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Yellowstone National Park Tips

Yelłowstone, the world's first national park.  An area so interesting and scenic that it could start a trend of preserving natural treasures from being developed giving the world a place to unplug, breathe some fresh air, and look up at the night sky to see millions of stars reminding us that life doesn't have to move quite so fast.  We spent four days in Yellowstone, sort of a must-do pilgrimage for any national park visitor, and boy is that park huge!  If you're planning a trip to Yellowstone, here are a few tips to plan your stay and especially where to eat while you're there...

Being the first national park of the world, it is quite the tourist destination!  Not just American tourist, people come from all over to visit Yellowstone.  We frequently heard many different languages at all of the main "sights".  Many people are exploring the park in large groups, loading and unloading from tour buses making parking and crowding a bit of an issue.  Others are cruising around in their RVs with kids in tow.  This crowd makes Yellowstone feel like a bit of a scavenger hunt going from Old Faithful to Grand Prismatic to Mammoth Springs to Lamar Valley to Upper Falls.  If you're going to see the big five, you'll probably be following the same people around the park and be in the traffic jam that comes with that crowd.  Don't get me wrong, all five are amazing and really a must see, but there is more to Yellowstone than checking off a list.

Take a hike!  Probably the best hike in the park is Mount Washburn.  It's not for the casual tourist though (although I saw a woman with one leg and crutches make it to the top, so you can too).  About half of Yellowstone is one large caldera, which is essentially a flat volcano.  There are mountains surrounding the caldera, but only one mountain remains within it, which is Mount Washburn resulting in an amazing, uninterrupted panorama of the entire park.  On the east side of the park, you can drive partially up the mountain, then start your hike from the parking lot.  The trail is wide since it is a service road to the fire watch tower on top of the mountain.  Don't forget your bear spray, bears can be anywhere in Yellowstone.  It is about two miles of switchback, take it easy, you'll get to the top eventually.  Once at the top, you can see snow capped mountains, Yellowstone canyon and lake, and even the Tetons!

1. Book your lodging about one year in advance.  The beautiful lodges book up very quickly and the hotels nearby are just as expensive and certainly less beautiful.  If you didn't book the lodge in time consider camping, glamping, airbnb, or staying in a nearby town (Bozeman or Livingston).

2. Minimize the crowds and traffic by going in May or September, getting to the park really early or staying really late in the day, and only go on the weekdays.  You don't want to spend your entire trip sitting in traffic or finding a parking spot!

3. See the famous sites, they are famous for a reason... Upper Geyser Basin (Old Faithful and Morning Glory), Mammoth Hot Springs, Grand Prismatic, Lower Falls, and wildlife spotting in Lamar Valley.

4. Obey the signs.  Stay 25 yards from any vegetarian animal (bison, elk, deer, mountain goats, rams) and 100 yards from meat eaters (bears, wolves, coyotes).  You will definitely see tons of the vegetarian type and you'll also see people trying to pet or take selfies with them.  They are wild, let's keep them that way... and you don't get gored... win-win! :)

5. Find a trail and walk it!  It's easy to spend a lot of time in the car in a park so big, but pretty much every trail leads to a waterfall or a hot spring or ten geysers.  There will be less people away from the boardwalks 

Here is a bunch of pictures showing some of the crazy unique and wonderful sights there are to take in at Yellowstone.  Below the *probably* way too many pictures is where we ate and recommendations based on our experience.

yellowstone national park sign yellowstone gibbon falls yellowstone sapphire pool yellowstone sapphire poolyellowstone grand prismatic yellowstone prismatic reflection yellowstone grand prismatic bison yellowstone grand prismatic yellowstone fairy falls yellowstone waterfall

yellowstone lower falls yellowstone grand canyon yellowstone mount washburn yellowstone mount washburnyellowstone mount washburn yellowstone bison yellowstone boiling riveryellowstone petrified tree yellowstone earth reign ranch
yellowstone mammoth springs yellowstone mammoth springs  yellowstone white dome yellowstone geyser  yellowstone old faithful yellowstone morning glory yellowstone heart spring yellowstone castle geyseryellowstone rainbow yellowstone rainbow
montana grizzly experience montana grizzly experience

Eating in a national park can be challenging because there are not a lot of options.  Within the park, there are restaurants and snack bars at all of the lodges, and Yellowstone has several lodges.  But just because the restaurant is busy, doesn't mean the food is good.  Old Faithful Lodge was beautiful and the architecture amazing, the food was not so great.  I had a bison burger which looked like it spent too much time in the freezer and was very dry and flavorless.  My husband had a grilled cheese sandwich and it was just okay.  The next day, we went to the Mammoth Springs Lodge for lunch and had a really great meal!  Warm goat cheese salad, bison and trout tacos, and a smoked salmon club sandwich... all were very delicious.  Both places are run by the same company (Xanterra), so we were expecting similar food.

yellowstone lodge yellowstone old faithful lodge
yellowstone old faithful lodge yellowstone old faithful lodge
yellowstone mammoth spring lodge 
yellowstone mammoth spring lodge bison taco yellowstone mammoth spring lodge goat cheese salad 
For dinner, we ate outside of the park.  We were staying on the North end of the park in Pray, Montana and based on the recommendation of our hosts, we drove another 30 minutes to Livingston, Montana and we were glad we did.  A quaint little town which would have been fun to explore if we weren't starving and focused on food!  We went to 2nd Street Bistro which was a cute and reminded me of a restaurant we ate at in Rome.  The food was easily the best we had our entire vacation with hand made raviolis, hunter chicken (marinated chicken on mashed potatoes toped with sautéed peppers and onions), and coffee creme brûlée.  Mmmm... sooo goood!  We liked it so well, we went to their more casual sister restaurant, Gil's, the next night for pizza and pastries.  :)

yellowstone 2nd street bistro yellowstone 2nd street bistro yellowstone 2nd street bistro yellowstone 2nd street bistroyellowstone gil's pizza yellowstone gil's desserts 
We also went to the Lighthouse Restaurant one night which is somewhere between Gardiner and Livingston, not really around anything.  The restaurant itself is an eclectic mix of seaside decorations including a live lobster claw machine.  The menu is just as eclectic with foods from all around the world.  We went more of the safe route with a bison burger, crab cakes, and mac and cheese since new foods can sometimes make hiking not as fun... Everything was decent.

When we got to West Yellowstone, which is where most of the hotels outside of the park are located, we were surrounded by chain restaurants and tourist traps.  If you stay in this area, you might want to drive to Bozeman or Livingston for some good food.  We got to Timberline Cafe a few minutes before they closed and had some chili and sliders.  Probably could have gotten something better at Wendy's, but we were so hungry that we just wanted some food!

We moved on to Bozeman after that... definitely a college town with trendy coffee shops and restaurants.  Wild Joe's took me back to memories of college and we were probably the oldest people in the room.  Good coffee, a selection of pastries, but they ran out of their burritos which we were excited to try.  For dinner we went to Montana Ale Works which is in an old railroad storage building.  We tried some local brews and had a decent meal.  Their mac and cheese (which I am realizing now that we had a lot of mac and cheese in Montana) included goat cheese as one of the four cheeses, which made it extra creamy and a tad sweet.  We also had enchiladas, BBQ pulled chicken, and a fried chicken appetizer that sounded interesting and different, so we had to order it.  We finished it all off with some food truck ice cream... who had Nutella ice cream... mmm!

yellowstone lighthouse restaurant yellowstone lighthouse restaurant yellowstone timberline cafe bozemen coffee
bozeman montana ale works bozeman montana ale works bozeman montana ale works bozemen ice cream truck

Hopefully this helps you plan your trip to Yellowstone and you know some places that were really good and others to avoid while fueling up for your site seeing adventure!   Yum

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