We woke up early on our second day in Yellowstone because the bus was to pick us up at Canyon Village at 7:50 a.m. I got there early, again thinking we wanted to be near the front of the line to board the bus. We were greeted with an empty store. In fact, the person working at the desk that morning did not think the tour would be leaving from this location. As 7:50 a.m. approached, she called the bus office and then told us we had to instead go to Canyon Lodge to get on the bus, which was around the corner. I found this to be annoying since we had checked the night before that this was the correct location. We quickly drove to Canyon Lodge and my son and I jumped out near a group of busses that were parked near the front door. I saw one had a driver inside and the bus was idling with the door closed. We approached and the driver, Jeff, smiled and opened the door. I confirmed this was the correct bus and he was apologetic for the mix-up. He was on his way to get us in Canyon Village. We boarded the bus which I was sure would be packed with people. Instead, there were four others on board for the tour.
My husband got on the bus after parking the car and we departed. Jeff was an excellent tour guide, providing lively commentary about the history of Yellowstone as we drove, pointing out animals (and illegally slowing down to 5 MPH so we could take photos of them), and giving us “Jeff’s Gems”; his favorite non-touristy spots and things to do in the park. Our first vacation to Yellowstone was enhanced tremendously by Jeff and his park tips. We stopped at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and he exited the bus, offering to take our family photo in front of the look-out point and provided extra time for us to linger in the early morning. About 12 cars were in the entire parking lot. It was perfect.
Next was a stop at Uncle Tom’s Trail, a newly reconstructed lookout of the Upper Falls near the trailhead. Again, more facts from Jeff and fun tips, plus stories of his own hikes and adventures near this area.
We continued through the Hayden Valley, looking again for animals (seeing more) and heading to the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. This grand site was surprising. We went inside, heading for the coffee shop, but were quickly diverted by its 1920s opulence.
The best part was a discovery that you could purchase coffee and sit in the perfectly decorated sunroom with full lake views for as long as you like. We would have to come back here. After picking up 15 passengers at the Hotel, our tour group was complete with 22 total passengers on our 2018 tour bus equipped with a bathroom and relaxing seats.
Jeff handed out a map, displaying the stops we would make and the route we were taking. It was hand-drawn and helpful. I made notes of places I wanted to visit in the future as we continued. Our next stop on the tour was Geyser Basin, the thermals we had passed yesterday when entering Yellowstone. This time, we had Jeff as our guide to walk us around the boardwalk and tell us about each of these pools in various shades, each indicating the temperature of the pool.
He also told us fun facts about the previous road’s location, stories about “stuffing the dude” (a phrase my son used at least once each hour during our stay in Yellowstone after that), and explained that we could get a chicken salad sandwich with cranberries for $5.99 and a huckleberry ice cream sandwich for only 99 cents at Old Faithful if we went to the General Store (a competitor, but he had heard so many good things about it that he felt he had to share).
After going to more mud pots and stopping at Madison, Jeff selected my son to read a passage in a book about Yellowstone at the end of our tour.
He pulled to the side of the road, handed the microphone to my son, and the bus listened to this passage. Jeff had neatly practiced the introduction for this, weaving more history and future Yellowstone events into his narrative as we neared Canyon Lodge again where we would have to leave our tour. It was 4:45 p.m. and I felt like I had been on a time traveling adventure. I strongly recommend this tour to those who don’t want to drive through the busiest sections of Yellowstone and are visiting for the first time.
We made it back to Canyon Village in time to pick up both a Junior Ranger book ($3) and Junior Scientist book ($5) at the visitor’s center. Most national parks give these books for free. Here, the cost goes toward the printing of the books, the pencil you receive with each (full-sized with “Yellowstone Junior Ranger” printed on the side) and the embroidered patch or key chain you can earn with the completion of each of these items. After dinner at the campsite, we were tired and wanted to rest for tomorrow. My son sat down and started both books, reading through them and doing some of the activities he could complete after our busy day.