10 Things Our Family Loved About Yellowstone
When talking about a park as massive as Yellowstone, it is only fitting the 10 things we loved list was too long to cover in one post. The 10 things we chose as our family’s favorites you may have heard about, but a few of them you may have not heard of. Be sure to read Part 1 of 10 Things Our Family Loved About Yellowstone. Our hope is that by sharing the things our family loved, you and your family will enjoy Yellowstone National Park as much as we did.
The Junior Ranger Program
- When visiting any National Park and many state parks, kids have the opportunity to become Junior Rangers. This is an excellent way for them to learn about the park. You can pick up a Junior Ranger book at any Visitor Center within the park. We always pick up the Junior Ranger books on the day we arrive. All age groups are given the same book, but the activities are different for different age groups. At Yellowstone, the book is broken down into geyser for ages 4-7, grizzly bear for ages 8-12 and bison for ages 13+. Our kids tend to want to complete as many pages as they possibly can and don’t really pay attention to the age labels. The Junior Ranger Program at Yellowstone was one of E’s favorites because it involved so many science activities. In the book they learn about hydro-thermal features, wildlife, habitats, wildfires, and how to predict Old Faithful’s eruption. The kids especially liked making their predictions and checking to see if they were correct. The program requires kids to attend at least one Ranger Talk. You can visit any visitor center to find a schedule of talks, or you should be able to run into a ranger giving a talk somewhere around the park. Because of the vastness of Yellowstone you will spend a great deal of time in the car. The word searches and other activities are great to keep the kids busy after they have reached their sightseeing limit. When the books are completed, they can be turned in at any visitor center. A ranger will check the book, ask a few questions and then have the kids say the Junior Ranger Pledge.
Our kids got a Park Centennial badge and a Junior Ranger patch, because it was the 100th birthday of the National Park System in 2016. If you have kids, the Junior Ranger Program is a must! Our kids loved every minute of it and still talk about the things they learned.
Grand Prismatic and the Midway Geyser Basin
- The Midway Geyser Basin is a .8 mile long boardwalk where you will walk past many thermal features, the most popular being Grand Prismatic Spring. The size and vibrant colors of this spring, make it the most photographed thermal feature in Yellowstone. Grand Prismatic is deeper than a 10 story building and is 370 feet wide. The beauty of this spring is the bands of orange, yellow and green caused by bacteria living in the water. These bands surround the deep blue water in the center of the spring. The walk around the boardwalk will take about 30-45 minutes. Although we visited the park in June, the temperature in the mornings was still in the 30’s and 40’s. The morning we visited the Midway Geyser Basin, we were in awe of the steam coming off of the thermal features and out of the many vents throughout the basin. It seemed as if there was steam coming out of the ground everywhere you looked, and it was quite amazing. The one problem with this basin is the small size of the parking lot. Since we arrived early, we did not have a hard time finding parking. We drove past the basin several times at different times of the day, and the parking lot was always overflowing. So if you don’t want to wait for parking, we would advise you to make this one of the first stops of your day.
- We are “lake people”! We love to spend time on the water. If we can’t be out on the water, we want to be next to the water, so Yellowstone Lake was one of our favorite places in the park. Driving US Route 20 around Yellowstone Lake provides some beautiful views of the lake. After making this drive, we stopped at Bridge Bay Marina and had a picnic at the picnic area next to the water. We decided Yellowstone Lake needed further exploration, and not from the road. We rented an 18 foot motorboat for $52 from the marina, which allowed us to cruise the lake for an hour. We were given a short safety talk and away we went.
While out on the lake, we were able to get a look at the West Thumb Geyser Basin and boat around an island. After the hustle and bustle of most of the other stops in Yellowstone, the peacefulness of being out on the water, surrounded by such beauty, was a nice change of pace. When our time was up, we headed back to the marina. Make sure if you decide to rent a boat to set a timer, so you do not get charged for more than you are wanting to spend. They also inspect the boat when you return for any damage, so make sure you point out anything you notice before leaving the dock. The marina also offers guided fishing trips and rents row boats for those who would prefer other lake adventures. Once we were back on shore, we headed over to the Lake General Store, located next to Lake Yellowstone Hotel. This was a great place to eat ice cream cones while enjoying a great view of the lake.
Firehole Canyon Drive and Swimming Area
- We made the Firehole Canyon Drive early one morning when there were very few people out and about. This one way drive starts just south of Madison Junction Campground. On this drive, you will see Firehole Falls. These picturesque falls are well worth a stop to capture the view from the overlook. After driving past the falls, we noticed a sign for a swimming area, and, of course. our kids did too. They immediately asked if we could go swimming. Since it was probably in the low 40’s at that time, we told them we would have to wait until another time. So on our last day in Yellowstone we headed back to the swimming hole at about 3:00 in the afternoon, and it was a totally different experience from our previous one. The first time we made the drive we saw, maybe, 3 other cars. This time there were cars parked all along the narrow road and people everywhere. We thought we would never find a parking spot, but just happened to be driving by as someone was leaving. We then stood in line for the bathroom for about 15 minutes for the kids to change into their bathing suits. After walking down a wooden staircase and down a short rocky path to the banks of the Firehole River, we joined several hundred people as they enjoyed this beautiful swimming hole.
We chose to just let the kids swim, because the water was just too frigid for these Texas folks. We sat on a rock on the banks and enjoyed people watching, while our kids enjoyed swimming. After hearing all of this, you are probably asking yourself why this made our things we loved list. You would think that with so many people in one area, it would not have been an enjoyable experience, but our kids are still talking about it. The beauty and unique experience of this swimming hole make it a must do activity.
Hint: Ask a Ranger when the best time to visit the swimming area is. There may be certain days, or times of the day, when it is not as crowded.
Mammoth Hot Springs
- Mammoth Hot Springs is a very popular part of the park, and you can expect heavy traffic and a hard time finding parking. You will also have to wait while elk cross the road. Elk are prevalent in this area, and when we drove through, they were lounging on the lawns just about everywhere in town.
E was not feeling well on the day we visited, so we did not get out to look around, but we wish we could have. We would have loved to walk around Fort Yellowstone to explore the 35 remaining structures that were built in the 1890’s and early 1900’s. The main attraction of this area are the hot springs. Mammoth Hot Springs is divided into two sections, The Upper and Lower Terraces. These travertine formations are said to look like an inside out cave. We drove the 1.5 mile drive through the Upper Terraces. This one-way drive took about 30 minutes and gave us a close look at the many formations and hot springs in the Upper Terraces. We wish we could have taken the 1.75 mile boardwalk through the Lower Terraces. There are over 50 hot springs in the Mammoth Hot Springs area, and it is well worth a visit.
Hint: If you are in Mammoth Hot Springs, you are very close to the North Entrance, and should make the drive to take a picture at the Roosevelt Arch. This is where President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone for the arch in 1903. Along the way you will also pass the 45th Parallel, the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole. This was an interesting photo opportunity and learning experience for the kids.
The inscription on the Roosevelt Arch says, “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Yellowstone offers so many opportunities to enjoy yourself and to learn. When I think of our visit to Yellowstone, I think of it like visiting a buffet restaurant. You fill your plate with as much as you can, but there is no way you will ever get everything on your plate in one trip. We know there are things we missed and things we would like to do and see again. That is the beauty of Yellowstone…it keeps you wanting to go back again and again.
Click here to read the first five of our favorite things about Yellowstone.
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