Grand Teton, Yellowstone And More...
One more dream destination checked off our bucket list and added on our favourites list. We went on this trip to Wyoming few months ago (Fall '17) and I had 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. Let me warn you that this is a long one.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks are two of the most fascinating geological wonderlands on earth. 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. Park maps are the best guides, they are clearly marked with attractions and facilities inside the parks.
Day 1: 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, like none other we had seen. We picked up our rental car from Avis and started our Teton loop drive right away.
Jackson Hole Airport (pic from last day) / Entering Grand Teton
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 in a beautiful setting with views of the mountains at the back.
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. We took a short walk over to Menor's 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.
Chapel of the Transfiguration
Our next stop was Mormon Row Historic District, a short drive out from the main loop. What remains here now are only old barns and structures but it happens to be one of the most photographed spots in the world. After getting few shots ourselves, we continued our drive on the loop, pulling up at various spots, including Glacier View turnout and Snake River overlook.
Mormon Row Historic District / 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 wildlife around the area (mostly deer).
Just 5 miles out from the main loop, up on Signal Mountain rd., there were 2 viewpoints, Jackson Lake overlook had better views than the higher Signal Mountain overlook.
View from Signal Mountain
Bison at Elk Ranch Flats / Oxbow Bend
Unfortunately, we had some trouble with our car, so we had to go back to the airport and exchange it for a new one. It was almost sunset when we got back on the loop. We made one last spot for the day at Elk Ranch Flats once again, this time to see a large team of horses. We checked-in to Togwotee Mountain Lodge in Moran for the night, about 20 miles east of the loop.
Elk Ranch Flats / Beautiful backdrop
Day 2: It was a cozy comfortable stay but we didn't have any reason to spend time at the hotel, so we did an early check-out and hit the road. We made a short side-trip to Bridger-Teton and Shoshone National Forests. Not many visitors explore this side while visiting Grand Teton or Yellowstone. Though we wouldn't dare to hike there by ourselves out of fear of wildlife, we got to check out beautiful winter landscapes. We drove few miles east on Hwy-26, stopping at overlooks along the way and saw couple of breathtakingly beautiful mountains, the Breccia Cliffs and Two Ocean Mountain.
There were plenty of animal prints all over the snow. We even spotted a small herd of mule deer and couple of coyotes.
We took a turn and headed towards Brooks Lake. We got a closer view of Breccia Cliffs and saw the stunning Pinnacle Buttes from the lake. There were no tourists around, just lots of animal prints in all shapes and sizes. For awhile, we lost ourselves in the solitude and the absolutely breathtaking scenery.
Pinnacle Buttes from Brooks Lake
Next we headed to Yellowstone National Park. After stopping a hundred times on the way to capture the mountains and rivers, we arrived at Old Faithful Geyser. Our timing was perfect. Within minutes we got to witness the popular Old Faithful eruption along with hundreds of other tourists. The geyser shot with great force to a height of 100ft and lasted about 5mins. After which we started our Upper Geyser Basin hike.
Old Faithful Geyser / Upper Geyser Basin
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 was a quick one.
Read our full post - Upper Geyser Basin
The hike was long and completely draining by the end, 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.
Headwaters Lodge and Cabins at Flagg Ranch
Day 3: 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 attractions 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 saw 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.
Artists Point at Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
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 on the top. Once again we spotted lots of deer near the falls parking lot.
Devil's Den / Tower Falls
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. The 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 car 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 Hot Springs, we headed to Lamar Valley, about 15 miles east of the Grand loop. The drive through the valley was beautiful. There were many pullouts offering great views of the valley and Lamar River. Bison and mule deer were just about all over the place. Although the valley is known to have the highest concentration of wolves in the park, we couldn'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 beautiful landscape and sweeping panoramic views.
Calcite Springs / Dunraven Pass
Day 4: 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
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 all to ourselves.
Sun rays on Yellowstone Lake / Dead trees
Then we drove to Lake Butte Lookout, 10 miles east of the loop towards east entrance. Apart from a great view of Yellowstone Lake, 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 and spent some time in the winter scenery. We saw small ponds, beautiful trees and mountain landscapes, and also spotted large footprints that were possibly of grizzlies.
View from Lake Butte Lookout
Road to east entrance / Large footprints
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 take a relaxing walk. There was a short boardwalk alongside the river. In summer, it is possible to see bears fish for trouts in the water. Next on our way to Norris, we made few stops along Hayden Valley. We did not see any animals like in Lamar Valley, but the landscape was no less stunning. We stopped for lunch at Canyon Village before driving to Norris Geyser Basin.
LeHardy's Rapids / Hayden Valley
From here on, it was geyser after geyser for the rest of the day. 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 interesting colorful geysers and pools. But the smell was so strong, sometimes we had to hold our breath and run, forget about getting pictures. It was cold and windy and the wind blowing in our face just made it even worse.
Read our full post - Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin - Porcelain Springs
Next was Fountain Paint Pots Trail with another beautiful collection of colorful pools. It was freezing cold and raining by that time, but since it was only a short loop trail we did 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. Steamy weather conditions just made it impossible to see the size and colors of the vibrant spring. We were disappointed that we couldn't see the famous one, at least we got to see some other pretty pools in the basin.
Read our full post - Midway Geyser Basin
Red Spouter / Grand Prismatic Spring
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.
Not only that, across the park, we saw and heard puffing and rumbling from unnamed geysers and steam coming off from random places by the side of the road. At that point, I am sure every visitor would have thought this at least once - What if the ground just exploded right now?
Boardwalk at Midway Geyser Basin
All day of walking made us very tired, our fingers and toes were pretty much frozen, but our day was not over yet. We never got bored of looking at geysers, even though that was all we did for the past 3 days. Our next stop was Biscuit Basin, a half mile boardwalk around more geysers and colorful pools.
Read our full post - Biscuit Basin
And our last stop for the day was Black Sand Basin. We got to see Cliff Geyser erupt few times while we were there. The colors of Rainbow pool, formations around Cliff and Spouter Geysers were interesting.
Read our full post - Black Sand Basin
Biscuit Basin / Black Sand Basin - Opalescent Pool
Day 5: We woke up and looked out the window for a weather check. It was snowing!!! And it was the last day of our trip. We had planned to cover all the missed spots on Grand Teton loop on our way to the airport, but the snow changed everything. We quickly packed up, checked-out and hit the road. We couldn't just leave without getting a look of Yellowstone on a wintery 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 photographs. The stillness of the river caused the trees to form sharp reflections on the water. It was such a surreal experience. We wanted to go further but time was running and we couldn't risk missing our flight, so we turned around.
Lewis Falls / Reflections on Lewis River
We made quick stops at Jackson Lake and Jackson Lake dam. We headed on the west side of Grand Teton loop, towards Jenny Lake. It snowed quite heavily affecting visibility on the road, and some parts of the road were slushy and icy. We drove slowly, fully enjoying the weather and spotted a herd of elk along the way.
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.
Chapel of the Transfiguration / Dornan's
Hope you enjoyed 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 the mesmerizing beauty for themselves.
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