My trip starts in Yellowstone, goes to Grand Teton and then returns to Yellowstone for more action at the end.
Day 1: Drive to Yellowstone from Bozeman airport via Gallatin Valley. Construction has a closure just south of Big Sky, dirt surface & one direction at time but my wait was only a few minutes. Entered park through W Y'stone not much action in Madison River Valley but after turning right to head to Geyser country boom, 2 bison right in the road! Now I knew I had arrived! As the temperature was quite low (low 40s) it made for an interesting drive south with lots of steam. Arrived Old Faithful Snow Lodge (separate TA entry) about 6pm, roughly 2 1/2 hours after leaving BZN, enough time to unload the car, change and make the 6:53pm Old Faithful eruption. Arrived at viewing area about 6:45 and got a nice spot, only isolated number of people out. Eruption occurred exactly as forecast. Walked geyser hill loop and finished about 8pm, leaving a few minutes until my 8:15 reservation at the Old Faithful Inn dining room. We were starved so opted for the buffet (see separate TA entry).
Day 2: Caught an Old Faithful eruption literally as we walked up to it. Walked up to Observation Point, Solitary geyser and back to geyser hill loop and then caught a 3rd Old Faithful eruption. Sunny but quite cold at this point. Drove to Fountain Lake road and enjoyed the features. Caught a continuous eruption in progress at Pink Cone Geyser, weather deteriorating.... Drove to Fountain Paint Pots, weather turned to sleet pellets and wind quite suddenly. Witnessed magnificent eruption of Clepsydra geyser with wind pushing steam over much greater area. Drove to Midway geyser basin and sun came out after walking over the River. Midday sun made for excellent photo taking at Grand Prismatic. Significant steam activity from Excelsior blowing north and east, dropped boardwalk visibility to almost zero at a few points. Drove to Black Sand Basin, witnessed nice eruption of Cliff Geyser and enjoyed the springs and pools. Hardly anyone at this one, so very quiet. Thinking should have stopped at Biscuit Basin as well, but missed it. Continued south/east to Kepler Cascades, sun was out and things warmed up. Removed my North Face jacket and just donned my thermal top. Continued south with Gr Teton as ultimate destination for this day. Afternoon light made for great viewing of Lewis Canyon, I wish there were better pull outs to observe this beautiful feature. Gassed up at Flagg Ranch and entered snowstorm, with very limited visibility. Slowed down significantly and went miles and miles without seeing another car. Snow ended as neared Leeks Bay Marina, picked up take out pizza and greek salad (excellent!) but no view of Tetons due to the cloud coverage. Stopped for photos at several places as the weather improved- near Colter, Jackson Lake Lodge and Oxbow Bend, ended at Togwotee Mountain Lodge. Togwotee Trail construction appears to be complete. The improved road now has wide shoulders, climbing lanes and more pulls offs. The views back to the Tetons are sublime.
Day 3: Drove signal mountain viewing areas Partly cloudy and cold. Continued south along Teton Park Drive, stopping numerous times and ending at Dornan's Pizza/Pasta for lunch. The Chuckwagon appeared to be not yet open for the season. After lunch, drove to Jackson Hole tram. Uncrowded! Made for nice ride up - saw a bear from the tram - and great view from top though nearly 20 degrees cooler on top. Heavy snow (6 to 8' snow drifts) made the summit hikes impractical. Returned north, hiked Lunch Tree Hill by Jackson Lake Lodge. Again solitude was found, no one else on trail!
Day 4: Drove to Jenny Lake to catch shuttle boat. Hiked to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. Weather warmed to 60 degrees with full sun, no clouds. Perfect for this hike. The climb to Inspiration was spectacular, but should have brought sunscreen! Replenished pantry at Dornan's, by far the best grocery in both parks.
Day 5: Time to return to Yellowstone! Roadwork between Jackson Lake Lodge and Colter Bay Village but things were not stopped. Visited West Thumb geyser basin on the way. Bugs and insects really bad here. Features along middle trail appeared completely dormant and dry, so we stuck to the periphery trail. Continued along lake shore, terrible car accident - it appeared that a southbound car ran off the road hit a tree and then rotated 180 degrees though did not flip. (Folks remember to pull off if you decide to view wildlife or scenery!) Continue to Lake Hotel. The lobby, lounge and dining areas just reopened from renovation 3 weeks ago. Things looked great and smelled new. Excellent trout for lunch in dining room (why does the Lake Hotel dining room not have an entry on TA? Because not there I did not enter a review). Dining Room not crowded at all. Continued north to Mud Volcano, somewhat more crowded here. Dragons Mouth put on a nice little show for us, sun was out and warm here. Continued to Grand Canyon area. Started at Artist Point, very crowded at this one, weather feeling colder here and sky clouded up. Walked down Uncle Tom's trail, dark gave way to sunlight after a few minutes and the Canyon colors really came out, and a rainbow appeared in the mist. A large chuck of ice/snow hugged the south wall like a glacier. Continued around to North Rim. Grandview point offered the best view on this particular afternoon, and also not very crowded. Inspiration point nice as well but sky darkened again. Drove to Canyon Lodge attempting to check-in for the room I had reserved 3 months prior. I'll shorten things here but lets just say things completely broke down for me and several others in the lobby and 3 hours later I found myself scrambling around W Yellowstone for a vacancy. Ended up at the banal but clean Days Inn. 3rd floor north side room actually had a panoramic view with mountain tops visible to west, north and east.
Day 6: Focused on the Madison-Norris section this day. Lots of bison out this morning in Madison Valley. Stopped at Gibbon Falls, the road and parking area have been reworked allowing for more space to get off the travel lanes. Stopped at Beryl Spring - the light conditions in late morning were perfect for this one. Hiked Artist Paint Pots loop - this was interesting but anyone short on time could probably skip this one - there was not a lot of action. Stopped at Porcelain geyser basin and it was hopping with activity. Constant Geyser put on a nice little show. Parking here was pretty bad, use your patience here. Continued north to Mammoth Hot Springs, quite disappointing this time. Almost completely dry right now - only one small area with water and the terraces were tiny compared to what I envisioned. If there is no water in spring, what happens later in the summer? With the threat of major roadwork at Tower we turned around and drove back south, turned east to see Virginia Cascades. And stopped at Terrace Springs, this was more interesting than expected. The main pool had a nice little upward spray of activity in sporadic bursts. We were the only ones here so it was very quiet. Returned to W Yellowstone and stopped to view huge bison herds in two different locations. A lot of calves out this time. Excellent meal at Madison Crossing Lounge - the best food we had for the entire trip!
Day 7: Return to Bozeman airport via Gallatin route. Road closed in 3 different places, with single direction and flagging. 10+ minute wait at the first one, only slight wait at the other 2 locations but overall it took about 2 hours from West Yellowstone to the airport.