hiking & camping in yellowstone

9:55 p.m. on April 12, 2009 (EDT)
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I'm taking the family for our first trip to Yellowstone. We are going to be tent camping for 4-5 days in mid-May. Does anyone have any advice for things we must see or must do? Myself and oldest son do quite a bit of boy-scout camping. So we think that we know most of what we need to do, but still looking for any advice

thanks for helping us out.

10:59 a.m. on April 13, 2009 (EDT)
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Nice! i wish i could go with you, the States' NP have no equal, but I'm stuck in beaver country for another year and a half.

2:28 p.m. on April 13, 2009 (EDT)
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Go to the park's website-


the concessionaire's website-


Rough Guide publishes nice guide books-I'd get one.

Check the park's website for reservations and things to see and do. Check the weather as well, some facilities aren't open in early May and there may still be snow in some places. I was there in summer, but it was a really long time ago, so no advice on what to see and do. We camped with a small trailer alongside a lake, if I remember right. Saw Old Faithful, the hot springs. You can fish there as well. Not sure about license requirements or when the season starts. The website should have all that.

9:33 p.m. on April 13, 2009 (EDT)
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There are so many things to see and do in Yellowstone that it's hard to recommend where to go in only 4 or 5 days. "Everyone has to see" Old Faithful, of course, and there is a nice campground in that area. But this also means you better reserve in advance. I recommend the northwest corner of the park in the Teddy Roosevelt area. You will see a lot of the wildlife there, plus there are a couple of nice campgrounds there. I do have to qualify "nice campground", though. They are nice for a crowded national park campground with lots of RVs. Many people do use tents, but a major fraction of the visitors are in RVs of one sort or another. I should also point out that it can be still pretty cold in mid-May. When we did the Traditional Great Western National Parks Tour when Young Son was 7 or 8 (gad, can't remember, it's so long ago - where does the time go?), we were glad to have warm sleeping bags. We also stopped for a few days in Grand Teton NP, just south of Yellowstone. I took a couple days to do the Exum Direct route on the Grand.

On the fishing, Yellowstone and Grand Teton, like most national parks, requires that you have a state fishing license, except that kids under some age (12?) do not need a license (don't let the rangers see you helping the kids!). The rules are pretty complex and confusing. Yellowstone Lake is catch and release for cutthroats over 15 inches, if I recall, but keep below that. On the Yellowstone River, on the other hand, it is the other way around. Fishing is forbidden at Fisherman's Bridge - that is reserved for the big furry guys (bring your camera with a long telephoto - there are usually a bunch of the grizzly scooping fish out of the creek at dawn and dusk). Some species are only catch and release, and some are keepers. But, as my comment about Yellowstone Lake vs Yellowstone River, it varies by which body of water within the park. Young Son was disappointed at the Lake when he caught a 24 inch cutthroat and the rules meant we had to toss it back (we have a photo - it was up to his shoulder when we, er I mean he, got it out and held it up so we could get the hook out and toss it back in the lake - and yes, he did hook it and follow Dear Old Dad's directions to work it in to shore, just a little help getting it up for the photo). Would have made a couple nights dinner for the family. Oh, that means you should have barbless hooks - makes undoing the hook much easier. There are also regulations on where you can use wet and dry flies, plugs, and live bait (kids can use live bait in some places, generally for keepers, not C&R).

9:56 p.m. on April 13, 2009 (EDT)
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I don't know anything about Yellowstone other than I would love to go some day. I just wanted to say "ditto" to Bills suggestion on using barbless hooks, that is all I ever use.

3:37 p.m. on April 15, 2009 (EDT)
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Doing some research for an upcoming trip there myself, I've found the following two books to be very good resources:

Top Trails (series): Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone, by Andrew Dean Nystrom (Wilderness Press)

The Yellowstone Fly-Fishing Guide, by Craig Mathews and Clayton Molinero (The Lyons Press)

The links above take you to the Amazon site, but both are available through your favorite bookseller, I'm sure. I hate the title of the first one, but it really does look like a useful guide to many of the trails, though it doesn't cover the deep backcountry as well as I'd like. As for the fly-fishing guide, well, if its information proves as accurate and helpful as it seems right now, it will have proved to be one of the best purchases I've ever made.

10:13 a.m. on April 24, 2009 (EDT)
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Not planning on doing much fishing. bores the mizzus......

We are planning on day hikes, and seeing old faithful. Are there any other "must-see" items?

Thought we'd take dehydrated food on our hikes, so we can stop anywhere and eat. Do we need to worry about animals with dehydrated food on our backs?

I was emailed advice said i should have a handgun because of bears? Anyone else ever recieved this suggestion?

10:11 p.m. on April 24, 2009 (EDT)
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The suggestion to carry a handgun in case of bears generally ignores too many realities for me. First is the practicality of carrying an adequate handgun for such. We're not talking pea-shooter here. It's gonna have to be able to spit serious metal with meaningful force. There's also the whole legal thing--it's illegal to carry same in a Nat. Park. Then one needs to consider whether or not one has the skills required to make using a handgun in self-defense a realistic option. Most people don't. And don't forget cost. A reliable weapon of this sort is going to set you back several hundred dollars-plus. And what about transportation? Flying commercial airlines with a handgun is doable, but a hassle.

Finally, I would point out that if you follow recommended practices, the likelihood you'd need such a thing for self-defense is very, very low. You may actually almost as likely to get struck by lightning as attacked by a bear. Wyoming sees approximately 1.5 lightning-strike deaths of people per million of population annually, essentially a tie with New Mexico for highest population-based rate of human lightning fatalities. The rate for injuries from bear attack is about 1.0 per million visitors to Yellowstone. In both cases, most incidents occur when people are doing things they are advised NOT to do.

Now, if you really want to get noticed, see if you can pull off getting attacked by a bear and then struck by lightning during the attack. That would guarantee a trip to the Letterman show, I'd think. If you survived, that is.

10:29 p.m. on April 24, 2009 (EDT)
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BTW, the last death due to bear attack in YNP was in 1986.

2:08 a.m. on April 25, 2009 (EDT)
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I'm not sure what the current status is on guns in Yellowstone. There were some rules changes proposed due to pressure from the NRA, but they may be in limbo now. The websites aren't too helpful. Call the park for current rules. Wyoming has few rules regarding firearms. You can sell guns to children in Wyoming.

Guns and hikers are a bad combination. A 14 kid killed a woman hiker near SF last year with a deer rifle because he thought she was a deer.

My position is that if you can't be bothered to learn about the animals in the park and how to avoid an unpleasant experience with them, then stay home instead of endangering them, yourself and others around you by carrying a weapon. Parks are full of wildlife and what I don't like is the idea that people think a gun is a substitute for common sense.

I am no expert on bears or other wildlife, but I have read plenty of encounters that lead me to believe that most of the time, they have little interest in you unless you are doing something to upset them, like coming between a mother and her baby.

Bears are bigger than you, can run surprisingly fast and not as stupid as they look. If you want to put yourself and your family in a real spot, shoot at one and see how fast he takes you on if you miss and he decides he doesn't like you. Same goes for a moose. Making a 1500 pound animal that stands 6 feet tall mad is a really good way to get your butt kicked but good.

Millions of visitors go to Yellowstone every year. The need for a gun is greatly exaggerated by people with a political agenda who want to foster the idea that parks are dangerous places full of wild animals and armed criminals just waiting to kill you. I don't buy it. Go and have a great time and leave your firearms at home.

12:59 p.m. on April 25, 2009 (EDT)
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i thought a gun was a baaad idea, just wanted feedback from those that had been there. As that i don't have a lot of close quarter, high stress practice with a gun; i may be better off with a rock :)

3:16 p.m. on April 25, 2009 (EDT)
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There are a lot of sites with good bear information. The NPS websites like the Yosemite site have good tips for avoiding confrontations with bears. Most likely, you will only see them at a distance. Bears get used to people and can become a nuisance if food is left out. They like an easy meal, just like people. Don't forget, bears are really strong-they can (and might) tear the door off your car to get at a cooler full of goodies. Yosemite has an old Toyota sitting in a parking lot that a bear had a go at to get something. I think it's missing a door and the trunk lid. That is enough to convince most people to use the bear lockers provided in the campsites.

This doesn't mean you can't carry snacks on day hikes, just don't leave food out at your campsite or in your car for long periods of time.


5:15 p.m. on April 26, 2009 (EDT)
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For the most part I agree with Perry & Tom on the gun issue, especially in areas that see a lot of visitors.

Quite frankly the chances are greater that a careless gun owner will injure him or herself as opposed to the weapon being used successfully in an animal attack. It shouldn't be that way but it is none the less. A gun is not hard to operate safely, and most gun owners do a good job of being responsible with one.

Of course it only takes one idiot, or idiotic parent, or sometimes just a person that has no skill for one reason or another to create a catastrophe.

There are those of us who do have skills, can shoot in close quarters, and under stress, with deliberate accuracy. Still, there are a lot of variables that come into play in a dynamic situation and having a gun and the skills are only part of it. You do not get the necessary skills by buying a gun and shooting some targets at a pistol range, even with range instruction.

I personally do carry at times. It is not specifically for protection against bears. I only carry in very remote areas where I must be completely self reliant. I would also just add that in a lot of areas Wildlife officials do carry weapons, They often carry shotguns with rubber bullets for adverse conditioning of problem bears, and it is also very effective to place a shot at the foot of a bear to shoo it off. This is not just my opinion, there are numerous articles on the web describing these practises and procedures that are used in wilderness areas and Parks alike.

That does not mean it is a good practise for the average visitor to these places.

One final note, and just my opinion, as unpopular as it is in some circles. I think it would be good to require anyone purchasing a gun, to pass a written and performance based test before they could purchase. You can't just buy a car and drive it, guns are an equally important responsibility. In my state of SC you can walk in and buy any legal firearm that does not require a special permit and walk out with it right then after a quick background check. I don't think that's wise in this day and age.

I hope to visit Yellowstone one day myself, a lot of places out west actually.

4:02 p.m. on April 27, 2009 (EDT)
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Spent sometime last June in Yellowstone, A lot of people carry bear spray, I never actually had to use it though. We did see several bear though, but they all kept their distance.

10:21 p.m. on April 28, 2009 (EDT)
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Ask my friend and roommate Kayla Micheals she has been hiking around Yellowstone for 30 years. Email me at garyclaytonpalmer@yahoo.com and I will give you her email. Just be sure to tell me you heard me say it at trailspace in the subject, so I will remember and not delete thinking its spam.

I know she will be happy to tell you about it. I have known her 28 years and have done a few hiking trip with her, but she could tell you best.

11:32 p.m. on May 3, 2009 (EDT)
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This link is to a USF&W memo that says bear spray is actually more effective than a firearm against an attacking bear. Confirms my suspicion that if you don't kill the bear with your first shot, all you've got now is a really mad bear in a lot of pain who knows you are the cause. Not a position I would want to be in.


12:05 a.m. on May 4, 2009 (EDT)
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Tom--Thanks for the link. Interesting stuff. I wish they'd have given some actual references for their statements, though.

Although I wouldn't want to be interpreted as saying that guns are as or more effective, the sorts of studies done on this type of thing is often fraught with all sorts of possible error and bias. (I'm speaking now as a scientist--"bias" does NOT necessarily imply anything about intent of the researcher--simply that the techniques, methods, etc. may have "leanings" in various directions built in, as it were.) Everything about data collection methods, from reliance on eyewitness reports or reports from those involved to finding and properly interpreting agency written reports is susceptible to all sorts of issues of accuracy, reliability, etc.

And then there are the statistical questions. How many of what sorts of events were available for analysis? How similar are the events within a given group? What are the statistical methods used, with what corrections, and what sorts of calculated probabilities resulted? These and many others are vital to interpreting appropriately any given study.

Again, while I don't wish to challenge the recommendations, I find myself frowning a bit when I see a significant possibility of bad science underlying important claims, if for no other reason than the fact it increases the chances of bad science being used to support some other conclusion that somebody wants to find, and the general public may be more likely to accept it because it looks like the same sort of work they've seen branded with a stamp of approval before.

In situations like this, where the chances for significant bias, error, etc. are quite large, it's even more important when reporting a conclusion to at least give useful reference to work that can be properly evaluated. The simple single fact that some work was (or was not) reported in a reputable peer-reviewed journal is worth something (though not nearly so conclusive as I'd like it to be).

1:07 a.m. on May 4, 2009 (EDT)
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Perry, I agree, you never know about some studies. I imagine if you asked, you could get more info; I think that memo is aimed at the average camper and I bet the intent is to discourage using guns on bears, so that could bias the results as well.

The point is well taken though. People get shot all the time and survive. If they have a gun, they often shoot back, even when wounded. No firsthand experience, just from reading. A bear is big enough that I bet you could hit one and not really hurt it too much, even with a high caliber handgun, but that is just a guess.

Guns are just like any other tool, just because you own one, doesn't mean you are any good at using it. I've got a closet full of stuff that proves that-my skis and golf clubs come to mind.

10:10 a.m. on May 4, 2009 (EDT)
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Has my friend Kayla gotten back to you yet, Carey? I wrote here this morning asking her about it but just curious what you have come up with.

10:12 p.m. on May 4, 2009 (EDT)
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hey gary-

nope havn't heard form her. i just figured she was camping over the weekend.

11:04 p.m. on May 4, 2009 (EDT)
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There are many such reports on the web, and many sites quoting excerpts from these studies. I would tend to agree that bear spray is effective, takes less accuracy, and more user friendly than a firearm.

However a lot of these studies go on to say how easy it is to fumble a gun, leave the safety on, shortbolt a rifle, or just plain miss. Yes, all that is possible. But then the author will go on to say how this is not a problem with bear spray, HUH?!

How quick can you get the can off your belt, turn it the right way, check to see which way the wind is blowing, keep from getting any in your own eyes? How many people buy two cans as recommended and have one to practice with?

If the bear is already on top of you would either a gun or bear spray do any good at all?

I have read obviously biased studies on both sides of the issue.

I would add that just because you spray a bear doesn't guarantee it won't get even more pissed at you, and if hes already real close may continue the attack anyway as some studies indicate.

I would much rather have bear spray or a gun for a defense vs a trekking pole any day.

What do you guys think would hapen if you sprayed a skunk with bear spray?

12:59 a.m. on May 5, 2009 (EDT)
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Carey, this is Gary's friend and am finally here. Well, so you are headed to

Yellowstone in Mid May. Now to let you know, there is a whole lot of snow right

now in the Park and spring in the area has yet to really begin. But the good

news is that the Grizzlies are out. And usually in the spring like May and Early

June is some of the best times in the Park to view the wildlife before the hoards

of summer tourists come into the Park. And before much of the wildlife migrates

to the higher elevations in the summer months. Mid May in Yellowstone is still in

Yellowstone Early Spring. But in my opinion, anytime in Yellowstone Parkadise is

a good time.

Now at this time of the year, one of the Must Places to go at this time of year

is in the northeastern part of the park to the Lamar Valley. Here one can most of

the major wildlife species here in oneday. The early mornings or late in the day

is best. You very well might see some Wolves or Grizzlies here or Bighorn Sheep

along the road here. One could spend all day here in the Lamar Valley watching

the wildlife. There are some nice little dayhikes here like up to Trout Lake.

Also another place is Pelican Valley which is Great for the Wildlife and along

Yellowstone Lake near Fishing Bridge. In the springtime this area is also good

spot to view Grizzlies. Yellowstone Lake usually doesn't become ice free until the

end of May or so. But in hiking wherever at this time of year, really be aware and

alert for Grizzlies could be anywhere.

The Geyser Basins are another place I know you want to see. Most of them

one could spend days watching the different geysers. Now near the Old Faithful

Area, I would really recommend trying to see some of the other geysers in the

area like Grand, Riverside, and others. Norris is another geyser basin which is

a favorite of mine.

Now on hiking, so many of the trails at this time will be snow covered and

some of the few trails that will be snow free at this time will be in the north

part of the park where much of the wildlife winters. In this area you should

see some of the areas starting to green up. Now this is just a little and hope

this helps.

There are several other websites that should help. These are some

Yellowstone Forums and feel free to ask the others there for help on your

coming trip. One is [url=http://www.yellowstoneupcloseandpersonal.com]www.yellowstoneupcloseandpersonal.com. Another is

[url=http://www.yellowstone.net]www.yellowstone.net. Have a Great Trip and hope you see both some

Wolves and Grizzlies!

10:36 a.m. on May 5, 2009 (EDT)
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Tom--Your comment about appropriate use of tools in conjunction with your mention of golf clubs reminds me of a story I once heard second hand that reportedly originated with Lee Trevino.

A reporter once noticed that Trevino had a one-iron in his bag as he enterd the clubhouse, and asked him about it. Why do you carry a one-iron, the reporter asked.

Lee glanced at the sky as he answered. "In case of thunderstorms."

But you've got a golf umbrella in there, too. That ought to keep you fairly dry. What on earth is the one-iron going to do for you?

Trevino answered, "Yeah, the umbrella works well for the rain, but if there's lightning, I hold up the one iron."

You hold up a metal club in a storm with lightning?

"Son, not even God can hit a one iron."

11:36 p.m. on May 5, 2009 (EDT)
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hey kayla-

any chance you would email me a weather report tuesday or wednesday of next week. we are driving out on thursday. be in the park on sunday

thanks in advance


12:14 a.m. on May 6, 2009 (EDT)
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Cary, No Problem! Will Do! Wishing You the Best for your Trip!

2:09 a.m. on May 7, 2009 (EDT)
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Very funny Perry. I remember hearing that story years ago. I may have heard Trevino tell it on some telecast. He had all kinds of stories.

5:12 p.m. on May 7, 2009 (EDT)
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Hey Cary have fun on your trip, be sure to gets lots of pics and give us a good trip report.

10:29 p.m. on May 7, 2009 (EDT)
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no prob--

will post a trip when we get back. uh, does that mean i have to take notes while i'm gone?

12:38 a.m. on July 17, 2009 (EDT)
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Any pics, trip report from your Yellowstone trip back in May? I will also be going to Yellowstone with the family at end of August...

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