Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Great American Road Trip: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

There are only a handful of weeks each year that you can really enjoy the beauty of Yellowstone National Park - unless you prefer snow...  We visited in mid June 2014 and had an amazing adventure!  Here's our experience:

First - our educational preparation.  We read books before any trip like this that will give us some insight on what we will be seeing.  I LOVE how much my kids enjoy this and refer back to what they learned!  Here are some of the books we read:

Then we created a "wish list" of animals we hoped to see.

These are the animals we did see in Yellowstone:

Grizzly Bear at the east entrance.
My son always refers to the "hump" when he sees a bear and tries to identify it.

If you are hiking, you may want this.  We didn't do a ton of hiking so we opted out.
It's not cheap!  The spray alone  can cost from $40 - $50 (based on the pricing we saw on our trip).
Then there is a storage case and belt strap - each costing at least $20 (if you decide to purchase them).

Bison (otherwise known as Buffalo).
By the end of our day in Yellowstone we had seen plenty of bison!

These were next to the road but do not get near them!  T
hey can surprisingly run very fast!
Some people were walking right next to them - YIKES!!!

"Traffic Jam"

"Fire Starter" (discussed in a book we read) or better known as Bison poop.


A visitor during our dinner.   We were inside the Old Faithful Lodge but he snuck in and was loving it ;-)

When I look at this map of Yellowstone I see a figure 8.  Do you see it?  We explored most of the park but not the center line of the "8" and not the section near Yellowstone Lake that runs south from the East Entrance.  Since we were coming in from Cody we entered through the East Entrance.  However, I have been told that the long winding road from Cody to the North Entrance is beautiful!  Unfortunately we did not discover this until it was to late to work it into our plans.

This map is helpful to see where we decided to stop along the way.  The visitors center at the East Entrance (Fishing Bridge) is on the lake and has a small museum inside.  Across the street from it there is camping, shops, gas and restaurants.  We headed north from the East Entrance.

Past fire damage is very present at the East Entrance.

The Mud Volcano.  Worth stopping!  I was amazed at the sound that this thing made!  It was also a little scary to think about why it was there and wondering how long it will be before this area erupts again.

Next stop:  the Lower and Upper Falls (follow the signs for "Artist Point").  This is considered to be the "grand canyon" of Yellowstone.  Such amazing views!

There is also a North Rim Drive that takes you to the north side of the falls/canyon.  We had limited time in Yellowstone (my priority for this road trip was Grand Tetons National Park) so we did not explore that area.  I'm sure it is amazing!

Next up was Canyon Village and Lodge (at the east side of the center of the figure 8).  There are plenty of places to eat, shop, get gas, and there is a great visitors center!  

From there we continued north.  This portion of the trip took a while for us.  There was a "traffic jam" (animal on the side of the road that was causing cars to stop for pictures) that took over an hour for us to get through.  Finally we made it to Mammoth Hot Springs!

There are MANY trails that you can hike and explore in this area.  Well - there are many places to hike all over the park but this area was very easy to see the man made trails that allow you to explore most of the hot springs.  Parking was hard to find during our visit.  We had to drive around for a while until a spot finally opened.  We did see some "illegal" parking but park staff were quickly issuing tickets!  You will find lodging, gas, food, and much more in this area.  However, the smell is one that is hard to get use to!  It has a sulfur smell that always reminds me of rotten eggs.

Just south of the main area of hot springs we discovered a road that will allow you drive around some of the hot springs.  It's called "Upper Terrace Drive".  You can get out in a few areas to explore.  But, this seemed like a great option for people that have a hard time walking around.  You can see so much from your car!

On our way down to Old Faithful (where we were spending the night) we spotted a stop for the "Fountain Paint Pot".  At this point in the day we were passing by a ton of potentially interesting sites.  It was a long day and we lost some time due to traffic!!  But, this was near the road and something about it peaked my interest.  Also, I knew that in this area there were some of the beautiful clear and colorful pools that I had seen pictures of.  I was glad we stopped because we did find a small one!

There is also one of these you can hike to from Old Faithful.
But, we were told that it isn't as pretty these days due to trash being thrown or blown into it.
It's definitely an ever changing area that is impacted by natural changes AND human contact.

The sounds coming from this was amazing and really made my mind wonder.

A fun picture opportunity near the parking lot.
Then we were off to Old Faithful!  We had a reservation at the Old Faithful Inn.  There is also an Old Faithful Lodge which made it very confusing for us to figure out where we were supposed to go.  But, eventually we made it.  The inn is full of history and has a great atmosphere.  Most of the time we were in the lobby there was someone playing a fiddle (or other musical instruments common to the era to the early days of the inn).  My kids really enjoyed dancing around while we enjoyed some ice cream later that night.  The inn is historical and huge!  We had to book our room a year in advance.  We learned this the hard way when I attempted to go on this trip a couple of years earlier only to find that EVERY hotel option in all of Yellowstone was completely booked for the summer!  So, one year before this trip I booked our room with what limited options were still available.  The timing of our entire road trip was worked around the one day we could stay in Yellowstone!  We paid a ton of money but we did have our own bathroom (many rooms have a shared/community bathroom)!  The room was actually very nice!  But... National parks do not have air conditioning in the rooms.  That wasn't a big deal since Yellowstone is much cooler than the temps in surrounding areas.  Also, under the carpet of the rooms and halls there are wood floors that I assume are original to the inn.  So, we could hear every step every time someone walked in the hall, the rooms above us (we were on the 1st floor), or beside us.  I did not sleep well that night....  The positive aspects?  Old Faithful was right outside of where were stayed.  We could view the eruptions whenever we had time.  Estimated eruption times were also posted in the lobby.  This area has a big visitors center and a few places to shop/eat.  The dinning options at the inn required reservations at dinner or a really late eating time.  It was also expensive and not vegetarian friendly.  So, we opted to head to the lodge for the a-la-cart option.  That was great and had something for everyone.  You could also watch Old Faithful from the dinning area.  We did eat breakfast at the inn.  It wasn't cheap but the entire vacation was full of over-priced eating options.  My family selected the buffet and I ordered pancakes (the buffet was not very vegetarian friendly).    

Fun information I clipped from a magazine a few years ago.

There are some many hiking options and a ton to explore in this area!
The trails are man made and keep you raised up off the ground.

Old Faithful!
There are plenty of benches to sit on while you wait for the next eruption.
The seats do fill up as it gets closer to the next estimated eruption time.

The visitors center.

Then, we visited the visitors center, gased up and headed out.  On to the Grand Tetons!


  • We only spent 1 day in Yellowstone.  Many people spend a week or more exploring the park.  There definitely is enough to do in the park that could fill more than a week.  However, for this trip and my family, our main destination was Grand Tetons National Park and Jackson, WY.  
  • The land is ever changing!  Which means that the park is ever changing.  There was one recent change taking place while we were there.  They were working to move a road to another area due to a hot spring that popped up next to a section of the road.  As a national park they can not just re-route the spring.  So, the road was being moved.
  • Leave time for potential "traffic jams" or construction.  Overall, we lost just lover 2 hours of our day sitting in the car waiting until we could move!
  • Do not touch the water - no matter how tempting it may be!  Many areas have railing so you can not get close to the water (without jumping of the rail - which will result in a large fine).  However, there are some areas along the road where you could stop and explore the water.  This is not recommended for two reasons:  it could be hot enough to burn you!  Also, bacteria - there is a lot of bacteria that in the water.  So, we were told to stay clear of the water - just enjoy it from a distance.
  • Temperature difference:  It is generally much cooler in Yellowstone than in the surrounds areas. so wear layers!

Check out the rest of our road trip here.

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