If you have never been to Wyoming’s National Parks, I highly recommend planning a trip. I had the opportunity to spend three days there and it definitely was not long enough. Prior to the trip I did some research (as always) and created a fun, simple, and flexible itinerary. Keep in mind this is just what we were able to squeeze into 3 days. I 100% recommend doing your own research and making your trip your own!
We chose mid-August, one because it fit in our schedule, and two because fingers crossed it was starting to cool off. As the date approached we worried about smoke from nearby fires, but that turned out not to be an issue. Instead, it rained the entire time we were there, so the temperature was fabulous but we were unable to see much thanks to fog, rain, and clouds. Guess we just have to go back!
We started by flying into Bozeman, MT (a new destination for Southwest since May 2021!) and renting a car. Rentals are expensive currently (thx COVID) but I was able to find a mid-size AWD vehicle for about $100/day. Score! I also considered using Turo, which if you haven’t heard of is like Airbnb but for cars, however the rental car I’d found and booked in May was a cheaper option for us. We immediately drove to Albertsons and stocked up on groceries. On our way out of town we stopped at Pizza Campania for lunch. Highly recommend this place, it was delicious and better than our favorite place in Boerne, TX! From there we drove through the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park down to Colter Bay Village in Grant Teton National Park, where we had a cabin rental.
Check in was quick and easy, and the cabin was absolutely adorable! It had a full bed, night stand, wardrobe, desk, as well as a full bathroom. All the cabins at Colter Bay Village are historical cabins from various dude ranches throughout Jackson Hole, so to prevent fires and aid in preservation of the cabins, there are no fridges or microwaves included in the cabins. A bummer but something we could deal with. Just around the corner from the cabins is a General Store, food court, and camp grounds. Brady didn’t feel well so I settled for a sandwich for dinner than night.
The following morning it was raining rather strongly and Brady still did not feel well, so we got a later start. We decided to have an early lunch/late breakfast at the Colter Bay Village Cafe Court Pizzeria. Not the best pizza, especially in comparison to Pizza Campania, but it did the job. From there we drove to Jackson, WY to get some medicine for Brady and explore.
We walked around Jackson square while going in and out of shops looking for souvenirs. We even checked out the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar which had a classic bar atmosphere, complete with pool tables and drinks. Eventually, we got hungry and decided to grab a bite to eat at Jackson Drug Original Soda Fountain. The food was average (at least what we ordered) but their milkshakes were phenomenal. I highly recommend grabbing one for a snack as you explore the town.
Following lunch, we explored a few more shops in the square and just as we were about head to the car and back to the cabin, when a shootout started. Apparently this is a daily occurrence from Memorial to Labor Day, Monday through Saturday at 6 pm. A pleasant surprise for us! Following the shootout we headed back to our cabin at Colter Bay Village.
On our way back we downloaded and turned on our Gypsy App which is an app that acts like a tour guide. The app is able to locate where in the park you are and which way you’re driving, it then gives you all kinds of information on the park and the places you’re driving past. It also recommends stops along the way. Although the tours are not free, I highly recommend the app! All National Parks are available for purchase, as well as some state parks.
It was still raining on and off on our drive back. We decided to stop at Mormon Row, Snake River Overlook, and a few other places recommended by the app. We got hungry again and stopped at the Ranch House at Colter Bay Village for a late dinner/snack before turning in for the night. The food here was definitely overpriced and sub-par, wouldn’t recommend based on our experience, but food is food and we didn’t have a lot of options staying in the park with no microwave or fridge.
The following morning we checked out of the cabin, grabbed a breakfast bite via the General Store and headed to hike Jenny Lake. Of course we had our Gypsy app on and stopped anywhere we felt worthy prior to the hike. Once at the Jenny Lake turnout we parked (be sure to get here early in busy season, the parking lot fills up fast!), packed sandwiches and snack, and got started. We hiked clockwise from the trail head towards Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, stopping often to take photos and enjoy the scenery.
While on our hike we managed to spot a moose, which was very exciting! Hikers headed our way told us of a mama bear with two cubs who crossed the trail a mile up, but by the time we got there they were long gone, so we never saw them unfortunately. We finally made it to Hidden Falls and boy was it beautiful. From there we made our way up to inspiration point. About halfway there we found a nice little spot and had lunch.
After refueling we finished the ascent to Inspiration Point. We hung out here for a while, taking in the scenery and then headed back down. A storm looked like it was rolling in and we wanted to make sure we weren’t stuck in it. We hiked down to the boat dock and took the ferry back to the Jenny Lake Visitor Center. Definitely recommend this as its only $10/person and gives you a different view of the mountain range. It also saves you time if you don’t want to continue the remaining hike around Jenny Lake or don’t want to back-track the way you came.
We hopped back in the car and explored the rest of the area before heading towards Yellowstone National Park. Of course we used the Gypsy app the whole time and learned so many fun and interesting facts along the way. Naturally we stopped wherever recommended, as well as whenever we saw a view we liked. We finally made it to the Old Faithful Inn around 6pm, checked in, and unloaded. As soon as we’d moved and parked the car we walked over to the Old Faithful Geyser just in time to watch it erupt! Talk about perfect timing.
From there we grabbed dinner at the Old Faithful Inn Dining Hall. It was buffet style due to COVID, but surprisingly delicious! We even tried Huckleberry lemonade which I definitely recommend. Before heading back to the room we stopped at the gift shop and grabbed a postcard and some more souvenirs. It was actually surprisingly affordable and not overpriced! We then headed to the room to gather out things and head shower. Our room did not have a bathroom attached (the Inn is old after all!) so we used a communal shower area. For one night it was no biggie. I do want to mention our room had a sink so we could wash our faces and brush our teeth which was definitely nice.
The next morning we got breakfast at the Inn, checked out, and headed out to explore. We immediately headed towards the Upper Geyser Basin. We stopped at the Biscuit Basin per Gypsy Guide recommendation and got to see a number of geysers. The Sapphire pool was by far our favorite here and so stinking pretty! There was a hike to a scenic overlook but decided to drive and see as much as possible since it was our only day in the park.
Next we headed towards the Grand Prismatic Spring, which was on my must-see list. Unfortunately because of the cold weather, even at noon, the spring was covered in a layer of steam and not visible. Had it been visible we planned on hiking to a scenic overlook to look at it from above. Guess we’ll have to try again next time!
At this point we’d only seen some deer, elk, and one bison. We decided to backtrack back down towards Old Faithful on the lower loop through West Thumb to get to Hayden Valley in hopes of spotting more bison and maybe a bear or wolf! While on our way, we stopped a number of times. We had lunch in a secluded area by Yellowstone lake, which I definitely recommend.
Next we headed to Hayden Valley and saw a ton of bison. This was the busiest part of the park we’d seen on our trip for good reason! Following Hayden Valley we checked out the Upper and Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We personally hiked from the Upper Falls to the Lower Falls and eventually Artist and Inspiration point. We’d hoped to check out Uncle Tom’s Trail along the way, but it was closed unfortunately.
It was starting to get late at this point and we wanted to make sure we were able to see the Roosevelt Arch, which is located at the North Entrance of the Park, while it was still light out. We cut across the top of the lower loop towards Norris Geyser Basin and headed towards the North Entrance. During this part of the drive we saw lots of hikers hitch hiking, which I found interesting. Again, we stopped wherever we felt we should. One of the more interesting and quick stops was Sheepeater Cliff. It’s a quick detour and quite interesting to see!
We felt we’d seen enough geothermal features so we skipped Mammoth Hot Springs (which I regret now!) and pressed on towards the North Entrance. Again, we stopped multiple places, especially with all the changing scenery on this route out. We exited the park and arrived at the Roosevelt Arch. It was definitely fun and interesting to see. I personally loved being able to walk right up to and go through it.
It was still plenty light out, so we decided to make the one hour drive back to Bozeman and eat dinner there. We decided to eat at the Rib and Chop House which was around the corner from our hotel. Again, not the best food but not the worst. Brady’s steak was overdone but mine was fine. We checked into our hotel, cleaned out the rental car, and got our bags ready for our flight the next morning.
We got up at 5:30 am, checked out of the hotel and headed to the airport to catch our flight. The Southwest ticketing counters don’t open until 6:30 am. We didn’t know that, so we stool in line and got nowhere for about 25 minutes. Since we had a cooler to check and hadn’t checked one previously we hopped in the full service line and bypassed the long line of self-checking luggage (score!). We breezed through security, grabbed some water and a snack, and headed home!
There’s definitely a lot we did not see or do due to time restrictions. I am already looking forward to going back ASAP! Personally, I’ll be spending more time in Grand Teton National Park. I felt there was more to do versus Yellowstone National Park where there was more to see. Regardless, they’re both beautiful places and worth a visit or three!
I may not be the best writer in the world, but I have some crazy and breathtaking stories to share. Here’s a few of my favorite stories I have had the privilege of photographing.
Jeanette Sorianello is a Texas Hill County photographer specializing in vibrant + genuine weddings and portraits.