2017 YNP, GTNP, GNP, & TRNP Road Trip: Part II

Recently we went on a 10-ish day, super amazing road trip through Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, & North Dakota (and technically South Dakota on the very last day). We visited Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Glacier National Park, & Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Hope you enjoy the recap!

In case you missed it, you can find Part I here.

Day 3: Yellowstone National Park

We spent most of Day 3 in YNP, taking the driving tour and trying to see some of the more famous features. This was the day that we were able to see Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic, & the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We basically spent the entire day trying to get around the south loop, which is bigger than it seems! I’ll just let a couple of pictures speak for themselves!

Old Faithful, YNP

This was also the day of the Solar Eclipse! We had originally intended to head down to GTNP since there was going to be a 100% eclipse over most of the park. However, after talking with some of the Rangers, we decided that it would be far too crowded and that 98% was good enough for us. 🙂 We ended up watching the eclipse at Inspiration Point. And that’s when I figured out where Yellowstone got it’s name.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Look at all that yellow rock!

Day 4: Grand Teton National Park

LC exploring

For this day we wanted to maximize our time in the park so we got up and rolling early. Once we were in the park we stopped for breakfast near Jackson Lake. We don’t often make use of the picnic areas near different features but it was a great place to stop, cook a little breakfast (the benefit of carrying your food/kitchen in your car at all times due to bears) and let LC stretch his legs a bit.

Chocolate chip pancakes!

It was an absolutely gorgeous day in the park and as with all of our other adventures, I wish we could have stayed longer. It was a much quieter park than Yellowstone, it doesn’t have as much tourist-y allure, but definitely don’t pass it up if you’re anywhere near. The pictures don’t even begin to do it justice.

After a long day in the park, we headed back to camp to settle in before our last day in Yellowstone.

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How to Go Camping with a Toddler (and Actually Have Fun!)

Before we had LC, we ran into a lot of people who would tell us to have fun while we could, because after you have kids you won’t be able to keep up with any of your old hobbies. They would tell us, travel while you can, cycle while you can, go out to restaurants while you can,…because once you have kids, the fun STOPS.

Well I am here to tell you that could not be farther from the truth! Since we have had our son we have been on several long road trips (the most recent one was over 10 days long!), taken an overnight train to Denver, ridden our bikes across Iowa (with help from grandparents), participated in my first Triathlon, and done lots of other fun things as a family.

That being said, one of the things that I was nervous about initially was taking our little guy camping. I rekindled my love for camping and the outdoors during a 2014 road trip and was scared we’d have to put that kind of adventure on hold now that we are three. As it turns out, TONS of people camp with kids and in general, the kids love it! Through lots of trial and error, we have found some sure fire ways for the entire family to enjoy the trip

1.Bring toys, lots of ‘em.

One terrible mistake I made during our first weekend camping trip when LC was solidly into the toddler age was not providing enough entertainment. Just because I like to sit around the campfire and read for hours at a time does not mean that my super energetic 2 year old will do the same. Even his favorite movies on the iPad got boring to him after a while. And word to the wise, even sticks and dirt will only entertain them for so long.

Be sure to bring some new and exciting things such as a new coloring book or a new model car to play with. Bubbles are also usually a big hit. I look for things that are inexpensive (that way I’m not spending a fortune on new stuff) and that we generally don’t do a lot of at home.

2. Creature Comforts

We have lots of little creature comforts for camping. Whether it be a favorite chair, awesome sleep mat, or making sure your favorite snacks are in the food box. Make sure your little one has these too! Learning how to keep him comfortable has definitely increased everyone’s enjoyment on our trips! LC has his own camp chair, cot, and sleeping bag. The cot, in particular has been a godsend. Make sure that for every comfort item you bring for yourself, your toddler has something similar.

3. Good Sleep

If you all have a terrible night’s sleep because you have a toddler who was up half the night beside himself screaming and crying because he’s uncomfortable and in an unfamiliar environment, no one will have fun the next day (I do, unfortunately, speak from experience on this one). Spending $22 on a cot for him was literally one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. He always has his own spot, that he’s now used to sleeping in no matter where we pitch our tent. It’s even gotten to the point that he will put himself to sleep on his cot just like he does in his bed at home!

4. Plan Activities Accordingly

Remember that your toddler is not going to be able to hike/walk for very long. They will get tired easily and if you don’t remember what a disaster that will create, refer to #3. We make sure to either keep the walking short or be sure to bring along our “pack pack” as LC has dubbed it. This was a something of an investment but if you wait for a great sale (that’s when I purchased ours) or look for one used it’s not as tough a pill to swallow.

5. Plan Some Down Time

Speaking of activities, it’s also important to plan some down time, especially if you’re on a longer trip. Before LC, we packed our days full of activities and hikes and Go Go Go! It is a difficult transition, because we still want to see and do all the things, but we all have a much better time if we have an afternoon or morning here and there to just relax! Even just spending a morning in camp lazily making breakfast and coffee rather than rushing off to start that hike at 7am makes a huge difference!

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Tips for Camping in a National Park

Grand Prismatic, Yellowstone NP

Follow all posted signs and directions of Park Rangers and Staff

Now I know this isn’t super glamorous but it’s very important for your safety and frankly for the sustainability of the park. Wild animals really are wild and dangerous, sometimes the conditions really are too dry for a campfire, and the terrain can be very unforgiving. I saw a lot of people on our most recent road trip putting themselves and wildlife in danger because they were approaching them beyond the safe distance just to get a “great” picture!. Then when we were camping in the nearby National Forest there were several people every night at our campground having campfires even though there were many posted signs about the current extreme fire danger and active wildfires burning in Montana. (Literally, one Law Enforcement Ranger we talked to described the area as a “tinder box”.) Just follow the freaking rules so we can all continue to enjoy the land.

Do Some Research and Make Reservations If Necessary

The National Park System has a lot of different options for camping. They have campgrounds complete with general stores and restaurants, completely primitive backcountry camping and literally everything in between. There are also some campgrounds that take reservations and some that operate on a strictly first-come-first-served basis. I would say that especially if you’re planning on camping in the parks during the peak seasons (usually the summer months), check around and see if you’re able to make a reservation. However, if you’re going to a park that only has first-come-first-served basis camp sites or even if that’s your preference, you can often check the website (like this one that pertains to Yellowstone) to see what time the campgrounds generally fill up each day or even call the National Park and the rangers are happy to help answer questions! And if you plan to go into the backcountry, be sure to check on whether or not you need a permit!

*not a National Park map

Stay for Two or More Nights If You Can

Nothing is worse than finding an amazing spot to camp and then remembering you just have to pack up and get back on the road the next day! There is so much to see and do in the National Parks that it’s really nice to spend at least 2 nights, ensuring at least one travel free day at the park. You’ll have more time explore and give yourself more time to relax and a break from setting up and breaking down camp every single day.

Always Say Yes to the Map and Newspaper

Y’all, there is so much park information in these little pamphlets. You can learn about the geography, history, landscape, wildlife in the park and more! They are not just an ideal, but totally necessary tool you can use to plan and get the most out of your visit! It is something I never leave the Ranger Station without and has earned many an eyeroll from my husband when the Park Ranger says “Map and newspaper?” and I shout an enthusiastic “YES!!!” from the passenger seat. (If you’re super eager, some parks will even mail them to you ahead of time! Or you can find them online, like this one from Glacier NP!)


In general, I’ve really enjoyed each time we’ve been able to camp in a National Park (though we’re becoming pretty partial to National Forests as well) and can’t wait to do it again. Do any of you have a favorite camping tip for camping within the National Park system?

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