We got home at 2am last night after a long flight back to Florida and as I drifted off to sleep I was thinking about how soon we could come back to YNP and GTNP! Both places are amazing and exceeded our expectations. We spent 5 days in YNP and 4 days in GTNP. I am the female Clark Griswold of traveling and try to squeeze a lot into my time and so appreciated all the help from the TA community. I will post my GTNP part of our trip report on that forum so this doesn't go WAY too long. I will also attach a link with a few choice photos for each day.
I want to touch on a few topics that seem to come up frequently.
Bear spray- We didn't need it but rented it anyway (better safe than sorry) from Thrifty in Jackson where we picked up our car for $20 per can. They are unused but not new cans that you can do what you'd like with if you don't use them. We showed it to the ranger on our guided hike at West Thumb and he agreed it was a great deal and showed us how to use it if needed. We did over 40 miles of hiking and felt safer with it just in case. We did see a bear but he was just a young guy (no momma but not full grown) and he was more afraid of us than we were of him. We gifted the cans along with a bottle of bug spray, sun block and handy wipes to a lucky couple at the airport when leaving.
Cell phone reception-We both have iphones with ATT and found we had reception in most areas except the stretch north of Old Faithful to just outside of Mammoth as well as the Western half of Norris Canyon Road. Reception was also a bit sketchy in parts of Hayden Valley. We didn't drive the section of the Grand Loop that went from Mammoth to the N.E. entrance so we can't speak for that. We did find powering down our phones more often helped them to find a signal more quickly which we never usually have to do. We came to the park so early each day there was never anyone at the entrances to hand out maps and we kept forgetting at 6am to get them at the lodges so I was navigating by sense of smell and intermittent cell phone mapping along the way lol.
Ranger Guided Hikes-We did 3 guided ranger hikes out of the 5 we were interested in (one we missed and another rained out) and they were all VERY worth while. I believe the Labor Day weekend was the last time frame they were available and we are hoping the park's budget allows for a re-expansion of this program in the future. Lots of valuable information and these guys love their jobs! Thanks to ranger Mike, Bruce, and Wes for answering all our questions and bringing the park together as a whole by explaining the geological and anthropological history. These rangers are retired fire fighters and/or long time park volunteers who know and love YNP.
Coolers and groceries- We went to Albertson's and got two coolers and groceries in Jackson after we landed. We did one cooler for drinks and one for food. They were styrofoam and squeeked but I found by throwing a couple of towels from our room over each cooler they were quiet and stayed cooler longer. In retrospect I would have got one hard sided cooler that would be easier to drain as it was a bit cumbersome at 6am to tilt a foam cooler and have cold water splashing everywhere before we freshened up the ice for the day. The drink cooler I don't think it would matter but our food cooler needed attention each day. About the food-I'm sort of a foodie and thought about what we wanted to munch on each day. I ended up getting the fixings for lox bagels and club sandwiches each day. I bought some cheap square glad tupperware, one sharp knife, paper plates, and a roll of paper towels to get it done. The first night I cut up cucumbers, scallions, and tomatoes to go on the sandwiches/bagels. Albertson's had some tasty rolls and bagels and Boar's Head meats/cheeses so we were happy with our food. I got a few surprised looks in Hayden Valley when I popped out of the car at Grizzly Overlook with a bagel with chive sour cream, lox, scallions, cucumbers, and tomatoes lol.
Wildlife- I forget who posted this but it is so very true. The magic hours at the park are just before sunrise to about 9am give or take an hour. Everything (except bison which seem to be everywhere all the time) that we saw was around sunrise. Buffalo, pronghorn, mule deer, elk, badgers, moose, eagles, osprey, coyote, bear.... we saw everything I was hoping for except a wolf which I understand is pretty rare and so will try again next time! I may post a link of just wildlife photos at some point with labels showing place and times if I get that organized. Sunrise is such a magical time in both parks that we adjusted ourselves to nature's hours-up a couple of hours before sunrise so we could be at our first stop of the day 30 minutes before sunrise and in bed 1 hour after sunset. After the 3rd day it felt natural and I seemed to wake up w/o my alarm.
Day 1- We landed at Jackson Airport and did the grocery thing as I mentioned above. We opted for a SUV at Thrifty in Jackson which we felt was a good idea for us. With two coolers and over 1,200 miles clocked over 9 days the extra room was totally worth it. We were basically living out of the car during the day and had backpacks, food, cameras, etc taking up almost all the available room. The extra clearance also helped when we wanted to pull over (completely over with all tires outside white line lol) to see wildlife. A lower clearance car would have been a bit scary in some of the areas we off-roaded. We were staying at Jackson Lake Lodge the 1st night and had planned to drive to West Thumb for a ranger guided tour of the area but our plane was late so we just went to the lodge after grocery shopping and hiked around willow flats and hit the sack early.
Day 2-We woke up early and left Jackson Lake Lodge at 5:15 for West Thumb. I love photography and had heard this was a fantastic place for sunrise photos over Lake Yellowstone-it did not disappoint. The steam of the thermal features rising with the sun over the lake was magical. We were the only people there at first with only a couple of photographers showing up a bit after us.
Our first wonderful wildlife experience happened here- we were walking through a stretch of the boardwalks where the steam was thick and the boardwalks slightly wet when I heard a rustling ahead. As the steam started to clear we saw a huge bull elk waking towards us. I froze (a little scared) and then he bugled and hopped up on the boardwalk right in front of us-AMAZING. We let him lead the way as we followed and I took pictures. A small family of Japanese tourist showed up and we gestured to be quiet and look around the blind corner they were approaching where the elk was and they were so excited to see him too.
We had some time to kill before the ranger guided hike on the Lake Overlook trail at West Thumb and so we drove to Isa Lake which was close by and straddles the Continental Divide to have breakfast. My fascination with geology was fed a bit here as it's the only natural lake in the world which drains to two different oceans backwards.
We headed back to West Thumb for our first guided ranger walk at 9:30 and found the place JAMMED with cars in that short time difference. No elk and crowded now with lots of families and tourist. We met up with Ranger Mike who is a wonderful source of information and seemed to truly enjoy walking and talking to our group of about 8 people. We hiked to the top of hill 8034 (it doesn't have an official name) and enjoyed the panoramic vista of Yellowstone Lake. Ranger Mike showed us a clawed up tree from the resident Grizzly named Preacher (he has a white collar hence the name) and we took pictures of the small thermal features around the trail.
After our hike we headed to Fairy Falls trail to get a bird's eye view of Grand Prismatic Spring. I have read that the way to truly appreciate this feature is by hiking one of the social trails up the hillside overlooking Grand Prismatic and so wanted to try to make it happen. This was the first time I truly felt the change of elevation coming from about 20 ft above sea level where we live in Florida. We are in average shape at best and could afford to lose a few lb's but we got it done! It was very worth the steep hike over the fallen trees to get the view we read about. The hike down was hard because I have a fear of falling (not high places just falling which is different). I must have looked like a crab crawling down the hill to the other hikers passing me both ways but I did it lol. The rest of the Fairy Falls trail was easy & the falls were lovely. We were surprised how much cooler the falls area was than the rest of the trail. Temps were above average while we were there so we appreciated the cool breeze while we rested at the falls.
We then drove to Lower Geyser Basin and explored that area and had fun seeing some of our first geysers of the trip. Tired and ready for dinner we headed to Canyon Village for our first night in the park. We had a Western cabin and like some have mentioned these cabins are in what we considered the best area in Canyon section P. We were a stone's throw from a great little trail that took about 15 minutes to walk to where it popped out to Grand View lookout on the N rim drive of Canyon. We saw a young bull elk and buffalo along the way. The Western Cabins are spacious and clean but our kurig coffee maker was broken which of course we didn't find out until 5:30am the next day :-( The cabin was spacious as well as the bathroom and beds comfortable. Note to the weary the tub/showers are slick. Clean but slippery and not a lot to hold onto if you are bathing instead of showering and are getting out. Dinner at the dining room was very good imo-we went at 5:30. It was very quick and everything was healthy and satisfactory-not gourmet but good. I got the trout almondine and the hubby got the bison burger. We liked Canyon and hope to stay there again!
Here is a link to a few photos from day 1- …smugmug.com/Other/…31747415_gwp5ST
Day 2 to come!