While staying in West Yellowstone you will enter Yellowstone through the West entrance. At the park gate be sure to pick up the “Yellowstone Today” and a park map. This park newspaper will give you a wealth of helpful information: updates on road conditions and construction, news about special events and interpretive programs and park regulations.
After entering Yellowstone here you will follow along the famous Madison River. At 2.5 miles is where you will leave Montana and enter Wyoming. Along the way you should take the small pull out Riverside Drive, you will get closer to the river to watch for Canada geese, trumpeter swans and a close look of the cold, clear flow of the Madison River. Just after that, be sure you are watching for the bald eagles in the nesting area. You will not be able to stop but you can watch for them here. You will also have a great view of Mt. Haynes and National Park Mountain.
At the Madison Junction turn left towards Norris. Along the way stop at Gibbon Falls, Beryl Springs and Artists’ Paint Pots. At the Norris intersection, turn left on a short road to the parking lot. Here you will find more self-guided trails through the area’s two very different geyser basins: Porcelain Basin and Back Basin. The Norris Geyser Basin has been active for more than 100,000 years, making it the oldest and hottest thermal area in all of Yellowstone and one of the hottest in the world. Be sure to visit the museum located between the two basins.
In the Back Basin is Steamboat Geyser, its 300-400- foot-high eruptions make it the tallest geyser in the world. Even though it is the tallest geyser it is very unpredictable. Echinus Geyser is the most popular of all the geysers at Norris and is the largest regularly-spouting geyser in the Norris area. It gets its name from the Greek word for “spiny.” Porcelain Basin is a relatively small area, but the geysers and other hot spring activity is highly concentrated. You will find too many geysers to name them all but you will find names like Harding Geyser, Dark Cavern Geyser and Valentine Geyser which was named for it’s eruption on Valentines day in 1907.
Then if you have time, stop at the Museum of the National Park Ranger. It contains exhibits the chronicle the history of the National Park Ranger from the days of the army soldier to modern times. If not your next stop is Roaring Mountain, getting its name from a steam vent near the summit of the peak that used to emit a rather startling howl and then on to Sheepeater Cliffs. Watch for Rustic Falls and the bright orange and yellow rocks called Golden Gate, Bunsen Peak and the Upper Terrace Drive where you will find The Hoodoos!– which are actually pieces of old hot spring terraces that tumbled down the mountain.
Now you are approaching the Mammoth Terraces. Park in the parking lot and take a good long walk to see all the magnificent sets of travertine. You will see fanciful colors in many of these thermal features that are caused by masses of primitive microorganisms living in the water. Stop by the visitor center while at Mammoth Hot Springs where you will find three excellent movies and some fine exhibits spotlighting Yellowstone history.
From Mammoth Hot Springs we will now go to Tower-Roosevelt. Along the way you will see Undine Falls and soaring views of the park’s drier northern climate. Take the Blacktail Plateau Drive if you like and watch along the way for a variety of birds, from yellow-headed blackbirds to sandhill cranes. When you reach the main road again watch for the turnoff to Petrified Tree. A redwood tree that was buried in volcanic ash some 45 to 50 million years ago; a good reminder that climate conditions in Yellowstone were much warmer and wetter than today. Remote Specimen Ridge (no automobile access) located 6 miles to the southeast, contains the largest concentration of standing petrified trees in the world.
From here you will continue on to Tower Falls heading to Canyon Village. Seeing Mount Washburn and going over the Dunraven Pass. From Canyon you will go to Norris, the Madison Junction and back to West Yellowstone.
Remember to pace yourself if you expect to stop along the way. These day trips can also be extended into 3 or 4 days or more depending on how much time and walking the board walks you want to do.
For a more in depth guide or to purchase a wonderful guide of ahead of time from visit the Yellowstone Association web site and purchase Yellowstone – The Official Guide To Touring America’s First National Park.