“You have to kiss the first fish you catch,” my husband, Gabe, deadpanned.
This elicited a simultaneous fit of giggles and “eeeeeewwws!” from our two girls—five-year-old Annie and nine-year-old Sara—and an all-too-familiar eye roll from our 12-year-old son, Travis (although I noticed a glimmer of amusement despite his best attempt to hide it).
We had just cast our lines off a guided fishing boat on beautiful Lake Yellowstone. Our family loves the outdoors and has spent many school breaks vacationing at national parks rather than amusement parks. We’ve toted each one of our three children in a kid carrier on our backs until they were old enough to traverse the trails on their own. This was the first trip in more than a decade we didn’t have to schlep one of them around. I was feeling a bit nostalgic.
It was also the first time our two girls had been fishing. Expecting to see a boat full of boys, they were surprised to see our guide, Lisa, that morning. Lisa’s knowledge of the area and enthusiasm for fishing was contagious. We learned some fun facts about the bald eagles we saw diving from their perches in the pine trees, which lined the banks of the black-pebbled shoreline. As we listened to Lisa sharing the history of the park, while gliding across the glassy water on the 136-square-mile lake, it seemed only fitting that during the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS) we were doing one of the same things that visitors in the 1800s did.
Gabe was the first to catch anything, but it was a cutthroat, a protected species, and he had to throw it back in the water. Almost immediately after that, he helped Sara reel in a lake trout with the gear provided on the tour. Annie started chanting, “Kiss the fish! Kiss the fish!”
“Yeah,” Travis added teasingly. “Kiss it like you want to kiss that Brody kid you have a crush on.”
Sara hit her brother in the arm and I sighed. I wasn’t ready for our kids to grow up so soon.
“Nobody has to kiss anything,” Lisa laughed as she took the fish from Sara. Another great thing about this fishing tour—the guide cleaned all the fish we caught and the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, where we were staying, cooked them for us. (As if the exquisite workmanship, comfortably furnished guest rooms and breathtaking views from the Sun Room weren’t reasons enough to make Lake Yellowstone Hotel our base during our trip.)
We caught a few more fish and were headed back to the dock when we spotted a four-point elk standing on the bank taking a drink. It was the perfect end to an amazing outing, and we still had our fresh fish to enjoy for dinner.
The following evening, we headed toward the Old West Dinner Cookout as the sun set. Annie wasn’t old enough to ride a horse by herself, so we rode in a covered wagon through sagebrush flats, one of the best places to spot wildlife in the park. We sat on benches near the back of the canvas-covered wagon, and spotted a large herd of bison across the open meadow as we made the 20-minute ride to the cookout site. We ate a classic cowboy meal of steak, baked beans and fruit crisp.
With bellies full of hearty grub and three happy kids, we headed back to the Roosevelt Lodge, where the wagon departed. When we arrived, we found about 20 rocking chairs on the front porch, all of which were occupied by visitors who watched the sky and chatted away as if they’d known each other forever.
No trip to Yellowstone is complete without viewing the park’s most famous geyser: Old Faithful. All of our kids have seen Old Faithful from the benches in the viewing area before. I remember Sara’s reaction the first time she saw it at the tender age of three. She squealed with delight and clapped her hands when it erupted, exclaiming, “Oooooh! Look mama! It’s soooo high!”
This time around we decided to check out the view from Geyser Hill. Just over a mile long, the easy trail led us to an observation point with amazing views. As soon as Old Faithful started teasing us with short bursts of steam, the kids watched with anticipation until the big one blew upwards of 130 feet in the air. Their squeals of delight were different now—more mature—but still every bit as enthusiastic.
Before we headed for home, we decided to have a late, leisurely lunch at the Old Faithful Inn. The building has been modernized and structurally reinforced over the years, carefully preserving the features that make it special, like the four-fireplace stone chimney and the massive log beams. It was then that I realized our family was like this building in many ways. Change is inevitable as we grow older, but our family will always bond over our love of the outdoors—especially Yellowstone National Park—no matter how old we are.
Check out the Experience Planner and plan your family getaway to Yellowstone National Park.