Jan 242012

We recently asked the teens to think back on all our family trips and choose the one they would most like to revisit.  Without blinking they said it would have to be Yellowstone National Park.  Yes, Yellowstone beat out Disney, Hawaii, South Dakota, the Jersey Shore, San Diego, Bermuda, a cruise, the Bahamas and many other destinations.  Why?  Because it truly is a one of a kind experience that can’t be had anywhere else.  If you haven’t been there yet, make sure you take your teens and tweens to Yellowstone before they go off to college.  Yellowstone is the stuff that lifetime family memories are made of.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone carves out dazzling multi-color cliffs

Established as the country’s first National Park in 1872,  Yellowstone is located in the northwestern corner of Wyoming with small tracts of adjoining land in Montana and Idaho.   The Park contains over 300 geysers and 10,000 thermal features as well as thousands of buffalo, elk, bear, wolves and more.  It encompasses over 3,400 sq miles which is just about equal to Delaware and Rhode Island combined.    We think it is more than worth the money to stay in the Park’s lodges or campgrounds as driving in and out of the park each day can be time consuming and some of best times to enjoy the most famous attractions are early and late in the day when the day trippers are gone.   During the peak hours for crowds, get off the roads and take a hike or go swimming in hidden away thermal warmed streams.

Thinking back on our visit, we came up with our top five favorite experiences.  If you need some encouragement to start planning your family visit to Yellowstone, here they are:

  • Yellowstone’s amazing geysers and thermal features:  If you didn’t know it, Yellowstone sits directly on top of an active volcanic caldera.  Its about 10,000 years overdue for an explosion but don’t let that stop you from visiting!   The heat from deep underground powers an amazing array of geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles.   Be sure to get beyond the congested viewing area at Old Faithful and walk the trails of the Midway Geyser and Upper Geyser Basins.  Take the time to stop and walk the boardwalks of the Mud Volcano trail as well as any other interesting features you see from the side of the road.  You definitely don’t have these at home!
Firehole Spring in the Lower Geyser Basin

Firehole Spring in the Yellowstone Lower Geyser Basin

  • Yellowstone’s awesome wildlife:  Despite the fact that wolves, bears, moose, elk, coyotes and many other animals live their lives pretty much the way they have been for thousands of years, suburban teens are likely to enjoy some unexpected up close and personal encounters with the wildlife.  We encountered a buffalo parade created when about 20 mom, dad and baby buffalo decided the nights were getting chilly and it was time to move to winter quarters near Old Faithful.    Elk are a common sight in the northern sections of the park and many other animals can turn up at unexpected times and places.
Buffalo can weigh over 2000 pounds so stay back a safe distance

Buffalo arriving at his winter home near the Old Faithful Inn

  • Swimming at Firehole Falls:  Much of Yellowstone is located at a 7,000+ foot high elevation, so you wouldn’t be surprised to see cold, clear mountain streams.  What is a surprise is to see steaming, near boiling water running out of thermal areas – be sure not to touch.  Neither the cold nor the hot makes for ideal swimming conditions, but, if you have a sense of adventure and are up for a little exploring off the beaten path there are a couple locations where hot meets cold to create some truly amazing swimming holes.  We still talk about our afternoon at Firehole Falls which is  located on the Firehole Canyon Drive,  off the Grand Loop Road just south of Madison Junction.  Stairs provide access from the road above, but this is definitely a swim at your own risk location — no lifeguards here.  We spent an afternoon floating in the current and enjoying the water.
Below  Firehole Falls

Below Firehole Falls the water calms enough for swimming

  • Fishing on Lake Yellowstone:  The waters of Lake Yellowstone are hundreds of feet deep but if you go with a guide the fish are easy to find.  Keep all the invasive lake trout you catch but throw back the native cutthroat trout.  We booked a half day trip with a guide, leaving from the Bridge Bay Marina.   They provided all the fishing tackle, bait, and life jackets required, as well as critical insight as to where the fish were biting that day.  Don’t want to actually touch the bait or the fish?  They will even deal with the that too!
FIshing guide at lake yellowstone

Our Lake Yellowstone fishing boat charter came fully equipped with a great, teen and tween friendly guide

  • Family Hiking off the Beaten Track: it really isn’t hard to get away from the crowds at Yellowstone.  Ask a ranger or consult a map to find a trail that will work for your family.  We took a 5 mile hike around Beaver Pond, but you might also prefer exploring the 2.5 mile boardwalk system at the Mammoth Hot Springs thermal terraces in the evening when the crowds are gone.   Make sure the teens leave the headphones back at the lodge and you are in for all kinds of interesting conversations.
Mammoth Hot Spring Terrace at Yellowstone Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Spring terraces are magical at twilight

We stayed for 6 days and felt like we just scraped the surface, just like this article barely communicates the wonders of Yellowstone and the great family experiences we enjoyed together.  Want to learn more?  Click the links in this article to visit many other posts we have done on Yellowstone and start planning your trip.  We divided our time between the Old Faithful Lodge and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.  Both were very comfortable.  Whether you go for a day or a week, camp, stay in a lodge or opt for driving in from one of the gateway towns be sure to put Yellowstone on your family vacation bucket list!

Giant Prismatic Spring at Midway Geyser Basin

 Posted by on January 21, 2010  Comments Off
Jan 212010

     Midway Geyser Basin is a small area with big appeal.  It houses the Giant Prismatic Spring which is the largest thermal spring at Yellowstone and the largest feature at the Midway Geyser Basin.  It measures roughly 350 by 250 feet and its temperature runs between 150 and 180 degrees.  

Steam Rises over Giant Prismatic Spring

Steam Rises over Giant Prismatic Spring

     The Spring is known for brilliant bands of bright red, green and yellow rings around a deep blue bullseye.  The various colored rings are due to different types of bacteria thriving at different temperature bands that form as the water deepens in the pool.   Colors vary somewhat by season.  The rings tend to be orange and red in summer and lean more toward dark green in the cooler winter months  At its deepest point Giant Prismatic Spring  is about 120 feet deep.   More than 500 gallons of hot water run out of the spring every minute to help fuel the Firehole River.

Boiling run off helps fill the Firehole River

Boiling run off helps fill the Firehole River

     This is a good stop to combine with your trip to Firehole Falls for some swimming!   This is another in our series on  Top 10 Activities for families on vacation with teens and tweens at Yellowstone

Jan 202010

     The sulfer smell filling the air announces you have arrived at the Yellowstone Mud Volcano area even before you check the map.  The 3/4 mile trail follows a steep uphill loop, mainly on boardwalks, that provides an up close and  personal view of steaming mud volcanos and noisy fumaroles.   This is a very active thermal area with features boiling muddy pools sporting names like Dragon’s Mouth and the Black Dragon’s Caldron. 

Black Dragon's Cauldron

Black Dragon's Cauldron

     Due to the extreme heat and acidic nature of the terrain it is important to stay on the trails.  Past eruptions have detroyed nearby trees, leaving dead skeletons.   Sulfer combined with iron creates a stark landscape with mud pots painted reddish,  gray and brown.   The plants that survive take on odd colors in this challenging landscape.

Mud Volcano Area

We were amazed any plant life could grow in the Yellowstone Mud Volcano area

      The Mud Volcano area is a great stop where you almost always get to see buffalo as well.  When we were there a herd was in residence in the field across the road and a few meadered the trails in the area itself.  Apparently they are not bothered by the smell!  This is another in our series on Top 10 activities for families on vacation with teens and tweens at Yellowstone

     We also submitted this post to the Delicious Baby Photo Friday roundup.  Stop by there if you want to see other great family travel pics!

Yellowstone Firehole Spring

 Posted by on January 8, 2010  Comments Off
Jan 082010

     Yellowstone contains a number of different geyser basins, each with their own unique thermal features.  You can see our posts on the Upper Geyser Basin, Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs to get a sense what you might see in the park.    The Lower Geyser Basin is much larger than the Upper Geyser Basin but the features are more spread out.  Some features are accessible near the road.  We enjoyed the beautiful, multi-colored Firehole Spring.   Stop off and check it out on your way to Firehole Falls for swimming!

Firehole Spring in the Lower Geyser Basin

Firehole Spring in the Yellowstone Lower Geyser Basin

     For more ideas about exploring the park check out our Top 10 Activities for families travelling to Yellowstone National Park with teens and tweens

     Hope you enjoy this Photo Friday post.  Stop by DeliciousBaby for links to other great travel blog photos.

Yellowstone Upper Geyser Basin is Amazing

 Posted by on January 4, 2010  Comments Off
Jan 042010

     The Yellowstone Upper Geyser Basin trail begins at the Old Faithful Inn and Old Faithful Geyser and offers access to hundreds of thermal features in what is frequently described as the world’s largest concentration of thermal activity.   The paved trail follows the Firehole River for 1.5 miles to the much photographed Morning Glory Pool.   There are  many side trails and extensions available to the east, before it loops back to a more direct route to the Inn.   An unpaved extension allows access to additional, somewhat more remote features.  The is another in our series on Top 10 actvities for families with teens and tweens visiting Yellowstone National Park.  Click the link to see the rest.

Tour the Upper Geyser Basin to see wide range of thermal activity

The Upper Geyser Basin offers access to hundreds of thermal features

Take the Time to Fully Explore the Upper Geyser Basin

     The thermal activity in Yellowstone is due to the fact that the park sits on a geothermal hot spot, that has been responsible for several massive volcanic blasts, the most recent being approximately 600,000 years ago.  The area is very seismically active with frequent low level  earth quakes and occasional large ones.   The average temperature of the hot springs and thermal pools throughout the Upper Geyser Basin  is approximately 199 °F, so it is important to stay on the boardwalks and trails.  The ground around many of the formations may be unstable as the water rises several miles under the earth’s crust, creating many cracks throughout the rock.

Blue Star Spring Near Old Faithful

Blue Star Spring Near Old Faithful

     We took several hours to explore the features along the main trail as well as side trails.  It was a hot day but our teen and tween were intrigued by all the thermal activity.   One of the most interesting phenomena is the bright multi-colored hues of many of the thermal pools.  Some like Blue Star Spring are deep blue.  Others can be ringed with yellow, green, red or brown rings.  The colors are caused by bacteria that thrive in the hot, mineral-rich waters.  The National Park Service hosts an online tour of the Upper Geyser Basin which provide photos of many of these wonders.  Other formations include hissing steam vents known as fumaroles and bubbling, sulfer smelling mudpots.   There are also several predictable geysers besides Old Faithful if you have the time to track one down.   The park rangers will be able to tell you the most likely spots to see activity the day you are there.

     Many visitors, particularly those that are staying outside the Park end up missing much of the grandeur of the Upper Basin.  They crowd around Old Faithful, stop to take a picture of Morning Glory Pool, and then hit the road.   There is so much more to the Upper Basin, and you can see it all walking rather than driving.  We recommend planning a morning to really take it all in.

Handicap Accessible Thermal Features

     Just a reminder that there are many active thermal areas around the park.  The Lower Geyser Basin areas offers access to some features from the road or via short stolls on boardwalks, if the Upper Basin walk seems too demanding.  Mammoth Hot Springs provides easy access to dramatic features from the road.
Yellowstone National Park Things To Do 

Old Faithful Geyser Never Gets Old

 Posted by on January 2, 2010  Comments Off
Jan 022010

The Old Faithful Geyser is probably the single most iconic image of Yellowstone National Park and, despite the touristy hoopla, it really is worth watching.  There is something so compelling about seeing a geyser shoot 100+ feet into the air that our teen and tween must have watched it go off about 10 times during the three days we stayed at the Old Faithful Inn.   This post is one in a series on our Top 10 Yellowstone National Park activities for families travelling with teens and tweens.  Click the link to see rest of the list and find links to the other Top 10 posts in this series.

About Old Faithful

Old Faithful isn’t the largest active geyser in the world, that honor goes to Steamboat Geyser, also in Yellowstone.  Steamboat can send its steaming water 300 feet into the air, compared to 100-180 ft for Old Faithful.  However, Steamboat’s major eruptions are unpredictable and happen only a few times a year while Old Faithful erupts every 91 minutes on average (although the actual intervals can range from 65-92 minutes).  Each eruption lasts between 1 and 5 minutes.

Old Faithful Geyser Eruption Thrills families with teens and tweens

On average Old Faithful erupts every 91 minutes

Old Faithful Inn Offers Perfect Viewing

The original Old Faithful Inn building was constructed in 1904 with major additions in 1915 and 1927.  Major rennovations were recently undertaken  to repair and stablize the roof and much of the original Lodgepole pine interior woodwork and massive stone fireplace which grace the 65 foot tall lobby.   The rooms are basic, with the ones in the oldest section being the least expensive.  Be aware that some of these do not have private baths.  There are also several suites available which can provide extra space if you have several teens and tweens in your group.

The Old Faithful Inn offers a range of room options

The Old Faithful Inn offers great views of the Geysers

The food was decent although not outstanding but the ambience in the historic dining room and the chance to just hang out on the open air deck and watch old faithful in the sunset were worth the price of admission all on their own.   Couple that with stepping outside in the morning to see buffalo passing by and being a short drive from many other Park activities and we felt it was a bargin to stay in such a unique setting.

Old Faithful Webcam

Old Faithful is so popular the National Park Service offers a free Old Faithful webcam view of the eruptions.   They also offer some excellent online resources to learn more about Old Faithful including this link that explains How Geysers Work.  When you are at the park the Rangers are very knowledgeable and willing to answers questions.  They offer a number of guided tours although we generally opted to find our way around on our own.  The front desk staff at the Old Faithful Inn is also very helpful providing information about hikes, facilities in other parts of the park, or scheduling special tours.