The Lower Loop in Yellowstone is home to the one thing that most people know Yellowstone for, Old Faithful.  Chances are, if you're going to visit Yellowstone then you're planning to spend some time checking out Old Faithful.

It is certainly one of the most popular parts of the park, if not the most popular.  There is a lot of stuff around Old Faithful - all kinds of dining, shopping and lodging.

There isn't necessarily a "less crowded" time to visit, but like everywhere in the park if you plan to get there early is always best.  Our whole crew arrived to Old Faithful our first full day in Yellowstone around 10:30 a.m.  

We were jumping at the bit to get our Yellowstone adventure started, but when you're traveling with lots of people you have you anticipate things not going exactly how you might have planned.  Plus, it's not an easy task to wrangle up 50 plus people in the morning!

Our cabins at Yellowstone Lake were about a 45 minute drive (one-way) to Old Faithful.  When discovering this, we realized just how much we'd be driving around the park.  

News Flash: Nothing is close in Yellowstone and it's a massive park.  45 minutes ended up being one of our shortest drives in the park.

Don't get us wrong, the sights are worth seeing (and driving to) but you've got to be prepared for it to take time (and lots of it) to get places.  Plus, you never know when a herd of bison might be crossing the road... seriously.  

The driving wasn't bad for two kids in their twenties who always had snacks on hand.  However, if you are visiting with littles you need to make sure to have some kind of entertainment on hand and not just rely on the wildlife to be perfectly positioned outside the window along the way.  Keep snacks on hand (or in the car) at all times.  Hangry (hungry+angry) travelers are not fun travelers.

Enough driving talk, now back to Old Faithful.  Can we all just say wow?  Old Faithful truly is amazing.  It's something in life that you need to see at least once.  Watching Old Faithful erupt is a long tradition and people travel from all over the world to marvel this famous geyser.  

Thermal features change constantly and it is possible Old Faithful may stop erupting someday...  So, go visit!  For years Old Faithful has been pretty predictable, and it really is sad to think that this could change.

There is a huge viewing area around Old Faithful and not a bad seat in the house.  Of course, if you have littles you want to plan to pick a spot early so that no one is in front of them.  There are benches all around the area and several people sit along the boardwalk.  

Most people around the park can tell you the anticipated eruption times for the day.  Whatever the expected time is, we would recommend arriving at least an hour before or even a little more to be safe.  Your travel time would be in addition to that.

The entire area around Old Faithful is crowded!  It will take time to park and walk to the geyser.  You also have to keep in mind that the times are only anticipated; sometimes it erupts early and sometimes it's late.  There is no exact time.  

We think it's best to grab a seat around the 30 minute mark before they believe it will erupt.  This allows you some time to get things situated and get all of your settings ready on your camera.  Again, if you have littles in tow you may want something to keep them entertained during the waiting time.  We are pretty good at keeping ourselves entertained together.

Here are some basics about Old Faithful.  It erupts every 35 to 120 minutes.  The eruption time can last anywhere from a minute and a half to five minutes.  The maximum height it reaches ranges from 90 to 184 feet.  And, a fun little fact to whip out when you need one... Old Faithful is actually not the biggest or the most regularly erupting geyser in Yellowstone.  

There are all kinds of boardwalks that surround Old Faithful to check out after you witness the eruption.  We would recommend planning the day around Old Faithful eruption times and then walk around to see everything else.  

This is one of those things that you could go and watch Old Faithful and do a small loop of sightseeing, or you could literally spend hours (or even the day) here.  It's all about preference. 

When you're visiting Old Faithful, you've got to go inside Old Faithful Inn.  The Inn has been a showcase for rustic architecture for nearly 100 years.  It's a great place to grab lunch and if you're lucky you might even catch Old Faithful erupting again from the large deck outside. 

There are a handful of other places you'll want to stop near Old Faithful on the west side of the lower loop.  We've recommend starting at one end and working your way around.  Just south of Madison is the Fountain Paint Pot.  This is a place you'll want to stop and get out.  You won't be able to see much from the road, other than the crowds of people walking though.  

If you're catching the area at a time that it's super crowed or you don't have the time to stop then we would recommend taking a little detour of Firehole Lake Drive.  If you can, do both like we did.  It's a short loop that you can drive though and see some great sights.  

The nice thing about this is that you don't necessarily have to get out of your vehicle.  If there is something you want a closer view of then park the car and hop out, but if not then enjoy the scenic drive.  As we drove through we caught a few eruptions so we had to jump out to grab some photos even though we hadn't planned to.

Next up if you're driving south along the loop is the Midway Geyser Basin.  This needs to be a must on your Yellowstone list.  We would encourage you to go early in the day.  The earlier you get there, the less crowded it will be and it gets super crowded here throughout the day.  

Midway hosts two of the largest thermal features of their types found anywhere in the world.  Grand Prismatic is a huge hot spring and Excelsior Geyser is one of the largest geysers.

Grand Prismatic is stunning, absolutely stunning.  It is beautiful in photos and documentaries, but there is nothing like seeing with your own eyes in person.  The intense colors of the prismatic and the way they intertwine with one another is unlike anything else.  

There's a lot of hype about Old Faithful (and for good reason), but there is nothing like the Grand Prsmatic.  If Old Faithful is first on your list, this should be second.

There are two basins close to Old Faithful - Biscuit and Black Sand.  Neither of these get as crowded, for the simple fact that neither are really "must sees" in Yellowstone.  

They are both easy stops very close to Old Faithful which does increase their traffic.  These stops would be especially easy for families with littes that check out Old Faithful and want to see more of Yellowstone, but don't want to drive another hour before stopping.

Each basin requires you to stop and get out to see much, but they don't take as long as some of the others.  They are both super easy stops and are enjoyable to escape the Old Faithful crowds.

West Thumb Geyser Basin is another popular stop that people enjoy.  The views of the basin are beautiful as the Yellowstone Lake is in the background.  This is a stop that gets crowded throughout the day because it isn't too far from Old Faithful and several people like to visit Grant Village.

Grant Village is a cute area right on the lake that offers shopping and dining.  There is also a Visitor Center in Grant Village which is always a helpful place to stop if you have park questions.  

All of the park staff are extremely helpful and seem to be genuinely happy to have you visiting.  We grabbed a quick dinner one night at the General Store in Grant Village.

The lower loop has some great water areas to check out.  Grant Village is one in addition to Bridge Bay, Lake Village (where we stayed) and Fishing Bridge.

All of these areas sit right on Yellowstone Lake and provide some gorgeous views.  They are also great if you enjoy being out on the water.

We headed to Bridge Bay one morning with a handful of the crew to do some kayaking and rowing.  Yes, we rented a row boat and let us be the first to tell ya... rowing ain't easy!  

We would much rather kayak, paddle boat, you name it.  Rowing is just not our thing, and apparently their row boats don't make it any easier on you.

We had big plans for the morning's adventure on the water.  We rented a few boats, had coolers packed and had realistically planned on being there for half the day.  We didn't last out on the water very long at all before deciding that an hour rental would be plenty and we were ready to move on.

All of the littles enjoyed it, but the rowers did not.  While it was a fun experience to be on the water and we would still recommend it, kayaking or on a motor boat would be more enjoyable.

We learned that Jess's right arm is much stronger than her left, circles for days!  Everyone waiting to rent a row boat was excited as ours was being turned in early... little did they know.

The Fishing Bridge is another place you need to stop, especially if you are on the lake side of the lower loop.  First of all, the bridge itself is something worth seeing.  This is a quick detour that doesn't take much time.  Plus, if you need gas it's a great place to stop.  

You drive over the bridge as you enter the area, but there are plenty of places to park once you've crossed so that you can walk back over.  The short walk is worth it for the photos.

The Fishing Bridge has a Visitor's Center and Museum and a great General Store with a little dining area.  We had dinner at the General Store at Fishing Bridge one night during our stay.  The Fishing Bridge is a great little stop.  You can spend 30 minutes there or a couple of hours.  Their General Store had a great selection of things.

We're not sure how we didn't discover it until our last night in Yellowstone and it's probably a blessing that we didn't, but the Moose Tracks ice cream is to die for.  If Jessica could only eat one more thing for the rest of her life, that might be it.  Do yourself a favor and order it anytime you have a chance while you're there.  

All of the General Stores have a little ice cream bar and we avoided every single one of them until the very last night when we were told that we HAD to try it.  Thank you for recommending that little slice for Heaven!  We now know not to skip the ice cream bar.

Mud Volcano was a short drive from our home base in Lake Village.  This is an easy walkable stop.  You will want to get out of the car, but there is no hiking involved and nothing is too far from the parking lot.  Mud Volcano was on our way north towards Canyon Village and Roosevelt. 

Hayden Valley is near the Mud Volcano and is one of the best open spaces to spot wildlife, especially bison.  We were told to drive through the Valley early in the morning to see things.  We were hopeful for a bear or moose, but only saw bison.  

You can drive though this area about any time of the day and see at least one bison.  A handful of our family saw bears (and cubs).  At the time we were there, we were told that the most likely place to see a bear was in the northern area of the park.  We were pretty bummed that we didn't see any, but it gives us a good reason to go back some day. 

Finally, Lake Village.  Lake Village, specifically the Lake Lodge was our home base for our stay in Yellowstone.  Lake Lodge and the Hotel at the Lake Village have the best views (in our opinion) for lodging.  The views there provided us with just a taste of the beauties that were were going to see once we got to the Tetons.

Lots of the accommodations in Yellowstone are similar, just in different areas.  We stayed in the Lake Lodge Cabins and could not have had a better set up for the family reunion.  The Lodge itself had a huge front porch and a beautiful big lobby.  

Every evening the front porch was our meeting space for the entire family.  We ate, played bingo and used the porch for just about everything when we all got together.  It was the perfect space and would be ideal if you were traveling with a big group or family.

 We enjoyed this big porch the entire time that we were in Yellowstone.  The staff at the Lodge was awesome and allowed us to gather there with no issues at all hours during our stay.  They were great!

There is a cafeteria in the Lodge that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.  We avoided the cafeteria completely and were pleased that we did when we heard that it was not very impressive.  The thing is, when you're visiting someplace like that you're not going to be enjoying world class food.  We mostly drank our breakfast (hello, coffee!), snacked for lunch and ate at a General Store for dinner.

Our little home away from home for our four nights in Yellowstone was the Lake Lodge Cabins, specifically one of the Pioneer Cabins - C4.  Let's be honest here.  Was it up to our typical standards?  No.  Was it the normal kind of place we like to stay?  Definitely not.  Was it a comfortable stay?  Not necessarily.  Did any of that really matter once we were there?  Not one bit.  

What did matter was ensuring that we were able to breathe while we slept in there and didn't up being contaminated by who knows what.  Yeah, ask us for the story some time!  A bonus was that this guy loved hanging out right outside of our front door so we never went far to see a bison.

The cabins were basic and small but had everything we needed.  When you're in a place like Yellowstone, the accommodations are strictly for sleeping, storing your luggage and the occasional shower.  We were out of the cabin by about 6:30 most mornings and didn't go back for bed until at least after 10 in the evenings.  

There is nothing five star about them, but there aren't many places like that at most National Parks.  Most lodging is simple, but when you're only paying $100 bucks or so to stay each night it's actually a pretty great deal.  The cabins were reasonable and allowed people to extend their vacations and make the most of their trips. 

It was a tight squeeze for us... we aren't really cut out for tiny living.  If you're traveling with littles, check out the Western Cabins to give you more room.  If roughing it in the Pioneer Cabins doesn't sound like fun to you then we'd recommend looking at Canyon Lodge or Lake Yellowstone Hotel.  

Either of those would by far be the nicest and most modern.  Both properties are pretty centrally located within the park at well.  Keep in mind there are no TV’s or A/C available in park lodging.  If camping is more your style there are tons of campgrounds around... good luck to ya!

Our first four nights of the trip (minus the night at a hotel in Nashville) were spent at the cabin.  We worked our way up from there, people.  Each stop got better and better.

If you're planning a trip like this and you are able to, we recommend venturing to your not-so-great accommodations first and improving from there.  It would have been miserable to start our vacation somewhere fabulous and end up at the cabins, just saying! 

We love coffee (and need it every morning) so we always check out where to get coffee when we travel.  Yes, it's a legit concern and it really was on this tip.  Luckily, we discovered that the Lake Hotel served Starbucks coffee in their cafe.

It was a short walk from our cabin each morning and we had the most beautiful views of Lake Yellowstone.  We will warn you however that the line does not move quickly, but if you're like us then you know a good cup o' joe is worth it. 

Any essentials that we needed during this stay were purchased from the General Store near the Lodge.  They have about anything you could need and it isn't astronomically priced.

Oh, and they have local craft beer.  You buy it by the beer, so you can mix and match plus it was reasonably priced.  Take a good bottle opener with you, or invest in one while you're there.  You're going to need it.  Likewise they have wine, liquor and Moose Tracks ice cream - all of the essentials.

As you can see by the length of this post, there is a lot to do in the lower loop of Yellowstone.  We think that its by far the most popular loop as its home to most things that people visit Yellowstone to experience.  Allow plenty of time to explore the lower loop and don't miss Old Faithful or the Grand Prismatic.  Another bonus about the lower loop is that you'll drive through a Continental Divide, pretty cool.
You should plan to spend at least a couple hours at Old Faithful.  There are some great hiking paths and plenty of other geysers to see in the area besides just Old Faithful.

The food doesn't blow you away at any National Park.  We found that the Fishing Bridge General Store had the best food... alongside the ice cream stand.

When they say don't pet the bison... DON'T pet the bison.  Bison are easily the most dangerous animal in the park because of their abundance and aggressive nature.

To check out what we did in the Upper Loop of Yellowstone, click here.
To see even more posts from our Family Reunion in Yellowstone, see below...

No comments