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Summer in September - a MT / WY / YNP / GTNP trip report

Summer in September - a MT / WY / YNP / GTNP trip report

Sep 13th, 2015, 04:49 PM
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Summer in September - a MT / WY / YNP / GTNP trip report

A Fodorite friend and I are halfway through the road trip.

I'm still wearing sandals and summer shirts.

It was 84 degrees yesterday at Mammoth.

Incredible weather and the aspens are turning golden too!

What an incredible time to be in the parks!
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Sep 13th, 2015, 05:23 PM
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I wasn't going to start this TR until I got home but I'm sitting in a coin laundry in Jackson Wy. It's been a glorious day - still is - and we are killing time before dinner and then a drive on Gros Venture, hoping to see bear. We stopped at a bear sighting early this morning coming out of Coulter Bay - two cubs - but they had moved on.

I'm having to do laundry because the interstate was shut down on the way to the airport. I thought there was absolutely no way to make the flight until I realized I MIGHT make it with just a backpack. I took my laptop out and reached for handfuls of clothes out of the backseat. I stuffed clothes in the backpack until it was full. Thank goodness for summer weather in September. Otherwise, it would be the Amex approach to this vacation.
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Sep 13th, 2015, 05:27 PM
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I'm going to wish the MSP airport on anyone who complains about Hartsfield Atlanta. It was a forever walk from F to D with not much time to spare. P was waiting at the gate (after just making the same walk) and we were off! Seats across the aisle from one another. Nice new planes for both legs. Delta was a pleasure.

Off to Billings (and the laundry is done)
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Sep 18th, 2015, 01:11 PM
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Please remove the ad from the HVAC company in Louisville, KY. I think they are lost.
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Sep 18th, 2015, 06:57 PM
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Time for a TR -

Planning for a national park trip
#1 - Pick the dates
#2 - Stay up late checking out availability for in park lodging and book whatever is available
#3 - Celebrate snagging hotel rooms in the park and relax for a while. Planning the details can come later
#4 - Book the flights

What I was able to book -
Rooms at Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone
Historic cabins at Coulter Bay in Grand Teton NP
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Sep 18th, 2015, 07:20 PM
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Emails and PMs starting flying to check schedules with friends, compare ideas and expectations and then details were finalized (weeks) later.

The trip began to look like this -
Day 1 - fly into Billings and drive to home base
Day 2 - drive to Great Falls to explore and have dinner with a Fodorite and her family
Day 3 - drive to Helena to explore and visit with an old friend who bought a ranch out there (a month after my last visit)
Day 4 - Yellowstone Canyon reservation - so drive to Yellowstone and explore
Day 5 - Coulter Bay cabin reservation - so drive through Yellowstone to the north end of GTNP
Nights 6 & 7 = hotel room in Jackson NP
Night 8 = the extra day/night = location TBD
Night 9 = back to home base to spend the night before the flight out
Day 10 - flights out of Billings

During the next month we thought of things we'd like to see and do in the area. Fitting everything in was pretty hard to do, so the "extra" day/night became another night in Jackson Hole.

Things we really wanted to do in and around Jackson/ Jackson Hole/ Grand Teton National Park -

S - Return to the tiny log church in Moose, WY for Sunday services

S - Dornan's Chuckwagon pancake breakfast before church

S - Brushbuck's wildlife tour -

P - Snake River float trip

P - Bar J Chuckwagon - dinner and a show

What we discovered along the way -
On Monday nights, Dornan's Hootenanny -
"Monday Nights we host the Hootenanny: An Acoustic Event, sign up early to perform, free to the public."

National Museum of Wildlife Art -

As it turned out, we were also there during the fall festival and enjoyed spending an afternoon, strolling the square, looking at (and buying) local art -
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Sep 18th, 2015, 08:09 PM
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Where we ate -

Day 1 - chain restaurant in Billings, taking leftovers "home". After relaxing with cheese, cracker and wine, we "rested" which became long naps. P woke up and ate her leftovers and poured more "wine". I woke up later and ate my leftovers and wondered why P had left a glass of wine on the table. That glass of "wine" made for a funny story.

Day 2 - Great Falls - wonderful lunch at Five Loaves
FABULOUS dinner at kureiff's home

Day 3 - Helena day -
Adequate breakfast at hotel in Great Falls
Horrible lunch for P at the snack bar at Gates of the Mountains (the tour was great!). My burger was fine.
Wonderful dinner at my friend's home in Helena.

Day 4 - To Yellowstone (via Big Sky and West Yellowstone) -
Wonderful breakfast at the ranch
Very late lunch - quick drive-through in West Yellowstone
Dinner - at Canyon Village Cafeteria
(very different setup from my last visit)

Day 5 - Explore Yellowstone and drive to Coulter Bay cabins
Breakfast - yogurt and fruit purchased at the grocery store at Canyon
Very nice lunch in the Dining Room at Mammoth -
Excellent service. Elegant art deco space. Very good food.
5 pm eruption at Old Faithful with drinks at the bar afterwards -
The Bear Pit -
Dinner = snacks = wine/cheese/crackers/fruit at the cabin

Day 6 - up early to drive through GTNP/ Jackson Hole to get to Moose
Dornan's for their chuckwagon pancake breakfast
Soup at the Pearl St. Market (a favorite from previous visit)
Snack at Corbet's Cabin at the Top of the World - after taking the tram up to Rendezvous Peak - shared one of their famous waffles. We chose strawberry.
Dinner - back to Dornan's to their pizza and pasta restaurant

Day 7 - up early for the float trip down the Snake River
Breakfast - stopped at Dornan's grocery for coffee, yogurt, etc.
Lunch - Signal Mountain Lodge - very good food and INCREDIBLE view of the Tetons
(recommended by float trip guide)
Dinner - back to Dornan's for their Hootenanny
Burgers were available but I walked over to the pizza place to bring a pizza back

Day 8 - up early for the Brushback tour = 6 of us in the van
Breakfast - another early stop at Dornan's for coffee and yogurt
Lunch - Virginian restaurant - home owned restaurant - good sandwiches and burgers
Dinner - Bar J Chuckwagon

Day 9 - drive back to Montana through GTNP, YNP, and Beartooth Parkway -
Breakfast - tried to stop at the famous Buttery in Jackson for breakfast but they were closed
Off to (you guessed it) Dornan's for coffee and breakfast items.
While we were there, we ordered their fabulous deli sandwiches to take with us. We ate them along the way in Yellowstone.
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Sep 18th, 2015, 08:23 PM
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Descriptions of what we actually did and mileages will come later.

Obviously, I'm a fan of Dornan's. After the last trip I joked that I'd be happy eating at a restaurant at the Dornan's complex for every meal. This trip, we almost did. I'm definitely a fan.

They are a privately owned holding at Moose, WY and have been in business for decades. In fact, the original owner died last week and the local papers were full of stories about him. It's family owned, with lots of young folks who come in to work during the season. Their wine shop is small but excellent. Their pizza and pasta restaurant has breathtaking views of the Tetons just (what seems like) feet away. The grocery is small but well stocked. The deli serves sandwiches as good as you'll find anywhere. The chuckwagon / outdoor seating is fun and even includes a teepee with tables inside. The free Monday hootenanny was a genuine surprise and delight. There's a coffee cart outside the grocery in the mornings with home baked items. Their old fashioned candy section covers a large wall. The other shops include a small gift shop and outdoors store. Everything one needs is right there and the quality is outstanding.

Next trip I'm going to go ahead and book one of their cabins and stay right there!

I was also happy to rediscover the Pearl St. market. It was in a much smaller space and has moved nearby. Lots of gourmet food options, full selection of meats, cheese and ready to heat offerings. VERY good soup and salad bar in the dining area. Their Thai shrimp chicken soup was FANTASTIC!


The other favorite is the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar -

Three favorites in or near Jackson, WY in Jackson Hole.
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Sep 20th, 2015, 07:15 PM
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Thanks starrs, I'm glad I found this trip report.

I had wondered what airport you would fly into for this trip. I had asked my son how one would fly there, and he thought the flight would go through Denver. I would not have even guessed MSP.

I think your trip sounds fabulous. I would love to do something like this. The farthest north I made it this summer was Cheyenne. I've heard the scenery only gets more beautiful as you head north. There was more than enough in Colorado for me to explore this trip, but I really want to go to Yellowstone and see Old Faithful for myself. I've been watching Wyoming tourist ads on TV all summer long. The theme song is so catchy. Next summer, I will be re-reading your report.
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Sep 21st, 2015, 10:42 AM
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Thanks, barbrn. I'll add to it in a while.

The closest airport is Jackson, WY. I've flown into Denver, Salt Lake City and Pocatello, ID on previous trips. Billings is where I fly into now because I used a nearby location as my base. I love Colorado but have fallen totally in love with Montana and Wyoming. My profile picture is the view of the mountains from the home base. Just gorgeous.
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Sep 21st, 2015, 07:27 PM
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So Starr's,

When are you finally going to make it to Utah? And Sundance?!
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Sep 22nd, 2015, 09:05 PM
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Ahhh, Sundance! I really need to get to Sundance!
I've been to Utah several times but it's been several years. Now you're making me want to return. I DID fly through SLC last week and thought about it. Maybe next trip - and I'd love to meet you!
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Sep 22nd, 2015, 09:41 PM
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Okay, now for the real trip report. Both P and I had been out to Yellowstone (and Glacier) before and that helped to eliminate the "I have to see everything" and focus on relaxing and seeing what we really want to see. This was our third trip together and we travel well together. We are both fine with not rushing, not getting up first thing in the mornings and "resting" a bit in the afternoon. That may sound lazy but it's a wonderful way to travel.

We flew into Billings, MT coming in from different east coast airports. We were on the same plane for the second leg from MSP and sat in aisle seats across from one another. The flights left super early and I stayed up all night, afraid if I fell asleep I'd miss the flight. I almost missed the flight anyway (due to the wreck on the interstate) and it was such a relief to actually make it to Billings.

Love the Billings airport. Small. Easy to navigate. We got in the Subaru and we were off! We were both hungry and stopped at a chain restaurant within a mile or so of the airport and enjoyed chatting and planning the trip. We both took half "home" and went to the home base to relax and enjoy being in Montana. Home base is a private home in the middle of the gorgeous nowhere with beautiful views, front porch swing, rocking chairs and enjoyed cheese and crackers and...wine. We relaxed and talked for a while and then took a nap. Unfortunately, my "nap" lasted much longer than planned. We talked about going into town for dinner, but we warmed up the leftovers from lunch for dinner and all was well. I did get up during the night and noticed that P had left a glass of "wine" on the dining room table. The next morning, she couldn't wait to tell me about that glass of "wine". She had gotten up while I was napping, wandered into the kitchen without her glasses, looked for the bottle I had opened earlier and saw a bottle next to the wine rack. Its label was not facing her but it was opened and had about enough missing and poured her a nice glass of wine. One sip...and she realized it wasn't wine. In the morning we looked at the label. She had poured a generous serving of Glenfiddich single malt (I don't know how many years). We laughed and toasted the host for leaving such good "wine" on the counter.

We got a decent start and headed to Great Falls. It was a few miles through ranch land to the main road and we stopped to chat with a neighbor on his "mule" (4 wheeler) and made a friend with his tripod border collie. Off to drive through Montana and just ooh and ahh. When we reached an intersection, P asked me to drive through the small town. She had mentioned that she loved ice cream when on trips so we stopped at the coffee shop for ice cream - and strolled and then drove through the town. One could imagine the old days when the town was thriving. (The old town will come into play during the next day.)

On to Great Falls through gorgeous countryside. I just like picking roads off the map and driving and we did a lot of that on this trip. I loved seeing the big wind mills and we stopped a lot to take photos of things I'm sure the locals just drive by.

I wanted to spend the night in Great Falls because on the last trip, I had no idea how much there was to see in GF. We spent only a few hours last time on the way to Glacier. I wanted/needed more time in Great Falls.

#1 destination - The C. M. Russell Museum
I didn't even know of its existence on the last trip and we only had about an hour to see it on the last trip. At the time, the house was closed but the studio was open. The museum is always open and they have a great gift shop. I can't express how much I love this museum and P really enjoyed it too. We kept thinking of her late husband and how much he would have loved it too. Even so, I do reach a saturation point in museums and I hoped it would be okay with P to leave. It was. As she put it, our "memory cards were full". The ticket allowed for admission the next day and we took advantage of that. We left to check into our hotel and rest for a few minutes - before dinner with kureiff!

Our dinner with kureiff and family really was the loveliest of dinners with the loveliest of families. I was already in love with her home and neighborhood from photos. Great Falls is gorgeous and so "Americana". We were greeted warmly and chatted for a while with Mr. and Mrs. K and daughter. Then we moved to the table to enjoy a platter of the most amazing tomatoes that Mr. K had grown. Little cherry sized tomatoes of different colors, taste and acidity and tiny squash tomatoes! I had no idea there were any such thing as squash tomatoes! Mr. K made wonderful Moscow Mules in copper cups. kurieff poured bubbly. We nibbled on wonderful bread, tomatoes, basil and Parmesan. Heaven! The main course was a fabulous lasagna. Fabulous. The food was delightful and so was the company. We talked and laughed easily and had a wonderful evening.

P and I really had no idea what we wanted to see and do the next day on the way to Helena, and k's daughter suggested a boat ride at Gates of the Mountains. The cathedral in Helena was mentioned. A certain ice cream store was mentioned. Our agenda was created that easily! We hugged goodbye, headed back to our hotel on the river and settled in for a real, uninterrupted (non-Glenfiddich) sleep before heading on to Helena.
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Sep 22nd, 2015, 09:56 PM
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For reference, Billings to Great Falls is about 3.5 hours (if you were to drive it directly) and GF to Helena is about 1.5 hours.

The other two places I highly recommend in GF are -
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center -
and a GREAT buffalo jump = First Peoples Buffalo Jump in Ulm -

P and I are both fans of buffalo jumps and both love Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump in Canada (see? we ARE great travel companions!). I first visited HSI about 30 years ago and was at First Peoples about 5 years ago. I know HSI has changed a lot since I was there. It was a tiny, provincial park at the time but still very informative. FP is a state park and small but with a great interpretative center, great rangers and you can drive up to the mesa to get the view from the "jump". We decided not to go on this trip, but I highly recommend it if you go to Great Falls.

The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is VERY well done, but P had just returned from Oregon and decided not to go. I'd gone on my last trip so we opted to return to the Charley Russell museum. I remembered a huge photo poster of buffalo bones piled high and I wanted to see that again. We returned and headed straight to the basement. At first I thought the poster was gone, but they had added so much new content it was further back. The Bison exhibit on the first floor is absolutely fascinating -
I saw and learned a lot more on this trip but am still amazed that I never connected "bone china" to the "bones", or the ash from burning of bones to make china. I learned a lot more about the Metis people of the plains and we thoroughly enjoyed the ground floor until our memory cards were full again. P found a gorgeous jacket in the gift shop and I found a book of Charley Russell stories to read on the rest of the trip. This time, the home was open and the studio had closed the day before for renovation. Next time, maybe all three would be open.

Now with a plan - thanks to the kureiffs - we were off to Helena and to see a friend of 37 years who was living the dream in Montana!
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