Two Autumn Road Trips You Shouldn't Miss

by Erik Vile, MD

Autumn brings cool mornings and crisp air to the Yellowstone Valley. Gone are the hot days of summer and the crowds of tourist that come to visit our backyard for the summer. Now is a great time for a family outing to explore our beautiful part of the world without having to worry about hoards of other people interrupting family time. Here are two great weekend outings sure to provide some fun and adventure for the whole family.

Yellowstone National Park

Do you have a long weekend that you don’t want to spend sitting at home? Head to Yellowstone! The crown jewel of our national park system is a short drive away. Plan on going in early October and if the Beartooth Pass is open take this scenic route to Yellowstone’s east entrance near Cooke City. Drive south through Tower Junction and continue towards Fishing Bridge to explore the south part of the park. Be sure to have the kids keep an eye out for bison, elk, wolves, and bears! There are many places to stop along the way for bathroom breaks and exploring. Do not to miss Old Faithful in the southwest portion of the park. Other fun side trips include the paved bike path to Lone Star Geyser and hiking to Lost Lake behind Roosevelt Lodge. Depending on your family there are options for camping or more modern accommodations. Good deals on lodging can be found in West Yellowstone since it is the off-season.

On day two head to Mammoth Hot Springs. Here there are self- guided walking paths around the hot springs. All members of the family will marvel at the geologic features seen on this short walk. Stop in at the Albright Visitor Center in Mammoth for information and exhibits on the parks history and the geology that shaped this beautiful area. Sign the kids up for the Junior Ranger program which provides them with a Junior Ranger patch once they have completed the required activities. Ranger-led hikes and walks continue year round, don’t miss out on the chance to explore the park and its history with a local expert. After two days of exploring it is time for some well deserved relaxation time. From Gardiner, head north from Yellowstone to Chico Hot Springs for a night soaking in the natural hot springs of this historic hotel. Children jumping in and out of the warm water sleep well afterwards, this is the perfect finish to a memorable weekend.

East Rosebud to Elk Lake

Fall colors abound in the Beartooth Mountains southwest of Billings. Pack up the car for a day trip to see the changing fall colors and explore the beautiful mountains without the summer crowds. Start at the East Rosebud trail head. The easy trail winds 3 miles along East Rosebud Creek on the way up to Elk Lake, passing several small waterfalls along the way and providing spectacular views. Pack a lunch and have a picnic along the shores of this pristine mountain lake surrounded by soaring peaks. Plan on going when the leaves are at their peak in late September or early October.

Fall is a wonderful time to get outside and enjoy the changing beauty of the Yellowstone Valley. Be sure to keep an eye on the weather, bring a few extra clothes for that unexpected chill in the air and keep a winter survival kit in the car at all times. Remember that elk, deer, and, moose can be aggressive during the fall mating season so keep a safe distance at all times. There are adventures large and small in our back yard so pack up and go explore! SFM

Erik Vile, MD is with the Montana Family Medicine Residency program at RiverStone Health. He enjoys exploring the Yellowstone Valley and Absaroka- Beartooth Wilderness by boat, foot, bike, and skis.