We finished Day 2 driving from Spearfish Canyon and stopping in Billings, Montana. This was a planned stop because we knew we didn’t want to make the drive from South Dakota to Yellowstone in one day. We stayed at The Northern Hotel which was a very cute “Montana themed” hotel. The rates were reasonable and the room was very comfortable! We also made another WalMart trip while in Billings to pick up a few more blankets for our next camp out. Monday morning, we had breakfast in the hotel restaurant, Bernie’s Diner. The food was great and it was nice to have a solid meal before getting on the road. They even had a “vacation breakfast” consisting of a chocolate milkshake and a piece of chocolate cake, but we decided to skip that 😉
We left Billings around 7 AM and headed to Yellowstone. The views during the drive were of the beautiful mountains. There is very little between Billings and the North entrance to Yellowstone (at Gardiner, MT) but we did stop for gas in Livingston, MT and there were some fast food stops if you needed to eat. We got to Yellowstone around 10 AM, stopped at The Flying Pig camping store in Gardiner for bear spray (😳) and headed in!
Our parks pass covered the entrance fee and we set up camp at Mammoth Campground. Research before the trip taught us that this would be the only campground open (and that the north entrance would be the only entrance open) because there’s still quite a bit of snow in the park and most of the roads aren’t open for driving.
The campsite was great with flush toilets, a picnic table and fire pit with grate at each site. Since we arrived early in the day, there were plenty of spots to choose from. Camping for the night was $20
We headed to the Albright Visitor Center, Fort Yellowstone, and the small shop within the visitor center before venturing further into the park. The park ranger in the Visitor Center suggested a few hikes and we ended up at Mammoth Hot Springs for our first stop.
At Mammoth Hot Springs, there are three separate board walks (lower, middle, and upper) for viewing this area. It was incredible and I don’t think the pictures do it justice! The walk up to the highest point was killer for us Floridians but well worth it!
We then had planned on checking out some of the other short hikes that had been recommended to us, but the trails were actually heavily covered with snow, so we opted to drive to the Northeast Entrance which ended up being a 48 mile stretch of road from the start of Mammoth and takes you through Lamar Valley. We saw tons of wildlife and took advantage of the many pull offs to take pictures and simply take in the views. We saw buffalo, elk, bears, a coyote, and deer!
Once we reached the Northeast Entrance, we turned around and pulled off 10 miles later at Pebble Creek Campground, which was closed, but provided a good spot for us to stop, make sandwiches, take a break and relax for a bit. We did wait until later in the day (around 5:30 pm) to head back through Lamar Valley because we had read that early in the morning and in the evening are when the animals are most active. This is when we saw the coyote and the bear! I would allow plenty of time to drive through Lamar Valley because there is tons to take in, and you may have to stop and wait for the buffalo to cross the road!
We got back to camp around 7 PM and it started snowing! It was a perfect end to our day. We got cleaned up and headed in to the van for our second night of “vamping”. Tomorrow we head to Jackson Hole!
- Yellowstone Entrance Fee: $30 (unless you get the National Parks Pass!)
- Dates visited: April 16-17
- Temperature: Low 19 High 31
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