Category Archives: Adventures & Quests

Family Adventure: Camping In Grand Teton National Park #3

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We always go camping for my daughter’s birthday in early September.

And we were back in Grand Teton National Park for our third camping trip in the park, and fifth trip to the vicinity this year (one ski trip and one camping on the Driggs side).

See our prior camping trips to GTNP here: Grand Teton National Park #1 and #2

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.

Day #1

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:

Day #2

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.

On the drive back to our campground, in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway stretch, we had this siting:

#bearsiting #poopedmypants

Day #3

Happy Birthday kiddo!

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.

Day #4

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:

Day #5

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.

Found a great little campground in the Bridger-Teton National Forest at Atherton Creek.  Great location.  Well maintained campground with a host.  I’d consider camping here instead of in the park.

And then we did some touristy things.

And learned some stuff about geology.

And skipped rocks.

Day #6

And then home, until the next time.

All members of the party accounted for…

Check out a few prior adventures:

Family Mission: Teton Canyon

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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.

We found a campsite at the Teton Canyon campground.  Must have been a cancellation.

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 two hikes.

On the first day, we drove in and had a bit of a later start than hoped, but did part of the Table Mountain Loop trail.  

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.

Check out a few prior missions:

Family Mission: Lamb’s Canyon

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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.  

Family Adventure: Camping In Grand Teton N.P.

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We spent the last two weekends camping in Grand Teton N.P.  Here are some highlights.

Campground:  

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.

Hikes:  

We did six hikes.  Here they are in my order of preference:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.  
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

We used Hiking Grand Teton National Park by Bill Schneider as a reference and it was worth it.

Other Thoughts:

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.

Our annual National Park pass continues to pay for itself.  We bought ours at REI.

We live at about 6,700’ so the altitude was not an issue.  That was about the base of most hikes.

Being On Vacation Is Not An Excuse For Being An Asshole

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Before you “revenge travel”, consider this.

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.

Packed for a Week. Stayed for Three Months.

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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.

Before masks were cool…

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.

This is no longer a vacation. It is a quest.

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.  

Board shorts and base layers.

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.

Family Adventure: Yellowstone N.P.

Reading Time: 9 minutes

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.  

Welcome to Jackson

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.

Route from Jackson to West Yellowstone

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.

Madison River

We saw some awesome sights on the way into the park.

Bison herd
Trumpeter Swans – Parents and Juvenile
Coyote

When your guide is impressed by the sights, you know you’ve just seen something cool.

Fox with Carryout
When the guide is impressed, you should be too!
Yeah, kid. This is amazing.
Paint Pots

The cold temperatures really highlight the thermal features.  

Bison in the Mist – could be my favorite photo of the trip…
Grand Prismatic Spring

Flocking occurs when the steam refreezes where it lands

Flocked Trees & Shrubs

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.

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.

Yellowstone Lake
Kepler Cascades

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.

Mrs. SFTE says “Eat my dust!”
Nordic Trails

We attempted to make it out to the Lone Star Geyser, but ran out of daylight.

PistonBully grooming the roads.

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.

Old Faithful all to ourselves!
Old Faithful
Old Faithful and Old Faithful Inn
Transportation back to West Yellowstone
Wild West Pizzeria & Saloon – Eat Here!

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.

Upper Falls
Enjoying the snowcoach decision vs. snowmobile.
Bald Eagle
Beryl Spring – This might have been my favorite feature.

Our tour guide was awesome!

Mr. Pierre (our tour guide)

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.

Day 6 – December 21

The sixth day was a travel day back to Jackson from West Yellowstone. But we stopped by the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center before we left town.  

The drive back to Jackson was beautiful.

Stopped by the Teton Science School for a private tour.  Check out their amazing programs!

And had a nice evening in Jackson.

Day 7 – December 22

We started off the seventh day with a half day wildlife tour guided by Bear Witness Safari.  Highly recommended.

Moose
Through the spotting scope.
Bighorn Sheep
Through the spotting scope.
And visiting up close.

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.

A good snow fort is hard to beat.

Day 9 – December 24

The ninth day was our return trip back to Ohio.

Summary

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.

https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/utah/solamere-loop--3

Family Mission: Solamere Loop Trail

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Another family mission in the Park City area.

We did most of the Solamere Loop Trail – although we traversed across the ridge line to the other “peak” versus taking the trail around the south side.

Took about 2 hours with a couple of snack stops.  Nice views of Park City, Deer Valley, the Jordanelle Reservoir and surrounding area.  Not a long trail, but the elevation gain made it rewarding.

Check out some other missions:

Adventure: Yosemite N.P.

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We took advantage of my business trip in late July to the Los Angeles area to take a family trip to Yosemite National Park (https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm).  While not necessarily the closest option, Mrs. SFTE had never been and I was there only once for about a day back when I lived in San Francisco.  So we decided to go for it.

Given that we had limited time and the trip was multi-purpose, I think we did a pretty solid job of seeing a solid portion of the park.

Day 1

We left the Los Angeles area around noon and had a pretty hefty drive up to the park. 

We stayed in the cabins at Camp Curry (formerly Half Dome Village).  No, not real camping, but convenient, since we didn’t really have gear.

Home sweet home!

Day 2

We have some friends that worked in the park for a while, so we asked them about areas that would provide a good feel for the park given our limited time but also help avoid the heat and the crowds.

They sent us up to Toulomne Meadows.  I’d highly recommend making the trek up there.

Lembert Dome

We did a few hikes here.

Lembert Dome – awesome hike!

We at lunch by some cascades on the Dana Fork.

Cascades on Dana Fork

We did a scramble up a dome near Olmstead Point.

And then finished with a hike through the Wawona Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Wawona Grove

Day 3

We decided to take on Yosemite Valley.  First up was the Mist Trail – all the way to Nevada Falls.  The above average snowpack meant the water flow was still impressive.

Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, Mt. Broderick & Half Dome

We got an early start, but to avoid the crowds coming up the trail, we descended via the John Muir Trail.

Super proud of Little SFTE.  She handled the hike like a champ.

Top of Nevada Falls

Once we got back to the valley, we walked over to the visitor’s center and grabbed a pizza and ate it by the river.  There was also a river bath – but no pictures were taken.

Valley Floor

Day 4

Unfortunately, we had to head back to Los Angeles to catch our flight.  On the way out of the park, we checked out El Capitan.

Climb on, kid!

El Capitan

And, we stopped by the Mariposa Grove.  As expected, it was super crowded, but still worth a visit.

Mariposa Grove

Summary

It is difficult to describe the scale of the majesty of the park.  All I can really say is that you need to go see it for yourself. I just kept muttering “this is freakin’ amazing” at every turn. 

There’s not much we would do differently.  We’d like to come back and spend more time up in Toulomne Meadows and try to camp up there.