As I came to the end of my REALLY LONG journey of getting my engineering degree, I decided I needed a reward. My family sacrificed a lot while I was going to school and working, so I figured they deserved one also. I decided we would go to Yellowstone!
I dove into full research mode. I wanted us to have a great time and being there would be 5 of us, I knew it would take some planning. It was also 20 hour drive, so I wanted to plan that out well also. (No one wants to listen to 3 crabby teenagers.)
When I did my research there where many things I wish I would have found somewhere. Unfortunately, these are things we did not learn till we got there. I am going to share these things with you guys! Feel free to contact me with any questions. If I can help I would be happy to do so!
I will say, that no matter what, it was the vacation of a lifetime. it is an amazing place to explore. Also, our family made it through it without one fight and enjoyment the whole time!!!
Timing Your Trip
As with anything, timing of a vacation can be everything. Since I had no clue when it was best to go to Yellowstone I had to knuckle down and figure it out. In my research I found the general consensus was the peak of Yellowstone visits started the last week of May. So in other words, if you don’t like crowds go before this. Also with digging into how long it would take to get there I discovered, the roads are almost all closed during the winter months. They are typically back open by May.
With all this in mind, I decided to take my fam the 3rd week of May. From what I had seen we should beat the crowds, get good rates on lodging, and be able to see everything. This would also be after my college girl and I would be done with the semester. (The boys had to miss the last 2 days and were TOTALLY heartbroken.)
We were able to see almost all of the park, but there was definitely some things we wanted to see that were still covered in snow and closed. One was the hot springs by the north entrance. A few of the better hikes were also closed (most of these also on the north entrance).Pretty much anything accessed by the north highway was also. We were able to see the big attractions, though. Specifically, all the geysers were open, with warm weather to watch.
Weather was awesome. We had one day that was frustratingly cold and gloomy but most were amazing. Most days we would start out in a hoodie and end up in short sleeves by noon. One disappointing thing was because of the slight chill still in the air we could not fully see Grand Prismatic Spring. It was hard to see because of the steam was so thick (from it being warm and the air cool). For the most of the trip however, the weather was so great, the boys woke up one morning a little warm and got to have a snow ball fight mid-afternoon on top of one of the mountains.
Another thing to consider is the wildlife. If you want to see lots of activity you need to go in peak season. We only saw one black bear. I hear if you go during peak season this is not the case. There is normally more (which is bad or good depending if you like being scared hiking along and running into one) I didn’t get to see my moose which was the only thing I wanted to see. We did see LOTS of wildlife though. If there is something you really want to see, you might check with the rangers to ask about that animals busiest time.
My suggesting on timing is this: consider your tolerance of crowds, your tolerance of cool sometimes gloomy weather, and your budget(it is significantly cheaper to not go during peak). Also know if you don’t make “the right choice” you will still absolutely love Yellowstone!!
Where to Stay
Since it is such a long drive across Yellowstone, I wanted to stay closest to the action. You have to book almost a year in advance to stay in Yellowstone (and it is significantly more expensive). As a result of planning only 6 months ahead of time and pricing, I decided on West Yellowstone, a little town just outside the park.
West Yellowstone is a cool little town. It has lots of places to eat and things to do. There are several places to stay in town, just walking distance from the main strip. It is also just about 30 minutes away from most of the geysers.
We decided on 10 minutes out of town. I wanted away from all the noise and a place with a view. I also wanted all the kids to have their own space. Also a kitchen with 5 people was a necessity. I found an awesome 2 story cabin on VRBO.
This little cabin had a private bedroom for the adults and a loft with lots of room, 2 queen sized beds and a couch. There was a bonus of a washer and dryer. The best part a hot tub with an amazing view!
The cabin was truly a good investment. We spent a lot of time driving so it was nice to just hang out in the spacious cabin and have down time. There was also a short hike behind the cabin.
Just a little side note in case you actually consider this EXACT cabin. The other cabin seems close but we never heard anything from the other renters. Also the road noise wasn’t very noticable. It was over all very relaxing and quiet. (This coming from a gal that lives on 80 acres in the sticks.)
Just a quick note on traffic. There are a LOT of “traffic jams.” You will want to plan extra time because you will get caught in traffic regularly. They are some of the best traffic jams you will ever be in though. There are always great views and people excited to see what is causing the jam.
One word for all the Geysers, amazing!! They are all over the west side of the park and I strongly suggest stopping at all of them. Some may not look interesting but turn out to be pretty stinkin’ cool!
Old faithful is of course a must see! We happened to walk up just as it was finishing so we got great seats. It was well worth the hour-ish wait we had. There is a cool little shop right in front of it if you want to kill time that way.
There is hiking behind Old Faithful that is well worth it. Most of it is even handicapped capable. We hiked to the other area of geysers, this was a beautiful but long hike. (There are tons of little geysers all along the hike.) The main pic for this page (see top) is one along this hike.
The Grand Prismatic Spring was not something we had the pleasure of seeing clearly (as mentioned before). Because of the chill in the air and the heat of the spring, there was to much fog to be able to see it clearly. From what we could see it was beautiful. My suggestion is plan to see this on the warmest day of your trip.
We were able to see one Prismatic Spring. It was on the hike behind Old Faithful. It was probably my favorite natural feature of all of Yellowstone. I strongly suggest seeing as many of these as you can fit into your schedule.
My family toured through the north entrance on one of our rainy days. The drive was beautiful (even with construction going on the highway from West Yellowstone to North Entrance). I was not terribly impressed with the little town.
The entrance has an arch that was established by President Roosevelt. This was pretty neat, especially considering the history. The town was very touristy and expensive (more so than West Yellowstone). It was okay to do for a rainy day but I would have been disappointed if we had done it on an nice day.
There are so many beautiful hikes in Yellowstone I can’t possibly list them all. My suggestion is go talk to one of the rangers so they can help them find the one that fits exactly your wants and needs. We hiked several that were 5 or more miles. Everyone well worth it. We saw so much wildlife, waterfalls, and amazing views that even my boy who doesn’t like to hike loved every second.
The one thing I suggest is GET BEAR SPRAY! I ordered mine off of Amazon before the trip. This way you will not pay near as much as you would buying it there.
Here are just a small few of the awesome pics I snapped on hikes:
I figured this was probably the best place to include this. We stopped in here on our way out of Yellowstone. It was a cute little town. We did not go into the museum because of how expensive it was. We did go into Buffalo Bill’s old restaurant. It was okay food, but pretty cool history. If you have the time and you are going that way I would stop in. If not don’t make a special trip for it. (Unless it is during peak season, I hear it is pretty cool then. There is a rodeo everyday.)
First let me say thank you for reading if you made it to this point! I love sharing my tips on trips, so that others can learn from my experience. If there is something you would like to know please feel free to comment or contact me. I can normally respond with in 24 hours.
There is just way to many things to be able to include all if it. It is by far a trip completely worth it! Below are a few more pics that I thought you might enjoy!