One more dream destination checked off our bucket list. We went on this trip to Wyoming few months ago (Fall '17) and I already published few blog posts on it. But it took me forever to finish this trip report, partly because I had too many photos to sort through and mostly because I was lazy. Anyways, I thought better late than never and finally it's here now. How could I not share a marvelous place like this with everyone. Let me warn you though, this is a long one.
Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks are two of the most fascinating geological wonderlands on earth and they also ended up on our favorites list. The parks basically comprise 3 loop drives around magnificent peaks, alpine forests, winding rivers, huge lakes, valleys, dramatic geothermal areas and tons of wandering wildlife. Majority of the attractions were accessible by driving around the 3 loops, while some needed a short drive out.
We landed in Jackson Hole Wyoming airport by noon and it was love at first sight. The airport had a stunning backdrop of Teton mountain range. We picked up our rental car from Avis and started our Teton loop drive right away.
Almost the entire Grand Teton loop had views of the rocky mountains. We drove around the loop making many stops along the way, first of which was Craig Thomas Visitor Center. We usually avoid stopping at a visitor center unless we needed some information or to use the facilities. We were glad we did though. It was modern, in a nice setting and had great views of the mountains from the back. And there was lots of historic information and displays inside.
Like the visitor center, Chapel of the Transfiguration was also in a beautiful setting. The chapel had a nice backdrop of the mountains and a view out from a large window behind the altar. While there, we took a short walk over to Menors Ferry Historic District on the banks of Snake River. It is named after one of the early settlers of Jackson Hole, who apart from building his own cabin and a general store, also built a ferry for the settlers to cross the river.
Next we stopped at Mormon Row Historic District, a short drive out from the main loop. An internet search for Grand Teton results in lots of photos of this place, an old barn with mountains at the back. It happens to be a favorite spot for many photographs. We could see why.
After getting few shots ourselves, we continued our drive on the loop pulling up at many spots including Glacier View turnout and Snake River overlook.
A huge herd of bison and few pronghorns grazed at Elk Ranch Flats. Oxbow Bend also happens to be one of the most photographed spots in Grand Teton. It was a very scenic spot, best during sunrise/sunset and on a still day you could capture the reflection of Mount Moran on the river.
On that day and later during our trip, we spotted many animals around the area (mostly deer), also on our drive up Signal Mountain rd., just 5 miles out from the main loop to the overlook. There were 2 viewpoints, Jackson Lake overlook had better views than the higher signal mountain overlook.
Unfortunately, our rental car gave us some trouble at this point. Though it was frustrating that we had to deal with this on a vacation, we were glad the car didn't break down. Anyway we had to cut short our sightseeing and head back to the airport for a car exchange. After picking up our new car, there wasn't much daylight left to finish the loop, but we made one last stop at Elk Ranch Flats again, this time to see a large team of horses.
We stayed at Togwotee Mountain Lodge in Moran for the night, about 20 miles east of the loop.
It was a cozy comfortable stay but we didn't have any reason to spend time in the hotel. We did an early check-out and hit the road. Couple of early winter storms not long ago had dropped some snow and while Grand Teton was completely dry, there was still lots of it around the hotel.
Instead of heading back to the park we made a short side-trip to Bridger-Teton and Shoshone National Forests. Not many visitors explore this side while visiting Teton or Yellowstone. Though we wouldn't dare to hike out there by ourselves, we got to check out some beautiful scenery. We drove few miles east on Hwy-26 stopping at overlooks along the highway to gaze at the stunning North Breccia cliffs and Two Ocean Mountain.
We took a turn on Forest Rd. It was a short, unpaved road that looped back to the highway, with more stunning views of both the mountains. Back on the highway, there were plenty of animal prints all over the snow. We even spotted a small herd of mule deer and couple of coyotes.
We headed further east and turned on Brooks Lake Rd. We could see Breccia Cliffs closer on this drive and the stunning Pinnacle Buttes. We spotted more wildlife there as well. At Brooks Lake (it looked like the lodge was closed for the season), there were no other humans around, just lots of animal prints in all shapes and sizes. Thats the spot I suggest everyone should go. The solitude, the mountains, the lake, the snow and the log cabins made for an absolutely breathtaking scenery.
Heading to Yellowstone National Park, we made many stops at lookouts along the way and took in the mountains and rivers.
Our timing was perfect when we arrived at Old Faithful Geyser. Within minutes we witnessed the popular eruption along with hundreds of other people. The geyser shot with great force to about 100ft high and lasted around 5mins. Soon after the geyser settled we started our Upper Geyser Basin hike.
The Upper Geyser Basin area apparently has the highest concentration of geysers in the world. The trail was a flat and easy raised boardwalk for the most part, with geysers on both sides very close to the trail. We found them all very interesting, unique in colors, shapes and formations. We saw couple more eruptions - Grand Geyser which seemed to go on for nearly 20 mins and Daisy Geyser which was a quick one.
Read our full post - Upper Geyser Basin
The hike was completely draining so we decided to call it a day. We stayed at Headwaters Lodge and Cabins at Flagg Ranch for the next 3 nights. The lodge was located in a wilderness setting few miles south of the loop. We loved how facilities inside the park were in the form of little villages. There were lodges, restaurants, general stores, gift shops and even gas stations all in one location. It was in fact very convenient.
It started as a frosty freezing morning and turned out to be the hottest day of our trip. Our plan for the day was to visit Mammoth Hot Springs while ticking off other places along the way.
We stopped first at Lewis Lake. The lake was very still and serene, like a mirror it cast beautiful reflections of trees and low hanging clouds.
Next we headed to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We stopped at all the viewpoints on both South and North Rim drives. We did short hikes and got some amazing views of the waterfalls, river and canyon. We especially loved the Brinks of Upper and Lower Falls lookouts, as only from there we could grasp the real force and actual scale of the enormous Yellowstone river.
Heading north, we stopped at Devil's Den. It is an overlook into the Grand Canyon and a line of uniform basalt columns on the walls of the canyon. Not too far from there was Tower Falls, which is named after the tower-like rock formations at the top. Once again we spotted lots of deer near the falls parking lot.
Mammoth Hot Springs was one of our reasons to go to Yellowstone and it did not disappoint one bit. The colors and formations were fascinating. We hiked the Lower Terrace first. This trail involved a raised boardwalk, steps and steep inclines and it was pretty tiring to do this on a hot day. Among others Palette Springs and Canary Springs were especially beautiful.
Upper Terrace though was more of a drive with small parking areas and short walks to the springs. We could see Canary Springs from the road on our drive up to Upper Terrace, but nothing beats the view from top.
Read our full post - Mammoth Hot Springs(coming soon)
After touring Mammoth Springs, we headed to Lamar Valley, about 15 miles east from the Grand loop. The drive through the valley was beautiful. There were many pullouts offering great views of the valley and Lamar River. Bisons and mule deers were just about all over the place. Although the valley is known to have the highest concentration of wolves in the park, we didn't spot any.
We got back on the loop and headed south towards our hotel. We made our next stop at Calcite Springs, an overlook to the views of a narrow section of the Grand Canyon that has steaming vents at the bottom of the cliffs.
Dunraven Pass is the highest road in Yellowstone National Park, at over 8800 ft. It was one of our favorite sections in the park, very scenic and also had some snow. You can see in the photos below how dead and live trees standing together make for a beautiful landscape.
It was a very cold morning. After a quick breakfast we headed first to West Thumb Geyser Basin on the shores of Yellowstone lake. With 2 loop trails to walk around we saw many interesting geysers, mud pots and pools.
Read our full post - West Thumb Geyser Basin
After touring West Thumb we stopped by Yellowstone Lake for few pictures. Since we visited during the end of the season there weren't many people around. We took some time and enjoyed the stillness of the lake, sun rays and snowcapped mountains.
Then we drove to Lake Butte Lookout, 10 miles east from the loop towards east entrance. There was a great view of Yellowstone Lake from the lookout. This area was one of the best scenic spots in the park and there was lots of snow around there as well. So instead of driving back to the loop, we drove further east to spend some time in the winter scenery. We saw small ponds, trees, mountains and also spotted large footprints that were possibly of grizzlies.
We got back on the loop and made our next stop at Lehardy's Rapids. It is not a very popular spot in Yellowstone, but we felt it was one of the best places to walk. There was a short boardwalk alongside the river. In summer it is possible to see lots of trout and bears in the water.
Next on our way to Norris, we made few stops along Hayden Valley. We did not see any animals but the landscape was just lovely. We stopped for lunch at Canyon Village before driving to Norris Geyser Basin.
Of all the geyser areas in the park, Norris Geyser Basin was the stinkiest. There were 2 loop hikes, some parts steep and uneven, had lots of colorful geysers and pools. But the smell was so strong sometimes we had to hold our breath and move quickly without even stopping for a picture. It was cold and windy and the wind blowing at our face just made it even worse.
Read our full post - Norris Geyser Basin
Next was Fountain Paint Pots Trail with another beautiful collection of colorful pools. It was freezing and raining by that time, but since it was only a short loop trail we were able to walk around and see most of it.
Read our full post - Fountain Paint Pots
We then headed to Midway Geyser Basin. Grand Prismatic Spring was another main reason for our visit to the park. The foggy weather conditions just made it impossible to see the size and colors of the vibrant spring. We were disappointed that we couldn't see this pool but at least we got to see some other pretty pools in the basin.
Read our full post - Midway Geyser Basin (coming soon)
At all the basins there were signs warning people not to step away from the boardwalk as the ground could be acidic, very thin crust and could easily give away. Every time we couldn't help but wonder how they built those boardwalks in the first place. We were amazed how it withstood all the heat underground and the vigorous boiling of some geysers so close to the wood.
All day of walking made us very tired, our fingers and toes were pretty much frozen, but our day was not over yet. Our next stop was Biscuit Basin, a half mile boardwalk around more geysers and colorful pools. Check out those spiky formations and the orange-green colors caused by microorganisms in the photos below.
Read our full post - Biscuit Basin
Our last stop for the day was Black Sand Basin, another short loop trail. This was also a very lovely walk in the foggy weather. We got to see Cliff Geyser erupt few times during our short time there. The colors of Rainbow pool, formations around Cliff and Spouter Geysers were interesting.
Read our full post - Black Sand Basin
We woke up and looked out the window for a weather check. It was snowing!!! It was also the last day of our trip and we had only few hours left before our flight. So we quickly packed up, checked-out and hit the road.
Our plan was to finish the rest of Grand Teton loop and then head to the airport. But we couldn't just leave without getting a look of Yellowstone on a snowy day. So we drove back into Yellowstone National Park, only a few miles though. The park was a winter wonderland, mountains and trees covered in a fresh dusting of snow.
We stopped at Lewis Falls and Lewis river for some photos. It was a serene and peaceful sight. The stillness of the river caused the trees to form sharp reflections on the water.
We wanted to go further but time was running and we couldn't take the risk so we turned around.
We entered Grand Teton on the west side of the loop, towards Jenny Lake. We made a quick stop at Jackson Lake dam and then drove further south. It snowed quite heavily, visibility wasn't good and some parts of the road slushy and icy. While driving very slowly and cautiously we did fully enjoy the weather which we never get to experience where we live.
When we arrived at the junction, the road to Jenny Lake didn't look safe enough to head in our rental sedan, so we had no choice but to skip it. Instead we stopped at Craig Thomas Visitor Center and Chapel of the Transfiguration once again, only to capture them in snow. We made one final stop at Dornan's to fill up gas before finally, but very sadly, heading to the airport for our flight back.
Hope you enjoyed reading this report and photos. Photographs definitely don't do justice to the real beauty of any place, especially Grand Teton and Yellowstone. Everyone must visit these parks at least once in their lifetime to witness for themselves.