Ever since our unexpected trip to Yellowstone National Park almost three years ago, we’ve been looking forward to a return visit. Some warm early-May weather prompted us to make the three-hour trip from Helena to spend a few days in one of our absolutely favorite places from anywhere in our travels.
Some of the park roads are closed this time of year, but even three days would not give us enough time to visit all the areas we wanted to see. We decided to focus our arrival day in the Mammoth Hot Springs area, the next day in the Lamar Valley, and our final day in the Norris Geyser and Old Faithful areas (regrettably, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone would have to wait for another visit).
Our first stop after entering the park was the Upper Terrace Drive at Mammoth Hot Springs. Walking the boardwalks through the massive geothermal formations is always a treat, and we eagerly visited some of our favorite travertine terraces and brushed up on the history and geology of the area at the Visitor’s Center.
Choosing a place to stay had been a challenge, as it was still too cold to camp and our usual family-friendly choice, the Yellowstone Gateway Lodge, was already booked. In the end, we were surprised to find the rate at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel inside the park was actually cheaper than the other options in Gardiner. Since they were fine with the five of us in a singe room, we decided to give it a try. There were definitely some considerable downsides, including a shared bathroom, thin walls, and central heating that made the room quite warm despite turning off the radiator. In the end though, these were definitely manageable (the meditation app on our tablet came in handy throughout the night to block out the people above and next to us), and staying right inside the park added a whole new dimension. The kids loved sitting in front of the fireplace in the lobby, viewing the many works of park-inspired art on the walls, and exploring the Map Room, a large reception hall with nightly events, live music, and places to read and play chess and checkers.
The other main plus of staying at the Hotel is the wildlife visible from right outside the window. While reading to the Younger Fives at bedtime, we had a wonderful interruption in the form of a herd of bison grazing just below us. The grass must have been quite tasty because they took their time and gave us plenty of opportunities to watch the several babies grazing with their mothers. Definitely the type of experience that could only happen at Yellowstone 🙂