Two weeks ago I was fortunate enough to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, my first time visiting that part of the country. In a nutshell: the scenery is spectacular, the parks live up to the hype, and I highly recommend a trip if you can pull it off.
We flew into the airport at Jackson, in northwest Wyoming:
It’s one of the nicer airport approaches I’ve seen:
JAC airport is the nation’s only commercial airport inside a national park and it’s noticeable the second you step off the plane since the Grand Teton range serves as the airport’s backdrop. It took 30-45 minutes to drive to our cabin at Jackson Lake Lodge, but even after a full day of traveling with four kids the drive was relaxing. There was a herd of buffalo by the road on the way up which helped set a nice tone for the tip.
If you’re so inclined you can stop at the visitor center in Moose on your way up. The kids enjoyed it (as they did all the visitor centers in the two parks) and as with everywhere else in Grand Teton there’s that view:
Our youngest is three years old, plus we also had with us my mother-in-law, so we’re not going to do any backcountry hikes, but fortunately you don’t need to be a seasoned outdoorsman to take in a lot of great sights here. We went on a short, flat hike one day at Jackson Lake. I don’t know what it is about bodies of water that compels kids to throw rocks in them non-stop, but that’s what mine do every time they have a chance:
Another view on the same hike, this one facing the mountains. My son looks like he’s in the Arctic:
And in fact, “arctic” isn’t much of stretch. As per Wikipedia, the climate classification at Yellowstone Lake is subarctic, though I don’t think the climate at Jackson Lake would make the cut for that designation. Still, it’s not far off.
Another thing you can do with folks who aren’t up for a long hike is drive up Signal Mountain, which is a big hill approximately 800 feet above the surrounding terrain in Jackson Hole. From there you have sweeping views of the entire valley plus the Tetons:
Signal Mountain was one of my favorite spots on the whole trip; I could never get tired of that view. We took a few family pictures that ended up looking we were photoshopped into it just because the background scenery was so over-the-top gorgeous.
And if you like nice scenery, I recommend waking up at sunrise and going to Oxbow Bend for photos like this:
…and maybe then you could head over to the rear deck at Jackson Lake Lodge for a little of this:
Another fun activity is to take a boat ride around Jackson Lake. It’s relaxing to sit down and be treated to scenes like this:
After Grand Teton we headed up to Yellowstone. From where we were staying to the Grant Village area, our new home in Yellowstone in the southern part of the park, took about one hour of driving. From there to the northern part of Yellowstone takes another hour or two of driving depending on where and how you go. Our first sightseeing of the day was a trip to, you guessed it, Old Faithful, which is in the southern part of the park. It’s also the most popular and crowded part of the park so we wanted to knock it off the list sooner rather than later. The traffic and parking situation reminded me of Disney, but with less organization (and obviously on a smaller scale, thank goodness). It was the only part of the trip that felt crowded. But Old Faithful lived up to its name. We stuck around there for a while and ended up seeing two eruptions:
Yellowstone has a lot. If you want to go hiking far away from everybody else you can do that. If you want to drive around in a car and see amazing natural wonders without having to physically exert yourself, you can also do that since there is jaw-dropping scenery roughly every mile or two along the park’s roads. Our itinerary, aside from a few pre-planned stops, consisted of driving until we got to something that looked nice and stopping. That worked great for us. We had a nice stop at Nez Perce creek, where my kids got to chuck some more stones into the water. I liked it because it was bucolic and uncrowded:
I really like the Yellowstone River:
Regarding wildlife: we didn’t see any wolves or bears. We did pass a spot with a crowd and a couple of park rangers who informed us that there had been a bear right there up until a minute ago but that it had retreated into the trees. We saw some elk and/or antelope (I can’t remember the difference) and lots of bison. It’s easy to see bison from your car:
We were about fifteen feet away from this guy (inside the car, of course–you don’t want to walk that close to a bison):
Did you know Yellowstone has its own Grand Canyon?
[Sigh] “Another boring picture perfect view!”
This is from Lamar Valley. There was a herd of bison on the other side of the river.
And of course we went to Grand Prismatic:
Hmmm, that doesn’t look like those Grand Prismatic pictures I always see. Let’s adjust the saturation a bit:
Whoa, too far! But you get the idea. The reality is probably somewhere between the two pictures. And the steam rising up from there appears to be different colors:
- We went in the third week of June. The weather was great: sunny the whole time (save for one afternoon storm) with temperatures in the 70s in Teton and 60s in Yellowstone. And there was still snow by our hotel in Grant Village.
- There were tons of mosquitoes in Yellowstone, more than I’ve ever seen in my life, but oddly enough none of them bit us.
- Generally speaking, the area is not cheap. Unless you’re staying in Jackson (or another relatively close city, with “relatively” meaning “an hour or two away from the park entrance”) there are no points hotels. The food inside the parks is good enough for what it is albeit monotonous after a week.
- The tap water is really good. My wife and I now turn up our nose at Charlotte tap water.
- Our kids enjoyed the cabin more than the hotel since at the cabin you can just go outside and find rocks and pine cones but you’re still right by the room where the parents can keep an eye on things. Whereas with a hotel room you have to go out the door, down the hall, down the stairs, down another hall, and then outside and out of the view of the hotel room window. Which is not going to happen with young kids.
- Did I mention that the scenery is great and you should definitely go?