Our family ventured out to Yellowstone and Grand Teton at the end of July / beginning of August in 2018 and had such a great time! I wrote this blog post on our travels home but then never published it. As we have found ourselves in Covid times more and more people are visiting National Parks and thought it would be a good time to share as people gather ideas to plan their own trips.
Here is an overview and some tips and tricks based on our trip that hopefully helps you plan just as an amazing vacation! If you happen to have a 4th grader traveling with you be sure to register and download the free 4th grade national park pass! We used it for each day we were there — but, please be aware they do ask about the 4th grader and they have to be in the car!
We flew into Salt Lake City and then set off for our drive toward Yellowstone. We are on East Coast time so with our flight we knew our kiddos would be pooped and need to stop. We choose to stop in Idaho Falls just for a nights sleep. Before we stopped for the night we stopped at a Super Target (whenever you see one stop because the road gets pretty desolate). At Target we grabbed a few cases of water, snacks and a cooler. We filled up our cooler with some healthier snacks and then used that each day on our journey! The next morning after waking we grabbed a quick geocache and got back on the road and arrived to West Yellowstone by about 10ish. While you have wifi either before your trip or at your hotel be sure to download the Gypsy Guide audio tour on your phone — we got the Yellowstone / Grand Teton combo one. There is NO wifi anywhere in the park but this uses your GPS and still works telling you all the major and good spots to stop. We followed a lot of his direction. He comes on at major points and gives you a heads up if he thinks it is a good place to stop. Our girls named him Albus (YES, my girls are OBSESSED with Harry Potter right now).
DAY 1 Our hotel wasn’t ready so we stopped at Ernie’s and got some sandwich sacks to go (we really liked this option and did it several days — for $10 you get a sandwich, chips, drink, piece of candy & a cookie and they had gluten free bread!) Packed our sandwiches in our cooler we had picked up and ventured off. On our first drive into the park we encountered a bison just doing his business crossing the road and got into what the girls affectionately called “an animal jam!”
After we got out of that we headed toward Old Faithful and scouted things out. On our way to Old Faithful we stopped at several geo thermal hotspots that were pointed out to us by “Albus.” On our drive we saw Fairy Falls but it was PACKED so we decided we would do that early the next morning. We made it to Old Faithful and the estimated time for it to go off was about an hour from the time we arrived. We took our sandwiches and sat in this fun log / shaded area and enjoyed our picnic. Once we finished we still had more time so we decided to take a walk on the boardwalks surrounding Old Faithful and we were so glad we did. The benches right in front of Old Faithful are packed — we took the boardwalk to the opposite side and it was perfect! We had a front row view and a more private experience. We all loved it!
Then by recommendation of PaPaw we had to stop at the general store and get some ice cream — at least one of us had to try the Huckleberry flavor and most of our family was a fan. We headed back to town and we were all pooped so we picked up some items from the grocery for dinner.
DAY 2 We stopped at Ernie’s again in the morning and got some sandwich sacks to go and put them in our cooler before heading out for the day. Our goal this day was to do the Lower Loop which is 96 miles. We headed back toward the way of Old Faithful and did Fairy Falls before we ventured off. Fairy Falls is a 5 mile easy hike that gets you right underneath a water fall. We all enjoyed it! I will say the days started out cool but warmed up mid day and somehow it seemed hotter than Florida then! We took some pics at the waterfall and dipped our toes in and then ventured back.
At the beginning of the trail there is also an uphill climb that will take you to a look out of Prismatic Springs! After our hike we stopped at one of the many picnic stops and had our lunch while teasing each other about a bear coming to steal our lunch! Once lunch was over we started on our lower loop venture. We drove through the Old Faithful area without stopping. Along the way “Albus” will tell you many awesome stops to make and is also very educational! We made a lot of stops he recommended but some of our highlights were LeHardys Rapids, Lake Village, Hayden Valley & Canyon Village. LeHardys wasn’t crowded but there was also a sign about bear frequenting the area! Albus provided a lot of education on this area! Lake Village provides amazing views of Yellowstone Lake along with some geothermal areas — funny story Albus told us was in the past when fishing was allowed they would fish the lake and then without unhooking their fish dunk it in a geo thermal area and it would cook / boil it. Hayden Valley is just a drive through area but SO many bison just hanging out on the sides of the roads. Canyon Village is AMAZING and the views are out of this world! But it is also very crowded so we put this on a early morning agenda. We stopped in the village and got our daily vacation ice cream Then we continued the day back to West Yellowstone and made several stops Albus told us about. We were all so tired but we hunted a local geocache and then grabbed some dinner!
DAY 3 We headed out super early this morning with the intent of venturing all the way over to Lamar Valley since we were changing hotels and going over in kind of that area. It was a longer drive than we expected since we made several stops but when we got to Lamar Valley we saw so many bison and got in many “animal jams.” We saw some folks who were stopped and said they spotted a bear and coyote but we couldn’t see it. After Lamar Valley we headed over to Mammoth Hot Springs as our second hotel was in Gardiner right outside that entrance. Mammoth Hot Springs is the park headquarters and was built up like a little town. We did the drive through the upper part of mammoth and got out and did the walk as well. As we drove through Mammoth we saw several Elk on our way to our hotel. We checked in and then went to get some dinner at a pizza shop and of course our daily vacation ice cream Our waitress was super friendly and told us how they sometimes have bear in their yard and also told us more information about the swimming area. She said she didn’t recommend it for kids because when you get in the water is scalding hot so we skipped that but did see many people doing it! With her bear story and all of our side hikes and me being so scared by family finally caved and we bought some bear spray. The man working at the store has lived in Montana his whole life and says he has 5 friends who have been attached by grizzly bears!! GIVE ME ALL THE BEAR SPRAY! He showed us how to use it and we crossed our fingers we wouldn’t have to!
DAY 4 We debated doing white water rafting but then decided we would venture out and see what time we returned — we filled the entire day with our venture. We went to Lamar Valley first thing and enjoyed seeing the buffalo and then headed to Canyon Village. Unfortunately Uncle Tom’s trail was closed due to some renovations but we did go to both sides of the rim and then went on a smaller hike that was very steep to Lily Pad Pond and of course we had our bear spray! We then went to Canyon Village and grabbed some lunch — they had a cafeteria style with several options. We then went to Fishing Bridge and checked that area out and drove the rest of the upper loop. The south side of the upper loop is undergoing a lot of construction so it kind of took a while in that area.
DAY 5 We were heading to Grand Teton this day so we knew we had along drive (about 3 hours) but we made a second stop at Old Faithful and caught it just in time and it blew about right when we walked up! After we saw it go off we finished our journey to Grand Teton — and also realized we had to rely on a paper map to get us there because we couldn’t get a signal for our phones to pull up maps! Yikes! But, we made it and arrived at Jackson Lake Lodge. We were a bit nervous because reviews said there was no air conditioning or wifi. It was much hotter during the day than we realized so we were nervous about the no air. But, when we arrived we checked into our little cottage. It is not glamourous but it was fun — it could use a little updating in the bathroom. We were a short walk to the main lodge area and we walked over and booked a scenic float down Snake River and then walked out back which provided AMAZING views. We spotted two moose from the little hike out the back of the lodge. We then ate dinner at one of their restaurants. We are a pretty low maintenance vacation food family but it was so nice to have a hot meal!
DAY 6 We had our float tour set for 630am since I had read that was the best time to go — we joined our group and they drove us to the docking spot. After brief safety talks we boarded on the raft and journeyed 10 miles down the river. Our guide was very knowledgable and good with kids. We had a good time — we saw several bald eagles, osprey, deer and a bison that crossed the river right in front of us. We also saw some trees that beavers had chewed on. While on the river he mentioned Signal Mountain and the cars that were on it and that it was a drive you could take. For some reason it peeked my interest so I made a mental note.
We went back to the lodge and grabbed a late breakfast and then headed out for some exploring. We headed to Jenny Lake for a hike and as we were driving we passed the signal mountain driving route so we took it! We were driving up and there were so many people out of their cars but we didn’t see anything so we went to the top and checked it out. As we were driving down we were looking for what the others had saw and literally right in front of my window was a mama bear and 3 cubs just eating some Huckleberry. It was so magical to see! Everyone was able to check that off of their list thankfully.
We then ventured to Jenny Lake but it was under a lot of construction so we didn’t stay long. We kept going to Teton Village to check it out and grabbed our daily vacation ice cream On our way back we did Signal Mountain again but no bears this time but we did see another moose and several elk. Back to the lodge for dinner and BED!
DAY 7 Unfortunately we had to pack up to head back to Salt Lake City this day as our vacation was nearing its end. On our drive out we took a short detour to go back to Signal Mountain again and were in luck because there was another bear just eating his way through the huckleberry this time on the other side of the road — so amazing to see them doing their thing! We got back on path and went to Jackson Hole and saw the popular elk antler arch and of course snapped a picture and had breakfast at the Bunnery.
We are currently planning our own adventures to some Utah National Parks so if you have any tips send them our way :) Happy planning & traveling!