E29 – Let’s Go To Yellowstone National Park
In today’s episode, I speak with Scott Ellis about Yellowstone National Park.
Scott is the Founder at pixelterra, an Intrepid explorer, and endlessly curious. His interests include travel, tech, science, wine, & music, but not necessarily in that order.
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Here is a transcript of the podcast. Please keep in mind this was done via AI, so there are typos and mistakes.
Welcome to the roaming Yeti podcast where we share stories and tips to inspire you to roam your neighborhood and the world. I’m your host and Headley Eddie Beth Schillaci. In today’s episode, I speak with Scott Ellis about Yellowstone National Park. Scott is the founder at pixel Terra and intrepid explorer and endlessly curious. His interests include travel tech, science, wine and music, but not necessarily in that order. Are you ready? Let’s Roam. Welcome back to the roaming Yeti Podcast. I’m really excited. Today I’m talking with Scott Ellis about Yellowstone National Park, which is one of those things that I’ve always been interested in. And now now I’m gonna get get some information from the expert, shall I say, Scott, thanks for joining me today. Yeah, I’m glad to be here. Like I think I said when we first connected, I will I will talk to anybody that wants to talk about Yellowstone. I don’t know that I would consider myself an expert. But I’ve been several times I love that park. I will go back any number of times that I can. So yeah, more than happy to chat about it and answer any questions you have. Excellent. So how many times have you traveled to or been to Yellowstone?
To my best recollection, I’ve been six times. Okay. So over the span of about 20 years, I went for the first time in 1996. And the last time I was there was 28, tene? Or was it 2016? Now I’m getting confused, but 20 to 22 years, but six trips total.
Okay. So you’ve seen a, I don’t know that you’ve seen the park change so much. But have you seen like how people use the park and congestion in the park? And what have been the major changes you’ve seen in that span of time?
So one of the neat things about Yellowstone is because it’s so geothermally active, that? Well, the big things that you go to see there are still there, the park itself is changing constantly. Okay. So in terms of of the the non nature parts of it, yeah, it’s gotten a lot more crowded. So it used to be that when I first started going, the ideal time to go, it kind of depends on what you want to do. But from my perspective, the ideal time to go was around the second or third week of September. Because most of the families were, you know, kids were back in school, so you didn’t have a lot of families there. The park was kind of emptying out. And it’s starting to cool off, particularly at altitude. So the animals are coming down, you’re seeing more animals, they’re much more active. At you know, as the temperatures have kind of stayed a little warmer a little longer into September, I’d say that that timelines probably been pushed back a couple of weeks. The last time we went was the roughly the third week of September. And it was still pretty warm. And I’m sure that can fluctuate year to year, but just kind of as a rule, it was still pretty warm. There wasn’t quite as much wildlife viewing. Still good, but it just wasn’t as much as I’d seen in years past. And it was it was crowded, it was still a lot of people. It wasn’t as much families but it was more overseas tourists that I think had kind of caught on to that being a good time of year to go. So large groups, busloads of people, you know, so you had to kind of go out of your way to navigate around them. But generally now if I was gonna go back, I’d want to go at the very tail end of September, maybe early October. Now that said, I mentioned it was warm when I was there that time but the temperature still fluctuates a lot. So even though it was generally a little warmer, there were a couple of days that we had snow flurries, so it does fluctuate quite a lot while you’re there that time of year.
Yeah, that I have to prepare for for packing with that for sure. Yep. What it like what is it about Yellowstone that keeps getting you back there? What do you love so much about it?
I think it’s just the sheer variety of of things to see and experience. I I’ve been to a number of national parks and none of them have just the quantity of natural scenery of all the geothermal features of the diversity and activity of wildlife. It’s it I mean, the place is just overwhelming when you go especially if you go at the right time of year. You will just see so much stuff. There’s no possible way in one trip you’re gonna see the whole Park, it’s about a 3500 square mile National Park, it covers a lot of ground. So yeah, there are parts that are definitely kind of highlights if it’s your first trip, I would recommend going to that maybe we can get into that and a little bit, but absolutely. You know, I just every time I go back, I see something new. But I also revisit things I’ve seen before and they’re they’re just as spectacular as the first time I saw them.
Yeah. And, and you said you have. So this is not the only national park, there has been many, many other national parks that you’ve visited. So that’s, you know, at least you’re able to compare. And it’s not just like, well, it’s the only one I went to. So therefore it’s the best one.
No, yeah, no, I’ve been to 13 different national parks. I think there’s I want to say there’s 63 I think national parks in the country, I’d have to look that up to validate it. But there’s plenty of others that are definitely worth visiting that are absolutely beautiful. But you’re excuse me, I wanted to say Yosemite Yellowstone, still rises to the top is my favorite.
And, and from what I did a little bit of research, it’s the second largest national park. And you said even with the 3500 square miles, like it’s massive. So what should a first time visitor like what are the must dues.
So some of these are going to be the things you might have heard about and would expect, but they’re definitely things you should see if you’ve never been to the park before. So Old Faithful is clearly kind of the crowning jewel, if you will. It’s not quite as perfectly timed as you might be led to believe there’s a little bit of variance and how frequently it goes off. But it’s reasonable enough that you know, it’s in a pretty accessible central part of the park. Definitely go, you know, get there a little early, have a seat on a bench and definitely watch old faithful because it’s a lot of fun. The Norris Geyser Basin is a good one. The Yellowstone Falls and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is really really neat to see. And another one is there’s an area called Mammoth Hot Springs. And then of course, there’s just tons of other like grand the Grand Prismatic is a very popular site. And my personal favorite is an area called the Lamar Valley. And the Lamar Valley is a little bit out of the way you get, you’re gonna put in a pretty good drive to get up there. By pretty good, I mean, it’s probably a good 45 minutes to an hour, depending on people in traffic in depending on where you’re at the park. But it kind of is up in the north eastern part of the park, I believe, somewhat Central, but it’s up in the northeastern direction. And there’s tends to not be as many people out there. It is a valley. So you’ve got hills and mountains on either side. There’s a river that runs through it, it’s a great place to just kind of get off the beaten path, you know, park a car, do a little hiking along the river, you’ll probably see some pretty interesting wildlife while you’re out there. And on the way out there and some neat volcanic sites and geothermal features that you’ll see along the way. So it’s I love going up to up to the Lamar Valley. And if you time it just right, it’s one of the more reliable places that I’ve found to see the wolves. Oh, so yeah, that’s obviously obviously you can see them just by looking if they’re if they’re out there and they’re active, but it’s a good idea to bring a spotting scope or something like that. So you get a little better luck, obviously you’re not going to want to approach them shape or form
Yeah, I mean that that sort of leans into one conversation one question I had for you is I feel like every summer we we hear more and more about people doing stupid stuff. I’m just gonna just gonna say it irresponsible and things in the national parks you know, what, what are some etiquette tips that we can we can let people know to do or not to do?
Oh, so there’s etiquette tips and then there’s just don’t be stupid tips. You know, from an etiquette standpoint, I would say keep in mind that you like you everyone else that’s there is there to see the sights. So clean up after yourself. Pick up your trash. They have trash cans and places to put things all over the park that are safe that are animal proofed. So, you know if there isn’t something nearby, pack it in and take it with you until you get to a place to dispose of it. Don’t leave your garbage lying around and If you’re in a place where there’s a lot of people crowding around the city, something, don’t just stand there for minutes or hours on end, trying to take in the sights and take your photos, I mean, do your thing. But keep in mind, other people are there to see these things as well and just be considerate of the people around you. And as long as you do that, I think from an etiquette standpoint, you’re just fine. As far as the Don’t be stupid stuff. We could have a whole conversation just on that. But the things I see most often, and I have seen these both, like, like many of you on YouTube or on Instagram, but also in person, I’ve seen people do these things, where the single biggest thing is they just get too close to the wildlife. And you have to remember that this is a national park. This is not a zoo, it is definitely not a petting zoo. The animals are generally pretty tame around people. If you’re in your car, like it’s not uncommon to get stuck in a traffic jam because all the cars are backed up and stopped because there’s a herd of elk crossing the road or herd of buffalo crossing the road. So shoot a picture out your car window, but don’t get out of your car and approach the animals. Don’t try to take a selfie with a buffalo. Nine times out of 10 people don’t get hurt, but it can still go very badly. And when it goes badly, it can go very badly, right? There’s a great Instagram account that I just recently stumbled across called neurons of Yellowstone in Toronto is a mash up of tourists and morons. And it’s all just videos of people basically doing what I said not to do just getting way too close to the animals. Even the ones that seem kind of docile, are potentially dangerous, right? So just be aware of that. And the other thing is if there are boardwalks and pathways, there are also signs telling you to stay on the boardwalks stay on the walkways, heed those warnings, because some of these geothermal features are exceedingly dangerous. They’re beautiful to look at. But the ground around them is very fragile. It’s very easy to slip and fall. And the water that’s in many of them is extremely hot, boiling hot, and it’s also extremely acidic. And so you you will get hurt or die. If you fall into one there was a story a few years back. It’s really very sad. But there was a young man obviously he’s 19 or 20 and his little sister and they decided to get off the beaten path. And he got too close to one of the hot springs and slipped in. And they never found him again. By the time the park rangers were able to get out there this there was a storm rolling through. His sister, of course was probably traumatized for life from seeing this, but she went to get help. And you know, by the time they got there, the storm was rolling through there was nothing they could do to even find him. And they went out again the next day. But there were just no remains. The water was so hot, acidic that it literally just dissolved away. Wow. Yeah. Which is just a frightening, you know, way to think about dying just because you decided the rules don’t apply to you. Right in my sympathies to the family and to anybody that’s been through something like that. But those rules are in place for a very good reason. Right. And there are also times when Rangers will show up and they’re going to tell you to get back on back on the path. Or I’ve seen them have to go out and grab people from the field and say get back up here your you know that bear might be 50 yards away, but that bear can do 50 yards, right way faster than you can get back to the road. And people get mad and they get upset at the rangers and whatever. But they’re really trying to protect you. So just a little bit of common sense goes a long way.
Exactly. Yeah, it always It always surprises me. I’m like I it’s called wildlife for a reason.
Yeah, yeah. The wild part is definitely important.
Exactly. Um, so you mentioned your favorite places to see when you’re there is Lamar Valley, are there any other sort of off, like your second or third time, places that that you want to? That people should check out or?
I don’t have any other specific recommendations off the top of my head. But what I would say is, if you’re going back for repeated visits is just kind of drive around and explore the park. You just never know what you’re going to find where. But I’ve seen all manner of wildlife and all parts of the park everything from bear and moose in the wolves to lots of eagles and one day I sat on a bank in the Lamar Valley and just watch the Otters fish. They were just they dive down grab a fish crawl up on the other side of the bank and eat their fish and go back in the water and then they He started getting curious about me. So I snapped a couple pictures and then got out of their way. But you just never know what you’re gonna see where so drive slow. Because you might miss something really cool. If you’re driving too fast trying to get from point A to point B, take your time, plan the day, and really just explore the park and keep your eyes open. Because there’s all kinds of fun things.
I mean, how many days do you would you suggest if you’re going if that’s a destination? Is it a one day to drive thru couple days? Like what? What amount of time should people set aside?
It really depends on how much you want to see and explore. I would say at a minimum on your first trip. Bare minimum two to three days. And even then you’re there’s a lot you’re not going to see. But I think the last time we went out there, and again, I’ve been this was my sixth trip. My wife and I went out there and I think we spent about three and a half days in the park. Okay. So quite a bit of time.
Yeah, that’s definitely. And do you where do you stay? Or do you guys camp? Are there hotels? What are sort of the options?
Yeah, so there’s, there are campgrounds, you do have to make reservations for the campgrounds. So if you’re planning to camp, I would definitely get on that sooner than later. But you can either stay in Jackson, which is south of the park, and it’s probably a good solid 45 minutes to an hour drive to the south end of the park. I think it’s about that far. But there’s lots of hotels of varying types in Jackson. But we also I like to stay in West Yellowstone. It’s a smaller town it’s not quite as swanky and ritzy as Jackson tends to be a little bit more affordable. And it’s much closer to the western gate of the park. So within minutes, literally right, you drive into Jackson, you’re driving straight into the park. So if you want to spend a lot of time in the park, I would lean toward something like quest Yellowstone. Okay. Yeah, that’s so you’re not assuming you’re not camping? Or you know, doing something like that in the park.
Right? And where do you where do you fly into if you’re traveling from, you know, you’re not driving to the park is there? You got it.
You got a couple options. Jackson is the airport, Jackson airport feeds Jackson and the whole Jackson Hole area. I believe you can fly into West Yellowstone, I have never done it. But I think they have a small regional airport. I’m not sure where you’d have to hop through to get there. And then one year, we also flew into Bozeman, Montana, and drove over from there. And that was a bit more of a haul. But we were staying at a place outside the park up in Montana first and do some fly fishing and hiking and stuff like that. And then we went into the park. So yeah, those are all all definitely places that you can fly into. And Jackson tends to be the most expensive for sure. But it’s super convenient as well.
Right? That makes sense.
And do you know you need a reservation for camping? Do you know if you still need one to get into the park at this point?
I don’t believe so. I think I don’t think you need to. You have to buy a pass or a park ticket to get in. And I don’t know how much that is right now. But you don’t need a reservation time reservation or anything like that.
Okay. Yeah, I didn’t I didn’t know if they’ve changed that or not. So that’s, that’s good to know. I
want to say that they did a while back. At least for a little while. And I don’t know if it was a function of controlling crowds or the number of people in the park during COVID or something along those lines. But last time I looked into it, they were not requiring reservations.
Yeah. Let’s get to now. And so we know where to stay like are in West Yellowstone or even in Jackson, do you like like have some favorite places you like to eat or visit? You know, outside of the parks? Or? Um,
well, yeah, so in Jackson, there’s a ton of good places. I mean, pretty much throw a stone and you’re gonna find something pretty decent. I wish I could remember the names of some of the restaurants. There’s a pizza joint that’s kind of on the one of the many North South drags, I can’t think of the name of it, but it’s it’s fun. It’s in an old theater. And they had good pizza. You know, the hotels usually have pretty good restaurants in them. So even if you’re not staying there, they’ve got some nice restaurants that are associated with the hotels. In West Yellowstone. The options are tend to be more casual, and a little bit more limited, but still some you know, great, good places to go. Also, some of them are in hotels, but there’s some standalone, like really good kind of bars and places like that just to grab a bite to eat. And a lot of times, what we would also do is there’s I know, I can’t think of the name of the, there’s a deli in West Yellowstone that makes just amazing sandwiches, it would not be hard to google it and figure out what it was. But they but we would go in and just load up on sandwiches and food and drinks and have a cooler and then take that with us into the park. Because the park is, like I said, it’s so big, that your food options are much more limited that you probably want to take something with you so that if you get hungry, you can just pull over and have a snack and look at the mountains or the wildlife or whatever the case may be.
Yeah, then you don’t have to worry about the crowds. You’re just Yeah, that’s probably better. It’s probably
better. Yeah, yeah, there’s a pretty there’s a nice restaurant. So there’s a large kind of a hotel slash lodge inside of Yellowstone, I think it’s called the Yellowstone Lodge. And they’ve got a restaurant and bar in there. That’s, that’s good. We, in fact, one of the days that it started snowing on us, we just went in there and sat for a while and kind of lit the snowpass and had some drinks and some food. And it was really good, very friendly staff, great bartenders and neat environment. So definitely check out Yellowstone Lodge, if you get a chance. And if you’ve got the time have a bite to eat.
It’s always a good suggestion. And given like you’re saying like, it could snow, it could be nice, like, what what should someone on their first time? Like? What should we pack like, both wearing wise or anything else? Like what do we need in our suitcase for that trip,
super comfortable shoes. So you know, leave your dreams of being fashionable, behind cars, you will walk a lot. And it’s, you definitely want to put on some really comfortable shoes. If you’re going to do any real hiking. Obviously, you probably would want some hiking boots. But if you’re just doing sort of general seeing the sights staying fairly close to the roads, then something like tennis shoes are just fine. But just whatever you wear, make sure you get uncomfortable shoes. And then you know kind of the same thing you would for almost any other mixed climate where it’s going to vary a lot as wear layers. But then also, you know, you wouldn’t think of it maybe in Yellowstone, but wearing a baseball hat, bring some sunscreen because it literally could snow one day and it could be blazing hot the next afternoon or maybe even in the same day. And at that altitude, you get burned a little easier. So I tend to slather up and if I’m wearing a t shirt, otherwise a long sleeve shirt. But yeah, anything that you can layer and you should be good to go.
Gotcha. That’s and we know to pack a cooler with snacks. Yes, good.
Definitely. Definitely bring your snacks, your lunch, whatever you want to pack in there.
And with with wildlife, some kind of camera, right?
Yeah, I mean, most people have those on their phones these days in there. And those are way better than the camera I had when I first started going to Yellowstone. So you’re probably good to go. Right? But charger batteries, you know, because you’re gonna be out in the park all day long. And certainly you can charge it in the car. But if you’re with a bunch of people, you probably have to be swapping out. Depending on how much photos you’re shooting or how much video you’re shooting, things like that.
Right. Grab that backup charger with you. Yep. Well, this is really great information. Is there? Is there anything I forgot to ask that you want to share about the park?
Nothing that you’ve forgot to ask but something that I would add and I I would guess for most people that are interested in Yellowstone, this may be something they already know. But for anyone that doesn’t. What makes Yellowstone such a unique place is the fact that the majority of the park is it almost in its entirety, a volcanic caldera. So it is all those geothermal features are there because under the ground, literally it is it is a volcano. It’s not the kind of traditional triangular shaped, you know, pointy volcano with a cold air at the top. But it is something called a it’s actually something called a supervolcano. There is just a massive reservoir of magma underneath Yellowstone and it goes off they set about I think on average I could have this wrong but I think it’s about once every 650,000 years. So it’s not something where you’re likely to go there and it’s gonna go off but if it did, you wouldn’t know what hit you anyways. Not trying to scare people away from Yellowstone but it is. It is that that gives rise to all of these geysers and hot springs and mud pots and all that stuff to go see. And that makes it so interest thing and so beautiful. It has a lot of earthquakes. Most of them are very, very small, so you’re not going to feel them. Right. But do a little research on the Yellowstone caldera or the Yellowstone Volcano. There’s plenty of documentaries on it. It’s just it’s really, really interesting. And it’s, I think one of the key things that makes Yellowstone so special.
Yeah, that’s really interesting. sort of do that little bit of that history before, before heading out to it. This is great information. I always do this at the end, I do sort of a pop quiz that I don’t send questions. I love it. Me. And these are fine. I just sort of ask everyone these questions. What’s your favorite road trip snack?
was worse. I try not to eat too much candy like that. But for something about when I’m on a road trip. If I’m driving around all day, I like something I can just kind of chew on and it’s not gonna go bad. So for some reason, that’s become my, my road trip snack of choice. That’s not my seatbelt. Yeah, like chips are great. But then there’s gonna be crumbs all over the car. So it was it is.
It’s both delicious. And practical. I like it. Not nutritious, but delicious. Yes. But it’s there’s no fat, though, if I remember correctly, so. So it’s just pure sugar. It’s fine. That’s right. Road trip. Road trip. Calories don’t count. That’s my rule. Do you have a upcoming trip? What’s your next planned trip?
So no, nothing to a national park. I’m just going to Florida here in the near future for a couple of days. Now, that said, Everglades National Park is not far from where I’m going to be. But I don’t think we’re going to have a chance to get there. It’s one of them. I haven’t been to yet but it will definitely make it a priority. And then after that my wife and I are heading to England in September. Nice or a few days. Yeah, for 10 days.
Very fun. Do you have like a bucket list or Daydream trip?
Oh. So this is gonna come a little out of the blue but I am a big fan of opera. Okay. And I always wanted to attend an opera especially if it was like a opening night type gala in an office Austria in Vienna. So that would be high on my list. I there’s a lot of trips I would like to do but I think going to an opera in Vienna, that’s completely different than visiting a national park. But it’s something I would absolutely be thrilled like have a chance to go do
I love that. That’s a very cool, cool thing to do. And so this really leads into it. The last question which could be interesting was on your travel playlist? Do you have opera on your playlist when you when you road trip or
no I doubt there are certain areas that I will listen to once in a while. But generally I kind of stick with live if it’s going to be opera I don’t. And I’m like a cruising around Frisco Texas blast and you know, some Bharati. But let’s see what what’s on my playlist. You know, I tend to be a rock and roll guy. And some of the music I’m most associated with. Listening to when I’m driving around has been have been bands like a shine down. And some hailstorm and some things like that I tend to you know, when I’m in the car, that’s the kind of stuff I’m usually listening to keep you awake, keep you awake, keep you awake, and you know, sometimes on different parts of these trips. You know, road trips are fun, but there’s always like some long boring stretches too. And it’s nice to have something to keep you entertained. And yeah, that does it for me.
I’m very good. I love it. So thank you so much for this awesome information. And, you know, getting people excited to go safely to Yellowstone and, and enjoy themselves and get out there and adventure a little bit more. So thanks for your time.
Yeah, glad to be here. Thanks. We had a chance to talk about it and we’ll talk to you soon.
Sounds good. Thanks again to Scott for all the great information about visiting Yellowstone National Park. Be sure to check out our show notes to see how to connect with Scott. And thank you for listening. I hope these episodes inspire you to get out and roam even in your own neighborhood. Please subscribe so you don’t miss future episodes. And if you like what we’re doing here, please leave a rating and review. Also to help support us. Please head to Yeti to shop.com to pick up some roaming Yeti merch. Talk to you soon and keep roaming