Making The Most Of Yellowstone Trip Worth The Risk

Risk is the difference between a trip and an adventure.

Risk makes for a tighter grip on the paddle, louder roars in the rapids, brighter flashes in the thunder, broader smiles on the summit, bigger teeth on the griz.

And better stories at the end of the trail.

But people told me I was going too far this time.

Persuading my wife, Meredith, and our two daughters to camp in Yellowstone National Park during mid-July is insane, they said.


Would I go again?


The steaming, burbling, wildlife-rich spectacle of Yellowstone is worth the risk of divorce and being eaten by your young even if the camping must be done during the peak seasons for crowds and mosquitoes.

As one German woman put it, “There’s no place in the world like Yellowstone.”

This was an expert opinion. She and her husband were traveling around the world in a huge military transport vehicle customized into an RV.

They said the 4-foot-high tires were necessary in Africa, although they admitted the rig wasn’t formidable enough to daunt the bison that decided to nap in the road.

But whatever risk the globetrotting couple might have felt barging across frothing channels from Tierra del Fuego, it paled in comparison to venturing into West Yellowstone with two young girls, both of whom have seen Visa commercials.

How did we survive the world’s scariest tourist trap?

We didn’t stop.

Here are some other tactics that helped us make camping bearable among the bears.

Made reservations: Hiking in grizzly country is one thing, but we’re not crazy enough to compete with the sharks that prowl campgrounds at 6:30 a.m. each morning scavenging for a campsite.

We made reservations in the spring.

Signs at the park entrance indicated that all campgrounds were full. This would have been a major letdown if we hadn’t known that our site was waiting.

Yellowstone accepts reservations only at the three largest campgrounds - call (307) 344-7311. We stayed at Canyon, which is designed to give campers the feeling they’re in a campground a fraction of its size.

Joined flexible friends: We shared campsites for four days with Frank and Rosemary Otto, who have children of compatible ages to our own. The Ottos were picked because of their appreciation for adventure and the virtue of politeness that keeps them from asking why no other family would consider camping four days with us in Yellowstone.

We mixed and traded kids from car to car and tent to tent to keep every excursion fresh and avoid bloodshed between siblings.

We split dinner responsibilities so one set of parents always had an “evening off” to string up more blue tarps, search for lost shoes among the rubble in the vehicles and read the latest advice on what to do if a bull elk wants to rub off his velvet on your ribs.

Most important, we let the weather and the moods - not the clock - dictate how much we’d do in a day.

Went self-contained: Some visitors grumble about a park rule that prohibits leaving out any cooking equipment or food when meals are not in progress.

The rule has been helpful in preventing bears from being lured into campgrounds, which eventually leads to “problem” bears that inevitably get shot.

We found the rule to be liberating.

Each morning, we left camp with our coolers, stoves and barbecues packed in the vehicles. When hunger struck, we were prepared. We didn’t have to face the hassle of crowds at restaurants or leave a prime wildlife viewing site for a burger.

Indeed, the best period for photography and wildlife viewing begins about the time most people head back to campgrounds and towns for dinner.

One evening we were more than an hour from camp in the Lamar Valley - home to recently introduced wolves - when our youngest daughter, Hillary, thoughtfully gave us the option of stopping to eat or watching her throw up in the car.

The nearest picnic area, which had been packed earlier in the day, was virtually deserted. While the kids romped over the boulders and through the sage, dinner was prepared under the pines and aspens far from the exhaust of any tour bus.

An hour later, we were chasing rainbows, spotting grizzly bears and ogling at the sunset while 90 percent of the park’s visitors were sitting in front of televisions or campfires.

We returned to camp after dark every night.

, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508.

You can contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508.

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