sorry i have this problem where i am super wordy. i typed out some notes that i thought would be helpful. i will eventually write a proper trip report with pictures but for now here are some tips and observations. sorry it's so long!!!
We didn’t plan far enough ahead so basically had to go with what was available. I booked 6 months out instead of the recommended year (because we didn’t think of it til 6 months before hand). Because of our flight times (arriving late, leaving early) we chose to stay in Jackson close to the airport because we didn’t want to be driving in the dark. The night we arrived and the night before we left we stayed at the Teton Gables Motel. The only thing this place had going for it was it was cheap, it was a roof over our head, and it was in a good location. It was pretty much what you would expect for a cheap motel.
Roosevelt Roughrider Cabins: we spent our first two nights in YNP at a Roughrider Cabin in the Tower/Roosevelt area. We had the cutest, teeniest cabin ever. We both loved it. It felt like camping only with a roof over your head and electricity. There was no bathroom and no heat. The shared bathrooms (like a camping bathroom) were located a few rows of cabins behind us. The bathrooms and showers were immaculate. I was kind of surprised how clean they were. You didn’t need to pay for the showers either like you normally would when camping. For heat if you wanted it there was a small little wood stove in the cabin and weird looking wood circle blob things provided and instructions on how to use it. We didn’t use it the first night because I was sweating profusely when we went to bed but then we learned how cold it gets really late at night/early in the morning and used it the next day. It of course dies out in the middle of the night unless you get up to stoke it but it kept us warmer than the night before. Our bed was comfy but small. If you don’t like rustic then this wouldn’t be for you but we really thought it was super cute. It was also the perfect location if you wanted to spend the morning at Lamar Valley.
Old Faithful Inn: for our next 2 nights in YNP we stayed at Old Faithful Inn. I didn’t realize OFI was some super special place and just booked it for its location. It was a neat place for sure but in all honesty I didn’t really care about the building itself I was more interested in the park. Our room was very quaint but we had a shared bathroom down the hall. The room was cute and “old timey” we at least had a sink in our room and it was a bit bigger than the cabin we had been in. It was also nice and warm. I did not like the bathroom when I discovered the showers. There were two showers and a communal changing room in front of the showers with just a swinging door you couldn’t lock. Sorry to be a prude but I didn’t like that. I only showered once and in the middle of the day when no one was around.
Signal Mountain Lodge: we spent one night at Signal Mountain Lodge in GTNP. I think this was my favorite lodging. We had a cabin and it was very cute and clean and we had our own bathroom (yay!). We had two double beds they were very comfy and had many pillows. The only thing I would say is if you had mobility issues you might have a hard time getting into the bed as they were super high. One quirky thing about our cabin is the entire structure was very obviously leaning. It didn’t bother us at all and in fact made us laugh but it was definitely leaning.
Im not sure Im the best person to say what people should pack but Ill just describe our week for us. We are from New England so we are used to the cold and snow. It became clear as we walked around all week people were dressed according to where they were from. The entire week it was a range of mainly 50s-60s with a couple days hitting 70/80. I wore shorts and a tshirt all week and was fine, but I was in the minority being dressed that way. The breeze was cool and if the sun went behind a cloud it was cool. But again being from New England I was fine. I carried a light hoodie around in the car. My husband wore long hiking pants and a tshirt all week. Occasionally he would zip the bottoms off his convertible pants into shorts. We saw many many many people more bundled than us who looked cold. I would say if you are from the south or a warmer climate than you would not want to dress like me. Most people had on long pants/jeans and long sleeved shirts and fleeces on some days. The mornings and evenings were cold. The weird thing about Wyoming was the early morning would be absolutely freezing but by 8ish it would warm up quite a bit. Then all of a sudden in the evening between 9 & 10 as the sun went down the temp would just plummet all of a sudden. We brought hats, scarves, gloves, and fleece jackets but the only time we wore them was the morning we got up and went to Lamar Valley around 6 am. THAT was cold.
We both wore good hiking sneakers with good tread all week. GET GOOD SNEAKERS if you want to do a lot of hiking on trails. I feel like we were climbing up things a lot. Not necessarily like rocks or anything but stairs or hills. We hiked up to the top of the Grand Prismatic overlook and it was VERY slippery on all the sand/dirt. I almost fell about 100 times. I was very grateful I had brand new hiking shoes. I wore hiking shoes and not walking/running shoes as they had more support. The days we did a lot of hiking I wore sock liners and thick hiking socks. This helped my feet a lot.
Ok I am a super dork. I love planning and I am super anal. I made a big itinerary. If planning and organizing isn’t your thing then you can skip this paragraph. I made a binder and sectioned it off by each day. In the front I had my typed out itinerary of all the areas I thought would interest us by day since there was so much stuff to see/do I didn’t want to forget anything. In the front I also had sunrise/sunset times. Each day I had printed out maps of the area and day hikes (found this somewhere on the NPS site I believe) I also had hotel confirmations and any activity confirmations for each day. To be honest I mainly used the itinerary and that was it. Occasionally I used a map for the area but I found the map they give you at the entrance gate and my copy of Yellowstone Treasures to be better references. I also printed out the animal spotting list that I found on the NPS site and put that in the back so I could check off animals as we spotted them. The binder with the itinerary worked out well as I found myself forgetting what I wanted to see often so I could just look at my binder and remember. Even my husband who is super laid back and not a planner AT ALL said I did a really good job planning the trip and making the binder. He kept joking around and saying things like “well let’s see what the binder tells us.”
If you are like us and want to see the whole park and are moving around all week you will be living out of your car. The only thing I wish I had was a better way to organize the car rather than just crap thrown everywhere. We pretty much trashed the rental car. I kept maps and my copy of Yellowstone Treasures in the glove box of the car and a pen too. I had my binder on the floor in front of me. Luckily our car had a cigarette lighter port and a USB plug so we had multiple phone/electronic chargers. We had two cup holders which we used for whatever beverage we were drinking and then there were a cup holder in each door so we used those for our big water bottles (the metal canteen kind they sell everywhere these days).
Our rental car was a Chevy Equinox. Normally I hate SUVs but we were glad to have so much space this week for all our crap since many days we also had all our luggage with us plus a cooler. We only filled the car up once and I think we drove around 500 miles. We filled up at the Tower gas station and it was $4.09 (YUCK!!!!!!). We dropped our rental car off almost empty because we had purchased a tank of gas from them for a lower price when we picked it up. Normally we would never do that as usually it’s totally a scam but the price they gave us was really good and we knew we would be driving A LOT. In the end we broke about even on our prepaid gas. So technically I guess we filled up twice.
Stay hydrated!!! You are at a very high elevation and the sun is STRONG! One of the best things about the park (to a liberal hippie like me!) was its concentration on eco-friendly sustainable practices. We discovered “water filling stations” everywhere. DO NOT buy bottled water unless you are totally against drinking tap water. We drank the water all week and were fine. Tasted fine too. If you go into the general stores and poke around you will find a “water filling station” where you can fill your water bottles for free so people aren’t buying as much plastic bottles and creating so much waste. Also at the Tower campground we found a water spigot outside between some cabins. We didn’t pay for water all week (except at the airport!) Also since it gets so cold at night we found leaving our water bottles in the car was not an issue. If we do this at home in the summer you get gross warm water to drink. :-P
People DO NOT go to Yellowstone for the food!! Like many people have said before me the food is way overpriced and not very good. We found this to be true! I do have an extra set of special circumstances though. I am a vegan (no animal products of any kind, no meat, no fish, no dairy, no eggs, etc) so it’s a huge pain in the butt to travel and ESPECIALLY in cowboy country. We arrived in Jackson late Friday and went to the Albertson’s grocery store which I believe is open 6am to midnight. They also have a starbucks inside. We bought a Styrofoam cooler, ice and groceries. We bought some veggies for sandwiches, bread, mustard, pb&j, a roll of paper towels, some Gatorade, some juice boxes, crackers, bananas, and pretzels. We had intended to eat mainly picnic meals but in the end we still went to a few of the restaurants just out of sheer exhaustion and not wanting another pb&j. We used only one bag of ice all week but I wouldn’t recommend that. We just threw the bag of ice still in the bag in our cooler and dumped a few items on top of it and called it a day. Of course a day or so later we found everything floating in water since the water had leaked out of the bag. We dumped some water and just kept what ice was left and continued on. We are pretty low key in that regard. For restaurants we went to the Roosevelt restaurant, a couple of the grills, the Mammoth restaurant, the Old Faithful Snow Lodge restaurant, and the Old Faithful dining room, etc. It was nearly impossible to find a vegan meal and I was even served a hummus wrap with shredded cheese on it (who puts shredded cheese in hummus????). My husband doesn’t eat a lot of meat and I believe he has stopped eating all beef and pork products and does only chicken and fish so I really cant comment on whether bison burgers were any good. Im still stuck on having a beautiful park to protect these beautiful animals and then eating them in the same park. That just messes with my mind but to each his own. The grill type places were an especially huge rip off. I think I paid $8 for the smallest hummus wrap known to man (which at one place is where they put shredded cheese in it!!!)
ONTO THE IMPORTANT STUFF! There is a Starbucks in the Albertsons in Jackson. There are plenty of places in the park to get coffee. All general stores had coffee. All the restaurants obviously had coffee. I noticed all the resteraunts also carried soy milk you could ask for. That made me a happy puppy. I had bought some powdered coffeemate to drag around with me even though it is “dairy” free it is not technically vegan and contains a milk product. So yay for soy milk! You can also buy small things of soy milk in the general stores. The taste was just fine. It was just a cup of coffee, nothing fancy. There may have been a coffee bar here and there with fancier coffee but I honestly didn’t pay attention due to my dietary restrictions. The Old Faithful Inn advertises a coffee cart somewhere but I never saw it (also didn’t seek it out). We discovered that Roosevelt had free coffee in the morning until 9am. Im not sure when they put it out. I can tell you the general store there doesn’t open til 7:30 so if you’re up earlier than that to go to Lamar you may want to see if they have it out inside (we didn’t discover the free coffee until we checked out). Signal Mountain lodge also had free coffee in their lobby area in the morning.
You can buy bear spray pretty much anywhere. YOU CANNOT bring it on a plane, even in checked baggage so DO NOT buy it before you get to the park (or wherever you are driving from). We asked at ALbertons for some and the kid at the register told us it was $60 there but we could get it at Kmart for $30 and that Kmart was open til 11pm. So we drove over to Kmart, it was 10:15 and they were closed. We went back when they opened the next morning and it was most definitely not $30. I think it was $46 including tax. When we left I asked at our last lodging place (Signal Mountain Lodge) where I could donate/recycle it and the woman at the desk said I could leave it there and someone else would take it so I did that.
We went right at the start of or right before the high tourist season and I cannot even imagine being there in the middle of tourist season. The parking lots were always full wherever we went. The eastern and northern part of the park were not as bad but man oh man Old Faithful and the geyser areas were just filthy with tourists. It kind of made me want to blow my brains out. The actual boardwalks were not too bad but the parking lots were a mess. Just cars and people EVERYWHERE. That being said on the actual roads we hardly ever experienced actual traffic. Or being from Boston we just have a diferent definition of TRAFFIC. Most of the time on the actual roads there were very few cars, just in the parking lots. We didn’t experience many animal traffic jams though I did see a good one. Mainly we saw animals off the road and many people parked. Out on the trails and out into the country a bit there was nobody. On hiking trails we would only occasionally see a few other people. It was so nice and peaceful. I cant even describe how wonderful being out in nature on these beautiful trails with beautiful big rushing rivers going by you with either no one else or just a few others was. Just so peaceful.
I don’t have kids and I don’t really like kids so I really have no idea what they are into but here are a few things I noticed that I thought would be good for kids, not sure the appropriate age ranges. They have of course the Junior Ranger program, also in all the gift shops they have junior ranger gear. Ranger hats, badges, vests, binoculars, anything you can imagine kids would like. You could also buy a passport book and collect stamps (from an ink pad and stamper not physical stamps) at each location. I saw the first one at the John D Rockfeller Memorial Parkway rest stop. It was kind of an info station. I saw some other stamp pads at other visitor centers. I believe I also saw animal checklists for kids at ranger stations.
Wow I don’t know how to do a summary. This week was a vacation for us. It was the first time either of us had ever even been to this part of the country and more likely than not we wont be back for a long time so we really wanted to do the whole park and see as much as we could. If we ever went back we would probably go a week or two earlier and concentrate on the eastern and northern part of the park. My husband really liked the Canyon area and I really liked the entire eastern side of the park because that is where we spotted the most animals. We would probably concentrate more on animal spotting and hiking if we went back and leave more time for waiting for animals to appear. This time was more about experiencing the whole park.
We spent about 2 days in the Tetons and I am so glad we didn’t skip it. We didn’t see as many animals but the landscape it just absolutely stunning. Everything is very flat then OMG HUGE GIANT MOUNTAIN. Just amazing. We did the Jenny Lake/Inspiration Point trail. We drove around a lot and looked at the historical/homesteader sites. We cruised around looking for moose which we actually finally found when we gave up and were heading back to Jackson.
Ok I really didn’t like Jackson and I didn’t suspect I would. It is literally just a gateway city to the parks for me. Let me explain my point of view though. We live in MA where I grew up. I am a lifelong New Englander. It’s SUCH a different culture. Neither one is bad or worse than the other it’s just different. I am super liberal and I am a vegan. So when I get dropped into the middle of cowboy town where everyone wants me to eat bison and elk burgers and I see tshirts that say “If God wanted vegetarians he would have made broccoli easier to shoot” or something like that I go a tad on the offensive. I walked into one store and immediately ran out muttering “need to leave need to leave need to leave” because I was surrounded by dead stuffed animals and animal heads and WOLF PELTS. I had just spent months reading fascinating books about the wolf restoration in Yellowstone and learning about these beautiful, amazing animals and the people who worked so hard to restore them and then I walk into a store selling dead ones as rugs. It doesn’t compute in my brain. So yeah I didn’t like Jackson but it could just be my own personal feelings. It was very quaint little tourist town and VERY expensive. The downtown area had TONS of artist galleries. Mostly cowboy/western inspired art or Native American art. There was also tons of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. Also if you like buying tshirts or sweatshirts in different places then Jackson and both parks are great for you. I typically never buy anything other than a magnet and a few postcards and maybe a local crafty thing when we travel but the tshirt selection was so good I actually went home with 2 tshirts and 1 long sleeved shirt. There were also lots of baseball hats and cowboy hats for sale.
KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN! If you see several cars pulled over and people with spotting scopes, big cameras, or pointing then PULL OVER! This is how we saw the famous grizzly #399, 3 black bears, bighorn sheep, and 2 moose. We spotted the following animals. Most of the were good spottings where we could watch them and take photos but a few were just quick glimpses. This is from memory since my precious binder is in my backup in the overhead thingy on the plain. 1 grizzly, 1 mama black bear with 2 cubs, several bighorn sheep (though none with the big horns, I think we saw all females and babies), mule deer, elk, 2 moose, 2 mountain bluebirds, many many ground squirrels which I just thought were the cutest things ever, chipmunks, 1 pika, 1 short-tailed weasel, 1 weaselly looking thing we think might have been a marten, a golden eagle, some weird birds that were in mud huts, mule deer, pronghorn, bison (duh), marmots, an otter, and tons of Canadian geese (which we have plenty of at home and are considered a pest, lol). Probably other animals too that I have forgotten.