Yellowstone National Park
My husband pulled the van into the turnout on the side of the road. We had come upon a small group of bison grazing in the nearby grass, and we rolled the windows down to get a better look. A minute later, one of the largest bison in the group turned its head and looked straight at us. From the back seat, my son started yelling at my husband, "Step on it! Go, go, go! Get away fast!"
If you've experienced the presence of a bison with no barrier between you and him, you probably understand a little of the fear that my son was feeling. If you haven't witnessed that unharnessed strength, you should definitely plan a trip to Yellowstone!
The day that Yellowstone reopened for reservations we were online. We scored a cabin near Mammoth Hot Springs for two nights just a week after we made the reservation. That is unheard of under normal circumstances, but with the Coronavirus rearing it's head I'm convinced that almost anything is possible now- even getting a reservation in a popular National Park during the peak season! If you are headed to Yellowstone, here are a list of places we think you should consider checking out.
1. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
There is a hiking trial that goes all the way along the edge of this beautiful canyon and has some amazing lookout points! We hiked for about a quarter mile along the trail and stopped to play in a small creek for a bit. The waterfall at a lookout past the creek was spectacular! We went on both the north and the south rim of the canyon, and I thought they were both beautiful. If I had to pick just one side I would probably pick the north rim, because I liked the view of the waterfall better from that side.
2. Mammoth Hot Springs
We could see these stunning hot springs from the front porch of the tiny cabin we stayed in. Mammoth is unlike anything else you will see in the park. The calcium carbonate that has been deposited along the springs for centuries has built up to create this tiered spectacle that just blew my mind. The maze of staircases and wooden walkways gives you multiple views of the different levels of the area and it looks so different from each altitude.
3. West Thumb Geyser Basin
My favorite part of visiting this area happened as we were approaching the West Thumb part of Yellowstone Lake. I had my youngest son with me and I asked him, "Wow, doesn't that lake look beautiful?" He responded, "What lake?" Lol, I guess it was just so big that he didn't realize it was a lake? Not sure about that, but it gave me a good laugh!
This area had some beautiful geysers, and it was the first time we saw the "thin crust" signs. I always thought of pizza when we came across those signs, even though they were clearly making us aware of the fragileness of the earth in that particular section of the park and not asking how we liked our pizza. :) The wooden path here was flat and short and went in a loop, so that made for east hiking with the little ones.
4. Midway Geyser Basin
This is the home to one of the most famous hydrothermal features in the whole park, the Grand Prismatic Spring. This multicolored beauty is pictured on a lot of the park's brochures, so you will probably recognize it when you go there... if you can see it! I was really anticipating our visit to the Grand Prismatic, but when we got there the steam from the spring was so thick that we could barely see all of the gorgeous colors. That was a disappointment! I guess it does give me a good reason to go back though, on a warmer day next time.
5. Old Faithful
No trip to Yellowstone would be complete without watching Old Faithful erupt! We were able to see it go off twice, because after the first time we hiked around a bit and then had lunch at the lodge. By the time we were done eating it was almost time for the eruption again, so we decided to stay. I definitely suggest getting to Old Faithful as early in the day as you can possible go. There were double the amount of people waiting to see the geyser after lunch than there were during our first viewing. Quick tip- On our way out of the Old Faithful area I saw a beaver's dam in the nearby river. Always be on the lookout for wildlife!
On our way out of Yellowstone we took a different route than we had on the way in, and this led us straight through the Grand Tetons. While the wildlife here wasn't as plentiful as it was in Yellowstone, the wild flowers in the Tetons were unrivaled! I wanted to stop in so many different places and photograph my kids in the fields of purple, yellow, orange, green, and white. Add those colorful fields to the backdrop of snow capped mountains and it was a photographer's heaven!
We didn't stop along the many lakes in the Tetons, but I know I haven't made my last trip to that wild and beautiful stretch of country. We did stop to get some photos in these gorgeous wildflower fields with the rugged mountain backdrop.
Another plus of this trip is that we got to check off several more states on our list. Here are the ones we passed through just on this trip: California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. My husband kept trying to convince me that we should make a "quick detour" to Mount Rushmore, but I was over the driving!
Yellowstone National Park was a well needed experience with nature amidst the craziness of a pandemic. I came away from the trip feeling renewed and filled with hope for the future. That alone was worth it!