Yellowstone and Grand Tetons-Part 2
I’m currently sitting at our dining room table, looking out our bay window, staring at around a foot and a half of snow. But you know what….this native Texan LOVES it! I get asked all the time how I handle the Midwest winters? Answer is… when you’ve grown up where the four seasons consist of “Summer, Summer, Summer and Real Damn Summer” you enjoy that the Midwest has FOUR FULL SEASONS! I say all this because I’m pleasantly reminded of the snow we had while in Yellowstone. If you remember we were there just days before Memorial Day weekend, yes that would be in the month of May, and yes, we had about 6 inches of snow (see below)! IT WAS BEAUTIFUL! Let’s face it, Yellowstone and Grand Teton areas are WONDERFULLY BEAUTIFUL, but when they’re covered in snow (insert eye heart emogi).
It’s taken me a while to gather my thoughts on writing this second edition, I really, really, really wanted to do these places justice. These parks are beautiful, they’re rugged, they’re WILD, they’re adventurous and we just loved our time there. You really need to visit these parks in person, but hopefully this post will buy you time till you can write your own adventure story!
Fun Facts about Yellowstone National Park:
Established in 1872, Yellowstone was the FIRST National Park in the US and possibly the world.
Did you know the park is housed in three states? (96% Wyoming, 3% Montana, and 1% Idaho)
There are 5 park entrances and 466 miles of roads.
There are 92 trail heads that access approximately 1,000 miles of trails.
In 2015, Yellowstone had 4,097,710 visits (a park record).
Yellowstone has 1,000-3,000 earthquakes annually.
There are more than 300 active geysers and more than 290 waterfalls.
There is evidence of human habitation in Yellowstone dating back more than 10,000 years.
The park sits atop the largest super volcano in North America, with enough magma to fill the Grand Canyon several times over.
The park includes the nation’s oldest herd of Bison.
Yellowstone has the largest intact temperate ecosystem in the world.
Fun Facts about Grand Teton National Park:
One of the top ten visited parks in the US.
The geology of the Grand Teton area consists of some of the oldest rocks, and one of the youngest mountain ranges in North America.
The parks elevation ranges from approximately 6,400 feet to 13,775 feet.
The only national park in the US with a commercial airport (so there is really no reason not to visit).
Four entrances to the park, with the “north entrance”, being the “south entrance” to Yellowstone.
The park is roughly 45 miles in length (N to S) and 26 miles maximum in width (W to E).
There are up to 11 active glaciers in the Teton range.
The National Elk Refuge borders Grand Teton National Park.
Jackson Hole is amazing and you should spend at least a day exploring the area!
As I said in my previous blog post (go read it first if you haven’t already) there is SO MUCH information out there. Everyone seems to be an expert, and even for a planner like myself, it was a bit overwhelming. I think we could travel to these parks every year till the day we die, and still find new things we wouldn’t have seen in previous years. As you know, I like to write down a list of 10-20 places I want to see, then pin-point them on a map to get a visual representation of what we have ahead of us. Below, you will see a strategic map of Yellowstone and Grand Teton which maps out all these places. I tried to blow them up so they were easier to see, but if you want a more detailed map, just let me know!
We entered the park from the East entrance (which seems to be the most popular when you talk to people). We basically drove straight to our campsite. We have a rule, that if we can help it, we don’t like to set up camp in the dark. We stayed at the Fishing Bridge RV Park, which happens to be the only campsite in the park that offers full RV hookups. We chose this site for several reasons…. Our son was only 18 months when we were there and Yellowstone still gets pretty cold in May. Most campsites don’t allow a generator at all, or at night, which we need for heat, so we were comfortable paying a little more for full hookups. And cold it did get…. Remember when I said we had 6 inches of snow one day! This was also our first “BIG” road trip with Loretta and honestly we were a little nervous. If you want more ideas or have more questions about camping and what it was like, just message me!
Ok…when you look at a map of Yellowstone, the road sort of makes a figure 8. Know that you will be driving quite a bit to get to your different destinations. It may say it’s only 20 miles from one destination to the other, but it will in fact take you an hour to get there. See where I’m going with this? The roads are only two lanes, and if ANYONE sees ANY sort of wildlife (for real or a figment of their imagination) they will STOP and there will be a traffic jam. People are ruthless and will do just about any stupid thing they can to get a good picture of wildlife. Just go into it knowing this, and it will make these incidents more tolerable. Also, the park does road maintenance during the “good weather months” so there will be areas that are traffic-jammed just for road construction. And…. Some roads are closed from early November to mid April or May. PLAN ACCORDINGLY so you’re not disappointed when you’re there!!! Too early in the season or too late will have you missing out, or driving a million miles out of the way to get somewhere!
Another thing, there are A TON of people there (with June, July and August carrying the load). PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t let this discourage you, or make you think twice about going. I don’t think we fully realized how many people would be there (even though everything I read, said there would be), even in May when school wasn’t out yet in most places, and it can be a little overwhelming while driving and parking. I’m telling you all this because I want to be honest. Our family operates on the notion that if you know some of these things going in, it makes it a little better coming out.
Keep in mind that this land is WILD. That means the animals are wild, the mountains are wild, the rivers and lakes are wild, and NO PICTURE is worth you, your family, the land, or the animals getting hurt. You will see people doing some STUPID things. Hey, it will be a good teaching moment for your kids on what not to do. I read something when I was planning the trip that Yellowstone is the most dangerous place you can take your child. It basically talks about needing to “WATCH YO CHILD” when you’re around wildlife, geysers, hot springs, etc. I get that kids can be kids and get away from us (I personally have what I like to call a “runner” so I get it) but… we had CW in the backpack carrier EVERY SINGLE MOMENT. And if he would have been older, I probably would have had him on a leash, not even disguised in one of those bear backpacks, but a real LEASH! When you have an 18 month old, it’s all about containment…. right? (see image below)
One last thing, you will park and walk to most of the landmarks, so remember this when you dress for the day. There were some women in really wonderful looking clothes and new hiking boots…and then there was me…in my flannel shirt, fishing pants (that convert to shorts no less, with one zip of the zipper), hiking boots, ball cap, and I was killin’ it! Ok, enough of my personal tid-bits… here’s what we saw in Yellowstone!
Here’s what we saw in Yellowstone National Park:
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Inspiration Point (this just might have been the Meeks favorite thing to see!)
Mammoth Hot Springs
Lower Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic Spring
Ate lunch at Old Faithful Inn (this place is awesome and worth checking out, even if you just walk through)
West Thumb Geyser Basin
One thing we didn’t get to see that we really, really, really wanted to, was the Lamar Valley…. but, time restraints.
The below pictures are just some highlights of what see saw (in order of what is listed above)!
THE GRAND TETONS
We drove straight into this park through the “south entrance” of Yellowstone and “north entrance” of The Grand Teton National Park. And let me tell you… the drive coming into the park around Jackson Lake, and the views of the Tetons… OH MA GAHHHHH! Doc and I just kept looking at ourselves like, “this is literally amazing!” I’m just gonna go ahead and say it… the Meeks liked the Tetons better than Yellowstone. There, it’s done, it’s said, and grand-daddy Yellowstone can disown me, but guys…. one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in the WORLD!
Ok, still more people around the park than Doc Whiskers would have cared for (he considers more than me, our son, and our dog too many people) but not near as crowded as Yellowstone! One thing about the Tetons, is you really do have to hike to a lot of places to see them and really appreciate them. Yes, there’s plenty to see from the road, but the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen are a little hike. This kind of weeds out those women I mentioned in their nice, fancy get-up. But… with that being said, if you have a small child, know ahead of time how far you’re capable of carrying them on your back, or how far they can walk. We had a stroller and it could get us to all the handicapped accessible spots in both parks, but there’s no stroller or wheelchair access everywhere. Those that know our son know he’s kinda like, well…. the same weight as a ton of bricks. Home-dude is HEAVY! So… I suggest practice hiking in general before you go, and practice carrying your child if that’s what you’re going to do while there.
Before I go on, you MUST spend at least a day in Jackson Hole. Jackson is such a fun town, and it has so much to offer. It’s “touristy” but y’all, I just can’t pass up a good t-shirt shop, so I loved it! Also, take time to check out the National Elk Refuge, like go find a place to sit with binoculars, you won’t be disappointed.
We got a little more brave and decided to camp with just electrical hookups in the Tetons. We follow another blog and they mentioned staying where we did and how great it was, so we said… why the hell not? We have the capacity with Loretta to fill her up with water and be pretty comfortable for almost 5 days. We camped at Gros Ventre Campground (pronounced “grow vont”, don’t ask how we figured this out, hahaha) and the campsite was wonderful! It was quiet, except for kids riding their bikes around and your neighbors inviting you over for a campfire dinner. Ahhhhh right up our alley!
Here’s what we saw in Grand Teton National Park:
Make sure you drive the stretch of highway along Jackson Lake!
Highway 89 throughout the park has a ton of WONDERFUL turnouts, with scenic views. Stop at every single one you see. You will NOT be disappointed. (Ex’s: Snake River Overlook, Schwabacher Landing, etc.)
Teton Park Rd. to take you to the Chapel of the Transfiguration
Moose Wilson Rd.
Jenny Lake is amazing and you need to spend at least a day hiking around the area.
Jackson Hole area
The below pictures are just some highlights of what see saw (in order of what is listed above)!
Things to keep in mind while visiting these parks:
GO, just pack up and GO (insert a million exclamation marks)! Everyone in their lifetime needs to go and visit these two places, period!
There are hotel/lodge accommodations where you can stay, you don’t have to camp or RV while you’re there. Actually you can’t tent camp because of bears, so keep that in mind!
I would also keep in mind, there are bears… A LOT OF BEARS. When we checked into Fishing Bridge the lady said, “Ok, now don’t let your son run around by himself and don’t let or leave your dog outside ma’am. We have bears, and a lot of them!” Dually noted Nancy! So, when you see those big cans of bear spray in your local sporting goods store… pick up a can if you plan on going.
You see some great wildlife, but let’s just keep it that… WILD-life. Don’t be stupid for a picture!
Don’t rush through seeing these parks… I recommend minimum 4 days in Yellowstone and 2-3 in the Tetons, not counting a day in Jackson. There is something to be said about hiking to your destination and just sitting. Just sit and take in all that God has created around you.
Stop at a welcome center and get information about each park. I can’t stress this enough, they’ll have wonderful maps for you and will be able to answer any questions you have, offer warnings, road construction, etc.
Weather is crazy in this part of the world. We had 60 degrees one day and the next six inches of snow. And it changed our plans a bit, but it wonderfully changed our plans. If you plan to go hiking, just keep a rain jacket in your bag at all times.
These places can be dangerous if you’re not careful. They are beautiful, but dangerous, especially if you have kids and pets going. Just don’t leave either of them alone.
There’s like no cell service. And that was wonderful for us, but I get that’s not always the case for everyone else. Don’t worry though, the road signs and directions are amazingly easy to read.
Take a good pair or two of binoculars!
It cost $35 to get into Yellowstone and $35 to get into the Tetons, 7 day pass for each. You can pay for a one day pass, seven day pass, year pass or pay for the America the Beautiful annual national park pass.
We typically go fly fishing no matter where we visit, that was the plan for Yellowstone and The Tetons. However, the snow melt was way too high this year and the rivers were not safe, so Doc ventured over to Idaho and fished the Henry’s Fork area. Look for another blog post on what fly fishing means to us, and why we do it everywhere we go! Also, I meannnnnnn if you see this guy on the river… just stop and watch him! He’s tall, dark, handsome, A River Runs Through It ain’t got nothin’ on this man. Ummm but women-folk, don’t stare too long!
I still can’t believe time, money, work, children, spouse, family, and luck allowed us to visit these must-see destinations. I feel like I got to see a whole new side of God, that I never imagined possible!