Experiencing Yellowstone National Park

When Damien and I traveled out here five years ago we drove through Yellowstone, making one stop at the The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, in our drive from Livingston, Montana down to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

This trip the kids and I have taken two "full day" (12 hours by the time we returned back home) day trips down to Yellowstone.

For years the kids, Laurent especially, have watched PBS documentary type nature programs about Yellowstone. The history, geology, and ecology of Yellowstone have been part of their education and studies. And so to actually be in this place has been pretty special.

Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces

I've traveled through quite a few Canadian and American National Parks, both as a child and an adult. Yellowstone is jaw-dropper for sure.

We were blessed with two picture perfect days of exploring, and in the course of those two days (we broke it up by going on two different weeks) we visited the following Yellowstone attractions:

  • Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces
  • Norris Geyser Basin
  • Midway Geyser Basin (Grand Prismatic Spring)
  • Old Faithful
  • Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (Artist Point)
  • Boiling/Gardner River swimming hole (not on the official Yellowstone map)

Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces

We've seen a lot of mountains and done a ton of hiking and my purpose wasn't to show the kids Yellowstone on foot, or even try to find wild animals. I wanted to experience the geothermal features of the park because we've had so little experience with those.

Even though I told the kids, "we're not stopping to take pictures of bison", we stopped to take pictures of bison. This picture though was taken while driving (slowly). Driving slowly happens a lot in Yellowstone.

We did the "see Yellowstone from a car" tour. It's not the way we often explore places - on foot and off the beaten track - but it was a good option for our needs.

Of course, many (many) other people feel the same way. And so driving through Yellowstone and stopping at its attractions requires patience. On our first morning into the park we tuned into the park's AM visitor information radio frequency. We learned what to do if we encountered an aggressive grizzly and we were told when visiting Yellowstone it's best to "pack your patience" along with your gear, food, etc.

That became my go-to phrase for the two days of driving, waiting in traffic, walking on busy boardwalks and just generally being surrounded by many people. We did the fast walking "we came, we saw, we photographed" two day tour of Yellowstone. If I was to do this with little kids I would approach it totally different. Going one or two places in one day and meandering at those places.

My favorite place was the Boiling/Gardner River swimming hole (technically, it's more soaking than swimming). A couple people recommended this spot to me and I'm so glad we went!

I'll let you watch this TravelingMel video to learn more about it; but basically, it's a place on the Gardner river, very near the North Entrance of the park, where a hot river meets the cold water, producing a hotspot in the otherwise frigid mountain river. It was amazing.

If you go, keep following the path all the way to the end where the park has constructed stone steps to enter the water. We didn't see that part when we first arrived and got into the water on a muddy bank, which was fine, but slippery and dirty getting out.

There were at least one hundred people at the time we were there but this was the least populated spot on our trip. And the most relaxing.

We visited Old Faithful twice. The first day we went we watched the eruption from Observation Point, which is a one mile hike up the hill behind the geyser. The view was meh and all of us were underwhelmed by the experience. So we returned on our second day and watched from the benches, with all the other people. We had a front row view and we were not disappointed. For your first time I recommend the boardwalk view.

The Grand Prismatic Spring at Midway Geyser Basin was probably the most awe-inspiring hot spring we saw. And Excelsior Hot Spring was also stunning.

I'm guessing the best view of Grand Prismatic Spring is from Fairy Falls trail but the access to the trail was blocked, plus we were on the speed tour and didn't have a lot of time for hiking that day.

We viewed the Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone from Artist Point, with a kajillion other people.

It was a beautiful view but the swarm of people around you takes a little bit away from the experience. But they have every right to be there also. Thank goodness I "packed my patience". Ha!

Norris Geyser Basin was beautiful and well worth the stop, even though we walked more than a mile just to get into the parking lot. (The parking lot was full so we parked at a pull out along the road and then hiked in.)

There is so much more than could be said about Yellowstone but I'm sure you've heard it all before as Yellowstone is the oldest and perhaps most iconic National Park in the US. For us, and the approximately other 4 million other people who visit the park each year, it was completely worth the trip (and the traffic).

If you want to go hiking I can recommend Bunsen Peak, at the north end of the park.

If you go:

If you plan to visit Yellowstone, especially with children, I recommend you visit Traveling Mel's Yellowstone Trips for trip reports and recommended activities. Mel also has a First Time Trip Guide to Yellowstone and Grand Teton NPs ebook and does Vacation Coaching if you need help planning an itinerary. Mel helped me out with my planning as I wanted to make the most of our time in the park.

PS. I've started to notice spots on my photos which means I have dust in the camera body, probably stuck on the sensor. Until I can remedy that problem I apologize for the blight on some of my photos.

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  • Lisa

    Lisa on July 21, 2016, 5:12 p.m.

    Hey Renee, gorgeous photos and I love the "pack your patience" advice. When we were in Yellowstone 3 years ago, doing the "car tour" as well, I found the number of people a bit overwhelming but like you, realized they had as much right to be there as we did. We all want to see it! It kinda felt like Disneyland, though, where everyone was so happy and in such a good mood that it was pretty easy to be patient.

    I'm wondering, do you have any post about your camera and taking photos? I really want to get a better camera and learn a bit more about photography for use on my blog, etc. I admire your photos and Heather's so much! I feel like I get the composition part down and my pictures are pretty, but I'd love to learn just a bit more about it and use something other than my iPhone or cheap Canon. If you have a post about this, can you tell me how to find it? Thanks!



    • renee

      renee on July 21, 2016, 6:14 p.m.

      Hi Lisa,

      I've answered the camera question on my (mostly) neglected Frequently Asked Questions page (but the camera information there is up to date). 

      A few more specifics about the photos in this post and my photography in general:

      For landscape shots with blue sky (in certain kinds of lighting, which I can't explain easily here) I use a polarizer to deeper the blue of the sky and minimize the reflections on water etc. 

      The Mammoth Springs & Norris Basin photos in this post were taken with a polarizer. The sky was naturally amazing in all the other shots. Actually the sky has been amazing the whole time we've been here. 

      (Also, a lot of the photos from this hike were taken with a polarizer.)

      Notes in general:

      I almost always use Aperature mode, around the f/4. Unless I switch to my other lens and then I usually shoot at 2.8. I use Manual mode when I'm not happy with Aperature (when aperature doesn't give me enough control, Aperature mode only let's me control the aperature size, not shutter speed). And the only time I use the "automatic mode" is when I hand the camera to someone else to take a picture.  I almost always shoot at 200 ISO I take a lot of photos, usually a few shots of the same scene to get the best one.  I take all my photos in a raw format and I edit every single photo you see on the blog or anywhere. I have a very specific photographic workflow, which, for me, is part of producing good photos.

      ​My post-processing workflow

      I use Coral Aftershot Pro as my processing tool. I've been using it for years, I suppose it's like photoshop, I don't for sure. Damien selected it as the software we'd use for its functions and price. It was much cheaper at the time we bought it than the software with similar tools.

      I don't add any "filters" or presets to my photos but I check the white balance on each photo, I tweak the exposure (lightening or darkening as needed), I adjust the "black" level, contrast and vibrance. Not significantly, but I pay attention to these details on every photo. 

      Because I take so many photos and I touch each and every one I spend a lot of time editing photos, especially on a trip like this where I come home from a day at Yellowstone with 300 photos to download to my computer. 

      I delete many photos, edit all the ones I keep, export my favorites or most relevant ones for the posts I write. I also keyword all my photos so I can easily search and find photos for the many purposes we use them for: Damien's projects, kid projects (ie: Laurent will ask me to take a shot of something he intends to paint), blog "illustrations".

      Taking the actual photo is a small part of my photographic workflow. 

      Because I didn't have time to keep up with this on the trail, I am still editing and keywording the photos from our AT thru-hike.



      • Lisa

        Lisa on July 21, 2016, 7:05 p.m.

        Wow! Thanks for that detailed reply! I am going to copy and paste it into a document so I can learn from it. I feel like I need to take a "internet photos for dummies" class. :) This will be a big help.


  • Christi {Jealous Hands}

    Christi {Jealous Hands} on July 22, 2016, 10:38 a.m.

    Thank you for sharing, Renee!  This is a dream trip for us, and we have high hopes of going 2 years from now in the summer of 2018.


  • Leah

    Leah on July 22, 2016, 11:20 a.m.

    We went to Yellowstone a few years ago in May, before school let out, and it was awesome. The downside was that some things weren't open or available since it was the off-season, but the upside was very few people. The weather was perfect...just cool enough for a light jacket.


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