I have been reading the Yellowstone forum for 9 months now and received excellent advice from the destination experts and others willing to share their experiences, for which I am extremely grateful. I am posting our trip report hoping that it may help others, just as we were helped.
We are a family of 4; our boys are 14 and 12. Yellowstone and the surrounding area was part of a 24 day road trip - our first LONG trip. I am happy to say that we all survived. We had our good days and our bad days, but we certainly made memories to last a lifetime.
DAY #1 - Day 11 of our roadtrip was a drive from Rocky Mountain NP to Jackson, WY. We got up early to break down our campsite and were on the road by 7:30 AM. The drive along the Big Thompson River was very nice - a scenic drive between two canyons. We got onto US Hwy 287 and crossed into Wyoming, finding out first hand that bathroom facilities are at a premium on this stretch of road. Once on Rt. 80 West, we stopped in Rock Springs for gas and a quick fast food lunch. Good thing we took care of those necessities in Rock Springs because there really wasn't much else until we got to Pinedale. Southern Wyoming is barren. My youngest son believes he now knows why Wyoming is the least populated of the 50 states. (No offense to those of you who live there.) The day's drive took 9 hours and we were all ready to get out of the car in Jackson.
Our cabin at the Cowboy Village was clean and comfortable, just what we needed after tent camping. When we got into our cabin, we showered, relaxed for a few minutes, and then headed into town for dinner at Café Genevieve. On our way, we passed Dave Hansen's whitewater rafting shop so we popped in and reserved a 10:45 AM trip for Monday morning.
We window shopped until our dinner reservations at 7:30. Dinner was good (I had the trout) and was a little less expensive than I expected. A little more window shopping and some ice cream (huckleberry) for the boys before we returned to our room. We took advantage of the guest laundry and played a few games of cards while waiting. We were all exhausted after a long day.
Day #2 Jackson, WY to GTNP
The alarm went off at 5:30, but we hit snooze a few times! By the time we checked out, it was 8:00, perfect timing for the farmers' market in town square. It was absolutely the best farmers' market I've ever seen. We took the time to first browse all the stands before making a list for dinner. One of the vendors joked with me that he had never in all his years seen someone come to the market with a list. LOL. We focused on supplies for dinner first - onions, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, cucumbers and bread. We also got some peaches, and Italian sausage and chicken breasts. After we got our dinner staples, we focused on the fun foods. We sampled brie, bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches, a variety of cheeses, and some buffalo jerky (which we wound up buying). We all shared a delicious cinnamon donut and each had an egg, sausage, and cheese sandwich. A small donation to a Jackson conservation organization ensured that we had coffee for the drive into the park. AWESOME farmers' market!
When we got into the park, we headed straight to Colter Bay Village to ensure that we would be able to get a campsite, as they are first come, first served. We arrived at about 10:30 and consequently had no trouble securing a site in Loop N, a tent only loop. The campground was not full, but I don't think there were many sites left.
We set up quickly because the skies had darkened and it had started to rain lightly. We had a quick lunch of PB&J sandwiches, chips, and our peaches before heading to the Jenny Lake Visitor Center. By the time we got there, it was raining harder so we donned our full rainsuits. We were a little goofy looking, but we were dry! We spent a few minutes in the visitor center and store and then walked the path to the boat dock and took the shuttle ($26 one way) to the other side of the lake, which I hoped we wouldn't regret given how hard it was raining. Thankfully, soon after we started up Hidden Falls Trail, the rain lightened and the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds. The trails were great - Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point and then we walked the upper lake trail; we had no choice as the lower trail was closed. The entire hike was almost 5 miles, which we all enjoyed. It was only moderately strenuous, but very scenic.
It was nearly 5:15 when we left Jenny Lake so we needed to get back to the campsite to prepare dinner. Of course, it started raining again, just as we were lighting the fire. Our chicken dinner would have been more enjoyable if we had not been dodging raindrops, but it was still delicious.
After dinner, we decided to try our luck at seeing moose at Oxbow Turnout. We saw a herd of elk, but no moose. We played UNO and told jokes until we could no longer keep our eyes open. A great end to another eventful day.
Day #3 GTNP
We were up and out by 6:30 to see if we could take advantage of the early light over the mountains. We stopped at the Colter Bay convenience store for coffee and hot chocolate. It was chilly (in the mid 40s), so we all enjoyed the hot beverages and the car's heater. We were headed first to the Chapel of Transfiguration, but stopped along the way to take some photos. When we arrived at the chapel, it was 7:45 and a sign out front announced an 8 AM worship service (with all this traveling, I had forgotten it was Sunday), so we moved on to the visitors' center near Moose Junction. The center is large and has great displays of the geological features of the park, its history, Native American artifacts, and Teton-related art. We decided to return later in the morning, hoping to take advantage of the still sunny skies for photographing the Mormon Row settlement.
Leaving the visitor center, we noted the location of Dornan's and made a vow to return later. We headed to Mormon Row and picked up a brochure, which gives an overview of the homes and the description of the village as it once stood. ($.50 donation) We decided to investigate the left side of the road first, where several photographers with large lenses were busily clicking away. (I guess I was right about the light.) Just as we were thinking of moving on to the famous Moulton Barn, we noticed a herd of bison in the distance. It looked as if they would eventually cross Antelope Flats Rd. so we decided to get in the car to see if we could get a little closer. The gamble paid off - our first bison jam! We were thrilled, especially with how nonchalant the bison seemed to be - meandering across the road, eating, and being mindful of the whereabouts of the calves. There was a large bison in the back of the line who definitely looked "in charge".
After watching a few minutes longer, we headed back to Mormon Row and took photos of the famous barn. After Mormon Row, we pulled in at Dornan's, not expecting to stay long, but the smell of the chuckwagon breakfast was too much to resist. Our plates heaped with pancakes, eggs, French toast, ham, sausage, and bacon, we enjoyed the warmth of the sun and the view of the majestic Tetons.
On our way back, we stopped again at the Moose visitors' center and spent some time reading and viewing the displays. We continued back to the chapel and took the walk to see Menor's ferry before heading back to Colter Bay. We had been out exploring for nearly 7 hours by that time and several members of the family decided to nap in the car on the way back :)
At Colter Bay, we took advantage of the showers, laundromat, and the boys relished the Wifi access. We were all hungry and looking forward to our sausage, pepper, and onion sandwiches so we postponed a hike that we had planned and chose instead to start cooking even though it was only 3:45. Of course, it started raining again, but even in the rain it was delicious!
After dinner, we decided to do the Swan Lake Trail, which we had postponed from earlier in the day. The trail is quite wooded and I was nervous for bears so I couldn't really enjoy it. We got to the lake, which was loaded with lilypads (probably a good place to see a moose, but I just couldn't stay and enjoy it.) On our way back, three mule deer passed right in front of us. We were able to get a few good pictures. After our walk, we tried the Oxbow Turnout again (I was really hoping for a moose), but no luck again. It certainly was a full day!