After our Vermont/New York/Ohio adventures, we made the decision to head through the Heartland, towards Yellowstone once again. Why visit someplace we’ve already been? Well…so many reasons really. The fact that we have a close friend, who happens to be a Park Ranger in Yellowstone is a big part of wanting to return. Also, our family has roots here, and fond memories of past vacations makes us want to return and relive those with our children. I think yet another reason we return to the West so often, and especially Wyoming, is simply the lure of the mountain scenery, cooler temperatures, and truly magnificent opportunities for outside recreation and learning.
We were fortunate to be able to stay with Pete (our favorite ranger) for as long as we wished. With his flexibility (and ours), we loosely committed to anywhere from 2 – 5 weeks. We figured this would give us ample to time revisit any attractions or activities we have enjoyed in the past, and also give us opportunities for new experiences. This flexibility with time is truly a gift, and one that we don’t take lightly!
Of course, amidst COVID-19, things were different this summer in Yellowstone. The Boiling River, our kids’ favorite Yellowstone experience, was closed (due to social distancing guidelines), as were many of the park’s lodges, post offices, and Visitor Centers (luckily, interpretive rangers are still answering questions outside and helping with other park needs). When we arrived, only the Xanterra-run campgrounds were open, which meant that many of the park-operated smaller campgrounds were also closed, so some campers were finding that they had to base-camp in West Yellowstone, Gardiner, and Cody, and commute into the park everyday. Also, tour buses were noticeably fewer (which honestly is fine with us), though the park traffic seemed heavier. Jason’s theory was that because Wyoming COVID cases were fewer than the West and East coasts, more travelers opted for places like Yellowstone to vacation.
Despite all of these changes to the park, we still had amazing experiences. Being naturally crowd-evasive worked well for us. We strategically visited busy places during early or late hours. We avoided known busy attractions. We took some new hiking trails and had open waters when we kayaked. And when we hiked fairly busy trails, we wore masks and gave wide berth to other hikers. It’s pretty important to us to ensure we all stay healthy and similarly, keep those around us healthy as well. 🙂
Some of our Yellowstone adventures were things we’ve done or seen in the past, but we also had our share of new adventures too. Repeat adventures included: visiting Old Faithful (this time we viewed it in the dark so we could simultaneously see the Neowise comet), hiking up to Observation Peak and spending the night backcounty with Pete, walking the Norris Geyser Basin boardwalk (done early in the morning, which was beautiful and peaceful), venturing out of the park to the Beartooth Mountains (though this time we overnighted with Pete and Lilou at Island Lake), and touring the Mud Volcano area in Yellowstone.
Our new adventures were equally amazing. I think one of our favorites was an epic kayak journey across Lewis Lake. We ended up beaching the kayaks at a spot where warmed thermal waters were seeping out of the ground into Lewis Lake. The kids enjoyed making a “foot spa” for an hour and we had a picnic while enjoying the scenery and solitude before direct-crossing the wind-whipped lake back to the launch site. We so want to make this a part of our next trip to Yellowstone, maybe with a couple of canoes so we can backcountry camp on Shoshoni Lake.
Much to the kids’ dismay, we also took a fair number of hikes. We really tried not to hike everyday (things with tweenagers are sometimes all about compromise!), but really seeing the park means getting off the roads and into the meadows, mountains, and along shorelines. Some new-to-us trails this time included Ribbon Lake, Ice Lake, Mary Mountain, Natural Bridge (which was perfect at 8 am…we had the trail to ourselves!), and a hike with our new friends, the Powells, off-trail in the Cascade Canyon area. Jason and I loved getting away from the crowds, and we were able to view some amazing scenery.
When our visit was nearing the end, we were definitely surprised to figure out that we had indeed stayed a full 5 weeks. The kids actually wanted to stay into the winter season, which in Canyon Village means travel is relegated to snowmobiles, skis, and snowshoes…truly not for the faint at heart! 🙂 Time does fly when you’re having fun!
As I’m sitting here, finishing this post and wracking my brain for a clever title (do I use Yellowstone Part 2, Where the Buffalo Roam, The Splendor to Remember?), I’m reminded that sometimes there aren’t words to adequately describe experiences, though we can certainly try!