I planned a trip for my family and my brother’s family to Yellowstone National Park. My family consists of my wife Roxanne, my three daughters (Chelsea 18, Jordan 16, Cassidy 11) and myself. My brother’s family is John, his wife Komal and his son Joshua 7. We all had early flights to Denver on Friday 8/14 and then we were flying to Billings, MT. From there we were driving to West Yellowstone, MT.
The trip got off to a rough start. We spent Thursday night at an apartment in Atlanta that our friends generously allowed us to use. We got ready to leave at 4:00 AM on Friday morning. When we got down to our car we found that it had been broken into. The passenger window was shattered and everything in the car had been ransacked. There was glass everywhere. We were in a bind because we were so far from home and had to be at the airport in 30 minutes. We decided to go the airport and just leave the car and fix it when we got home. We got to the airport and everything went smooth from there. It actually worked out well, as our friend Dr. Brad went and got our other car and drove it to the airport and drove home the one with the shattered window. He was able to get garbage bags over the broken window to keep the rain out until we got home.
My brother was having issues of his own. He misread the departure time on the airplane tickets and arrived 15 minutes before he was to take off. They quickly got through their luggage checked and raced to the gate. The people at the Detroit airport were great and ran them all the way to the gate. They were the last ones on the plane and the plane left immediately after they were seated. A close call, but disaster averted.
It was a tough start for both families, but by the time we got to Denver everything was going smooth. All of our flights were on time and our luggage was perfectly handled. Every time we have flown Frontier we have had perfect flights. We landed in Billings and quickly got our luggage and went to the rental car counter. We had rented an extended Yukon so the eight of us could travel together. We got the luggage packed up in back and we were on the road to Yellowstone.
Day 1
We started out of Billings and headed Southwest towards Yellowstone. I had planned for us to go over the Beartooth Highway to get to Yellowstone. I had read that is the most beautiful 50 miles of road in the country and I was not disappointed. I was really impressed with the whole Beartooth area, I could have easily spent a week doing hikes off of it. It is truly spectacular. It reminded me of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain NP, only better. We stopped often and took pictures and climbed on some rocks.
We entered Yellowstone through the Northeast entrance just below Cooke City. We had only gone a few miles when we saw our first Buffalo. This was a big deal to Joshua. He was jumping around yelling “Yellowstone is great”, it was wonderful to watch his enthusiasm and joy. We worked our way down to Tower junction. There is a beautiful waterfall just a couple of hundred yards away. It is also the first time that you see the Yellow rock for which Yellowstone is named. It is very crowded in Yellowstone in August, but the traffic moved well and we were able to get across to West Yellowstone. The drive took about 9 hours in total, with lots of stops for photos and breaks. We finally got to our condo by 9 PM. We got some pizza and went grocery shopping. Every one was exhausted, so we called it a night. It was a long and wonderful first day.
Day 1 Photos
Day 2
John, Roxanne and I got up early to do a quick hike before the rest of the people got going. We were too late for Sunrise, so we went directly to Purple Mountain. It is a 6.5 mile, roundtrip hike with about 1500 feet of elevation gain. We did about 2/3 of the hike because we were running out of time. It was a nice hike and the closest one to where we were staying. We got back to the condo and headed off for Mammoth Hot Springs. We spent a couple of hours walking on the boardwalk around the Hot Springs. Much of the Hot Springs have gone dry, but there is one section that still has water. Every one really enjoyed the springs. We got lunch there and were going to head out to hike the Hoo Doos. Just South of the Hot Springs there is a rock outcropping which is ideal for rock hopping. This being our favorite activity we pulled into the very small parking lot and started rock hopping. We had a great time. My oldest and youngest daughters especially liked the rock hopping. It was an awesome time. We never ended up going to the Hoo Doos.
Day 2 Photos
Day 3
John and I got up early for sunrise pictures. It was about 28 degrees, so I had to keep running back to the car to get warm, as I was unprepared for standing out in the cold. I got a few good pictures and then John and I went and did all of Purple Mountain. We got up and back in about an hour and 50 minutes. We really worked hard. It was a great workout.
We then headed for Tower junction to hike to Hellroaring Creak. It was a cloudy cool day with a chance of rain, but we decided to go ahead and give it a try. It took a couple of hours to make it all the way over past Tower Junction. The hike was very nice. You go down 600 ft right off the bat and then the hike is relatively flat. We went to the Hellroaring and then we hiked down the Hellroaring to the confluence of the Yellowstone. We saw a bunch of Elk and Deer skeletons and scattered bones. There was also a warning that a Bear had been working on a carcass less than a mile from the trail. So we were very alert hiking, but did not see anything. The hike was about 8 miles roundtrip with 600 ft evaluation change right at the beginning/end. It is a uniquely beautiful hike across a plateau.
After that hike we went to the rock hopping location from the day before and rock hopped for 2 hours. Chelsea, Cassidy and I had a great time. The look of pure joy on their faces as we climbed higher and higher is something I will never forget. After every cliff and crevice we climbed, they were looking for another bigger and higher one to climb. It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.
Day 3 Photos
Day 4
We had done about 14 miles the day before so John and I decided just to shoot sunrise and not try to hike. We went to a spot on the Gibbons River we had been having good luck at, but as we got close we saw the whole valley was covered in fog. There was not going to be any sunrise shots. We quick drove to Earthquake Lake outside the park and tried for some shots over there. We did not have much luck, but got a couple of decent reflection in Beaver Ponds.
We decided to head to Old Faithful and then over to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We timed it pretty good at Old Faithful. We just had to wait 15 minutes to see it erupt. It is pretty cool to see and every one was impressed. From there we drove past Yellowstone Lake through Hayden Valley. We spent about 30 minutes in Hayden Valley waiting for the Buffalo to cross the road. It was really neat to be right in the middle of a Buffalo herd and to observe and hear them. I got some good pictures of the Cows swimming across the Yellowstone River with their babies. It was really something to see how protective the mothers behaved. The babies swim on the downside of the mothers so that the mothers can break the current and make it easier for them to swim.
From there we headed to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This is one of the most scenic spots in almost the entire park. John and I had been here before and really enjoyed it. We hiked on the North Rim down to Brink of the Falls, which is right where the water flows over the Lower Falls. The power of the water and views down the valley are truly sites to see. We then went to the South Rim and hiked down the stairs (called Uncle Tom’s trail). It takes you down to a viewing area where you can look up at the falls. Both of these hikes are short and steep. We got some great pictures from both sides of the falls. We then made the long drive back to West Yellowstone, getting stuck in another "Buffalo Jam" on the way back. It was another long and exciting day.
Day 4 Photos
Day 5
We decided to have a down day for the kids to give them a break from all the driving. They had done really well, but we didn’t want to push our luck. Every slept in except for John, Roxanne and I. We decided to hike Purple Mountain again. It is a challenging hike that only takes 20 minutes to get to, which is key in Yellowstone because so many hikes are a long drive. We wanted to get Roxanne to the top. I also took a zoom lens because you can see the Tetons from the top. We set a great pace and got to the top in about an hour. It was a cool, cloudy morning, but it was an enjoyable hike.
In West Yellowstone there is a Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center where they shelter problem and abandoned Wolves and Bears. It was a fascinating place. Cassidy and Joshua got to be Kid Keepers, which means they got to go in the bear exhibit and hide food for the bears. They were so excited. I took so many pictures. I was truly mesmerized watching the Bears and Wolves.
We did some shopping in town and then Komal made us a wonderful dinner, it really beat eating out. After dinner we headed for some sunset pictures in Gibbons Valley. It was a beautiful sunset, the best one of the trip. My older daughters and I played around with some time elapsed photography while we waited for the sunset, it was really fun.
Day 5 Photos
Day 6
This was our last full day. We started very early (6 AM) to go down to the Grand Tetons. We were trying to beat the crowds at Jenny Lake. We made really good progress until we got to the section of road between the parks. The road was completely torn up. It took about 30-45 minutes to get through this. We still got down to Jenny Lake by 9 AM. It was a beautiful, warm day with just a few light clouds. We took the boat ride across Jenny Lake, which the young kids especially enjoyed. We got to other side of the parking lot and then hiked to Hidden Falls and then Inspiration Point. It is only about a mile to Inspiration Point and we got up there pretty quickly. It was warm and sunny and the girls were enjoying basking in the sun looking out of Jenny Lake. It was another good rock hopping location, so we did some rock hopping. John, Roxanne, Chelsea, Jordan and I decided to hike to Cascade Canyon which is another 3.5 miles each way. It was one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done. The scenery on both sides of the canyon was spectacular, breath taking. We saw a Moose Cow and her baby. We saw cascading waterfalls coming off the mountain. We made it up and back in about 2.5 hours, we were trying to hurry because we knew Komal, Josh and Cassidy would be getting hungry. We had a nice picnic lunch and soaked in the scenery and the sun.
We then made the long drive back to West Yellowstone. We had Mexican for dinner and then made a run to Quake Lake for sunset. There were no clouds, so the sunset was not impressive, but we still had a wonderful time. Komal was especially interested in the Earthquake that caused Quake Lake, so we went to the informative signs and took the time to read all about the earthquake and resulting damage. It is a fascinating event and the scale of the damage is almost to hard to comprehend.
Day 6 Photos
That was effectively the end of the vacation. We got up and cleaned the condo and then drove back to Billings to fly out on the 6 AM flight Friday morning. It was an excellent vacation.
That was effectively the end of the vacation. We got up and cleaned the condo and then drove back to Billings to fly out on the 6 AM flight Friday morning. It was an excellent vacation.
Day 6 Photos