Yellowstone family trip planning

wsp_scott

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On a 14 hour drive to FL yesterday, my wife and I started talking about driving out west next summer to see my sister in CO and then up to Yellowstone. I am aware of the "big stuff" in the park (Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic, ...) and I have some idea of potential backpacking ideas that I would like to do in the future (Thorofare, Belcher, ...) but my wife is not a backpacker and hates the cold and I don't know much about the park beyond the obvious. So, this is going to be a family/tourist trip to see the highlights of Yellowstone without backpacking. We are thinking about mid-June after kid's school finishes and my wife hates the cold, so that likely rules out a campground as well.

My sister lives outside of Boulder so we would probably drive to the Grand Teton area for a couple days and then up to Yellowstone for 5ish nights. Where would you stay if you were not camping? West Yellowstone? Gardiner? A lodge in the park, I hate spending money, but my wife doesn't mind :)?

My question to you is what should be on our list in Grand Teton, Yellowstone and the surrounding GYE? My kids are going to be 12, 10 and 8 and are generally good hikers, my wife is a reasonably good hiker but not as enthusiastic as I am :) Also, I know there are going to be crowds (hopefully not as bad as mid-August) but that is the way it is. My hope is getting a mile down the trail will thin out most of the people. So what would be some good dayhikes in the 5-6 mile range.

I've already re-read these trip reports https://backcountrypost.com/threads/family-yellowstone-trip-august-23-25-2019.8818/ and https://backcountrypost.com/threads/familys-first-visit-to-yellowstone.9040/ by @swmalone and @WasatchWill and I've read a ton of @scatman's backpacking trips

Short version
1) Where to stay in Grad Teton and Yellowstone if not camping?
2) What to do in Grand Teton and Yellowstone beyond the obvious (Old Faithful, ...)?
3) Anything obvious in the surrounding area (GYE) for a family?

Bonus question: If I wanted to do a fun 2 night backpacking trip with the kids (20 miles max), what would you suggest?

Bonus X2 question: what would you do on the way back to KY if you were going to stop a couple times? Google maps shows 25 hours going though NE or 26 hours going through SD so either way works. My gut reaction is drive the first day to the Black Hills/Rapid City area and then on to Sioux Falls because my wife and I enjoyed those cities/areas 20 years ago.
 

wsp_scott

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A follow up question, would a family trip be better in mid-July vs mid-June? July might make camping feasible for my wife?
 

LarryBoy

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Lodging-wise, anything in Jackson is very pricey. Nothing's cheap in the GYE, but you'll probably have better luck in West Yellowstone/Gardiner/Livingston than in Jackson or Cody. There's also a string of dude ranches up and down the North Fork of the Shoshone, just outside the E gate. They're not any less expensive than hotels in towns, but it's more quiet and relaxed than the chaos of tourist towns.

You could definitely camp in either June or July - though keep in mind that it's prime mosquito season that kind of limits your ability to be outside in the evenings. Many of the National Forest campgrounds surrounding the park have hard-sided unit restrictions in place - no tents or popups, due to grizzly activity. As far as I recall, the campgrounds inside the park itself have no such restrictions.
 

Rockskipper

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MOSKIES! June is the height of the season, even into July. They can ruin a trip if you're not prepared.

As for the parks, I just spent a month in Alta, WY on the west side of the Tetons and it was really nice. Hiking up Teton Canyon is fantastic and no crowds, just locals, and there are some nice places to stay in nearby Driggs much cheaper than Jackson. You can access both NPs from there, just add an hour onto your time frame, but well worth it to get away from everyone. But wherever you stay, I would book it soon. A friend recently stayed in the newly renovated lodge at Mammoth and found it really nice, but with the virus, I wouldn't personally want to stay there, though she said it was really clean and safe. But pricey. But the two parks had record visitation this past season and a lot of stuff is booked even earlier than usual for next year. Livingston's also a great place to stay - I have a fond spot for the town having lived there for awhile. The bear rehab place on top of Bozeman Pass is great if you have kids.

Watch out for Nebraska - you can end up spending too much time there. @b.stark is the guy to ask about that. :)
 

Jackson

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Where would you stay if you were not camping? West Yellowstone? Gardiner? A lodge in the park, I hate spending money, but my wife doesn't mind :)?
Although I do like West Yellowstone, I think I'd rather stay in Gardiner or maybe even somewhere in Paradise Valley. Or there are also places with cabin rentals along Hebgen Lake or in the Madison Valley that are nice too. The Madison Valley would put you 45 minutes or more from the west entrance though, and that may be farther out than you want to be.

Larryboy and Rockskipper covered what I was thinking about camping in June and July. Mosquitos.

Even though I've been to Yellowstone more times than I can count, I have only a little experience hiking inside the park itself because most of those trips were just to see roadside attractions with family. There's a ton of good stuff though. And if you're considering stuff outside of the park, there's also a ton of good stuff, and that's what I'm more familiar with. If you're staying south of the park, check out Brooks Lake and the hike to Jade Lake. To the west, there's good stuff like Targhee Creek, hikes off Beaver Creek Road (Avalanche Lake, Blue Danube, Lightning Lake), and then all the stuff up Gallatin Canyon to the north. Quake Lake is also worth stopping and seeing for a few minutes if you're west of the park. And if you are in the Madison Valley and it's warm, it's worth it to take the drive to Cliff and Wade Lakes and go for a dip.

For the second bonus question, my vote would be to see Devil's Tower, the Black Hills, and the Badlands. With the obligatory Wall Drug stop to make it an official I-90 cross-country drive.
 

Bob

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Some stuff and roads closed in mid June. Either time check on road delay from mammoth to norris and over dunraven before thinking if staying in gardner. That can add hours in travel. West would be a better option then. We always camped at madison with kids. Lone star geyser hike/camp... Easy about 8 Mike round trip.
 

ImNotDedYet

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I'd go mid-July if your wife doesn't like the cold. I was there just before July 4 this year and it was still pretty chilly. It snowed above tree line. Might have been abnormal, but it's possible. Mid July should be better temperature wise.

You may want to consider DuBois, WY to save some money (or get away from a few more people) for your days in Grand Teton. It's a bit of a driver over the pass to get to the park, (there's what appears to be a beautiful lodge near the summit of the pass) but a beautiful drive, may save you some money. If money's not an issue, Jackson's great - or any of the lodges. Jackson Lake Lodge is ridiculous with its views.

Keep in mind Yellowstone is a huge park, the speed limit is low and there will be lots of traffic as well as wildlife jams. If you want to spend a lot of time in Lamar Valley, staying in West Yellowstone will take you a while to get there. Likewise, if you want to visit Yellowstone and the geyser basins, staying in Cooke City will take you a while. There was construction this summer that slowed things up even worse in getting across the park. (getting to Yellowstone Lake from Cooke City required going to Mammoth and South, then East) So plan accordingly - it might be nice to stay in a couple different spots if the family's up to it, so you can explore the park without driving so much.

I would add a drive up Beartooth Pass outside of the NE side of Yellowstone. The drive and views are incredible. If you can't get permits for a backpacking trip in the parks, you could also look to backpack in the Beartooths.
 

scatman

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Okay, let's see what we've got here. You know once you make this trip you'll be hooked! :thumbsup:

First off, I'm not including anything that would put you in a bear management area, because most of those remain closed until mid July. That being said, there ae still some good hikes and backpack trips to do to get your feet wet - both literally and figuratively.

Option 1 - Mallard Lake
Location - Old Faithful

When your wife is watching Old Faithful erupt, and walking around the boardwalks of Upper Geyser Basin, you can escape (kids too maybe?) to a lovely backcountry lake.

It is 3.2 miles to the lake, so a 6.4 mile hike roundtrip. I've stayed at Mallard Lake three times over the years: once in May, once the first week in June, and once in July. The trip in May was on my honeymoon 24 years ago, and we encountered snow for the last half mile or so. The trips in June and July were snow free. The only people that I have seen on this trail were other people who were camping at the lake, but since it is so close to Old faithful, expect to see a few other day hikers out and about. I have seen deer, one bison and marmots on this hike before.

If you are feeling adventurous, head off-trail to Teal Lake where I guarantee that you will see no other people. You'll have to deal with some pickup sticks at first, but then it opens up as you make your way to the slightly eerie lake. When I was there in June, there was some snow on the east end of the lake.
01.jpg

On the way to Teal Lake


Mallard_Lake_Teal_Lake_Option.jpg

Mallard Lake Hike


Option 2 - Ribbon Lake
Location - Canyon

While the Mrs. enjoys the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, or perhaps watching Scatman get mauled by a bear :D, you can escape once again to a backcountry lake.

This is a 2.9 mile hike that is super easy with various return options available to you. This is a more popular trail than Mallard Lake, so don't be surprised to see other folks out on the trail with you. Along the way, you will pass Clear Lake and a small thermal area. On your return from the lake, you can head south from the lake and pick up the Wapiti Lake Trail and return to the trailhead, or return the way you came, up until Lily Pad Pond, then turn north. When you reach the Point Sublime Trail, head west past Artist Point and back to your vehicle. You can expect to see a lot of people once you reach Artist Point and beyond.

I've seen many bison along this route, even herds along the Wapiti Lake Trail
Ribbon_Lake.jpg

Ribbon Lake Hike


Option 3 - Grebe and/or Wolf Lakes
Location - Trailheads are on the north side of the road between Norris and Canyon

These two lakes are part of the Chain of Lakes that include Ice Lake and Cascade Lake. Depending on the hike, you are looking at 6 to 7 miles round trip. If you choose Wolf Lake, you will get to pass Little Gibbon Falls that is worth a look. You will also have to cross the Gibbon River which might be tricky in June. It is rather small at this point and you can usually find a nice log to work your way across on. The Grebe Lake Trail is rather uneventful, but you do get an occasional view of Observation Peak and the Washburn Range on your way to the lake.

02.jpg

The crossing of the Gibbon River near Wolf Lake

There could be some pockets of snow left in mid June, but not enough to keep you from going in. I'd expect some marshy trail conditions at points, but not too bad. July, you'll have no problems.

These lakes also would meet your two night backpacking criteria. Camp at one of the sites along one of the lakes and then the next day visit whichever lake you are not camping at, or if July, hike to the top of Observation Peak.

I've seen elk, coyotes and deer, plus a pair of nesting swans at Grebe Lake when I was there.

Grebe_and_Wolf_Lakes.jpg

Grebe Lake and Wolf Lake Hikes


Option 4 - Grizzly Lake
Location - West side of the road between Norris and Mammoth

Just up and over the ridge for this four mile round trip hike. Shouldn't be a problem in June or July.

I have not seen any wildlife along this route, but I did hike to Grizzly Lake from the north via the Mount Holmes Trailhead, and I saw elk, bison, deer, and a coyote, for what that is worth. You could choose that route also, but it is quite a bit longer - maybe 8-9(?) miles roundtrip.

Grizzly_Lake.jpg

Grizzly Lake Hike


Option 5 - Delacy Creek to Shoshone Lake
Location - east side of the road between Old Faithful and West Thumb

Hike three miles along the beautiful De Lacy Creek Meadows down to Shoshone Lake. Possibility of some marshy conditions along the trail in June, but when I hiked it in June, I had no problems other than it rained on me. This could fulfill your two night backpacking criteria too, with an additional 1.1 miles to campsite 8S3. On your second day, you could do a day hike up tp Pocket Lake (there is a social trail to the lake) and back.

I didn't see any wildlife when I did this hike.

De_Lacy_Creek_Trail_to_Shoshone_Lake.jpg

De Lacy Creek Trail to Shoshone Lake



Two night Backpacking Trip - Black Canyon of the Yellowstone
Location - north side of the road between Mammoth and Tower Junction

All of the above day hikes can be turned into overnight stays at nearby campsites. Of course, the two I mentioned have more options for a second day, but they all are worth staying overnight, and you can always just hang around the general area of your campsite and explore for the second day. Again, if you are willing to go off-trail a lot more opens up to you.

My recommendation for a two night stay though would be the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone. June is the perfect month for this hike, before it gets to hot. I'd head in at the Hellroaring Trailhead and exit at the Blacktail Deer Trailhead 16.5 miles later, assuming that you could have your wife drop you off at the beginning and pick you up at the end. There are plenty of campsites along the route to stay overnight at. You would have to head up Hellroaring Creek a bit to get to the bridge that crosses the creek. There is a ford lower down, that would lower your mileage, but Hellroaring won't be fordable in June would be my guess. It comes by its name honestly. :) Just a wonderful backpacking trip along the Yellowstone River. Oh, and I almost forgot, you get to cross two suspension bridges over the Yellowstone River on this one.

I have seen elk, deer, marmots and a black bear along this route and if you are willing to extend up Hellroaring Creek to campsite 2H8, there are numerous dropped elk antlers. Too many to count in the general area when I was last there.

Hellroaring_Creek_Trailhead_to_Blacktail_Deer_Trailhead.jpg

Black Canyon of the Yellowstone from Hellroaring Creek Trailhead to Blacktail Deer Trailhead

Well, that should get you started. Have a great trip no matter what you end up doing. If you have any further questions, just reach out.
 
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kwc

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@scatman needs to write a Yellowstone guidebook!

We hiked the Delacy Creek to Shoshone Lake in late July 2019. One person passed us on the trail and we saw no one else on the trail or at the lake. It was a nice day hike but we did not see any wildlife along the way.
 

Bob

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@scatman needs to write a Yellowstone guidebook!

We hiked the Delacy Creek to Shoshone Lake in late July 2019. One person passed us on the trail and we saw no one else on the trail or at the lake. It was a nice day hike but we did not see any wildlife along the way.
Usually a busy trail. Fisherman on it early, lots of day hikers... You lucked out
 

Outdoor_Fool

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Just a few things to add to the great suggestions so far. Since your wife likes to spend money, if it's not too late, book a night at the Old Faithful Inn. Yes, it's overpriced and in the heart of touristy stuff, but to me, it is one of the coolest buildings anywhere. At this time of year, you will pay dearly for any accommodations near the park. I have spent a couple nights there over the years and the rooms are smallish, sometimes too warm/cold, but it is an experience. The food there is good also. My kids thought it was pretty cool overall, which was the point. If you don't stay there, drop in while you're waiting for Old Faithful to do its thing.

Another option is the Headwaters Lodge at the start of the Grassy Lake Road, a couple miles south of Yellowstone Park. Again, pricey, but a nice restaurant, a great location, and they offer horse rides (and I believe, raft trips on the upper Snake R). No wifi so you can escape fully.

The Togwotee Mountain Lodge on US 26 between Moran Jct and Dubois, WY is a nice locale also. Comfortable rooms and a great location. The one time I ate there, the food was bleh but it was at the very end of the season, so they may have been running on canned food for everything. A few miles closer to Moran Jct is the Hatchet Resort. I've never stayed there but the food tends toward really good. It has that built-in-the-40's vibe, which I like.

I would suggest a day hike from the Lamar River TH to at least Cache Creek. It's about 3.5 miles each way, with no super steep sections. Just wide open sage brush with great views. Always a chance to see bison, wolves, grizzlies, etc along the way. A great mountain hike starts at the Pebble Creek CG and heads up valley. Steep at the start but that doesn't last too long. Lots of great views along the way. By July, the creek is usually crossable and the trail is dry.

I'd also recommend July. The bison rut starts in June but doesn't really get going until July, which is a great time to be there. The northern herd will be concentrated in the Lamar Valley so you can see around 3,000 bison stretched out all over Lamar Valley. This also means wolves and usually grizzlies in the vicinity also.

You can rent bear spray at Canyon Village for pretty cheap or since you're driving, buy it at home. Just do not hike/backpack YNP without it.
 

Bob

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Scat .... did I miss you posting from near Canyon to Cascade lakes west of the highway? Thats a decent easy hike........
 

scatman

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Scat .... did I miss you posting from near Canyon to Cascade lakes west of the highway? Thats a decent easy hike........

Yeah, Cascade Lake is a good day hike too. I probably should have included it. It does see a lot of foot traffic though, more than Grebe or Wolf I think. On the plus side though, occasionally grizzlies hang out near Cascade which would cancel out the extra people, if you were lucky enough to see one.
 

wsp_scott

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Just back from kayaking in the Everglades and I have a lot of reading to do.

thanks everyone for the suggestions, I'm sure there will be more questions coming your way :)
 

Rockskipper

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Second what @Outdoor_Fool says about the Old Faithful Lodge. If you can't get in there, try for a nearby cabin. Well worth the money for the experience. I couldn't book the lodge (pets) but stayed in a cabin and hung out at the lodge, where a couple of employees told me some wild stories about hauntings there, which was fun.
 

Artemus

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Just back from kayaking in the Everglades and I have a lot of reading to do.

thanks everyone for the suggestions, I'm sure there will be more questions coming your way :)
Now that is a trip report I will look forward to. One of my favorite adventures was a canoe trip in the mangrove swamps in the park!
 
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SteveR

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Lots of great info from those with way more Yellowstone cred than I, but I'm going to offer up some advice from a different perspective.
The sum total of my Yellowstone experience was a whirlwind day and a half visit, on our way home from a Colorado-Tetons road trip. On a dawn to dusk day 1, we visited lower, midway and upper basins. Amazing! And at least in mid-September 2011, it was easy to escape the hordes and see a multitude of features beyond the main tourist attractions. Day 2- up early again as we needed to get home to Alberta that day- with walks at Artist Paintpots, Norris basin and Mammoth on our way north out of the park. Not enough time!
So sure- escape to the more wild side of Yellowstone- but in my opinion it would be a mistake to not also take in what has made the park world famous, or to simply see Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic, and call it done.
 

Jackson

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So sure- escape to the more wild side of Yellowstone- but in my opinion it would be a mistake to not also take in what has made the park world famous, or to simply see Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic, and call it done.
Great advice. A lot of us on here are probably a bit jaded with regard to the popular places in Yellowstone, but those attractions are popular for a reason. Totally worthwhile if you've never been
 

Outdoor_Fool

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@SteveR Thanks for mentioning this. One of the spots I meant to mention was Norris Geyser Basin. I finally walked that a couple summers ago and it quickly became my favorite drive-to geyser basin in the park.
 
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