The South Entrance Station consists of several log structures right along the Snake River. Just 1.5 miles beyond the entrance is an easily missed turnout where you can walk down to 30-foot-high Moose Falls. Beyond this point, the road climbs a long, gentle ramp to Pitchstone Plateau, passing green forests of lodgepole pine. Stop at a turnout to look back at the majestic Tetons.
Abruptly, this gentle country is broken by the edge of Lewis River Canyon, with rhyolite walls that rise to 600 feet. The fires of 1988 burned hot throughout much of this area, and dead trees line both sides of the canyon in all directions. Young trees are now carpeting many areas, but some remain almost barren more than two decades later.
The road parallels the river for the next seven miles. Nearly everyone stops for a look at 29-foot-high Lewis Falls. Camping is available at the south end of Lewis Lake, which—like the lake, falls, river, and canyon—was named for the Lewis and Clark expedition’s Meriwether Lewis.
Lewis Lake is the park’s third-largest body of water (after Yellowstone Lake  and Shoshone Lake) and is popular with canoeists, kayakers, and anglers. The clear waters contain brown trout and Mackinaw (lake trout). Approximately four miles north of Lewis Lake, the highway tops the Continental Divide, 7,988 feet above sea level. This is one of three such crossings that roads make within Yellowstone.
This odd scattering of buildings is named for President Ulysses S. Grant, who signed the act establishing Yellowstone and whose terms in office were marked by massive corruption scandals. Grant Village was built in the 1980s to replace facilities at Fishing Bridge , an area of important grizzly habitat. Unfortunately, instead of one bad development, Yellowstone now has two, because some of the buildings at Fishing Bridge still stand.
Unlike some of the more historic places in Yellowstone where a natural rusticity prevailed, Grant Village has less charm than most Walmarts. An ugly steakhouse restaurant and waterside cafeteria face Yellowstone Lake, but the marina that was once here is closed. Also sprawled around Grant Village are a campground, rows of chintzy condos, a Yellowstone General Store, a visitor center, a gas station, and post offices. Much of the area around here was consumed in the 1988 Snake River Fire; unfortunately, the fire missed this scar on the Yellowstone landscape.
Grant Visitor Center (307/242-2650, daily 8 a.m.-7 p.m. late May-Sept.) houses an informative exhibit and film on the role of fires in the park, particularly the massive 1988 fires. These provide a good background for understanding the changes taking place as the burned areas recover.
If you look at a map of Yellowstone Lake, it’s possible to imagine the lake as a giant hand with three mangled fingers pointing south and a gnarled thumb hitching west—hence the name West Thumb. This section of Yellowstone Lake is the deepest (to 390 feet) and is actually a caldera that filled with water after erupting 150,000 years ago. Considerable heat is still just below the surface, as revealed by West Thumb Geyser Basin. Get a Park Service booklet ($0.50) from the box for details on the area’s geothermal origins and attractions.
A short loop trail leads past steaming hot springs and pools at West Thumb. Right on the shore is Fishing Cone, where tourists once caught fish and then plopped them in the cone to be cooked; after several clowning tourists were injured, the Park Service put a stop to this stunt. The West Thumb Information Station (daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. late May-Sept.) houses a small bookstore, and in winter the station is used as a warming hut.
The park road climbs over the Continental Divide twice west of West Thumb. Most of the forests here escaped the 1988 fires. A few miles beyond the eastern crossing of the divide is a turnout at Shoshone Point, where you catch glimpses of Shoshone Lake and the Tetons. In 1914, highwayman Ed Trafton (his real name was Ed Harrington) held up 15 stagecoaches as they passed by this point carrying tourists. He got away with $915.35 in cash and $130 in jewelry but made the rather obvious blunder of posing for photos! He was captured the following year and spent five years in Leavenworth. When he died, a letter in his pocket claimed that he had been author Owen Wister’s model for the Virginian. Others suspected that he was more likely to have been Wister’s model for the villain, Trampas.
Approximately 14 miles beyond West Thumb, pull off to see the Firehole River as it drops over Kepler Cascades. The western crossing of the Continental Divide is at Craig Pass, where a tiny pond (Isa Lake) empties into the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at the peak of snowmelt following a big snow year.