Yellowstone Vacation Highlights
I’ve already shared my reasons for signing up for a Yellowstone/Grand Tetons Deluxe Camping trip with Backroads.
We had a fantastic time and I wanted to share our favorite active things and camp sites. While you and your kids could probably duplicate the hiking and kayaking on your own, some of the bike rides would be more difficult without a support van. But I’ll explain more on that later.
For Yellowstone camping, we stayed at Grant Village campground for 2 nights and Madison campground for 1 night. When you are with a group there are separate campsite sections for groups that are camping together. The main buildings for check in had showers, laundry, etc. Grant Village was fantastic. We felt like we had the campground to ourselves. We saw elk in evenings about 100 yards away. Madison campground was a little more rough, and our campsite was not as secluded. I would not expect wildlife to come sauntering in the campground there.
Hiking: My favorite hike of the entire trip was on the Cedar Lake trail. It begins as you pass through open meadows tall with grass and flowers where we spotted a deer grazing. After walking through some pines, we came to an area that looked like we were on Mars. The landscape became barren and dry. There were bubbling mudpits and the smell of sulphur filled the air. We were careful not to stray from the worn path other hikers had left behind.
As we passed into some more pines we came through another clearing and found ourselves on the south rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. There are no guardrails there, so you must be careful. We continued to Artist’s Point to see the falls. At that point the kids could head off to ice cream with one of the guides. We had only hiked a total of about 3 miles at that point. The adults climbed to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Lower falls on the othe side of the canyon. I almost felt like I was hiking on an episode of Star Trek with all of the different landscapes in one hike. Yes, I married a trekkie, but in this case he was right. We ran out of time after the lower falls, but the total distance hiked that day for the adults was about 7.5 miles.
Kayak: We kayaked about 5 miles on Yellowstone Lake. Two guides provided by OARS led the way across one side of the west thumb of the lake towards the west thumb geyser basin. I have never seen a lava tube, and even underwater it was impressive and a good reminder that you are basically paddling on top of a volcano.
We floated right by hook and cook cone. In the 1920s men would stand on the geyser and fish, and then dunk the catch directly into the hot geyser to cook it without even taking it off of the hook. We were very careful not to hit the geysers in our kayaks, but it wasn’t easy. The boys loved it when we trailed our fingers in the water and it was hot compared to the cold water where we put in.
Although this geyser basin is small, the views from the lake make it a really unique sight. I’d venture to say that not a lot of people see the geysers from a kayak. I’d also highly recommend visiting the West thumb geyser basin from the land as well. The views from the boardwalks that surround the geysers give you a different perspective. With the lake in the background there is hardly a more scenic place in Yellowstone to view geysers.
Bike: One of our favorite bike excursions for kids and adults is to take off from Old Faithful and bike the surrounding geyser basin headed towards Grand Prismatic and Firehole Lake Drive. You can rent bikes at Old Faithful Snow Lodge to try to duplicate this bike ride. View the famous geyser and then hit the trail/road to escape the crowds. Some of the main roads are quite busy and we had to stick together, but it wasn’t too bad and we weren’t on those for very long. The Firehole Lake Drive was relatively flat and not crowded with cars, so it was perfect for kids.
There was something magical about approaching a geyser from the seat of a bike. The anticipation and full view as you approach the geysers is something that you couldn’t get from the backseat of a car. We even ran across a family in a convertible and it looked fun too. This bike ride took us most of the morning (about 10 miles), and if you had to return your rental bikes it would definitely be an all day affair. Of course, that depends on how long you stop at Grand Prismatic and some of the other geysers that are always crowded with tourists.
Although we did take an adult only bike ride that took off from Grant Village campground up to the Continental Divide, it was a tough climb and definitely not for everyone. I was proud of our accomplishment although I might have been cursing a lot of the incline. Of course the ride back down was awesome! The total distance for that was about 14 miles, but the elevation gain was the hard part.
As I mentioned before, you don’t have to be on a group trip to take advantage of some great activities in Yellowstone. There is absolutely nothing wrong with viewing Yellowstone from the window of a car. Or hopping in and out of your car to see geysers and wildlife. Especially since some of the bison use the road as their highway too. I just hope this post give you a little inspiration to visit Yellowstone in different and active ways. By doing so, our family came away with a feeling that we really got to know this mysterious landscape as much as we could. We made a connection with it. And we are mysteriously awed and grateful.