Not So Boring Trip To Yellowstone National Park: Yellowstone National Park Activities

Arriving at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in Yellowstone National Park after flying in late at night and driving down from Bozeman through a rainstorm, I was able to get about 3.5 hours of sleep before waking up the next morning at 6am for a scheduled hike. Ouch! But I survived the trip there so I might as well take advantage of the activities that were scheduled!

In This Trip

1: Not So Boring Trip to Yellowstone National Park: GSP-ORD-BOZ on United Airlines

2 : Not So Boring Trip to Yellowstone National Park: Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel Review

3 :Not So Boring Trip to Yellowstone National Park: Yellowstone National Park Activities

     3.1: Lamar Valley Walking Tour
     3.2: Dinner at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel
     3.3: Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic
     3.4: Mammoth Hot Springs
     3.6: Final Thoughts

4 :Not So Boring Trip to Yellowstone National Park: BOZ-DEN-GSP on United Airlines

Lamar Valley Walking Tour

Bright and early, we drove about 45 minutes from the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel over to Lamar Valley for a 6-hour walking tour. I was surprisingly not as tired as I expected, especially after some morning coffee and a leftover ham and cheese sandwich that my parents got me the night before, thinking I would get there in time for dinner (lol).

Buffalo in Yellowstone National Park

The walking tour was guided by a local guide company that was not affiliated with Yellowstone National Park itself, but the tour guide was very knowledgeable about the park and the wildlife. The tour itself was a bit slow paced and didn’t involve much change in elevation so it was pretty easy of a hike. It was a total of 6 miles though, which my body definitely felt the next day.

Hiking in Yellowstone National Park

We hiked the first half in, stopping every so often for the guide to tell us some facts about the park. We saw a pack of bison nearby, so we stopped to take some pictures (at a very safe distance!) and learned some facts about them.

Buffalo in Yellowstone National Park

Then we hiked down to a riverside to eat lunch, which was a bagged lunch that was provided, including a sandwich and a lot of snacks.

Then after lunch we hiked back the way we came, continuing to stop along the way for more wildlife viewings (we saw a small pack of wolves almost attack a bison! I had to take a photo through my binoculars to see them since I didn’t bring my telephoto lens, you can see them as the black dots in the photo below) and then back to the parking lot.

On the drive back to the hotel, we encountered a pack of bison crossing the road! It was a bit scary, but they just took their sweet time to cross and didn’t really care that the vehicles were in their way.

Buffalo surrounding cars and walking across the road in Yellowstone National Park

While we were parked waiting for them to cross, a few bison came super close to the car! I was a bit terrified, but they were chill.

Herd of buffalo in Yellowstone National Park

We also saw a pair of males duking it out a bit ahead of us, and I was afraid they would come into the road, but they kept it on the side and out of the road which was good. At the moment I was terrified and wanted to get the heck out of there, but looking back I’m glad we were there to witness it!

Up-close with a buffalo in Yellowstone National Park

I still can’t believe how close these big boys got to our car, but they didn’t bother us at all and just went on their merry way.

Dinner at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel

After a long day of hiking, we returned to the hotel and planned on going to the dining hall for dinner. I already talked a bit about this in my review of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, but I figured I’d mention it here as well. We considered going outside the park to the closest town, Gardiner, for dinner but were concerned about being able to find outdoor dining and it being potentially crowded for indoor dining. We decided to stay on the property and go to the dining hall because they were still at reduced capacity and masks were required in the buildings (at least when not at your table), so we felt safer staying in the park. The restaurant did a good job spacing tables out, and the building was quite large so we felt relatively safe eating inside there.

Mammoth Hot Springs dinner in Yellowstone National Park

I ended up getting a local Montana grass fed beef meatloaf with mashed potatoes and asparagus, and a beer from a local Bozeman brewery. I posted this in the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel post, but figured you might want another look at my delicious meal!

After dinner we did a quick walk up to the Mammoth Hot Springs to check out some of the site at sunset. We only walked up a lower boardwalk toward the front and ended up going back another day to see the rest of the area. The lighting was perfect for some cool photos.

Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic

The next day, we split up as a group and my parents and I went off on our own. They all had already been to Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic as a group the day before, but my parents wanted to take me there and their friends didn’t want to repeat the experience. We took the drive down to those areas, which was a little under 2 hours. I didn’t mind because the scenery was incredible! At one point we saw a lone bison walking in the road in the fog, which was really like something out of a National Geographic magazine! I wish I wasn’t driving so I could have snapped a photo!

When we got to Old Faithful, we parked and walked to the visitor center to hit the bathrooms (Boomer parents…) and then headed out toward the geyser area to check out Old Faithful. It was pretty crowded and we tried hard to squeeze ourselves into a good spot without being too close to others. Luckily most people had their masks on, but some didn’t even though it is required at the parks if you cannot socially distance, even outside.

Old faithful in Yellowstone National Park

It’s called “Old Faithful” because the geyser goes off once per hour and they are usually able to time it accurately within plus/minus 5-10 minutes.

The geyser itself was cool but wasn’t as large as I was expecting. I might be a little spoiled having seen some fantasic geysers in Iceland, including the namesake Geysir!

After Old Faithful went off, we took a walk around some of the boardwalk trails toward the other hot springs and geysers. There was one geyser in particular that was going off like crazy, spurting streams of hot water up like 30 feet in quick bursts.

There were also a lot of standing water hot springs with some beautiful colors.

As we were heading back toward the visitor center we caught Old Faithful going off again, only about an hour later. Hence the name, it was pretty faithfully on time! So don’t worry if you arrive just after Old Faithful went off, just walk around the site and check out the other hot springs and geysers, and then check back in an hour!

After leaving Old Faithful, we drove a few minutes down the road to Grand Prismatic, which is a large and very colorful hot spring.

We hiked up to an overlook above Grand Prismatic, which my parents didn’t get to do the day before. It was a great view! It was a bit crowded though, so we only spent a few minutes up there and took some photos before we headed back down.

Old West Dinner Cookout

After leaving Grand Prismatic, we had to head back to the hotel to get ready for our dinner plans. We had a scheduled Old West Dinner Cookout, booked through the Yellowstone National Park Lodges. It’s advertised as a chuck wagon tour and campfire dinner, and it was located near the Roosevelt Lodge.

I fully anticipated this to be a cheesy experience. Although there was a “cowboy” introduction, part of me thinks it could have been an introduction by an authentic individual…

After the introduction, the “cowboy” ranchers gathered the horses and hooked them up to the chuck wagons parked out front.

The horse-drawn chuck wagon ride was nice, although it felt a bit like a Disney ride with the tour guide’s silly stories and jokes. If you’ve ever been on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disney World you’ll know exactly what kind of humor I’m talking about…major “Dad jokes”!

Wagon ride to the old west cookout

We passed by a group of bison who thought about crossing our path but then decided not to at the last minute.

After about 20ish minutes, we stopped at a campsite area that had a covered pavilion where they were cooking the food, a covered area with tables, and some picnic tables under some trees.

Old west cookout dinner in Yellowstone National Park

We decided to sit somewhere not underneath a cover, for COVID reasons, but there was a light drizzle so we got a table under the trees for a bit of protection. Luckily it never rained while we were eating, so that was good. They came around and passed out some “campfire coffee” which was nice for the chilly evening, and then we were called up to get our food, buffet style. It was a bit concerning due to COVID, but we had plenty of hand santizer on us, and we waited until the line died down a bit to get our food and drinks. I found out later that this was a BYOB situation and we could have BYOB’d! So unfortunately all we had to drink was soda.

Dinner was a steak cooked to your liking, which was more overdone than I would have liked for medium-rare, and a bunch of sides. They had this side of beans which was the best thing on the plate, and I also got some potato salad, corn, coleslaw, blueberry cobbler, watermelon, and cornbread. Overall it was decent for a large group dinner “excursion”, especially considering the view.

They also had a nice campfire going, and had some stumps you could sit on to enjoy sipping your campfire coffee and listen to some music. Normally they said they have live music but their musician was sick so they just played music on the speakers from someone’s phone. Not quite as good but better than nothing!

Before we headed back to the wagons, they sang us a song and had us sing in unison (cringe…), and then it was over. We boarded the wagons and drove back to the parking lot. Overall, it was not as cheesy as I thought it might be, but still had some cheese factor. It was a nice evening for a family that wants to do some kind of dinner activity with some nice “old west” ambiance.

Mammoth Hot Springs

The next day, unfortunately, was Sunday and I was scheduled to leave that afternoon. That morning, my parents and I did some light hiking right at Mammoth Springs so we could stick close by. We hadn’t really explored the area yet so it was nice to see what had been in our backyard the entire weekend!

There are a few paths you can take on some boardwalks: you can stick to the lower terraces or walk up to the upper terraces. There is also a loop even further up that you can either walk or drive. We drove the loop for a bit one of the evenings when we arrived back at the hotel, but this time we decided to go walk the boardwalks just below the upper terraces, and got some incredible views of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel area below!

It was a really cool area to explore, and very much felt like you were on a different planet, maybe Venus or something.

If you recall in my review of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, there was a picture on the wall of the cabin with several ladies from what looked like the late 1800s/early 1900s perched up on the mineral formations…

I could almost picture them right there in front of me! Definitely not an allowed activity in 2021.

It was pretty stinky though with all of the sulfur in the air, so we were actually glad to have our facemasks on us!

The lighting kept changing as we were exploring the area, so I was able to capture some beautiful photos.

The below photo was an accidental underexposure but I thought it was pretty cool, capturing a dead tree in the middle of the hot springs.

Final Thoughts

After the hike at Mammoth Hot Springs, we walked back to the cabin at the hotel and I packed up to leave. We sat on the porch for a bit because the weather was very pleasant, and then said our tearful goodbyes. It was a wonderful weekend and so great to spend time with my parents in such an amazing place!

I had a lot of fun on the Lamar Valley walking tour, getting to see bison and other wildlife up close on the hike and after in the car ride! I loved going to some of the most popular sites like Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic, I feel like those are definitely sites you can’t miss and for good reason. One of my favorite spots was right in our backyard at Mammoth Hot Springs, and was a great place to stay right at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel (see my last post for a review!). I even had fun on the slightly cheesy yet entertaining Old West Dinner Cookout, and had some fantastic views while eating a nice steak dinner and on our chuck wagon ride.

I will definitely be back to Yellowstone National Park! The one thing I wish I would have gotten to see before I left, and where my parents were headed that afternoon, was the Yellowstone Canyon, which is known as “the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”, and the Artist Point waterfall overlook at the canyon. Oh well, that’s on the list of things to do on my next trip to Yellowstone!

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