Weekend Adventure: Yellowstone National Park & Grand Teton National Park

September has been a crazy month, y’all. I am so excited to finally be sitting down and writing this blog post. This was our last big summer trip — and we have taken a few weekends off since then so I am feeling horribly deprived and antsy for some more weekend travel! In the meantime, I have been reminiscing on the photos from this trip because Yellowstone is drop dead gorgeous (and no, it’s not my go pro skills).

Working normal 9-5 jobs and only having so many days off requires us to take advantage of holiday weekends, so we decided to take the opportunity over Labor Day weekend to drive up to Yellowstone. This is a bit farther than we’re used to driving for a weekend adventure — about 6 hours — and unfortunately, leaving on a Friday and driving North was a recipe for a traffic disaster. The route we chose to take also took us “the fastest way” which seemed like it was absolutely not the fastest way since we went from Utah to Idaho to Montana to Wyoming, which seemed like quite a lot of driving.

But, neither of us had ever been to Montana so we were really excited that we got to cross that off our list!

For anyone who is not aware of this, Yellowstone is ginormous. It’s huge. The maps really do not make it seem incredibly giant but it is — and in retrospect, I should have paid more attention to the maps when planning, but it all worked out because the campsite I reserved was sort of in the middle. But we realized how big the park was when it took us over an hour to get from the park’s west entrance to our campground.

My pet peeve so far with reserving campsites in advance is that you’re not actually reserving a specific campsite at most places, you’re just guaranteeing that you will have one. So in this case, I had reserved a spot for a large tent or RV, and the spot I was given was definitely meant for an RV. So our tent was on a bit of a hill and we had to set it up in the dark, which is not my favorite thing, but it was nice and cool outside and the stars were incredible! After spending so many nights camping in the desert heat, we get really really excited when it’s cold outside.

Day 1

Having realized that Yellowstone is monstrous in size, we realized we needed some sort of a “game plan” for seeing everything we wanted to see during the two days we were there. We decided to start by driving to the Norris Geyser Basin and then looping around back to our campsite. The parking lot was already packed pretty early in the morning, but the views were 100% worth sharing with many other people. It was so stunningly beautiful and also reminiscent of all the time I spent watching Land Before Time as a child. The landscape was truly alive.

Next, we drove to Mammoth Hot Springs. There is a huge town in this part of the park where many of the tourists were congregating. There is also a “neighborhood” of sorts with what looks like normal houses where normal people just live their daily lives in the middle of a national park. Apparently this is a thing. We skipped the incredibly crowded “town” and just walked around the hot springs instead.

The hot springs looked absolutely beautiful and my photos do not do them justice. The only bummer was we couldn’t go for a swim because our skin would have melted off.

After that, we stopped for a quick lunch and met a bison friend! He was just hanging out by the road and most people zoomed past, not even noticing him! We thought he was really cute and wanted to take him home with us. But instead, we followed the rules and stayed in our car a safe distance away. The close-up photos are zoomed in.

On our way back to camp, we stopped at Tower Falls for a few quick photos.

Back at camp, we enjoyed some nice, free, hot showers. I realized I had forgotten my hairbrush and had to hand-brush my hair, so that was fun. Then we drove into town to find a bar to eat dinner at so Kevin could watch the Oregon game. I was forced to occupy myself with good food and drinks while Kevin watched the game.

Day 2

Despite our best efforts, we slept in the next day and had a much later start to our morning. Kevin was coming down with a cold so I didn’t complain when he wanted to keep sleeping. We started our morning with a quick trip to the visitor’s center to buy some Yellowstone stickers for our cooler and Kevin almost convinced me to buy him a mug with a bison on it, but I stayed strong (we have a mug problem).

The first place we stopped at was Inspiration Point. I thought it was absolutely beautiful and I’m so glad we decided to take a short detour to get there. Kevin thought so too.

Next, we had to stop and take some more photos of all the bison by the river! There were so many of them, it was crazy! The park even had people out directing traffic because so many people were just stopping in the middle of the road to take pictures. Once again, we stayed a safe distance away (unlike many of the other tourists) from the wild bison.

Next we stopped at the mud volcano (and a bunch of other really smelly geysers). This place has ruined hard boiled eggs for me — there’s nothing quite like a hot wave of sulphur steam hitting you in the face — but hot bubbling mud that will melt your face off is still pretty cool.

And — as if this place couldn’t get more awesome — there’s a lake right in the middle of the park! Yellowstone Lake!

Next, we stopped at the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Although I wish we could have gone swimming in these beautiful (scalding hot) pools, the reality is that we would have had to share them with thousands of tourists.

And finally — the main tourist event of all of Yellowstone — Old Faithful! Someone had told us when we got to West Thumb that it had just gone off so we knew we had about 90 minutes. We pulled into the parking lot and it was packed — nowhere to park — and Kevin and I got in an argument about where the hell we were going to park. Spoiler alert: I convinced him to park in a spot that was definitely not a parking space (everyone else was doing it) and we ran over as quickly as we could.

I got one photo with the go pro and Kevin took a 45-second video. It was very cool to see, but it was shocking to see how many people were standing there watching. Crowds are not my thing, so really arriving exactly as it was going off and watching it from afar was probably the best case scenario. I’m glad I can now say I’ve seen Old Faithful, but this was definitely the most stressful part of our trip and there were many other geysers that we thought were way cooler (not to mention the face-melting bubbling mud).

What followed was a trip to town for some ice cream to decompress after all that stress! We stopped by the Yellowstone sign for our obligatory photo on the way back to camp, and stopped at some other cool spots that no one else bothered to visit — sometimes those are my favorite places!

We had a delicious dinner and a few beers and decided that we wanted to venture out before the sun set and try to see a few more places. We drove to Upper Falls and Lower Falls and tried to get some photos before the sun went down. Kevin decided we could make it down to the brink of the lower falls before we lost all daylight and this proved to not be true. It turned out that it was about a half mile down to the falls and it was pitch black by the time we got down there.

However, being right at the top of the waterfall in complete darkness barely being able to see is actually one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done! We hiked back up the steep trail in the dark and when we got to the top Kevin yelled, “Aw man, we should have kissed down there!”

None of our photos from the dark waterfall adventure came out, but that’s okay — we still have blurry photos, a really loud video of waterfall sounds, and the memory of stumbling down this trail in the dark, laughing.

Day 3

Kevin’s cold was in full swing by this time, so he was in a mood. But we packed up bright and early and headed on our way. We still had a few things we needed to stop and see on our way out of the park.

First up, the Fountain Paint Pot. Yellowstone is a whole different vibe in the morning. The air was crisp and cool and you could see the steam floating off the geysers on the horizon. I think a lot of people were bummed because they couldn’t get a good look at the geysers through all the steam, but I thought it made for a perfect morning and some of my photos turned out really cool.

We drove down to the park’s south entrance and said goodbye to Yellowstone (until next time) — and hello to our next destination: Grand Teton National Park.

We planned on doing a short hike while in Grand Teton National Park, but it turned out that everyone in Wyoming was also planning on doing that exact hike so there was absolutely nowhere to park within a 5 mile radius. So we settled for driving through the park and walking around at two of the visitor’s centers.

Grand Teton, we will be back soon to do some hiking!

We finished off our trip with a delicious pizza lunch at a restaurant that used to be an old movie theater. Jackson, Wyoming was a really cute town and we contemplated walking around but we had a 5 hour drive to look forward to and it was really crowded, so we forged on.

It’s so hard to choose but I think Yellowstone is probably the coolest national park we’ve been to so far — and one we’ll definitely go back to again! We can’t wait to come back and spend more time in the Tetons as well. This was a fantastic way to wrap up our summer and we can’t wait to start sharing some of our fall & winter adventures with all of you!

Published by Sami Hertel

Oregon native, current Utah resident, blogging about my adventures on lifeafteroregon.com!

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