Planning a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, the “Cowboy State,” can offer a range of activities. Explorers can try tough outdoor hiking, camping, horseback riding or even white water rafting. The tenderfoots of the group can try an easier route with a stay at a rustic lodge or a four star hotel with guided tours. Whatever the plan of choice, the experience will be an adventure.
Discover Yellowstone — roughing it or a plush hotel?
People can do the craziest things when they are unleashed into the wild. They can live without showers and toothpaste for days. They can wake up with a bison five feet from their tent and giggle about it. Even stranger, they can eat disgusting dehydrated pasta dishes and be proud of it.
Yellowstone is the first national park in the United States. Presidents like Roosevelt, Harding and Carter have been distinguished guests of the park. But today, the almighty Grizzly bear is the king. The absence of the real world — cell phone service, internet, hot water, a mirror and even electricity is “roughing it” to most people. Some prefer to endure this survival test of camping in the outdoors, while others choose an easier route.
Thank goodness Yellowstone National Park has the Lake Yellowstone Hotel – it is a historic, beautiful building with a view of the lake and plenty of hiking trails. However, like all the lodging in Yellowstone, it does not have reliable cell phone service, internet, TV or air conditioning. But it does have a great bar and a wonderful string quartet for soothing comfort.
Whether you visit for a long weekend or a 10-day trip, planning is crucial in exploring this vast wilderness.
Start your adventure at the popular Jackson Hole. It is the ritzy place in Wyoming — the home to celebrities like Harrison Ford and Sandra Bullock. It is hard to resist one last shopping trip with a stop to Starbucks before going into the park. Remember, Yellowstone is not Disneyland. The animals are real and they are wild. To be safe and have the time of your life, follow these important guidelines:
1. Prepare to be unplugged.
Cell phone signals and internet connections are scarce in the park. Teens will suffer from technology withdrawal. Before the trip make hard copies or cell phone screen shots of important maps and information because your GPS may not work in the park.
2. Plan to arrive in Yellowstone early in the day.
Avoid driving and/or walking at night. The animals rule the land — you are the visitor. Some roads close at night and the animals may roam the streets at night. It can be scary dangerous.
3. Gas up your vehicle before you enter the park.
Scenic stops and animal sightings can cause long traffic jams. Take note that the Fishing Village has a convenient auto repair shop.
4. Absolutely, positively invest in walkie-talkies.
Without cell phone service, they will be your only means of communication. And bring extra batteries. Bring a power strip with outlets to plug into your vehicle to keep cameras and electronics charged.
5. Be Bear Aware!
Visit the park ranger station when you arrive in Yellowstone. If you have die-hard campers, back-country trails and sites are available with a permit from the ranger station. Ask questions and get updates on weather conditions and animal activity. View the visitor’s video for important information about your visit.
6. Yellowstone is a big loop with “Villages” and trails.
Most villages have lodging, camping, a store, gas station and trails galore. Each village has its own personality. Roosevelt has cabins and a lodge with horseback riding. The Lake has the grand Lake Yellowstone Hotel and a rustic lodge to boot with boat rentals – a great way to finish the journey.
7. Temperatures and weather can change rapidly.
Always carry rain gear because storms can zip along dumping hail or rain without notice. Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots and wool socks from REI or Walmart are an absolute necessity. Merrell is a sturdy boot that is popular with hikers. Before the trip, wear them for a few weeks to avoid blisters and discomfort.
Getting wet in the elements of Yellowstone can ruin your day. Consecutive rain days while camping can cripple your adventure and your attitude. Rain is a sure-fire way to “weed out the weak” and send them packing to a lodge.
Hiking pants that are lightweight, baggy and with pockets are a good investment. You can hike, go out to eat and even sleep in these versatile garments. The best hiking pants zipper down as a pair of shorts.
Fleece is your friend. A North Face fleece jacket with a hood will keep you warm and snug in the mountains. The hood is especially beneficial for sleeping — it keeps your head warm.
The Yellowstone Fact Sheet lists the park in a high elevation area with 11,358 ft. as the highest point at Eagle Peak. Pace yourself on hikes, bring chapstick for dry lips and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
Yellowstone is a must see for anyone that lives or visits America. However, it is not just a walk in the park — it is an adventure that needs intelligent planning and decision-making for safety and enjoyment.