*For the beginning of this road trip see the Grand Teton National Park post.
I don’t even know where to begin with Yellowstone. This is definitely someplace to add to your bucket list. We spent five days in Yellowstone and were able to see quite a lot. Yellowstone was the first national park in the world and spans 2,221,766 acres. Plan to spend a lot of time driving. There are eight main areas within Yellowstone and there is basically a big figure eight that takes you around the park. We stayed in two different areas of the park to maximize our visit.
Old Faithful Area
So lets just start with the most popular geyser in the park, Old Faithful, or as my kids nicknamed it, Old Fee-Fee. Not sure where that came from but it stuck and they still refer to it by that name today.
Old Faithful is at the beginning of the Upper Geyser Basin trail. This was one of my favorite trails. It is about 4 miles round trip and consists mainly of boardwalks so it is great for kids and strollers. 4 miles was a little long for my kids at the time but we took our time and took a sack lunch so it really didn’t feel like 4 miles. At the very end of the trail is the Morning Glory Pool. It is one of my favorite pools but through the years the colors have changed. People litter the pool and clog the vent causing the temperature of the water to decrease which changes the colors of the pool. The center of the pool used to be blue but over time turned green and has changed even more recently.
Grant Village and West Thumb Areas
West Thumb Geyser Basin is on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, near the southern end of the park. This is a short walk, again along boardwalks but not as flat as the Upper Geyser Basin trail. The colors of the pools amaze me.
We stayed in Grant Village for a couple nights while we explored the southern area of the park. The lodging was OK, but not my favorite place to stay. We ate breakfast one morning at the Grant Village Lake House Restaurant and I was not impressed. The service was not that great and the windows were covered in mosquitoes. I realize that the restaurant cannot control outside bugs but it did not make for an enjoyable setting being that we were looking out the windows onto the lake. My favorite place to eat the entire trip was the Grant Village Dining Room. The service was impeccable and the food was excellent. After our experience at the Lake House we ate here whenever possible. It is a little more expensive so in attempt to not blow our budget we bought sandwich supplies from a local store and had a picnic lunch every day and saved our funds for a nice dinner. You do need to make reservations for dinner so you have to somewhat plan ahead.
Between the Madision area and Old Faithful is the Grand Prismatic Spring. This is the park’s largest hot spring at 121 feet across. It reminds me of an eye. I would like to see it from higher up so next time we’re in Yellowstone I will look to see if there is a trail up the mountain behind the spring.
Some other pools on the trail to Grand Prismatic.
Another stop inbetween Madison and Old Faithful is Fountain Paint Pots. These were not that exciting but I can say that I’ve seen them. They are pools of pink bubbling mud. In order to get a good picture of the bubbles popping you need a zoom lens. Unfortunately we did not have our zoom lens then.
We drove down Firehole Canyon Drive and stopped to have lunch by the Firehole River. It made for a lovely lunch. There was no one around and we were serenaded by the river. I don’t know about you but I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.
I do not think we stopped at Norris Geyser Basin and I do not know why. We may have been geysered out at this point. At some point colored pools all look the same.
Mammoth Hot Springs
This was probably my least favorite area in the park. It was neat but not as colorful as the rest of the park. And there were a lot of stairs which caused many a complaint from the kids. The limestone formations change rapidly and when they “die” a white chalky material is deposited on the surface.
There is not a lot to do in this area, compared to some of the other areas of the park. We passed through here on our way to Mammoth Hot Springs. It helped round out the day but by the end of the day the kids were annoyed with all my stops.
As we were driving towards Roosevelt we came across this hill covered in wildflowers. This nice gentleman offered to take a family picture for us and it turned out amazing. This is one of my absolute favorite pictures ever.
Our next stop was Tower Falls. The trail was damaged so we were not able to walk a portion of the way.
When you enter the park you will be given a map that tells you where all the hidden treasures are within the park. As we drove from one main area to the next we would stop for short walks to waterfalls and other interesting stops that were marked on the map. In this area is a petrified tree. It’s really not all that interesting but it’s neat to know this has been around for a very, very long time.
We spent several nights at the Canyon Lodge and it was my favorite place to stay within the park. Actually, it was my favorite place we stayed on this trip. This is a popular area and there is lots to do. There are several restaurants, shops and even a grocery store. We ate most often at the Canyon Lodge Dining Room. The food was good as was the service. I don’t know about you but for me the service can make or break a meal. We ate once at the Canyon Lodge Cafeteria but I have come to realize that we are not buffet people. My husband gets his money’s worth but the kids and I do not so it doesn’t make sense for us. Just as we were getting ready to pay for our food at the cafeteria their registers went down so we ended up getting a free meal. That was a fun surprise. There is also a deli, Canyon Deli, where you can get snacks and lunch meals to go. They also have ice cream…mmmm. I developed this terrible habit of getting mint chocolate chip ice cream every evening. That was hard to break when we got home but I am happy to say that I successfully stopped eating ice cream after dinner every evening.
There are lots of trails and viewpoints for the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the Upper Falls and Lower Falls. My kids had not done any hiking prior to this trip so we opted to take easier trails. It is always better to be safe than sorry. The picture below was taken from Artist Point. The areas that are easy to get to are typically filled with tourists. This was one of those areas. There were tour buses full of people. And there were also a lot of mosquitos. Make sure to take your bug spray with you everywhere you go.
Upper Falls is 109ft and Lower Falls is 308ft. The picture below was taken across the canyon from Upper Falls. Notice the teeny tiny people at the top of the falls. There is a path that follows the canyon from here all the way down to Artist Point.
We wanted to get a good view of the Lower Falls so we started walking along the edge of the canyon thinking we would find some place with a stellar view. We did find that place but it was not as easy to get to as I was expecting. We came to the sign for Uncle Tom’s Trail and thought we would walk part way down the trail until we could see the falls and then turn around. Turns out you cannot see the falls until you are well down the 328 steps. The sign is not lying. This is a tough trail. Not only are you walking down steps, the steps are bolted to the side of the canyon and are metal so if you focus too much on the steps below your feet you see the canyon underneath the steps. This trail is not for anyone scared of heights. Once we got to the bottom I was too focused on the 328 steps I had to walk back up that I did not enjoy the splendor of the falls nor did I remember to take pictures of the falls from the bottom. Go figure.
In between Lake Village and Canyon Village is Hayden Valley. This is the best place for wildlife viewing. Especially around sunset. We made a point of driving through this area near sunset as often as possible.
This guy was a car stopper. You can always tell when wildlife is near because people stop their cars in the middle of the road. Seriously people, it’s dangerous. Pull off the road safely or keep driving. The park police showed up in this instance because traffic was such a mess.
It wouldn’t be a Yellowstone adventure without a traffic stop due to a bison in the road. The kids loved this!
Mud Volcano is a neat area. Different from the rest of the park. Fair warning: there is a strong sulfur smell in this area. My kids did not particularly enjoy the smell but the bubbling mud pools were cool.
Dragon’s Mouth Spring is so cool! The cave literally rumbles and then steam comes out of the entrance. It honestly sounds like a dragon is in the cave.
You can rent canoes, take a cruise or go fishing at Yellowstone Lake. We planned to stay a night at the Yellowstone Lake Hotel but decided to leave the park a day early to go back to Jackson Hole. By this point we felt that five full days was a good amount of time in the park and the kids wanted to go on the Alpine Slide again. Our last night in the park we ate dinner at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel Dining Room. The food was good and the service was great. They do suggest reservations and this hotel is the fanciest in the park. It makes for a nice upscale evening if that is what you are in the mood for.
If you are interested in going to Yellowstone remember that lodging (hotels and reservable campsites) in the National Parks fills up quickly, especially for the summer months. Research where you want to stay and figure out how early you can make reservations so that you have the best chance at securing the lodging you want. Reservations can typically be made 6 – 12 months in advance.
All National Parks have a Junior Ranger program. My kids earn a Junior Ranger badge everywhere that they can. I learn a lot too so it’s a great activity for the whole family. They get a booklet of activities to do that teaches them about the park and then they often have to do activities in the park and listen to a ranger program. Yellowstone has excellent ranger programs for kids and the booklet is a great activity to do when driving around the park.
Being novice photographers we purchased Photographer’s Guide to Yellowstone and the Tetons for photography tips but this book ended up being our tour guide. The author was right on with his suggestions and tips.
If you have been to Yellowstone and have a favorite activity/trail please share so that I can add it to my list for the next time we visit Yellowstone!