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Yellowstone is a huge national park with lots of amazing things to see. Trying to see most of the park in two days was a bit overwhelming to me, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much we did! We saw most of the highlights of Yellowstone on our two-day visit. We did this with our baby, and we stayed in West Yellowstone, instead of in the park!
On our first day, our goal was to get to Mammoth Hot Springs, which was the farthest destination away. As we drove along the route, we saw a few features we had planned to see ahead of time, and a few that were spontaneous. Here is an overview of how the day went, as well as some tips for getting the most out of a short visit:
As soon as we entered the park we were blown away. The river is steaming for crying out loud! What could be cooler than a steaming river? We continued to be impressed the farther we went into the park. The landscape is gorgeous with pine tree-covered mountains. We stopped to watch some elk grazing near the road. Geysers and fumaroles (openings near volcanoes that let out gasses) were easy to spot from a distance as we drove. Pillars of steam gave them away.
The first attraction we visited was Gibbon Falls. It’s just a short walk from the parking lot to see an amazing view of this waterfall. This is one thing I was surprised by in Yellowstone. I thought that we would have to do a lot of long hikes, but most of the highlights can be seen either right by the parking lot or after a short walk. The longest hike we did was about 2 miles. Tip: If you only have a couple days in the park like we did, skip the long hikes and go for attractions that are easier to see.
We continued driving when suddenly, we came to an area of steam that was so thick we could hardly see where we were going! We knew something cool must be nearby. It was. Beryl Spring was right next to the road. It isn’t huge, but since it was cold that morning, it was letting off a lot of steam. The steam would adhere to the branches of nearby pine trees which created some beautiful ice.
Our next stop was also unplanned. We saw a sign for “Artists’ Paintpots” and decided to check it out. This brings me to another nice thing about Yellowstone. Tip: The road system there is pretty simple, so we picked a few things we really wanted to see and stopped on the way to those things to see more! If you choose to do this, it will keep the planning pretty simple.
The Artists’ Paintpots is an area of boiling clay. To get there we took a short hike. The beginning of it was flat, and parts of it were a boardwalk. In this area, we saw some cool geysers and springs. The last section of the trail was pretty step and rough to get to the mud pots. They aren’t exactly what you might picture when you hear the name. Mud Pots are actually boiling clay!
Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin was our next stop, and it was my favorite part of this day. I was blown away by this area as soon as I saw it. We stepped through the trees into another world – at least that’s what it felt like. It was a large basin with steam columns rising in every direction.
Here is a sample of the awesomeness in this area.
The different colors in these next two pictures are microorganisms that live near geysers. The red area is hotter than the green area.
This pool looks like blue milk. Siliceous sinter forms a sheet over the water and makes it look milky like this. Let’s be real, I don’t know this stuff off the top of my head. The signs in the park are very informative!
As we walked around this basin, we noticed that the baby’s eyelids were drooping. When we tried to get him to smile for this picture, he just wanted to cuddle.
Before we knew it, he was completely out! Whew! This traveling stuff takes a lot of energy.
When the little one woke up, it was time for lunch! We had packed a picnic lunch, but since it was chilly, we ate in the car. Tip: I definitely recommend packing food for lunch. There aren’t many places to eat in the park, and it saved us time, so we were able to see more!
Mammoth Hot Springs
Our drive to Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces was interesting. We ran into some construction. We had to stop for 30 minutes while we waited for them to let us through! Tip: You can find out where and when construction is happening ahead of time. We didn’t think to check. Luckily we were still able to do everything we had hoped to do.
Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces is just like it sounds: a massive hillside with naturally formed terraces. To me, they look like a coral reef.
Just a little north of Mammoth Hot Springs is Fort Yellowstone. This area is definitely wort a visit. As we pulled into a parking lot near the museum, we noticed a small crowd of people gathered nearby. There were elk lounging between the buildings! I couldn’t believe how many there were! They weren’t phased by all the staring people either. Later, when we gave ourselves a little driving tour of the town, we drove right by a group of them.
I loved going through the museum here too. They have great displays about the animals that are commonly seen in Yellowstone. I felt so proud later when I identified a mule deer based off of the shape of its antlers. Yes, I’m a bit of a nerd.
The Most Amazing Dinner
After a long, exciting day, we were ready for some good food. Boy, did we find it! We had our dinner at Wild West Pizzeria in West Yellowstone. This restaurant is exactly what you would hope for when visiting Yellowstone. The decorations feature the Wild West. They had wagon wheels for chandeliers, a bison head on the wall, and paintings of Yellowstone and other western things.
We met the owner, Aaron, who told us about how he started the restaurant. In the beginning, he had a tiny space and only one pizza oven! Now he has a bustling full-size restaurant. He has been so successful because he takes pride in what he does and uses the best ingredients. Here, they make their own dough using Wheat Montana flour. Each dough ball is rolled out only when someone orders a pizza. They grate their Wisconsin Cheese from the block every day.
We ordered the macaroni and cheese and the Sacagawea pizza. I know it seems weird to order Macaroni and cheese, but it was the best I have ever tasted. It was so rich and creamy! They use a gouda cheese that’s imported from Holland. We asked for sausage and bacon as toppings, and it was so good! Just look at how cheesy it is!
The pizza was also amazing! The crust was delicious, and I loved the sauce! It’s a recipe that Aaron learned from his mom. Any good pizza will be very cheesy, and this did not disappoint.
With full bellies and tired bodies, we were ready to call it a day. The adventure was only half complete though. Check out part 2 of How We Saw the Highlights of Yellowstone in 2 Days.