The Camping Debacle that is Yellowstone:
Originally we had booked some nights inside Yellowstone at the Bridge Bay campground. If Courtney hadn’t need to have a cell signal/internet during those days for work, we would have definitely kept that reservation. But after we saw how non-existent our cell service was with Verizon inside the park, we didn’t want to risk her not being able to work for that long. The Yellowstone map says there are pockets where you can get cell service, but we were constantly living in extended or no service mode. And we have yet to hear from anyone that they had any service with a different provider.
Because of the massive size of the park, staying inside it really seemed like the best idea. There are also lots of tiny little campgrounds right on the outskirts of the park that all appeared to be first-come, first-serve. And of course, there is always boondocking. We were worn out with the amount of driving we did just inside Yellowstone, let alone the additional hour to get back to the camper.
Don’t be deterred if you try to book and it looks like your total vehicle length (tow vehicle + rig) are too large. Some fellow travelers we had connected with on Instagram advised that they had booked at Bridge Bay and that they do have some double sites available that can accommodate larger sizes. We gave them a call and they had been able to find one of those spots for us (our total length is close to 50 feet).
Where We Stayed:
Yellowstone Valley Inn & RV – Between Cody and Wapiti, Wyoming
We stayed here for a couple of days before moving to the west side of the park in Idaho for a week. It was about 45 minutes from the east entrance of the park.
Yellowstone Golf Resort at Aspen Acres RV Park – Ashton, ID
Seriously loved this little campground right on a golf course in the middle of nothing but Idaho farmland. It was about 45 minutes from here to the west entrance of the park.
When to Go:
We visited Yellowstone in early/mid-September, so right after the end of peak season, which is Labor Day. As is the general rule of thumb, especially with the larger, more popular National Parks—arrive early or arrive after 3PM. This is a big one to not ignore with Old Faithful (felt like a mini-Disney World). Check the geyser eruption times in advance so you can plan your visit. If you’re wanting a prime viewing spot, be prepared to save your seat a minimum of 30 minutes before the eruption. We also just generally found that all of the big sights, you don’t want to go at peak times. Parking is a pain and the board walks or trails are packed out.
What to Bring With:
#1 thing to bring with you to Yellowstone is your patience. More on this later. The weather in Yellowstone wasn’t quite as temperamental as Utah, but we were always prepared with extra clothes for a temperature change. Whatever food, snacks and water you think you need…bring extra. If you have a pair of binoculars, these will likely come in handy. And don’t forget your bear spray.
What to Expect:
Let us start by saying that Yellowstone was so many things. Beautiful, diverse, massive. If you’re not into hiking, no big deal! There are so many other things to see and do here. We don’t know that we will ever have geothermal or wildlife experiences quite like the ones we had in Yellowstone (and we didn’t even make it to Lamar Valley).
But Yellowstone in many ways is also like the Disney World of National Parks. During our visit it was full of tour buses and tourists, some of whom can really test your patience when they do things like take up an entire, crowded and rail-less boardwalk for a prolonged group selfie or seem to think that walking up to a buffalo is a good idea. Traffic jams are a common occurrence here, typically buffalo or wildlife-induced. Parking can be at a premium near some of the larger attractions. It is a different vibe from any of the other National Parks we have been to, but a must-see kind of place. If you do your research, plan accordingly, give yourself plenty of time and have realistic expectations your visit here will be amazing.
What We Saw/Did:
Hayden Valley. You are basically guaranteed to see buffalo.
Norris Geyser Basin. Hottest and most changeable thermal area in the park.
Grand Prismatic. Courtney’s personal favorite in the park. The Fairy Falls hike to see it from the top is definitely worth it.
Old Faithful. Worth all the hype. This area also has the best gift shop to stock up on your Yellowstone memorabilia. And really good ice cream.
Mammoth Hot Springs. Looks kind of like a giant cooking marshmallow. Very cool.
Boiling River. Used to be a “hidden” spot that now isn’t so hidden. Come prepared with suits and towels; you’re definitely going to want to get in the water. You’ll also want your water shoes. Be prepared for a short hike to get there and for parking to possibly be an issue.
Wish List Items:
We didn’t make it to Lamar Valley, where we kept hearing was an awesome spot to see wildlife like wolves and bears in early morning hours or closer to sunset. We also missed seeing the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. There are likely other spots we’re leaving out that we would have liked to see, but Yellowstone is just so enormous that you could spend a solid week here and not see it all.
Been to Yellowstone and have any advice to share? Or have a question about something we didn’t cover? Drop us a comment below!