Day 1 (Saturday) Bozeman, Montana
Flew into Bozeman, MT – stayed at theHampton Inn – didn’t get in until the afternoon. We rented a mini-van from Avis – brand new – like really brand new – less than 10 miles (more on this later). We spent the evening in Bozeman. Bozeman has a great little downtown area that looked like the wild-wild west downtown main street. Pretty cool area. Bozeman was beautiful from the time we landed at the Bozeman airport to a spectacular evening glow as the sun set, we had a great evening.
We had dinner at the Montana Ale Works. As a side note, when we travel we will often eat at a micro brewery. Typically, we’ve found that they have great food, great beer and reasonable rates, and generally good for kids. The MAW had some great brews and a wonderful dinner. If I lived there, I’d eat there at least once a week.
Quick swim with the girls before bed. Despite being a swimmer for survival purposes only, I can still beat them for a lap!
Day 2 (Sunday) Yellowstone National Park
We left the Hampton Inn in Bozeman and drove to Yellowstone, entering through the National Park Entrance in Gardiner, WY. We reached the part entrance at lunch time. There are a couple small spots in Gardiner to eat but nothing too great… you’ll need to eat then or wait until you get to the park station at Mammoth Hot Springs.
We were so excited to see the first bison laying by the side of the road before we approached Mammoth Hot Springs. At the park station, we saw a ton of elk at the station. The animals became pretty common-place after a few days but the first animals were great to see.
The Inn itself is simply amazing to look at. The main lobby is really cool and instant relaxation is upon you. No television in the room and a spectacular sunset capped off a great evening. Food in the park is expensive but there are little options unless you pack your own.We stopped at Old Faithful – check at the front desk of the Old Faithful Innfor the schedule for geyser. It does get very crowded at eruption time, so get there early.
Day 3 (Monday) Yellowstone
One of my favorite days of the whole fantastic trip. Left very early, we went to the Little Grand Canyon and took a precipitous walk to the bottom of the Uncle Tom stairs (300 steel steps) seemed like forever and when you get to the bottom and stare up… it looks daunting. The trip for the day was along the lower half of the figure eight that makes up to Lamar Valley and then around the bottom half of the “8” back to the Inn. The figure eight describes the most traveled part of Yellowstone. A good map of YNP is here: Map.
The waterfalls (upper and lower falls) were simply amazing… artist’s point was a great spot for viewing some great scenery. We saw some incredible animals in Hayden Valley, including our first and only bear sighting. The rumors of the “bear jams” were true… traffic got backed up pretty far as people wanted to glimpse at the bear cub. The number of people that were willing to get within 10 feet or so for a photo op were way more than I’d imagined. But as great as Hayden Valley was, Lamar Valley was so full of animals, especially bison that it became so uneventful to see them quite soon.
We returned to the inn, played war, rummy 500 and other card games in the lodge for a couple hours. What a great relaxing family time. This would be one of those times in life when you’d just like to freeze time. We had dinner at the inn tonight. Great, great food… a little expensive but I had a surf-n-turf combo that was trout and elk … fantastic!
Day 4 (Tuesday) Yellowstone to Deadwood (July 4th)
Left early, stopping for breakfast along the way at Yellowstone Lake Visitor Center and then continuing out of the part to the east, heading towards Cody, WY… we were completely unaware of the breathtaking scenery we would see… not to mention a great day of Americana. The exit road out of the park was a little scary as no guardrails, often dirt roads and a precipitous drop of hundreds of feet made you keep your eyes focused on the road.
The scenery along the roadside was awesome, through the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming. As we approached Cody, we found that there was a parade going through Cody and it was a big deal state-wide. People from all over Wyoming were coming here. We stopped and parked and grabbed lunch at a Mexican cantina restaurant (La Comida) on the parade route. On the way, we found a 10 year old girl with her pet raccoon. Something I had never seen before… a pet raccoon. The poor girl’s arm had clearly been a chewing post for the little masked bandit.
In Shell, Wyoming you’ll want to make a pit stop at Durty Annie’s. Heading over Bighorn National Forest, which had some beautiful scenery in of itself. Passing through Gillette, WY and then Sundance, WY (home of the Sundance Film Festival), finally arriving in Deadwood, South Dakota for the night. Upon arriving we had a quick bite at Mustang Sally’s and then headed over to Lead, SD for a home-town, slice-of-life fireworks show. What a great night of Americana. Stayed at the Four Aces Casino/ Hampton Inn
Day 5 (Wednesday) Deadwood, SD
We spent the day just relaxing, enjoying a great weather day in Deadwood. Learned some of the history. Visited the cemetery tour was pretty cool. Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok. We saw a good gun-fight re-enactment and just a good day generally exploring the area.
Day 6 (Thursday) Mt. Rushmore
Off early into the Black Hills and Mt. Rushmore. Again, a lot more scenery … it’s amazing that you never take it for granted. Pretty cool to see Mt. Rushmore – if you are going around the same time frame, check to see when/if their fireworks are… would be pretty cool to see across the top of the President’s heads. On the way out, we stopped at Bear Country – which was okay… lots of bears – and stayed in Rapid City, SD. We had a nice dinner at Firehouse Brewing Company. Great outdoor dining and live band was just getting started. The kids were all fired up to have a two-story water slide in the Hampton Inn there in Rapid City.
Day 7 (Friday) Rapid City
Left a great vacation on a morning flight back home.