Some specific suggestions

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 13:18:36 01/06/16

In Reply to: Summer Trip posted by Scorn


Although I fell in love with Yellowstone a long time ago, and eventually moved to the area, prior to that, I made annual summer pilgrimages to the area with two offspring separated in age by 2.75 years and a gender difference. Know that we lived in Colorado, and my kids were already plenty outdoorsy, but they were still pretty representative of their peer group.

One of their favorite Yellowstone hangouts was the swimming hole on the Firehole River along Firehole Falls Drive, just south of Madison Junction. Back then, it was a lot less crowded, and not as plagued with restrictive rules against jumping off the basalt cliffs that line the pool. It is still a great place for water lovers to escape the summer heat!

For rafting, I would suggest you look at rafting the Snake River south of Yellowstone, in Grand Teton National Park. I say that as someone who has rafted the Yellowstone north of the park. The only serious whitewater on that river outside the park is in Yankee Jim Canyon. That said, if your family has not done much river rafting, signing on with one of the outfitters in Gardiner, Montana might be fun. I did my trip in a shoulder season with a company owner/friend. It was September, and we didn't bake in the sun the way one might in July or August.

Adolescents tend to enjoy hydrothermal features, particularly real active ones, like geysers and mud pots. I would suggest visiting some of those areas early on in the trip, so you can gauge everyone's enthusiasm for subsequent planning.

For waterfall watching, there are some major "don't miss" attractions, like the Upper and Lower Falls in the Canyon area, and Tower Fall, up north. You will come across others as you drive around the park, like Moose Falls, Gibbon Falls, and Undine Falls. One "don't miss" day hike I would recommend is to visit Fairy Falls. It is a relatively short hike, flat most of the way, with a short slight uphill as you near the falls. The distance is between 2 and 3 miles, depending on your exact route. Be aware that this attraction has become well-publicized. The days when you could just wander by the trailhead and find a parking spot easily are long gone. When I drove by there in late August last summer, I saw a full parking lot, with cars lining both sides of the entrance road, and overflowing out onto the Grand Loop Road. (There are two ways of avoiding the parking hassle. One is to get there early in the day or late in the day. The other is to approach Fairy Falls from the north, via the trailhead at the end of Fountain Flat Drive. That parking lot almost always has space available. It makes the walk a bit longer, but provides much more in the way of access to backcountry thermal areas, expansive views across sprawling meadows, and wildlife observation.

If you want to check out a backcountry thermal area, they abound in Yellowstone, and are great ways to avoid the crowd. For first-timers, I would recommend either the River Group in Pocket Basin or Sentinel Meadows, both accessed from the Fountain Flat Drive trailhead. Both treks are mostly flat and less than 5 miles.

If you want to do a much different, but highly recommended day hike, try Mt. Washburn. It is 3 miles one-way up a dirt road, with an elevation gain of around 1,400 feet. There is a 3 story building on the summit that offers protection from the elements, rest room facilities, an observation deck, and a good place to eat lunch. The views are amazing, and you rarely do this hike without encountering wildlife. There is a resident herd of bighorn sheep that spend most of their time on the mountain.

For gateway communities, West Yellowstone is going to be a favorite of most adolescents. There are numerous pizza joints, fast food options, an IMAX theater, and the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. If you can't get lodging in the park interior, West Yellowstone is your best bet for availability and range of choices.

Feel free to post back with any clarifications or further inquiries.


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