Our experience with the huge crowds in the Grand Tetons had Ashley and I both almost dreading our three days in Yellowstone. We are currently in the middle of a pandemic so the four of us have a mask on whenever we are around other people. We also keep a safe distance (if 6 feet is good then 12 is better) when we are around others. Alexander and Victoria have never once complained about having to wear a mask or step way off the trail while other hikers pass by. Unfortunately that is not the practice of most of the people in this area. So when you combine large crowds of people who do not believe in science or trust medical professionals and then confine them to small viewing areas, it make a recipe that Ashley and I both want to avoid. So we set off for Yellowstone but we told the kids that if it looks like we will not be able to keep safe distances from people (especially those without a mask on) then we would not be seeing everything at Yellowstone. Victoria and Alexander are both keenly aware of the pandemic and the dangers of Covid so they agreed with our precautions. Our first day in the park we checked into our campsite at 2 pm set up our trailer and drove to Old Faithful to see the schedule so that we can get an idea of when we could see it put on its display. As luck would have it, we arrived about 15 minutes before it was next expected to go off. So despite the growing crowd we found a place away from the main viewing area and were able to see Old Faithful put on her spectacular display. Now we were less than two hours into our Yellowstone visit and we were already able check one major goal off our to-see list. We decided to head out to the west side of the park to see some of the different geyser basins. We visited many geysers of all shapes, sizes, activity levels and colors. On the drives between each of them Ashley, Victoria and Alexander took turns reading about how and why the geysers are here and what is happening beneath the earth to make all of this happen. It was a really great geology lesson that the kids really loved. They liked seeing the actual outcomes of the volcanic activity below us and would talk about it as they gazed upon the boiling water rising from the ground. After a few hours touring the various attractions we noticed the crowds dwindling. We were about to head back to have dinner as it was now 6pm but the lack of people at the attractions encouraged us to continue our tour of the park. Within an hour we were nearly the only people at each stop. We decided to continue and we did so until it became dark around 9 pm. So for three hours we did not have any crowds to contend with and most of the time did not even have to have our masks on because we had the places to ourselves. We got back to our camper at 1030 pm and immediately went to bed.
For our only full day at the park we planned to get up before sunrise to drive to a wildlife viewing area known for being able to see wolves and Grizzly bears. So despite our late night before, we all got up at 4 am and headed out. It was a 30 mile drive to a large valley so the kids slept as we drove to the overlook. We watched the sun rise from the overlook but were disappointed that we were not able to see any wolves or grizzlies. There were of course many, many, many bison, elk and deer. The sun was now up at 530am but there were few people around so we decided to explore the other side of the park. Again we had most of the attractions to ourselves this early in the morning. We made our way to the north side of the park and to the only open visitor center in the park. At 1030am we went inside to buy a few Yellowstone keepsakes and then headed back to our camper as the crowds began to come out. We went back to our campsite for a long nap. Later on in the day we got out and explored some less popular attractions and went swimming in Yellowstone Lake.
We had to check out of our campsite at 11am so we had very little time on our third day so again we got moving early. The attraction that Ashley wanted to see the most was the Prismatic Pool. We visited it on our first day but the sun had gone down so the colors were not as vibrant. Our plan was to see this last attraction before we left and while the sun was up. We drove out to the Prismatic Pool and were able to get a better view with the sun up however it was steaming so much that it was not exactly as great as some of the pictures you see. It was still a beautiful place to experience as our last visit in Yellowstone. We made our way back to the camper, packed up and just like that our Yellowstone visit was over. We told the kids that someday when the pandemic is over and things are back to normal (fingers crossed) we will visit Yellowstone again and plan to stay for as long as is needed. We were only there a few days but we felt that we were able to see a lot for the time we allotted.
Our biggest takeaway from Yellowstone is how amazing it was to be in such a massive expanse of protected wilderness and yet there are some many people there. We really appreciated the designers and managers of the park as they beautifully balanced the crowds and attractions while at the same time protected the wildness of the park. Due to our lack of time we were able to schedule in the park we did not have the opportunity for a back country hike but we will be back in the future and all four of us look forward to an expedition deep into the wilderness of Yellowstone.