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Trip report: Yellowstone and Grand Tetons with teens

Trip report: Yellowstone and Grand Tetons with teens

Old Aug 19th, 2008, 07:09 PM
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Trip report: Yellowstone and Grand Tetons with teens

Trip Report: Yellowstone and Grand Tetons with Teens

First of all, I’d like to thank all who made the suggestion of taking this trip and to all shared trip reports and answered questions. We loved this trip! Since we just arrived back home, I’m typing this while it is fresh in my mind. I went with my husband (DH) and teenage daughter, (TD), a vegetarian, and teenage son, (TS), NOT a vegetarian for 4 nights in Yellowstone and 4 nights in the Grand Tetons. Ideally, we would have done a week in each park to allow more time for hiking.

The most important thing I packed (besides a camera) was small, lightweight binoculars. I couldn’t believe how much you could see on an animal’s face.
Tip: Keep camera and binoculars handy in the car.

Day 1:
We flew from the east coast through Chicago with a layover of several hours. One quick comment on the Chicago airport: the bathrooms are the cleanest I have ever seen with a very friendly staff. We arrived in Jackson exactly on time (2pm) - the Jackson airport is located right in the park. I think this was the most impressive airport experience of my life – we used the bathrooms, picked up our rental car and picked up our luggage in less than 10 minutes flat. And you step off the plane surrounded by those gorgeous mountains! What a sight! The economy car was very small, but our luggage fit and we hit the road immediately. My stomach was still catching up to the rest of me following a turbulent landing.

Lake Yellowstone Hotel: A Room with a View
We had planned on stopping at Dornan’s in Moose to pick up general provisions, but we missed the turnoff. We went straight to Lake Yellowstone Hotel and arrived around 4:30. We had a lake view room – it was beautiful and quiet. The room was a bit small for the four of us: 2 double beds, one for TD and myself, and one for DH and TS. Not a lot of room for luggage, but it was okay. The hotel and lounge area is gorgeous. We were on the 4th floor and got winded every time we went up the stairs. Altitude adjustment.

Early dinner in the dining room. DH and I ordered the prix fixe menu. Everything was excellent, but it was too much food for us and (of course, we didn’t need to inhale everything in the bread basket). The waiter told us there was a herd of bison across the street.

After dinner, we walked around looking for the bison. Not a one. Then we walked along the lake path (very pretty) and then down along the lake. The water was cold and rough. It was also pretty cool and windy. We came in and listened to the string quartet in the lobby (fantastic) and then early to bed.

Day 2:
First Animal Sighting, Up to Canyon, Ultimate Step Experience and ride in Big Yellow Bus

Up early, we went to the General Store for breakfast. All the general stores have charming little diners – we just had cereal at the soda fountain overlooking the lake. After breakfast, we bought provisions for lunch and made sandwiches in our room.

First Animal Sightings
As it was early, we took a quick drive around to see animals. We saw some elk in a field and pulled over. The elk were beautiful, of course, but here’s where I began to notice the disrespectful tourists. A man was calling to the elk to look up for his photo. These are wild animals, not animals in a petting zoo or mechanical animals in Disney. It was disappointing, but got worse at the next animal sighting when a family (kids and all) ran up to get pics of the bison – they were less than 6 feet away. Again, it is clearly posted everywhere that you should stay 25 yards from all wildlife and 100 yards from a bear. We later learned that the bison weigh 2000 pounds, can run 30 mph and can jump 6 feet from a standing position. And bison are known to have “anger management” issues. (We also learned more graphic things about the dangers of getting too close to bison in the book TS was reading, Deaths in Yellowstone.) It’s important to remember we are in the animals’ home, not the other way around. And the animals are WILD. Rangers do their best to educate people, but they can’t be at every animal jam.

We saw more bison from the Sulphur Caldron. Two males were fighting across the river. You could really hear them. We did a quick stop at Mud Volcano too. It was hard trying to fit all these stops in.

Canyon Hike
We arrived in the canyon area and took a beautiful hike in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone to the upper falls area. The hike started in the Upper falls parking lot and took us into some kind of backcountry trail. The scenery was stunning and we only ran into one other group. With height issues, there were a couple parts of the trail along the upper rim that were a straight drop, but it helped to have woods on one side. I would like to comment that we enjoyed the view from this vantage point since no one was around. When the hike reached Inspiration Point, we hit a very busy parking area, and waited our turn to take a picture. It is a gorgeous view, of course, but we enjoyed it more about 10 feet away along the trail. DH said we had the time for Uncle Tom’s trail, “only 528 steps”. It is very, very steep and for anyone who has been in a step class, this hike will give you a run for your money. Going down isn’t bad and you are rewarded by yet another fantastic view of the falls. Now for getting up – I couldn’t look down because the steps have grates. So…I plodded along looking up and using both hands on the handrail. One stretch had me really winded (I lead an active lifestyle at home, but our altitude is at sea level!). After that stretch, I rested on each bench as I went up. My advice: take it slow and rest frequently.

We checked into our room at Dunraven Lodge. This is in the Canyon area in a modern building in keeping with the lodge style. Although the Canyon area was too busy for my taste, this building was apart and very quiet and comfortable.

We drove back down to Lake Yellowstone Hotel for an early dinner and a sunset ride on the Yellow bus. This tour was loads of fun with a wonderful guide. The guide worked on the Yellow bus in the 1960’s and when they brought them back in 2007, he is now working here again in the summer. We stopped for a major bison jam and took pics from the bus, went on to Lehardy Rapids, Fishing Bridge and then up to see the sunset at Lake Butte. It’s fascinating to watch the ducks swim against the current at Lehardy Rapids.

We had to drive back to Canyon in the dark and DH went slower due to the number of animals out that time of day. We let cars pass us - others seemed to go a lot faster than our comfort level. Up the road we came upon an accident that killed a bison (most likely by one of the very cars that passed us). It was very sad to see and yet another reminder that we are in the animals’ home.

Day 3
Bear Day, Horseback Ride, Nature’s Hot Tub and There’s Something about Mammoth

Mount Washburn
Up early we made sandwiches in the room again. I was consistently impressed with the picnic areas – all clean and beautifully located. We decided to do part of the hike up Mount Washburn. We had planned on doing the whole thing, but we had reservations for a horseback ride, so we went about a mile and a half up. It’s a dirt road that sort of winds up with wonderful views, fields and flowers all around.

We stopped briefly at Tower Falls and then onto Roosevelt, stopping to look at the lodge. The Roosevelt Lodge is the antithesis of the Canyon area – very quiet and charming. We passed our first bear leaving the Tower area – a small black bear that looks like it had just been swimming in a nearby pond. After a picnic lunch, we hit another bear jam – this time a grizzly. I got out of the car to see it loping along before it went into the brush. There was quite a bit of excitement and I couldn’t believe we saw 2 bears in less than an hour! You can see so well with binoculars, one of the most useful things we brought on the trip.

Horseback Ride
Off to our horseback ride in Mammoth. It’s a very calm ride, just over an hour, but it takes a bit of time to get saddled etc. It was a hot afternoon, but comfortable in the breeze. The horses follow a line – not a lot of excitement, but it suited me fine, with helpful guides and great scenery. My horse brushed my leg against a dead tree stump leaving a bruise, but thankfully, I was wearing pants.

Nature’s Hot Tub
One of the high points of the trip was the dip in Boiling River. We drove north and just after the border of Montana, you pull off the road into a small parking area. Fortunately, we had already changed into our bathing suits back in Mammoth as there was only one outhouse by the parking lot with a line to change. (In Mammoth there is a large rest area next to the lower terrace parking lot). You have to walk one third of a mile to the swimming area of the river. TD and I loved this part of the trip, and I came out of the tub feeling completely rejuvenated. Away washed the soreness from the 528 steps, the kinks from the horseback ride ….It was crowded, but we found a spot with the right mix of hot and cold water. Note that the water coming into the river can scald you so you have to be careful. And the river water is just plain cold. The current is also really strong, so we just stuck by the main area. I wore Tevas, but you could also go barefoot if you are right near the river entrance. I loved that the water was continually flowing, thus clean, and no chlorine smell. Then there is the view all around you. The water was the perfect temp, not overly hot like many hot tubs. What a heavenly experience! One other thing to note, the signs say not to get your head wet (although it was tempting) to avoid getting sick. We even wiped our faces down in the car with towelettes just to be safe.

Dinner in Mammoth Dining Room
Nice experience. I loved looking at the buildings with the light hitting them with mountains behind them. Portions are huge – desserts should be split.

There’s Something about Mammoth
The sun was setting and we did a quick tour of the lower terrace. We loved this area. I think the fact that the sun was setting and it was nearly empty made it look all the more interesting. Coming back through the lower terrace, we encountered a female moose and her baby practically on the trail.

We didn’t have time to hike the Upper Terrace, so we drove up and then walked around. Again, it had a mystical quality at twilight and we shot as many pictures as we could. TD said that looking down at the buildings looked just like looking down on Whoville. It was very cool. DH wishes we spent more time in the Upper Terrace.

We would have liked to have stayed in Mammoth that night, but we had to drive back to Canyon in the dark. Again, we drove slowly (just under the speed limit) and cars passed us. DH drove and I was the second set of eyes on the road.

Day 4
Norris and Old Faithful (Upper Geyser Basin)

After a quick stop to the Canyon Visitor Center, we checked out of Dunraven and stopped at Norris before going over to Old Faithful. Norris was quite a bit of walking and we took all the boardwalks around. It was an interesting stop.

We drove on to check into the Old Faithful Inn. I had booked in the east wing, although I didn’t really know what to expect. We were thrilled with our accommodations – the room was charming, comfortable (and quiet) with a view of Old Faithful peeking through the pine trees. The bathroom had a beautiful sink. Our wing was attached to the inn, so (to me) it still felt like we were in the old part. I’m a light sleeper, so I always appreciate quiet accommodations.

We caught the first “show” from Old Faithful watching the first sputterings before the main eruption – very unusual to see for the first time! Then we took the Observation Point hike in time to catch the next “show” from above. A yellow-bellied marmot peered out at us from the rocks. We stopped at Solitary Geyser making our way back along the trail. It was a little buggy, so we kept a good pace in the woods. We checked in with the rangers to see the predicted time of the other geysers.

Early dinner in the Old Faithful dining room. As much as I loved everything about Old Faithful Inn, the dining room was probably our least exciting meal. The food was good – no problems, but it didn’t feel as charming as the rest of the inn. It may be because we were sitting on the porch and not the inside dining room. No views here.

After dinner, we took a walk and caught Castle Geyser erupt. It was wonderful to see and stunning in the evening lighting. Apparently we had just missed Grand Geyser, and we heard the crowds buzzing about that.

We finished the evening with a drink on the outside porch watching another Old Faithful show and then inside to hear the piano player. Old Faithful Inn takes on a completely different feel when the crowds have gone. I loved it and made a note to visit as many national park lodges as possible.

Day 5
Morning Geysers, West Thumb and Tetons

Morning Geysers
DH and I were up before dawn to walk around more to catch Old Faithful, Daisy and Grand (which went off at the same time as Daisy, so we caught it from the distance). A geyser recorder was there and had all sorts of interesting information for us. When you listen to the water go down in Daisy, it sounds just like a train. The early morning lighting on the steam was amazing. By now, we had been out for 3 hours and we felt like blocks of ice. We went for a hot breakfast in the general store before checking out.

West Thumb
We stopped at West Thumb on our way to the Tetons. I had allowed a lot of time to tour this area, but it is not huge. This is where the Fishing Hole geyser is, where fishermen used to catch their fish and cook it in the boiling water still on the line. They stopped doing that after someone fell in. And of course I had to take a picture of the twins in front of Twin Geyser – corny, but I couldn’t resist. It was different to see the geysers along the lake.

It was a bit of a drive to Signal Mountain where we were staying. There was road construction, so we had to stop for 15 minutes. The stop was by the Entering Grand Teton National Park sign, so a bunch of people (us included) took pics.

Signal Mountain Lodge and the Smokers
We checked into a lakefront retreat at Signal Mountain Lodge. Wow! The view from our room was amazing. The location was convenient within the park as well. In addition, TD got her own bed as TS used a pullout sofa. We also had a small kitchenette and our own deck overlooking the lake and mountains. The sunrises and sunsets were fabulous.

There was one issue with our stay there: there were 2 sets of couples staying below us - all were heavy smokers. I would not have expected this in the Grand Tetons of all places, but there was never a time we were on the deck that they weren’t below us smoking. Nonstop. (In fact, they appeared never to leave their porch.) The smoke even came into our unit with the window open. The room came with a box fan, so I put that by our doorway to push the smoke away from our room. One evening we had a breeze in the right direction. I don’t know if this was a fluke or not, but it didn’t change in the 4 nights we were there. We experienced less smoke in Las Vegas last year!

DH and I discovered that they don’t sell wine in the convenience stores in GTNP, so we made a run over to Jackson Lake Lodge (up the street) to purchase wine to enjoy on our porch (fan going). They do sell wine in all the general stores in Yellowstone. Had we known this, we would have stocked up. We could not pass up libations on our deck.

We had an early dinner at the Signal Mountain restaurant, Peaks. It was excellent with great choices for vegetarians – everything was fresh and flavorful. We ate too early to get the full view since they have a mesh screen for the sun glare. After dinner, we walked along the lake and enjoyed the views. It’s a quiet and relaxed place. Note, Signal Mountain is run by Forever Green. It looks like they’ve received a lot of green awards. We liked the Forever Green menus better than Xanterra’s menus (although Xanterra is pretty good).

Day 6

Snake River Raft Trip and Swan Lake Hike

Up early for the 7:30 am float trip (yes, the smokers were smoking as we left our unit…), we met our guide, Peter who took us 10 miles down the Snake River. He is a wealth of information and it was good to do this in the beginning of our stay since he gave us ideas. It’s a calm trip, very relaxing and the float only holds 12 people. We saw a mule deer and a bald eagle.

Back at the room we did a quick load of laundry conveniently located in the motel.

We went to Leeks Pizzeria at Leeks Marina. Great pizza! (and we are used to good pizza since we make our own). Note the motel gives you a 10% coupon you can use more than once. We forgot it that day, but used it later.

After lunch, we went to Colter Bay and hiked Swan Lake loop. The trail wasn’t crowded and we saw a bull moose grazing in the lake. Beautiful walk.

Early dinner at the Mural Room in Jackson Lake Lodge. Since we were so early, the sun shields were pulled down (you can see the view through mesh). Great meal with excellent vegetarian choices (I had a mushroom tart). Jackson Lake Lodge is another gorgeous place with panoramic views.

After dinner, we stopped to watch a herd of elks near Oxbow Bend. A ranger was out there answering questions.

Day 7

Jenny Lake: Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point and Cascade Canyon

We got on an early ferry to take the hike to Inspiration Point and Cascade Canyon. It wasn’t crowded at all with just a handful of cheerful and enthusiastic climbers on the boat. The teens looked wistfully at the rock climbing group.

We had the trail to ourselves for the most part, but it got busier as we got into the canyon as folks taking a longer hike passed us. I had a phobic issue going up to Inspiration Point. I had a hard time with the uneven rocks, drop off (not that steep, but steep enough) and the way the wall sort of caved out. DH came back and got me through that and the rest of the hike was fine.

This hike is amazing – starting with the view at Inspiration Point and even prettier as you go into the canyon. We hiked about 2 ½ miles in before turning around. Here’s where we wish we had packed lunch (we just packed trail mix and water) because we would have stayed longer. The wild flowers are beautiful and we met a pika (it looks like a gerbil) scurrying about. We passed streams and ponds. This is a hike that would be best done even earlier in the day for wildlife viewing. From time to time we could hear our climber friends and we’d check them out with our binoculars (better them than me!) I made it back through the “scary part” near Inspiration Point (okay, toddlers were doing this walk, so this was definitely a mental block). We went back by Hidden Falls (indeed, hidden, but now crowded) and walked the 2 miles back to the parking lot. Here’s where we wish we hiked farther into the canyon and took the ferry back. The walk along the lake was more tiring than I expected – rocky and a lot of up and down (I had envisioned a flat dirt path). By the time we reached the car, we had walked 7 miles and were hot, tired and hungry. This is also a hike I would have done closer to dawn (or the first boat) to have greater wildlife viewing opportunities.

We went to Dornan’s deli for lunch (quite good) and ate outside on the picnic table.

After lunch, we checked out the new visitor center in Moose. It’s brand new and quite impressive. It was a good place to take a break from the sun.

Mormon Row
After that we left the park to go a mile or so to the Mormon Row Historic District, a former town settled in the 1890’s. It’s the classic photo op with the mountain range behind the historic buildings. It was interesting that there was a herd of bison and just 2 other small groups of people visiting the buildings (and keeping an appropriate distance from the bison). The bison were grunting at each other and one came over to the houses as if to show us he was boss before going back to his herd. There was a dirt road we didn’t walk all the way down since there were bison on each side and I wasn’t about to get in between that herd (!) We shot tons of photos here with the mountains as a backdrop to the old buildings. And who can resist a good outhouse photo.

After Mormon Row, we had to reenter the park (we had a pass) and we stopped at the Chapel of the Transfiguration. A wedding was about to start, but the bride was late (!), so they told us to go on in and take some pictures. (She still hadn’t shown up as we were leaving).

We drove back to Signal Mountain for dinner – this time we went to the casual restaurant, Trapper Grille. Once again, the meal did not disappoint and they had many vegetarian choices. The nachos are popular – very good and huge portions. DH and I split a “personal size” and a salad and didn’t finish it. The margarita specialty (blackberry?) was very good too. I got organized for the hike the next day while DH and the kids went to watch the Olympics in the rec room at the lodge. It was the first TV of the trip – they saw Michael Phelps win his 7th gold medal.

After dinner we drove to Oxbow Bend for wildlife viewing. It was buggy and we just saw bird and a pretty sunset.

Day 8

Signal Mountain Sunrise, Taggart and Bradley Hike

TD had regretted missing our early morning geyser walk, so this time she joined us to watch the sunrise on Signal Mountain. We were up the mountain before daybreak. It was very cold – in the 30’s. We liked the view from the observation area (not quite on top) since we could see every direction better. On the way back to the lodge, a mother deer and her fawn crossed the road in front of us (and fortunately we were going slow enough to stop in plenty of time).

Taggart and Bradley Hike
We ate breakfast, packed up lunches and headed over to the Taggart Lake trailhead for the Taggart and Bradley loop. This was about 6 miles round trip. A deer crossed our path and we only ran into a couple other hikers all morning. This is a hike I would also have done early in the day (at dawn) as you would probably see a lot more wildlife. It’s a lovely trail with flowers, through woods and by the lakes.

Lunch at the String Lake picnic area and I soaked my feet in the lake. I think I would have gone swimming if I brought my bathing suit. I saw one person jump in (but no one stayed in the water).

Scenic Boat Tour at Colter Bay
After lunch, we decided to do the Jackson Lake scenic boat tour out of Colter Bay Marina. We had seen the boat go out the day we hiked there and it looked nice. The captain and his “first mate” were terrific – informative and personable. It was relaxing to just sit after the hike. We saw a bald eagle.

We picked up pizza at Leeks to bring back to our deck for our last night. The sunset was beautiful. It was sad to spend the evening packing. We were so used to planning our hikes.

Day 9
Drive to Airport
We really didn’t have a Day 9 since we had an early flight. We left the motel before 6am (even the smokers weren’t up yet!), and saw tons of wildlife driving down: a herd of bison, a herd of elk, a deer and a coyote. It was so hard to go by all this without stopping.

Our flight was delayed, but we made our Chicago connection with about 2 minutes to spare (but no time to visit their clean rest rooms). Luggage came after us on the next flight.

Anyway, what a trip…it just leaves you thinking and thinking about preserving this amazing land and inhabitants.

carolv is offline  
Old Aug 20th, 2008, 04:16 AM
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Hello carolv

Loved your report! Sounds like a terrific time was had by all.

I have to echo your comments about "not looking down" when walking on the grate coming up from the falls. Oh my, that sure gets my stomach reeling when I think of how far down it goes. We were in Switzerland this summer on a similar trail with a grate. I just about lost my lunch when I looked down once thru the grate. Had to stop, close my eyes, and then continue after a bit.

Don't you just love the Lake Yellowstone Hotel? Their conservatory is the perfect spot for unwinding after a busy day.

We're heading to Yellowstone again in about a month. The elk will be in rut, and the aspens in the Tetons will hopefully be changing.

Thanks for the reminder of binoculars. Last year we forgot them! I've now put a note in my file.

Happy travels!
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Old Aug 20th, 2008, 05:02 AM
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Carolv - thanks for the trip report! It's one of the few of this area that has a lot of hikes in it, which is how we would do it. I am copying this for my files....
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Old Aug 20th, 2008, 05:16 AM
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Thanks for writing! Great report.
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Old Aug 20th, 2008, 05:22 AM
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Glad you enjoyed the report. I edited it in Fodors last night, but it somehow went through without the edits. Oh well.

Swisshiker, it's funny that the grates are right over the rock, but it is just really steep in one spot. Just go slow and look up!

You're in for a treat going in the fall. Bring warm clothes (I'm sure you know that). Yes, Lake Yellowstone Hotel is wonderful. I also liked how quiet that area is.

Kaudrey, when you get to the visitors centers, they have papers that have all the hikes listed. Rangers also made a few great recommendations. Also, pick up the little brochures (for a fifty cent donation) at the trailheads. They have tons of info and are great souvenirs.
carolv is offline  
Old Aug 27th, 2008, 11:09 AM
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Great Report Carolv!! Glad you had such a good time. That whole area has been "tugging" at me since we got back. The beauty of it is really jaw-dropping.
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Old Aug 27th, 2008, 12:05 PM
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Great report! It sounds like you had a wonderful trip.
kureiff is offline  
Old Sep 1st, 2008, 05:41 AM
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Thanks for the replies. I'm glad you liked the report.

lindsyb, I read your report right before I left and it got us even more excited about our trip. Yes, I keep thinking back on some of the incredible things we saw...
carolv is offline  
Old Sep 1st, 2008, 08:34 AM
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Great trip report and it sounds like you all had a wonderful time. It's always interesting to hear first time visitors' impressions. I'm glad you had the time to see geysers and wildlife and do some hiking. Good for you!

Thanks for reminding people to drive slowly in the Natl Parks. There are many good reasons for doing so!

Happy trails
Dayle is offline  
Old Sep 1st, 2008, 09:09 AM
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Dayle, thanks for your reply. The teens are also new drivers (they didn't drive on this trip though)- but it has given us an enhanced awareness of speed limits!

We packed in all we could this trip, that's for sure. I think when you come back, you reflect on it even more. Like I had forgotten to write about those brown bugs that make the clicking sound - something I don't think I'd seen (or heard) before.

Happy trails to you too!
carolv is offline  
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