We headed to spend two days in Yellowstone National park right after leaving my sister’s wedding reception. We stopped for gas at a tiny gas station on the side of the road about half an hour outside of West Yellowstone, Montana. There was a woman in front of us, probably in her mid 20s, filling up her truck, looking totally cute in her baseball cap, blue glass aviators, wild hair, and flannel…except for the nasty look she kept giving me and Nathanael.
Maybe you’re wondering, “Alisha, how can you tell she was giving you a dirty look, you couldn’t see her eyes”–but I’ve been the recipient of enough hate-energy because of the color of my skin to know what it feels like and energy doesn’t lie. We both could feel those hate-vibes through the window of our Jeep.
Maybe it’s cuz she hates tourists–I get it, there were some really annoying and disrespectful people in Yellowstone. But after Nathanael heard her singing something about “pretty girls” under her breath, it’s probably just because we were still dressed up from the wedding.
But the beautiful thing is that mountains are for everyone. Nature doesn’t judge. Just because we happened to look pretty doesn’t mean we don’t do dirty. And even if we looked pretty and didn’t do dirty, the mountains don’t care. They’re just happy you’re there.
But anyway. No matter what you look like, what you wear, if it’s your first time or your 100th time in the mountains, on the trails, in nature–you belong. And it was cool to see that in Yellowstone; so many different cultures, so many different styles of clothing. So many happy people!
**side note, I just want to say that all of these photos were taken on my phone. So like, take the damn picture.
What to expect in Yellowstone
First, Yellowstone is a geological wonder. It’s one of the most magical places I’ve ever been, and I’m pretty sure it’s an energy vortex with 600 miles of volcano underneath it. It’s incredible. But here are some thing you may or may not expect:
Traffic jams: there will be lots of them, especially mid-morning…there always seem to be bison or other wildlife crossing the road…or standing in the middle of it. It’s pretty easy to maneuver around them, but do expect that some people take the opportunity to make it a photo shoot. Don’t be that person. There are plenty of pull-out spots along the road way.
Pull-outs: There are tons of these in the most beautiful spots for wildlife viewing and photo taking. And a lot of times, the bison will be sitting right there next to the parking lot. This is where you stop to take a photo, not in the middle of the road. You can actually see a TON of Yellowstone just be driving the loop.
Bathrooms and picnic areas: there are a good deal of these areas too, though not usually in the same spot as the wildlife viewing areas. It seemed that there was a bathroom or picnic area every 10-15 miles and a bathroom at the more frequented tourist attractions. You’ll get a map at the entrance and they will be marked! You will want to bring food because there aren’t many places to get any–I think Old Faithful was one of the few places to get food and in my food-snob opinion, the cafeteria didn’t look appetizing, but they did have a little cafe area where we got some sandwiches.
People: there will be so many people…so many. We were there the first weekend in June, which isn’t even peak season. The earlier you get up and get to places, the better; less traffic, less people, and you’ll still see plenty of animals, but you’ll also get to hear the quiet. When we left the Grand Prismatic Spring on day two there was a line of cars down the road waiting to get into the parking area that was nearly a quarter mile long.
Fire damage: there is a lot of fire damage all over Yellowstone and if you go to the Visitor’s center in the West Thumb, then they have a map showing you how long ago the fires were and what normally causes them. So interesting!
You will not have reception. Except around Old Faithful and possibly in Dunraven pass if you have Verizon, but you shouldn’t be on your phone checking insta in the pass anyway cuz you will die. There will be spots marked on the map for where you might possibly have reception.
Bring an extra change of clothes: even if you don’t plan on getting wet, bring an extra change of clothes just in case, and especially if you have kids.
No drones: seriously, no drones. Even though we all know it would be beautiful, you can’t use yours. People kept dropping them into springs and generally being stupid with them, so they’re banned. Plus, if you’re flying your drone around and they need to rescue someone, your drone interferes with their helicopters and drones–basically the whole rescue. And if they happen to see a drone around, they will come hunting for you. For real. We saw a drone while we were at the lake and had three different park rangers ask us for details on what it looked like, which direction it came from and went. Don’t be a dick. Don’t bring your drone.
Day One in Yellowstone
We tend to plan just a few things to do so we have time to relax and actually enjoy where we are. So if you’re looking for a jam packed itinerary, this isn’t it. But it is 5-7 yr old kid-friendly!
So day one we literally spent 2 hours in the car trying to get to our first stop because of all of the traffic jams–and then when we finally got to Uncle Tom’s Trail it was closed but we had no idea until we got there. So that was a little disappointing, but we got out, went to the overlook and peeped a waterfall, then hiked around a bit (until we got to the “closed” sign) and made our way back to the car.
Then we drove through Dunraven pass down to Lamar Valley to admire the bison.We saw a baby black bear on the way!! Which we held up traffic for for 10 seconds because we didn’t want anyone to hit it with their car.
There are a lot of pull-outs along the road way once you get to the valley. You’ll turn at the corrals toward the Yellowstone Forever Institute. If you get lost you can run to the gas station to ask them where to turn, but they just old us “follow the signs” but there are no signs that say “Lamar Valley”. You’ll find TONS of bison to look at!
We drove further down the road and found a parking lot/bathrooms/picnic area and played in the water there for a while while a bison foraged in the trees across the river. Then we drove back to the hotel to get our boys a change of clothes and spent the evening hanging out with my brother in Madison Campground.
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I have so many things to say about Yellowstone and we’ve literally only been here 24 hrs. So it will wait for a blog post, but basically, there’s so much magic here. Saw hundreds of bison, a baby black bear, a couple of eagles, and a wolf. Washed my hair with some river water. Wore these boots all damn day and my feet don’t even hurt. Take me anywhere but i will always be a mountain girl.
Day Two in Yellowstone
We met my brother at his campsite then hit up the Midway Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic Spring. You can google all about these thermal features, so I won’t give you a geology lesson here. It’s a quick walk to the boardwalk from where you can see several different geysers and springs. We found out later that night that there is an overlook you can hike to, so we did that on our drive out of Yellowstone the next day.
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You thought I was done posting about Yellowstone, but I’m not 😬🤷🏻♀️ this was my absolute favorite spring/tourist attraction. The colors are incredible. We got up early the day we left to hike to the overlook we missed the day before. We got there before most everyone, but it ended up being the coldest morning we were there so it was hard to see the colors with all of the steam. Also, pretty sure Yellowstone is an energy vortex. And if you watch the video you get to see Caeden making movies 😂 #hikingwithkids @nathanaelg
Next we went to Old Faithful. We have a high-anxiety 7 year old who literally cried because he was so afraid of seeing this geyser go off (thanks to Ice Age). I had asked him the night before if he’d like to watch a video of Old Faithful going off so he knew what to expect, but it was a hard no. I didn’t even want to stay to watch in person because he was so upset, but when it finally went off he was like, “that was it?” Lol.
Then we drove down to the West Thumb/Grant Village, checked out the little visitor’s center, and “hiked”? down to the lake. Even though it was freezing degrees in the water the kids loved it and it was a really quiet spot to be (until that drone popped up). The boys played, we took pics and ate crackers and cheese and summer sausage.
We honestly probably could have fit more sights in and a couple more hikes, but with 18 hrs to drive the next day, we just didn’t and we love what we were able to see!
Where to stay in Yellowstone
We haven’t taken our kids camping further than our backyard because 1. I’ve afraid to, and two, because we have a spirited and strong willed child who has escaped a cabin and run into the woods before we woke up even though the door was barricaded and locked. As he’s gotten older and more communicative we think we will take our boys camping a few times this summer. But this time, we stayed in a hotel in West Yellowstone, which is an absolutely darling tourist town that I didn’t get any photos of.
If we did camp, I would choose camp Madison–my brother met us in Yellowstone and he got a camping spot there for the night so we went and spent the evening with him. There is a trail that goes to the river and there are usually bison in the valley there. We also saw an elk! They have plenty of bear-proof food storage containers, recycling, bathrooms, and a dish-washing station. You can buy firewood from the camp OR YOU CAN GO CHOP UP THE DEAD TREES IN THE FOREST. You guys. I have never been to a place that allows you to do this. Like, that alone made me a fan of this campground for life. You can find a map of campgrounds around Yellowstone here: https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/campgrounds.htm
We decided that we want to go to all 58 US National Parks. So we’ve got two down (we spent Thanksgiving in the smoky mountains a few years ago). What’s your favorite national park? We need to decide where to go next!