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!

Jan 182010

    The Yellowstone Beaver Pond Loop trail offers a lovely 5-mile day hike that starts and ends near the Liberty Cap at the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces.   The trail starts by climbing about 350 feet over the first half mile as it runs through the forests of the Clematis Gulch.  It then crosses rolling meadows and re-enters forests that many of the Park’s elk, bear, deer and other mammals call home.  We saw few people or animals on our trip on a warm day late in the summer when most of the animals were probably resting.  We really enjoyed the chance to be out on our own.  The trail starts in Wyoming but passes through Montana, allowing the kids to claim they had been to Montana if only for a few minutes.

On the Trail to Beavey Pond

We didn't see any bears but enjoyed the trail to Beaver Pond

     We packed a lunch and ate it in the shade near the first beaver pond.  There are several ponds in the area.  You can turnaround after the first one or continue on to complete the full loop along the shore of several ponds before going back through the meadows and woods, ending up back at the parking area.

Yellowstone Beaver Pond

Take a lunch to eat along the way on the Yellowstone Beaver Pond Loop Trail

     The loop trail also passes by a petrified tree but the fact that is stands next to a heavily used parking lot and is aggressively fenced to protect it from looting caused them to lose interest quickly.   This is another in our series on our Top 10 vacation activities for families visiting Yellowstone with tweens and teens.   And if you are looking for more Yellowstone day hike ideas check out the books recommended below.  Happy hiking!

Yellowstone National Park Things To Do

Jan 142010

     Wherever you go in Yellowstone you are surrounded by wildlife.  Yellowstone is a year round home to over 3,000 bison (aka buffalo) and houses as many as 30,000 elk in the summer although their numbers drop off some in the winter.  We never saw the more elusive bears or wolves, but no matter how many times we chanced upon the buffalo and elk we had to stop and admire them.

Buffalo frequently cause traffic jams

Buffalo are frequently seen in Yellowstone

      During the summer, the buffalo are most likely to hang out in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys, but as the weather cools in late August some will make their way up to the geyser areas where conditions are warmer in during Yellowstone’s long winter.  On our visit we saw some of the first arrivals in the Old Faithful area.   Park staff rush to keep spectators at a safe distance but the buffalo are show stoppers and they always have the right of way.

Buffalo can weigh over 2000 pounds so stay back a safe distance

Buffalo arriving at his winter home near the Old Faithful Inn

     Elk tend to stay in the Northern areas of the park. They particularly like the lush green grass parade grounds maintained around Fort Yellowstone and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.   It is common to see them on the lawn when you look out your window first thing in the morning.

More elk at Yellowstone

Elk at rest near the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel

     The fact that you can never predict when or where you will the majestic animals of Yellowstone lends an ongoing sense of wonder to the trip.  We saw many other animals while we were in the park, including a wiley coyote, eagles and more.

Coyote at Yellowstone

A lone coyote stops for a drink at Yellowstone

     This is another in our ongoing series about our Top 10 Activities for families on vacation at Yellowstone with teens and tweens

     If you like travel photos, you might be interested to know that we submitted this post to the DeliciousBaby Photo Friday listing where you can see lots of other great travel pictures.

Firehole Falls Swimmin’ Hole

 Posted by on January 12, 2010  2 Responses »
Jan 122010

     In general, swimming at Yellowstone is not advised.  Thermal heated streams can boil.   Mountain lakes and rivers can cause hypothermia. Currents may be too strong to swim safely.  Nonetheless, although not widely advertised, there are one or two old fashion swimming holes in Yellowstone where swimming is permitted, although perhaps not encouraged. You just need to know where to look for them. 

Firehole Waterfalls at Yellowstone

Firehole Waterfalls at Yellowstone

     Our favorite is the  Firehole Falls swimming area.  It is  located on the Firehole Canyon Drive,  off the Grand Loop Road just south of Madison Junction.   At a point where thermal heated water mixes with frigid mountain runoff the result is a nearly perfect spot to cool off on a warm afternoon. 

     Driving down the narrow one-way road (too narrow for RVs) you begin to wonder if you missed the swimming area. Never fear, you can’t miss it at the top of a steep cliff where you’ll see outhouses and a trail leading down to the swimming area. 

Upstream of Firehole Falls

Upstream of Firehole Falls the water calms enough for swimming

     Upstream from this area are fast moving, dangerous rapids and down stream are the 40 foot Firehole Falls.   In between, however, the current moves gently enough to allow body surfing but not so fast that you need to worry about getting washed away.  Pools form around large rocks, providing areas to rest before you charge back upstream to enjoy the ride back down again.

     Bring a towel and be advised that there are no life guards or Park officials nearby.   Swimming is best in August when the days are warm and the water levels are lower than earlier in the summer.  This was probably the most unexpected delight of our visit to Yellowstone — don’t miss it.

     This is another in our series of Top 10 vacation activities for families visiting Yellowstone with teens and tweens

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

 Posted by on January 10, 2010  Comments Off
Jan 102010

     The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone stretches 20 miles along dazzling pink, brown and yellow  rhyolite cliffs carved by the Yellowstone River.  It is over 1000 feet deep and a half mile wide.  Our teen and tween thought the view from Lookout Point was cool but their favorite part was scrambling down the trails to get a good look at the brink of the falls and some impromtu climbing on large glacial boulders along the way.    This is another in our series on Top 10 Activities for family vacations in Yellowstone National Park with teens and tweens.  Click the link to see the rest. 

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

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

The Uncle Tom’s Trail (which is currently under repair) offers a great close up of the brink of the falls.  This UTube Video of the walk down Uncle Tom’s Trail by Studser gives a great view of all 300+ steps!  This was one of the few areas in the Park where we really felt the crowds.  Parking was a bit tough and trails were congested.  Try to go early in the day and give the kids time to explore the trails and rocks.