Hello YSNP Forum. I am writing this trip report as a small thank you to all of you that have generously posted on this forum. Because of all of you, my family was able to experience all of Yellowstone's magic and wonder. We are back home and laundry is complete but the lingering itch from mosquito bites now makes me smile.
A little background, I started planning our trip at the end of January. As is noted consistently through this forum, if you are persistent, you can get the reservations you want. I ended up with two nights at Roosevelt with bath (this was persistence and luck!), two nights at Canyon Lodge in a new lodge room, and two nights at Old Faithful Inn in the Old House without bath. Our favorite location was Roosevelt and our favorite room was the OFI Old House. Canyon was very nice and comfortable but so new and expensive. We preferred the character and charm of Roosevelt and OFI Old House. That said, the location was great at Canyon and I slept really well there. In GTNP, we stayed three nights at Jackson Lake Lodge. I liked being in the northern part of GTNP.
I strategically booked a flight into Bozeman, MT and out of Jackson Hole, WY because I was sure we would love the Tetons most of all. Also, I thought after 9 nights (6 in YSNP & 3 in GTNP), my suburban kids would need a town like Jackson Hole to recover. They didn't -- we enjoyed Jackson Hole, but we all would of preferred to be back in Yellowstone or the Tetons. Jackson Hole has great for catching Pokemon, and the Tetons take your breath away but Yellowstone oozes with beauty, wonder, and magic.
We are a family of four (two boys, 11 & 14). I was hoping this trip would have an impact on my family and especially my tween and teen. Reading posts on this forum, I thought I was too late on taking my boys here. I think my excitement intrigued my kids but they were not very excited, especially my teen. A month or so before our trip approached, I would slip in a few of the things they needed to know ("oh by the way, there is no cell service", "oh and we don't have a bathroom at one of the hotels", "there might be mosquitos", "and we need to get up really, really early to see the wildlife", etc).
We arrived in Bozeman a few hours late because of delayed flight. Picked up groceries and headed to Yellowstone. Stopped at the Roosevelt Arch for pictures. A single pronghorn greeted us at the ranger gate. As we headed towards Mammoth, everyones body language changed and my kids started asking questions. The park was more beautiful than I expected and I could tell from the questions being asked, my kids were captured. I was so glad that I had researched so much before hand so that I could answer a lot of their questions. We turned on the Gypsy Guide and then continued towards Mammoth. At Mammoth, an elk with medium size horns, greeted us as we turned towards Roosevelt. The magic had started and would continue until we exited the park six days later.
I ended up splurging and booking the Yellowstone Association Wildlife Tour. I was deciding between the Wake Up to Wildlife Tour and the YA Wildlife Tour and justified the higher price of the YA tour because the per hour/per person price is actually better. This was a wonderful splurge as this ended up being a highlight of our trip. Our YA guide was Brad. He picked us up on our first morning at Roosevelt at 6 am. He immediately took us to the Slough Creek to see if we could see the Junction Butte Pack. Brad set up two spotting scopes and we were treated to the most amazing views of the pack playing, howling and teasing a bison that then started charging them. It was amazing. :) We were able to get in a couple of bison jams (my 11 year olds hope!), watched mountain goat mom and baby through spotting scope, saw hundreds and hundreds of bison, pronghorn, bald eagles, osprey and osprey nest. When it warmed up we went looking for tracks and scat, skipped rocks and hiked to old kill sites and were able to see an old wolf then bear den. I was nervous about being the new owner of bear spray; Brad gave us the low down. The super bonus of the YA tour is that when you travel through the Lamar Valley, you have special privilege to take bathroom breaks at the flush toilets at Buffalo Ranch. Brad basically prepped us for everything we needed to know about getting around/seeing Yellowstone. It couldn't have been a better start to our trip.
Things I learned--
-- Watch the temperature. The animals are out when it's cool. We would watch the temperature from our rental car and when there was a jump in temp we would change our activity. Getting warm, we would head out to hike/picnic/ice cream/visitor center. Getting cold, we would head out to look for animals.
-- Hold on to your hats! I was glad my hat had a chin strap. My younger son enjoyed taking pictures of all the lost hats in the geyser basins. :(
-- If you need to make a phone call with AT&T, hike Mt. Washburn. It's a gorgeous hike, our family favorite. Beautiful wildflowers and a herd of big horn sheep to greet you at top. Plus, you can call home and say hello because you actually get a signal up there. We had very little service with AT&T (which was great!!). But, it's always nice to say hello to mom and dad.
-- Join the Yellowstone Assoc. It's a great organization and if you donate $35 you get one free gift or $50 and you receive two free gifts. So, if you have someone wanting that cute little bison plush toy, it's a real steal. Plus, you save 10% (or maybe it's 15%) on all your purchases of goodies and groceries in the park shops.
-- Carry your bear spray in your cooler. I was so worried about bear spray after reading certain posts on this forum. Brad, our YA guide, recommend we keep it in our cooler when we weren't using it. Great idea and eased my mind of carrying it through the park.
-- National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole is well worth an hour or two of your time.
-- Having a really big car is nice in Yellowstone. We were upgraded to Ford Expedition -- I was very nervous about being able to pull over off the road in such a huge car, but we never had any problems. I also liked being up high.
-- The 8:30 am ranger led hike on Geyser Hill is great. And use Pam's plan for your perfect geyser day. :)
-- The Gypsy Guide App is great and very informative. All four of us enjoyed it and we were a little sad to say goodbye to our guide when we headed into the Tetons.
-- Part way through the trip, I told my boys I thought we should have brought them here when they were younger. They both said, oh no, we are perfect ages right now.
-- Watching a black bear eat berries
-- Seeing three grizzly bears
-- Beautiful Lamar Valley
-- Beautiful Hayden Valley
-- Bison -- they are just incredible creatures
-- Mother moose and baby walking up towards us on the Cascade Canyon trail in GTNP. Plus seeing two other more distant moose.
-- Wolves howling, playing and bison charging them.
-- Hiking Mt. Washburn and herd of big horn sheep
-- The sweetest little blue bird flying in front of our car and landing on a branch. We think he must have been a mountain blue bird.
-- Meeting many kind people and families
-- Waking up early, getting out/away at peak times, and going out again late afternoon to sunset
-- My kids wanting to wake up early to see wildlife
-- Talking with helpful park rangers and the sweet, friendly Xanterra employees
-- Listening to the violin/piano player in the evening at OFI
-- Watching the stars, wrapped in a blanket waiting for Old Faithful to errupt
-- Bacteria mats - who knew bacteria could be so beautiful
-- Yellow bellied marmots playing in the rocks
-- Seeing 4 of the 5 predictable geysers
-- Laughing with family
-- Rockafeller Preserve in GTNP
-- Our first family picture in Roosevelt arch shows a 14 year old in all his teenage coolness. 12 days later he was the one that reminded me that we needed to get our picture in front of the Jackson Hole square before we catch our flight. In the picture, he is all smiles and his teenage coolness has somehow disappeared. :)
Thank you to all the experts and other contributors on this forum. You really are wonderful.