Yellowstone took my breath away. I thought it would be a great place to travel. But it well and truly surpassed my expectations. Another iconic stop in our Amazing Journey that will be etched in my heart, and in my children’s memories, forever.
Planning your trip to Yellowstone
When it comes to planning your trip to Yellowstone, its best to remember there are distinct areas and themes – geysers, wildlife, hot springs, and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. There is so much to see and do and you could easily spend a lifetime exploring the park. In fact, people do. Our fishing guide was a retired scientist who, together with his wife, spent every summer in their RV at Yellowstone – working and exploring. There is always something new.
The sheer size of the park makes it difficult to get around. There can be hours of travel between these areas. Particularly if you have bear jams, or snow, or traffic!
The other thing to consider is the season. We were there in June, and it snowed. A lot. Luckily we had a cabin, but the poor tents suffered. And it was freezing – meaning the iconic Grand Prismatic was just a huge bowl of steam.
My biggest regret at Yellowstone? Only allowing three days. The iconic Yellowstone could be a destination all on its own.
We entered the park from the North East Entrance, straight into Lamar Valley. This worked well logistically, as the Lamar Valley was quite isolated from where we were staying at Lake Yellowstone Hotel. It also meant we got to explore the Bear Tooth highway on the way into the Park.
Yellowstone NP has abundant wildlife, but the Lamar Valley is particularly recommended for wildlife spotting. The Valley is home to bison, black bears, bighorn sheep, elk, grizzly bears, mule deer, pronghorn, and wolves.
One of the first things that struck us about Yellowstone, before we even spotted the animals was the smell. We couldn’t pick it, but the air just smelt like fresh herbs. It turns out it was wild Thyme. You can spot it in this photo, the wild Sage and Thyme are growing like grass and the smell in the air is just amazing!
Next time – I’d love to allow for an early morning at Lamar Valley in the hope of hearing to the wolves’ cries and spotting a few bears!
Canyon Visitors Centre and the Junior Ranger Programme
With the weather turning, we decided to spend a few hours at the Canyon Visitors Information Centre. It was a great place to explore, to get out of the weather, and to plan the rest of our stay at Yellowstone. The girls also signed up for the Junior Ranger Programme.
Having visited a number of the United States National Parks, I have to say how impressed I was with the Rangers, the helpfulness of everybody, and the incredible Junior Ranger Programme! On signing up the girls were given booklets to work through, learning about the Park, its history, the environment and how to look out for the wild animals. The girls learnt so much on this trip, through hands-on experiences that they would never have had in school.
On completing the Junior Ranger Programme the girls were duly sworn in by the Rangers and given their badge. What an amazing programme!
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
As the Grand Canyon was on the way to our cabin at Lake Yellowstone Hotel we decided to stop in for a quick visit and hike down to the Lower Falls Brink. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but it was breathtaking.
One word of caution, this hike is steep. But we managed it with the family, so you should be fine with a modest level of fitness.
Unfortunately for us, it started snowing about now so it was a quick hike UP the hill to the carpark.
And the view from Artists’ Point.
Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin
The next day, we awoke to MORE snow. But it did make for beautiful photos, and a good day to explore the Old Faithful Inn.
The Old Faithful Inn made a great spot to sit with hot chocolates and wait for ye Old Faithful. IF we had more time, I would have loved to have taken a tour of the building and learnt more about its history. Another free tour put on by the Rangers.
The Old Faithful Geyser is a must see. If not just because of its iconic status, but also because you are guaranteed to see it go off. There is a great sightseeing spot on the deck of the Old Faithful Hotel (hot chocolate in hand!).
Unfortunately, the Grand Prismatic was full of steam, and we couldn’t really see much at all. Apparently, it happens when it snows.
And to top it off – the parking was next to impossible. We were at Yellowstone in June, in the shoulder season. The traffic and parking in July would be extremely difficult. Unfortunately, Yellowstone doesn’t run shuttles like some of the other National Parks.
This is Yellowstone though, and there are plenty more bubbling mud pools, geysers and steam pits to explore.
Miss M was getting exhausted with the long days, so we decided to head over to the Mammoth Hot Springs area. It was a good hour and a bit drive so it gave her a chance to have a snooze in the car (this became a routine on our trip – early starts, late nights, and afternoon naps for our 7-year-old…). But it worked. See, a smile!
Luckily it had stopped snowing by day 3 when we had pre-booked salmon fishing on Lake Yellowstone! I’m not really a keen fisherperson, but how could you not go out on Lake Yellowstone?
Although the fish weren’t biting we learnt a lot about the history of the lake and heard stories about the old zoo on the island and the rogue that built it. We even spotted early morning wildlife out for a stroll, as well as native Eagles flying low over the lake.
Eating and Sleeping in Yellowstone
In terms of the accommodation, you can book this a year out. I thought we had plenty of time, we didn’t. We were lucky and managed to get the last cabin. Given there were no cancellation fees, I would book as soon as you possibly can, even if you need to change later.
Although the cabin had no cooking facilities, there was a fridge and with a little creativity, you could self-cater. We had stocked up with plates, bowls, knives, forks, cups etc at Walmart, as well as food supplies. We were able to self-cater with cereal for breakfast and picnic lunches. For dinner, we had pre-made salads and cold meats. We rewarded ourselves on our last night with dinner out at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel!
A trip to Yellowstone wouldn’t be complete without hanging out in one of the iconic lodges. We took the ooportunity to relax, and have a cocktail, while waiting for dinner at the Hotel.
The Hotel offered fine-dining US style, amongst power cuts. I tried Buffalo (these are not Yellowstone Buffalo, they are farmed for the purpose).
And we got to enjoy the views … well, we did after I asked to be moved (they initially tried to put us in an obscure corner where the children couldn’t disturb their other guests … not my style, our girls have table manners and we were there to enjoy the surroundings as much as the next guest!).
Lake Yellowstone and Fishing Village
The sun has finally come out for a beautiful drive around Lake Yellowstone on our way out of the park.
Yellowstone is an absolutely amazing and iconic destination. We crammed in a lot for our short timeframe. They were long days and we were all exhausted, but it was absolutely worth it.
I’m not sure I’ll get back to Yellowstone anytime soon, it is quite a hike from New Zealand. But maybe one day Hubby and I will be the oldies parked up in the staff RV village working and exploring the park :).
This blog is part of the Amazing Journey Series.
Five years ago we re-evaluated our lives and our goals after the sudden loss of my mother in law. We vowed to slow down and to enjoy life with our small children. We got outside and explored. And we travelled. This Amazing Journey series documents our journey through Canada and the US, provides an insight on travelling with children, local destination tips and tricks, and, of course, gives an Accountant’s perspective on making the most of your holiday dollar. Earlier entries are here:
Coming up – RV Life…
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