So as most of you already know, Jesse and I were originally going to be traveling around Iceland for 2 weeks once I got out of school but due to some unfortunate circumstances, we weren’t able to go. Fortunately, we were able to change our plans and decided to go on a road trip to see some of the incredible national parks that Jesse and I had never been to! We drove through Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Arizona and were lucky enough to see 4 different parks. We spent the longest time at Yellowstone out of all the parks and it definitely lived up to expectations.
It was about a 15 hour drive from San Diego to Yellowstone but we split the driving into 2 days and stayed the first night in St. George, Utah. We had originally wanted to stay in the actual park, but everything (that was under $100 a night), was already booked and apparently had been for months. **TIP** If you’re planning a trip to one of the big national parks (Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, etc), book your accommodations the day they open the websites for bookings, which is usually some time in the winter. So even though we didn’t get to stay right in the park, we stayed in a small hotel in the town of West Yellowstone, which is actually in Montana, and was a short 1 mile drive from the entrance to the park. The town was also very cute, but pretty touristy.
One of the biggest surprises we had when we got into Idaho/Montana/Wyoming was the weather. We get spoiled all year round with sunny 70 degree weather almost every day and even though we both grew up with Vermont winters, it was a shock to have the temperature in the 30s each day. Also, snow?! It’s been a couple years since Jesse and I have been back to Vermont in the winter, so it was a pretty awesome surprise to see snow in May!
Anyway, we spent 3 days exploring Yellowstone before heading south to Grand Teton National Park.
Since Jesse is in the military, he is able to get free annual passes to all the national parks, so we were able to avoid paying the $30/day park entrance fee ($90 saved!).
In the first mile after entering Yellowstone, we were immediately surrounded by beauty. As we drove along the main road, to the left and right of us was the Madison River. Conveniently, there were many places along the road to pull over to get pictures and take in the scenery. Within the first hour of being in the park, we saw our first herd of bison.
They were very mellow since they were obviously used to people gawking at them, so we were able to get pretty close to them, with just a narrow river separating us. Not surprisingly, we had to constantly watch the ground the we were walking because of the massive piles of bison poop.
The road around Yellowstone is a big loop that ends up being around 100 miles total with a few detours and then there are 4 entrances to the park. We came through the west entrance each day and only went down to Old Faithful on our first day.
For the rest of the day, we stopped at a few geysers, including Old Faithful, along the road and took many opportunities to stop and take photos.
On our way out of the park, we happened to see a large group of people standing by the side of the river, which usually meant that there was some type of wildlife. As we got closer, we realized that it was a grizzly bear!
Since it had been so cold and had been snowing off and on again, Jesse and I came prepared on our second day with mittens and hats, although neither of us have winter coats anymore (Yay California life!). We decided to drive the entire main road around Yellowstone, which ended up taking us around 5 hours with many stops and little hikes.
Our first big stop was at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It was absolutely gorgeous and pretty much exactly what it sounds like, although obviously much smaller than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. There are tons of hiking trails leading into the canyon as well, and the entire thing is about 24 miles long. On our next trip to Yellowstone, we definitely plan on spending a day hiking in the canyon, but the views from above were pretty spectacular.
At another stop along the road, we ran into a MASSIVE herd of bison. I’m talking probably 70+ bison and calves. We walked along a path to get a better view of the herd and unfortunately the picture below doesn’t show you how many bison there actually were, since a lot were behind the trees. Right after I took this picture, the herd started moving towards us and we definitely did not want any bison charging at us for getting too close to the calves. And if you didn’t already know, bison calves are so CUTE!
We went to Old Faithful the day prior, but we didn’t stay around to see it erupt so we planned our afternoon around getting there in order to see the eruption, which usually happens every couple hours. In the visitor’s center, they have a clock giving a window of about 20 minutes when the eruption will happen next.
So right before heading to dinner at the Old Faithful Inn, we gathered at the geyser and waited with hundreds of other people to see it erupt, and it was well worth the wait!
Our last day at Yellowstone, we wanted to visit the few spots that we hadn’t been to yet. We checked out of our hotel room pretty early in the morning so we could spend a couple hours at Yellowstone and then drive through to Grand Teton National Park, and finally Salt Lake City for the night.
As usual, we stopped along the road a few times to see the bison grazing in the fields and then made our way to our first stop, Norris Geyser Basin.
After visiting the geyser, we headed to our final stop, Yellowstone Lake. This lake was absolutely stunning and we happened to find an empty campground and walked through the woods of the campground to a completely deserted spot on the beach.
There were many warnings about bears all over Yellowstone, if you were hiking or camping in the woods, so I’m not sure if it was our imaginations or not, but we kept hearing rustling leaves and what sounded like scratching on trees. Unfortunately, we were not prepared with bear spray, so if we happened to encounter a bear, that would have been it. Jesse has always been the logical thinker out of the two of us in potentially dangerous situations, so he made sure to let me know where his car keys were in his front pocket in the case of a bear attack (lucky me).
On another note, we were really hoping to see wolves while in Yellowstone, but sadly we didn’t. There are only around 100 wolves in the entire park so it would have been pretty rare to spot one.
We were sad leaving Yellowstone because it was definitely one of the most beautiful places in the country that either of us have visited. Next time we’re back, it will be in the fall for foliage season!