I was recently at my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Billings, MT. While there, my aunt, who is the quintessential planner and type-A personality, asked my brother, Sam, and I what our plan was for Yellowstone National Park. Sam and I aren’t really planners, so we shrugged and said we would figure it out when we got there. This made her a bit crazy and she immediately got to work planning the perfect, two-day Yellowstone National Park trip for us. Here it is.
Sam owns a fifth wheel RV, which we are traveling in, so when we are looking for accommodation we are looking for campgrounds with at least electric and water hookups. All RV sites in Yellowstone that are first-come-first-served have no amenities, so that wasn’t really an option for us. All of my work is on the computer, so in order to keep traveling I need to have electricity to charge my phone and laptop. When we looked at the full-hookup sites to make a reservation, we realized we should have reserved a site many weeks in advance. Almost everything was full. We were able to get a site at the Fishing Bridge campground, but it was a whopping $54 a night, the most expensive we have encountered so far. We reluctantly purchased it for two nights.
When we arrived, we were disappointed to find out each campsite is only allotted two showers per day. If you take one in the morning, then go on a hike up a mountain and sweat out everything you can drink, when you get back you will have to pay $4.20 per person to shower! That is the most expensive shower I have ever heard of, especially since guests are already paying so much for a room.
Luckily, even though the campground was sub-par, we spent most of our time away from the RV doing all kinds of awesome things.
Beartooth Highway and Lamar Valley
The first day, we entered the park by way of the Beartooth Highway (commonly called the Beartooth Pass). The Beartooth Highway is a winding road that switchbacks up and over the Beartooth Mountains in Montana. It is a bit scary, but the scenery is worth it. Sam drove it towing his fifth wheel, so if you are in a regular car you have nothing to worry about. At the top, in June at least, it is foggy and snow-covered, and skiers camp out right at the peak. Red Lodge, Montana, where you should stop beforehand for breakfast at the famous Red Lodge Cafe, is on one side, and on the other is Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley.
Lamar Valley is where I have seen the majority of wildlife both times I have been to Yellowstone. There are hundreds of buffalo, some antelope, grizzly bears, big horn sheep, coyotes, wolves, and much more. It is a rare spectacle that will remain with you for the rest of your life. To encounter something as big as a buffalo so close that it could charge you and possibly end everything you have worked for is an experience not easily forgotten.
Plan to spend a couple of hours driving this road, as you should and will stop often to get out and add some shots to your Instagram story, or post a selfie to your wall. Though, you probably won’t have service and those things expire 24 hours after you take them, so just enjoy it with your own two eyes. And maybe a DSLR.
Grand Teton National Park
Though not a part of Yellowstone, you might as well see the Tetons while you are so close. Head south through Yellowstone and drive alongside these awe-inspiring mountains with the windows down. They are stunning to see and will definitely win you a couple of photography contests. There isn’t a whole lot to do, just check out the scenery while saying, “Wow!”
If you want to make a day of it, go down to Jackson Hole for some lunch. There is an excellent all-day diner called the Virginian that will cook you up a phenomenal Reuben. Ask for the curly fries.
Mammoth Hot Springs
On the last day, drive out of the park the long way, stopping at Old Faithful (check eruption times online), Prismatic Springs (my favorite), and Mammoth Hot Springs. Old Faithful still had an hour before explosion, so we didn’t stick around. Honestly, it didn’t seem like it would be life changing or anything. We kept driving and only slowed down for a pair of buffalo walking along the road, going with traffic but at a much slower pace.
Our destination was Grand Prismatic Spring, the most beautiful of Yellowstone’s volcanic hot springs. The shallow pools of boiling water are the colors of emerald, jasmine, and ruby. They glow like witch ball and steam with sulfur stink. It would have made for a beautiful photo that I could put right here below its description. As we drove up to the parking lot we saw a line of cars along the road. The lot was full, and so was the roadside for one and a half miles. There was no parking for a big diesel truck like the one we are driving. We had to move on. To this day my only view of these beautiful springs is from the window of a moving car. Maybe one day I will get the opportunity to photograph them.
Finally, we headed on to Mammoth Hot Springs, a town teeming with people as well as elk. They just hang out in the medians eating grass. The elk do, not the people. This is one of the main entrance/exits to the park, so it’s busy. However, once through the small town, the road is clear for miles as it winds down the desert-like hills and through the valleys, taking you away from Yellowstone National Park. From here you are free to explore Montana. I highly recommend checking out Glacier National Park next.
- Lamar Valley
- Artist’s Point
- Old Faithful
- Grand Tetons
- Prismatic Springs
- Mud Springs
Do all of these things and you will feel fulfilled after just two days. Pair the scenery with all the rare wildlife you will see and you will have stories for ages. Make sure you keep your bear mace on your belt!