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October 29, 2020

Family trip to Yellowstone National Park

When summer plan after summer plan fell through, we took the suggestion of a good friend and decided visiting Yellowstone was a great option. 

Getting to Yellowstone from Denver...
From the Denver suburbs (where we live), Yellowstone is about an 8 - 9 hour car trip. You can either enter from the South (by going through Jackson Hole) or through the East (by going through Cody) We entered through the East because we planned to exit through Jackson Hole.  

{Grand Canyon of Yellowstone)


I truly wasn't prepared for the amazing sites we would see. 
You feel like you must be on another planet with the shooting geysers, bubbling mud pots, smoking hills and bright blue smoking pools.

{Grand Prismatic viewed from above} 

Our favorites were:
* Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone - 20 miles long and more than 1,000 feet deep
* Mammoth Hot Springs - the upper terraces were our favorite
* Sapphire Pool (so blue!)
* Grand Prismatic - from the upper viewing platform you'll get fantastic views of all the color rings (it's a super short walk, 15 minutes maybe)
* Mud Pots (watching them bubble and the mud splattering was super cool)
*Old Faithful Geyser for a predictable geyser viewing & Steamboat Geyser
if you get lucky

{Orange Spring Mound at Mammoth Springs}

Yellowstone involves a TON of driving around, stopping at each spot for a bit and more driving. If you have kids with you, be sure to stop at Shepeater Cliff. You'll find a bunch of kids climbing these rocks and getting out some energy. This was a favorite of our son's!
{Sheepeater Cliff}

Where to see animals in Yellowstone
This was a MAJOR priority for me. We even hired a private guide for a day to have the best success possible. My recommendation is you don't need a guide for this, just get out early and check out the places below...
* If you see a bunch of cars pulled over, PULL OVER! Within 20 minutes of entering Yellowstone we stopped to see what was going on and had our first momma Grizzly sighting with her 2 cubs!
* Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley were FULL of bison. Hundreds! It was fantastic to stop and watch. We also saw a bunch of pronghorns in the valleys. Super early in the morning is the best time to spot bears here.
* Slough Creek Road is the place to stop for wolf sightings. If you see a bunch of cars on that road, definitely pull over.
- Mountain goats can be seen at Baronette Peak (by the northeast entrance).
- Tons of elk hang out in the town of Mammoth Springs. 
{we got stopped at several bison traffic jams, but we didn't mind}

Where to stay
I am outdoorsy in that I like to hike, but that is pretty much where that outdoorsy-ness ends. 
Therefore, camping was not an option. 

Yellowstone is a huge place. Staying in the park means you can get to all the hot spots before everyone else and also visit busy attractions after everyone leaves. Yes, you'll be paying 5* prices for incredibly basic accommodations (no tv, no ac, no frills, no WIFI) but the convenience is everything!

We stayed inside Yellowstone for 4 nights and 1 night right outside of the North entrance, in Gardiner.
* Canyon Lodge (Western Cabin), for easy access to the east side.
* Old Faithful Snow Lodge, for easy access to the west side and the Old Faithful boardwalk which has a ton of geysers and pools to see.
* Travel Lodge in Gardener, for easy access to the north side (all Mammoth Springs accommodations inside the park were sold out for our trip, so Gardiner was the 2nd best option for us). 

For all on property lodging, there are ice machines available and little shopping areas that have gas, groceries, gift shops and quick service food. These shopping areas are actually super cute. My family loves a good gift shop! haha!



Food
{our favorite picnic spot}

Because we chose to visit Yellowstone during covid, none of their restaurants were open for sit down service. Only the quick service options were open and I didn't want to eat that all week. So we packed every.single.thing.we.ate. And did picnics for every.single.meal. Even in 40 degree mornings. Yes, it's that cold in August. But honestly... these picnics were actually some of the best memories we made of the trip. We packed good food. We pre-made/prepared every meal and stored it in air tight tupperware containers in our cooler. Then I purchased these single serving containers to heat each persons meal in, using this small table top gas grill, which worked perfectly! 

Breakfasts:
  this casserole was a huge hit
microwave bacon and scrambled eggs (made on site)

Lunches:
specialty soups from our grocery store 
sandwiches on hawaiian rolls
dinner left overs

Dinners:
chicken and rice casserole from here 
garlic steak and potato foil packs from here 
turkey sausage and veggie foil packs from here 
**We pre-cooked all the veggies ahead of time at home so camp dinners would be quick, easy and just require re-heating.
{everything in airtight containers, always left in car, never brought into hotel}

When you enter the park you'll get a map of the park. Picnic spots are marked on the map. We had some of the most beautiful picnic spots right on the water.  

Hiking on top of the world
We really enjoyed the Yellowstone River Picnic Area Loop hike. We did this as an out and back. You are basically on top of the world, looking down at the Yellowstone River and the views are incredible. It is a little nerve wracking how high up you are, but the trail itself is far enough from the edge to feel safe. 

Must pack items
Binoculars, bear spray, shoes with good tread, lots of layered clothing, lots of water, table cloth for picnic table. And so much more! haha, but don't forget these few things for sure. 
Weather will swing from super cold in the early morning, to super hot in the afternoon, to nice and cool in the evenings. 

Also, be sure to download the Gypsy app prior to your trip. Even without cell service in the park, it can track where you are and tell you where to turn for what sites (would be so easy to miss turns without this). It also gives you incredible facts about the park. A serious MUST! 

I feel a bit embarrassed to say that Yellowstone wasn't on any list of travel plans for us. Ever. I didn't know much about it. But when we were forced to stay in a smaller bubble, we ended up having the trip of a lifetime. The park has barely any cell service, so you won't be checking your phone and your child won't be playing video games online. I feel really, really lucky that we got to experience the wonders of Yellowstone!