For the outdoor enthusiast, visiting national parks is a pastime. I wanted to visit the oldest national park, Yellowstone National Park and I finally did so on my Wyoming National Parks road trip for the first time this summer!
Yellowstone is so large it’s in three different states: Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. However, most the park is in Wyoming. Another beautiful national park is Grand Teton. This picturesque park is so breathtaking, it will make you cry. Okay, not really, but photos don’t do this place justice and if you’ve seen photos you may think that’s hard to believe. I recently visited the two parks and I want to tell you about my experience. So, if you’re planning a Wyoming national parks road trip, please read on.
Visiting Yellowstone National Park
Since I’m based in Los Angeles, the drive from LA to Yellowstone would have been extremely long so I opted to fly into an airport that would make my driving a bit shorter. Salt Lake City isn’t exactly close to the two parks but it was a lot closer than driving from LA. It’s about a six-hour drive to the South Entrance and it was a lot more affordable than flying into any other airport in that area. The flight was direct and I rented a car that I picked up at the airport. In fact, the best way to visit Yellowstone National Park from an outside state (that is over a 10-hour drive) or outside country is to fly into a nearby airport and rent a car. Renting a car from the airport was a breeze. I reserved my car online and picked up the keys at the car rental station. I went with Enterprise because they are a pretty reputable company in the US. It wasn’t the cheapest but it’s worth it.
We started the trip by driving through the night and into Yellowstone. We stopped for breakfast in West Yellowstone, Montana at a spot called the Running Bear. It was a cute bear themed pancake house in Alpine Village. We then got back in the car and headed towards the South Entrance. After taking our token entrance sign photo we proceeded directly to Mammoth Hot Springs which is the most northern attraction and near the North Entrance.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs are a series of travertine terraces and a sight to be seen. The color of the terraces goes from snow white to golds and browns hues. They are located just south of the North Entrance. This is where we started our adventure in Yellowstone National Park.
Park your car at one of the parking lots and walk the boardwalks. There are various terraces with different names and they all look very different. Some are whiter than other because of calcium buildup, others have more earthy tones because of the limestone.
There are so many things to do at Yellowstone National Park and one of the must-do things is visiting Old Faithful. After Mammoth, we drove towards Old Faithful. It is a cone geyser and is most famous because of its predictability. If you’re wondering how to see Old Faithful erupt my recommendation is to call the prediction hotline before heading into the park (remember, cellular service is pretty much non-existent in the park) or checking the @GeyerNPS Twitter feed that morning. These are only predictions so you may or may not catch them at the time given.
Old Faithful is said to erupt every 45-125 minutes also this can vary. There is also a large crowd around Old Faithful but you don’t need to be very close to enjoy watching the eruption. Staying further away is better for viewing in my opinion.
We had lunch at the cafeteria which wasn’t the greatest food. I got the bison meatloaf and was not impressed. However, the lines were moving fast and it was easy enough to get a meal and head back out. As we finished lunch we went to check out Old Faithful and happened to catch an eruption. We were “late” to the prediction and I didn’t think I was going to catch it erupt so this was a nice surprise.
Grand Prismatic Spring
From Old Faithful it was on to the Grand Prismatic Spring, a Yellowstone must! Have you ever seen the drone shots of the spring? Amazing isn’t it? Well, I, of course, had that image in my head and although it’s a pretty cool thing to see up close, you don’t have the greatest view. Try to catch the spring first thing in the morning to avoid crowds. It was massively crowded and became dangerous to even walk let alone take a photo.
And if you want to get a good shot try using a selfie stick to get some height. Since drones aren’t allowed in the park your best at somewhat of an aerial show is to use a selfie stick.
And there are tons of other geysers all over the park…
We made other stops along the way and got to see momma bears with her cubs, many bison, deer, elk and more! The wildlife at the park is very visible. Animals often are the cause of “traffic” inside the park.
Chasing the Waterfalls of Yellowstone
Another stop was to the Lower and Upper Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone! There are a few different hikes and viewpoints that you can do to see the waterfalls. There’s an upper waterfall and a lower one, so keep this in mind also.
The Lower Falls is the tallest waterfall in the park with a height of 308 feet. There are many ways to see Lower Falls but we were running short on time and losing daylight so we decided to take a short trail down to the brink of Lower Fall which is a platform just above the falls. Here you get a sense for how massive the waterfall is. The water is powerful and the sound is pretty loud.
If we had more time we would have opted for a viewpoint. Unfortunately, we just picked a trail and went for it without knowing what type of view of the falls we were getting. Now knowing the options of the different viewpoints I would have liked to have done Artist Point and Uncle Tom’s Trail.
At Artist Point, you’ll get that postcard-perfect shot of the falls and the immediate surroundings of the canyon. It’s a short walk from South Rim Drive. If you want more scenery in your shot of the falls you can always do Lookout Point.
Uncle Tom’s Trail is a more strenuous trail. You’ll park your car at the Artist Point parking lot off Artist Point Road. This view gives you a closer look at the falls and if you want that height perspective, this is the viewpoint you want to be.
And of course, there is Upper Falls. Upper Falls is 109 feet in height. It’s not nearly as tall as Lower Falls but the view is stunning with the trees surrounding it. The Upper Falls also has a trail to the brink and if you want to get a two-for-one view of both then try Uncle Tom’s Trail.
And if those two waterfalls aren’t enough, be sure to stop at Firehole Falls and Gibbon Falls. They are located about a fifteen-minute drive apart and are beautiful waterfalls that don’t disappoint. If you’re short on time these two are perfect because you can easily park your car and walk up a few steps to view them.
Where to Stay
If you like camping or have an RV there are various sites in and near the park but if that isn’t an option there are a variety of options just outside the park. We stayed in West Yellowstone, Montana at a “glamping” campground called Under Canvas. Under Canvas has a few locations near other national parks and their grounds in West Yellowstone are open from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day Weekend each year (check site for more information on availability). I’m a camping kind of girl but if you’re not 100% committed to camping, glamping is always an alternative. It’s more expensive; you’ll be spending the same amount as you would if you were to stay at a hotel but you do have hotel-like amenities such as hot showers, towels, and heating at Under Canvas.
So that is Yellowstone in a nutshell, a small nutshell. The park is huge and you can spend multiple days exploring the area. However, we did the quick version since we decided to go one day to Yellowstone and the next day to Grand Teton. If you’re thinking about heading to Grand Teton from Yellowstone (or vice versa), read on!
Between Yellowstone and Grand Teton
While you’re traveling from one park to the other you’ll come across the Continental Divide on Highway 191. What is the Continental Divide or the Great Divide you might be asking? Well, on one side of the divide the water that falls (rain, snow, so on) will flow to the Atlantic Ocean and the other side it will flow to the Pacific Ocean.
Visiting Grand Teton National Park
The Tetons of Grand Teton National Park has to be one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the United States. These mountains are incredibly picturesque and worth seeing with your own very eyes. Since Grand Teton National Park is only a short drive from Yellowstone National Park we had to give the park a visit.
Kayaking or Canoeing in Jackson Lake
There were two main activities that I was considering doing at Grand Teton National Park, kayaking/canoeing, and horseback riding. My group and I decided to go with canoeing. A canoe ride with The Tetons was all I really had on my mind so we headed straight to Colter Bay Marina to rent a canoe. The cost to rent a canoe was $10.50 an hour with a two-hour minimum. They’ll charge you the two hours up front and if you go over then you pay the difference when you return. A canoe can hold up to three people whereas a kayak is only rented as a single (one person) or double (two people).
When renting a canoe or kayak the staff will show you a map and give you suggestions on where to go and approximately how long it will take. We decided to take a short ride around the lake and dock at one of the bays to have lunch. We took a dip in the freezing cold water because, why not?
Viewing The Tetons
Another thing to do at Grand Teton is to view The Tetons. The massive and stunning mountain range can be viewed from all over the park so as your driving to forgot to pull over occasionally to take in the view!
Jenny Lake Hiking and Viewpoints
There are miles of hiking trails around Jenny Lake which offer amazing views of Jenny Lake and The Tetons. To check out day hike options, click here. And to view a hiking map of the Jenny Lake area, click here.
If you want to skip the hiking and are looking for a viewpoint the Jenny Lake Overlook is the perfect vantage point of Jenny Lake and The Tetons. It’s just a drive and a short walk. It offers what I would say is the most sought-after view of the park.
Where to Stay
There are of course a large number of camping options in and around the park but if you’d like to stay in the city, the closest city is Jackson, Wyoming. During the winter it’s a bustling ski town and during the summer it’s busy with tourists visiting the nearby parks and attractions. There are plenty of hotels in the area.
And, while you’re there visit Snake River Brewery, the oldest brewery in Wyoming. Try a flight of there beers and grab a bite. Their food is delicious and if you’ve been on the road, eating instant noodles then you owe it to yourself to eat a real meal!
Enjoy your trip to Wyoming!
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