Yellowstone is BIG.  You can't go to Yellowstone thinking that you can knock it out in a day, because of its size.  Unless you've got some sort of magical powers and in that case, we wish you'd share a little with us.  Now, we have heard of people driving throughout the a majority of the entire park in one day but that wouldn't allow much extra time for you to get out and actually enjoy things.

Our days in Yellowstone were a mix between the upper and lower loops, so to keep things simple we figured we'd break it down for you by location.  The only thing we didn't make it to on the upper loop was Mammoth Hot Springs. 

After days of driving around like crazy people in Yellowstone trying to check everything off, we decided we didn't want to spend our last day in the park driving all the way north for one thing and then back.  Plus, isn't it always good to at least leave one thing to look forward to?

Depending on how you're navigating the loops, Norris and Canyon Village could swing either way.  They fall on the corners where the loops meet.  The upper and lower loops make a figure eight.  For the sake of this post, we're going to include them both in the upper loop.

First up, Tower Roosevelt.  We stayed at the the Lake Lodge Cabins which are in the lower loop right on Yellowstone Lake.  One night for dinner, a whole group in our family reunion gang headed to the Tower Roosevelt area for an Old West Dinner Cookout.  When making the reservation for this dinner months before our arrival, we really weren't sure what to think.  We had the best time! 

The Old West Dinner Cookout is a fun adventure where you leave from the corrals on wagon (or horse) to ride out to a country dinner.  It was a ton of fun and although it wasn't quite Jessica's pick for dinner, the food was actually pretty good.  

The menu included steak, baked beans, potato salad, corn, coleslaw, corn muffins (yum!), watermelon and fruit crisp.  If you're a veterinarian, no worries, they'll be happy to accommodate you.  We recommend just letting them know at the time of making reservations.

One of the best parts of the evening was the fresh cup 'o joe right off the campfire!  We love coffee, and have pretty high standards when it comes to enjoying a cup.  It was great coffee - thick and dark.  The cowboy poured a cup for us to enjoy together after dinner.  It's the simple things, ya know.

Besides the fun we had riding the wagon, the goodness of the food and the delicious coffee, the entire experience was just plain awesome.  It was a true old west journey from the wagon ride to the old fashioned country cooking.

In addition to the experience, the setting of the cookout was absolutely gorgeous.  Seriously, stunning.  We could eat dinner with a view like that every night!

If this is something you want to do, you have to make reservations early because it sells out.  We didn't know quite how popular it was, but they say it's completely booked practically every night.  The wagon spots also book more quickly than the horseback rides.  So keep that in mind, unless you don't care to ride a horse to get to dinner.  

Pricing for the dinner is $63 for adults and $50 for children if riding the wagon.  Horseback prices are $87 for adults and $72 for children.  The price for children is for ages 3-11 and in order to ride horses, children must be 8.  We had all different ages with our family group, from 3 years to ...?  Needless to say, it was fun for everyone no matter what age.

Can you believe Dave's eyes are closed? #always

A couple of things we wish we would have known about the cookout is that if you are riding the wagon, you are welcome to bring a small bag or cooler that has drinks of your choice.  Water, lemonade, soft drinks, milk and hot chocolate are all available but hello - who wouldn't have wanted to enjoy a glass of red wine with a view like that?  

Additionally, there are restrooms and everything that you could need while you are out at the actual cookout site.  Not to worry about that!  Finally, we'd recommend taking a cardigan or light jacket as it gets a little chilly on the ride back.

Norris Geyser Basin is also located in the Upper Loop (or Lower Loop) depending on how you're planning your time there. This is a stop you don't want to miss at Yellowstone.  Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest, oldest, and most dynamic of Yellowstone's thermal areas.

The area consists of two basins: Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin.  You are able to get great views and a good understanding of the area by just stopping, but to really get close up a little hiking is involved.  The distances aren't too bad at 3/4 mile for Porcelain Basin and 1.5 mile for Back Basin.  The trails are mostly dirt and boardwalk.

We actually visited the Norris area while we completed the west side of the lower loop.  We drove north to Norris and then worked our way back down the loop.  Norris gets really busy throughout the day.  We ended up there a little after lunch time and then used the rest of the afternoon for stops along the way back to our cabin at Yellowstone Lake.

You might have to go through the parking lot a couple of times before finding a spot, but people come and go pretty regularly.  If you aren't planning to hike to get closer, we'd still recommend making this stop.  You get a beautiful view of the area before having to begin the hikes.

Another stop that could be included in the Upper Loop (or Lower Loop, depending on direction) is Canyon Village.  This is definitely a stop that you want to make and the best part is that it's really accessible to anyone regardless of age or physical ability. 

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is roughly 20 miles long, measured from the Upper Falls to the Tower Fall area.  The falls are absolutely gorgeous and we'd definitely recommend making all of the stops along the way.  The views from the Upper Falls and Lower Falls area are very different.  You'll want to see both.

Most stops are easy to jump out and get great views.  A little walking might be involved, but it's not bad at all.  All of the views are extremely accessible.  Since we were traveling with family, we got good recommendations from them throughout our stay.

One thing we learned from a group that went early one afternoon is that the canyon area and the falls get packed with people.  To avoid this, and really have the opportunity to get quality photos (without a million other people in them) we woke up early one morning and arrived to the falls around 6:30 a.m.

This was one of our favorite mornings of the entire trip.  None of the stops were crowded and we had the opportunity to really soak in the gorgeous views and appreciate the scenery.

If you go to the falls in the early morning or late evening, we'd recommend taking a jacket with you.  There is quite a breeze off the falls and it's a bit chilly.

Jessica saw a woman with gloves and a hat on (no joke), it seriously gets a little cold even in July.  Note: Although this trip was extremely tricky to pack for with the drastic temperature changes throughout the day, we did not go to the extreme of packing hats or gloves.  And, did we really need them?  No.  However, it does get pretty cold at 6 o'clock in the morning down by the water.

If you take your time at each stop, we'd recommend giving yourself at least a couple of hours to enjoy the Canyon area.  With going early in the morning, we didn't have much traffic.  Although, you can never control when bison want to hang out in the middle of the street.

Wildlife takes priority at the park and if there's a herd of bison crossing, you just have to wait.  Seriously!  With that, we'd share that you need to allow more travel time than you think you'll actually need.  This is definitely important if you have tickets for something (like the Old West Dinner Cookout) and have to be somewhere at a specific time.
Take advantage of the morning.  Get up with the sun because that's when the park is least crowded.

Always bring a jacket to Yellowstone.  The temperature changes quickly and it's hard to enjoy anything cold... other than Moose Track ice-cream.

If you're doing the chuckwagon tour, opt for the wagon ride.  The horseback ride is more expensive and there's nothing comfortable about riding a horse, especially the way it makes you feel the next day.  Oh, and make sure to pack those dinner drinks with you.

To check out our adventures in the Lower Loop of Yellowstone, click here.
To see even more posts from our Family Reunion in Yellowstone, see below...

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