Family trips are adventures that our crew relies on to recharge each year. While it is definitely an effort to coordinate travel for five of us with varying schedules, the payout is absolutely worth it. This year we decided to extend a weekend BMX trip in Bozeman, MT so we could spend the remainder of the week in Yellowstone.
Our itinerary consisted of as much sightseeing as we could pack into our days and a few days of backpacking to escape the crowds. With the reported estimated attendance at Yellowstone averaging 800,000+ people, we figured escaping to the mountains would be a fun adventure.
We started our trip out at the North Entrance, just outside Gardiner, Montana. We were able to hang out at the Roosevelt arch for a bit and take lots of photos. The kids loved the tiny doors in the lower part of the arch. From there we entered the park, checking in with the rangers and paying the entrance fee. At the time we visited it was $35 for a 7 day pass to enter the park with an RV. Not bad considering there were six of us traveling (our fam plus a friend)!
Once we were inside the park, we made a beeline to Mammoth Hot Springs so we could go to the backcountry office to get our camping permit. A tip if you decide to head into the backcountry... You can make campsite reservations ahead of time, then you just need to show up to any backcountry office within the park to get your permit by 10:00 am on the day of your trip. We of course, cut that REAL close.
Once we'd explored the visitor center, we wandered over to the hot springs and traversed the boardwalk. The formations at the hot springs were incredible, it's amazing what mother nature can create.
From there we made our way to Artist Point. Once we turned off the main road, we saw a couple of buffalo and some elk hanging out on the side of the road in the trees. The view from Artist Point was one of the most spectacular sights we saw during the trip. I've seen photos and paintings of Artist Point, but seeing it in person is breathtaking. There is a regular ranger talk at this location, which the kids (and adults) found facinating. If you get a chance, pull up a rock and hear about how the grand canyon of Yellowstone was formed!
Days 2, 3 and 4 consisted of hiking and backpacking in the Canyon Lakes outside of Canyon Village. For us this was a chance to escape the crowds, but also a last minute parking strategy for our RV. It turns out that trying to find a camping spot for a 35 foot RV in July is not the easiest thing to do. Whoops! And so a backpacking trip was born.
We set out for a short hike from Ice Lake trailhead to a campsite on the far side of the lake for the night, only about 1.5 miles hike. The campsite was HUGE with plenty of room for our three tents and a great firepit. The lake was perfect for the boys to do some fly fishing, and even though it was a bit chilly the lake was fairly shallow so it was easy to wade out to where the fish were.
Days 3 and 4 were spent at Cascade Lake, where we camped on the northern part of the lake in another amazing campground. I'm used to a tent site with no real amenities - because you're in the middle of nowhere. Yellowstone steps up their game with a separate food area that includes a firepit with seating (usually logs or rocks) and a food hanging pole. Sleeping areas are quite a ways away from the food area, which is primarily for safety but also nice to have things spread out.
We quickly learned the value of the separate food and sleeping areas, and also the exact location of our bear spray when we had a large, brown visitor come to the meadow where we were camped. The kids named our visitor Chad, and he got REAL close to camp - so close that we grabbed what we could and made a getaway to a nearby tree to wait out his visit. Luckily he didn't stay too long and finally meandered up the mountain in search of water parsnips and probably an area where people weren't yelling at him. Ha!
Cascade Lake is on a popular hiking trail from Canyon Village, so we saw quite a number of hikers coming through. Many made their way up to Observation Peak, where a retired lookout tower still stands. It was a great hike, and we even found some snow at the top of the peak where the boys had a snowball fight in July! On day 4 of backpacking, we hiked from Cascade Lake to the Ice Lake trailhead, stopping at Wolf Lake for lunch and more fishing.
The last day of our trip in Yellowstone was spent in the Geyser basin south of Madison, Wyoming. The natural wonders in this part of the park are INCREDIBLE. Even the teenagers got lost in the wonders of the world as we went from feature to feature.
When heading up to the Midway Geyser Basin, you can see the water from the geysers flowing into the fiver. The kids managed to find one place along the river where water was venting and making a small area of the river warm.
One of my favorite places was the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, located at the Midway Geyser Basin. The variation in colors that are present was awe inspiring.
Another favorite part of our trip was the Old Faithful area. While Old Faithful itself is definitely worth stopping for, it turned out that the smaller geysers around Old Faithful were our teenager's favorite sights during the trip. Number one favorite? A tiny geyser called Anenome geyser that erupts frequently and shoots about 6 feet into the air.
We had so much fun on this trip, and it's definitely a place we will need to go back to and spend more time. The kiddos are already planning our next trip so we can see more wildlife. If you get a chance to make the excursion to Yellowstone, you won't regret it!