Cook's tour -- noun
"A quick tour or survey, with attention only to the main features."
I've never been a fan of whirlwind tours. The "if this is Tuesday, this must be Belgium" pace is not my idea of a good time. But in this hectic world we live in, sometimes a quick trip is better than no trip.
Historic North Entrance
Where one enters the park is typically a matter of logistics rather than scenic preference. The south entrance is probably the most scenic in that you get to view the Grand Tetons along the way. If at all possible, don't just view them from the car! Lace up your boots and take a hike, even a short one. These are among America's most impressive peaks, and admission to Grand Teton National Park includes your admission to Yellowstone (both parks, 7 days, $20/car -- but check for current rates), so how can you afford NOT to go?
Grand Canyon Of The Yellowstone
Driving south from Mammoth, a swing to the east at Norris should be included in all but the shortest of visits. The area where the Yellowstone River cuts its colorful, 1,000-foot-deep swath offers some exceptional hikes. I recommend the south side trails, including Uncle Tom's Trail to the Lower Falls viewpoint (a strenuous-for-some drop of 500 feet via 300-plus stairs and a series of inclines), and the walk from Artist's Point to Point Sublime (a gentle, short, and mostly level walk to two distinctly different canyon vistas).
Thar' She Blows!
Yes, Old Faithful is impressive. Yes, you should go. You can't beat those timed, predictable eruptions (at approximately 90-minute intervals) when you are pressed for time! Check the visitor center immediately upon arrival to the Upper Geyser Basin area. Then, by all means, take at least an hour and stroll around the paint pots, fumaroles, and other geysers on Geyser Hill and along the Firehole River. Adding a stop for lunch, I spent an easy 4.5 hours in this area on my last visit, seeing Old Faithful erupt a total of four times.
On your next visit, I hope you can do a little of both -- enjoy both the popular and the off-the-beaten-track sides of Yellowstone National Park.
For more information on visiting Yellowstone, check out http://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm
Sally O'Neal is a Pacific Northwest travel and outdoor writer whose books include "Hot Showers, Soft Beds, and Dayhikes in the Central Cascades. She writes weekly for sportsmansguide.com.