Day 12 & 13: I’ll keep this post short because we basically drove for the last two days. We didn’t plan on it when we left Grand Teton but it was the right choice when we left Boise.
We left Grand Teton National Park by 6:45am and arrived in Boise around 2:30pm. The first thing we did after checking into our hotel was bath (it had been three days) and then hit the pool. The temperature in Boise was about 94 degrees and very uncomfortable for these Seattleites. We finished the evening with a frosty from Wendy’s.
Originally we were going to spend two days at Wallowa Lake in northeast Oregon after stopping in Boise. After bathing and cleaning up the kids, then reevaluating what supplies would have to be purchased, including a new air mattress, we chose to be content with our road trip and head back to Seattle without stopping at Wallowa Lake. Also, Autumn wasn’t sleeping well and Ethan was getting terrible cough that required a good few nights rest in his own bed.
Again, on July 7 we were out the DoubleTree Hotel door by 8am and arrived at our door around 5:18pm. The 518 miles 10 hour + drive (include 1 hour for time change) went very smooth and the kids traveled like pros. The key to our success was a few stops to stretch our legs, plenty of books and toys to occupy our kids, lots of food to stuff their hungry mouths, and no movies of any kind (on the entire 2 week trip) so that they engage with their surroundings.
Everyone had a well deserved good nights rest at home that night.
Day 11: Autumn slept great so we leisurely rolled out of the tent, ate breakfast, and prepared for the day. It would be our second and last day of our short visit to Grand Teton National Park. We decided a nice morning bike ride through the valley, followed by a ranger program, and hike along Jenny Lake would be a great day.
We brought our bikes and a double-wide bike trailer on this trip so we could enjoy the national parks from a different perspective. Glacier offered a few trails, Yellowstone was terrible, but Grand Teton was…well…grand! The park has a paved bike path from Jenny Lake to the south entrance (with plans to connect to Jackson Hole). We loaded the kids in the trailer and enjoyed a 13 mile ride. The views of the Tetons were great and the weather was perfect. A highlight of our ride was viewing a mother and baby moose in a nearby creek. At first we and a few others saw the moose but within minutes the crowds gathered. We took off after about 10 minutes of enjoying the public display of awesomeness.
We went back to camp to allow the kids to run around and grab a snack before we made our way for a ranger talk at the Jenny Lake Visitor Center.
The ranger program was about climbing in the Tetons. It focused a bit on history of climbing in the Tetons and showed some of the gear used for climbing. The talk was okay but could have improved if a ranger who actually climbed was presenting the program. I thought Ethan would’ve enjoyed the talk but he kind of lost interest during the history part. He did enjoy the hammer for nailing in pitons and kept demonstrating it’s use to me.
After the talk we did a leisure stroll around part of Jenny Lake before turning in Ethan’s Junior Ranger activity packet at the visitor center. Ethan was offered a badge and patch for completing his activities. He was pretty excited to receive his third Junior Ranger badge/sticker. This trip is the first time I’ve seen what the program offers and think it’s a well worthwhile activity for any parent visiting a national park. When I was a wildland firefighter at Lassen Volcanic National Park, there was a Junior Wildland Firefighter program that offered a lot of hand-on activities. I think these type of programs only benefit children and adults as they continue to educate them about the importance of national parks.
After dinner we enjoyed a drive to the park’s highest drivable point called Signal Mountain. Breathtaking views of the east valley were a plenty. Do this drive if you have time.
Prior to turning in for the night we packed up most of our camp. We knew we would have a big drive of driving to Boise tomorrow and wanted to arrive as early as possible to allow the kids time to swim and relax at our hotel.
Day 10: Up and out of Yellowstone National Park bright and early. We had a campsite to claim in Grand Teton National Park and it was 4th of July weekend. Unlike Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, there are no reservable campsites in Grand Teton. We decided to go big and for the most popular campground in Grand Teton: Jenny Lake Campground. Our early start paid off as we found a nice large site at the far end of Jenny Lake campground.
As you drive through Grand Teton from the north the Teton Mountain Range captures your attention The peaks are dramatic and spectacular. As a climber, I yearn to climb the peaks and see the views they provide. But that would be for another trip. On this trip we would admire them from valley floor.
After setting up camp we headed to the Jenny Lake Visitor Center area. It’s customary for us to first visit a nearby visitor center to learn about the national park we’re visiting. We’ll usually buy a children’s book or two to read to the kids while visiting the park. We also learn about the Junior Ranger program offered in the park. Grand Teton’s Junior Ranger Program required, by far, the most activities of the three national parks we visited. It was definitely doable but for a three year old it required a lot more involvement from the parent. We were up for the challenge.
We then decided to enjoy a drive through the southern part of the park and visit Jackson Hole. Laura and I enjoyed this town when we visited in March 2002 and decided to have dinner here tonight. We arrived in the early afternoon and made our way through all the tourist traffic. Yes there is a lot but it’s manageable. After parking I found a coffee shop where I uploaded a few blog posts about our trip and Laura played with the kids in a nearby park. We wandered the town where we enjoyed viewing the many pieces of art throughout the downtown area. Wildlife and cowboys are a huge part of this area and it’s represented very well in art, building design, activities, and more. We got in on the action and did a family photo cowboy style. Ethan got a kick out of us dressing up and loved being able to hold not one, but two guns.
On our drive back to camp we stopped to admire a herd of elk in the park. It was the first elk we had seen.
Day 9: Today we would drive less and hike more. We spent a lot of time in the car yesterday, but it’s just how Yellowstone is set up. Today we would only drive about 15 minutes from our campsite and find nearby hikes.
We drove along Yellowstone River and stopped at Mud Volcano. The area changed dramatically in 1979 after a series of earthquakes. Water that would often spew stopped spewing and the forest in the area gradually died. The hillsides are barren or full of downed trees. The air permeates of sulphur but you get use to it. It was exciting to see the few buffalo in the area that just wandered or relaxed near the bubbling hot springs. This is a definite stop for anyone visiting the park.
Laura and I just can’t get enough of viewing nature in action. In a way you feel like you’re at an amusement park being entertained, as if someone is behind the curtain (as in the Wizard of Oz) somewhere producing the sulpher smell, making the water bubble, and queuing the bison to wander in the meadow as you come around the corner.
But we’re not. This is as natural as it gets and it doesn’t get old. You learn to appreciate nature more and respect what it has to offer. Ethan has begun to ask some great questions about how things work and why things are the way they are. He’s enjoyed seeing wildlife roam freely in their natural setting and watching the earth boil from it’s depths. Peaking his interest in nature and helping him understand how we fit into the food chain is one reason why we visit National Parks.
After Mud Volcano, we enjoyed a great hike and lunch along Yellowstone River at LeHardys Rapids. This entire trip water levels are high and the rivers are flowing fast. This area offered some outstanding views of the river. We also saw our first pelican in flight.
We then headed past Fishing Bridge along the northshore of Yellowstone Lake. We found a hike along Indian Pond that took us to the Lake. We only did about an hour of the hike before Ethan was beat. It was about 1pm by this time and the sun was beating down on all of us. We decided to get back in the car, grab some cold drinks at the Fish Bridge General Store and find a spot with cell phone service to call family.
Around 3pm we drove over to the shower station where we enjoyed hot showers after going showerless for 3 days. Of course, about an hour later you would never know the kids had taken a shower as they were back in the dirt playing with their toys at our campsite. Oh well, it’s all part of the experience.
Tonight we rocked on dinner. We sautéed onions and garlic, mixed it with corn, black beans, and pinto beans, threw on some cheese, smothered them between tortillas and had delicious quesadillas. We bought a grill specifically for this trip and it’s paid off with meals like this.
We ended our day with a terrible hike out to a natural bridge near our campground. The mosquitoes, for the most part, have ignored us on our trip. They decided to come out in full force on this hike and we called it quits after 20 minutes. Ethan also fell hard and drew some blood.
Tomorrow we say good-bye to Yellowstone National Park and head south to Grand Teton National Park.
Day 8: Up and at ‘em Autumn told us with a loud wail at 5am. No one was ready to get up, especially the rest of the campground. Laura and Autumn were up a lot the night before so rather than fight this 5am wake-up call, I loaded her in the car and went for a drive along Yellowstone Lake. We returned around 7am. Autumn stayed in the car and slept and I prepared breakfast for everyone.
We hit the road by 8:40am because we had a lot of exploring to do today. Since Laura and I visited Yellowstone in the winter of 2002 we didn’t see much of the park. Today we were set to visit the most popular spots that Yellowstone has to offer. On a first summer visit to any national park you just have to bite your tongue and go big, meaning visit the tourist spots that made the park a national park. Yes, there will be crowds to deal with but you do your best to enjoy the experience. On your second visit, you aim for the less popular places where you can find solitude.
Our route today took over 10 hours and 120 miles around the interior of the park. Here is a list of spots that we visited.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
Midway Geyser Basin
Firehole Canyon Drive
Museum of the National Park Ranger
Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls
Honestly, we were all beat by the end of the day. The kids held up pretty good but were ready to get back to our tent to stretch their legs and eat dinner.
The highlights of the day include viewing the herd of bison along Fishhold Canyon Drive, viewing the historic Old Faithful Inn, the views all along Firehole and Gibbons Rivers, and viewing a mother and three baby Ospreys at Lower Yellowstone Falls.
Being in Yellowstone is exciting. As the world’s first national park this place just has history written all over it. It’s full of wildlife and geologic activity. There are a variety of ecosystems to explore and hikes to take you there. The evidence of the 1988 wildfires demonstrates how resilient nature can be. Also, the park is very accessible. If you haven’t seen a map of the park, click here to view it. There are a lot of roads that make it easy for visitors to see most of the park. I wasn’t expecting such accessibility to be honest. I come from visiting Yosemite, Mt. Rainier, North Cascades, Death Valley, Joshua Tree National Parks where you really need to set out by foot to see a lot of the park.
All in all it was a great day to be in Yellowstone National Park.