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My husband and I embarked on a 3-week camping road trip to see 6 National Parks. Starting in Wyoming and making our way over to the west coast. Mind you we live in Texas, so we definitely put in some miles in just 3 weeks.
1 Night in Grand Tetons National Park
After driving through a very windy Wyoming, our first stop was Grand Tetons. (I know this post is called Yellowstone, but I felt Grand Tetons was worth a quick mention!)
Let me just say all those fancy pictures on Instagram do not do this place justice. The mountains are incredible! (Then again being from San Antonio, any mountain range is awesome.)
We camped out at Colter Bay Village, which is located near Jackson Lake. Ideally we would have liked to camp closer to the famous Teton peaks at Jenny Lake, but so does everyone else.
That campground is pretty much always booked unless you make reservations or get their early enough to snag a first come first serve site. (more on that later)
Colter Bay turned out to be pretty awesome. It did not seem as crowded and the trails around Jackson Lake are just as exciting.
We only stayed one night so we hiked one
From Hermitage Point you can get a really great view of Mt. Moran and the glaciers that surround the peak. This trail was the perfect little hike to see just a glimpse of what Grand Tetons has to offer.
Most of the fun hikes are actually within the mountain ranges themselves, but this time around we did not do any. Before our trip, most of my planning for Wyoming revolved around Yellowstone, so I did not plan much for Tetons.
However, after visiting for such a brief time and looking into all that it offers (in terms of avoiding people….that’s the point of camping right?), I have plans to go back and stay at least 2-3 days. They say Grand Tetons is one of the best parks to go hiking and really enjoy the solitude.
2 Nights in Yellowstone National Park
Of all the parks I have traveled to (9 so far and counting), Yellowstone National Park is my absolute favorite.
We arrived at Yellowstone early morning after driving up from Grand Tetons (they are 45 min apart). As soon as we entered the South Entrance we drove straight through heading North to grab a campsite.
In case you are unaware, there are two ways you can camp inside a national park. You can reserve a campsite (far in advance) or arrive early to get a first come first serve
Now the first come first serve method sounds scary to try especially if you’ve traveled so far to camp, but Yellowstone has many campgrounds each with a good amount of campsites.
The trick to making sure you nab a spot to call your own is to arrive early, I’m talking right when the park entrance gates open. You also want to be mindful of where you want to stay.
The campground closest to major spots like Old Faithful or Canyon Village tend to fill up fast. We chose a campground pretty far north called Indian Creek. You tend to have better luck with those sites that are further from attractions.
We only stayed in Yellowstone for 2 nights, since it was our first time, we didn’t know exactly what to expect so we didn’t plan on staying too long. Which looking back it was a good amount of time to get a feel for the park, but I would definitely stay at least 3-4 nights next time. There is just that much to do and explore!
Day 1: Geysers and Wolves
After we secured our site and unpacked, we drove back down towards the Southwest side of the park to see what I call the more touristy stuff…..Geysers. Specifically Old Faithful and the Midway Geyser Basin, which is where the popular Grand Prismatic Spring is located.
Now, this is something we were completely unaware of, the true size of the national park itself. To drive from Indian Creek back down to Old Faithful took close to an hour.
Mileage wise it isn’t too far, but take into consideration the lower speed limits for wildlife and the amount of traffic from people either stopping or slowing down to see the Bison that roam everywhere in the park.
Once you get to the Old Faithful area, it is pretty awesome and plenty of things to see, aside from the obvious Old Faithful herself. Don’t worry about trying to meet a deadline to see her go off either.
Old Faithful is a bit of a geological wonder, she erupts every 90 minutes give or take a few. I could go on and on about this (since it is what I taught as a teacher) but that’s not why you’re here.
Tip: Arrive early enough to snag front row seating around the geyser, it fills up pretty quick and you want to have the best viewing spot possible.
After watching the eruption, we took time to explore the Old Faithful Lodge and Ranger station. There are a few gift shops to grab some tangible souvenirs. I myself love collecting patches from each place I visit.
Midway Geyser Basin: Grand Prismatic Spring
This was the second stop in Yellowstone we made because of the hype around it, in fact, two of the most common images that pop up under searching Yellowstone is Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring. Well turns out I was somewhat disappointed.
So we did our road trip in July, which weather wise was perfect. Highs of mid 60’s and lows of 40’s. However, this particular day was partly cloudy and breezy….sounds awesome right?
The Prismatic Spring is best viewed on a day that isn’t overcast or breezy. Why? Well the spring water itself is 160 ℉, so if it’s chilly outside you will be greeted with thick condensation mist.
Regardless, you will still get a pretty decent view just not as picturesque. Also because it is a hot spring with sulfur, it does have a bit of an eggy smell to it.
Overall, not really worth the stop to walk the boardwalk, you won’t see the colors as you would in online pictures. Many say for the best view you have to hike the trail called Fairy Falls.
Indian Creek and Wolves
We decided to head back to our campsite to relax from waking up early to drive into Yellowstone, plus we wanted to get an early head start the next day.
Believe it or not, there are plenty of smaller Yellowstone hikes around the campgrounds. My husband and I went on a brief evening hike on a 3-mile trail behind our campsite.
It was our first hike where we were completely secluded from other people and noise, I must say it was very refreshing. Just be sure when going on hikes like this you are prepared, even if it is a short one.
While on our way back, it was getting dark and fairly fast due to being nestled near mountains and the tall trees, we experienced the most exhilarating thing in my opinion.
A wolfpack nearby howling. Yep, that’s right a wolf pack. Now you’re probably thinking this is where we run, however they were not close by.
But just hearing the howls was enough to make the hairs on my neck stand and also cause me to grin ear to ear. (I’m a bit of a nature nut, so things like this really get me going) My husband will often laugh at how freaking excited I get with what others might find borderline scary. Wait until you hear about the bear story on day 2!
Day 2: Valleys and Canyons
Before going to Yellowstone, I did some research on the best areas to spot wildlife. I love doing wildlife photography so I wanted to find an area where I would have high chances for encounters.
I wanted to see more than just bison and ground squirrels, which are EVERYWHERE in the park. I read Lamar Valley is the place to go.
One cool thing about many national parks is they have off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails some require the proper vehicle, some don’t.
There is one in Yellowstone on the way to Lamar Valley called Blacktail Plateau, it is not well advertised but I recommend it, any car can take it since it is just nothing more than a dirt road.
You get really great views of the Washburn range and if you keep your eyes peeled you will spot wildlife. I was very lucky to find a red fox just off the trail and snap amazing pictures without stepping foot out of my 4Runner.
Another great trail in the Lamar Valley area is in the Slough Creek campground, here you will have the best chance of sighting the Druid Peak wolf pack.
Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone back in 1996 and have been a cherished part of the park since. This trail does go one for miles and since we had a full day ahead of us we hiked in about 3 miles then turned around.
The first mile is tough as it is a steady but fairly steep climb. Not really the trail for beginners, but my oh my the views and scenery that come from this trail are totally worth the effort!
Not to mention we spotted the following critters; yellow-bellied marmot, black bear (at a distance), bison, mule deer, and elk.
Roosevelt Lodge and Lost Lake
Behind Roosevelt Lodge is another Yellowstone hiking gem called Lost Lake.
This is another trail that you must put in some effort to reap the reward. It is 3.5 miles to the lake, with an elevation gain of 300 ft. The first portion of the trail consists of a steep climb of switchbacks, which is doable even for children.
The lake itself is a pretty good size and tends to be another animal magnet. On our hike, we had to privilege of watching a black bear swim from one side to another, along with another fox encounter. Not many people venture this trail, so another great option to avoid the crowds.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Who knew there was more than one grand canyon?
Well, this one doesn’t quite compare to the one in Arizona, but this 2.0 version is still a must see. There are two quick stops here that I highly recommend you make time for. That is Artist Point and Uncle Tom’s Trail.
Artist Point is not exactly a hiking trail, more of a park and view stop. So you won’t need to lug around your hiking gear for this one.
Same applies for Uncle Tom’s Trail (I would at least take a water bottle). The view from Artist Point displays a view of the canyon that will show you exactly why the park was named Yellowstone.
Uncle Tom’s Trail includes a stairway down the canyon side to get that snapshot of the lower falls from a different vantage point.
I must warn you, going down is a breeze but they way back up….well it’s a lot of stairs so take your time and take in all of nature on your journey. (heck of a glute workout)
To end a day filled with miles of hiking, we headed to the Canyon Village campground. There you will find showers with hot water and a laundromat if needed.
They do charge for the showers, but when you’ve camped at a more primitive spot and relied on the quick rinse of the important bits with a washcloth, paying $5 for a towel and shower is totally worth it.
Day 3: Departure
Mammoth Hot Springs
We packed up our site after a few cups of coffee and headed towards the north entrance. You will run right into Mammoth Hot Springs and the historic Fort Yellowstone.
Mammoth Springs is viewed from a ramp to boardwalk type path. Accessible by everyone, which is one of the great things about many of the Yellowstone hikes.
So really anyone no matter hiking skill or age can get a good dose of Yellowstone and all her splendor.
After Yellowstone, we hit the road to make our way to Washington to Mt. Rainier National Park, which will be featured in my Road Trip Series part 2. So be sure to stay tuned!
I hope our stay at Yellowstone has given you some insight on how you can enjoy the park in such a short amount of time.
Have you been to the park?
Tell me what you thought or places you went to below in the comments!