College Girl's Guide To A Week In Yellowstone National Park

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not much of an outdoorsy person. Anyone who knows me at all can vouch that I spend most of my days indoors, sometimes rarely leaving my room. When my parents announced that they had booked a hotel in Yellowstone National Park, I wasn’t too thrilled. While I do like pretty scenery and fluffy animals, I don’t like hiking or being forced to remain upright for several hours at a time. But regardless of the sore feet and aching knees, I did actually have a good time. Here’s a recap of my 5-day trip.

DAY 1

We didn’t fly straight to Yellowstone because the tickets were ridiculously expensive. Instead, we opted to take a short flight from LAX to Salt Lake City, Utah, and rent a car to drive five hours to Yellowstone. We arrived at Salt Lake City around 5PM- just in time for dinner- and drove to our hotel in a nearby town, Cottonwood Heights. We ate at It’s Tofu, a Korean restaurant near our hotel. I didn’t expect much, but I guess I underestimated Utah. Their tofu was surprisingly soft and delicious! After dinner, we walked to Trader Joe’s and stocked up on snacks to survive the drive. I watched the sunset from my hotel bed, had a mini epiphany about how beautiful the world is and fell asleep pretty soon after. 

DAY 2

I started my second day being viciously dragged out of bed at an abominable 6:30AM. Unfortunately, this would become routine over the next few days. We left our hotel around 8AM and began the drive to Yellowstone. While I theoretically enjoy road trips with friends, they just aren’t the same when it’s with family. I put in my earphones, started my summer playlist and promptly went back to bed. 

We got to Yellowstone around 3PM. Our first stop was Artist Point, an overlook point across from Yellowstone’s awe-inspiring Lower Falls. We took some pictures with the colorful canyon walls before getting back in the car. 

Next, we drove through Hayden Valley, an area known to be good for wildlife spotting. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before we caught sight of elk and bison grazing in the fields. The furry heads of the bison were a little tempting to pet, but I kept my distance. My sister was paranoid that the bison would charge at us. Luckily, they didn’t. 

After seeing some wildlife, we decided to call it a day and head to Canyon Village, our lodging inside the park. By the time we got there, it was around 8PM and I was about knocked out. We all had a humble meal of instant ramen and a bit of fruit, and I fell asleep early again.

DAY 3

Sadly, going to bed early doesn’t seem to make waking up any easier. I was forced out of bed at 7AM for a sad breakfast of cold bread and salami slices before we headed to Lamar Valley, another wildlife haven. We did a short hike through the valley, running into several little gopher-like animals and even more bison, all while I munched on some cereal for lunch. 

We then headed to Mammoth Hot Springs, which was incredibly surreal. The hydrothermal landscape looked unlike anything I’d ever seen in real life. It was how sci-fi movie directors imagine foreign planets, but it was real! 

Next, we drove to Norris Geyser Basin, another fantastic sight. The pale, milky blue waters and steam rising from the geysers made this another total dreamscape. I was thoroughly impressed with the diversity of landscapes within a single park. 

Our final stop for the day was to the brink of the Upper Falls. This trail took us to the top of the waterfall, making for gorgeous views. Being so close to the edge really shows how powerful the waterfall is, and my legs got a little shaky looking down. This trail was one of the more tiring ones, and by the time we got back to Canyon Village for dinner that night, I was, once again, exhausted. Before bed, I bought a dinner of mashed potatoes, vegan steak and green beans from the village cafeteria. 

DAY 4

I don’t think I need to keep saying it, but I was dragged awake early this morning yet again. We drove to the Midway Geyser Basin, which included the Grand Prismatic Spring and other colorful pools. We briefly considered hiking to view the Grand Prismatic Spring from above, but all of us came to the consensus that we were far too worn out. The ground view itself was already stunning enough for us. 

Afterwards, we went to hike to the Mystic Falls. I unfortunately had a bit of a headache this day, which made the hike more painful than it should have been. The heat and mosquito bites didn’t help. Nonetheless, the water was beautiful. 

Then, it was time to see the Old Faithful Geyser. My mom was looking forward to this postcard-worthy landmark the whole trip so she could post videos of it. And they call our generation social media addicts! The schedule predicted an eruption at 1:20PM but Old Faithful was around ten minutes late. There were a few small bursts here and there, but people started losing faith. My dad walked away from the viewing platform just a minute before the geyser finally erupted. The huge spray of water brought cheers from the tired crowd. 

Our last adventure in Yellowstone was a drive around Yellowstone Lake. My headache was still pounding in my head, but this luckily didn’t involve any physical exertion on my end. Sitting in the car and admiring the views made for a relaxing way to end the trip. 

We got back to the lodge, finished off our instant ramen and packed to leave in the morning. 

DAY 5

The last early morning in Yellowstone consisted of frenzied packing and not much else. We had to drive all the way back to Salt Lake City to catch our evening flight, so we left the lodge pretty early in case of traffic. We stopped at McDonald’s for a quick breakfast, and then we were off. When we got to the airport, though, it turned out our flight was delayed by an hour. Boo. I just scrolled on my phone for a while until it was time to board. A short flight later, we landed in Los Angeles. Home sweet home.

Being away from friends (and reliable internet service) was definitely a struggle! I’m bad at being disconnected and this trip really helped me realize how important it is to take a step back from normal life and just breathe. Even just driving in the park was peaceful. Watching the scenery zoom past and listening to gentle, moody tunes made me much more appreciative of what this world has to offer. Life is beautiful. It’s just easy to forget, sometimes.