Last week my boyfriend and I flew from LAX to the gorgeous and woodsy Missoula, Montana for our good friends Jake & Jill’s wedding. Their wedding was one of the most beautiful and fun weddings we’ve been to, and they sure know how to throw a party! Their entire event from start to finish was Pinterest board worthy, and you can tell how truly adored they are by how many wonderful people attended (and how many new friends we made!). If you’re interested, check out the hashtag #jakeandjillwedupthehill on Instagram for some snaps of their wedding.
I would give you an overview about what we did in Missoula but we mostly just did fun wedding-related festivities with our friends, and I would give you an overview of where we stayed in Missoula, but we stayed at an RV park, which brings me to…
When we began planning our trip to Missoula for the wedding, I quickly realized that Montana was right next to Wyoming which is where Yellowstone National Park (YNP) is located (well, a 5 hour drive/300 miles to be exact from Missoula, so not super close, but close enough for a doable road trip!). YNP has been on my travel bucket list for years, and it was pretty easy to convince my boyfriend (he’s the *best* and always up for an adventure) to tack on a few extra days to our trip to explore one of America’s most beloved National Parks.
Instead of renting a car and staying in hotels/camping through this trip, we decided to turn up the adventure notch a bit and rented a 25-foot RV from Cruise America, which we stayed in for the entire duration of the trip: 6 adventurous days and 5 cozy nights. As it was both of our first times renting an RV, we didn’t quite know what to expect, but we ended up absolutely L-O-V-I-N-G it all (and this is coming from the girl who is not a fan of tent camping - at all). I loved it because I truly love the great outdoors and fresh air, especially in a National Park setting as beautiful as this was, but I also like being cozy and comfortable. And overall, the RV was a very convenient and comfortable little home on wheels for us.
Some of the RV’s amenities included a shower (and water heater so our showers were nice and warm), kitchen area (microwave, stove top, fridge, freezer, cabinet areas to hold food and supplies, and full sink with warm water for washing dishes), plenty of space for dining/lounging, and a comfortable bed. The RV we rented sleeps 5, but since it was just the 2 of us, it felt very spacious and comfortable throughout the entire trip. Since we only brought carry-on suitcases with us (we are strictly carry-on-er’s only whenever we travel), we were able to rent kitchen and personal kits from Cruise America (more info here: https://www.cruiseamerica.com/rent/renters_resources/kits.aspx), which was super convenient and contained the main kitchen/personal necessities (cooking ware, dishes, towels, bedding, etc.).
From setting up campfires feet away from our home, waking up and making coffee together in the brisk mornings, stopping on the side of the beautiful roads to comfortably use the restroom or whip up some delicious turkey sandwiches for a lunch break - being in an RV made road tripping fun, enjoyable, convenient, and one huge adventure. I truly could not recommend the RV life more!
Below you will find a quick overview on some tid-bits of information to keep in mind when renting your first RV and special items to pack.
Important things to know before your first epic RV adventure (and also some things I wish we would have known beforehand):
Items to pack (or buy when you arrive at your nearest grocery store) for first-time RV’ers:
I hope that information above is helpful! For any additional information about renting an RV, I’d highly recommend you peruse Cruise America’s website here: https://www.cruiseamerica.com/
Keep reading below for my overview of all that we did and saw in Yellowstone National Park and details to help you plan an epic trip to America’s oldest National Park.
History shows that Native Americans have lived in the Yellowstone National Park area for at least 11,000 years, using the park as their home and hunting grounds prior to the arrival of European Americans in the late 1800’s. Yellowstone National Park was established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872, making it the oldest National Park in the United States.
Yellowstone is 2,219,789 acres/3,468.420 sq mi in area, larger than the states of Rhode Island or Delaware. What amazed me so much about this National Park was all of the different terrains it’s home to. From geothermal geysers and volcanic activity, to woodsy mountainsides and huge valleys filled with wildlife, to gigantic lakes and heavily flowing rivers - it was like discovering a new world at each and every turn. Below I’ll take you step-by-step through each of the 3 days we spent in Yellowstone, including what we did during each day, where we stopped, and where we stayed.
Our day #1 in Yellowstone was limited, since on this day we drove from Missoula, MT to the West Entrance (roughly 300 miles/5 hours driving). Once we entered through the West Entrance, we drove about 15 miles to the Madison Campground. We stayed in an RV space that did not have electric/septic tank hook-ups, but one night without hook-ups wasn’t a big deal for us since our RV had a built-in generator. The Madison Campground was located just a few minute walk from the Madison River which was absolutely stunning! As soon as we parked our RV, we poured some glasses of wine and walked down to the river to watch the sunset, which did not disappoint. Golden hour (the time just before the sun sets) was stunning, and it was such a beautiful start to our Yellowstone explorations.
Below you'll find where Madison Campground is on the map (where the little tent icon is), and for more information on booking a stay at Madison Campground visit: http://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/lodgings/campground/madison-campground/
On day #2 in Yellowstone, we woke up early, made coffee in our easy breezy pour-over coffee maker, ate some granola and a banana, and hit the road for a geyser-filled day of adventures. Yellowstone, as a whole, possesses close to 60 percent of the world's geysers, and there are more geysers in Yellowstone than in any other location on earth. If you’re wondering “what exactly is a geyser?” like we were, read below for a brief introduction from the Yellowstone National Park Service website:
“Geysers are hot springs with constrictions in their plumbing, usually near the surface, that prevent water from circulating freely to the surface where heat would escape. The deepest circulating water can exceed the surface boiling point (199°F/93°C). Surrounding pressure also increases with depth, much as it does with depth in the ocean. Increased pressure exerted by the enormous weight of the overlying water prevents the water from boiling. As the water rises, steam forms (watch video exploring Old Faithful's vent). Bubbling upward, the steam expands as it nears the top of the water column. At a critical point, the confined bubbles actually lift the water above, causing the geyser to splash or overflow. This decreases pressure on the system, and violent boiling results. Tremendous amounts of steam force water out of the vent, and an eruption begins. Water is expelled faster than it can enter the geyser's plumbing system, and the heat and pressure gradually decrease. The eruption stops when the water reservoir is depleted or when the system cools.”
I’ve been fascinated about this natural phenomenon for as long as I can remember, and we were determined to see some of the most noteworthy geysers in the park on this day.
Our first stop of the day was the Midway Geyser Basin. This area is located about half-way between the Madison and Old Faithful areas of the park and is home to the incredible Excelsior Geyser (a crater geyser with crystal blue waters) and the infamous Grand Prismatic Spring (the large, vibrantly colored one).
To get here: Drive 10.5 miles south of Madison Junction on Grand Loop Road. Turn right into the Midway Geyser Basin parking lot (you can’t miss the signs). The parking lot is small-ish, so I’d recommend getting here early. We arrived at about 8:30am and had no issues parking our RV at all. From the parking lot, you will cross the bridge over the Firehole River (you can’t miss it), to enter the beginning of the boardwalk trail.
To do/see here: There’s a 0.8 mile flat boardwalk that will take you about 30 minutes total to walk through. The boardwalk goes directly over the bubbling geothermal waters/volcanic area, so you definitely want to make sure you stay on the boardwalk at all times! During this easy stroll you’ll see both the Excelsior Geyser and the Grand Prismatic Spring.
The Excelsior Crater Geyser’s bubbling waters reach a sweltering 199 degrees, and it was once the largest geyser in the world, according to Carl Schreier’s “A Field Guide to Yellowstone's Geysers, Hot Springs and Fumaroles.” The last recorded major eruption of this geyser occurred during the 1880;s, with scorching hot waters exploding up to 300 feet in the air. Fortunately for visitors, today it’s “effectively dormant.” Its beautiful and vibrant blue waters are mesmerizing, and it’s one of Yellowstone’s most popular attractions.
Grand Prismatic Spring is large enough to be a lap pool, about 375 feet across and 125 feet deep, and the water temperature is a sweltering 160 degrees. Yellowstone’s website shares, “Deep beneath us, magma from an underground active volcano heats water that rises to the surface through fissures in the rocks. The result is a hot spring that pours almost 500 gallons of hot water each minute into the Firehole River. Minerals dissolved in the hot water are deposited and gradually build the gracefully terraced shoulders of this feature.” The colors in this hot spring are absolutely incredible! The red and orange colors in particular were so vibrant and fun to photograph, and we were in awe of the continuous steam gently rolling off the center of the geyser.
For more information about planning your stop at Midway Geyser Basin, visit this website: http://www.yellowstonenationalpark.com/midway.htm
Just this past July 2017, the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook trail opened, giving Yellowstone visitors an incredible bird's-eye view of one of the most incredible geysers in the park. To get the views like the ones above, you will want to park at the Fairy Falls trailhead (just a couple of miles south from Midway Geyser Spring, and just a few miles north of the Old Faithful area - you can’t miss the “Fairy Falls” signs for parking). Once you park at the Fairy Falls trailhead, you’ll want to cross over the river and follow the signs to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook. The total distance of this hike is just 2 miles roundtrip, with a descent ascent.
You’ll want to make sure you do this hike in the early-mid afternoon so that there’s less steam coming off the center of the geyser and you can see it in its entirety (if we did this hike at around 9am we probably wouldn’t have seen the entire blue center of the spring due to the heavy steam rolling off of it in the early morning hours. We did this hike later on in the afternoon when the temperature outside had warmed up a bit, and we were met with picture-perfect views). This detour is 100% worth it, and I’d highly recommend any Yellowstone visitors to pay it a visit!
Roughly a 6-mile drive south of Midway Geyser Basin is probably the most popular attraction in all of Yellowstone - the infamous and beloved Old Faithful! It’s one of the biggest and “most regular” erupting geysers in the park, attracting flocks of tourists to sit on the surrounding benches and wait patiently for it to erupt. Old Faithful erupts every 70-90 minutes for typically 1.5-5 minutes total, and the eruption of water and steam ranges anywhere from 90 – 184 feet high. Watching Old Faithful erupt was a pretty cool experience, but I guess I was somewhat underwhelmed because our eruption only lasted about 30 seconds. Plus, with so many tourists around, it was hard to get a really great view of it (I’ve heard the best place to view the eruption is from the hill right behind it and not where we were near the benches). It’s definitely worth seeing, though, while you’re in the park, and it’s popular for a reason! There is easy parking with a large lot, but keep in mind you may have to walk a decent distance from where you parked. Also, make sure to remember exactly where you parked since the lot is so large. :) There is also a lodge, general store, souvenir shop, restaurants, and a gas station here.
Either before/after you sit back and watch Old Faithful do it’s thang, I’d highly recommend you do the 3-mile roundtrip Upper Geyser Basin Boardwalk Loop. Upper Geyser Basin is home to the largest concentration of geysers in the world. You will start this walk at Old Faithful, and it’ll take you about an hour or so (depending on your speed) to walk through a large variety of fascinating, bubbling (some even erupting), colorful geysers and hot springs on your stroll. The Morning Glory Pool was my favorite geyser we saw in this area (the colorful pool is in the picture above with me in it), and since this is the last stop on the walk, you’ll definitely want to make sure you make it to the end of the loop. If you get lucky, like we did, you may even see some bison grazing just meters away from you, as you leisurely stroll along the boardwalks here. :)
You can find more information about visiting the Midway Geyser Basin here: http://www.yellowstonenationalpark.com/uppergeyser.htm
At the end of our geyser-filled day, and after checking into Fishing Bridge RV park (more on this below), we walked over to the gorgeous Yellowstone Lake just in time to enjoy the sunset. Sitting back, relaxing, and enjoying the sun fall behind pink skies and mountains could not have been a better way to end our adventurous day #2 in Yellowstone!
For more information on Yellowstone Lake, you can visit: http://yellowstone.net/intro/yellowstone-lake/
On night #2 in Yellowstone, I was very thankful that we were staying at an RV campsite with full hook-ups. We were able to easily hook up fresh water for showers and washing dishes (so we didn’t have to use water from our limited tank), our septic tank (it was getting near full after a couple of days), and full electric (it costs $ to run the generator). Overall, we thought the Fishing Bridge Campground was pretty much perfect. Our campsite was surrounded by trees and felt so woodsy and cozy. There’s also a General Store and Visitor Center nearby, and as I mentioned above, we were easily able to stroll over to Yellowstone Lake (it was only about a 15 minute walk). As we walked over to the lake, we were also greeted with a herd of bison in an open nearby field, which absolutely made our evening! We ended day #2 in Yellowstone drinking wine, playing card games (I may or may not be unbeatable at speed, btw), and loving our time together under the stars and incredible Milky Way.
For more information about the Fishing Bridge RV Park and to book your stay, visit: http://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/lodgings/campground/fishing-bridge-rv-park/
Day #3 was our final day in Yellowstone before making the drive back to Missoula, MT, and we decided to sleep in a little later this morning and have a slower start to our day. As we woke up to a brisk, peaceful morning and made our coffee, I couldn’t stop chatting about how much I loved the RV life - and I really meant it! Everything about RV-ing for us was so comfortable, fun, and easy. Neither of us had ever rented an RV before, but we knew we were hooked after this first-time adventure, we were already starting to talk about the next time we’d rent one. @Cruise America - want to hire us to travel around the country and write/photograph our experiences? Hit a girl up, if you do!
Anyways, on to day #3 adventures - To get from Fishing Bridge to the Grand Canyon (our last Yellowstone stop of the trip), there’s only one way - and it’s a gorgeous one at that! - which is driving through Hayden Valley. As you drive through the winding roads, you will be greeted with miles and miles of gorgeous valley floor, a lazy stretch of the Yellowstone River, and most likely (multiple) animal sightings. This lush, green valley is know as the place to see wildlife in the park. We only saw bison and a fox during our drive through this area, but there are commonly both elk and bear sightings here. The only downside about Hayden Valley is that we drove through it pretty quickly it seemed, and I craved more of it. Coming from the bustling city of LA, the terrain here was such a different experience for us, and we truly loved it.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is estimated to be about 10,000-14,000 years old and is roughly 20 miles long. It’s one of the most “geologic” features in the park, and the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon (pictured above), which is just over 300 feet in height, is one of the most photographed spots in Yellowstone. When researching for our trip, I saw online that Artist’s Point at the Grand Canyon was one of the best - and easiest to get to - views in the park, so I added it to our agenda. We knew we’d have a long drive ahead of us after this (which was our final stop in the park), so we didn’t want to commit to too big of a hike or energy-consuming adventure.
To get to Artist's Point at the Grand Canyon from Hayden Valley, you’ll continue North on Grand Loop Road and then take a right onto South Rim Drive. After you drive about 1.5 miles on South Rim Drive, you’ll meet the end of the road and find a big parking lot. Snag a parking spot when you can (my boyfriend didn’t really have a choice but to parallel park our RV - is that skills or what?!), and then you’ll head out to the overlook. It’s only a 1/10th mile walk from start to finish, and you will be greeted with incredible, picturesque views of the Grand Canyon and Lower Falls. We hung around for a bit, took some pictures, and enjoyed the sights before returning to our little home on wheels. We then left the park through the North Entrance (there are 6 entrances total to the park that you’ll need to keep in mind when planning your trip here) and drove back to Missoula, MT to return our RV (sad day!) and fly back to good ol’ Los Angeles.
Gahhh. Honestly, where do I begin here? Overall, I think this was my most favorite and enjoyable Getaway from L.A. trip to date. There was something about being out on the open roads, soaking up SO much nature, clean air, and wildlife, being without much cell phone and internet reception, and exploring such a truly incredible location with one of my favorite people on earth - that made me feel so happy and grateful this entire trip. As a first time RV-er, I didn’t know quite know what to expect, but I will most definitely be renting one again (hopefully sooner rather than later). Out of both Yosemite and Joshua Tree National Parks which I’ve visited in the past year or so, I’d say Yellowstone takes the cake, because there was so much to see and do here. I was constantly in awe of the stunning sceneries, volcanic activity, and those cute, big ol’ furry bison wandering around. If you get a chance to visit Yellowstone, I’d absolutely say DO IT! And if you get the chance to rent an RV and hit the road with a friend or romantic partner, you betcha I’d say DO IT! to that as well. Adventure is out there, my friends, but it’s up to us to take advantage of it.
To the RV life & Yellowstone: I love you dearly - thank you for an inspiring, unforgettable, and fun trip! And now to start planning for the next #GetawayfromLA...
WANDER BEYOND THE CITY LINES...
As much as I love to explore L.A., it's good for the soul to getaway every now & then. Join me as I escape from the city to explore new locations, both locally and globally!
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