How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Yellowstone National Park

When traversing the wild and wonderful bison filled world of Yellowstone National Park you may be overwhelmed especially in the planning stages of your trip. If you are journeying to the wildlands of Montana and Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park like we did in a 35 foot RV, you may be exceptionally overwhelmed when planning such a big endeavor and driving 1,000 miles into an unknown wilderness. Let me offer some well researched advice on how to have an amazing RV outdoor adventure filled vacation.Yellowstone National Park

In late June of 2017 we drove 1,000 miles to Yellowstone National Park in our 35 foot Fleetwood Storm into the wilds of the Montana wilderness with a ramshackle group of characters.

Amber: Our 5 foot 4 nature enthusiastic chipmunk and navigator.Yellowstone National Park

Adrian: Our sexy brown-skinned Indian driver, fluent in Tamil and South Dakotan after a pit stop at Mt Rushmore.

Yellowstone National ParkSheilah: 77-year-old grandma and chef who makes the best Bombay style chicken livers

Anika: Child AKA daughter

Carly: Mutt; Likes to steal sandwiches and hike 12,000 mountain peaks. Is only allowed on the couch when we are on vacation in the RV.Yellowstone National Park

Candy: Old lady AKA half Chow half German shepherd; Recently biting at the Fountain of Youth AKA the Snake River. Is famously the one who farted.

Yellowstone National Park
“Who farted?”

With this cast of characters filling the seats and couches of our Fleetwood Storm we tackled the mountain highways of Utah, Colorado and Wyoming on the way into the park from the West Yellowstone entrance.

Home is Where you Park It

Where to Hang Your Hat

We camped outside of the park at Rainbow Point Camp Ground. This campground was great, right on Hebgen Lake but staying outside the park was not ideal. We booked our trip 8 months in advance and could not find a campsite that fit our needs inside the park. 

Book Your campsite at least a year in advance if staying in the park.

If we were to stay again I would book at either Bridge Bay Camp Ground or Fishing Bridge RV Park.

Both of these campsites look really pretty and are centrally located in the park.

Pebble Creek is located in scenic Lamar Valley where all the wildlife viewing for bison and wolves is located. This would be my first choice for camp sites but all these sites are first come, first serve. I’m not keen on the idea of driving 1,000 miles to a camp ground without having a reserved spot.

Yellowstone National Park West Thumb
West Thumb Geyser by Yellowstone Lake

There are two campsites near Yellowstone Lake that both take reservations and our next trip I will be booking one of them for sure. Bridge Bay Camp Ground sits just below the snow peaked Absaroka Range rising above the eastern shore of Yellowstone Lake. This is a great location, close to the lake and very convenient to all kinds of attractions, general store, etc in YNP.

Fishing Bridge RV park was our first choice when booking our trip, but booking only 8 months in advance we could not get a site that fit our needs. This site offers full hookups that are great for RV use. We ended up not booking here because we had friends staying with us camping in a tent and this site is only for hard sides RVs. This site is in a densely Grizzly bear populated area and that is why there is no tent camping here. Grizzlies are the crazies of the bear family and not to be taken lightly.

On our next trip to Yellowstone National Park we are planning 5 days just in park for fly fishing ( and/or learning how) hiking Black Tail Deer Creek and doing the bike ride to Fairy Falls ( 10 miles round trip) amid a list of many other fun activities just inside the park and that didn’t even include the Grand Tetons and Idaho.

Driving the roads of Yellowstone National Park

The best advice I can give you for a going for a scenic drive in Yellowstone National Park is hit the roads as early as possible and be patient. Day break is the best time to start out. Obviously the main reason for this is you will see way more animals at dawn. Yellowstone National Park

The other big reason to start your day early is anytime after 9:30 AM there is so much traffic everywhere you go in the park. Not only are there a lot of tourists checking out the sights but there are constant traffic delays for animal sightings. Our first full day at the park we left camp in West Yellowstone at 9:30, then got stuck in a bison traffic jam for half an hour and followed so much traffic all over the park, plus every lot for parking was full of cars and packed with tourists.

Yellowstone National Park
Enjoy pointing at a devious bison burger to be from a safe distance.

We had to stop multiple times on our journey through Yellowstone National Park to let bison pass in and around our car or RV. Whatever you do when traveling through beautiful Yellowstone National Park, pay attention to the warnings about wildlife and stay the proper amount away from the animals. When we had to stop for 20 minutes because a herd of 100 bison were passing right in front of our RV we watched so many tourists getting out of their cars with their kids and approaching the bison, getting right in their path just to grab a few photos. Ridiculous. Don’t be that tourist. One week after we left Yellowstone National Park some dumb dumbs were attacked by a bison and had to be airlifted to the hospital. Don’t be that person on the news.bison Yellowstone

This brings me to a good point. Days in Yellowstone National Park can be long, congested, scenic and sometimes frustrating. If you go out driving and hiking and doing all the scenic things in Yosemite National Park;

DO NOT BUY COFFEE IN THE PARK!

Let’s face it, any time you buy anything concessional at a national park or a Dodger game or Disneyland its beyond expensive and terrible. Yellowstone National Park was the worst example of this ever! Thanks Yellowstone National Park for giving me the experience of having the worst coffee I have ever had in my entire life!

Our second day at the park, we had driven into the town of West Yellowstone at 7Am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready for a day of fun in Yellowstone National Park.

Okay, maybe not exactly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. We arose from our warm bed inside the RV at 5AM and were leaving West Yellowstone for the park right after sunrise. We were ready to see some animals and we could really use a cup of Joe.

Unfortunately for us every coffee stop advertising espresso and cappuccino was still closed as the hour approached six AM and most of these coffee stops don’t open until 8 or 9! As we drove through the park I was drowsy and running on fumes as we approached Canyon Village and their awesome general store.

Awesome as long as you don’t order a cappuccino or regular cup of coffee! The latte tasted like a cup of sugar milk water with a teaspoon of coffee drizzled in and the french roast tasted like hot water with a coffee flavor. I’ve never ever in my life had coffee quite this bad.

It was a waste of twelve dollars. Yes twelve dollars. Food and drink in the park is very expensive and not great although they do have some authentic Montana snack items like huckleberry elk jerky. ($15)

Take my advice; When you travel into the park for the day pack a picnic lunch and bring your own homemade coffee in a thermos. Everyone could go for a hot Starbucks latte on a cold and windy thunder stormy day in Yellowstone National Park but you won’t find that in YNP. Come out for an early morning drive well prepared for a day of fun with snacks and drinks to keep your body fueled for fun.

Family fun in West Yellowstone National Park

It’s late afternoon or maybe early evening and you have escaped the crowded roads and the congested parking lots of Yellowstone National Park. It’s early afternoon and you are craving a bison burger and maybe looking for a delightful family friendly thing to do that is very outdoorsy. Did you get to see any wolves while exploring the Lamar Valley? Well if you didn’t then never fear because West Yellowstone has the  Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center!

The rates for the Discovery center are very low ($13 a day for adults and $8 for kids) This discovery center is non-profit and all the animals you are seeing in captivity can not survive in the wilds. The eight Grizzlies who live here were orphaned as cubs and could survive in the wild. The six wolves that live at the park live in three different packs and were all born in captivity and are not able to live in the wild. This discovery center is a great way to see some of the more animals you may not get to see while hiking through the park. (Okay lets face it, these are the animals you do not want to see while on a hike!) The discovery center also hosts two very interesting birds of prey/ raptors.

The Yellowstone Rodeo is held every late July in West Yellowstone. Rain or shine this is a great way to spend an evening in West Yellowstone! Take your family and kids to see a true wild west show; Calve roping, bucking broncos and steer roping all take center stage on hot summer nights in West Yellowstone. This is a great family friendly thing to do that so many people can only experience in cowboy count try like Montana or Wyoming.

Check out the areas surrounding the park


The Grand Tetons

When leaving through the south entrance you drive directly into the Grand Tetons and this is such a gorgeous drive; Even if a fire a few years ago burned through the first few miles of this scenic drive.The Grand Tetons

You cruise by beautiful Jackson Lake and fields of wildflowers on your way to the crazy high Tetons jutting into the blue Wyoming skyline.

At the very end of the Tetons is Jenny Lake; An awesome lake to check out but extremely crazy crowded any time in the summer months.Yellowstone National Park

The best way to spend a day in the Tetons is to start a bike ride near the town of Jackson, Wyoming and bike into the Tetons and Jenny Lake. You can even do this bike ride in the early springtime as soon as the snow melts and have the park all to yourself! It’s pretty much the only way to get a secluded trip to Jenny Lake.

After the bike ride stay at the awesome RV park in Jackson, walking distance to downtown and the world-famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Is it a museum or a great watering hole? You decide. The Cowboy Bar has some great western memorabilia and is located in the town square, the happening down town of Jackson.

If you are ending your trip to Yellowstone National Park and the wild west and making your way back to interstate 15 you will drive straight through the tiny river town of Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. Lava Hot Springs is well-known for one thing; No, not Odin the soberly St Bernard but tubing! It’s only $3 to rent a tube on the snake river for a few hours and the great town opt Lava Hot Springs has a tram to bring you back up after you have relaxed in the sunshine and floated down the river. This town also has a little water park great for families on a hot Idaho day.

geysers YellowstoneYellowstone National Park and the surrounding areas are chock full of family friendly fun things to do that don’t have to break the bank! Grizzly bears, geysers and ginormous cowboy hats all await you this summer whether you are in the part of the park that lies in Wyoming or Montana!

 

 

Comments

  1. Samantha

    Thanks for the great tips! We went to Yellowstone 2 summers ago but were only passing through. Hope to go back again, but especially to the Tetons!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *