What a year 2017 turned out to be. Last summer was pretty hectic with our news of being pregnant, travel plans to Seattle and the Olympic Northwest, a road trip from New Jersey to Texas and then another trip from Texas to Banff, Canada. (Blogs coming soon!)
One of the highlights for us was that we were lucky enough to visit Yellowstone National Park twice in one year; first in the winter for our annual family trip including an epic snow mobile excursion and then again in the early fall on the way home from Canada. Both trips were epic and so very different, even in the fall with the massive wildfires up north that had started a few weeks before we arrived pushing smoke in from all angles, and spanned 7 states on the west coast.
Yellowstone National Park was the very first National Park in the United States, it is 3,500 sq miles of amazing wilderness spanning across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
Distance from Austin, TX: 1,492 miles
Last winter, which feels like forever ago already, we took our annual winter road trip. The family chose Big Sky, Montana settling down in a beautiful AirBnB mountain lodge style home overlooking the mountain landscape. Not far down the road was the town of West Yellowstone and just past that was the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Our plan was to stay with family in Big Sky and then road trip home with a quick trip over to Rocky Mountain in Colorado and then south to Austin. Following a comedy of errors that each family member experienced trying to actually get to Big Sky, between avalanche blockades by Jackson Hole, unforeseen hospital overnights, and hotel delays… we slowly each made our way to Big Sky and made the very best of our short lived time together.
Yellowstone Park was the very first National Park in the United States that spans 3 states, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The active volcano creates a stunning array of amazing geothermal features including the famous Old Faithful Geyer, which erupts about every hour, the beautiful blues of Biscuit Basin, and the endless steaming Paint Pots. Not to mention of course sighting some of the most amazing animals in the US including wild bison, wolves and elk. Ps. Elk are noisy and soon annoying when you’re trying to sleep in a tent.
Highlights from the Winter trip into Yellowstone!
Snowmobiling Yellowstone in the Winter
We chose Back Country Adventures as our guide and they were fantastic! They provided all the gear we needed, suits, gloves, helmets, etc. I’m usually up for the challenge but opted to ride on the back of Tre’s snow mobile so I could snap photos. Ok honestly, also, after a scary almost-threw-myself-over-the-cliff-4×4-excursion in Big Bend a few years ago I’m still nervous about driving myself on any kind of beast machine.
The best part about the snow mobile trip was by far the fact of how alone you feel in the park. All roads are closed in the winter and the only way in/out is by snow machine or guided tours. Our tour guide helped show us Biscuit Basin, Old Faithful and the overlooks at Fountain Paint Pot. The trip took about 8 hours and round trip about 60 miles. There were times in total white out conditions where you felt like you were on the Star Wars planet Hoth, and other times you were surrounded by gorgeous blue skies and sunshine. We saw all kinds of wildlife including elks in the rivers, foxes, tons of bison, a downed elk the wolves had taken the night before, and plenty of ducks and birds.
The Old Faithful Inn, visitors center, boardwalk and viewing area are a must while in the park. the geyser goes off about every hour and by the time we were ready the entire parking lot was filled with snow machines and people gathered all around.
There is wifi at the Old Faithful Inn and some very mediocre food if you forgot a packed lunch. That is also where you can rent cross country skis and other gear for more winter adventures.
Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center:
Being mostly totally terrified of encountering a wild wolf or grizzly bear… or any bear for that matter, the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center was a very educational stop on the way to Yellowstone. I would say that they did, on some level, ease my mind about these fearful animals. The centers educators hold lectures educating the visitors about the types of bears roaming Yellowstone and surrounding areas, as well as what to do if you encounter a bear, how to prevent an attack, and how to be mindful of yourself and belongings while in bear country. There was also a museum on site and super cute gift shop with giant oversized bear chair!
Every animal of the wild life park is cared for and well protected. We spent most of our time watching the wolves (behind a glass), while they hunted, finding the hidden meats stashed by the center workers. These beautiful animals were so sleek and cautious, very particular about each step.
The bear den on the other hand was on a tight schedule, rotating which bears were on display and each were sent out to forage for the berries and fruits hidden by workers under logs and trees. Watching these massive animals root around was very fascinating but even at a distance you can feel the force of this huge, powerful creatures.
The center also had a bird of prey exhibit that was under construction so we were unable to see them at the time. Definitely a great spot to visit on your way to the park or while in West Yellowstone.
Photos by Tre Dunham:
Ousel Falls, Frozen Waterfall Hike:
Link HERE to view post
Big thanks to Mountain Hardware gear for keeping us warm, Yak Trax for the traction, The North Face backpacks, Back Country Adventures for keeping us safe on the trip and to this Orange Backpack Man for keeping it real and making me at least TRY to drive the snowmobile, even it was just for the last 15 minutes of the trip back to town. Worth IT!