Our first visit to Yellowstone National Park was back in 2015, and it was only over a long weekend. This year, we knew we wanted to spend dedicated time in Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park, and go back to Yellowstone to explore the areas we didn’t get to in 2015.
We accomplished that first goal over two weeks at Upper Teton View. Then, as base camp for Yellowstone, we decided to stay in the town of West Yellowstone.
We stayed in West Yellowstone from June 9-22, 2018.
Where We Stayed in West Yellowstone
Energized by our dry camping spot overlooking the Grand Tetons, we were geared up for another beautiful camp site. But we were arriving on a Saturday, and we knew better than to expect a good (any?) spot during peak season.
By some miracle, we snagged a pull-through, river view site at Baker’s Hole Campground, part of Custer Gallatin National Forest. There are two types of sites: dry camping ($16/night) and electric-only ($23/night). There are potable water spigots all over, so filling water jugs is easy. No reservations are available.
Besides our clear view over the Madison River, our site also had a picnic table and large fire ring.
I loved this campground. It felt peacefully isolated, yet was only five minutes from everything in town. We didn’t struggle with Internet as much as we did at Upper Teton View. There were a couple of times we needed to go into town (typically when heavy clouds rolled in), but it wasn’t a regular thing.
Mosquitos were still bothersome–mostly at twilight. Even in mid-June, we had really low temperatures at night that kept the bugs at bay. Low temperatures, as in, it snowed during one of our trips to Yellowstone. As in, lows in the 20s at night. Caspian slept on the floor of our bedroom every night, which we also did in the Tetons. The bedroom typically stays 10 degrees warmer than the living room at night.
Caspian had a milestone here: his first time walking a half-mile all by himself. It was on level ground through the campground, and he stopped to look at rocks and flowers a lot. But it still counts!
Tips for Dry Campers
On our way out of town, we dumped at Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park for $10.
Showers and laundry happened at Canyon Street Laundromat & Showers (312 N. Canyon St.). Never had an experience quite like it, but we went twice–once a week during our stay.
The laundromat was nothing to write home about. The machines were old and a bit unreliable, especially the dryer that ate my quarters. The showers were coin-operated. I could take a lightning-fast shower for $3, but that was rushing it. The facility as a whole was old, but the bathroom was clean. Look, I’m not going to complain about the circumstances if I get to take a shower.
312 N. Canyon St.
Family Love Time
We celebrated and enjoyed a number of family moments during our time in West Yellowstone. We arrived on Eric’s 48th birthday; welcomed Javen (17) and Silas (14) for Highland Family Summer Vacation (they flew into Bozeman from California); and had a splendid Father’s Day together. Our big kids don’t get out of school until mid-June, so they aren’t usually with us by Father’s Day. So this was extra special.
Eric said he wanted to eat at Frostop in Ashton, Idaho, for his Father’s Day lunch. After the 55-minute drive, we covered our table with delicious food, including Frostop’s famous root beer floats. Well worth the drive!
26 North Hwy 20, Ashton, ID – TripAdvisor
What We Did in West Yellowstone
The town of West Yellowstone was underwhelming. It’s small to begin with, and I classify the shops into two main categories: kitschy and fly fishing.
Outside of the national park, there were two activity highlights during our time here. Eric did quite a bit of off-roading with the Jeep through Custer Gallatin National Forest. He picked up a trail map at the ranger station, which is on the way into town.
It seemed like everyone told us we had to go to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. We’ve definitely never seen anything like it. There isn’t a lot of ground to cover, but animal lovers will be fascinated by the unparalleled access to these beautiful, powerful predators.
The animals are treasured here. Each staff member we met was full of intimate stories about the animals: their personalities, why they’re at the center, and what their days are like. Your experience will be richer if you stop to talk to them for a while.
201 S. Canyon St. – Website
Where We Ate in West Yellowstone
Anyone who’s been following us for any length of time knows we’re foodies who like to eat out a lot. Put another way, I’m not much of a cook. ?
We struck out at West Yellowstone restaurants a couple of times before finally landing on a favorite. Slippery Otter Pub had good French fries, but everything else was just passable. Similar story at The Buffalo Bar. We admired the gorgeous stuffed bison, but the food was average and we struggled with a wiggly one-year-old since they didn’t have highchairs.
Firehole BBQ was brand new and we loved getting to know the kind owners. The brisket and sauce were solid, and I enjoyed the corn salad side. I missed authentic sweet tea and other marks of home. There’s nothing quite like Texas barbecue.
That favorite I mentioned? Taqueria Malverde. We thought the tacos were amazing, until we tried the burritos. This is a family-owned business: parents and their two sons. The youngest, a high school student, had a spark of curiosity Eric and I loved. He told us of his dreams to visit Paris with his brother, mentioning his special wish to see the palace of Versailles. I have a good feeling he’ll make it there some day.
Now for the coffee shops. Caspian and I have developed a tradition of going out every morning between breakfast and his morning nap. I can make good coffee at home, so what I’m really looking for is a local business with outstanding pastries of some kind.
We tried Yellowstone Greens & Grounds first. The menu caters to those with dietary restrictions and includes items you can’t find everywhere, like bullet coffee. However, there’s little indoor seating and tons of things at toddler-level that can be grabbed and destroyed. If the weather was warmer during our stay, we could’ve happily camped out on the sidewalk patio.
21 N. Canyon St. – Facebook
But if the weather had been warmer, then we never would’ve discovered Book Peddler Coffee Shop & Bakery. I absolutely loved this place.
One third bookstore, one third boutique gift shop, one third cafe, there’s a little of everything here. I got a punch card for my delicious coffee (medium and dark roast available), and got to gift someone a free coffee on my last morning in town.
The atmosphere is delightfully low-key–Caspian and I made friends almost every morning. But the real highlight: the incredible pastries. I tried so many items and they were all good, but the huckleberry icing sugar cookies and pumpkin loaf were seriously incredible. They don’t have the pumpkin loaf every day. If you’re lucky enough to see it, then get it.
106 N. Canyon St. – Yelp
There are a couple of grocery stores in town. A local recommended Market Place to me. The selection was so-so (#smalltownlife), but the produce was higher quality than I expected. This was the first time in weeks and weeks that I saw wine on display all over a grocery store (we were in Utah for quite a while). Just get ready for the high prices that go along with small towns/tourist hot spots.
22 Madison Ave.
Yellowstone National Park Adventures
As of this writing, I’ve been to 26 of the 60 national parks in the United States. Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the world, is my favorite.
It’s this unrivaled combination of everything national parks are intended to preserve: fantastic geological features, incredible wildlife, meaningful history.
We visited Yellowstone at least three times. Our first time was arguably the most epic, and it was actually when we were staying at Upper Teton View. We drove 320 miles that day, and got to see the far north and east reaches of the park for the first time. Eric made it his mission to count the wildlife we saw.
More than 12 hours later, this was the count:
- 1,450+ bison
- 40 elk
- 33 pronghorn
- 10 big horn sheep
- 3 grizzly bears
- 2 black bears
- 2 mountain goats
And we saw even more on our return visits.
Back in 2015, we didn’t see nearly this much wildlife. A lot of the listed animals were in Lamar Valley (1,100/1,450 bison), which we didn’t get to in 2015. But even in areas we visited last time, we saw way more animals this year. Could it be the time of year–June versus July? I meant to talk to a ranger about this because the difference was striking, but I never got a chance.
We dined at Roosevelt Lodge, located at Tower Junction heading into Lamar Valley. This was an extremely pleasant surprise, given the quality of the food and reasonable prices. The ribs and bison burger were both incredible. Plus, the lodge is named after Theodore Roosevelt, commemorating his camping trip to the area with naturalist John Burroughs. The coffee at the store next door is solid, in case you need to take some for the road.
We went back another afternoon to wander all the trails around Mammoth Springs. There were a lot more stairs and hills than we expected, so be prepared if you have knee pain or mobility issues.
On the way back to West Yellowstone, we got stuck in a bison jam. We were literally at a standstill for an hour and a half. Keeping a good attitude took some effort, but we were rewarded for the wait.
Once Javen and Silas arrived, we took them into Lamar Valley to see the wildlife. We revisited Midway Geyser Basin, which is probably our favorite place to see geothermal features (West Thumb Geyser Basin is also stunning with its setting on Yellowstone Lake, the largest high altitude lake in the country).
We wrapped up that last day in the park with a visit to Old Faithful. As we were waiting for the eruption, the rangers started warning the crowd of an approaching lightning storm with high winds. They strongly suggested everyone seek cover.
Old Faithful was supposed to go off at any moment, so we stuck it out as the temperature plummeted and the sky went dark. We did end up retreating to the edge of Old Faithful Inn, where an overhang protected us from the frigid rain. Though we weren’t close anymore, we still got to see the explosion of water. The expression on Caspian’s face was priceless.