Arriving at Yellowstone National Park hardly seemed real as we pulled up to the wooden sign flanking the side of the East Entrance that announced it in all of its glory. We had been planning our vacation for so long that it seemed as if we would never actually arrive at our destination. When we finally did, cheesy as it sounds, tears sprang to my eyes. I had never traveled to this side of America before, and working on planning this road trip for so long, it seemed like more of a dream rather than a reality.
This trip was a dream come true. I hope you are following along so you can plan this trip with your family. If you just arrived, make sure you check out Part One and Part Two of the series. There is a lot of wonderful information that you will need to make it a trip you will never forget!
DAY FIVE: YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
We headed out of Cody, Wyoming first thing in the morning after a breakfast at our hotel. We began driving towards the East Yellowstone Entrance to start a day filled with hiking and sight seeing. We had one quick surprise for the kids first…ziplining! We bought one zipline trip at The Sleeping Giant right outside the Yellowstone Entrance. It was beautiful there, and the ziplining was so fun! It was not that expensive for the experience we had and we highly recommend this company! The guides that we had were fun, entertaining and experienced. If you have a little extra time on your trip, stop by and have some fun! You will not regret it! Well…unless your family talks you into doing a forty foot free fall just for fun…you might regret that! And yes, that is what happened to me! That is fear on my face…pure fear!
TIP: If they are still there and available, ask for Finn and Danny. They were amazing! They were so fun and so great with my kids. Also, make sure to get a family picture with the mountains in the background. It is beautiful there!
348 North Fork Highway
Cody, Wyoming 82414
The first thing to do when you are planning your trip to Yellowstone National Park is make a list of the sights that you want to see. Old Faithful? Put it on the list. Grand Prismatic? Add it. A special hiking trail? Write it down. Once you have your list of all of the things that you want to see and do, you can start mapping out a plan, and a making a decision on where to say.
Yellowstone is made up of several little villages. Each village has a hotel and a cluster of stores, restaurants and visitor centers. We decided to stay in Canyon Village, since it was very centrally located and near a lot of what we wanted to see. Once we made those reservations (make them early!), we mapped out a daily plan for how we were going to see the sights. Seeing things in Yellowstone is not what you may think it may be. There might be two things that are on your must see list, and they may be three hours away from each other. Add in buffalo crossing the road and traffic jams which sometimes occur, you can be driving for five hours if you don’t plan carefully. We decided to group things together and each day see a few things that we were interested in doing.
Ok, first things first, and then I will get you our Yellowstone Itinerary of sights to see. First and foremost, the hotel. There are some options. You could say outside the park grounds. There are several hotels outside the North, South, East and West entrances that you can book and drive into the park each day. You can also stay inside the park grounds in a hotel/lodge. This is what we chose. A third option is camping. There are several camping options inside yellowstone ranging from basic tent camping to RV camping. Make sure you look into all of the options to know what is best for you.
As I mentioned above, we stayed in Canyon Village. We really liked the location, and felt that it was really close to everything we wanted to see. We stayed and the Canyon Village Lodge. It was a little more on the pricey side, but it was extremely clean, comfortable and convenient. The rooms are basic. There is a bathroom, beds, a mini fridge and some basic amenities. There are no televisions, telephones or air conditioning in the room and getting a cell phone signal anywhere in Yellowstone is pretty much non existent (unless you have Verizon). Staying in Canyon village was the right choice for us, but get ready to pay a little more, and stay in a room with very few bells and whistles.
Also, don’t forget your National Park Passes if you purchased ahead of time, and get your child’s passport stamped inside Yellowstone if you bought one! Click the picture below to purchase your own. It is so fun for the kids!
TIPS: I am writing this again just so you make sure to really absorb it…book EARLY! We booked almost a year in advance and was told there were only a few rooms left. If you want to stay at a hotel inside the park, you must figure this out and book it ASAP.
Yellowstone National Park
Time for one of the most important parts–figuring out what you are going to do once you are there! We did exactly what I had explained above. We sat around googling, looking at books, maps, etc until we came up with a list of like 10-15 things we definitely wanted to see. From there we sort of narrowed it down based on how far some things were, etc. We came up with a driving plan and worked it all out to see everything, without feeling overwhelmed and in the car too much!
Here was our list of things to do and days/order we did it:
Day Five: Storm Point Trail, Mud Volcano, Hayden Valley, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone-Back to our hotel
Day Six: Norris Geyser Area, Roaring Mountain, Mammoth Hot Springs Area, Boiling River-Back to our hotel
Day Seven: Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic-out the south entrance into Grand Teton National Park
There is a road that circles around the part of Yellowstone that we were visiting that we stayed on for most of the time. It is a beautiful drive when you do have to be in the car, and if you are lucky, you will see some wildlife. While we were there we saw a few buffalo, a wolf, black bears, a mom and baby deer, ground squirrels, an Eagle, and elk. It was amazing!
TIP: Have a plan! Honestly, you will not see nearly enough awesome things without a plan. I am a Type A planner all the way, but you don’t even have to be like that. If you have just a vague plan sketched out, that is fine. You just want to make sure you are able to see the really cool things at Yellowstone and not run out of time or be staying in a completely inaccessible place to the one sight you really had your heart set on.
A little description of some of the places so you can see what is right for you and your travel group…
STORM POINT TRAIL: This was the perfect trail for my family. It was a two and a half mile trail that allowed you to see almost every type of topography that you would want to see traveling to Yellowstone. It started on a wide, expansive prairie, and the moved into the rocky shores of a gorgeous lake with the mountains as a backdrop. You moved to the sandy edge of the lake and then walked right into a shady forest where the pine trees climbed so high, you could barely see the tops. Coming out of the woods, you were back on the grass, feeling as if you traveled through a few different countries, instead of only two and a half miles. I strongly recommend this trail. Even if you have some unenthused hikers (we had one of those) there is enough to see on this trail to pique their interest the entire way.
TIP: Bring bug spray. The woods you will go through are filled with mosquitoes. Also, come prepared with water, snacks and sunscreen (we traveled in the summer). It is not that long of a trail, but long enough that you will need to be prepared.
MUD VOLCANO: This was really neat but the buffalo love the hot ground so be careful. We had a buffalo run at us on our walkway and it was terrifying! Remember they are wild animals! The kids really found this one cool!
HAYDEN VALLEY: This was a drive by and stop and get out of the car stop for us. It is gorgeous and cannot be missed!
GRAND CANYON OF YELLOWSTONE: This is one of the most beautiful sights you will ever lay eyes on! Don’t miss it! There are some hikes here too…we were exhausted by the time we arrived so we didn’t go on one, but I bet they were just beautiful!
NORRIS GEYSER AREA: This was a very peaceful place where the kids got to really see a lot of geysers. It was a nice trail on a boardwalk, so very easy to navigate. It was a little more crowded than some of the other sights, but it wasn’t bad.
ROARING MOUNTAIN: This really sounds like a roar coming from inside a cave! The little ones will especially find this cool!
MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS AREA: We chose this spot to stop and have lunch and loved the little village. Beautiful scenery surrounds you, and the village is full of Elk! The visitor center has a little museum inside and fun for the kids to look at.
BOILING RIVER: This is a must. It is a pretty long hike to the river, so be prepared for that. Our kids were so excited about going in, they weren’t that thrilled with how long the hike was from the parking lot. Make sure you have swim suits and towels. The Boiling River is the Gardiner River where the hot springs meet the cold icy water. The result is almost a hot tub like feel, with cold spots here and there. Really cool and really fun! Not to mention, the river is in Wyoming but the parking lots are in Montana. My kids thought that was pretty neat too!
OLD FAITHFUL: This is a must see of course, since it is probably one of the most well known attractions at Yellowstone. Make sure you check the schedule of approximate times of eruption, it will help you plan your day better. There is a lot of space to come, sit and relax and wait, but if you have really little ones, you might want to pack some snacks to avoid the squirms.
GRAND PRISMATIC: We saved the best for last and this was by far all of our favorites. You will have to just see if for yourself because the pictures do not even do it justice! It is one of the most amazing sights you will ever lay eyes on!
I hope this helps you navigate Yellowstone a little better, or at least starts you with somewhat of a plan! Catch me soon as we head into Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole!
Can’t wait to share more of my trip with you!