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Trip Report Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota Trip Report

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Family of four - my husband is 47 and I’m 44 along with our boys, ages 15 and 14. Overall trip was 14 days and according to the rental car, 2,497 miles! All hikes were determined by talking with local rangers and asking “where would you go for easy to moderate hike, no more than 3 hours, that is off the beaten path”. Our first time to this beautiful part of the country (previous trip out west centered on Utah, AZ, Nevada and Colorado).

Day 1 – Fly to Salt Lake City from Boston. Early flight, arrived in SLC local time at 10:30 am. Three hour drive to Hampton Inn in Twin Falls, Idaho. This was a super long day, but since our room wasn’t ready when we arrived we decided to keep touring. Drove to Shoshone Falls – gorgeous waterfalls that are higher Niagara, although not as spectacular overall. Really nice view of the snake river and the adjacent canyon. We then went to the Perrine Bridge, which was at one point the highest bridge in North America. You can walk across the bridge and base jumping is actually legal here (sadly no one was jumping while we were there, but several folks told us they had seen jumpers and that it was very cool). There is also a path way under the bridge on each side – this area is definitely worth a stop. DH enjoyed seeing the location of Evel Knievel’s failed attempt to jump the Snake River here in 1974.

Day 2 – Drove for 1.5 hours to Craters of the Moon National Monument. Hiked to the top of Inferno Cone Trail (moderate difficulty) which gave an excellent view of the overall area. Then over to the Caves Trail, which is a flat trail that winds through the lava fields. Gorgeous and completely different from anything we’ve ever seen! Register for a cave permit at the ranger station if you want to go into some of the lava tunnels (aka caves lol) – we enjoyed Boy Scout and Indian Cave the most. On our way back to Twin Falls we did some hiking in Shoshone area (just picked a random stop on the side of the road that had a path). Idaho is gorgeous!

Day 3 – Drove 2.5 hours to Rexburg, Idaho, stayed at American Lodge Inn and Suites. Trip highlight – St. Anthony’s Dunes!!! Must do if you have teenagers. We rented two seater Polaris Razors from PMS Dunes Rental and spent four hours laughing as we raced up massive (highest were 400 feet tall) sand dunes. What a spectacular feature in the middle of absolute no where – Idaho really won the battle of unique landscapes between the falls, dunes, and craters of the moon!

Day 4 – Off to Jackson, Wyoming. Stayed at Snow King Lodge which was the only disappointing hotel experience during our trip, primarily due to check in staff and lack of interest in answering our questions about on site activities. We did tour around the local area, drove to Teton park and hiked part of the String Lake trail. First wildlife sighting – a mule deer right near the path! Drove back and stopped at Mormon Row Historic District. Gorgeous views of the Tetons no matter which way we turned on this day.

Day 5 – Morning Snake River Float in Teton. Booked with Triangle X – guide did a great job and somehow we lucked out and had the boat to ourselves. Definitely recommend this as a relaxing way to see the Tetons and wildlife (bald eagles were a nice surprise) for a few hours. Afternoon – drove to Yellowstone, staying at Canyon Lodge. Ahh Yellowstone! What an amazing and beautiful park that must be experienced!!! Numerous sighting of Bull Elk right off the road, and of course, Bison, Bison and more Bison! We hiked the Canyon Falls area, specifically the Lower Falls going to both the top and bottom of these falls on separate (moderate) hikes. Spectacular!!!!

Day 6 – Out to Lamar Valley for wildlife viewing and hiking. Drive has some twists around mountain roads for those who (like me) don’t love heights…or specifically heights without guardrails! Hiked the moderate Slough Creek trail – other hikers we passed had just seen a black bear but sadly we did not encounter said bear. (Bear Spray is a must when hiking in Yellowstone!!!) We saw moose prints when we got to the Meadow. Great hike! Later afternoon we visited the Hayden Valley, looking at the Mud Pots. Then a mild hike on part of the Hayden Valley Trail. We got rained on, and I wish we had bug spray, but we did see a double rainbow over a gorgeous meadow on our way back to the car. If you go to Yellowstone please get out of the car and hike – even if it’s only a couple hundred feet!

Day 7 – Morning one hour horseback ride out of Canyon Lodge. We are not riders and the guides were excellent settling our (okay, me in particular) nerves. Herd of elk on the ridge, evidence of a bear using trees to sharpen their claws, skull of an antelope that probably had the misfortune of meeting that bear and incredible scenery. Must do if you are visiting!
Then, off to our new home for the next two days, Old Faithful Inn. Upon arrival our boys went walking around the geysers (nice flat boardwalk) while we headed to the second story deck/observation area for Old Faithful. Small bar there so I enjoyed wine and everyone on the deck was incredibly friendly – great opportunity to sit and meet folks from different parts of our country and hear about their Yellowstone experience. Of course, the star of the show was Old Faithful. Nice way to relax!

Day 8 – Set off for Mammoth Springs. This was a long drive and in retrospect we should have gone on Day 9 on our way out of the park. On our way we stopped at Fairy Falls trailhead and took the path that leads to a great view of the prismatic springs (tip from one of the women we chatted with the day before on the Old Faithful deck). Mammoth Springs is yet another amazing section of Yellowstone – the variety of wildlife and geological wonders in this park continues to amaze me as I reflect back on this trip. Mammoth features the original park location – Fort Yellowstone. For history buffs (which we are) it was fun to tour the overall area as many of the original buildings are still in use. Easy/Moderate hike on a boardwalk around the Terrace area. In the evening an easy hike out in Yellowstone Lake that was SPECTACULAR! Storm Point Trail is absolutely gorgeous – if you’re not a “hiker” please go on this trail. Stunning views of Lake Yellowstone and playful Marmets on the rocks overlooking the lake.

Day 9 – Before leaving Yellowstone we finally made our way around geyer basin and headed up to Observation Point (moderate hike) for a spectacular view of Old Faithful one last time. Everyone complains about how crowded Yellowstone is and tbh this was one of the few times we felt that way (the other was in Mammoth Springs). Otherwise once we got 5 minutes into any given hike we were generally alone. Geysers were gorgeous, and a nice way to leave this great National Park. Which we did, via Bear Tooth Mountain Pass. Is it gorgeous? Yes! Amazing to see snow in July? Yes! Absolutely terrifying for me as a passenger in the car? Yes! The things I do for my husband and children…this drive takes you up and over mountains and literally into the clouds. The drive takes several hours (not including time for scenic stops and photo ops) and is closed after 8 pm so plan ahead if you are using this road to Montana. Spent the night in TownePlace Suites in Billings.

Day 10 - We are off to South Dakota but first we stopped at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, which was a specific stop requested by our 15 year old son. We arrived as a ranger talk was about to begin and then spent 45 minutes mesmerized by what was, hands down, the best ranger talk I have ever seen. I even took a photo of the guy he was so good lol! After being educated and given lots of information to digest about conflict, rights, and what happens when communication breaks down we toured the actual battlefield. There are markers showing where each soldier died…and for the few Native Americans that died during this battle. If you enjoy History this is a must do! Then, driving, driving and more driving, with a 90 minute detour to see Devil’s Tower. This was one of those things I wondered if it was going to be worth the detour and I have to say, it was. Using telescopes to see the climbers, hearing the crowds cheering as one of the climbers reached the top – what a nice experience and view! Finally we arrive at the Holiday Inn in Custer, SD. Friendliest check in EVER!!!!! Yes, so good that they need a shout out during a trip review lol.

Day 11 – Mount Rushmore is our first stop. Spent about an hour here which we enjoyed immensely. Then drove about 1.5 hours to Deadwood, SD. Went to the cemetery to pay our respects to Wild Bill and Calamity Jane and enjoy a viewpoint overlooking the city. Then into town, where we shot a family portrait (1880’s style) and enjoyed this saloon styled main street.
Day 12 – We head south from Custer today to another “must do” – Mammoth Site of Hot Springs. So, so incredibly cool to see a working dig site where more than 60 Mammoth skeletons have been found. They leave the fossils in place so you are looking at them where they were found. We also visited the Pioneer Museum – which honestly wasn’t all that great. More of a collection of local 20th century items and minimal focus on the Pioneer era. For our nighttime activity we attend the lighting ceremony a Mount Rushmore. Wow. It was so nice to experience this level of patriotism! Without giving too much away, current and former service members are honored during the ceremony and the entire crowd (probably 1,000 people plus) sings several patriotic songs. Nice experience and a must do!

Day 13 – Time to head West – we check out of our hotel and head to the Badlands. But first (because clearly we cannot actually sit still for any length of time) we drive Needles highway and visit Wind Cave National Park. Well, my husband and children did – if you’ve read this far you’ve realized I’m not into heights so it shouldn’t surprise you that being several hundred feet underground isn’t my thing either. So while the guys tour the cave, I drive to the starting point of and solo hike Wind Cave Canyon Trail, getting some alone time to process everything we have seen and done over the past two weeks. Then it’s off to the Badlands! First, we stop at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site – great visitor center with a nice recap of the history of nuclear arms in our country and abroad. Several miles from here is an actual missile still in the silo – another MUST DO. Apparently there are also ranger led tours bringing folks into the control center but the reservations are very, very limited for this tour and book out weeks in advance. I did talk with one couple who went on that tour and they said it was amazing, so I’m sad I didn’t plan ahead enough to get us on the tour. Finally we drive the main loop through the Badlands. I’m running out of words to describe scenery so I’ll just revert to “spectacular”. No hiking for us as we are finally too tired to walk but lots of photo ops including a beautiful Ram sitting 5 feet off the road. He didn’t seem overly impressed by all the people stopping to take his picture, but we were impressed by him! Back to Rapid City where we check in one last time – Sleep Inn and Suites Rapid City. The next morning we catch our flight back to Boston and are home by 3 pm.

Overall – happy to answer any questions. I didn’t mention eating as that wasn’t our focus but with two teenage boys a lot of food was consumed lol. When I asked the family about the trip overall they were all happy – only complaint was that we usually try to include some type of amusement park for a day of pure fun and that didn’t happen. The St. Anthony’s Dunes were their favorite activity, and seeing all of the wildlife was the overall highlight. They didn’t like the lack of TV’s or wifi in Yellowstone, but we did get some excellent quality family card playing time in exchange 
Next year…California? Alaska? Time to start planning! Thanks for all of the help in planning our 2017 family vacation!

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