Mammoth and Lamar Valley

June 25, 2020

We left camp at 7 am and saw a couple of large elk on the way out of camp. We wanted to get a early start so we could avoid the crowds. Our plan was to head north to Mammoth and then east to the Lamar Valley area. Our plan was to find a campsite out the northeast entrance of the park, past Cooke City, MT.

Our first stop was at some geysers along the Yellowstone River. The steam of the geysers drifted over the river and made some great pictures. We next drove along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone road and stopped to view the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. Unfortunately, they had closed the trails that allow you to hike down to the top of the falls, so we viewed the falls from the overlooks along the canyon rim. We did hike down to a lower overlook that gave us some great views.

After the waterfalls we drove to the Canyon Village and ate breakfast at the cafe. It wasn’t crowded, but the restaurant was not very prepared to serve, so it took a long time and the food was cold. That will be the last meal we buy from the park. 

We continued up the road at around 10:30 am and drove to the Mammoth area of the park. We hiked around the terraces and were able to take some good pictures. We also walked around the village area. It was interesting to see the herd of elk that live in the village and graze on the lawns of the hotel and restaurants. 

From Mammoth we drove to the north entrance of the park to see the Roosevelt Arch that was the historic entrance to the park. After returning to Mammoth we drove east to the Tower Area. This area was all closed for construction, so we were not able to see the Tower Falls.

We ate lunch near the Lamar River and then drove the 20+ miles through the Lamar Valley. We were stopped for about 20 minutes due to a large herd of bison and calves that were crossing the road right in front of us. We were only the second car in the line, so we were in the middle of the action and had the bison all around us.

We finished our drive through the valley and out the northeast entrance of the park. At that point the rain started coming down hard for about 30-40 minutes. After that it was raining on and off the rest of the day. We stopped in Cooke City for gas and then drove another 15 miles to a free campsite in the national forest.

June 26, 2020

We got up around 5:45 am so we could hurry back into the park to the Lamar Valley, where a lot of wildlife is active in the morning. We were later than a lot of people, as there were cars filling many of the pullouts for viewing. We did find a spot at a high spot and watched 3 gray wolves lounging in the sun near a creek. They were quite a ways from us, but with our binoculars, we were able to see them. They didn’t do much but wander around, but it was fun to see them. They were too far away to get a picture with our cell phones. We also saw a lot of bison, antelope and geese in the area. 

We ate breakfast while watching for wildlife, then continued down the road. A couple of miles past the wolves we came up on a large black bear, just off the road. There were a lot of cars and people, so we didn’t spend a lot of time, but we got a good view and a couple of pictures and videos. Another couple of miles down the road and we came upon a smaller black bear. He was in the brush and trees, so we didn’t get a great look, but did take pictures.

After seeing the wildlife, we drove on to the Mammoth area and walked through the Upper Terrace area that we missed yesterday. After Mammoth we drove to the Norris Geyser Basin and walked through the area with pools and geysers. We saw a few small eruptions, but nothing large.

We drove back to the Canyon’s area and found a shady spot to park and ate lunch. We spent a couple of hours there as we had cell phone reception and was able to update the blog. On the way back to our camp we saw a lot more bison and passed a huge traffic jam where they said there were two black bears. People were parked all over the place. We stopped and Eva went forward, but she didn’t see them.

Our last stop for the day was the Mud Volcano Geyser area. This was a 1 km walk around many vents, boiling pools and small geysers. We were back to camp around 4 pm and I set up the shower tent so we could get clean after a hot day of hiking.

Mid – Lower Geyser Basin

June 24, 2020

In the morning we drove into West Yellowstone and gassed up the van. We also went to the Museum of Yellowstone. The museum was in the old Union Pacific Railroad Depot. Much of the museum was based around the changing methods of transportation to and in the national park. It was very interesting and well worth the visit. We also did a bit of shopping in town.

We entered the park around 1 pm and quickly found a lunch spot on the banks of the Madison River. After lunch we continued on the road towards the Madison Junction. Just after the junction we turned west and drove the Firehole Canyon Drive. This was a beautiful canyon the followed the Firehole River. There was a large waterfall and a warm water swimming hole, but the rangers closed the swimming hole due to COVID-19.

On the way towards the Old Faithful area we stopped at the Lower Geyser Basin, the Firehole Lake Drive and the Midway Geyser Basin. Near Firehole Lake we were lucky enough to video a good eruption for 10-15 minutes. Just past the Midway Geyser Basin we hiked up to the Prismatic Springs Overlook and had a good view of the colorful pool.

After our hike it was about 5 pm so we headed towards camp. It was about an hour drive to Bridger Bay Campground. The campground was huge with 468 sites. Our site was over a mile from the entrance station, but was pretty nice, with a lot of open space around us. However, it was a campground with generators and screaming kids. It was quite a change from our last two campgrounds. We had chicken linguine for dinner and sat around the campsite for the night. It was a warm night, but started to rain early in the morning.

Southeast Idaho

June 22, 2020

We left on our trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks on Monday afternoon. We needed to tend Rosie while Kayla went to a meeting, so we didn’t get out of the house until about 3:30 pm. The drive north on I-15 was a little crowded, but not too bad.

As we drove north it was interesting to again see how green Idaho is. As we got near the border the fields, hills and mountains all turned different shades of green. It was pretty to see. We continued north to Lava Hot Springs and camped about 2 miles north of town on the Portnuef River. It was a nice campsite. The railroad tracks were only about 100 yards away from us so it was a little noisy when they trains passed, but I think we only say 3-4 trains, and none were in the night.

June 23, 2020

We had planned to soak in the hot pools at Lava Hot Springs, but we decided to save that for the trip home. We drove back to I-15 and headed north to Blackfoot where we stopped at the Idaho Potato Museum. It was pretty interesting and I am glad we spent 1-1/2 hours there. The only disappointment was we spent $2 for some homemade potato chip and they were terrible. Greasy, cold and tasted bad.

We continued north and stopped in Idaho Falls for gas and to eat lunch on the banks of the Snake River Falls. We actually spent about 3 hours in town as Eva was on the phone with Southwest Airlines trying to schedule her flight to Texas in October. It was difficult because she had several credits from earlier in the year when her flight was canceled.

In the town of Ashton we left the highway and drove up into the mountains. Our first stop was Lower Mesa Falls. We viewed the falls from an overlook, as they were down in a canyon. The falls were were on the Henry’s Fork River. After some time at the overlook, we continued down the road a couple of miles to the Upper Mesa Falls.

These falls were much higher and we were able to walk down close to the falls. The upper falls are 114’ high and are pretty much a straight drop off. We took pictures and videos of the falls and hiked around the area.

After leaving the falls drove back to the main highway and continued north through Island Park to Big Springs. This spring is the headwaters of the Henry’s Fork River. The spring discharged 120 million gallons of water each day, so the river is pretty big right from the start. The water is crystal clear and has some huge trout that collect under the bridge. They are huge because they are well fed from people throwing bread off the bridge. Fishing isn’t allowed so they just get bigger and bigger.

We camped about 15 miles from West Yellowstone in the mountains near the Henry’s Lake. It was a calm and beautiful night. We took showers and then enjoyed the evening.

Kuna Cave

June 10, 2020

We woke up early so we could hit the hot springs one more time in the cool of the morning. However, we had left our towel and swimsuits outside to dry and it ended up raining hard during the night. I didn’t even hear the rain, but Eva did.

The sun was just coming up and the sky was clear and blue, so I put the suits in the sun and by the time we ate breakfast everything was dry. We hiked to the springs and we were the only ones there for about an hour. It was another nice morning soaking in the hot water.

We left camp at noon and drove highway 21 to Idaho City. The highway over the mountain has the be the windiest road I have ever been on. There are many hairpin turns that take you up and over the mountain. I would hate to pull a big trailer on this road.

We stopped for lunch at the visitor’s center in Idaho City. We were still about an hour drive from Boise, but since the camping prospects were very good near Boise, we decided to continue down the canyon about 10 miles to a nice dispersed camping spot a few miles off the road. We set up camp and also took showers. The rest of the evening we hung around camp and did a short hike. It was the first warm evening for about a week, so we stayed outside until dark.

June 11, 2020


After leaving camp we drove down the mountains into Boise. Our first stop was the Old Idaho State Prison. It is now a museum, but due to Covid, it was closed. We went there to hike on some of the Boise trails. We did a short, but steep hike to a cliff area that gives an overlook of Boise.

We then continued to downtown Boise, stopping at Freak Alley. An alley with lots of pictures painted on the walls.

On our way out of Boise we stopped at the Boise Temple for a picture.

About 15 miles south of Boise is the Kuna Cave. It is a large lava tube that his 1000’ long. The beginning is just a 15’ diameter hole in the flat desert. You have to climb down a 50’ steel ladder, but once at the bottom the cavern has a flat floor, so it is pretty easy to explore. The walls of the cavern are covered with layers of graffiti, probably from many years of kids painting on the walls.

The Alien Has Landed

Once we finished at the cave, we were officially on our way home. We headed east on I84, back through Twin Falls and then camped our last night at McClendon Springs, the same site as our first night. It was just the right distance from home.

Tomorrow we will leave early so we can stop and pick up Kayla and Rosie and still make it home by noon.

Trip Stats

10 nights

1550 miles

Bonneville Hot Springs

June 9, 2020

After eating breakfast we drove 40 minutes up the canyon to Challis. We ended up spending about 2 hours parked at the church using the internet to update the blog, and Eva was on the phone with Verizon trying to decide if we would change our cell plan.

Before leaving Challis we gassed up and stopped at the grocery store for a few things. We then headed west on highway 75. This was another beautiful highway following the Salmon River up to Stanley, ID. From Stanley we continued west over the mountains into the Boise National Forest. We found a campsite at the Bonneville Campground for $7.50/night.

The campground was pretty nice with a lot of space between the sites. The best part were some very nice hot springs just 1/4 miles from the campground. These hot springs were on the banks of the Payette River and were very hot.

After setting up camp we hiked over the hot springs. The water flows from several places on the mountainside and is probably > 180 degrees. High on the hill it was too hot to touch. Most of the water flows down a short waterfall down to a series of pools that are spaced down the river bottoms. The upper pools were too hot to get into, but someone told us that the previous day they were a very pleasant temperature, so it must change day to day.

We found a nice pool where the hot water and cold river water mixed to make a nice spot that was about hot tub temperature.

We were never alone, but it was nowhere near as crowded as yesterday’s hot springs.

After soaking in the pools, we hiked back to camp and Eva made some chicken and pasta for dinner in the Instapot. It was very good. It was a mild night so we cooked and ate outside.

Goldbug Hot Springs

June 8, 2020

In the morning it was cold and snowing a bit, but not enough to stick to the ground. We left the campsite and continued north on highway 93. About 8-10 miles north, as elevation rose, there was 3-4 inches of snow on the ground, so it was good we camped down by the river.

The highway north followed the Salmon River through wide green valleys with cattle ranches and alfalfa farms. We arrived at the “town” of Elk Bend and parked at a trailhead about a mile off the highway.

Our destination was Goldbug Hot Springs. It was a challenging hike up the mountain to the hot springs. It was still raining when we arrived, but we waited for 15 minutes and the rain stopped and the sun kind of came out. For the beginning of the hike it was sunny, but the clouds rolled in again and it sprinkled rain on us as we got close to the end of the hike.

The hike started with a couple of steep switch backs. The middle of the hike was a gentle incline, but the last 1/2 mile was steep again with switchback and a couple of stairs that were built into the trail. The hike was 2 miles one way, with 1300’ of elevation gain.

The hot springs consisted of 3 separate pools that varied in temperature. The pools were built of rock into the mountain side and the bottom was nice soft gravel. The water was crystal clear and the pool we were in was probably 100 degrees. It felt just the perfect temperature.

We went to the warmest pool, which also had the best view. When we arrived there were only 6 others in our pool and another 6-8 people in the other pools.

However, after about 30 minutes a huge family with lots of kids showed up. There must have been 15-20 of them. They all crowded in our pool, but they were pretty polite and jammed themselves into one side of the pool and left us and another couple the other half of the pool. The kids were climbing around and having fun, so it wasn’t very peaceful.

After about an hour we decided to head back down to the van. It was sunny when I got out and went behind a rock to change. But 5 minutes later when Eva was ready to get out, the clouds had came in. She quickly got out, changed and we headed down the trail.

We were only 10 minutes down the trail when the storm hit. The wind kicked up and the hail started to come down. We were still high on the mountain in the rocks, so there was nowhere to hide. We hurried down towards the trees where we could get some shelter. However, by the time we made it to the trees, the hail had stopped. So we continued down the trail and by the time we made it to the van, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day again.

From Elk Bend we went back up the canyon and found camp at the Colston River Access. Idaho is full of the river access points that have free campsites on the banks of the big rivers. Our campsite was in a grassy meadow on the banks of the Salmon River, just across from a large cliff. It was another very nice night, however, about 5 minutes after we arrived, the sun went down behind the cliff, so it was too cold for Eva to be outside. We ate dinner and then played Phase 10 for the rest of the evening.

Our nice bathroom at the campsite

Fall Creek Falls

June 7, 2020

The morning was cool and rainy so we were late getting up and leaving the campground. After breakfast the kids decided to head for home since it was raining. About 5 minutes after they left, we realized that Kayla had left her cheese curds, from Reeds Dairy, in our fridge, so we called them and they stopped at a gas station about 10 minutes away. We met them there to give them the curds and tell the grandkids goodbye again.

The weather today went from cool and rainy to flakes of snow and hail falling by the evening. Two days ago it was 93 degrees and sunny and now snow it falling.

We left Idaho Falls and drove east through the rolling hills and followed the Snake River. The valleys are full of farms and ranches with miles and miles of beautiful green fields. About 30 miles east of Idaho Falls we entered Swan Valley. This was a large valley with just a couple of large ranches. The Snake River winds its way through the valley.

We stopped for a while at Fall Creek Falls, a beautiful waterfall from a creek that feeds the Snake River. We had planned to camp in the area, but since it was wet and raining, we decide to drive back to the west. If we were going to be sitting in the van, we might as well be driving.

We drove back to the west through Idaho Falls and Arco. At Arco we turned north on highway 93 and drove up to Mackay. Just past Mackay we camped at a nice campsite on the river. The rain was off and on, so we didn’t spent much time outside. By the time we ate dinner, the snow and hail was falling, so we spent the evening in the van. Through the night I could hear the hail hitting the top of the van, but none of it stayed on the ground.

Bear World

June 6, 2020

It was a windy morning when we left the campsite and continued on to Idaho Falls. After arriving in Idaho Falls, we gassed up and called the kids. They had just passed us, so we continued north towards Rexburg, arriving at Yellowstone Bear World just after 10 am. The kids had arrived about 15-20 minutes before us.

Yellowstone Bear World has nothing to do with Yellowstone National Park. It is a private animal park with deer, elk, moose and bears, and some of them came from Yellowstone. The first attraction is the driving tour that takes about 15 minutes and takes you through the animals. There are two white elk that are pretty interesting. The bear section has grizzlies, browns and black bears. The grizzlies were in their own section and just paced back and forth, but in the brown and black bear section, the bears seemed pretty happy. In our morning drive, there was a lot of activity of the animals. Later in the day we drove around twice more and the animal activity was a lot less. They were lying in the shade or hiding somewhere.

The rest of the day we went through the petting zoo, the kids rides and the gift shop. We ate lunch at the park, but due to Covid, they would not provide any condiments, so the burgers were pretty dry. It’s funny the things that people are doing due to the Covid pandemic. We stayed at the park until 4 pm and then drove back to Idaho Falls.

Rosie Didn’t Like Me Helping

We all parked near the Snake river and walked along the river front. The kids played on the grass and we took pictures. After about 30 minutes the wind started blowing hard, so we went to Reeds Dairy to eat dinner. Eva and I had grilled cheese and ham sandwiches and ice cream. It started raining while we were eating and kept raining most of the night.

The kids had reserved cabins at the Snake River RV Park, so we checked in and spent the rest of the night in the cabins. Eva and I slept in the van while they stayed in the cabins. There was room in Kayla’s cabin, but I like sleeping in my own bed. It was a little noisy at night, but not too bad. The night was cool and it rained off and on through out the night.

Craters of the Moon

June 5, 2020

We had a slow morning as we cleaned up the van and enjoyed at late breakfast at the campsite. Our goal for the day was to drive to somewhere near Idaho Falls so we could meet Alyssa and family, along with Kayla and Rosie, at Yellowstone Bear World near Rexburg.

Our morning drive was across the broad Sliver Creek Valley. The valley was lush and green with many large ranches and farms throughout the valley. It was quite pretty and looked like a great place to live.

After driving through the valley the road took us over some mountains and into the town of Carey, Idaho. We stopped at the church parking lot and ate lunch. I also had to fix a small electrical problem with the auxiliary switch panel. It kept us from dumping our grey water tank. I couldn’t figure out the problem, so I finally just bypassed the switch and was able to get the tank to dump. However, after I did that, the switch panel started working again. So now it works, but I don’t know what was wrong with it. I think the issue is in the electronics of the switch panel. While at the church we also accessed the internet and uploaded a few blog posts.

After leaving Carey we entered the high desert. The valleys were full of sage brush, volcanic rock and lava flows. After about 30 miles, we entered Craters of the Moon National Monument. Due to Covid-19, the visitor’s center and the lava caves were closed, but we still took a drive around the scenic loop. The campground was open and it looked real nice with the campsites placed between the large mounds of lava and rocks. Fortunately, the sky’s were overcast, so the temperature was not too bad. It looked like it would be miserable during a hot sunny day. I think fall or spring would be the best time to camp there.

We drove around the scenic loop and hiked to the top of the Inferno Cone. From the top you cold see the vast area that is covered by lava flow and cinders. It was very windy on the top. We only saw 3-4 other vehicles on the drive, so it was nice to have some privacy in the park.

The Trail up the Inferno Cone
Eva on top of the Inferno Cone

We also stopped at the Spattered Cinder Cones. These cones had deep holes that still had snow in them. When you leaned through the fence you could feel the cool air rising from deep in the earth.

After driving through the park we continued on highway 20 towards Arco. This was more high desert and lava. Just as we arrived in Arco, it started raining and for a while it was a hard rain. Arco is known as Idaho’s atomic city and was the first city lighted by atomic energy. Further down the highway is the Idaho National Laboratory. This is where the US government does a lot of their nuclear research. Because of the rain, we ate dinner parked in the church parking lot and then continued down the highway.

The Submarine in the Desert
The Hill Above Arco High School

We stopped for the night at the “Half Acre of Hell” trailhead. This is another large lava flow that has hiking trails through the formations. We found a spot down the side road and set up camp for the night. It was a little windy through the night, but overall a warm pleasant evening. We are about 20 miles from Idaho Falls, so we will have a short drive tomorrow to meet the kids.

Blue Heart Springs

June 4, 2020

When we woke up in the morning, the 1:30 am group from last night were gone. We didn’t hear them leave in the morning, so we guess that they launched their raft in the middle of the night and floated down the river. It was a bright moon, so I guess there was enough light to see.

After packing up camp we drove further down the river. At this point the river isn’t in a deep gorge, so the road followed the river for the next 15 miles. Our destination was Branbury Campground. For a $5 parking fee, they will let you access the river from their boat ramp.

The plan was to paddle downstream about 1-1/2 miles to Blue Heart Springs. Blue Heart Springs is a large pool of very clear water, just off the Snake River. Even though it was downstream, there was a brisk wind blowing upstream, so it was still some work to paddle down the river and it took us 35 minutes to reach our destination. You enter the springs through a narrow path between the trees and brush. The water is crystal clear, with a slight blue tint from the minerals. We were the first ones at the spring this morning, but more kayakers showed up later.

After some time at the springs we started back. This time we had to paddle upstream. However, the winds had died down, so we didn’t have any help on the 50 minute paddle back to the campground.

Once back at the boat ramp we deflated the kayak and loaded everything up. We drove to the park in Buhl and parked in the shade to eat lunch. After eating we drove back through Twin Falls to cross the river and head north towards the Sawtooth Mountains.

We had planned to camp just north of Shoshone at Little Drops Recreation Area. It was a rough road out to the campsite in a desert that covered with volcanic rocks. The camping spot was at the edge of the Milner Gooding Canal. This was an interesting place. The canal is a 15 feet wide and 6 feet deep concrete trough that runs through the lava flows and volcanic rocks. Where we stopped there was a straight section that is several miles long. The water is about 4 feet deep and flows very fast down the trough. There were a lot of local kids there. They would jump into the canal and it would sweep them down the canal for about a mile to a spot where they would get out and walk back up a trail to do it again. Just the type of fun that rural kids get to have. In Utah County they would have fenced off the canal to keep everyone out. It look like a lot of fun, but I couldn’t get Eva to try it out. Unfortunately we didn’t take any pictures of the Idaho kids having fun.

We decided not to camp there for two reasons. First it was very windy, and second, the camping spot was the location where the kids got out of the canal and it looked like they were going to be having fun for quite a while. We looked at Google Maps and it showed a dirt track out of the area to the main highway. We drove down a very rough trail for about 3 miles. Just as we got within 400 yards of the highway the trail stopped at private property. We had to turn around drive all the way back to the canal. We ended up wasting an hour following the Google recommendation.

We drove further north on highway 75 to the Stanton Crossing campground. This is a free campground on the banks of the Big Wood River. It was a very nice spot in the trees. The trees were full of birds that singing all night long. There were a lot of other campers, but the sites are spread out, so it didn’t feel too crowded. We cooked and ate dinner while sitting in the shade of the trees. After dinner I set up the shower tent and we both took showers before it turned dark. The night was nice, except for the RV that ran their generator all night long.

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