Our road trip led us to Yellowstone, where my husband, parents, and aunt and uncle flew out to all get together and spend the week at the park. We spent the week driving the park in search of the elusive grizzly. Normally we laugh and say we don’t take vacations we take trips but I think we did a good job for this leg balancing the time spent wandering vs. the time spend relaxing.
Part Two of this two part series covers our week at Yellowstone and the “short” drive home. If you missed part one you can check it out HERE!
We stayed in the small town of Cameron, Montana which is about a 50 minute drive to West Yellowstone. This is where we entered and exited the park each day while we were staying in the area. Our first Yellowstone adventure day began by entering the west gate and driving past what my mother felt like was everything Yellowstone had to offer to head south. Since cell phone service is barely a thing in the park I’m sure the other car had to hear lots of “oh, why aren’t they stopping!” and even I had to have a reassuring conversation with her letting her know that we would not be visiting everything on the first day but that there was a plan. My mom had asked me to make an itinerary and I’m the family trip planner so I don’t know what she was doubting LOL!
Everything in Yellowstone takes more than an hour. Between the speed limit, the tourists, the animals – bank on at least an hour. We joked that we would be spending the week driving to Augusta every morning to start our day but that’s just how it is. You could stay in the park or maybe find something in one of the towns by the gates but even from the gates things weren’t super close. If you go, be prepared to drive.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
With that said our first stop was at the West Thumb Geyser Basin. We happily piled out of the car, started up the trail ready to see all the things, and accidentally took the wrong trail up to the Yellowstone Lake viewing point. It was a great view but it was not the easy boardwalk lope I had originally planned for our group LOL. We made it to the top and laughed about how we would have to head back down and still go to the Geyer basin viewing area but we did get a great view of the lake.
What a view! Yeah…so I didn’t actually take a photo at the top. I pretty much just kept walking down the other side of the trail. ????????♀️
After the accidental hike we headed across the parking lot and visited the actual Geyser Basin!
So we aren’t really that upset about the hike, we don’t mind doing some walking but I did have another hike planned for day one and we ended up skipping it because Christopher probably would have “needed” to be carried the whole way after we wore him out at the West Thumb area hike. With that said, we piled back in the car after viewing the West Thumb Geyser Basin and headed further south to Lewis Falls.
This off the road water fall was a great stop. You can view it from the bridge and parking is located on either side of said bridge. It was a good stop to get out and stretch your legs without having to commit to a hike.
After Lewis Falls we realized we were only about 20ish miles to Grand Teton National Park. We were wanting to take a day to visit Grand Teton so we decided since we were already this far south we would go ahead and drive down.
Grand Teton National Park
Beautiful. That’s the only shot I have. Since we didn’t do the googling on what to do in Grand Teton the idea of driving around just to look at things when we could do that through Yellowstone didn’t appeal to us. So we came, we saw, we took a photo, and we turned around to head back to Yellowstone.
We drove back north heading to see Mud Volcano. This is where the buffalo was practically on the boardwalk we were on! After Mud Volcano we drove through Hayden Valley “on the way” back toward West Yellowstone. Along the way we spotted a traffic situation where park rangers were directing cars, this is a great sign in Yellowstone so we found a place to pull over and got out to see what was going on! ELK!! Big male elk!! We’d seen a few female elk in the Mammoth Hot Springs area when we were on our drive in and at the wildlife drive thru in Custer but these guys were the first wild males we came across. They were big!! After this we wrapped up our first day at Yellowstone by heading back to the rental and having dinner.
Day Two was all about the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the Norris Geyser Basin. We caught the lower falls view at Artist Point, visited the Upper Falls viewing area, and checked out the Brink of the Upper Falls. These were easy in and out of the car stops. There is a trail for the south rim drive but the signage said parts were closed so we opted for the drive and park method. The parking lots were a bit busy but we didn’t have any trouble finding spots.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
As we were leaving this area heading to the Norris Geyser Basin we spotted this guy on the side of the road. When we drove by him the first time everyone in my car saw him but no one in the second car did but the second time we drove by everyone saw. They are so big and sometimes you don’t see them even when they are this close to the road!
Norris Geyser Basin
The Norris Geyser Basin is another boardwalk area that had several small geysers. The photos below are steam vents though, not geysers, but you could feel the cool water from the steam on certain parts of the boardwalk.
After the Norris Geyser Basin we headed back to West Yellowstone for some ice cream and shopping. West Yellowstone is a classic tourist town filled with all the places to buy Yellowstone souvenirs.
For day three, we decided Ada needed a break from the car so my sister, Ada, and I stayed at the rental while everyone else went out to see Mammoth Hot Springs and Lamar Valley. Since we visited that area on our way to the rental after our week of traveling we thought it would be a good place to send them so we didn’t miss much while we did laundry and picked up some groceries. I included this part of our trip in the part one blog of this trip, you can find that HERE if you missed it!
We started day for by having a ladies morning in the quaint town of Ennis, Montana. We grabbed a coffee, did a little shopping, and got lunch. After our outing everyone loaded up and we headed back the the park. Day Four was Old Faithful Day. I’d read somewhere that seeing some of the big name sites would be better in the afternoon because everyone wants to see them first thing so they don’t miss out. I would say this advice was sound EXCEPT there was some road construction around Old Faithful and it took FOREVER for us to get there. You can check online (before you enter the park, remember hardly any cell service inside) to find out the next predicted time for Old Faithful so we were on track to pull into the parking lot about 30 minutes before it went off but because of the traffic we ended up pulling into the parking lot as people were leaving from where we just missed it.
This isn’t a huge deal since Old Faithful erupts about every 100 minutes but it did mean we had to wait for another hour and a half give or take before being able to move on with our afternoon. We spent the time visiting the park store, the only one we saw open while we were visiting, and getting great seats for the main event.
Ok…so I’m not going to tell anyone to skip Old Faithful. It was neat, it’s classic Yellowstone, you have to go see Old Faithful! but…I don’t have to go see it again. It’s like Times Square, if you’ve never been to NYC you need to go to Times Square but if you’ve been you know you don’t ever have to go back. It is what it is.
The eruption lasted almost 3 minutes, I’ll share a video, but I guess I thought it would be more?? IDK. It was really quiet, like I’ve taken louder showers. I also thought it would just spout and be done, I’ve never actually googled it so I didn’t know. Had I known it was going to be 3 minutes I would have arranged an awesome family photo LOL. As it were, we came, we saw, we headed out to the next thing. ????
I’m still working on that embedding video properly part so if you click “Old Faithful Video” above you can check it out for yourself!
Black Sand Basin and Biscuit Basin
We checked out a few more geyser basin areas as part of our day four afternoon. Both of these were short drives from each other and were easily accessible. All of the colors are so bright and vibrant in person. I don’t think the photos do them justice.
Grand Prismatic Spring
Drumroll please….the Grand Prismatic Spring. We made it, we are finally here! We’ve driven by it countless times and the parking lot has been NUTS each time. The overflow has been full each time. The people walking down the street from the overflow overflow has been insane. My mom has been dropping hints all week about how she hopes it’s on the agenda. We came in the afternoon…and parked in the front. That’s right, the plan to avoid the crowd paid off in this department. Unfortunately it was very overcast and there wasn’t much of a breeze so the steam was hovering and we didn’t get the best photograph of the year view of Grand Prismatic. We did get a good view and we didn’t have to fight the crowds of people so it’s really a win. I’ll take low crowd and good parking over the best view all day. I can google the best view, we got the cool view! This is my favorite photo of the Grand Prismatic Spring.
Here are a few more photos!
Even with the steam it was pretty. I thought about trying to stop again the next day when we drove by to see if it looked different but when we drove by the crowd was crazy and it just didn’t seem worth the time it would take when we had other things we wanted to catch.
After the Grand Prismatic we called it a day and drove back to the rental house. Our last full day was ahead of us and we knew we wanted to rest up. Plus, it was also almost dark so you know LOL.
This is a total sidebar but one time I picked up a friend and it was dark and raining. He asked me how my driving was in the rain and I’ll never forget the look on his face when I smiled and replied, “you really should be asking about my driving at night.”
Day Five was our last full day with everyone who came on the trip. We started by driving back to Biscuit Basin as both of the things we planned to do were based out of that parking lot.
Morning Glory Pool
We originally planned to see Morning Glory pool on day 4 but didn’t realize we had to walk a mile to get there so we didn’t have the time. Just so everyone knows, you can get to the morning glory pool 2 ways. The first is from Old Faithful, follow the boardwalk about a mile and there you go. The second, which is what we did, is to park at Biscuit Basin, walk across the street and take the mile trail up to the pool. It’s a two mile round trip but it was an easy flip flops walk. There are a few pools along the way for viewing and the morning glory pool didn’t disappoint. I would say it was my favorite pool.
Here are a few photos along the walk.
Morning Glory Pool Photos
After doing the walk to the Morning Glory pool we crossed Biscuit Basin and did the hike to Mystic Falls.
I also did this hike in flip flops so it wasn’t high on the difficulty level. It was 2.4 miles total if you hike to the falls then turn around and go back the way you came. There is a loop option but it adds another 1.5 miles. If you pass some people coming out that look like they are about to die don’t worry, there was another 7.2 mile trail that cuts off of the Mystic Falls trailhead.
After we did the Mystic Falls hike we loaded back up and found a place next to the Madison River to have a late lunch and let Christopher and Ada play in the water. They had a good time getting wet although I don’t know how, the water was COLD!!
Our final stop for the day was back in West Yellowstone at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center.
Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
Our final stop for the trip was to see the bears! This small wildlife park had more than just bears and wolves. Christopher really loved the otters, which seemed to be playing with the kids as they walked up to the tank. When we got to the bear exhibit they didn’t have any bears on display but the caretakers were spreading things around their area. We learned they rotate the bears and between the rotations they hide food and other items so the bear can interact with the environment in some of the same ways they would in the wild. After about 10 minutes the next bears were let out. They came running in digging for treats and having a good time. It was fun to watch them play and swim.
After the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center I asked Christopher what his favorite part was. His answer…the statue in the front. We don’t even have a picture of this, but apparently it was a good statue. LOL
After the Grizzly Center we went back to the rental to get packed up. The plan was to leave by 5:30 the next morning so it was important to get the car packed.
The Drive Home
It was a cold, rainy, windy morning when we rushed out to the car with a sleeping 4 year old and headed out. We planned to leave by 5:30 am and we were on the road by 5:15. Because we can’t just take the fastest way all the time we decided to leave the area by driving back through Yellowstone and head south through Grand Teton, it only added 30 minutes to our drive and really what’s 30 minutes when the GPS says home is 36 hours away.
We split the drive in 3 so we had the goal of making it to Kearney, Nebraska Friday night, Paducah, Kentucky Saturday night, and into Statesboro by Sunday night. Our drive was easy and we made good time ending Friday about an hour east of Kearney, Saturday in Chattanooga, and we were back in Statesboro by 2:00 pm Sunday. I won’t drag on about our drive home but I will leave you with this.
WE FINALLY SAW A WILD BEAR!!
That’s right!! Our decision to drive through the park on our way home put us in the right place at the right time to see a wild grizzly! We were out of both Yellowstone and Grand Teton when we passed some official looking folks on the side of the road. We drove by at first, we had 14 more hours to drive that day but we both immediately acknowledged that the park rangers weren’t out on the side of the road for bison so we turned around to check it out. Sure enough it was a bear!! So here it is! Our wild bear. Don’t you know this is the best photo we were able to take ????????♀️????????♀️
Our entire trip was amazing! I am very fortunate to be able to travel and to have great people to travel with me. The best companion for any journey is my sister. I honestly don’t know why she gets in the car with me and two small children sometimes but I sure am glad she does! She’s also the person who takes most of our trip photos! We do a fair amount of rolling down the window and taking a memory and she’s the one that usually holds the camera. I can’t thank her enough for helping me with the kids and putting up with me. I know she likes it when I travel with her too even if it’s just so I make sure she doesn’t book rooms at the $40/night murder motel. LOL
If you would like to see more photos from the trip hit the button below!