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Hi Friends! I’ve been excited for a long time to share this trip with you. We went to Yellowstone last summer and it was absolutely the best family trip ever. No iPads, no complaining. It was a dream spend-quality-time-with-the-family vacation. But, it’s a big place, so I’ve highlighted where you should stay and what to see in the park.
We met with friends who went to Yellowstone the summer before and they gave us some great tips. But, the best two tips (seriously): Stay in the park at a hotel or campground, and…cell phones do not work there, so you need to have old an school map and a good guidebook! We used National Geographic Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks Road Guide: The Essential Guide for Motorists (National Park Road Guide)!
Okay, Yellowstone is behemoth. You could probably explore for years and stumble onto new things. There are, of course, a few things you need to know before you go. Have a little bit of a game plan. There’s so much to see.
Here’s a few quick tips to get you going before we dive in…
- Take time to stop in the visitor centers. They’re usually located at the more popular spots. You can talk to rangers who are very happy to fill you in on anything you’re curious about. Many of them are getting advanced degrees that specialize in the area they are working within Yellowstone.
- The road in the park is a figure 8. If you only have 2 days to spend, I suggest you spend 1 day on the bottom loop and 1 on the top.
- Wildlife is most active in the morning and people are less active in the morning. Get up early! You’ll miss the crowds. They start to build around 10:00am.
- Keep a cooler full of snacks and water.
- Take breaks and grab some huckleberry ice cream at a general store.
- There are 5 entrances to the park. There are different things to see at each entrance. If I were driving into the park and wanted to pick an entrance to drive into, I’d probably pick the Northeastern entrance going through Lamar Valley. There is a lot of vast open land on this road. This is also the area where you’ll see the most wildlife including bears.
- Take your best camera! All of my pics were on an iPhone–how dumb.
Here’s a few places you have to see when you go to Yellowstone.
1. Mud Volcano Area
This was a short 1/4 mile boardwalk. It was the first geyser we saw. It wasn’t the most spectacular geyser you’ll see, but it is a hangout for bison. As you can see! These guys love to nap away right next to geysers. Must be like a mini spa for them. It’s one of the most acidic springs, so you can smell quite the sulphur smell. But, the kids got a kick out of seeing the bubbling mud, or mud volcanos.
2. Lower Falls & Upper Falls
They call this the grand canyon of Yellowstone. I recommend you see both upper and lower falls, which are two separate directions with a little hiking involved. You drive to either entrance–north rim and the south rim. But, it’s worth it. You can catch them up close by hiking to the brink of the lower falls. You can also go to Artist Point and Uncle Tom’s Trail for a good view. Uncle Tom’s is a bit of a hike for little ones.
It can get crowded on the pathways, so I would suggest hitting this up as early in the day as you can.
3. Norris Geyser Basin
This was a spectacular geyser basin. There’s a walkway you can take right over the basin. It’s not a place you want to stick your toe in. It’s a ginormous basin full of boiling acidic geysers. It kinda looked like the end of the world, but fascinating!
Steamboat Geyser is here. The reason why you’ve never heard of it is because it only erupts every few years and you never know when it’s going to happen. So, I wouldn’t stand there and watch thinking you’ll see something. But, it’s the tallest geyser in the world.
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4. Midway Geyser Basin
You can look at your map and find a hiking trail that goes on the backside where you can avoid the crowds. The Grand Prismatic Basin is here also. It’s stunning. Again, this is a popular feature, so, if you want to avoid crowds I highly suggest you get up early and avoid the crowds for this one.
5. Old Faithful–of course
You can’t go to Yellowstone without seeing Old Faithful. When you get there go straight into the visitors center and they’ll have a sign right as you walk in predicting the next eruption. The geyser doesn’t just erupt every 60 minutes at the top of the hour. There’s people smarter than me predicting eruptions and they vary.
Naturally, right as we walked into the visitors center it erupted and we missed it, so we just killed time eating ice cream and hiked around until the next one.
6. Stay at Canyon Lodge and Village
Whether you’re camping or hoteling (like us), you need to book like yesterday! These fill up quick. And you can ONLY make reservations through Yellowstone. That is the only way. Don’t trust 3rd party reservations either. We made that mistake, but luckily we still got in.
This hotel was surprisingly great. I was imagining something very rustic. They’ve done a great job keeping it up to date.
There’s 9 places to stay in Yellowstone and plenty of campgrounds and they ALL fill up.
If they’re full, you can stay in Big Sky, Montana. It’s doable, but you have to commute into the park each day.
Reservation info below. By the way, there aren’t addresses in Yellowstone. They go by GPS coordinates. Hint: Use your map.
N 44 44.063 W 110 29.385
6. Go hiking!
Yellowstone covers 3,471 square miles of absolutely stunning land. This place was set aside to be protected for a reason! There are some beautiful hiking trails. Here’s a list of the some trails off the beaten path.
7. If you like to fish, take your fly rod.
We took a break from the car and fished on Gardner River. We didn’t catch anything, but it was kinda cool with little geyser type things (I’m sure there’s a more scientific word–not a geologist) near the edge of the river.
*TIP–If you see people randomly parked on the side of the road, it usually means someone has spotted cool wildlife. There’s a teeny bear in the picture–again, telephoto lens.
Lastly, take your time. Don’t worry about what you need to get to or keeping a schedule. You’ll spend a lot of time in the car, but it’s all beautiful! Play the license plate game with your kids or earning “points” for spotting certain creatures. That will keep them occupied between stops. But really, there’s something cool around every corner! There’s a reason why Yellowstone is so popular, it’s worth the trip.
BTW–Be prepared with your guide and maps. You can grab those below.