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Aug 3-13 Trip with preteens

Greensboro, North...
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Aug 3-13 Trip with preteens

It’s a little late in the year for this review, but it may help someone planning for August next year. I planned this trip to GTNP and Yellowstone for a year and am sure this trip report will take almost as long to read. This was a family vacation for two parents, a 10 year old girl and 13 year old boy and was our first national park vacation. My daughter knew this was going to be the "worst trip ever." She didn’t want to go, doesn’t like hiking, gets car sick and "we know this, so she is just going to complain the whole time and make us miserable." Turned out to be an amazing family vacation, not the worst ever. Saw lots of great wildlife, amazing views and had some exciting adventures along the way. Glad I planned as much as I did, so I could easily adjust our itinerary when needed. Also glad kids were 10 and 13, so they could handle the long days, odd mealtimes and safety issues. We used the 4th grader's “Every Kid in a Park” Pass for free entry to both parks.

We liked our mix of in park and outside park lodging. Great to be in park to beat the crowds to areas like Old Faithful and Canyon. Gardiner is a fantastic base for Lamar, Tower, Mammoth. More to do in this area than we expected. Preferred the feel of Gardiner to W. Yellowstone.

We were there in peak summer, but did not feel crowded except in Canyon and around Grand Prismatic. No real problems with traffic or parking. We saw lots of wildlife, had some great adventures and nice hiking. We enjoyed Beaver Ponds, Storm Point and Yellowstone River Picnic Area the most. (Also Taggart Lake in GTNP.) I wish we had been able to take longer rest breaks on our hikes to really soak it in, but there was so much to do in a short time, even with 10 days. Also wish we had been able to do Avalanche Peak, Mt. Washburn and Lonestar (next time…)

Thursday, Aug 3 – Fly to SLC from RDU and rent car. We drove the scenic route (89) through Logan, UT, around Bear Lake to Montpelier, ID and through the Star Valley. First time for the kids in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. Stayed at Kodiak Mt. Resort in Afton, WY. Beautiful drive out of Logan. Wish we had had more time to stop along the way at the various pullouts, but were trying to get to hotel by dark. Smoke from wildfires made the Bear Lake Overlook hazy, but we were able to catch the tail send of the Raspberry Days Festival – and had delicious fresh picked raspberries. Open Range Loose Stock Road signs through the national forest were a surprise! Kodiak Mt. Resort is new with 2 queen beds in cabins. Food truck, campfire, fireplaces in room and staff on hover boards. Very nice place.

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1. Re: Aug 3-13 Trip with preteens

Friday, Aug 4- Left Afton by 7:30 am. Stopped for pictures at the World’s Largest Elk Antler Arch in Afton, Hoback Market for snacks (good selection) and for bear spray in Jackson. Had brunch at Dornan’s Chuckwagon in Moose. Beautiful views. Fun watching the hummingbirds and ground squirrels. Headed to Taggart Lake Trailhead. Did the full loop starting to the left. Kids swam in the super cold water – parents did not. Beautiful views on the hike. Moderately trafficked trail. Kids were already sick of hiking and missing their electronics, so we only did the one hike. Drove the Jenny Lake Loop. One kid stayed in the car at the overlook, but ¾ of the family enjoyed it. Took the Moose-Wilson Rd. back to Jackson and picked up dinner and snacks at Albertson’s. Checked in to Cabin 7 at Kudar Motel. Master bedroom has queen bed. Second bedroom has twin and double, so everyone can have a great sleep. Cabins are older, but clean. Also have fridge and microwave. Large grassy area out front for kids to play and several picnic tables where we ate our dinner from Albertson’s. Parents snuck off to Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Super cheesy, but drinks were fine and people watching was great.

Saturday, Aug 5- Walked out for breakfast and realized that the Farmer’s Market was at the Square. Great market! Booths lined up on three sides of the square. Lots of samples and a great variety. We picked up baked goods, berries, street corn and quiche for breakfast and some other snacks for later. Wish they were also open on Sunday because I would have liked to try the breakfast sandwich booth. Ate in the square. Stopped at another art/craft fair at the American Legion to admire amazing antler display and beautiful photography. 10:30 Rafting trip with Teton Whitewater. Really fun and exciting for all of us. The water is cold and the front right side was very wet! Should have gotten a wet suit for my 10 yr old. Saw an osprey, eagle and a marmot – our first real wildlife of the trip! Showered and rested at the cabin before an early dinner at Merry Piglets (food is fine, nothing special, but kids were happy). Afterwards- rodeo night! We all really enjoyed the rodeo. 10 yr old daughter participated in the sheep scramble. Bareback riding is crazy! Great atmosphere and nice to spend the evening outside.

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2. Re: Aug 3-13 Trip with preteens

Sunday Aug 6- Grabbed hot to go breakfast from the Bunnery and ate at the picnic tables at Kudar. Later start than planned (the theme of the entire trip) but checked out by 9. Stayed on Highway 89 (Outer Rd) up to Moran Junction. Loved our stop at Schwabacher’s Landing. Several groups at the pull out, but almost empty 10 minutes along the walk. Saw several ducks and a small beaver. Taught the kids a good lesson about the benefits of walking a bit past the crowd. Stopped at several other pullouts along the way to Yellowstone. Turned in our paper pass for a plastic card at the Yellowstone Entrance. Stopped at Moose Falls, which is not even on the map, but luckily we had seen a picture of it, so knew to stop. Fun first stop and nice to stretch our legs. Stopped at several other pullouts along the drive. Grabbed picnic supplies at Grant Village (nice selection at General store) and ate at continental divide picnic area. Not much to see, but we were just eating. Skipped our planned hike to Lonestar since the timing wasn’t right and went to Biscuit Basin instead. First geyser basin for us! Kids loved the colors and heat and helped a ranger find a quarter (not ours) that had fallen in and needed to be removed. Hiked up to observation point (light traffic) and had a snack at the top. (The trail was really tricky at the point – we ended up accidently detouring off trail and spoke with another woman who had completely lost the trail. It may be easier to find from the falls first.) Headed down to mystic falls. Beautiful falls. Heavy traffic on this flat portion back to the basin, but nice walk along the Little Firehole River. Went to check in to our OF Lodge cabin (without bath!) and caught our first eruption of Old Faithful. We ended up seeing 5 in a row and caught one more in the morning. Cabin was small, but clean. Walk to bathhouse wasn’t far and that was clean as well. Dinner at cafeteria was ok, but convenient. Walked down to OF Inn, which is amazing. Borrowed a Yellowstone Ghost Story Book from the Lending Library on the 2nd floor then sat on the balcony to read it and watch another OF eruption. Took at twilight walk around geyser hill. And a nighttime walk back to our cabin. Pump Geyser was really fun to watch and Castle, even not erupting, is quite impressive. Was really hoping to see stars, but the moon was too full the entire trip. Nice to have a sink in the room.

Monday Aug 7- Packed up the car and headed to breakfast at the Lodge Cafeteria- which apparently is not an option since they are only open for lunch and dinner. Went to Snow Lodge instead. Entire family had the buffet since we wanted to get moving quickly and the price was surprisingly reasonable. Ended up being a good stop for breakfast. Headed to Visitor’s Center. Picked up Jr Ranger and Jr Scientist guides and the Jr Scientist backpack. Saw OF erupt and correctly predicted the next eruption time. Spent the next 4 hours in the basin, out to Morning Glory and waiting on Daisy. Used our fleece, gloves and toboggans this morning. Also really enjoyed Grotto. Saw a coyote. Turned in backpack, daughter took Jr Scientist Oath (received patch and key chain), picked up picnic supplies at Upper General Store and retuned book at Inn. Picnic at Whiskey Flats- big picnic area, plenty of shade. After lunch went to new Grand Prismatic Overlook. This parking area and trail is really crowded, but the view is worth the walk and congestion. Perfectly timed stop at Norris for the Jr Ranger Program- 30 mins. and held outside. (Norris is a nice comfort stop- not too crowded.) Drove to Firehole Swimming Area- not a cold as Taggart Lake, but pretty crowded. We swam to cave, but did not cliff jump. We were only there for 30 minutes, but it was a good break. There are bathrooms, but we just changed in the car. Glad we all had water shoes for the walk and swim. Continued driving north. Only has to wait 10-15 minutes for construction. Stopped at Sheepeater and Hoodoos (really cool!). Saw elk along the river north of Madison, big horn sheep on the cliffs and pronghorn near the arch. Great wildlife sightings in this area every time we drove through. First time in Montana! Stopped at Gardiner Market for supplies and finally made it to VRBO (electric peak cabin, 3 minutes outside Gardiner) at 8:30. Fantastic cabin, views of river and herds of elk, great view of Devil’s Slide. Nice to spread out, have a kitchen, rearrange all our luggage and spend 3 nights in one place. Also this place felt like a palace after OF Cabin, no bath.  Late dinner of pizza and salad while kids watched backyardigans – I have no idea why. Great night of sleep though.

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3. Re: Aug 3-13 Trip with preteens

How did they like the Young Scientist? I have wanted to do it myself ;)

Did you stop at Madison for the Jr Ranger Program? It makes a nice pit stop!

Looking forward to more! I love details (obvious by the questions, lol) Thanks for sharing!!

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Madison
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4. Re: Aug 3-13 Trip with preteens

>Open Range Loose Stock Road signs through the national forest were a surprise!

Wyoming is an open range state. The existence of those warning signs legally shifts liability from the rancher to the driver. So if you hit a cow that has wandered into the road, the rancher is not liable for your injuries or the injuries of your passengers. In fact, you're generally liable to the rancher for the value of the cow.

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5. Re: Aug 3-13 Trip with preteens

Sounds like a great start to your family vacation!

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6. Re: Aug 3-13 Trip with preteens

thbergs- We all enjoyed the Jr Scientist program. My son was not interested in completing the booklet, but he still helped with all the research and required tasks. We all learned something by reading the booklet, even with all the other brochures and books we had. The temperature gun was really cool, probably the best part! 4 hours was barely enough time to get it done, but waiting on Daisy gave a few minutes to fill out the booklet. Also my daughter collects key chains, so this activity was the perfect reward for her. Check out a backpack yourself sometime, even if just to use the temperature gun a bit.

TetonBill- We had no idea and are so glad we didn't see any cattle on the road. What an isolated roadway, too. Hard to believe we were still in the US and not in another country, That drive was a really good start to our trip.

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7. Re: Aug 3-13 Trip with preteens

Tuesday Aug 8- Everyone was so exhausted that we let the kids sleep in. The original plan was to drive through the Lamar and hike in Lamar/Canyon, but we decided sleep was more important than the plan. Decided to stay around Mammoth and hike Beaver Ponds instead- what a great decision! After breakfast, we drove to Mammoth and stopped at VC to submit completed Jr. Ranger Booklet. Our daughter took the oath and received a patch. We learned a great tip about judging 25 yards using your palm and 100 yards using your thumb, so we can keep proper distance from animals. Started off by the backside of Terraces for the hike. The hike starts uphill then is through forest and sagebrush flat. About ½ way into the hike in the forest, we heard crashing. An elk ran into the path within 15 feet of us! She ran back again to where she came from. We paused and looked around, hearing serious crashing all around. The kids could see elk eating in the distance, but it took a long time for the grownups to find them. Eventually we could see a small heard of elk moving along the ridge around us – but a small buck came down the same path as the original doe and stopped to stare at us for 1-2 minutes. It was amazing! He was so close it was actually a little nerve-racking. Great wildlife sighting for all of us. Hiked the reminder of the trail, in and out of forest, by three ponds, across several bridges and around a nest of ground bees. Didn’t pass many people, enjoyed the views and the longer distance. Everyone was a bit tired and hungry when we got back to the car, but we had a picnic lunch on the lawn in front of the VC. One of our favorite hikes! Drove back to the cabin to change and head back out to Gardiner to Flying Pig. They provided directions to Hells A Roarin Outfitters in Jardine, about 20 minutes away, a beautiful drive up the mountain through the Galatan Forest. Kids were very excited to see all the horses in the paddocks. Guides were great with our kids, especaiilly our daughter who had a bit of trouble with her horse. Once we got back, we joined all the cowboys for dinner. Many are in college from all over the country. It was so neat to hear their stories. Dinner included steak, beans, potatoes, salads, corn bread, cobbler and cake. We sat around the fire and leaned the history of the ranch, sang campfire songs and has s’mores surrounded by a gorgeous view and sunset. There were several other families and the ids all enjoyed playing hide and seek. The cowboy cookout and campfire was a real highlight. Back to the cabin for showers and bed – another long, exhausting, but amazing day.

Wednesday Aug 9- Up before sunrise and out of the house just after 6 for the drive through the Lamar Valley. Hoping for wolf and bear sightings. We took the Blacktail Plateau, which was long and bumpy and not worth the detour. As soon as we crossed the Yellowstone River, we saw our first biosn over the hill. We though there were about 5, but as we continued driving, we lost them behind a small rise. We stopped at the next pull off, hopped out of the car and quietly climbed the hill to try to see them. As we got closer we could hear them, and see a few popping up. They looked to be moving quickly in our direction and there were definitely more than 5. Kids were freaking out as we all quickly headed back to the car with 50 bison in pursuit. Safely back in the car, the bison herd crossed right where we were parked – in front and beside our car. We could not get over their size, how close they were or how many there were. Quite the exciting start to the morning. As we continued driving out to the east entrance, we were amazed at how many bison were in the Lamar – hundreds? Thousands? It was like a scene from Dances with Wolves. Passed Soda Butte and drove out and right back into the Park at the East Entrance then stopped for a breakfast picnic by the creek at Warm Creek Picnic Area, which felt really isolated at this time of morning. Viewed what we think were mountain goats at a pulloff, but it may have been white rocks. Hiked Trout Lake which started steeper than we expected. Nice walk along the Lake to see a vole, frogs, dragonflys, trout, ducks and a swan. Wish we had known to detour to the second lake by the inlet since we felt Trout Lake was a little crowded. I wouldn’t put this hike on my must-do list. Drove to Slough Creek trailhead and had a picnic lunch then hiked the trail to the first meadow. There was a lot of foot traffic on this hike and our daughter was completely undone by the uphill beginning and length of the trail. She was done in general with hiking at this point, so this was a tough hike for the rest of us. Sorry to anyone else who heard her complaining for 4 miles. We saw some cool insects and ground squirrels, but not much other wildlife (may have been the loud complaining child that scared everything away). Since we were past the peak wildflower season the views at the meadow were not as spectacular as I had hoped. Another hike I wouldn’t put on my must-do list at this time of year. Drove to Tower and got ice cream to help everyone’s spirits recover and walked to view the fall. Wish I had known you could walk down to the River from here. We ran out of time for that later in the week. Drove back to the cabin in Gardiner for a cookout and bottle of (super sweet) huckleberry wine. A small herd of mountain goats came through the front yard as we cooked.. Nice relaxing night and early to bed for once.

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8. Re: Aug 3-13 Trip with preteens

Thursday Aug 10- Packed up all our gear and left the cabin around 9. We walked the lower terraces which were interesting and drove the upper terrace. Amazing that the terraces have forced the road to be relocated in areas. The shapes the different features make are really amazing, but they are not as exciting as the geysers and pools. I think we would all have appreciated them more if we had seen them before we went to the geyser basins. Even after so much whining about driving being boring, we all enjoyed the Lamar so much that we drove through it again. I am so happy that this left such an impression on the kids too. Early lunch at Yellowstone River Picnic area then we headed up the trail. This was one of our favorite hikes. Not too crowded. Amazing views of the River, Overhanging Cliff, the Narrows, Calcite Springs, etc. I had read that the drop-offs could be an issue with children, but I felt very comfortable with the width of the trail along the ridge. There were several spots along the trail that would have been amazing to have a picnic. This trail can be an out/back or you can take the specimen ridge trail back to the road and walk a bit along the road as we did. We passed a lot of bison wallows and several game trails, so this part of the hike was completely different. Drove over the Dunraven Pass to Canyon Visitor Center. We enjoyed the exhibits. Drove through the Hayden Valley and experience our first bison jam. The difference between the Lamar and the Hayden Valleys is really interesting. Kids were very entertained because we ended up as the first car behind a bison for 10 minutes. So funny to watch him just nonchalantly walk down the middle of the road. Drove over fishing bridge to storm point. We knew we were pushing it timewise, but wanted to squeeze in a last hike. So glad we did. Storm Point was another family favorite hike. The views along the lake are beautiful, the marmot colony was great for the kids and the forest at the end of the hike was so differ from anything else we had previously hiked. Great short and easy hike. Even though it was a long day we all finished this hike happy. Checked into our Lake Hotel Cabin and arrived right as the flag was being taken down. Really nice ceremony as everyone in the lobby area watched while the sting quartet played America the Beautiful. It was really touching to be part of this community enjoying our National Park together. Dinner at the Lake Lodge Cafeteria was fine. Easy place to eat as a family. The food is just ok, but the setting was nice (good indoor and outdoor common spaces) and the Lake Lodge was not as crowded as the OF Lodge. Mom and Dad needed a break, so we left the kids in the cabin for about an hour and went to the Lake Hotel Lobby. Although there were several couples relaxing and playing cards, the noise from the bar area was overwhelming, so we took our drinks out to the porch which was much more relaxing. The bar and restaurant area also felt too fancy after so many days of trails and picnics.

Friday August 11- Woke up for our last day in the park and the first day without a complete program planned. Breakfast at Lake Lodge Cafeteria, and we took a few minutes to view the historic photograph exhibit. I can’t imagine hiking in a dress, hat and heels like the photographs show. We were so busy taking pictures of our cabin and the front of the hotel that we had to double back to turn in our cabin keys! First stop was Mud Volcano. This walk was really disgusting, but really fun. The smells are something else. We watched some bison courting as one smaller male tried to steal a female away from a larger male who was with two females – the female was not interested in the smaller male. Around the high side of the walk there was a lone bison just yards off the boardwalk. It was a bit scary walking past him. Eventually a ranger came to manage the situation, so we were able to have an impromptu ranger session on bison. Really interesting. Walked over to Sulphur Cauldron which was a bit of a letdown after the Mud Volcano walk. Dove back through the Hayden Valley and were amazed to watch the Yellowstone Park trucks herd bison off the roadway. Drove to Artists Point and had our first trouble finding a parking space due to construction. The canyon VC area and viewing areas were extremely crowded. It was a tough adjustment after so much time in wide open space or lesser traveled trails. Views from artist point were worth dealing with all the people though! Considered hiking out to Pt. Sublime, but the drop-offs along the trail made me really nervous, so we turned off to Lily Pond instead. Did the out and back, so caught the views on the way back to the parking lot as well. Just an ok hike. Drove around to the north rim and walked to the brink of the upper falls and the brink of the lower falls. These views were definitely worth the steps as well. Picked up lunch at Canyon General Store. Great selection for picnics, including gluten free options. Picnicked at Cascade Creek Picnic area and watched several Clark’s Nutcrackers. Nice, shady picnic spot with little traffic. Back to Canyon for ice cream and souvenirs then back in the car during our first rain of the week. Headed to Norris, but doubled back on the Virginia Cascade Dr. This was a really pretty drive with several nice pull offs. Headed to the West Entrance stopping at several pull offs along the Madison River. Wish I had a better plan for a short hike this afternoon since it felt anticlimactic to do so much driving as we left the park. Checked into the Brandin’ Iron Inn in W. Yellowstone. The room was nice and clean, higher quality than I anticipated based on the motel exterior. The kids were super excited with the two hot tubs located in the basement. Not my style, but glad the kids were happy. W. Yellowstone felt a bit like Myrtle Beach- very touristy with souvenir shops, casinos, etc.. Fine for a night since we were able to grab souvenirs, but we were glad it was a short stay. Dinner at the Old Town Café was ok. This was our least favorite night of the trip. Beds were comfortable and motel was quiet, so we slept well.

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9. Re: Aug 3-13 Trip with preteens

Saturday Aug 12- Breakfast at the motel was not great. We should have skipped it. We did pass our unused bear spray on to another guest. Drove 3 hours to Lava Hot Springs for one last adventure. The waterslide and pool complex was very crowded and busy, so we started at the hot pool complex. Really nice complex. We were able to bring in our cooler of snacks and drinks. Plenty of changing facilities. Pools ranged from 103*-112*! Some were natural bottom which felt so nice after a week of hiking. Several pools were shaded. We eventually walked along the river to the waterslide complex. The tubers on the river were crazy! I have never seen anything like this – tubing in the middle of town. It was so chaotic that even our kids were happy to just watch and there were definitely some people to watch. Since we had purchased a combo ticket at the hot pools we were able to skip the line at the swimming complex. It was so crowded, we barely found a spot to sit in the grass. Lots of people with chairs, pop-up tents, multiple large coolers, etc. Kids were happy to go on the diving board and slides. (You can even use a platform dive if you sign a waiver.) Started thundering after about 45 minutes, but that was enough for us. Headed back to the hot pools for a final soak before getting back in the car. Since we hadn’t spent enough time in the car, we detoured to Antelope Island, so the kids could see the Salt Lake. The drive across the causeway was interesting and the VC had too many swallow nests to count. Didn’t spend much time here, but it was worth the extra hour. Checked into the Best Western Plus in Layton Park and hauled all of our stuff out of the car – 4 packs, 3 suitcases, cold weather bag, swim stuff, cooler, snack bags, souvenirs, etc. Parents repacked for the plane while the kids swam in the indoor pool. Walked next door to Costa Vida for dinner (nice kids meal options). Crashed out early.

Sunday Aug 13- Drove to the airport and dropped off the rental car. Couldn’t figure out how to get to check-in since we walked straight into the very long security line. Ended up going back out to the garage and using Delta’s curbside check-in. Luckily our checked bags both came in at 49 pounds! Direct flight to RDU was uneventful, and we were home with time to unpack before bed. Great family vacation and so different from our normal trips. Trying to figure out which national parks we will visit next and hoping for another visit to Yellowstone at some point because we still have more to see.

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10. Re: Aug 3-13 Trip with preteens

I have completed the Young Scientist booklet at Old Faithful. I think it is a well-designed program and the kids (of all ages) can learn a lot. Plan on three hours with the backpack of tools, but somewhat longer to finish the booklet if you do it to a standard worth your time.

ENJOY!

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