There Will Be Crowds...Yellowstone National Park

{Dates of Visit: July 7-17, 2014}

Great views of the "backside" of the Tetons for most of our drive.
Sometimes you just have to just throw your hands in the air and deal with the fact that you can't win them all. We'd been quite lucky in our travels to have hit up some of the most popular National Parks and touristy areas at just the right big crowds but still great weather. I'm not going to lie, it spoiled us! But here we were...camped very close to Yellowstone National Park...with no excuse NOT to go other than it being the height of summer and family vacations were in full swing. What to do, what to do??

We weighed the odds of us being this close to Yellowstone any time soon...calculating fuel costs to make it a "destination" while looking at the realities of where we would winter and which areas of the country we still wanted to visit sooner than later. And so we decided to brave the crowds just in case we wouldn't be back in the area for a while.

Our site at Aspen Acres.
Because we don't like long travel days (we opt to keep our travel segments 150 miles or less) our first stop was in Ashton, Idaho at Aspen Acres Golf & RV. Now here's where I'll get on my Passport America bandwagon again to assure you it's a great deal. We got a fantastic 50amp, full hookup site in a very charming RV park that felt more like being in the country than in a typical RV park for just $15 per night. Sadly, we never played a round of golf but the course looked very nice (our friends from Live, Breathe, Move will be very disappointed to read this).

The Mesa Falls Scenic Byway is a great place to head to get away from it all. There is plenty of hiking to be had as well as fishing, rafting, kayaking and swimming. Having had no idea of what was available for camping prior to our stay we found that the there are some great options along this byway (note to self for "next time").

Another nearby spot to check out is Warm River Springs. It's a nice little drive to a scenic old fish hatchery turned overnight cabin rental. Bring a picnic and a fishing pole (or if you're like me, a yoga mat) and enjoy a day of tranquility and solitude. Warm River is a hot spot for fly-fishing, tubing and hiking...but  strangely, is not very warm.

The entrance at Bechler Ranger Station.

Notice Clark's bear spray hanging from his backpack?
NPS Ranger Horses.
From Ashton we also had easy access to a lesser known section of Yellowstone, Bechler Meadows Ranger District. Here you'll find plenty of hiking along creeks and waterfalls all within the National Park. We never saw another person (or a single Grizzly) while we hiked and picnicked near the falls.

We were living on the edge hiking as a twosome!
Since we didn't want to make the hour and a half drive to Yellowstones west entrance we decided to move the whole shebang a little closer. We landed at Henry's Lake...mainly because on the map it looked so much like one of our favorite places, Bear Lake.

Now, I don't know if I mentioned this before but I'll say it again. I hate to give bad reviews about a place because of weather (rain happens) or temperature (it's not the campgrounds fault if it snows in June) or even things like mosquitoes (especially in the south east or say, Alaska) but O-M-G...we were being eaten alive at this lake. I kid you not. It didn't matter if we went outside at 9am, 1pm or midnight...swarms of mosquitoes were waiting for us. It was so bad I did a Google search and you know what I found out? There's something like 1,483 different species of mosquitoes in the Yellowstone area (okay, it's more 14 but still). And to top it off, some of the ones in Henry's Lake have tested positive for the West Nile virus!! I write about toxic-free living on this blog but this was soooo bad I actually used DEET after all other remedies failed.

Our beautiful spot on Henry's Lake.
Needless to say, we didn't do any hiking, biking or fishing at the lake because we couldn't stay outside longer than 2 minutes. Other than that, it was beautiful...from what we could see out of the RVs windows.

We did, however, spend some time inside Yellowstone, where the mosquitoes weren't bad at all but the crowds sure were abuzz. We made the most of it, hitting up some of the most famous sites like Old Faithful, Artists Paintpots, Mammoth Hot Springs Terrace and the Roosevelt Lodge but we really loved the less crowded Lamar Valley (where you'll find the Bison herds). Truthfully, we feel we saw very little even though we easily put 170 miles on Chuck inside the park alone.


View of Old Faithful from the lodge, where we chose to enjoy some drinks on the crowded deck rather than hang out with the even larger crowd closer to the geyser.
Another beautiful section to visit it near Phantom Lake, the entire drive from Roosevelt to Mammoth Hot Springs is a playground for bears...they seem to like wildflowers as much as we do so look for where the meadows meet the tree line.
 And, of course, we saw some wildlife:

Our first bear sighting...a young black bear (wearing the spring's hottest color...cinnamon).
The bison herd with some of this year's newest additions.
Hello big guy!
Guaranteed elk sightings near the lodges.
Grizzly or black bear? We're used to seeing Black Bear with a black body and brown points on the face but they range in color from black to cinnamon and are often mistaken for grizzlies. However, I'm not sure which this is...I just know enough to keep safe and IN my vehicle.

This guy decided it was easier to take walk along the paved road then in all that tall grass. We obligingly gave him a wide berth but he was still VERY close. This was taken on my old Samsung cell phone (no zoom).
We're happy we braved the crowds and visited Yellowstone because we got to see some amazing wildlife up close and personal. But, if we get the chance to go back it will be in the fall after school is back in session. I know not everyone has that luxury and those of you with kids in school probably want them to see this place so you gotta do what you gotta do. But if you visit in summer be sure to pack your patience. The good news is most people seem to congregate around the lodges and ice cream shops opting for double scoops instead of get out of your car and explore!

Part of the road construction going on in the park. It appears the roads near the thermal areas are often "melting" and need to be fixed. I can't tell you how many people on Facebook freaked out over news of melting roads in Yellowstone. Clearly it meant the end of the world was upon us...but it happens all the time.

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