I recently traveled to Wyoming and Idaho in my effort to visit all 50 US states (8 left!). The summer season is the most expensive time to visit our national parks since so many families are vacationing with kids out of school. But since I found a decent flight direct from Minneapolis to Jackson Hole with Delta (for under $400 which is really good during the summer), decided to jump on it. Since it was my first visit to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, I planned 4 days to see both parks and Jackson Hole. I believe in not overdoing my stays to some places out of fear of possibly getting bored, but now wish I had added a few extra days since there is so much to do out there. Just means that I'll have to go back to check out some of the other attractions at another time.
Once I landed at Jackson Hole airport (a beautiful view of the Grand Teton mountains awaits you when you deplane on to the tarmac), picked up my Ford Escape that I reserved with Booking.com and immediately started driving to Idaho. It's only a 20-mile drive from Jackson to the Idaho border (hint if you want to get another state in while visiting the area!).
Once I crossed the state border back into Wyoming, I was able to stop at some of the safe overlook stops where there are some wonderful views of Jackson as you head back down the mountains. Once in Jackson Hole, it's a nice city (bigger than I expected) but there was a ton of both car and pedestrian traffic since Jackson is the main launching point for the national parks and Snake River. As I drove around, there were a lot of restaurants, bars and shops. I would suggest just finding a spot to park your car and be prepared to walk a number of blocks to get to the main city center area. I did see a bike share kiosk with availability to rent, there is also a local bus service that will get you around the city and out toward Teton Village. My first night I stayed at the Super 8 by Wyndham Jackson Hole hotel which is on the south end of the city but close to a number of grocery stores and businesses where I sense most of the locals do their shopping. I found a whole food grocer one block from the hotel and got myself the hot bar for $8.99/lb. Actually was pretty good, had a few BBQ ribs and wings, small piece of grilled chicken, mac and cheese, fries and there was a liquor store inside of the grocery store where I bought a local beer. They had some tables outside of the store so made myself comfortable and had a good meal after a long day of driving.
The next morning, I left early to make the drive to Grand Teton National Park to try to beat the tourists to some of the popular sites. Jackson is about a 15-mile drive from the entrance to the park. Note - get yourself a national park pass if you come to the area since an annual pass costs $80 (the parks charge $35/car to enter) so the pass pretty much pays for itself in one trip. Once I reached the park gate, the park ranger gave me some information and off I went on a route that I had created for myself the night before with a map from the hotel. My first stop was the Chapel of the Transfiguration...wow! It's a beautiful small wooden chapel in the park with an amazing view of the Grand Teton mountains framed by a cross in the window. I was lucky enough to have it to myself for 5 minutes where I took a moment to thank God for the beauty I was seeing and traveling mercies. They hold regular Sunday morning services at 8 and 11 am. As soon as I walked out, a tour bus full of seniors just had pulled up, perfect timing for me. Most of them wished me a good morning and asked about the chapel.
I continued onto my next planned stop, Jenny Lake. But it's hard not to stop at all of the beautiful overlooks (or turnouts as they call them) where you can just take in the magnificence of the scenery. There was one point that I stopped, got of the car and just sighed out loud at the view of the Grand Teton Glacier. There was a family getting ready to pull off and the father heard me and said "Isn't God's creation amazing?". I concurred with a yes and we started talking about where we were all from. They came from Boston and Maine for a family vacation and were staying another week. Nice people, we wished each other safe travels. This is part of the reason I love to travel, making these connections with others.
Jenny Lake was pretty busy when I drove up, still plenty of parking but folks were slowly coming by the car-, camper- and RV-load. They have a visitor center where you can book tours on a shuttle boat that will take you across the lake. There is some great hiking there but unfortunately, one of the main trails that is accessible by the boat was closed so I didn't bother. Did hike around the area some with nice views of the lake. Important to mention...this park and even the whole region is bear country so caution is required. They recommend carrying bear spray and making noise while out hiking since there is a chance that you could run into a bear or other wildlife (you can rent the spray at the visitor center since it's not allowed on planes). While I was out hiking, didn't see any...thank the Lord. There are both paved and rough trails you can hike with various distances, I kept my hike to about 2 miles since I was solo. By the time I got back to my car, the parking lot was packed. Again, great timing on my part.
Afterwards, I decided it was time for a lunch break so I drove to the northern portion of the park to Jackson Lake. The Jackson Lake Lodge has a gigantic picture window that perfectly frames the Grand Teton mountains. Took a moment to go outside to check it out and then came back in so I could eat. They have 3 restaurants in the lodge so I went into the one with hardly anyone there. Chose a table that faced that view and ordered a pork belly banh mi sandwich and sweet potato fries with iced tea. Felt so good to sit down quietly and just enjoy my meal. The staff was very friendly. After lunch, I sat outside on a bench away from people and just took in the scenery for 30 minutes. The air was so fresh and all I heard was the breeze and birds. Had the area to myself for some time and when a few people finally walked over, found out they were from Minnesota. Again, those connections that you don't necessarily expect to find that make travel so wonderful.
It was time to move on and shortly after leaving, came across the Oxbow Bend lookout. More premium views but at a price this time, there was a tour bus there when I arrived. Thankfully they were getting ready to leave so it wasn't too bad. At this point, I was on the other side of the park heading south so was getting the mountain views from a further distance. Grand Teton National Park is relatively flat so it's easy to see the terrain. I saw a number of cyclists out, makes me want to return so I can get some riding in.
A few more scenic stops including the Snake River lookout, this is supposedly the area where renowned photographer Ansel Adams took his famous black and white photo of the Grand Teton mountains in 1942. I have that photo in my home and I could get a sense of what he saw at that time, of course, the park has changed since then.
I headed back to my next lodging at Teton Village which is at the base of the mountains called The Hostel. A rustic looking place standing next to the more expensive hotel options there. I was able to book a private room through Booking.com with a king size bed but no TV. But that actually was ok, I had downloaded some shows and movies on my iPad since I knew up front about the lack of TV. Unless you plan on spending a lot of time in your hotel, maybe consider staying in a less expensive accommodation, after all you just need a place where you feel safe to sleep, and leave your things. You can get free coffee and tea in the lobby and they have TVs, DVD players, games, etc in the downstairs lounge area where you can meet other travelers. After getting something to eat at one of the local stores in the village, I pretty much crashed while watching my iPad.
The next morning, I grabbed something to eat nearby in the village and proceeded to drive up to Yellowstone National Park which was 60 miles away. One of the rangers at the Jackson Hole Visitors Center (definitely visit there on your 1st or 2nd day for information) said that it was important for me to get to Old Faithful no later than 10 am so I could find parking since it would get busy in the late morning/early afternoon. I heeded her advice and left very early. Just outside of the park, there was a bit of traffic. At first I thought it was the line to get into the park but then saw people getting out of their cars. Come to see a huge grizzly bear just off the road in a shallow ravine, I chose to keep my butt in the car in the event the bear decided he wasn't feeling all of the stares and cameras. I arrived at Old Faithful at 10 am which was set to erupt at 10:25 am so I had time to park, walk around a bit and find a seat. As the clock said, it went off precisely at 10:25 and after watching it for 2.5 minutes have to say that it was a bit anti-climatic for me. Maybe it was everyone trying to take selfies instead of just being present to the moment of nature's wonder.
After witnessing the geyser, I opted to walk around the wooden trails to check out the other geysers and geothermal pools. The colors are amazing even though they say if it has multiple colors, then there's bacteria in the water which impacts the natural heating. The water gets up to 157 F so you can feel the heat coming off of it. You will see many signs saying to stay on the trail since the ground around the pools is also very hot.
By the time I left the Old Faithful area, the parking lot was so full that it took almost 10 minutes to find my car. And when I started to pull out, 2 cars sped up facing each other trying to get my precious spot. I drove to the West Thumb area about 20 miles away where there were more geothermal pools and overlooks Yellowstone Lake. After walking those trails, I stopped for lunch at nearby Lewis Lake where there is a restaurant. Afterwards I drove north to see the mud volcanos, basically bubbling hot mud which has a very strong sulfuric odor. While checking out the mud, I saw a huge bison just off the trail and quickly grabbed a shot of it. Wasn't particularly wanting to try to pass it since it's huge. Saw a few people get too close for comfort and while they may be used to people, they still are wild animals and are unpredictable. Heed the warning signs about wildlife! I had planned to continue north but realized that I had been driving since 7 am around the park and honestly was ready to head back to Jackson. I made one more stop at Lake Village and had some really good huckleberry ice cream in the general store. Took a bit of a break to enjoy the lake views and then started the drive back.
Once in Jackson, I stopped to grab some dinner from another grocery store and as I started on the way to Teton Village, a giant bolt of lightning hit near the mountains and then it started pouring rain so hard that I could hardly see in front of my car. But made it back to the hostel and again, fell asleep trying to watch a show.
I slept a bit in the next morning since it was my last day and decided to take the Jackson Hole Mountain Lodge aerial tram up to Rendezvous Mountain which is a 4300-foot ride up. It's $40 but it gets you an all day pass to the other attractions like the gondola ride. At the top, it was 57 F but the air was fresh and the views amazing! You have Grand Teton, Jackson and the surrounding area in sight. This mountain is considered extreme backcountry skiing which I find hard to believe that people actually ski down it. It looked precarious looking down and if not an experienced skier, you could critically hurt or kill yourself trying to navigate the trail down since there sheer drop-offs at points. The paragliding actually looked safer to me, got to watch a few people take off. I was reminded of my own paragliding experience in Guatemala a few years ago. Corbetts Cabin at the top serves some wonderful Belgian waffles so I had the "Englishman" which had lemon glaze, powdered sugar and fresh whipped cream...so good. I just walked around the top of the mountain some and decided to take the tram back down. I'd like to go back so I can attempt to hike at least 2-3 miles down where you can catch the gondola.
Overall, this was a great trip! I always enjoy a chance to connect with nature (as my earth sign Taurus dictates) and the Jackson area has plenty of that to offer. We pay for the national parks via our taxes so we need to take time to enjoy them. My main observation during the trip was that I hardly saw any people of color (I finally saw a Black family in Yellowstone as I was leaving but that was 3 days into the trip). That makes me a bit sad that we are not taking full advantage of these national treasures. I know for myself that I need those peaceful moments away from the hustle of living and working in a major city. I highly recommend checking out our beautiful park system, I know I will return back here soon!
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