Our creative director, Greg Miller and his family took the road trip of a lifetime to Yellowstone National Park this summer and brought Lap Around America along for the ride. The second post in the series about their amazing family vacation takes the Millers to Yellowstone and on a trek through some of the neatest small towns in Southwest Montana. Didn’t catch their first post? You can check it out here.
In planning this trip and not having any idea how we would logistically do 10 nights in a small camper, we made the decision to ‘splurge’ on a rental house in Montana. There was plenty of room to park the camper and it gave us an opportunity to stretch out, take long, hot showers and do a few loads of laundry before the return trip home. We booked a home on VRBO in Ennis, Montana. Ennis happens to be a fly-fishing mecca and this house was equipped for a large family/friend group to stay. With sleeping arrangements for 12, two full kitchens and two full baths, we have more than enough space. We wandered the beautiful property and made friends with the horses that lived ‘next door’. Neighbors are close enough, but not too close and the views were impacted only by wildfire smoke blowing in over the western ridge. After a good night’s sleep, we loaded up in the truck and headed south to the western entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone is not a place you could ever fully experience. There is so much to see, so many experiences to be had that you could spend every day here for a month and still see new things. We opted for one very full day with some must-sees on our list. We had only been in the park a few minutes, heading to Geyser Basin, when we came across elk grazing on the side of the road. We stopped at several pull-outs to enjoy many of the geyser pools. The colors were so vibrant and so far, the sulfur smell wasn’t too much of a turn off.
The Excelsior Geyer, which has not erupted since 1985, was a favorite. It is a source of 400 gallons per minute into the Firehole River that we watched snake through the basin as we drove.
Next up was a must-see for everyone in their life if you get the chance. Old Faithful. We arrived in the area with about 30 minutes to wait until the scheduled eruption time. Small tip: if you’re headed to Yellowstone, download their app and make sure you download the offline content before arriving. You will have access to predicted eruption times which helps a lot! We grabbed a seat on the western side of the viewing area and were so glad we did. There was a park ranger nearby who alerted us to another, more unpredictable geyser that was about to erupt. It had been two days since the Beehive geyser had erupted and we got to see it from our vantage point. At the same time, we were also able to see a third geyser eruption in the background- possibly the North Goggles Geyser. We began taking bets on the minute that Old Faithful would erupt given that there is a +/-10-minute window. As each minute passed, we were excited for the eruption, but also a bit competitive about who would win the bet. Ultimately, I’m not sure who won but I’m positive that there are two people who would say it was them.
Back in the truck we completed our loop around Yellowstone. All told, we would be in the car for 8 hours that day driving through the park. We were able to see mud volcanoes, hot springs, rivers and canyons along the way. The drive around Yellowstone Lake was seemingly endless and we marveled at a lake that large with no boaters at all. Not the norm where we are from for sure.
Late in the day as we were on our path back to the park gates, we drove through the Hayden Valley, home to the ~1,500 Yellowstone Park Bison Herd. We couldn’t believe how many there were- they were everywhere!
I think arguably our favorite came next: Artist’s Point. Wow. It is appropriately named for many reasons. It is the perfect view through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to the Lower Falls, but it truly looks like a painting. We spent a long time watching the waterfall with and without the binoculars, taking photos and thinking of all the paintings we would like to commission to remember our visit. We considered that the perfect way to cap off our day in Yellowstone as we headed back to the western gates and back ‘home’ to Ennis.
Waking up to another beautiful sunrise, we made the decision to forego another day in Yellowstone and enjoy the many things to see and do around Ennis. First up, based on recommendation from our hosts, was breakfast at Yesterday’s Soda Fountain and Ennis Pharmacy. We may have missed out on some world class biscuits and gravy, but we ended up with a delicious breakfast capped off with fry bread the size of a small dinner plate. We thought there was no way we could finish them. We were wrong. After stuffing our faces, we took a walk up and down the main street in Ennis enjoying the shops and the artwork sprinkled throughout the town.
We hopped back in the truck and decided to take a quick drive just 15 minutes down the road to Virginia City, MT. Virginia City can be described as a ghost town that is very much alive. Once a booming gold-mining town, it was the site of the richest gold strike in the Rocky Mountains in the early 1860s. When the gold ran out, the town was left frozen in time. There are so many cool exhibits to see throughout the town giving you a glimpse into what life was like a century-and-a-half ago. We saw blacksmith shops, horse and buggy repairs, barber shops, clothing shop and more. There was a museum at one end of the town with so much history to take in. While in the museum, we learned of Bob Gohn. A local legend, of sorts. After reading his story we opted for a quick lunch at Bob’s Place. The slice of pizza was the perfect starter before we hit up the Virginia City Creamery. We apparently took it upon ourselves to try any and all ice cream available to us on this trip and we were up for the challenge! We ate our ice cream outside enjoying a little shade and watching the people walking up and down the sidewalks. We had to make a visit to Cousin’s Candy Shop, you know, for the road trip. Taffy, root beer barrels, fudge and some gummy fruit slices and we were on the road a whole 5 minutes down to Nevada City.
Nevada City is a true ghost town with the only real attraction outside of the local hotel is the ‘living’ museum. They have a collection of original log buildings from the gold mining days as well as an amazing assortment of vintage music boxes, player organs and calliopes. We took tons of photos for more artist commissions and headed back to Ennis. A quick stop for souvenir t-shirts/hats and a run through the local meat shop for some world-class jerky and we headed back to our house. One last night in Montana before the trip home.