We can argue all day about what the US is good at and what they aren’t good at. One thing that few people will argue about is that they are really, really good at National Parks. There are 59 protected National Parks in the US covering 52.2 million acres. That is an amazingly large number! Plus the National Parks vary greatly from one to the next. Visiting Yellowstone has been on my bucket list for years and it did not disappoint!
Even though I am from the US originally (and lived there until I was 27), there are many, many parks that I’ve never visited. Visiting some of the more iconic parks is one of the reasons for our RV trip. Evan can learn so much from visiting the National Parks and so can I.
Our first National Park visit was to Yellowstone. I couldn’t help calling it Jellystone and saying “Hey Boo Boo, have you got a pic-a-nic basket?” Of course Evan had NO idea what I was talking about. Regardless, I knew that I was hilarious. Evan and I stuck to the boardwalks within the park. There are many, many hikes available for those that want to get off the beaten path. The snow + bears + a 10 year old + BEARS meant that we didn’t stray from the pretty touristy areas. Thankfully, there is a LOT to see and do regardless of whether you want to stay on the path or strike out on your own. Here are the highlights from our trip!
Visiting Yellowstone- Old Faithful
I’m not sure what I expected from the park. I’ve seen pictures of Old Faithful and other parts of the park but it didn’t prepare me to actually be there. Yellowstone is actually on top of a very large, very old volcano. The magma under the surface heats the area’s water which leads to all the thermal features throughout the park. When we visited it was quite cold so you could see steam rising from the ground all across the landscape. Walking among the plumes of steam was an otherworldly experience in and of itself but when you add in the bubbling, multicolored water and muc, it was over the top.
Our first day in the park was spent in the Old Faithful area seeing the different paint pots and springs. Snow the night before closed many of the roads in the park so we were limited in where we could visit. Once there, we figured out that we weren’t limited at all. We were just given the gift of extra time at an amazing part of the park.
Evan also signed up for his first Jr. Ranger program. Yellowstone charges $3 for the Jr. Ranger book. If your child completes the assignments needed, they get a nice sew-on Jr. Ranger badge. Definitely plan to visit all the Visitor Centers within the park. They are more like mini-museums that discuss the history, geology and geography of the park. You can learn tons of information just by visiting.
Definitely make the time to see Old Faithful. We happened to be there right before it went off. It was funny to see all the people waiting and how many got up and left because they were tired of waiting for it. So weird to me. It is a natural occurance so it may not fire right on time every time (no matter what it’s name says about its faithfulness).
Visiting Yellowstone – Canyon Area
I admit that I did not do nearly enough research before our trip. Did I know that there was a “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”? No, no I did not. Thankfully, I did realize that the Visitor’s Centers were a must visit so they made sure I didn’t miss it.
We explored the Canyon while Evan completed his Young Scientist badge. They charge $5 for this program and it is only available at the Canyon and Old Faithful visitor’s centers. I highly reccomend both of them as they are quite educational and Evan enjoyed doing them. In fact, we met another world schooling family at one of the Ranger Talks required by the program.
Visiting Yellowstone- Lamar Valley
Lamar Valley was one of my favourite spots within the park. We almost decided not to go because it is FAR from where we were staying in West Yellowstone. We had spent the first part of the day at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center so we were late getting started. Evan decided that we should go even though it was far because of the promise of seeing animals.
The drive across to Lamar Valley is gorgeous though it can be super scary at times. There are many, many corners that look like you are going to fly off the road into the air. You are driving through mountain passes and you KNOW it. Thankfully, the roads are in great shape so if you are careful, you will be fine though you could not pay me to pull a trailer through there!
Even before you get to Lamar Valley, you will see many amazing valleys and grasslands teeming with wildlife. We saw two black bears, a herd of mountain goats, pronghorns, a coyote, elk and roughly 5000 buffalo. It was a good day. We had to stop the car many times to let lines of buffalo cross the road in front of us. Evan said “Whoa!” at least a hundred times too. It was a magical day and worth the approzimately 6 hours in the car. The speed limit in the park is 45 miles per hour so everything takes a long, long time to get to.
We could have spent 2 more weeks in the park and we still wouldn’t have seen it all. We didn’t get a chance to make it up to Mammoth. Overall, I left loving the park and knowing that one day I need to go back. The cold weather and high prices drove us South before we were completely ready but we are still really glad we went.
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Have you ever visited Yellowstone? What was your favourite part?
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