There’s a meme that says I don’t want to marry into a family that hikes and runs marathons on holidays. Newsflash: The Wright family is that family. We packed our bags, took our boys, and headed from Bozeman to Yellowstone for a 2-day adventure of a lifetime to celebrate my husband’s birthday.
Bozeman, Montana is considered to be the gateway to Yellowstone National Park. It’s referred to as the most livable city in the United States, attracting millennials and tech enthusiasts.
Getting to and Arriving in Bozeman
We arrived in Bozeman, a small airport, a little after midnight, and drove to our hotel in Big Sky, about 1 hour away.
Upon arriving at The Wilson/Residence Inn, which is a huge hotel in the middle of Big Sky Town Center, we immediately knew this was not your average Residence Inn.
The rooms are all suites with amazing views and a large heated pool, hot tub, spa, and playground. There are several restaurants, grocery stores, and boutiques within the complex the hotel is located; therefore, you really don’t have to go far for any of your needs.
When you’re traveling from Bozeman to Yellowstone, it’s important to think about where you’re going to stay.
Bozeman is about a two hour drive to Yellowstone, so we decided to stay in Big Sky, which is in the middle of both.
If you’re traveling with toddlers, like we were, try to minimize the stay in a car because they can get antsy.
Day 1: Exploring Big Sky and Bozeman
Lone Peak Expedition
Big Sky Resort is the biggest ski resort in the US. It’s situated in the center of Lone Peak, which is a mountain peak that is over 11,100 ft. Big Sky also offers the highest elevation of 7,218 ft in the area.
The ride from our hotel to Big Sky Resort, the home of Lone Peak Expedition, took approximately ten minutes. Upon entering the resort’s compound, you’ll see the beautiful lake where people are kayaking, canoeing, and having an overall good time. The joy on everyone’s face made us even more excited to reach the top of Lone Peak.
To kick the adventure off, we took the open-air truck halfway up the mountain, which was a 30-minute drive. Then we took a tram the rest of the way up. It was so cool to be suspended in the air going up thousands of feet within a few minutes. When we arrived, we had a mini climb to get to the ultimate elevation of 11,100 feet. There was a sudden feeling of peace as the beauty of the mountains enveloped everyone.
This is an experience for the memory books. The boys especially loved being in the open-air truck and throwing rocks once we reached the peak (which interrupted everyone’s peaceful vibes, lol). But witnessing the joy and amazement the boys had from this experience, made everything worth it.
Big Sky Resort
After eating, we explored the resort area of Big Sky, which was a welcomed activity for the kids. It is filled with lots of kid-friendly activities such as trampolines, mini-golf, playground area, and an uncovered museum. The museum is basically a wooden contraption filled with flowing water, sand, and gems. Kiddos played with delight on their faces as they used the sifter to discover the hidden gems.
Before our next adventure, we decided to eat. We had hot dogs from Yeti Dogs, a place known for its legendary hot dogs. I’m not the biggest hot dog fan, but I must admit they were pretty tasty!
After lunch, we drove an hour to Bozeman to go to the Museum of the Rockies. The Museum of the Rockies has a huge collection of dinosaur fossils. It also is home to a planetarium, a 4K Digital Theater. Personally, I thought it was going to be a bit cooler based off the fossil displays they had on display at the airport, but the boys seemed to have had fun and learned a ton.
Afterward, we explored downtown Bozeman, which was super cute. Main Street is lined with lots of shops and restaurants, but we were on a mission to find food. When you’re in Montana, the rule is you eat bison, so we had our minds made up for some yummy bison. We ate at Ted’s Montana Grill, which is inside The Baxter Hotel, located on Main Street historic district of Bozeman. Ted’s has one of the largest selections of bison dishes in the world.
The bison was delicious. The boys had Bison meatloaf; I decided on a Bison burger and my husband had Bison short ribs. Unfortunately, we all were so hungry that I didn’t get a chance to get a picture of the food.
Day 2: Yellowstone National Park
Before we left, Jaime, my husband, spoke to someone that said Yellowstone was a 12-hour activity overall. If you follow my guide, it will be about the same for you. We left the hotel at 10 a.m. and returned at 10 p.m. So prepare for the long shift!
The drive from Big Sky to the West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park is an hour’s drive. If you tend to sleep on long drives, the view alone may keep you awake. Once you get close to the entrance, you realize the town is a little country town. There is lodging near the West Entrance if you would prefer to stay a little closer or plan to go to Yellowstone for multiple days. The town itself looks like it’s straight out of a Western Movie.
Entrance tickets to the National Park are $35 per car and are valid for 7 days. The entrance line can be rather long, taking 20 – 30 mins to enter the park. If you prefer not to wait as long, you can purchase your tickets in advanced online. This will allow you to be in an expedited lane.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
North Rim Trail
When we finally got inside, we drove straight to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is about an hour’s drive from the west entrance. When you park, you’ll be in the Canyon Village. Upon walking the trail, you’ll have an option between the Lower Falls Brink and North Rim Trail. We opted for the latter. We walked to the upper basin from the North Rim Trail, which took us about 45 minutes to an hour, roundtrip. I was super nervous about seeing bears because there are grizzly bears in Yellowstone. Bear spray is recommended by most experts, but at $50 a can; we passed and opted to sing at the top of our lungs so the bears wouldn’t get scared if they were around. Most bear attacks happen because you frighten them.
If you’re not much of a hiker, you can park at the upper basin and make your journey shorter. However, we went through the trail, up to the upper basin. Man was it beautiful! To see that amount of clear, beautiful water rushing down was amazing. The sound by itself was something to witness.
Lower Falls Brink
As we were about to exit the trail and return to our car, another hiker encouraged us to do the Lower Falls Brink Trail as it’s even more beautiful than the upper basin. We heeded their suggestion and continued down the Lower Falls Brink which is known as a switchback hike because it follows a zig-zag pattern. Instead of climbing directly down the slope, you go sharply from one direction to the other. This kind of hike requires more endurance as it’s steep, dropping 300ft within ten minutes. Going down took us 30 to 45 minutes. But as our fellow hiker stated, we were not disappointed. This vantage point solidified why it is named the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The Yellowstone River cascades down 308 feet into the canyon, making it the tallest waterfall in the Rockies. A breathtaking view, indeed.
Now the walk back up is not for the faint of heart, especially with twin toddlers in tow. Luckily there are benches throughout the trail for those of us who need a break.
We took the boys to the actual Grand Canyon in Arizona when they were one, click here to learn all about it.
After that adventure, we drove 15 minutes to Hayden Valley to see the bison. Let me tell you, they were everywhere! The goal is to keep driving as they’re all lined up in the valley, on both sides. Luckily, as we entered the valley traffic was low enough for us to pull to the side of the road, allowing me the opportunity to get out of the car and follow a lone bison doing his own own thing. This most definitely was a highlight of the trip! I was expecting to see other animals such as elks, but we didn’t. Either way, it was worth the visit.
Geysers, Basins, and Hot Springs
Old Faithful Geyser
The next stop was Old Faithful Geyser, which was an hour’s drive from Hayden Valley. A geyser is a hot spring that spouts jets of steam and hot water. Old Faithful Geyser has its name as a result of its frequent and somewhat predictable eruptions which number more than a million since 1872.
When we arrived, it had just erupted, which meant we would have to wait another 90 minutes for it to go off again. Luckily, the area that Old Faithful is in includes a historic hotel, gift shops and two different restaurants. One restaurant was cafeteria style, and the other wasn’t. It was fast food with outdoor seating that allowed us the choice to sit outside.
There are other geysers in the area, but they erupt at different times. Old Faithful is the biggest one, the water shoots up high and it lasts about ten minutes. It was a pretty cool experience, but the boys didn’t seem too impressed, lol.
Grand Prismatic Springs
After we witnessed Old Faithful’s eruption, we headed to Midway Geyser Basin, which is fifteen minutes away and also includes the Grand Prismatic Springs.
What I found interesting about Midway Geyser Basin is the water was hot because it’s a basin but it was still cold because the sun was setting and it was 50 degrees outside. We experienced different complexities of temperatures at the same time. As we kept walking, we saw the different colors of the Prismatic Springs. Man was it a beautiful sight as the sun was setting in the background.
Fun Fact: The different colors of the Prismatic Springs are caused by bacteria and thermophiles? Each color is specific to a particular temperature range.
What a day! After an activity-filled day, we headed back to the resort, which was another hour and a half drive from the Midway Geyser Basin. Needless to say, after 16K steps in one day, we slept like babies.
So Much More To Do
Of course there is so much more to do from Bozeman to Yellowstone. In fact, one could spend an entire week, if not more exploring both. While in Bozeman, we wanted to visit one of the Hot Springs and tube down the Madison River. Similarly, there is so much more to Yellowstone- even in the areas we were in- from the Yellowstone Mud Pots to Lamar Valley which attracts the biggest land species in the park. In fact, Yellowstone is so large that you can drive through it to the Grand Tetons, *adds to bucketlist!