I didn’t write in my diary when we were in Yellowstone. There are times, especially during an epic road trip like this, when you can’t think of anything other than what is happening around you because the moment demands it. Yellowstone National Park is that place.
Day 10. Fri, 30 Sep: Mammoth Hot Springs (North Yellowstone)
Arrived at Mammoth Campground (dry camping) before 8 am to snag one of the first-come-first-serve campsites for the night and got one. Result!
Parked the RV and set up camp for the day. Explore the Albright Visitor Centre before joining the 9 am Ranger Talk in front of the Visitor Centre. Then it was time to see the famous Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces! Walk the 1-mile lower terrace and the upper terraces boardwalk trail. There are many stairs to climb to the upper trail, but you can also drive there if you prefer.
Mammoth Hot Springs is a complex of 50 hot springs on a limestone hill of travertine in Yellowstone National Park. Nearby is Fort Yellowstone and the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District including the Albright Visitor Centre. It was created over thousands of years as hot water from the spring cooled and deposited calcium carbonate.
We saw Liberty Cap, Minerva Springs, Palette Spring Terraces and The Devil’s Thumb on the 1 mile lower boardwalk. On the 1,5 mile upper terrace you’ll find the likes of Prospect Terrace, New Highland Terrace, Orange Spring Mound, Bath Lake, White Elephant Back Terrace and Angel Terrace.
Ended the day with a hike up the hill next to Mammoth campground for a panoramic view of Mammoth and the valley followed by a quiet evening at camp. Go to bed early. We must hit the road by 7 am tomorrow if we hope to get a same-day spot at Slough Creek Campground in the Lamar Valley.
Make sure the RV is prepped before you enter Yellowstone. There are dump stations inside Yellowstone, but most were closed for the season. Mammoth Campground offers dry camping only. No RV amenities here.
Close to nature. You can’t get closer to Mammoth Hot springs than this and for that:
We rate Mammoth Campground 4 out 5
- Overnight: Mammoth Campground
- Distance Travelled: 6 miles
Day 11. Sat, 29 Sep: Canyon & Mud Volcano Areas (East YNP)
Left Mammoth Campground at 7 am for the Lamar Valley where there’s a good chance we’ll see wildlife. Tried to find a same-day spot at Slough Creek, but the sign said ‘FULL’. Turned out, we were too early and the camp hosts were not around yet to let us in.
You keep on knocking, but ya can’t come in!
We found this out much later in the day when we’d already booked at North Fork campground near Cody. Gutted.
Slough Creek is apparently great for fishing and in the right place to explore
the northeast side of the park. The kids looked forward to trying out the new mini travel size fishing rods they bought from Walmart with their pocket money at Slough Creek.
Tower Fall or Pebble Creek campgrounds are options for RV’rs but now, both were also closed for winter!
Keep in mind that the northeast side of the Grand Loop Road from Tower Falls to Canyon Village is closed from mid-October to June so you will not be able to complete the loop.
Visit the Canyon Visitor Education Center, see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and attend a ranger walk or talk at Artist Point on the canyon rim. They have a great Junior Ranger science program at Canyon Visitor Centre in addition to the standard Yellowstone Jr Ranger program. There is plenty to do in this area and so many hiking trails that you can easily spend a full day here alone.
Stop at mud volcano and sulphur cauldron, better known as the Dragon’s Mouth Spring. You don’t want to miss these before heading to your campsite or hotel for the night. We heard spine chilling tales and legends of human sacrifice by ancient tribes who first lived in Yellowstone thousands of years ago.
We stayed outside the park near Cody at North Fork Campground in the Buffalo Bill State Park, not by choice, but because we couldn’t find anything closer for the night. North Fork is a beautiful campground, but it’s a long way to drive after a long day spent in Yellowstone. Stay closer to the east entrance if you can.
On it’s own, North Fork is a great campground and had the easiest self-check-in process of all the campsites we stayed at. Both B and myself said we’d love to stay there for a few days as it’s in a scenic area by a river with good RV sites, large outdoor play area for the kids and neat facilities.
We give North Fork Campground in Buffalo Bill State Park, Wyoming 5 out 5!
- Overnight: North Fork Campground, Buffalo Bill State Park, Cody
- Distance Travelled: 120 miles
Day 12. Sun, 30 Sep:
West Thumb Geyser Basin & Old Faithful (South)
Explored the breathtaking volcanic springs and geysers of West Thumb Geyser Basin located on the edge of Lake Yellowstone in the morning. Saw unimaginably beautiful hot springs: King Geyser, Collapsing Pool, Ledge Spring, Mimulus Pool, Abyss Pool and more.
Off to the Geyser Inn at the Old Faithful Visitor Area for lunch. There’s a heap of info and fun things to see and do at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Centre. Watched as Old Faithful blew off steam in dramatic fashion.
Would love to return one day and stay in the Old Faithful Inn just for the full experience of it. You can sit on the upper deck all day with Old Faithful and others gushing, gurgling and erupting in full view. We tried to get reservations before the trip, but you have to book months in advance to find space here.
Made our way to Madison Campground to settle in for the night. If you go to the 8 pm Ranger Talk under the stars, make sure you dress for icy weather, remember blankets and something warm to sit on. The ranger didn’t light a bonfire like we thought he would, which was a pity.
It was freezing outside, but the ranger program and stargazing on a clear night was worth it.
Madison had everything we needed to spend a night in our 28ft RV. It set us up to reach Grand Prismatic Springs nearby in less than half an hour and in time to find early parking! Plus it’s pitch black dark out there which makes for excellent stargazing.
We rate Madison Campground 5 out 5!
- Overnight: Madison Campground
- Distance Travelled: 120 miles
Day 13. Mon 1 Oct: Mid-Way Geyser Basin & Grand Prismatic Spring (Southwest)
Tried to use the RV dump station to fill up the water tank this morning and everything was frozen solid!
Got to Mid-Way Geyser Basin by 8 am to make sure we get parking. You want to get there early. Trust me on this one! Once we parked, we took our time to see Excelsior Geyser, Turquoise Pool, Opal Pool and the famous Grand Prismatic Spring; the largest hot spring in the United States and the third largest hot spring in the world.
The boardwalks were still frozen when we got there so we went back to the RV and had a quick breakfast. By the time we were done and ready to go back onto the walkways about 40 minutes later; cars, buses and RV’s were queueing to get into the parking lot.
After Mid-Way Geyser Basin, it was time to leave the park. To drag out our exit, we enjoyed a leisurely drive towards the east gate and Cody, our destination for the night. We had lunch on the shores of Lake Yellowstone. While I prepared lunch inside the RV, B and the kids scouted the beach and found it full of little flat round stones; perfect for stone-skipping.
Wild Life Sightings
Driving towards the east entrance, on our way to Cody, we saw a golden eagle, a foraging grizzly bear, and three bighorn sheep who looked like they were stuck to the side of the vertical mountain face by magic. We saw herds of elk and bison in the north and northeastern parts of Yellowstone and a fox on the northwest Grand Loop road.
- Overnight: Ponderosa Campground; Cody, Wyoming
- Distance Travelled: 140 miles
Yellowstone: A National Park On Top Of A Super Volcano.
You read that right. We did not know this about Yellowstone before we attended the ranger talk under the stars at Madison on our last night in the park. Understandably, we went to bed well impressed but a little uneasy that night.
There is not a textbook, teacher or school in the world that can beat a trip to the top of an actual supervolcano, thankfully dormant, for a science lesson on volcanoes and geothermal activity.
We could see it, feel it, hear it and smell it. Our children will never forget it.
Despite the rangers assurance that we’re safe from a Yellowstone eruption for tens-of-thousands-of-years at the least, we woke up the next day with a newfound eagerness to not only escape the oncoming snow but to get off the volcano, no matter how dormant!