If we’re lucky, there’ll also be bears

Yellowstone -2311We’re going to be schlepping the family to Yellowstone this summer, and as you can probably guess, I’m just beside myself with ambivalence.

It’s time, though. On average, about three out of four exchange students will ask to see Yellowstone, and we haven’t even taken our own kids to see this American family vacation icon. I’ve always insisted it’s too far, too expensive. And who wants to sit in a hot car stuffed with crabby kids, driving through a big expanse of nothing on the off chance you’ll see a buffalo in the distance?

I mean, we got all kinds of scenery – trees and everything – right here. And a city zoo. I don’t know if they have buffalo, but I’m sure they have goats and stuff. And guess what? There’s concessions. And no drive. Bam.

This year, though, I’m relenting. I need to stop being such a stick in the mud.

I was starting to think about the trek about this time last spring, but that was when Mike was preparing to skedaddle from his secure, paying gig and come work with me, so a big family vacation was not in the cards. Then, Hanna came to live with us. She said her number one dream in coming to the US was to see Yellowstone.

Actually, what probably happened is when she heard she was coming to Idaho she thought “where in the Hell…” and then looked on a map for the nearest familiar landmark.

I had thought such a trip might be a way to flesh out my family travel blogging career. I put some feelers out to see if anyone was interested in hosting a family of five for a couple weeknights during the high season in return for a review from a blogger with a dozen or so followers.

The response was predictably about as laid back as my desire to see Yellowstone.

After I gave up trying to leverage my blogging soul against anything more than the value of a triple-A hotel discount, I realized anything available at a reasonable price had been snatched up months ago.

Clearly, others are more excited about this Yellowstone thing than I. I needed to get serious.

For our trip to Europe a few years ago, Mike had a spreadsheet outlining all the places we’d go, by what mode of transportation, and where we could use the points he’d built up through business travel to get screaming deals on hotels. Our journey spanned five countries over the course of a week, with us ending up exhausted in Finland to plant ourselves for another week with a former exchange student, and then heading home.

Mike had that trip dialed in. He knew what airlines allowed what type of carry-on, where we’d be able to step off the train for lunch, what kinds of bags the kids could carry and what everything had to weigh.

I, meanwhile, have had problems figuring out what kind of hotel could accommodate the five of us in a destination roughly six hours away. Rustic cabins in a state park? They’ve been reserved since January. A cheap Super 8 in a rural town. Gah, really? Anybody have a black light? A luxury spa suite? I’d have to sell at least one kid on the black market.

Putting a family of five up comfortably for four nights in a hotel is not an easy thing to do on a budget. Nor, really is it even easy to figure out where to stay if one wants to see the best of a park that covers an area roughly two-thirds the size of Connecticut, over three states. There’s lodging inside Yellowstone and on the perimeter, and in a bunch of little towns billing themselves as “right outside,” but which are actually a fair distance away.

Deciding between lodging options alone had me feeling a lot like this kid:

Then there’s the question of the drive. We have a choice between:

  • The gas guzzling, but comfy behemoth, or
  • The hybrid, which can go at least four times as far per gallon, plus, has a thing that lets us hook in an iPod so we could stream the whole first season of Serial. The downsides to stuffing a family of five into a vehicle the size of a bloated tick are, of course, obvious. But, any time before noon, at least two of the three teens are likely to be unconscious, so optimal comfort with a minimum of arguments may be just a matter of timing.

I thought for a nanosecond about taking the behemoth so we could tow our ancient camper, which would yield a portable sleeper for at least three of us at a time. Maybe we could nap in shifts. But Mike nipped that thought in the bud. He’s not up for towing something roughly the weight of the Death Star over that much landscape.

Then Mike pointed out that the wildlife in the area includes things more assertive than zoo goats. Pests like bears that are used to pawing at passing cars for handouts, may just take a notion to tipping a little car right over.

Of course, the thought of a bunch of gigantic carnivores treating our car to a fraternity bear prank helped me make up my mind. Honey, you had me at hello.

We are so taking the Prius.

After some more deliberation, and a minor meltdown on my part, I bit the bullet and reserved hotels on opposite ends of the park that could accommodate our mini hoard without requiring a second mortgage on the house.

Here we are, still six weeks out and I have the bare bones of a vacation plan. In addition to Yellowstone, we’ll also get a gander at the Tetons and Craters of the Moon, and hobnob with the gallery set in Jackson Hole.

If we’re lucky, there’ll also be bears.


If you vote for my blog by clicking on the banner, I’ll happily keep you up to speed on the bear thing. Thank you.


Bear photo by Michael McCarthy

Also, that cute video is a Vine pulled from one originally posted by single dad, Jorge, of Reality Changers

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  1. I can\’t be the only one wondering why you don\’t get Mike to plan this Yellowstone vacation since he did such a bang up job planning the European one? And my family thinks I\’m such a stick in the mud but I point out that I\’m a REALIST damnit. I already know that at least parts of the trip are gonna suck, I\’m just being prepared.

  2. Oh, he\’d have taken it on if I\’d given him any indication up front that\’s what I wanted. I was mostly hoping the travel blogging thing would pan out.

  3. You are not exaggerating at all! We are taking our friends from India to Jellystone right after Labor Day. When we started planning, back in January, there were three rooms left in the park, for $400+ apiece. SO not going to happen. So we opted for after the Summer rush, but we still had to scramble to get decently-priced rooms. Hope you get to see a bear…but not too up close and personal.

    1. That would be an option for us, too, except for school, and yes, I\’ve seen the $400+ room. Not for us either. Fortunately, I found some rooms in towns just outside the park for a lot less.

  4. I hope you end up having an amazing time. It is crazy how booked the place gets, though! We did it many years ago before kids and planned the whole thing the week before. I don\’t think you can do that anymore (though we stayed in a tent and had to move campgrounds every night…again, before kids). I had hoped to make it up there this summer with kids, but it wasn\’t in the cards. Enjoy!!!

    1. Wow, before kids? That\’s a game changer. Before kids, we\’d have just dumped our camping gear in the back of the car, grabbed the dog and go. That\’s how we saw Glacier National Park. Now everything has to be so orchestrated. It goes against the grain for me, for sure.

  5. I LOVE that video of that cute little girl!!! I can SO relate to her as well. Ha ha.
    I would love to take our family to Yellowstone too. I\’ve never even been there and I grew up in Utah. That\’s just not right. We did go to Craters of the Moon a few years ago and it was very cool. It\’s such a strange thing to see all of that lava rock in the middle of nowhere!

  6. This is a trip we hope to take with our daughter someday. I am not ambivalent. I both look forward to and dread it. To date, we have only traveled within our own state (Florida). We\’ve enjoyed some great trips, but each one had some level of disaster to it. Blown tire. Keys locked in the car. That sort of thing. Traveling across the country? I am so not ready. But now I know I need to start planning this thing years ahead of time. Geez! Hope you have a great time!

  7. Las time I went to Yellowstone it was pre-kids and it was AWESOME! God bless you for planning this with children. It\’s sure it has to be planned for practically 6 months! You\’re inspiring me to get a trip together there! Can\’t wait to see how it all pans out 😉