This post has been more than a month in the making. Sorry about that! Life has gotten in the way and because I have never done a vacation video before, it was a little daunting! Before we get to the video, I will go through what we did and try to answer as many questions as possible. If you just want to see the video, scroll down the bottom!
Let me start by saying, we have NEVER taken a vacation with just the five of us. Wait….what?! I know, I know. We are lucky to have amazing families and we always vacation with one family or another. Also, for many years I was a stay at home mom and the sacrifice for that was that our budget was pretty tight. I would 100% do that again and it was totally worth it, but we didn’t have the funds to be able to vacation as an immediate family.
Our oldest son just turned 17 so we only have a few years with him still at home, so we really wanted to take advantage of that! Yellowstone has been on our bucket list for a long time, so we decided to make it happen. It was a perfect choice with COVID as we didn’t have to fly and we were able to plan it at the last minute.
We ended up going at the end of June and hotels/campsites were tough to come by. The best deal I found was in Jackson, Wyoming so we went for it. We stayed at the 49er Inn. The room had 2 queens and a pull out couch. It was perfect for us. Having 5 in our family makes hotels a challenge as we have to get a suite or 2 rooms and that adds up fast. So this was the perfect fit. They also had a breakfast that was included. The breakfast wasn’t amazing and often picked over as some people would come and load up their bags for the day. A little annoying but not the fault of the hotel. They also had a pool (although the hot tub was shut down due to COVID).
COVID definitely affected the trip as a lot of places were shut down, had limited capacity, extra rules/cleaning or had shorter hours. However, we are pretty low maintenance and we didn’t really mind and we were always able to find some kind of food (even within the parks).
Our first day we headed out early and drove (about 8 hours) all the way to Jackson. The drive was beautiful and went by quickly! As we got closer to Jackson we were able to see the Great Tetons covered in clouds and it was gloriously cool. We walked around a bit, stretched our legs and were even able to see some moose on the drive into Jackson. Once we checked in, we went into town to walk around and grab some food. The town was moderately crowded and while (at the time) masks weren’t required every store required masks, hand sanitizer and were very limited on how many people they let in.
We decided that the next morning we would get an early start (6 am) so we turned in early after hitting the pool and playing some cards. We hit Old Faithful first and when we got there we all had to use the bathroom. We went in…..and when we came out 2 minutes later there was a line for the bathroom. We thought we had timed our bathroom trip perfectly until we realized it was the opposite. In the 2 minutes we were in the bathroom, we missed Old Faithful erupting. However, we spent the next 90 minutes hiking around and visiting the gift shops. It was actually quite nice and I think we might have missed that if we had seen Old Faithful when we first got there. So spend some time walking around and see the other geysers. After that we tried to see Grand Prismatic Basin but it looked crowded so we decided to drive for a bit. We took a few detours, saw some mud pots and we up to the upper portion of Yellowstone to the Mammoth Hot Springs (we didn’t even get out because everyone was tired). On the way back toward Jackson we stopped at the Grand Prismatic basin. It looked more crowded than it really was. The colors were amazing and it was worth the walk! Then we headed back to Jackson and got ice cream.
The second day we started by seeing Mormon Row. It is just outside of Grand Teton and is one of the most photographed places on earth. As a photographer, I really wanted to see it. Again, we got an early start and were there by 6:30 am and had the place to ourselves. Next we headed into Yellowstone and stopped at the Mud Volcanoes (also had Black Dragon Cauldron, Mud Geyser). The sign is small and unimpressive but we were SO GLAD we stopped. It was one of the “newer areas” that has popped up in the last 20-30 years or so. It was the stinkiest place we went but hands down the most underrated and was one of our favorite places! I would say it is a MUST SEE. From there we hit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The over look is really cool. Then we decided to make the steep hike down to the lower observation area. It was a short hike (I think only 1/4 mile but 750 vertical feet) but NOT WORTH IT! It was really steep and honestly the view wasn’t any better from down there. So save yourself the hike and don’t feel bad about it. Then we went to the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Cool area near the Yellowstone Lake. From there we went to the Lake Butte Overlook. Very cool look at a burn area and then we stumbled upon a mama bear and her cub. Totally worth the drive. Then back to Jackson to watch the Hunger Games (as we had just finished the book).
The third day was rainy and cold. We hit the Tetons and decided to do some fishing. We found some little areas to pull off and tried to fish (it was tough with the rain and mud) and skipped rocks. It was relaxing and beautiful. After little luck with fishing we headed to the Jackson Lake Dam. Makai, Tanner and Chris did some fishing while Jameson and I did some hiking and exploring. A good time was had by all. Grand Teton is pretty small. If it wouldn’t have been raining we would have done a lot more hiking, but in all…one day was plenty in Grand Teton. Of course, we drove through Teton each day to get to Yellowstone so we got to see a lot of it (and it’s wildlife) each day.
The next day we slept in, walked around Jackson again and then headed home. It was an amazing trip and I would highly recommend it. Here are a few quick details for you.
- Did you see animals? YES! We saw bears 5 times (although it was tricky to get photos as they blend in REALLY well), tons of bison, moose, lots of antelope, fish and elk.
- Would you go back? YES! But not for a few years. We felt like we saw everything we wanted to see.
- Best part? FAMILY TIME!
- Where did you stay? Jackson
- Best Restaurant? The Big Hole BBQ- it was right across the street from our hotel and we ate there 2 nights. It was delicious!
- How long was the drive? About 8 hours from Denver to Jackson.
- How far from Jackson to Yellowstone? 55 miles but it took about 80-90 minutes to get there because the speed limit is low and you often have to slow/stop for wildlife. You also have to drive THROUGH Grand Teton National Park to get to Yellowstone from Jackson.
- Was it crowded? Old Faithful was the most crowded place we went. However, we always did the most crowded things first and started early so it was never very crowded. We never had trouble finding parking or found it crowded on walking paths. We were usually in the parks from about 7 am until about 3:00 and then we headed back to Jackson for dinner/swimming and cards.
- What was the best way to pass the time in the car? I read The Hunger Games books (one and two) aloud while we were driving. My mom used to read to us during road trips so I did the same. The boys LOVED it and it gave them something to be engaged in while they were riding in the car. There wasn’t much cell service so it was nice that they weren’t on their phones or watching movies/tv. They just listened and looked at the scenery. I didn’t get to see as much scenery but I loved reading to them!
- Best place to see wildlife? We found that we saw the most animals as we were on our way into the park. Especially in the stretch between Teton and Yellowstone (saw 2 bears and tons of Bison/antelope and a moose in that stretch).
- How was the weather? Most mornings were chilly and foggy. It was glorious! By the middle of the day when we were hiking around it got pretty toasty (although I don’t think it ever got above the upper 70’s). One of the days was really rainy but I didn’t mind a bit.
- Getting an early start each day saved us! We were able to see things before they got crowded and it was much cooler. Totally worth it to get up early. This is always when we saw the most animals as well so again….worth it.
- Jackson was a great home base for Grand Teton and is a charming town.
- Next time I would do 2 nights in Jackson and then do 2 nights in Montana or Idaho (or somewhere closer to the Northern part of Yellowstone).
- This trip was perfect for our kids’ ages (17, 15, 12). However, we spent 6-8 hours per day in the car. So I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this trip for people with littles.
- 4-5 days is ideal for this trip from Denver. Much more time than that and the kids would have been bored. We left early on a Thursday and came home on Monday evening and it was the perfect length of trip.
- There is little/no wifi or cell service while you are in and around the parks. It was GLORIOUS! We weren’t able to check in and our kids were not on their phones and were fully present. However, if you needed to check in with work…..it would be difficult.
- We walked quite a bit. Even though we spent 6-8 hours a day in the car, most days I had over 10,000 steps. Every chance we got we would get out of the car and take the path. DO IT! There are a ton of hidden gems that don’t look like much from the parking lot but are worth the walk up the path a bit. We had a rule that if one person wanted to see something, we would stop. We tried to be patient and indulge each person in what they wanted to see and it worked out really well for us.
- We didn’t over plan the trip. Before we would go to bed we would look at the maps and figure out what we wanted to start the day with and then we would meander from there. The only thing we missed out on was Lamar Valley which is where they say you are most likely to see wildlife. The road was closed and we would have had to drive almost 7 hours there and back and it wasn’t worth it for us. However, we felt like we saw tons of wildlife so we weren’t that disappointed. If we would have stayed a night or two in northern Yellowstone it would have been totally doable, just not from our launching point of Jackson.
- Be sure to get the maps at the entrance to the parks. They are super helpful. Also, the rangers are incredibly nice, helpful, knowledgeable and informative so if you see one…talk to them!
- If you see someone pulled off to the side of the road. STOP. They have likely seen an animal. Twice there were only 2-3 cars off on the side of the road so we stopped. Both times we saw a BEAR!! There were not very many people around and we got great views of grizzly bears not more than 50 yards from the car.
- Bring binoculars. You will want them to see animals that are far away.
- Buy the National Park yearly pass. Totally worth it and it was only $10 more than buying the week long pass.
- Jackson was the best/cheapest place for souvenirs.
- We rented a mini van. It was BRILLANT!!! Everyone had their own space (and didn’t have to sit three across in the back seat), we didn’t worry about putting miles on our cars (or breakdowns as we have older cars) and the duel sliding doors were amazing. There was plenty of room for our cooler, luggage and our man-children. We nicknamed her the “Tidy Whitey” (as she was white) and she was a real trooper.
Okay. I think I have said as much as I can. Let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them. And for those of you who made it to the end….congratulations. As a reward, here is my vacation video. Most of these were iphone pics and video. Enjoy!