Our latest excursion was a truly epic roadtrip between Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. As always, it was a treat to get out into the wilderness (especially as we apparently missed the first proper heatwave of the NYC summer), and we spent a most enjoyable 9 days driving just over 1300 miles through mountains, forests and plains.
Flying into Jackson airport meant that we spent the first afternoon and night in the Grand Teton national park. Initially we regarded this as a kind of bonus – much nicer than some small-town motel as a stop en route to Yellowstone – but actually I think the Tetons were my favourite park experience of the trip. The park itself was manageable in size, but more than made up for that with dramatic scenery, plus of course all the hiking, mountain climbing, boating and wildlife spotting opportunities you might want.
In fact, the first night provided my favourite animal experience of the entire trip – a moose and her calf (I love moose, and this was the first time I’d seen one for myself!). We had spent the previous part of the evening driving between two spots which were supposedly known moose-haunts, had spotted an elk, some otters, chipmunks and pelicans, been bitten by several particularly vicious mosquitoes, and rained on several times. On the verge of giving up and heading back to our cabin we made one last stop, and what a good thing it was that we did!
An early morning paddle in a canoe on the lake completed our Tetons experience, and then it was off to Yellowstone.
We’d planned to spend three nights in Yellowstone, which turned out to be a decent amount of time. Driving in from the south entrance we were able to see the lake, and a number of the geothermal features on the park’s eastern side as we drove up to our accommodation. We also saw our first bison of the trip. We were staying at Canyon Village, mainly because that was the only place which had affordable rooms left by the time we booked, but actually it turned out to be a convenient central base for exploration.
Yellowstone day 2 involved a drive around the central loop road, taking in a number of other geothermal sights, including the iconic Grand Prismatic Spring.
Parking was a bit of a nightmare at times, particularly at the bigger sights, but it was the fourth of July weekend so really what did we expect. It took us an age to find a spot in the giant carpark at Old Faithful, but we were glad that we persevered.
Day 3 started bright and early as we’d signed up for a ranger-led hike up Mt. Washburn. This was advertised as a 4-5 hour 6 mile round trip, with a 1400 feet gain in elevation, and a group of 20 of us duly arrived to meet our ranger for the 8am start. We’d initially been drawn to this due to fear of bears on the trail, but actually it was most enjoyable, and we learned all kinds of fascinating facts from the ranger along the way.
After a pause at the top to enjoy the views, and some more wildlife, we started back down on our own. As we reached the lower part of the trail we spotted a group of people with cameras and binoculars a little further down – this was always the sign that something interesting was in the vicinity, so we eagerly scanned the horizon to see what they were looking at:
And so it came to pass – we saw bears on a hike!! Thankfully, these two were on the opposite side of the valley and safely unaware of our presence, so this was exciting rather than terrifying, and it was lovely to see them.
As we drove off the clouds started to gather, but with spectacular timing we managed to be inside eating lunch for the duration of the thunderstorm. The evening’s plan was animal watching in the Lamar Valley, but we had a few hours to kill, so we drove over to the Mammoth Hot springs area of the park. Here, the springs are continually creating travertine terraces, and the textures and shapes were quite fascinating. We dodged a couple more rainshowers to see a few of the spring areas, before retreating to the visitor centre to take advantage of their free wifi (our first connectivity for days!).
The Lamar Valley turned out to be an excellent end to the Yellowstone part of the trip, with huge numbers of bison and pronghorn visible as we drove along. Stopping at the Slough Creek carpark we were lucky enough to run into an extremely knowledgeable wolf-spotter with a large telescope, so were able to see four little cubs playing outside their den on the far hillside (sadly my zoom wasn’t quite up to the task).
As always we took far too many photos, and the album for the trip (whittled down to less than 200 images!) can be viewed at this link if you would like to see more.
Food and Drink
As usual, where our next meal was coming from was a matter of particular interest, complicated by my various dietary issues. Most of the park-operated restaurants were actually very good, with knowledgeable staff, gluten free bread in stock, and other modifications possible, but three of our meals particularly stood out:
The Trapper Grill at Signal Mountain Lodge, Grand Teton – a gf menu, delightful staff, and a wonderful view of the lake;
The Dining Room at Roosevelt Lodge, Yellowstone – a clearly-marked menu, tasty BBQ and gf pasta (because sometimes something familiar is just what you want!) in great Wild West style surroundings;
The Canyon Lodge Dining Room, Yellowstone – plenty of choices and some gf bread completed the hearty cooked breakfast experience, perfect fuel for a day in the wilderness!