Yellowstone National Park
Updated: May 7
Why Yellowstone is Great for all:
The wildlife, Bison, Elk, Moose, Eagles, Coyote, Wolves, Bear
Geysers, Old Faithful
Hot Springs and Mud Pots
Yellowstone National Park as most everyone knows is the first National park created by Congress and President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. It is almost 3,500 square miles and is home to the largest collection of geothermal sites in the world. Lake Yellowstone sits on top of the Yellowstone Caldera which is the largest super volcano on the continent. The geysers and springs get their fuel and activity from the volcano.
Yellowstone National Park is massive and there is a lot of car time. If you can, make sure you have a good car, for driving comfortably through Yellowstone. If you are renting a vehicle, consider paying a little more for something bigger than what you think you need. There are over 450 miles of road in Yellowstone. Fortunately, there is a lot to see if you keep your eyes open and pay attention. One of the tricks you learn is to pay attention to others on the road and if they are looking at something, chances are there is something worth looking at. There are a lot of tricks to surviving this much time in the car. We packed food and drinks the brood enjoys every day. It was much more efficient to eat while driving or stop for a roadside picnic. We once thought of getting lunch at Mammoth Hot Springs and saw lines out the door. Thankfully, we were staying in Gardiner and traveled there for lunch. There isn't enough services and support for all of the visitors in the park. We chose to avoid the crowds by planning ahead and it gave us much more time to explore expansive Yellowstone.
If you are driving a motorhome to Yellowstone. We highly advise renting a vehicle for Yellowstone or using your towed vehicle. We drove from East Yellowstone to South Yellowstone and from South to North with the RV and were thankful we didn't have to tour the park in our Motorhome. If you are asking if you can do it, the answer is yes. If you are asking whether you should I would advise against it. There are a few reasons why. The main reason is that it just doesn't feel safe to drive the RV on Yellowstone roads. The road shoulders are narrow and there are a lot of hills and turns. We also noticed there are a lot of novice drivers that rent RVs. More than once on our drives through the parks we noticed these rentals over the center line. In a car you can move over a little and give them room. With an RV there is no room for error. Anyone with a valid driver's license can drive a motorhome. That doesn't mean they should. We quickly recognized that these drivers didn't have enough RV mileage experience and we were very cautious when driving behind them and when they drove by in the opposing lanes. Finally, there are few spots for motorhomes, at the major attractions and you could miss good sightseeing opportunities due to the lack of spots.
We tackled Yellowstone from the South first and then the North. As we researched, we noticed that the West Yellowstone entrance can get backed up and lodging east of the park is too far away. So, we spent four nights south of Yellowstone at Headwaters campground and three nights in Gardiner just outside the North Entrance.
If you can, make sure you have a good car, for driving comfortably through Yellowstone. There are over 450 miles of road in Yellowstone. We packed lunches every day to make sure we were able to get to all of the stops we wanted to see. Our minivan was perfect for the task. Our Brood included six people this time as we took my mom. We also had our two dogs. So, we were easily able to pack each day for our trip in the minivan and have room enough to spread out.
Firehole Canyon Drive was a nice drive when everyone was too tired to hike. We took the drive in the van (rv's not allowed). Down in one of the canyons by the river we spied Mama and baby elk laying in the grass. It was a beautiful drive and we recommend it if you have time.
Old Faithful wasn't that great. There I said it. Prove me wrong. However, the springs, and geysers around the area were amazing. The boardwalk hike had awesome views of the different springs and geysers. Park Rangers provide tours. Every spring, pool, and geyser at Old Faithful has a name and they are all special in their own way. You could walk for hours around the area and not get bored. Kids however, will need to take smaller bites. By the time we got around the boardwalk north of Old Faithful our brood was ready to move on.
Also at Old Faithful is the historic Inn and Lodge. The Inn was built in 1903-04 and may be the largest log building. The logs were sourced from the surrounding forests. The Lodge was built over time in the 1920s. Both buildings are worth a look when at Old Faithful. The history of this area is significant. Consider traveling from Old Faithful to Mammoth Hot Springs by carriage. For some it may be a treacherous endeavor and for others it may seem romantic. For all it is 52 miles. Carriages can travel about 4 miles per hour. The Inn was finished when carriages were the sole means of transportation.
52 miles from Old Faithful is Mammoth Hot Springs. There are elk that live in and among the buildings and people. It's a little scary. Keep your eyes open for other wildlife. We saw a coyote being chased, by a bird through the springs because, it had the bird's family member in its mouth. We also saw a huge snake go under one of the building's front porch.
Lamar Valley is a majestic place. It rests in the NorthEast corner of the park. The whole valley has wide-ranging views every where you look. We saw many Bison, Bear, Golden Eagle, and pronghorn. Artists setup off the side of the road to paint the landscapes. The valley is home to bison herds and Lamar Valley is the best location for viewing wolves. We also saw a group of watchers on the side of the rode so we stopped. There were a handful of small groups with spotting scopes set up aimed at a hillside. We were able to see a coyote den with newborn pups. We also saw a coyote chase three prong horn one evening.
Hayden Valley is the smaller of the two valleys. The valley is located between Fishing Bridge and Canyon Village on the east side of the park. We saw Bison herds crossing rivers and amazing views as far as you could see. There are plenty of pull offs to enjoy a picnic, setup a spotting scope, or just look with binoculars. Binoculars are a must for Yellowstone. There is so much to see and explore and without binoculars it is too difficult to see everything. The kids had a lot of fun using their binoculars every day. Here is a link to the binoculars we purchased for the kids. They are the right size and durable for their level of care. I use them often as they are more compact than my pair. We played a game of I spy the whole week. Each kid was excited to search and find wildlife first and call out directions for all to see.
Mammoth Hot Springs were amazing and was bustling with people the day we were there. Elk live in the town and should be seen from a distance. Seeing them resting on the lawns of houses and other properties was surreal. The car ride above the hot springs was really cool. There are spectaular viewpoints and its a nice way to explore close to town. We saw a huge snake go under a house right next to Mammoth Hot Springs. We also saw baby elk, with other elk near the Springs. Finally, while at the Springs we watch a coyote run through the springs with a bird in his mouth and another bird was chasing it. It was an memorable day for use. We considered eating lunch at Mammoth Hot Springs however, it was too busy and we could see lines out the door. Thankfully, we were staying in Gardiner and we chose to eat lunch their instead.
Just North of Mammoth Hot Springs on the way to Gardiner is the boiling river. Depending on the time of year it will be open to swimmers. Where the boiling river meets the Gardner River you can wade into the water. There is a point where they intersect where you calves can be on hot water and your shins on cool water. There is limited parking here and a short walk to the boiling river. We saw a lot of plants and birds were plentiful.
We stopped at many other viewpoints like the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Tower Falls and Grand Prismatic. All of Yellowstone is amazing. We spent seven nights at Yellowstone and we feel it was enough for us. However, there is way more to do than we experienced. Yellowstone in Winter is a different experience. There are many places to watch sunrises and sunsets that we missed. Early morning and evening wildlife viewing is a must and patience and time is needed. People could spend days trout fishing. We're not sure anyone can summarize Yellowstone. So, this is our best effort. Over time we may break this post into more pieces and focus on the northern loop and southern loop in different posts. We can also share with you our campground experiences. For now this is our summary. Please let us know if you have any questions about Yellowstone. We would be happy to share our experiences.