Before we could get to Yellowstone our route was dictated by Verizon stores. Remember Jason sat on his phone and broke it? Well, it took THREE different Verizon stores before we could get him a new phone. On one of those stops, we were also able to pick up some bear spray and bear bells. Being from Iowa and heading to “Bear Country” to hike and camp, we wanted to be as prepared as we could. Bear spray is around $50, which seems like a lot but, it gave us peace of mind on the trails. The bear bells (literally just a large bell with a velcro hook that you can attach to your shirt, pants, shoes, backpack, etc) were $4.
We free-camped for the night in Miles City, MT right by a river. It was beautiful. We met a fellow camper, Len. He has been all over and gave us maps with notes that he made on great places to stay and things to do. It was so nice to visit with him, talk about all of our travels and his experience with the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (we had just finished the documentary series Wild Wild Country on Netflix and he was around the area during this time so it was so very interesting to hear his perspective on this subject). The next morning we made stopped at a National Forest Ranger Station in Sheridan, WY. If we are headed into the National Forests, especially for dispersed camping (aka free camping) we like to talk with the rangers to get the lay of the land and their recommendations on where to stay. It is hard to get cell service when in the National Forests so getting the information ahead of time is key. After our talk with the rangers, we took MichelVangelo on his first mountain excursion up the Big Horn Mountains. Very steep with many switchbacks which required many “scenic overlook breaks” for us. MichelVangelo did manage to overheat at one point and coolant spilled out all over the road but hey, he made it! We camped off of Forest Service Road 16, and would have liked to stay longer than one night to do some hiking but the weather forecast called for thunderstorms all weekend. It was the first time sleeping in the van during a thunderstorm (aka very little sleep) and it seemed much louder. And let me tell you, it is much easier to go down a mountain than up it, MichelVangelo thought so too.
The night before we went to Yellowstone, we stayed at the Three Mile Campground in the Shoshone National Forest. It is literally 3 miles from the East Entrance of Yellowstone. We spent the day watching “Rock Guy.” Literally a guy camping next to us, finding rocks in the national forest (illegal FYI) cracking them open and cleaning them for his collection. He had about half a picnic table full of rocks he had collected, broken, and cleaned… to each his own but, seriously don’t take stuff from National Forests or National Parks (just pictures and memories). My friend Sarah said to get to Yellowstone as early as 6 a.m. to avoid crowds, thank you Sarah for the advice, it was definitely worth it! We arrived to Yellowstone on a Sunday and headed straight for a campground to secure a spot as some of the campgrounds are “1st come, 1st serve” and they fill up fast. The Yellowstone website shows you what time each campground filled the day before, some fill up before 6 a.m.! Norris campground was our choice as it is fairly centrally located to what we wanted to see. Two and a half hours of waiting in line and we got a campsite and immediately left to explore Old Faithful!
Jason has been to Yellowstone before but, this was my first time. For that reason, I made Jason sit with me for an hour in front of Old Faithful waiting for it to blow. I know, they have it down to a science “every 90 minutes give or take 13 minutes” but, since it was my first time I wanted a front row seat. About 4 minutes before Old Faithful did it’s thing, an asshole in a Tesla hat (this detail is very important) sat on the boardwalk right in front of me! He was in the way of my camera that had been set up to video the geyser and his head was in the way of my phone for my photos I was going to take. Nothing like sitting around for an hour to have this guy ruin it all and for that reason I will never purchase a Tesla (like we could ever afford it). Jason asked what I thought of Old Faithful, my response was, “honestly, I thought it was going to be bigger.” After our debacle with Tesla Hat Guy we decided to head to the Old Faithful Inn to their deck on the second level for a few beers. Pro Tip: grab a drink and watch Old Faithful from the deck, it’s much more enjoyable!
Stopped at the visitor center and got our patch and sticker, we also talked with the park ranger on day hikes to do. Most times they have some sort of handout, so save your money on hiking books and talk with the people who know the park the best. On our way back to Norris we stopped at the Grand Prismatic Spring at the Midway Geyser Basin. It was stunning, the colors are just amazing! Once we got back to our campground we realized Jason forgot our “welcome” mat in the Old Faithful parking lot… chalk that up to another thing that needs to be replaced.
Monday morning we did the Purple Mountain hike (6.4 miles in total), which was one of the hikes the Park Ranger recommended. With our bear spray in hand, and my bear bells attached to my pack we hiked the 3.2 miles up with a 1,500 ft. elevation gain. Once at the top you get panoramic views of the Madison and Gibbon rivers. It was a strenuous hike (aka butt burner) but beautiful and not crowded at all. On our way back to our campsite we stopped at Gibbon Falls and Norris Geyser. Norris Geyser was a nice little surprise and definitely worth a stop. Tuesday we decided to get up early to go and explore around Canyon Village. On our drive over MichelVangelo was starting to overheat and we made many stops but he still was running hot. Within Yellowstone there are a few auto repair shops and we decided to take him over and get some advice from the mechanic. Cole, the mechanic, was a great guy who looked it over. He didn’t see anything alarming and topped off our coolant. $57.00 later we hoped it would do the trick and headed to Wapiti Trailhead to hike the Clear Lake/Ribbon Lake 6 mile loop. Walked out over a meadow and right on the trail were 2 buffalo. We gave them plenty of space (it’s the law) and detoured around them back onto the trail. As we were walking toward the woods we heard loud grunting. Both of us got very nervous thinking it would be a possible bear. It was more buffalo, three to be exact and we hightailed it out of there to give them plenty of room to graze. We walked through a few areas with active geysers and ended the hike at Clear Lake, which was a beautiful green lake.
Once we finished the hike, we made our way to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We waited and went after 5:30pm, it was definitely less crowded. We hiked down to the Lower Falls which consisted of short, steep switchbacks. Not our best idea after just hiking 6 miles yesterday and today but man it the views were worth it. We hiked back to the top of decided to go to the different lookouts to see the Grand Canyon from other angles, worth it. These were my favorite views in all of Yellowstone.
Wednesday we were up early again and drove to Lewis Lake campground on the south end of Yellowstone. We secured a campsite and met fellow van campers Tom and Nancy. Tom visited with Jason about our solar system set up, along with recommendations of places to visit. Nancy visited with me about her toilet, not kidding.
“I’m 79 years old, I can’t keep getting up at 2:30 in the morning to find a bathroom so I have my potty.”
I got the full tutorial of just how their portable chemical toilet works and why I should get one for the van. As long as we’re being so open about this, I will let you know that if you’re a woman who is camping/hiking/WEARING A ROMPER/etc. you need to invest in a pee funnel. I read many reviews on different funnels for women and I chose REI’s. This little device has been life changing, as it has saved me from having to drop trou in the woods as I can literally pee like a man. Disclaimer: I was very nervous to try it, so I decided to have a few alcoholic beverages and I gave it a “go,” it has been smooth sailing ever since! For #2 duties, you pray for a bathroom or you dig a hole in the woods (please cover it back up, it’s part of the “Leave No Trace” policy).
We ended our Yellowstone trip with an easy 3 mile hike to Shoshone Lake (great hike for families in my opinion) and paid $9.01 for the both of us to finally take a shower (it had been 8 days).