Family Trip to Yellowstone Gone Wrong, or Just Right?

I have lived in Wyoming my entire life, besides a year long stint in Idaho. Unfortunately, I can count on one hand the times I have been to Yellowstone National Park. My husband was set to deploy with the military the first week of July, 2019. On June 28th, 2019 I got the harebrained idea that we were going to have one last "Hurrah" and take a family camping trip to Yellowstone.
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I called Bridge Bay Campground and managed to secure the last available tent camping spot for the evening. We quickly gathered our supplies and put our two-year-old and four-month-old baby in the car. I know, I know. What the heck were we thinking? As it turns out, this ended up being our most memorable trip to date as a family of four.

family trip to yellowstone

When we arrived at our campground, there was just enough daylight left to set up out tent and get things ready before the kids needed to be in bed. It had been a long and wonderful day. We started pulling things out of the car and I started to silently panic inside as each item from the car was removed… and our air mattress was nowhere to be found. Turns out, my husband had thought I grabbed it when I said I had the mattress PUMP. Darkness was setting in and we decided to just set up what we had and hope for the best.

Oh, it gets better though, when we went to light our fire for the evening, we realized that we had forgotten any sort of lighter or matches. You’d think we’d been raised somewhere other than Wyoming with this level of unpreparedness. (Thank goodness for gas stations and overpriced supplies). We ate dinner and spent about 30 minutes at a little evening theater presentation on the Grey Wolf. We came back and each snuggled in next to a kid. Unbeknownst to either of us, when we had set up our tent, we had put it on slightly uneven ground, and the way we had placed our pillows had us laying in a slight hole that left the blood rushing to our heads all night. Wyoming in June can be a tad chilly, and I can say between the rock in my side, the position of my head, and the fact that I was cold it was the WORST night of sleep I have ever gotten.

bison in yellowstone np

Sometime in the early morning, I heard hooves on the ground near our tent. Mother nature couldn’t wait, and I snuck out to a Bison about 20 feet away from our campground. I cautiously walked to the bathroom facilities, and when I came back I was greeted by one of my top five most beautiful sunrises through the trees… and the screeching of what I thought was an injured animal, but turns out was just my exhausted toddler. We groggily got up and prepared breakfast, then we quickly packed up our campground with our toddler’s screeches as background accompaniment to the peaceful surroundings.

We got in the car and complained and blamed one another for the mattress mishap and the disaster the night before had been. After a few minutes of silence and some gas station coffee, we apologized and promised each other to try to make the best of the day. We went through the whole park and exited through the Cody side. Since we had chosen to go on a weekday, we’d been able to enjoy the park without the large crowds that are common on the weekends, much to my husband’s delight. We booked a hotel in Cody, Wyoming, showered, and fell into an exhausted sleep that only occurs when you’ve had the best day adventuring.

father and daughter in wyoming

Although our daughter is so small, she surprised me months after our trip by asking me, “when will we see the Buffalo again mommy?” and a few weeks later she told me, “my daddy took me to see the waterfall.” She was referring to Yellowstone Falls. Although the trip did not go as planned, it warmed my heart to realize that while we thought we had failed, our little girl saw only the fun, and beautiful moments of the trip. She remembered walking to the waterfall with her dad and waking up to a buffalo just feet away.

My daughter turned three years old in March and her dad hasn’t returned because of COVID-19. We have lots of plans for his homecoming, but number one on the list is a trip to Yellowstone. Maybe I’ll forget to pack something crucial on purpose this time, just so we can have another story to laugh about for the rest of our lives.

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