In July we took our first trip to Yellowstone National Park. We met Mike’s siblings and their families there for a family reunion. It was an amazing trip! The park is huge and there is so much to see. We packed our schedule full while we were there and we have a list of what we want to see next time.
After I shared the complete cost breakdown for our Washington DC trip last year, many of you told me how helpful it was and asked that I do the same for other trips. So here goes!
We drove. We spent roughly $550 on gas. Yellowstone is just under 1,000 miles away, plus there is a lot of driving in the park. Coming from California, gas everywhere on the road (even IN the park) was way cheaper than what we pay at home.
Yellowstone National Park is roughly 15 hours from us. While we could drive that in a day, we couldn’t leave until Saturday afternoon because of a morning swim meet on the day we were leaving, so we had to stop somewhere to sleep. We had planned to just find some national forest or BLM land to camp on since we had our camping things with us.
It was well after midnight when we decided we had better stop. We were near Twin Falls, Idaho, and Google told us that we were a few minutes from Murtaugh Lake Park, a county park with tent camping for $5 a night. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a campsite that cheap in my life! It was closer to our path than places where we could camp for free and it included bathrooms, so it was an easy yes. We didn’t even set up a tent. The kids were asleep in the car so we just laid out a tarp, got out the sleeping bags, and transferred sleeping kids into sleeping bags.
We ended up staying at the same place on the way home, which worked out beautifully since we knew where it was and what to expect. We spent a total of $10 for lodging on the drive.
We paid $80 for a National Parks Annual Pass.
We have six kids, but none of them happen to be a fourth grader this year. In past years we have definitely taken advantage of the Every Kid Outdoors free National Parks Pass for 4th graders and their families. We could have just paid $35 for a 7-day entrance, but we knew we would be driving through Grand Teton National Park on the way home and be visiting other National Parks and Monuments later in the year.
We reserved a campsite about a year in advance. My sister-in-law set the family reunion up. The park was very accommodating and put us in camp sites near one another. We were in Bridge Bay Campground (in Loop F, if I remember right). We stayed 5 nights so the total was $132 for camping in the park.
Side note: One of the coolest things about camping in the park was seeing the wildlife up close. We had huge elk walk right through our campsite the first day we were there, then next day bison walked right through. We didn’t approach them, but they weren’t shy about making themselves at home.
Awkward picture of me, but check out the rack on that elk!
We divided up food responsibilities for breakfast and dinner between families. Each family was responsible for cooking one breakfast and one dinner for the group (about 35 people).
When it was our turn for dinner we had a burrito bar. We brought beans, taco meat, salsa chicken, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, cilantro, salsa, and flour tortillas and let everyone make their own burritos. To make storing the meat super simple, I asked my mother-in-law if she could freeze dry the cooked taco meat and salsa chicken at home in her freeze dryer to that it wouldn’t require any refrigeration. We just rehydrated it and warmed it up on the camp stove.
Our turn for breakfast fell on our last morning there when we were all busy breaking down camp, so we wanted it to be super simple and not require much hands-on work that morning. We baked 12 loaves of quick breads (banana bread, zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, etc) at home before we left. We also brought peaches and apples slices.
Each family handled their own lunches and snacks. We brought the makings for peanut butter and jam sandwiches, lots of apples to slice, granola bars, yogurt, nuts, dried fruit, carrots, crackers, hummus, bagels, and other easy foods. We stopped for pizza on our way home.
I am not including the cost of food, as we used our regular food budget instead of money from our trip fund. If you look at our July budget update you will see that we spent $638 on food for the month of July. It definitely takes some planning to work a trip’s food into the normal monthly budget, but keeping a stocked pantry and food storage makes it much easier than starting from square one.
We purchased a few things specifically for this trip. While we bought them for this trip, we look at them as investments in future trips as well.
$76 Bear Spray- While most of us thought it would be pretty cool to see a bear, we hoped we wouldn’t need to use bear spray. Still, we thought it was a smart idea to have a couple of cans anyway. It’s definitely pricey, but we will keep having opportunities to carry (but hopefully not use it) in the future. I think of it like insurance.
$150 Propane Stove– As we discussed the gear we could share for making our meals together, none of us had a propane stove that was big enough to cook for our group, so we decided we would make the investment. Mike has been wanting to upgrade our own camping equipment. Most of our outdoor cooking gear is for backpacking (read: small and light), so with a family our size who loves the outdoors, this Camp Chef two-burner stove was a good investment for us.
$60 Griddle attachment– Having the griddle makes the stove even more versatile. We used it to warm up tortillas (and even make quesadillas for some of the little ones). It will also be great for pancakes, eggs, and french toast in the future.
$52 Propane– We bought a 20lb Amerigas propane canister outside of a Walmart in Idaho. The initial cost was $52. We had plenty of gas left at the end of the week. When we need to refill, we’ll exchange the empty canister for a full one for just the cost of the gas itself (something like $22, I think).
$4- Ice– We bought a small bag of ice from one of the gas stations in the park. While it’s way more expensive than what you would pay at the grocery store, it’s cheaper at the gas station in the park than in the convenience store/gift shop.
Total cost for 5-day Yellowstone Trip
Vacations can be expensive, especially with a big family. One of the great things about a trip like this, where we drive and then camp, is that an increase in the number of people doesn’t affect the total very much. When we stay indoors, we have to get at least two hotel rooms or a very large Airbnb for the family. When we fly, tickets for eight gets very expensive quickly. For us, driving and camping saves a lot, and is just as much fun!
In all we spent $1,114. Some of that, like the propane stove, is gear we’ll use again and again for years.
If you haven’t visited Yellowstone before, I definitely recommend planning a trip there. It’s a pretty incredible place. We had a great family trip!