear for it this day).
A round trip hike of 1.2 miles brings you to some viewing platforms where you can really see the colors of the spring. It was pretty steamy when we were there but the views were stunning. (Warning: This hike is VERY popular. Bring your patience.) Now that the park has established this trail, please respect the area and stay on the viewing platforms.
The Fairy Falls Trailhead is on the western side of the park, north of Old Faithful and south of Madison.
Artists' Paint Pots
After driving on the one way Firehole Lake Drive (a great way to get away from crowds), we returned to the crowds at the Artist Paint Pots. We barely managed to get a parking spot and it was really a lot of work to fight the crowds. I had hopes of seeing beautifully colored springs and pools but the current water situation didn't afford that. Instead, we got to see the magic of the bubbling muddy springs. The round trip was about a mile up and around boardwalks. Super crowded but very cool. The trailhead is on the western side of the park, between Madison and Norris.
A super short hike of less than 1/2 a mile, this hike is on the northern end of the park, between Mammoth Hot Springs & Tower-Roosevelt (we drove up from Tetons through Grant Village, bypassing Old Faithful, through Madison & Norris and over to Canyon Village (where we grabbed lunch). Then we drove north to Tower and west toward Gardiner to check into our lodging for a few nights.
Despite the crowds at these hikes, getting out and on foot is the best way to see the vastness and diversity of Yellowstone. They are substantially less crowded than Old Faithful and will likely be comfortably quiet early (before 9 am) or late (after 5 pm) even in busy season.