Just to recap, our journey westward was on a time crunch — we needed to get to Washington State in time for the wheat harvest which was coming early that year due to heat waves. At this point in our journey, we had made it to Wyoming and the route that day was to see as much as we could see while passing through the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. It was a Monday following the 4th of July week-end.
My friend, Jen, encouraged me to see the Grand Tetons, so this dictated our decision to enter Yellowstone thru the southern entrance. As we got to the gate for the Grand Tetons, one good decision we made was to purchase a National Parks Annual Pass. We paid $80 for access to any National Park within the United States and it was money well spent, because we would go on to use this pass to cover our admission to not only the Grand Tetons, but also Yellowstone National Park, Mt. St. Helens National Park, Lewis and Clark National Park, The Redwoods, The Grand Canyon National Park, and the Carlsbad Caverns National Park (I feel like I’m missing one in this list — just know it came in handy a lot!) The pass is good for an entire year and covers admission fees for the entire family and your vehicle. Note: If you have a 4th Grader in the family, you can get a free annual pass!
You can follow details on the National Park’s website if you want to secure the pass before you travel, but we just purchased ours at the park’s entrance. Remember that with the annual pass, you can also get a discount on gift shop purchases which adds to your savings. And if you are over the age of 62, you can get a smoke’n good deal on this pass!
One thing we noticed right away was the cooler air and how FRESH the air smelled! The clouds hung low clinging to the mountains as we made our gradual climb that morning.
We stopped in at Jenny Lake at the Grand Tetons and the water was beautiful and clear! (I’ll have to find my photo of us at the lake and will add it to this posting when I find where I archived it.)
The mountains jutted up towards the heavens and literally we stood in awe of how majestic they appeared.
Yellowstone was gorgeous! The scenery just went on and on… until your eyes landed on all the people. Granted it was a holiday week-end, but folks, it was crazy busy with bumper-to-bumper traffic often and fighting crowds of people just kills any outdoor enjoyment for me personally. In fact, we quickly learned that if you’re towing a RV, you can’t get off on any of the side roads to visit some of the main attractions which was a bit of a bummer.
Tip: If you want to explore Yellowstone, plan to stay for a few days and have a spot where you can unhook from your travel trailer so you can see the sights that are often found on side-roads.
We were surprised to learn that you have to have a permit to put your own kayak into any body of water within Yellowstone AND you have to have your kayaks inspected. I guess there’s some sort of weed that can be brought in on kayaks that they don’t want to propagate so this is a safe guard they take. We knew we weren’t going to take our kayaks down because I had done some research in advance and knew that we didn’t want to purchase the permit for the boys to fish when we really didn’t have a whole lot of time to see the sights.
We crossed the Continental Divide three separate times while making our way from the south entrance to Yellowstone to the north entrance of Yellowstone. It provided a great learning opportunity for the kids!
We went to go see Old Faithful, but it was so crowded that there wasn’t a single place to park! All the RV parking spots were taken with vehicles that were not RVs nor towing! Big bummer as my husband had to circle and wait for us to see when Old Faithful would do her thing. We decided that almost an hour-and-half wait wasn’t worth it given the crowds and parking situation, so we opted to keep moving through the park as we were feeling the time crunch to get to Washington State. It was shortly after leaving the Visitor’s Center at Yellowstone that we hit a major delay. We sat in crawling stop-and-go traffic only to discover people were enthralled with a small herd of buffalo. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen buffalo before, but I was like, “Really people?” An hour delay for this?!
We would later laugh about how we saw more natural wild life in Washington State than in Yellowstone! But again, that may not be a fair assessment, because we only went through Yellowstone in a day.
One word of advice I’d offer… the way thru the north area of Yellowstone has some pretty steep drop-offs at spots and might be a little bit nerve racking if you’re a new driver in a RV. Even my husband was leery as we made our way through some narrow passages along a cliff side overhang.
We also hit an area of construction. Here’s another tip… If they mention there’s construction in an area, avoid it. Seriously — find an alternate route because you will be c-r-a-w-l-i-n-g at a snails pace AND your rig will get covered in dust, gravel and grime! Ugh!
We did see some elk on the way out of the north entrance of the park. They also were really tame paying no notice to the people surrounding them.
When we left Yellowstone, we found the next town and stopped for dinner. We got out of the car and were SHOCKED at how dirty it had become from going thru the construction area in Yellowstone!
Feeling the urge to get as far as we could in Montana, we aimed our sights for Missoula, Montana and planned to roll into a Walmart parking lot around midnight to break our journey. When we arrived, we were surprised to find the whole back side of the parking lot lined with RVers tucked in for the night! We managed to find a spot towards the back of the lot and as we were moving the kids from the car to the RV, there was a truck that came through the parking lot with two guys yelling profanity to the RVers (and us), “This isn’t a F***ing RV Campground!” Over and over they yelled this at the top of their lungs directed towards the parked RVs. They past by yelling their rant and went to make another loop. My husband and I looked at each other and immediately decided to move on from that location. We didn’t need a drunk’n heckler and our safety sensors were tingling telling us to get out of there! So we loaded up the kids (it was about midnight mind you) and we got back on the freeway.
We used our app to try and find a spot to overnight and the first rest stop we came across was dark and unlit. We opted to continue to keep driving. It was about 1:30 am in the morning when we came upon the next rest stop (and last rest stop before heading over the pass). Thankfully, it was well lit and we pulled in next to a semi and helped get the kids to the RV where everyone immediately conked out after a very long day. They were such troopers! We didn’t sleep long as the road noise was pretty loud from the nearby freeway, causing my husband and I to stir and wake around 6 am. We got back on the road pressing on towards our destination and eager to cross into Washington State stopping to eat some breakfast after we got over the pass.
In summary, I think my husband and I decided that in order to really do Yellowstone justice, we needed to NOT visit on a holiday week-end and we needed to plan to stay for at least three days so we could unhook and explore.
I do have to admit that the seismic activity in the area is disconcerting knowing that this was at one time a very active volcano. I did love it for the educational aspect as we would go on to visit another volcano in Washington (Mt St Helens), so this was a great opportunity for the kids to see two very different types of volcanos. I will post about Mt. St. Helens at a later date, but for now, suffice to say, I am glad we saw the Grand Tetons, but Yellowstone was a bit of a bust and let down on a number of levels. Probably poor planning and expectations that were over-inflated on our part. Had we not been pressed for time and visiting at a time of year that wasn’t peak season, this could have been a great opportunity to explore and learn more about volcanos and geology. It’s on our list to try again at a later date when time allows.
5 Kids and a RV recommendations are based on personal experience and do not represent the business, agency, or not-for-profit we feature. We share our experiences in an effort to inspire parents to engage and explore with their children. As always, whenever trying something new, please use your own good judgement in what best suits the needs of your family to keep everyone safe while having fun.
5 Kids and a RV: “Let’s go learn something today.”