Friday, August 11, 2017

Yellowstone National Park in Two Days

As a family we spent just two days in Yellowstone National Park. They were long days and we felt that we saw all we wanted but I would recommend giving yourself at least three days in the park. We had come from Waterton Lakes National Park and drove through Glacier National Park on the Going-to-the Sun Road and ended up in Bozeman for the night. This meant we were still 1.5 hours from the North Gate but it was a great place to stay.  We decided to do the Upper Loop the first day and stay at the West Gate the first night and then save the Lower Loop for the second day.

What were the highs and lows from our Yellowstone adventure?
If you are planning on visiting several parks be sure to get the annual pass upon arrival. Our pass was for Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and Craters of the Moon. Once through the North Gate we went to the Visitor Centre. I recommend visiting each one as you can ask for advice on what to see catered to your family, pick up maps and information, and also there are so many interesting things to learn inside. Oh, and there is air conditioning!

Our first site to explore right near the Visitor Centre was Mammoth Falls. There are boardwalks to take you all around which I appreciated. The parking lots are busy, the sites are crowded and it was hot. So, tip one is come prepared with water!

The white on Mammoth Falls is calcium carbonate and the various colours you can see are thermophilic (heat loving) microbes.

You may feel short of breath while walking around as you are at quite a high elevation.

The next stop we made was just a five minute detour to see the petrified tree. It wasn't very interesting to me but if you have time you might as well make the stop.

Next up we decided to drive a little out of the way towards Lamar Valley. I knew there was wildlife in this area and the bison were aplenty. We only had to drive 10 minutes towards to the East Gate to see these giant beauties.

The next stop was Tower Falls at 132 feet. It was okay but being from B.C. we have seen more spectacular ones at Wells Gray. The nice thing is that it was a short ten minute walk. There is a longer steeper path to the base of the waterfall which we did not do because of the heat but maybe that would have made it more spectacular.

Driving through the park is beautiful and I was thankful that there wasn't a lot of traffic other than in the parking lots. There were many wildflowers and the scenery did change from stop to stop.

We then did the Southern and Northern Rim drives of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. They are about 10 minute drives each and you can get out and take photos near the edge of the cliff. That waterfall is Lower Falls and is 308 feet high. Several of the hiking trails were under construction so we could not do them.

It was so incredibly busy but we look like the only people there! This is at Artist Point.

Our final stop for Day 1 was Norris Geyser Basin. This was our first good peek at geysers and we really enjoyed walking around them. It is home to the world's largest active geyser: Steamboat Geyser (although we didn't see huge erruptions).

We then drove out of the West Gate to stay at the KOA in a cabin. They are very overpriced but we did not get camping within the park as we did not book in time. Location wise, it worked well for us. It looks quiet but our cabin backed on to the highway.

The next morning we were up early and on our way before the heat and crowds. We stopped at all of the geysers and that we could from Lower Geyser Basin to West Thumb Geyser Basin. We really enjoyed this portion as this is not something we normally see in B.C.! 

The Grand Prismatic Spring was a highlight for sure. Is is the largest hotspring in the United States. You can do the boardwalk and then the next parking lot has the Fairy Falls Trail that takes you to the lookout–this walk is a good 30-45 minutes so try to do it before it's too hot and busy! The bright colours are from the heat loving micro-organisms. I would recommend this as a "must do".

We then went to Old Faithful (there is about ten minutes of driving between each of these places). It wasn't set to erupt for 45 minutes so we used that time to explore the Old Faithful Education Centre.

As you can see, Old Faithful is interesting but not as spectacular as you may have imagined. The reason it is so well knows is because it is predictable not because of it's size.

Our final stop was the West Thumb Geyser Basin. We had lunch at the picnic tables in the shade (note: there is no water there) and then walked around the boardwalk. The huge lake pictured is Yellowstone Lake which is the largest high elevation lake in North America. 

Again, the colorful geysers and basins did not disappoint.

Isn't it beautiful?!  We then headed out of the South Gate and then through Grand Tetons National Park. Two very long days but it wasn't too much for our family.  

These would be my recommendations: 
1. Get into the park early.
2. Pack a lot of water (and snacks).
3. Wear layers (it's actually cool in the morning).
4. Stop at all Visitor Centres. There is a Junior Ranger program which is awesome but we did not participate based on time.
5. Don't stress about parking–you will get a spot within five minutes.
5. There are several gas stations in the park and know where they are.
6. Spots to see for sure would be Grand Prismatic Springs from above on the Fairy Falls Trail and Lamar Valley for wildlife.
7. If Yellowstone is the reason for your trip be sure to spend at least three days there.

My memories as a kid were really just of Old Faithful and strong-smelling sulphur pools, there was a lot more to it than that (and it didn't smell as bad as I remembered).
Did I miss anything important? Is Yellowstone on your list?


As always, feel free to pin for later and I'd love to see you over on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!


  1. Love your cooler!
    We are thinking about doing this trip next summer but going east. I'll have to pin this post for reference.