As a novice writer, it is quite intimidating to write an article about a park with such prestige as Yellowstone NP. Surely you can scour the internet and come across countless articles of travelers who put forth more planning and professionalism visiting the park than we did. If that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t find it here. This is the semi hectic story of our family’s last minute decision to add an adventure at Yellowstone NP to our cross-country road trip and how we squeezed all the must see attractions into one day.
Make Sure To Plan Ahead
Had we known we were going to take a detour to Yellowstone NP, we would’ve stopped well before Cody, Wyoming and left earlier the next day to get to the park. Don’t get me wrong, Cody is a perfectly quaint town situated about an hour out from the park entrance, but it’s also the last big stop before the park if you are headed in from East Wyoming like we were.
There are ample hotels to choose from, but there are just as many tourists so it’s not the ideal spot to wing it and try to find vacancy. We didn’t arrive in town until around 4 pm and when I say we got the very last vacancy in the very last hotel on the strip, I mean it!
(Our view of the Shoshone River. Incase you’re wondering, the dinosaur hung on for the entire cross-country adventure and you may or may not see him featured in other articles)
Arriving At Yellowstone NP
After a restful night thankfully not spent in the car, we headed out early the next morning. We didn’t get to see the sunrise over the Shoshone River, but we were fortunate enough to see a grizzly bear and a few elk en route. These were the biggest animals we had ever seen in the wild at the time so it was personally more exciting than a sunrise. When we finally arrived at the East gate, we took our map down to the beautiful Yellowstone Lake and planned out how we were going to hit every main attraction in the span of one day.
Our first stop was the Fishing Bridge Museum and Visitors Center. I am a sucker for souvenirs so I wanted to get that out of the way in case the kids were too tired at the end of the day to do any more walking (which they totally were). We were able to stop for an adorable little photo opportunity and I scored a bottle of huckleberry wine. Not really a souvenir that lasts, but when you’re traveling for 2 weeks straight with 2 kids under the age of 5 in a jam-packed Mazda 6, wine is kind of a necessity.
En Route To Canyon Village
Wine in hand, photos for the grandparents out of the way, we started to make our way toward Canyon Village. During this route, we made a quick stop off along the Yellowstone River and took a short, peaceful walk along the riverbank. I’m not going to lie here, a majority of the reason we stopped was because we spotted snow and that wasn’t something we experienced often living in Charleston.
Our next stop was at Mud Volcano. Here you see, and smell, mudpots boiling away. The sulfur scent didn’t sit well with our kids at first, but you become somewhat immune. This is an excellent trail to go on if you have kids because it is boardwalked. It doesn’t go too deep into the woods if you are worried about encountering a bear (which I 110% was). Do be mindful, however, that you are standing on a super volcano. Staying on the boardwalked area is essential for your family’s safety.
From Canyon Village to Mammoth
When we finally arrived at Canyon Village, we stopped off at Artist’s Point. Here you will catch a breathtaking view of the canyon and falls. We took a short picnic break before we tucked back in to the car. It was finally time to make our way to my number one must see attraction, the hot springs.
The drive from Canyon to Mammoth took a little longer than planned because we had to frequently stop for crossing animals. Herds of bison and elk were roaming free just outside of our windows. We were even fortunate enough to see what I can only describe as a National Geographic moment. A wolf hunted down and attacked a deer directly in front of our car.
(One of the many herds of bison we encountered)
The Hot Springs
By the time the excitement of seeing a live NatGeo moment passed, we arrived at Mammoth. We quickly packed up and hopped on the boardwalk to the hot springs. These springs are 1000% more magnificent in person than any photo I took can recreate. I would highly recommend taking your time to soak it all in. It could also be fun to learn a few new facts about the geology and wildlife nearby. Again, be mindful here that your kids don’t stray off the wooden path.
After walking the whole loop, the kids were struck with the realization they hadn’t napped all day. We decided to pass straight through Norris and Madison in favor of a car nap. This meant making a direct shot to Old Faithful. We arrived with 15 minutes to eruption so we were able to snag front row seats to the show.
Since our kids were so young at the time, they didn’t fully understand what was happening. Meanwhile, my husband and I were having total “IS THIS REAL LIFE” moments. This was one of those things I remembered learning about as a child in school, but never thought I would experience.
On To The Next Town
Just as it was entering Yellowstone NP, the closest town, Jackson, is a small hike away. We headed out shortly after the sun had set. The drive on the outskirts of the Grand Teton National Forest was shady (literally and figuratively). Even with our high beams on full blast, it looked as though we were driving through a blanket of darkness.
Here is another place it may be wise to plan ahead because of the tourist to hotel room ratio. While we did stop for dinner in Jackson, we wound up staying about 45 minutes outside of the city because there was no vacancy (apart from a $500/night hotel which, let’s be honest here, is way out of our price range).
(The moonrise over Grand Teton is kind of worth the scary drive though)
If you have ever visited Yellowstone NP, please comment below with your experiences. What was the main attraction you went for? What was your favorite stop along the way? Don’t forget to subscribe or follow me on social media if you want to stay up to date on the latest adventures of our family out in Our Happy Place 🙂