Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park are mostly located in Wyoming and extends into parts of Montana and Idaho as well. While these are two distinct parks, they are side by side and it is very easy to see both in a matter of days. Visiting these parks is ideal for the outdoorsy, hiking type. Expect to see lots of wildlife, breathtaking vistas, mesmerizing natural geysers and hot springs. This is truly off the grid as cell service is extremely spotty and perfect for people who really want to disconnect and enjoy nature.
Angela James, Megan and Dan Fatigato
Trip: Late May 2016, just before Memorial Day
Travel hack: come right before Memorial Day, crowds are minimal and it is just before school lets out and the official start of the tourist season
Getting to and from the parks:
I flew in to Jackson Hole and spent the first night in town. You’ll need to rent a vehicle if you fly in, as getting around the park is best done with your own wheels. Old Faithful Inn is about a 2 hour drive from the airport and while on the map it appears to be about 56 miles away, there are lower speed limits in place throughout the park. If your flight arrives late, I recommend spending the first night in Jackson Hole. The drive is absolutely beautiful in the morning, but dark as dark can be at night. Driving at night can be particularly challenging, as there are no gas stations along the way, cell service is limited once you are inside the park and large animals roam freely that could easily step into the roads.
Old Faithful Inn is about as quaint and massively cozy (if that is possible) as you can get with heavy wood and stone outfitting. I loved the giant fireplace and a multi-tiered lobby and found myself sitting in one of the many rocking chairs either reading a book or people watching. We stayed in the older part of the building, and while our room has some early century charm, it did come with a floor bathroom that multiple rooms shared. There are more private rooms available – so be sure you are aware which room you are getting. Amenities on the extended grounds include several cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops and gas station.
Jackson Lake Lodge, on the other hand, has a more modern (albeit 1960’s) feel. The lobby in the main lodge has huge 60-foot windows that looks out onto a breath taking view of the mountains. It’s the perfect spot to sip something warm and just relax! I stayed in one of the cottages on the grounds. I liked that it was in amongst the trees and I could walk right outside without navigating through a maze of hallways, but it didn’t have the rustic feel that Old Faithful Inn has. There is a Starbucks kiosk, souvenir shops, restaurants, a bar and a gas station on the grounds.
Let’s talk about the dining options! Old Faithful Inn Dining Room quality and prices leave much to be desired. A palatable alternative is across the parking lot in the Snow Lodge Obsidian Dining Room. Prices are still a little high, but I felt the food was tastier and better staffed – plus the building is MUCH newer. If restaurant fare isn’t your cup of tea, there are some cheaper food options in the deli’s and cafeterias but don’t expect much more than fried food, pizza and soup.
Food at Jackson Lake Lodge was much better. The Mural Dining Room looks out onto the mountains, and the presentation and taste were definitely in line with the price. The Blue Heron Lounge offers more affordable yet tasty light meals and drink options. Alternatively, there is a 50’s style cafeteria that has some cheaper food options. I felt Jackson Lake Lodge food far exceeded the quality of Old Faithful Inn.
All in all, you are a bit at the mercy of the parks for food unless you bring your own groceries with you. There is a grocery store in Jackson Hole if you want to stock up before you head to the parks.
Outdoorsy activities are abundant. Tons of hiking trails, geysers, hot springs and scenic driving to be done. We went at the end of May and there was still some snow on the ground and lots of baby animals. We saw bears, elk and lots of buffalo – sometimes on the road. You’ll always know where there is interesting wild life to see as there will be a traffic jam of cars pulled off to the side.
Not to be missed sights: Old Faithful Geyser, Grand Prismatic Spring, Mammoth Springs, hanging out in the lobby of Jackson Lake Lodge or hiking the grounds. Bring your camera and hiking shoes. I racked about 15 miles hiked in one day! And don’t ignore the many warnings posted regarding bear sightings, it is highly recommended that hikers bring bear mace and be aware of their surroundings at all times.