For our time near Yellowstone National Park, we stayed in Gardiner, Montana at the Yellowstone RV Park. It offers spots anywhere from tent camping to large Class A’s. Most of the spots are back-ins, although they do have some pull-throughs.
Pros: Near the river, close to town, close to north entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The campground also has laundry facilities, showers, a playground, and a grass area with waste bags for furry friends. They do take a AAA or Good Sam discount (at the time of our booking).
Cons: Tighter spots, steeper hill down into the campground.
Laundry is $1.50/load for the washer and dryer. Washer is on the smaller capacity size, but the driers are normal/larger sized. Two loads of wash fit in one drier. There are 2 laundry facilities and bath showers, one at either end of the campground.
Each campsite has a picnic table. There are no fires/fire rings allowed, however you can bring a propane fire pit. They allow mats/rugs outside, but do ask you to move them off the grass since they water it each day.
They do work hard at maintaining the park. They were watering the grass everyday and mowed/trimmed. It seemed nicely kept. It was very convenient to go into the park or into town.
Yesterday was a stay in the RV and do budget/bills/etc. kind of day. When Ben was finished with work, he came out and announced he wanted to go see the Grand Tetons.
Ok…great. It’s just a 3.5-4 hour road trip (each way). So, we buckled up and started driving. To get there, you basically drive through Yellowstone, which was packed. I haven’t seen so many people since we’ve been here. I’m glad we saw most of the sights last week! It’s been really helpful to get up early and see things before lunch time, which is when it seems more people come into the park.
It rained on us for part of the drive. We got to see the Continental Divide in two different elevations during our drive, which was a nice learning opportunity.
Once at the Grand Tetons park, we went to Signal Mountain and drove to the top to the overlook. Of course, it started raining again, with thunder and some lightening. We did get some views of the Tetons, but it was cloudy.
After carefully driving back down (strangely enough there were less people going up the mountain in the rain), we saw an adult male elk with large antlers. Around Yellowstone we had only seen young males with smaller antlers. It was pretty cool!
We stopped at the visitor center to try to get a better view of the mountains as it had cleared up a little bit. It was pretty late by this time, so we stopped at their restaurant/cafe for some food. It was all take out, with ordering and pick up outside. Word of advice: bring your own food! The food was ok (not great, not even on the better side of good, but just ok), but I think this was the most expensive meal we’ve had so far. $9 for a hot dog (did come with vegetable side). They were the only option we saw though, so if you don’t bring your own food, you don’t have a lot of options.
The Grand Tetons were pretty and they have some large lakes there as well which would probably be great for boating and fishing. However, I am glad we spent most of our time in Yellowstone. I loved seeing the geysers and hot springs, plus there are so many trails. We didn’t get to check out Tetons’ trails though because it started raining on us again and it was another 4 hour drive back home.
We read in our National Parks book a little about the Tetons. They got their name from French trappers/explorers and were named “trois tetons”, or the three nipples. The boys found this extremely funny.
The boys and I headed up towards Old Faithful this morning. There was some traffic due to construction, so it took a little longer than the 1.5 hours I thought it would. We finally saw our first bear! I think it was an adolescent black bear. He’s been the only bear so far that we have seen.
We saw the Crested Pool, Sawmill Geyser, Old Tardy Geyser, Churn Geyser, Grand Geyser, and Castle Geyser. We didn’t know before we arrived, but Castle Geyser was due to erupt within the hour, so we sat and waited.
It was amazing. There were a few small bursts and puffs of steam before the large eruption. It can last up to 20 minutes and goes off about every 14 hours. We only saw about 10 minutes of it before Nick got too antsy after waiting for so long and sitting in the sun. As we were driving away to make sure we made it back in time for guitar lessons, it was still erupting!
I could have sat there the entire time watching. The Yellowstone National Park Service app has a geyser eruption time prediction (+/- 45 minutes) which would have been smart of me to check beforehand. It was an amazing thing to see and I liked it better than Old Faithful. There is one side that is smooth, while the other side is a little rougher and looks like it has steps. It changes the appearance of the water flow depending on which side you view it from.
If you are up by Old Faithful, I would definitely try to time it so you can see Castle Geyser erupt. If you are by the North Entrance heading into the park, go early in the morning. The steam from the hot springs and geysers is multiplied in the cooler air and is really neat to see.
We were all in the mood for pancakes, so we picked up some breakfast items from a restaurant in town and headed into the park to have a breakfast picnic. We had pancakes, some breakfast sandwiches, and fried chicken with a biscuit. It was delicious!
The park was packed, but we managed to find a parking spot by Mammoth Hot Springs. Walking to the picnic table we saw our first snake! Will would have possibly stepped on it if he had continued on his trajectory. No rattles, so we were good. I tried to figure out what kind he was, maybe a gophersnake/bull snake, but I’m not really sure.
Once we were back at the RV, Ben had some work to do, so the boys and I worked on laundry. I was taking a walk around the laundry building to stretch my legs while we were waiting, and I saw a bald eagle sitting in a tree across the river! I loved seeing it. The only other time I can remember seeing one is on a boat ride in the Florida everglades.
Later that night I enjoyed a glass of huckleberry cider after dinner. Huckleberry is huge here. There are huckleberry candies, jelly beans, lotions, soaps, licorice, jam, ice cream, syrup, vodka…
Ben wanted to go on a fairly easy hike, mostly flat, under 5 miles.
I found one on AllTrails that looked like it could work. It was 5 miles and listed as moderate, which most of the ones around here were. The only easy listed trails nearby were ones we had already one near attractions in the park. The reviews made it seem like the hill in the beginning is what made it moderate, so I thought it would be fine if it evened out later. Nope! I should not be allowed to pick the trails we do in the parks. At home I did ok, but I clearly haven’t adjusted to here yet. 3 hours and 39 minutes later we make it back to overlook the parking lot.
It was a bit more strenuous than I had been expecting. There were several flat areas, some next to a large drop down. A few small bridges. No wildlife other than some feather remains and butterflies. At one of the ponds, we did see what may have been a dam, but no beavers. It was a bit of a let down in terms of hikes.
By the end, everyone was exhausted and a little cranky. The best part was that by pure circumstance, the trail dumped us pretty close to where we had parked the truck!
We were all so tired and sore when we got back to the truck. We stopped at the creek to dip our feet in and the numbing cold water felt amazing. Driving back into town, we stopped at Scoop! There It Is ice cream trailer and got some huckleberry ice cream.
Later that night we drove to the park and stopped to look at the stars! There were so many more than what we get to see at home!
The boys and I stuck around the RV this morning and afternoon. When Ben was done with work, we went exploring!
We first went to the Mud Volcano area, which was about 1.5-1.75 hours away from our campsite. This trail goes through several thermal areas, mostly on a boardwalk. There are a couple of bathrooms in the parking lot as well.
The first one we saw was the mud volcano. It’s not exactly volcano shaped anymore, but was roiling and steaming pretty well when we were there. It looked like boiling muddy water. We followed the path to the left (only option as for social distancing they made the path one way) and saw the Grizzly Fumarole, Sour Lake, Black Dragon’s Caldron. Next we saw the Churning Caldron, which was one of my favorites here. It was definitely churning away. It sounded like waves crashing on a beach. From there you walk past Sizzling Basin to the Cooking Hillside and on to my other favorite, Dragon’s Mouth Spring. This one looks like a cave on a creek. Steam billows forth and you can hear the water surging in the cave. Every once in awhile you see waves of water coming out. It was really cool looking.
On our way out of the park, there is another thermal area that we stopped at. There was a bison pretty standing back in the trees. He was just standing there chilling. After a little bit, he starts walking up the hill to cross the road. Everyone (well, mostly everyone) backs up to give him his space. He gets to the road, goes between two cars, sees the surveyor (who had been there the whole time), paws his front feet on the ground and mock charges the surveyor! He turned and didn’t really fully charge at him. But it was crazy to see.
We made our way back to the truck. There were several signs saying “Danger Thermal Area”. Of course, most people stayed out. But one lady just keeps on walking past the signs down the hill!
We briefly stopped at Norris Geyser Basin, but the parking was insane and most people were not wearing masks, so we kept on driving.
We went to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone to view the lower falls. It was amazing! It was rocky, had an osprey nest (empty when we saw it), and a huge waterfall.
We went back to Artists’ Paintpot Trail with Ben so he could see the mudpots. It had rained a little bit the night before, so the one mudpot was a little more liquidy than when we saw it. It was still worth walking through again!
We were a little hot at this point, so we stopped at a picnic area next to a creek and dipped our feet in the cold water. Nick tripped, lost a Croc and somehow cut the top of two of his toes and his shin. I found his shoe under a tree root downstream.
We got back to the campground before right before some rain clouds moved in. It got super windy, you could see dusty swirling around and our legs were being pelted with small pebbles from the gravel path.
Ben has work pretty much all day, including a stint this evening, so it just the boys and I going out to the park today.
The boys and I began our morning by going into Yellowstone. We started with the Artists’ Paintpot. We saw several hot springs, a few small geysers, and the mud pots. Even if you couldn’t see the activity because the water or mud was too far down in the hole, you could hear it steaming and/or gurgling! It was pretty cool. The colors were once again great: a few reds and blues. The mud pots though…those I think were my favorite there. You could hear the burble…plop sounds as bubbles formed and erupted.
It was an easy hike in, about a mile I think, pretty flat and fine gravel/sand for the trail.
Next, we went to the Norris Basin Geyser area. This was amazing. Parts wandered through woods, other spots were super stark with dead trees. I wish we could have spent more time there. We may go back because we only got part of the trail done. We had really good timing today though, because big groups came in as we were leaving. Leaving the Norris parking lot, I think we must have passed a hundred cars waiting in line.
For the long meeting tonight, Ben was setting up in the living/kitchen area. The boys and I headed into town. We picked out t-shirts for both of them, I got a coffee (iced because walking around in 90 degree heat with hot coffee is a little much even for me!), and we tried huckleberry ice cream from a little stand. It was delicious!
The boys and I took it easy this morning and explored the town of Gardiner, MT a little bit.
We found an amazing T-shirt shop (OutWest T’s) that carried socks, t-shirts, pajamas, hoodies, hats… I bought a keychain and a small jar of Huckleberry jam. There is a T-Shirt there that I may go back and buy for Nick. They had so many funny designs. They were really nice and explained huckleberries to the boys. Huckleberries are similar in shape to blueberries, but a little smaller. They grow wild, cannot be cultivated, and do not last long once picked. Which is why you see more products with huckleberry in them, than fresh huckleberries for sale. We tried a hard candy and ice cream sandwiches for the boys. Both were a big success.
We mailed some postcards, stopped at a bookstore/coffee shop, and got some groceries before heading home. The bookstore looked like it had nice breakfast sandwiches and they had a frozen coffee (they call it blended). Not a lot of kid books for the boys though, mostly adult and some little kid books.
We grabbed bison burgers for dinner, which the kids enjoyed trying. After cleaning up dinner, we headed back into Yellowstone. Ben drove so I could get pictures out the window! Yay for awesome husbands! 🙂
We went to Old Faithful and it was the most congested with cars we had seen so far. There had also been a wreck and construction, which slowed down the drive to a snail’s pace at times. We rushed through the parking lot to get to the geyser and saw a few small spurts and a lot of steam. We waited maybe 10 minutes or so, until the big eruption. It was great! The wind was blowing towards us, so we did get a few misty drops on us.
Next stop was the Grand Prismatic Spring. This was what I had been looking forward to. It was amazing. The colors are just amazing to think that nature can produce such vibrant colors. We parked at Fairy Falls Trail and took the trail over to Prismatic Spring. There is a fork in the trail: straight goes to Fairy Falls Trail, left goes up a hill to Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook. Take the extra 1/4 mile and go up the hill. It gives you a greater vantage point to look down on the colorful spring. There were a lot less people up there too!
We stopped at a waterfall and a few more hot springs on the way back.
The boys and I woke up early, planning on going to see Old Faithful.
Well, we made it to Yellowstone, got 40 minutes into the 2+hour drive, and I made a wrong turn. Of course, many of you know I stink at directions and I had a 13 & 11 year old help read a map while I drove. I veered left instead of going straight. Whoops!
We realized we were going the wrong way too late in the day to start over, so we turned around and started back home.
Now, it wasn’t a wasted trip! (Although I was plenty angry with myself for not double checking the NPS Yellowstone app. I downloaded the app, but you have to also then download the map inside the app for it work offline! Not a lot of cell service in the park, so make sure you do it before you head to the park.)
We saw several more bison by the rivers, Soda Butte, a Petrified Tree, and got the customary picture next to the Yellowstone National Park sign. We saw the Roosevelt Arch as well. It was pretty neat, and there were also birds nesting in the rocks of the walls.
The boys and I chilled for a little bit and I watched some elk wander in the river. I also saw a hawk carrying a fish in it’s talons!
When Ben was done with work for the day, we headed back into the Park. This time we stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs and walked along the boardwalks. We saw several hot springs, the Liberty Cap, a landscape filled with white, oranges, browns, and a few greens and blues. Dead trees popped up here and there creating a unique look to the landscape. Some of the formations were like stalactites, some were more rounded, some formed pools and steps, some were holes in the ground. Some trickled, some flowed, and some steamed. It was beautiful in an almost stark kind of way.
I would definitely recommend doing this in the morning or on a cooler day. There are several sets of stairs along the way, no shade, and a fair amount of walking. It is totally worth it, but on a super hot day, it may not be as enjoyable.
SOAP BOX ALERT: At the petrified tree, we read the information plaque. There used to be 3 trees, but people started chipping pieces away for “souvenirs” and now only 1 is left and is fenced off. The park has numerous signs stating stay away/do not approach wildlife, and even their in-park radio station says the same message. At the Hot Springs, there are signs that say “Fragile. Stay On Path.” I saw footprints in the crust and even one lady was bending under the railing to touch it and try to get pieces of it. Seriously! What is wrong with people? As I tell my kids, “if it’s not yours, don’t touch it.” Or even “look with your eyes, not with your hands”. Ok. I’m done ranting. I’ll get off my box and get back to the post.
Next we parked to take Lava Creek Trail. Only problem was, there were several paths beaten out, of varying sizes. Looking back, we did take a wrong path. It ended up being quite the hike down to the river. I definitely don’t want to do that one again. It was hot, a little humid, and the pollen was up. Going down the steep hill was ok, slowing going due to loose rocks, but not horrible (Ben thinks it was about 40 degrees). The river was really neat to see. (Yes Mom, we did bring the bear spray!) We saw something swimming in the river that looked too small and didn’t have the right tail to be a beaver, but I’m not sure if could have been a river otter or a weasel. It was too fast to get a good look at.
The way back up was hard. Not going to lie, the I thought about just sitting down and staying there kind of hard. Had a hard time catching my breath and ended up having to use my inhaler once we got back to the truck. I haven’t had to use it for daily activities in years, normally just when I’m sick! The lady parked next to us gave me a nod and a wave when she saw my inhaler and held hers up. Asthmatics unite!
On our drive back home, we saw some more bison and a few sheep as well!
We were all sweaty and exhausted when we finally arrived back home. I looked at my phone’s Health app and it claimed only 10, 545 steps for the day. However, when I looked at the Flights Climbed, it showed 34 flights! No wonder we were all so tired.
I think we may just explore the town a little bit tomorrow. There is a bookstore/coffee shop I want to check out and the boys need something new to read for rainy days/travel days.
Saturday, Nick made pancakes for breakfast. He had to make them on the stove in the cast iron skillet instead of on the griddle we used to have at home, but he did pretty well!
We cleaned up, did laundry, and started to get ready to move Sunday morning. We had a 9.5+ drive ahead of us. I had bought the kids Radical Road Trip* before we left Ohio, so I pulled that out for them to play on Sunday.
Once we got a lot of things situated and the sky got darker, Ben and I went out to the field to watch the stars. They were certainly pretty. There was still a lot of ambient light from the other RV’s and campground, so no Milky Way sighting yet. I’m hoping to see it at least once on this trip.
Sunday was move day. We woke really early and had a gorgeous pink sunrise. We missed most of the rain, although we did get a little bit. The drive was pretty uneventful, even with the scenery. More wide open spaces (It’s amazing how much nothingness is in the middle of the country. So much wide open land), mixed with cows, farms, and train tracks. Wyoming had a few oil derricks and Montana came in with oil processing and lots of train tracks.
As we got closer to Yellowstone, Montana started changing from an industrial type of look to the wide open skies and landscape I was expecting. There are so many creeks and rivers winding through the land here, it makes for some really nice viewing.
Montana is requiring face masks be worn by everyone (over the age of 5, I think). It makes it so much less stressful going out. Although, the rule seems to be for indoor use, so outside it is still hit and miss, but much more people are wearing them here even outside.
We got to our campground and had a challenging time parking. The spots are a little tight and you have to backup into them weirdly. It caused a bunch of stress. Ben finally took over and got it parked. We were not happy with each other when we were done. Still need some work on backing this RV up. I would love to only have pull through spots, but sometimes they are not available. We do have an amazing view out our back window though of the Yellowstone River. We’ve seen mule deer, a hawk, and several groups of rafters floating down the river. The campground is about 1 mile from the North Entrance of Yellowstone Park, so really convenient to both the local town for shopping and for exploring.
We drove around town and saw our first animal sighting. Elk, I think. They were just hanging out near town on the school sports field! Ben actually got to finally see a group of animals. The boys and I see them and when we go back out later with Ben, he only sees 1 or 2 (total, not even groups)!