One of my favorite things to do with my kids is take mini-road trips. We love exploring Montana’s back roads, hot springs, and funky towns. We like gawking at the animals at Zoo Montana, browsing the Montana Candy Emporium in Red Lodge, getting blown around in the hurricane simulator at Exploration Works!, and hiking through the Gallatin Mountains. There are so many places to check out within a couple hours of where we live, that’s it’s hard to choose where to go next.
When it comes to my special day (Mother’s Day, of course), I have a few criteria I like to meet. I want to spend the day with my family, eat something yummy, be outside, and not have to prepare or plan any of it.
Pine Creek Lodge and Café
This year, I want them to take me to Pine Creek Lodge and Café for breakfast, and then take a walk in Yellowstone.
The Pine Creek Café plays an important historical, culinary, and musical role in Park County and the Paradise Valley. Well known actors and writers have long used it as a gathering place. Families dance outside on summer nights to their favorite bands. Couples celebrate anniversaries, and just about everyone, including me, loves the brunch.
Walking into the café, the first thing one notices is the warm odor of wood smoke from the soapstone stove in the middle of the room. Windows looks out upon conifers and a little creek that flows through the property. Log cabin walls are adorned with local art, memorabilia, and a “Pine Creek Store” sign.
I always order the huevos rancheros, my husband goes for the filling breakfast burrito, and the kids overdo it on pancakes and French toast. After breakfast, when the grown-ups want to chill out and drink their tea and coffee, it’s easy to send the kids outside to run back and forth over the little bridge.
(Edit May 6, 2016 — Pine Creek Lodge has been closed for awhile, but is opening with new owners on June 11. It will be a late Mother’s Day celebration this year.)
Yellowstone National Park
Then we hop in the car and head south. By mid-May, the low elevation trails around Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park are usually free of snow. Bison and elk calves cute-up the park, and bears are easily spotted from the vehicle. On a nice day, it’s one of the best times of year to visit Yellowstone.
I like to pick a trail that minimizes the whine factor—not too long, not to steep, and with points of interest along the way. The Lava Creek Trail fits the bill. This 3.5-mile trail can be hiked one way if you arrange a car shuttle ahead of time and it’s mostly downhill. Or hike out as far as you like and turn around.
The trail follows Lava Creek downstream to 60-foot Undine Falls at 0.3 miles. The waterfall gets its name from mythological creatures that were extraordinarily wise, usually female, and thought to live around waterfalls. An undine could acquire a mortal man, marry him, and have his children. It’s perfect for Mother’s Day.
From the falls, the trail drops consistently through mostly open terrain. There is no shade or water, but it’s spring and you brought your own beverages.
Lava Creek meets the Gardner River further downstream. The trail crosses the river on a footbridge to a final steep climb out, ending near the Mammoth Campground. I don’t tell the kids about the short, steep section at the end; I let that be a little surprise.
Know Before You Go
Grand Re-Opening June 11, 2016.
Distance: 3.5 miles one-way
Estimated time: 3–4 hours
Trailhead: Across the road from the Lava Creek picnic area on Mammoth–Tower Road.
This story originally appeared in Montana Parent Magazine, May 2013.