Recently, we had some family come out this way and I put together this interactive Google Map of the Grand Teton area with a bunch of points of interest, places where we have had good wildlife sightings, and camp spots.
This was a heck of lot easier than trying to explain where some of these places are, since they area by definition, in a fairly undeveloped area.
And, then stopped by Mossy Cave on the way back to camp. If pressed for time, I would tell you to skip Mossy Cave and spend that time elsewhere.
These were all pretty popular sites, but since it was our first trip to the park, we wanted to get an overview. We talked to a Park Ranger who recommended the Fairyland Loop for a bit less populated trail.
We had originally planned to try to do Bryce N.P. and Zion N.P. in the same trip, which seems like a relatively common strategy. But since our campsite at Kodachrome Basin put us approximately 30 minutes east of Bryce, that made the trip down to Zion close to two hours and more windshield time than we wanted to spend given our relatively short stay.
Initially, I had some trouble figuring out where GSENM was located. This is because the GSENM is close to 1.9 million acres. It turns out, Kodachrome Basin is surrounded by GSENM and a main access point is very close to the entrance of the State Park.
Our first stop in GSENM was Grosvenor Arch – a super impressive double arch. Highly recommend stopping to see it if you are in the area.
Then we got our first taste of slot canyons by hiking the Cottonwood Narrows. This is a non-technical (i.e., no rappelling or rock climbing) option that is good for families.
And found the showers at the … campground. The showers are really nice. Like, really nice.
The weather was finally warm enough to spend a bit more time outside at night and the stars were absolutely amazing. I tried for a few pictures, but didn’t have any that turned out good enough to post.
For our second day at Bryce Canyon N.P., we decided to hike the Fairyland Loop trail. This one met all the important criteria: beautiful scenery and not heavily trafficked.
And then we drove out to the south end of the park, did a short hike, and took in some of the vistas.
In some of our earlier trips, we tended to have pretty ambitious plans and go pretty hard. This resulted to a couple of events that we less than affectionately referred to as Daddy Death Marches. I have tried to learn from these experiences.
Unfortunately, we had another one in Red Canyon.
We decided to hit Red Canyon on the way home. Red Canyon is essentially one canyon before you get to Bryce. And since it is in a National Forest, not a National Park, they allow mountain biking on some of their trails.
We chose the Thunder Mountain Trail. I had done a bit of research on the trail ahead of time and read the descriptions in a couple of guide books. I am pretty sure none of the author’s of those guide books have ridden this trail. A few factors made it not the trail we should have picked this day. It turned out to be a bit longer than advertised. It was most definitely an expert level trail (should have a black diamond rating). And there’s a fair amount of climbing and some pretty difficult technical bits – including one stretch along an exposed ridge line with consequential drops on either side. All in all, just not what we wanted to get into.
But, we did it. Walked a bit more than intended.
I would recommend the trail for serious riders, who want a serious ride.
Then we drove home Sunday evening – fighting holiday traffic most of the way.
Overall, an excellent trip. We enjoyed the area quite a bit and have a list of things we would like to do when we are back in the area including more time in GSENM, getting over to Zion, and possibly catching a meteor shower.
We had a little more time this trip. We were there from Thursday evening through Tuesday. So, that gave us a bit more time to explore. We also, I think, were just generally in a more laid back mood. We had no major hikes or destinations in mind. The crowd was decidedly older and maybe more mellow given that school was back in session for families with kids.
We drove in kind of late. But gorgeous drive in. Saw a bison herd pretty close to the road near Elk Ranch Flats.
We reserved a site at the Lizard Creek campground, which is the northernmost campground in Grand Teton National Park. We liked Signal Mountain Campground a bit better, although this was a good spot. I’d recommend a site closer to the middle of the campground – we were very exposed to the wind.
Not much water in Jackson Lake was kind of a let down:
In the vein of a more relaxed trip, Day #2 turned into a spontaneous trip up to Yellowstone N.P. I had loosely planned to venture into the south end of the park. But we actually ended up driving up to West Thumb. We had seen this area during our winter trip (incredible) back in 2017 and it was cool to see it in the summer.
We celebrated our daughter’s birthday. Then, we drove north again into the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway area. We did a short hike to a natural hot spring – there are two – and we went to Polecat Hot Springs. Totally worth it.
Then another short hike over to the river.
It’s that time of year, and the elk are bugling. Amazing.
We hiked this day. About nine miles. A really nice, pretty flat hike, to BearPaw Lake.
Very nice hike. I’d rate it easy. Left from the northern end of Jenny Lake, which is a pretty popular trailhead, but the hike itself was not heavily trafficked. Hiked right up to the base of Mt. Moran. If you rate your hikes partly on how few other hikers you see, this is a good one to check out.
Watch out for this guy:
Packed up camp and on the way to our new site, sited a black wolf. First wolf siting. Lots of #poopedmypants moments on this trip.
We had something to take care of up in Driggs, Idaho and decided to combine that trip with a little camping.
One of the features we like about the greater Salt Lake City metro area is its proximity to a lot of great outdoor destinations. We joke that you are four hours from anything, but four hours from a lot of stuff.
The campground turned out to be ideally located for a couple things. It is located close to Driggs and Alta, Wyoming, but far enough away to feel like camping. It is a “primitive” campground, there are bathroom facilities and water. But not much else.
But the main attraction appears to be that the campground is located close to a few popular trailheads that are essentially the backdoor into the Teton Crest trail system and Grand Teton National Park.
We did not go all the way to the summit. Instead, we just did the loop part. I would like to tell you that it was a time constraint. However, that trail is no joke. We did about 3,000 vertical feet, and there was another 1,000 to the summit. And our elevation gain was essentially over 3 miles.
Those are the Tetons in the background.
On the second day, we did a shorter hike down the South Teton trail to just past the turn off to go up to Hurricane Pass.
We will definitely be back. We are eyeing either the hike up to Hurricane Pass and the Schoolroom Glacier or continuing on the South Teton trail into the Alaska Basin.
Lamb’s Canyon is between Park City and Salt Lake City; just off of Interstate 80. I had been wanting to explore the area for a while. We stopped off at the exit once in April coming back from SLC, but it was still pretty snowy, the season gate to the road was still locked, and we were not prepared for a long hike.
But we took advantage of a little extra time during the long fourth of July weekend to plan and do a hike in Lamb’s Canyon.
At this point in the season, the gate is open so you can drive all the way into the trailhead. The trailhead is well marked, has restrooms, but fairly limited parking. I saw several cyclists on the road, so that might be something I have to check out at some point.
The weather has been hot and it seemed like many folks started early. However, we only saw a handful of folks on the trail, so the hike gets a good marks for being low traffic. We did see a few trail runners, and some lady on an e-bike (boo). The Lambs Canyon Trail is in good shape, although there are several downed trees across the trail. The trail is reasonably shaded. And there were lots of pretty wildflowers.
Here are the stats on our ascent:
Over two thousand feet in just under three miles is no joke. And it was a pretty steady ascent, so be prepared. On All Trails, the hike was rated as Moderate. I would rate it as Moderate Plus for sure, maybe even Difficult.
Our goal was to turn off and head out to Millvue Peak. Although the actual Lambs Canyon Trail continues straight. But the trail once you leave the Lambs Canyon Trail and turn left toward Millvue peak was pretty overgrown at this point in the season, still had some fairly serious elevation gain, and we were feeling a bit low energy, so we picked a lunch spot looking at Gobbler’s Knob and turned around.
I think we will try to come back and attempt the hike again in the Fall when the weather is cooler, there are less bugs, and maybe some of the vegetation has subsided.
We spent the last two weekends camping in Grand Teton N.P. Here are some highlights.
We stayed at the Signal Mountain Campground in sites #69 and #68 for the two weekends. The campground itself is moving toward the north part of the park, but not quite all the way up to Colter Bay. The location is off of Teton Park Rd. and is right on Jackson Lake.
The two sites we stayed at where both in the “generator free” zone. Theoretically, there is a vehicle size limit in the campground as well, but that did not seem well enforced.
Both sites had private paths down to the lake, which was key. We preferred #68 vs. #69, since the site had more space for your tent, etc. Site #69 is better for small RVs that do not need a tent.
We did six hikes. Here they are in my order of preference:
Cascade Canyon – This was a great hike. We opted for the (fairly expensive) boat ride across Jenny Lake. And once we cleared most the folks who stopped at inspiration point – other hikers thinned out considerably. We went up the North Fork of the trail for about another half mile or so and found a good lunch spot. The views were amazing. We want to come back and try to make it all the way to Solitude Lake, but need an earlier start.
Hermitage Point – This was pretty long hike (~9 miles), but the views were worth it and the traffic was surprising low. We had an awesome lunch spot all to ourselves. I would suggest hiking clockwise. The opposite direction we hiked, but you would get better views of the mountains.
Woodland and Lake Creek Trail – We did this hike on our way out of the park on our last Sunday. The trailhead is in Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve, which is a cool story and worth researching. The hike is short (~3 miles) and easy, but nice. Traffic was not bad, despite being close to Jackson, due to limiting cars in the parking lot (no overflow parking on the road allowed). We waited a bit for a spot, but it was worth it.
Taggart Lake – We did this hike heading out of the park on Sunday of our first weekend. Since we had to break camp, we got a bit of a late start and the trailhead was packed with substantial overflow of cars onto the shoulder of the road. Despite all the other hikers, this was a pretty enjoyable hike and we snagged a great lunch spot on a rock in the lake. The hike was ~4 miles and pretty easy.
Grand View Point / Two Ocean Lake / Emma Matilda Lake complex – We affectionately called this one Daddy’s Death March. One, the parking lot is not where the book said it was going to be, so we added another 1.5 miles or so on unexpectedly. Two, it was hot. Three, we wove a few trails together, so my family was convinced we were lost, while I on the other hand knew we were in Wyoming the entire time. In all seriousness, I think we would have liked this hike better if it had been cooler and we had saved ourselves some mileage at the beginning. I think we hiked ~11 miles. These trails are toward the north side of the park and away from the mountains, so much lower traffic. And I did particularly enjoy the trail segment between Emma Matilda and Two Ocean Lake, which we walked heading westerly and were staring at the mountains the whole time. We did see three separate piles of bear scat, so bring our bear bell and spray.
Signal Mountain Summit – This was our first hike of our first weekend and it disappointed. The view at the top was marginal. The hike itself – while low traffic – was not that great. A plus was the trailhead was at our campground.
A few other thoughts – aside from the park is phenomenally beautiful and we had two great weekends.
On the Cascade Canyon hike, I was pretty surprised at how many folks we saw venturing fairly far up that trail that were totally unprepared for any change in conditions. Think shorts, tshirts, poor footwear, and little to no water or food. We live in a mountain environment. The weather folks are mostly guessing and they are wrong a lot. Be prepared.
The first weekend was very busy. Jackson looked super busy – we just drove through it. Some of that was a hangover from Memorial Day weekend, but I would be prepared for lots of traffic and some long lines.
I grew up in Florida. I hate Orlando. And most parts of Florida south of that point. Too many tourists.
We have been here in Park City Utah for about 18 months now. I am most certainly not a local, but I am grumpy like one. And I understand why the locals are grumpy. Too many tourists. There is a reason on a weekend powder day, the locals are in line by 8:30a and back at the parking lot by 10:30a. To the guys in the pickup truck from Idaho the road rage merged into us in the turn lane at the Canyon resort on a panic powder day – I hope you got stuck at the Orange Bubble lift line and all your powder lines got packed out.
Traffic laws also apply when you are on vacation. Slow down. Especially if you do not know where you are going. Which obviously you don’t. To the guy in the minivan that flipped me off on Moose Wilson road in Grand Teton last weekend because you had to yield for 30 seconds on the one lane bridge, I hope the pictures you took out the window of your van sucked. Sucked more than having to drive a minivan.
There is also wildlife. I want you to see a moose. I think they are cool. There was one sleeping in my neighbor’s front yard the other day. So, the moose jam you are creating is not impressing anyone. Respect the wildlife. Act like you’ve seen some before. And, you probably miss most the wildlife because of the previous point.
Locals also shop at the grocery store you are storming through like a hoard of locusts. Grocery shopping is not a timed event. Rather than be that tourist, learn to pre-order everything online for pickup. One, it will save you a couple hours of your vacation. Two, it will create a local job.
But mostly, please remember that being on vacation is not an excuse for being an asshole. You are not more entitled than anyone else, especially the people who live where you are vacationing.
We went on a ski trip on March 14th, 2020. It turns out, the timing of the trip left a little to be desired. Or maybe, everything happens for a reason. What do I know?
Despite the rapidly deteriorating situation related to the COVID global pandemic, we decided to go ahead and fly out to Utah to meet some friends for Spring Break in Park City. We took precautions. We wore masks and gloves, washed our hands, etc. People looked at us like we were aliens. N95 was not in the general lexicon yet.
We skied half a day at Park City Mountain Resort. Then the world shut down. In response, the Vail Company closed all their ski resorts.
In hindsight, I commend the Vail Company for making that decision in order to protect the ski towns in which they operate. At the time, I was pissed off. So we did what any conscientious citizens would do. We drove up to Snowbasin the next day – along with two thirds of Utah – and skied our last inbounds day of the year.
We returned to Park City that evening. Most folks – including our friends from Florida – fled back to their hometowns. The entire town emptied.
On the home front, work went remote. School went remote. Toilet paper became scarce.
Mrs. SFTE and I looked at each other. And collectively said, why go back to Ohio? We’re on vacation. Besides what are we going to do in Ohio anyway? The last question isn’t necessarily pandemic related.
At the end of the week, we called Delta and pushed our return flight back to Columbus out a bit. We called the vacation rental place. Yes, we could stay in our space. In fact, we could pick any place in the whole complex we wanted. We upsized.
Another week went by. I found a bigger place in lower Deer Valley with an office loft, hot tub, and refrigerator that cost more than my car. Yes, the owner would be glad to do a long term rental. She would send me an invoice through PayPal (sorry AirBnb, I still think you are beautiful unicorn).
We had Deer Valley to ourselves. We walked up Solamere Drive every night. Through neighborhoods of multi-million dollar houses – totally empty. We bought snowshoes. We demoed touring gear. The ski patrol shack at the top of PCMR was an eerie reminder – like an archaeological site where the inhabitants just disappeared without a trace – tools and belongings left perfectly undisturbed.
The snow started melting. We walked more. I broke down and ordered some running shoes. The trails dried. We became best friends with the folks at Park City Bike Demos. Turns out that board shorts over base layers is a perfectly good riding option.
We did laundry frequently. In May, I doubled my clothing options by ordering a pair of pants and a shirt from Stio.
Finally in June, we headed back to Ohio. We had to. Our lease was ending. And we thought it was a good idea to get my wife’s car out of airport parking. It actually started.
We had to get our stuff. Stuff that we had done without for three months. Stuff we had nearly forgotten about. It was sort of like a bizarre Christmas morning when we got home. We stepped back into the life we had left almost four months earlier, and sort of no longer existed.
Dress shirts sitting in a dry cleaning bag (they’re still in that bag – but moved to a new house). Dress shirts worn to an office that was no longer open for business. In a dry cleaning bag for a dry cleaner that I hope had long ago stopped coming by the house looking for a pickup.
We were almost overwhelmed by our own stuff. After three months of just a few pieces of clothing, we had closets full of stuff. I only had two t-shirts on my trip. Generally, one was clean, one was dirty. Easy choice. Now I had to choose between twenty. Socks. Oh my god. On my trip, I had three pairs of non ski socks. At home, three drawers full. Shoes. On my trip, one pair of snow boots and my newly acquired running shoes. At home, I could wear a different pair every day for weeks without repeating. Why? Why do we have all this stuff?
Packing for a week long ski trip, but staying for three months, really opened our eyes to how little of our stuff we really need or actually miss.
We had always talked about doing “Christmas at Yellowstone.” It was sort of a bucket list trip. So we decided that now was as good of time as any – packed up my mom, the kids, and the two of us and went for it.
Here’s a rough outline of our agenda with a sampling of the 3,000+ photos we took!
Note: This post was a long time in the making. Our trip took place Dec. 16 – 24, 2017.
Day 1 – December 16
This was mostly a travel day and fairly uneventful.
We flew into Jackson, WY and rented a car. Grabbed a quick bite to eat at Snake River Brewery. And hit the road to drive up to West Yellowstone, MT.
There is a pretty decent mountain pass between Jackson and West Yellowstone (Teton Pass Highway). And Google routed us backroads to save us I am guessing 38 seconds at the risk of being lost in the wilderness if we encountered car troubles. Although, we did see the largest mule deer that we’ve ever seen.
We used the Kelly Inn as our base camp in West Yellowstone, and it got the job done.
Day 2 – December 17
The second day was about getting into the park as we were staying the next couple of nights in the park at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
We decided to spend a little extra and use the trip in as a private geyser tour (totally worth every dollar). We used Backcountry Adventures as our tour guide for all our tours.
The snowmobile tours are pretty popular. That really wasn’t an option for us with my mom and daughter. But there are some advantages to the snowcoach – mainly you’re not driving. Also, you have more sets of eyes to see things that I think you’d just motor past on a snowmobile.
We saw some awesome sights on the way into the park.
When your guide is impressed by the sights, you know you’ve just seen something cool.
The cold temperatures really highlight the thermal features.
Flocking occurs when the steam refreezes where it lands
We stayed at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Our trip coincided with the first week the park was open for its winter season and that seemed to work to our advantage as visitor traffic was pretty light for our whole trip.
Day 3 – December 18
We decided to do a day excursion from the Old Faithful area over to the West Thumb Geyser Basin on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. The trip took us across the Continental Divide via a snowcoach.
One of the interesting parts of visiting in winter is that the snow and cold temperatures really highlights the multitude of thermal features – that you probably wouldn’t notice in warmer months. All those unfrozen spots in the lake are the result of hidden thermal features.
After returning to the Snow Lodge back at the Old Faithful area, Mrs. SFTE and I rented some cross country skis from the Bear Den Ski Shop and she proceeded to pound me into the ground.
We attempted to make it out to the Lone Star Geyser, but ran out of daylight.
Day 4 – December 19
This was our last day at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. We scheduled a group shuttle back out to the West Entrance around mid-day, but that gave us some time to explore the Upper Geyser Basin in the morning.
When I tell folks about the trip, this was one of the most amazing parts (to me at least). I think we were about the only people out in the Geyser Basin this morning. Compare that to pictures during other seasons.
Day 5 – December 20
The fifth day was a trip to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
The canyon (Canyon Village area) is in the north central part of the park. It was actually easier to get there from West Yellowstone, than from the Old Faithful area. That’s why we chose to leave the park the day before. And the Kelly Inn was a little more economical than the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
However, even from West Yellowstone, this was a full day trip. We chose to do a private tour again and we had Mr. Pierre as our tour guide again.
Our tour guide was awesome!
This was a good day (every day on this trip was a good day). It was a lot of windshield time. If you made me choose one thing to take out of our trip, it probably would be this day.
We started off the seventh day with a half day wildlife tour guided by Bear Witness Safari. Highly recommended.
And did a tour of the National Elk Refuge. The weather had been pretty warm without much snow, so despite a heroic effort of our sled driver, we only saw a few elk. In fact there was so little snow, the sled was actually a wagon.
Can you find the elk in this picture? There’s at least three.
Day 8 – December 23
The eighth day of our trip was open. We stopped by Jackson Hole and drove over to Grand Teton National Park.
Day 9 – December 24
The ninth day was our return trip back to Ohio.
We’ve all said that we would do this exact trip again.
The only thing I think I would change is spend a few more days at the Snow Lodge in Yellowstone. Originally, I was thinking that you might run out of things to do here. Far from it. I could easily spend several more days here and would plan on some snowshoeing or nordic skiing trips out to some of the geysers a bit further out.