Home » 2000 Cross Country Road Trip

Yellowstone National Park, WY

Tuesday, July 25, 2000 - 9:00am by Lolo
330 miles and 7.5 hours from our last stop - 3 night stay


This was not our first visit to Yellowstone. We had been here back in 1992 when the kids were just 3 and 1 years old--now that I look back on it, we had to be crazy. Although Andrew claims to remember it well, we thought it was well worth another visit for them to see it again.

Old Faithful, aka Old FixoOld Faithful, aka Old FixoThis time we were traveling with our friends from home, the Kalchbrenners, who had flown out to Idaho and rented an RV to join us on the Glacier/Yellowstone portion of our trip. Our plan was to stay 3 nights at the Bridge Bay Campground near Yellowstone Lake and to try to see as much of the park highlights as we reasonably could in that all too short timeframe.

We entered the park from the north through the impressive Theodore Roosevelt Arch and began our exploration of Yellowstone at the beautiful white limestone terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs. Although it was quite hot, we hiked the 1.5-mile Lower Terrace Trail, which climbs 300 feet up to the Upper Terrace, where there is an outstanding view of the terraces and springs below. Herb and I were surprised to notice how changed the terraces were from our last visit--many more of them were gray rather than brilliant white. These terraces are always changing based on the activity of the hot springs beneath them. When a hot spring is active, it deposits limestone onto the terraces creating the brilliant white surface that everyone comes to see. However, if a spring becomes dormant, the terrace begins to darken. Fortunately, springs can become active again, so perhaps the next time we visit, things will be completely different again.

After leaving Mammoth Springs, we headed east, taking the Upper Loop road in a clockwise direction, stopping at various overlooks along the way. Our next major stop was the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. I usually don't associate canyons with Yellowstone, but this one is spectacular enough to warrant Yellowstone being a national park even without its geysers.

Kids by Old Faithful LodgeKids by Old Faithful LodgeWe got our first view of the canyon from the aptly named Inspiration Point at the end of a side road along the North Rim Drive. It was spectacular. The walls of the canyon were narrow and plunged more than 1,000 feet down to the Yellowstone River Gorge where there were waterfalls taller than Niagara. And the walls of the canyon were actually yellow, which we learned is how Yellowstone got its name. We took a steep staircase down to a platform where we stood about 10 yards from the top of the Lower Falls where we could watch the water plunge over the edge. It was breathtaking.

Very satisfied with our first day of sightseeing at Yellowstone, we headed over to the Bridge Bay Campground where we would be spending the next 3 nights. I must admit that we were quite disappointed when we got there. We all had visions of relaxing by the campsite after a long satisfying day of sightseeing, cool drink in hand, while gazing out at the waters of Yellowstone Lake (as the guide book had lead me to believe). Instead, we were in a dustbowl without even the hint of a lake view. The site was so dry and dusty that we could hardly cook and eat outside without getting filthy, and the kids were starting to resemble Charlie Brown's friend Pig Pen. I felt terrible. Here everyone was relying on me to plan a great trip and I felt I had let them down. Of course, nobody really felt that way and they quickly assured me that it was fine. With so much to see, we really weren't going to be spending that much time at the campground anyway. Besides, the kids actually loved it. They were just at the age where they were enjoying the extra freedom of being allowed to roam around on their own, and this campground was so huge that there were plenty of places for them to explore. Before dinner, the four of them took their scooters and Kenmore 2-way radios to communicate with us and set off for an adventure.

Norris Geyser BasinNorris Geyser BasinThe kids' enthusiasm was contagious, and soon we all were content with our surroundings. The kids being older and more independent was a good thing. As much as we love being with them, the RV is pretty close quarters, so it's good once in awhile to get a little breathing space from them.

Just as we were really starting to relax, Andrew called us on the radio to inform us that "Alexis thinks she's hurt." - not she "is" hurt, but rather she "thinks" she's hurt. Poor Alexis. It isn't easy being the only girl with 3 boys, especially when you're also the youngest. They always assume she's faking or just being a baby. Upon further questioning, Andrew told us that she fell off her scooter going down a hill and hurt her arm. Hans quickly jumped on my bike and rode over to where they were. We weren't alarmed until we saw the look on Hans' face when he brought her back. Michelle almost fainted when Hans lifted Alexis' sleeve to expose an unnaturally bent forearm. Hans and Michelle rushed her over to the park's medical facility where they gave her some pain killers, put her arm in a temporary sling, and told them that they would have to bring her to Cody, Wyoming, the next day to have it set correctly. It was a rough night for Alexis, and I don't think the boys slept too well either--they felt bad that they hadn't realized how hurt she really was.

The next morning Hans and Michelle took off with Alexis very early for Cody, leaving Jonathan to spend the day with us. We were all a bit down from what had occurred, but we figured we might as well make the best of it and take the kids to see some sights. We decided to wait until the next day when we were all together again to see Old Faithful, so we headed out in the other direction back to the Canyon and then on to Norris Geyser Basin.

Our drive took us through the idyllic Hayden Valley where the Yellowstone River winds through broad meadows and marshlands creating a natural wildlife sanctuary where you're almost guaranteed to see wildlife, especially in the early morning and towards dusk. Just as we hoped, we were greeted by several large bison blocking the road. Having seen the little cartoons in the park literature of people being gored by these large beasts, we wisely took our photos from inside the car.

Lower Yellowstone FallsLower Yellowstone FallsAs we approached Canyon Village, we decided to take the South Rim Drive to view the canyon from the other rim than the previous day and to photograph it in the morning light. We stopped first at the Uncle Tom's Trail. Trail is a strange name for it; it is actually a 328-step metal staircase that takes you down to the river's edge. Along the way, you not only see and hear the thunderous Lower Falls, but you get to feel it as you are covered with its spray of mist. It's truly unforgettable. Before continuing on to Norris Geyser Basin, we made a brief stop at Artist Point at the end of the South Rim Drive, where a short trail brought us to what some consider to be the best view of the canyon.

Right near Norris Junction, we were treated to some additional wildlife viewing--two large elk sitting on a hill right beside the road, unfazed by the tourists, including us, taking their pictures. They must get pretty used to it.

At Norris Basin, the kids got their first look at the strange thermal activity of Yellowstone and happily walked both boardwalk trails through the basin, observing the geysers, hot springs, fumaroles (steam vents), and pools along the way.

On the way back to the campground, we stopped at the Mud Volcano to see a different type of thermal activity. The whole place was evil-looking and smelled like rotten eggs. The geysers and springs had names like Black Dragon's Caldron, Dragon's Mouth, and Sour Lake. We took the short walk past turbulent pools of hot, muddy water, caves with bursts of steam coming out of them, and acid pools that churned and hissed. This was very different from what we'd seen at Norris Basin, and the kids found it quite fascinating.

It had been another great day of sightseeing at Yellowstone, and it had kept us distracted from thinking about Alexis. We were very happy, however, when we got the call from them saying that everything went fine and that they were on their way back and would meet us as planned at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel for dinner. Dinner that night was great. Alexis was in good spirits and Jonathan excitedly told Hans and Michelle about all the sights we had seen that day. The food was good and it was nice not to be cooking back at our dirty campsite. The Hotel was quite elegant, and we spent some time after dinner enjoying the beautiful lobby and the excellent views of the Lake.

Midway Geyser BasinMidway Geyser BasinThe next day was our last day at Yellowstone, so we wanted to make it good. To beat the traffic, of which there is far too much of in Yellowstone, we set off early to see Old Faithful, or "Old Fixo" as Andrew used to pronounce it on his first visit. When we got to the Old Faithful area, we immediately went to the Visitor Center to find out the approximate time of the next eruption, which usually occurs every 79 minutes or so. Seeing that we had some time to kill, we strolled along the boardwalk trail through the Upper Geyser Basin checking out a number of notable geysers, such as Castle Geyser (largest cone), Grand Geyser (tallest predictable geyser), and Beehive Geyser (shaped as its name would imply). Unfortunately, none of them went off during our walk, but there was plenty of bubbling, hissing, and spurting going on all around us to keep us entertained and dozens of colorful boiling springs to look at, such as the very beautiful Morning Glory Pool.

Seeing that we had only 10 more minutes before Old Faithful's scheduled eruption, we hurried back to the wooden benches in front of the Old Faithful Inn to get prime seats for the show. We took our place on the benches, which were set far enough back from the geyser to prevent any of the hot spray from hitting us. Gradually, all the benches filled with people anxiously looking at their watches, cameras and camcorders poised. When the scheduled time came and went, the kids started worrying that something was wrong--perhaps this was the time that Old Faithful wasn't going to blow. After about 20 minutes of anticipation, some surges of water began coming over the rim of the crater. This was the sign that "Old Fixo" was about to begin its show. Then water starting shooting higher and higher into the sky until it reached a height of about 150 feet. After about three minutes, and much frantic photography, it was over, and all that was left was a few gasps of steam coming from the crater. It was a great show.

Hayden ValleyHayden ValleyI absolutely love National Park lodges, so we decided to stop for lunch at the not-to-be-missed, historic Old Faithful Inn. Like many of the other premier National Park lodges, this one was built around the turn of the century, with the intention of it being a place worthy of hosting presidents and visiting kings and queens. It certainly was. It's a massive log structure, very rustic in design, with a seven-story gable roof in its center. The best part, as far as I'm concerned is the lobby, with its seven-story-high ceiling and giant stone fireplace in the corner, surrounded by two levels of balconies looking down into it. Even without its views of Old Faithful from the porches, it is a worthy destination in itself. I could have spent the whole day here, but it was our last day and there was too much more to see and do.

There are several other geyser basins to explore on the road north towards Madison. We first stopped at Black Sand Basin, named for the black obsidian sand around its edges. Besides many other interesting features, we saw the Emerald Pool, a beautiful green hot spring pool so deep that it appeared to be bottomless. Then we went on to Midway Geyser Basin where we strolled along the boardwalk past spurting geysers to one of my favorites, the Grand Prismatic Spring, which is the largest and probably the most beautiful of all the hot springs in the park. Unlike the Emerald Pool, the water in the Grand Prismatic Spring is a deep azure blue and the colors of the pool's edge range from orange and green to golden brown from the algae that is able to grow in its harsh environment. Even the steam rising from it appears to be colored. I think I like these hot spring pools even more than the geysers. We ended our day of geyser viewing at the Fountain Paint Pots where we saw a different kind of thermal activity, bubbling mud pots that got their name because of their colors--pinks, oranges, and light blues from the various minerals in the water.

Herb's first dry fly troutHerb's first dry fly troutHaving felt that we really did get to see most of the highlights of the park, we decided to spend our remaining afternoon doing some fly-fishing at the lake--time for the dads to have some quality father son (and daughter) time. Michelle and I got out our beach chairs and sat back to watch this relaxing activity--kids flailing their fly rods madly, creating giant bird's nest in the lines for the dads to entangle. We, anyway, found it quite relaxing as well as entertaining. Finally, nerves frazzled, the dads convinced the kids to do something else so they could get a little fishing time in for themselves. Herb was soon rewarded with one of his fishing highlights--a beautiful cutthroat trout caught on a dry fly. He talked about that stupid fish all night.

That night was our last night with the Kalchbrenners, who were going to drive back to return their RV in Idaho the next day. Despite Alexis' accident, which never marred their enthusiasm or spirit, we had such a wonderful time together, full of laughs and adventures. We were sorry to see them go..


Yellowstone National Park, in the northwestern corner of Wyoming, is literally like no other place on earth. It has more thermal springs and geysers than the rest of the world combined. Most of the southern part of the park lies on top of a collapsed crater, or caldera, that resulted from a devastating volcanic explosion around 600,000 years ago. It is within this caldera that most of the thermal activity--geysers, boiling hot springs, fumaroles, etc.--in Yellowstone occurs.

Grand Canyon of the YellowstoneGrand Canyon of the YellowstoneHowever, the park is not just geysers. There is a canyon almost on par with the Grand Canyon, a waterfall taller than Niagara Falls, a lake that is the largest mountain lake in North America, and an incredible amount of wildlife to see. In order to protect these treasures, President Ulysses S. Grant made it the first national park in the world in 1872.

A 142-mile Grand Loop Road winds in a figure-eight pattern through the park, past most of the main attractions, including the wildlife. It is not uncommon to have traffic jams caused by a buffalo herd crossing the road or gridlock from people stopping their cars to observe a grizzly bear. Unfortunately, being such a popular destination, Yellowstone is extremely crowded in the summer causing much traffic congestion. Therefore, it's best to do your sightseeing early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Starting from the north and going clockwise, these are some of the highlights:

Mammoth Hot Springs, located by the north entrance to the park, has one of Yellowstone's most unique features--the beautiful white limestone terraces that are continuing to be formed by the constant flow to the surface of the mineral-rich hot springs below. The 1 ½ mile roundtrip Lower Terrace Interpretive Trail is the best way to see this area. It climbs 300 feet through a thermal region to the Upper Terrace, where you have an outstanding view of the terraces and springs below.

Bison crossing the roadBison crossing the roadThe Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a narrow canyon with 1,000-foot-high cliffs plunging down to the Yellowstone River gorge. An excellent way to view the canyon is to take the North Rim Drive from Canyon Village, stopping at Inspiration Point. From here there is a fairly strenuous descent down 57 steps to an overlook with views of the Lower Falls and canyon. Another option to view the canyon is the South Rim Drive. Along this drive is Uncle Tom's Trail, a steep 328 steps descent to the river's edge, and Artists Point, one of the best viewpoints of the canyon.

Hayden Valley, along the park road between Canyon Village and Yellowstone Lake, is one of the best places to see wildlife. In the beautiful green meadows of the valley there are herds of bison and antelope, often blocking the road, and the occasional grizzly bear.

Yellowstone Lake is North America's largest high-altitude lake. It also contains the continent's largest population of native cutthroat trout, which makes it a very popular place for fishing. Although the waters of the lake are too cold to swim in, it is great to explore by boat. Along the northwest shore of the lake stands the majestic 100-year-old Lake Yellowstone Hotel, one of the most beautiful buildings in the park. Lodging and dining are available there.

Midway Geyser BasinMidway Geyser BasinOld Faithful is what everyone thinks of when they hear Yellowstone National Park. The geyser got its name Old Faithful because of the predictability of its eruptions--approximately every 79 minutes. A typical eruption lasts from 2 to 5 minutes during which the water reaches heights of up to 180 feet. There is always a large crowd on the benches outside the Old Faithful Inn when it is time for it to erupt. A good way to see the other geysers in this area is to walk the 1.3 mile Upper Geyser Basin Loop trail or climb the .5 mile Observation Point Trail up to an area with great views of the entire geyser basin. The historic Old Faithful Inn is a must see. It is a six-story log building with sitting areas overlooking the lobby and a three-story stone fireplace.

Midway Geyser BasinMidway Geyser BasinNorris Geyser Basin contains the park's highest concentration of thermal features. There are two loop trails here, both on flat boardwalks: the .75-mile Porcelain Basin Trail and the 1.5-mile Back Basin Loop, which takes you past Steamboat Geyser, the world's largest geyser. Unfortunately, the interval between its eruptions is often more than one year.

There are 12 campgrounds throughout the park. However, since Yellowstone is so highly visited, it is a good idea to make reservations well in advance. The only campground in the park with RV hookups is Fishing Bridge at the north end of Yellowstone Lake.

Pam on May 8, 2006

We spent 4 nights in Yellowstone last year. We moved each night to different campgrounds. You covered everything really well except you missed a fabulous swimming "hole". Between Old Faithful and Madison, the Fireboil River downstream of the Grand Prismatic Spring is fantastic to swim in. It's all the fun of a fairly swift moving river at hot tub temperatures. You can also jump off some 15 ft. cliffs, which our teens loved!

Herb on May 9, 2006

Thanks Pam,
That sounds like a great spot. We looked, but couldn't find a warm water swimming hole. Next time we will certainly check it out. Our boys had a great time jumping at Capitol Reef National Park in 2005, but the water certainly wasn't hot tub warm.

Cynthia on March 8, 2011

Dear Herb,
I just discovered your website two nights ago and I've been reading it non-stop. What a treasure! I'm in the midst of planning our first RV trip for our family of 6. We just have 11 days (6/9-6/19) and are planning to travel from Grand Rapids, MI to Yellowstone via South Dekota (Mount Rushmore, Badlands, Custer National Park, Devil's Tower) and return via Nebraska and Iowa with a stop in Springfield, IL. I have many questions but the main issue to solve is where to camp in Yellowstone. We will have a 40ft RV, which I know limits our camp sites. There is also a camp site right outside of Yellowstone. We plan to be there for 3 nights. Any recommendations would be appreciated. Also, do you recommend staying in one spot while there or changing sites? Thank you again for this wonderful site and it's wealth of information. This make me even more excited for our trip (and future trips!) - the kids are going to love it!

Herb on March 9, 2011

Hi Cynthia, thanks for your comment and I'm glad you're finding it helpful in planning your own RV trip. I'm afraid I'm not that current on Yellowstone campgrounds. For the time frame you're looking at though, reservations would be highly recommended, especially with 40' of motor home. My policy was always to try to get anything inside the park as a first choice, and only then fall back to a camp site outside of the park. It always seemed to be more fun when you are still in the park at dusk, and often times there were evening National Park educational programs. It is also easier to get an early start in the morning the beat the crowds that seem to accumulate around mid-day. That said, in 3 nights you should be able to get a good sense of the park, even if you have to camp outside of it. We rarely changed sites once situated within a park, unless it was for a significant upgrade. Have a great trip. I wish I could do it all again.

Cynthia on March 9, 2011

Thanks for our reply. After contacting you, I also became worried about the space issue with our 40fter and made a reservation at Fishing Bridge Camp in Yellowstone. Good thing I did because I think I got one of the last spots. We're going to stay there for 4 nights/3 days before heading back home through Nebraska and Iowa. I got reading about your last trip to Yosemite and it sounded so amazing that I talked to my husband about switching but we agreed to do that another year. Thanks again for your site.

Herb on March 14, 2011

That's great Cynthia! I'm glad you got a reservation within the park. It should be a great trip and you definitely need to see Yellowstone. Maybe next time Yosemite, and you'll be better prepared to get one of the coveted sites in the Valley now that you know the drill in how to get a reservation!. Tommy also went to Yellowstone with his high school buddies after graduation and recorded their impressions at Yellowstone National Park, WY. I'm jealous of your trip. Lolo and I actually went to Yellowstone with the boys when they were 4 and 2 years old before we had a motor home. The family photo from that trip is on the Contact Us page. Please leave us a comment on this page with any updated information or tips on what you did. Have a great and safe trip.

Jenny on June 15, 2006

The swimming hole is actually in the Firehole River...you take a side road into Firehole Canyon Drive, just south of the Madison junction. The drive winds around and at the very end is a parking spot for the swimming hole. The area is not usually open for swimming until mid-July.

I worked in Yellowstone for the summer of 2005...boy do I miss it. What a fabulous part of the country.

Klattu on February 6, 2007

All your writing is very entertaining.
I cannot stop!
And good information for our future trips.
What a great family!

Nomad on July 16, 2009

Firehole closed due to high water....Summer 2009

Herb on July 17, 2009

Thanks for the post - Tommy is actually traveling west now, and tried to go swimming there last week. See Yellowstone National Park

Nomad on July 25, 2009

so did I but still in awe of such an amazing place.

Cath Lawson on September 26, 2009

Thank you for sharing your wonderful trip reports. I have been reading them for the last three days. Your story is very inspiring. We love travel and we keep promising ourselves we'll do a big trip to some of the national parks in the USA someday.

But reading your story made us realise that if we keep putting it off - we may never get the chance to do it. So, we're planning a trip for next year. We most want to visit Yellowstone, or Yosemite and base the rest of the trip round a longer visit to one of those two parks. Originally we thought Yellowstone but your report makes Yosemite sound amazing.

Herb on September 28, 2009

Hi Cath,

I'm glad our website is helping you get out and plan a trip of your own. Either Yellowstone or Yosemite would be a great anchor destination for your trip next year. Maybe start with the park closest to your home-base and remember that all the "major" national parks are very popular during the summer. You'll need to make reservations well in advance of your trip to insure lodging within the park.

Safe travels, and please leave a comment on any parks you visit in the future.

Suzanne on January 4, 2010

One of the best experiences in Yellowstone is one that can be easily missed if you do not keep your eyes open. It is one of our favorite memories of our trip to Yellowstone. The Boiling River! It is a natural hot tub! It can be found on the Mammoth side. You have to walk upstream about a half mile from the parking area to the place where the trail reaches the river. It is a large hot spring that enters the Gardner River. The hot and the cold water mix in pools along the river's edge. So hot on your back and bone chilling on your feet. It is closed in the springtime due to hazardous high water and often does not reopen until mid-summer. Many go to soak in it's healing waters. We had good old family fun. Wear water hoes and hold on to your little ones, the river can run quite fast.

Herb on January 5, 2010

Thanks for the tip Suzanne! The chance to soak in the some of Yellowstones natural "hot tubs" is reason enough to visit Yellowstone again. We will be sure to check out your spot on our next trip back West. Safe travels - Herb

David on February 12, 2011

Can you tell me more about camping in Yellowstone? I know they have some reserveable and some first come. If you were going back where would you stay? Would you chance it with the first time first serve sites? I have 3 night in early June. Oh yea I love your site.

Herb on March 1, 2011

Hi David, It's been a while since we were there, so my information might be dated and should be checked with the current Yellowstone park website. I would definitely reserve ahead if you can commit to a date, and they have site availability. If not, and you just happen to be in the neighborhood, it never hurts to check on the first come, first serve sites. Getting there early in the morning usually gives you the best chance. The Bridge Bay campground we camped in had somewhat better lake access than the other, but less amenities. I'd probably try the more developed one further north next time. Safe Travels.

Michelle on May 31, 2011

This site is amazing! I wish I came across it weeks ago, but now I can appreciate it even more. I am doing some research for a trip planned august 2012 with my husband and 4 girls. The one thing I could not wrap my head around was how you could travel in this big rig and still stop and enjoy the sites. Do you just pull over on the side of the road and get out? How do you enjoy a nice diner at the Lodge? Do you just park the 27' RV in their parking lot or give it to the valet? I am having trouble understanding how you DO anything logistically: bike trips, fishing, white water rafting, zipllining, etc with this large vehicle that I am renting after I fly into Jackson or some other city. (would like to see Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier in 2 weeks time) I totally get the driving and seeing the amazing sites. Any info you could give me will be helpful. Thanks!

Herb on June 23, 2011

Hi Michelle,
Apologies for the late response, the comment notification has been going to spam lately.

We generally do drive the RV to the locations that we want to see. The 27' is really no bigger than most local delivery trucks, so it technically can be driven most anywhere. You will have to take up two parking spaces in most places, but it becomes easier with practice. Where possible, we used Google Maps first in the satellite view to check out the terrain.

For your 2012 trip you should be sure to reserve ahead for the more popular parks. Sometimes the best sites,,, or any sites,,, disappear within 5 minutes of a reservation window opening. We had 2 computers with 4 browsers open to simultaneously attempt to book a week in Yosemite in the summer. Fortunately we got "lucky", but I'm sure many were shut out.

Safe travels!

Mike on March 5, 2011

Great website! We are heading to Yellowstone at the end of June in our 30 motor home from Massachusetts. 6 adults and 4 kids, 12,6, 2 and 1. Not sure if we are going to tow another vehicle or not. We have made reservations at Grant campground just to make sure we have a place to stay. Of course we don't want to miss anything so I am curious to know if we dont tow a vehicle, will we still be able to see alot in 4 days? We are planning on stopping at Devils Tower n the way out and MT Rushmore and Crazy Horse on the way back. Thanks.

Herb on March 6, 2011

Hi Mike. Thanks for the comment and kind words about our website. We've never towed a vehicle and never really felt the need to for the type of travel we did. However, our motor home is 27' long so it can easily slip into spot that a 35' rig couldn't. Most of the big destinations are used to dealing with motor homes so a 30' shouldn't be a problem. With 10 passengers you might be hard pressed to get them all into the car/truck anyway. Unless you plan on spending a couple of weeks in one location, my advice would be to stay light and just go with the motor home. You will probably need reservations if you want to stay near Mt Rushmore. Sounds like a great trip. Enjoy!

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