We were lucky enough to kick off our National Park road trip with a week at Yellowstone. Wow. Absolutely incredible.
The geysers, the views, the waterfalls, the crazy rock formations. All the buffalo, the elk, and our one bear (!!!) sighting. It was all beautiful and fascinating and intriguing. I was definitely smitten.
Our National Park count is now up to 7 for 2019, so here are a few recommendations we’ve learned along the way.
For most any National Parks:
Download Gypsy Guides App!
This is my number one recommendation and our very best find from this trip. As your own personal guide, this app made our drives so much more informative and fun, teaching us about the geology and history, and pointing out excellent viewing points.
As it’s GPS-enabled, “Jim” (as we named our narrator) knows exactly where you are on the road and suggests stops accordingly. We have loved it so much we’ve now purchased this app for Rocky Mountain, Arches, Canyonlands and Grand Canyon as well. Seriously, get this app if you got to any national park.
Go after Labor Day.
This may not be possible for most everyone, but if you can, go in the off-season once kiddos are back in school. We kept being told about insane crowds, long waits to get into the park or find a parking spot at viewpoints. However we so often had the park to ourselves. The downside was that some restaurants and services were then closed for “winter” but overall, it’s a much better experience.
Download offline maps and other apps before you arrive.
Cell service is very limited and WiFi nearly non-existent in the parks, so be prepared!
Get an annual pass!
If you plan to visit a few national parks, definitely go this route. For only $80, you can access 2,000 National Parks around the country for 12 months (not from a specific time but from when you purchase!). When places like Yellowstone cost $35 for 7-days, you get pretty far into the annual fee price.
Yellowstone Specific Recommendations:
Stay at Old Faithful Inn if possible!
As it is very expensive to stay there, we stayed in a charming room in the “Old House” which is connected to the main lodge and has a shared bathroom. Being in the historic lodge with live music nightly, the massive fireplace and amazing wood log architecture is pretty spectacular. Plus you’re just feet away from Old Faithful Geyser. I got to see it erupt 4 times in our 2 nights there, which was definitely worth it.
Visit Mammoth Hot Springs.
This was my favorite part of the park. The hike up to Canary Spring incredible – the colors and reflections in the pools of hot spring water were just gorgeous.
To make this area even better, there is a group of elk that live year-round near the visitor center there. They are regularly seen roaming the lawns or even in the terraces. So fun.
Check the geyser eruption times!
So many awesome geysers exist in Yellowstone and seeing them erupt is really incredible. We had to wait over an hour to watch Grand Geyser erupt but it was certainly worth it. The lodges and visitor centers will have signs indicating the time frames for each main geyser. Snap a photo to make note of the times and hopefully you can catch a great show.
Avoid Canyon Lodge.
It’s new and a great location in the park but so expensive, has zero ambiance (you might as well have been in a highway-side Best Western), and has bad food options.
Bring in your own food.
Man, the food inside the park is pretty terrible. Poor quality, not many options, particularly for vegetarians. One plus is it’s not that expensive. But items like premade ham sandwiches or stale bagels were not appetizing, especially after a few days. Stick with grabbing items at the mini-grocery stores in the park or bringing your own food.
Get the Yellowstone NPS App.
I found this to be really helpful for park maps and random information about geysers and other sights along the drive.
Have so much fun.
Yellowstone is an incredible place. It’s worth 2-3 days driving, hiking and exploring the park as much as you can. I still can’t get over the beautiful colors or the crazy geological features. It’s a special place for sure.