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Epic National Park Road Trip Recap

Tetons

Whew! It only took six months, but I have finished the recap of our epic 3-week trip out west! This trip taught us a lot, especially about what we need to work on the road. Of course, we saw some amazing sites and the ones that I can’t wait to return to may surprise you!

For most of this trip, the weather was much hotter than I had expected. I feel like I wrote the phrase, “we were planning on hiking at X, but it was too hot” at least five times throughout the recap of this trip. The middle week at Yellowstone and Glacier was really the only one where it wasn’t oppressively hot. I would love more time to explore Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt without dying of heatstroke.

One thing that really surprised me through my recapping this trip is that three days in Yellowstone really seemed to be enough to see the highlights. Yes, with more time we could’ve gotten off the beaten path and explored some of the backcountry, but I feel like I saw what I wanted to see. I would love to return to Yellowstone someday, but it’s not going to be high up on my list.

On the other hand, with three days at Glacier, we barely scratched the surface. Yes, we managed to visit each of the areas in the park, but we were only able to do a few short hikes. I would love to go back later in the season and spend more time in the Many Glacier area and maybe even hike to Grinnel Glacier. I will definitely do my planning in advance to get a room at the Many Glacier Hotel!

Mountain in the Clouds

But the area that I really want to return to is South Dakota’s Black Hills. The other day, I was trying to figure out if we could manage a camping trip to Custer State Park next summer (no, I don’t think we can). Even though we had a full week there, it didn’t feel like enough! Of all the stunning National Parks we visited on this trip, it’s funny to me that this is the place that stands out the most in my memory.

I know I have mentioned this a few times already, but if you are looking to stay inside a National Park, lodging can be found less than a year out as long as you are flexible. I still hear people saying “I didn’t plan this trip a year in advance so I know I’m not going to be able to get a room in the park” and that is just not true. Keep checking for cancellations and subscribe to the park’s email list. We got our room at Rising Sun Motor Inn two months out and Old Faithful Inn two weeks out. Don’t give up!

Needles Highway

This was the first trip we took where Chris was working remotely and we learned a lot from that too. If you are working remotely from a hotel with at least one other person, spring for a suite with a door that closes. It was really nice when we were at the Roosevelt Inn and Suites in North Dakota and I was able to go in the bedroom and close the door when he was in meetings. Country Inn and Suites is a chain hotel that has this feature as well. The full kitchen at Roosevelt was nice to prepare lunches while he was working too. An AirBNB would also be good for this purpose.

Alright, I think that’s all I have to say about this trip! Check back next week when I share about some of our other explorations this summer!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Cone Geyser

Cone Geyser

Wordless Wednesday: Moulton Barn

Moulton Barn - Grand Teton National Park

One Day in Grand Teton National Park

Snake River Overlook

After our day exploring Yellowstone’s geothermal areas, we headed to Grand Teton National Park. When planning this trip, Grand Teton was not on my “must-see” list. It was more important to be me that we saw everything we could at Yellowstone, but we covered most of what we wanted to see in our first two days, so we hopped in the car and headed for Jackson. After walking over ten miles the day before, it was nice to sit in the car for a bit of a drive. Coming from the Old Faithful Inn, we didn’t rush in the morning, so parking for most of the popular hiking spots was full by the time we got there, so this was just a day for driving the loop road and seeing the Tetons.

One thing that makes the Tetons so unique is that these mountains seem to pop up out of nowhere. There are no foothills surrounding them. The drive from Yellowstone on the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway was not a hilly or incredibly interesting drive and then just all of a sudden there are these three lone mountains. Its a very unique landscape and I can understand why Mr. Rockefeller fought so hard to make this area a National Park.

View from Signal Mountain Road

Just like with the other areas we visited on this trip, we used the GyPSy app to guide our exploration of the Tetons. One place I probably wouldn’t have explored without the app, was the winding Signal Mountain Drive. The view of the wildflowers and the mountains in the distance made it a beautiful place to stop and stretch your legs (above)!

Moulton Barn in Mormon RowIn Grand Teton, the one place I knew I wanted to stop at is the iconic Mormon Row. The old buildings here are what I picture when I think of Grand Teton. At the turn of the 19th century, 27 Mormon homesteaders headed to the area that is now a part of Grand Teton National Park, to live off the land. The land is surprisingly fertile and the homesteaders worked for years, digging ditches and levees to improve the irrigation for their crops. Water still flows in these ditches today. By the 1950’s most of the families sold their land to expand Grand Teton National Park. Mormon Row was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

Another iconic stop in Grand Teton is at the Snake River Overlook (top). There is a famous Ansel Adams photograph of this location that was taken in 1942. Of course, the trees have grown a bit in the last 80 years so it doesn’t look exactly like it did when Adams stood there, but it was really fun to try to find the right perspective to match that iconic shot!

Bison in Grand Teton

Bison in Grand Teton National Park

This drive through Grand Teton was fun, but I know we barely scratched the surface of the park. Whenever we return to Yellowstone, we will have to devote more time to Teton and getting off the beaten path. I would love to get out on the water of Jenny Lake and stay in one of the iconic park lodges. We never made it to the town of Jackson either, so I would like to get to explore that area too!

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to come back next week when I end our day with more geysers at Yellowstone! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Firehole Falls

Wordless Wednesday: Yellowstone Bears

Mother Bear and Two Cubs

Yellowstone: Mammoth and Canyon in One Day

Mammoth Hot Springs

Steam coming off Mammoth Hot Springs

This post contains a lot of information about driving around Yellowstone. Here is a link to a map of the park, that will probably be a helpful reference while you read about our first day in Yellowstone.

Our first day in Yellowstone, we came into the park from Cody. I really believe this played a hand in our ability to see so much of the park in just one day. Unlike the west entrance, there was no line coming in from the east side of the park. The first point of interest coming in this way is Yellowstone Lake and the Fishing Bridge area. This is one of the lesser-visited parts of the park and it felt like we were the only people around for miles.

Clouds over Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake (above) is a sight to behold. Situated at 7700 feet above sea level and taking up 132 square miles, Yellowstone Lake is the largest high elevation lake in North America. Because of the large surface area, sudden gusts of wind can create large waves making open water crossings of the lake very challenging. Because of that and the cold water temperatures, boating on Yellowstone Lake is not incredibly common.

Grand Canyon of the YellowstoneFrom Fishing Bridge, we headed north to Canyon Village and one of my must-sees, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. There is a very large parking area in the canyon area and we had no trouble finding a spot to park.  One of the best views of the falls can be found at the Artist Point trailhead (left). I love how even unedited photos of the waterfall look like a watercolor painting. This is one of the most popular areas to hike in the park with plenty of hiking trails for all abilities. For more information about hiking in Yellowstone, visit NPS.gov.

The color of the rock makes The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone one of the most unique waterfalls I have ever seen. At one time a geyser basin was located at what is now the base of the waterfall. The heat and chemical activity of those geysers created rhyolite, a soft and brittle rock. The rhyolite reacts to oxygen in the air and in effect, the canyon walls are rusting, which gives it that unique yellow color.

From Canyon, we headed toward Mammoth. The drive through that part of the park felt longer than going from Lake to Canyon, but maybe it was just that there isn’t anything to stop and see from Norris to Mammoth. I’m not sure if this is normally the route you would take to get from one area to another, but the road from Tower/Roosevelt to Canyon was closed for construction in 2021.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs (top and right) was another feature on my Yellowstone Must-See list. I had seen photos of the unique, stair-like geothermal feature and wanted to see it for myself. The water in the springs container calcium carbonate that over time cools and creates these unique rock formations. It was interesting walking around and seeing how the pools have shifted over time, as evidenced by forests of dead trees with white, calcified bases.

Bear and Two Cubs

From Mammoth, we headed to Tower/Roosevelt and this is where we encountered our biggest “jam” of our time in the park. This time, instead of elk, it was a mother bear with two cubs (viewed from a safe distance, of course, and with a ranger standing by with bear spray). It was super cool to see these wild animals through a zoom lens. It was definitely better than seeing them at the zoo!

After our bear encounter, we headed out the Northwest Entrance of the park to Gardiner for dinner. Be sure to stop back next week as I share about our day of exploring geysers and hot springs!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Mammoth Hot SpringsPinterest Graphic Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone Pinterest Graphic

Yellowtone National Park Overview

Bison in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park was the world’s first national park and was signed into law by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872 to protect the otherworldly landscape that is Yellowstone. Located in northwestern Wyoming and spanning into Idaho and southern Montana the park encompasses 3,400 square miles, and is larger than the state of Rhode Island. It is separated into distinct geological areas formed by geothermal features unlike anything I had ever seen. From the sprawling Yellowstone Lake to hot springs and geysers and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, you could spend weeks in the park and not see everything. Ever since we were driving around Yellowstone, I have been trying to figure out how I am going to recap this enormous park!

We only had three days to see as much of the park as we could. Of course, I wanted to hit the highlights: Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Surprisingly, in such a short time, we were able to see everything we had hoped to and more.

Old Faithful InnStaying in the park helped us tremendously. Driving in and out of the park can take away 2 or more hours of your time and when you are battling the record number of visitors that are coming through the gates in 2021, you need all the time you can get. While exploring the park, we heard many people say that you cannot get a room at the Yellowstone Lodges unless you book a year in advance. We managed to get our room at the Old Faithful Inn two weeks in advance. Just keep checking and it helps to subscribe to the Yellowstone National Park Lodges newsletter. They sent out a newsletter that they were opening up more rooms for the 2021 season and I was able to snatch one up before they were gone.

Staying at the Old Faithful Inn (above) was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. The Inn was built in 1904 from locally sourced materials including lodgepole pine. We stayed in one of the Old House rooms that has walls made of logs. Staying in that (admittedly small) room, you really got a sense of the history of the place. The GyPSy guide called the Old Faithful Inn the only building in the park that feels like it belongs. The Disney Nerd in me understands now where the idea for the Wilderness Lodge came from. Probably the best part of staying at the Inn is sitting out on the Mezzanine and watching Old Faithful erupt without having to be crowded around strangers and enjoying a drink.

Walkway at Mud Volcano

Walkway at Mud Volcano just before the rain

Another trick we learned when visiting the park in the summer was to leave in the middle of the day. The parking lots filled up and it got hot, so we headed to one of the towns outside the park for food and air conditioning. Then, we headed back into the park as the day guests were leaving for the day and we explored until the sun went down. We also got lucky with the weather. Our first day in the park was forecasted to thunderstorm most of the day and I think this kept some visitors out. We managed to time it so we were driving when the worst of the rain was coming down and we managed to see most of what we wanted to on that first day.

Now that I’ve given you a little overview and some tips for making the most of your time at Yellowstone, next week I will begin to recap the highlights of the park! Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Yellowstone Pinterest Graphic Yellowstone Pinterest Graphic

Wordless Wednesday: Devils Tower

Devils Tower

Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower

Devils Tower National Monument is located in the northeastern corner of Wyoming, only about an hour and a half away from Rapid City, South Dakota. Signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt on September 25, 1906, Devils Tower was the first National Monument in the world. The monument is a popular place for rock climbers as well as hikers and others who just want to see this unique geological feature for themselves.

When planning this trip, I originally wanted to visit Devils Tower on the way from Custer to Yellowstone, which would’ve had us arrive mid-morning on a Saturday. Then, I learned that the parking lot fills up early, especially on weekends, and it is not uncommon to have to wait a while for a spot. Since we had quite a bit of ground to cover that day, I decided it would make more sense to make it a day trip from the Black Hills, and that way we could also see Spearfish Canyon on the way back.

We left Custer after Chris got off work and arrived at Devils Tower around 5 pm. There were only a handful of people around and we had no trouble parking. The visitor center closes at 6 but I was happy to see that the passport stamp is outside so that if you arrived when the visitor center was closed, you would still be able to get a stamp. Because we wanted to see Spearfish Canyon before sunset, we didn’t have much time to explore the monument, but we did get to walk a little bit of the Tower Trail.

Roughlock FallsSince this was our last day in the Black Hills, I may have tried to cram too much in, especially with the three-hour round trip drive to Devils Tower. But, we did enjoy the GyPSy tour of the Northern Black Hills and the drive through Spearfish Canyon. The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is a beautiful drive that follows a river that has cut through these high rock walls. Spearfish Canyon is an absolutely beautiful area that just blew me away! There are several places along the way to stop and enjoy the beauty of the canyon. We got out and stretched our legs at Roughlock Falls (left). Several scenes from Dances with Wolves were filmed in this area and maybe recognizable to fans of the film. We had planned to checkout Deadwood this day, but the road was closed for a parade or something so we just kept driving. I guess we will just have to come back with more time to explore the Black Hills!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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