Saturday, June 23, 2018

Yellowstone and Grand Teton: A 6-day Guide And Itinerary

An opportunity to take a week off work came out during my transition to a new team so I gladly took it. There were a couple of contenders on which destination I wanted to go next but because I was still on National Park high post Arches, I chose Yellowstone and Grand Teton as my next destination. Some highlights if you’d like to see..

↓ Scroll down to the bottom for itinerary )

Yellowstone National Park is THE poster child of the National Park Service and a favorite to millions of visitors each year. It’s also one of the more well-recognized tourist destinations for foreigners who are visiting USA from overseas. So choosing the right time to go is important if you hate the crowd like me.

The trip was originally planned as an 8-days trip but I had to cut it short to 6 due to personal reason. We felt that 6-days was still a reasonable amount of time to cover both parks. Although we didn’t get to spend as much time as we wanted at Grand Teton, we still felt that we saw enough to cross it off our bucket list.

Getting there
We flew to Salt Lake City from San Jose International Airport and arrived there late afternoon. Knowing that we’d be arriving rather late that day, none of us really wanted to drive long hours after flying so we decided to book a shuttle bus that does door-to-door drop-off from SLC airport to Idaho Falls. I was really nervous about using this service after reading some of its bad reviews on Yelp.  Fortunately, the whole experience went pretty smooth for us so I would recommend it to anyone who doesn’t feel like driving from SLC to Idaho Falls but I cannot guarantee if you’d be one of the the unlucky ones whose buses were late or didn’t show up.

The next day, we took an Uber from our hotel to Idaho Falls Airport to pick up our rental car. Driving to Yellowstone was pretty easy and the scenery as we got closer to the parks were astonishing.

Figure 8 Loop Road
If you study the map of the park, you’ll notice the figure 8 pattern created by what is known as the Grand Loop Road. This figure 8 road will allow you to enter the park from any direction and travel a majority of the famous spots without backtracking. It’s an awesome way to travel the entire park while seeing everything Yellowstone has to offer.

If you’re driving from Idaho Falls, I would recommend entering the park through its West Entrance. It also depends on where you’re staying too. Pro tip: you need to book your hotel reservation /way ahead of time/ if you want to stay within the park. The only room that was available to us at the time was at Lake Hotel Yellowstone National Park so we had to take it. Its location also made it really convenient to plan our two-days itinerary because you could conquer the lower part of the ‘8’ (starting from West Entrance) on day one and the upper part on day two.

Yellowstone National Park Day 1
You would notice as you enter the park that there are plenty of geyser basin dispersed all over the park. Here are a couple of geyser basin that we visited..
  • Fountain Paint Pot (Lower Geyser Basin) - 0.5 mile round trip
  • Grand Prismatic Spring (Midway Geyser Basin) -0.8 mile round trip
  • Old Faithful Geyser -> Morning Glory Pool (Upper Geyser Basin) - 2.8 mile round trip
    Seeing Old Faithful Geyser was kind of an underwhelming experience to me because there are so many parts of the park that are way more interesting than this but it is iconic and is definitely worth stopping by. 
  • West Thumb Geyser Basin - 1 mile round trip


Yellowstone National Park Day 2
One of the many reasons people flock to Yellowstone and Grand Teton is to see its diverse wildlife that live freely and uninterrupted within the park. The wildlife that visitors want to see the most in Yellowstone are Bears, Wolves, Moose, Elk, Bison, Badgers, Otters, Fox and any newborn critter. It became like a fun game for us to try and spot these wild animals (except for bison because they’re everywhere) when we were driving around in our car.

The first thing we did in the morning of our second day was to head over to Hayden Valley to spot some wildlife. We saw a couple of bisons and a sleepy bear across the street.

We then proceeded to drive north to finish the upper loop of the 8 figure road. Some spots that we stopped by..

Upper Falls of Yellowstone  | Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Artist Point
This is definitely my favorite part of the trip. I almost teared up when I got to stand close to the majestic waterfall. Seriously, it’s life changing.

Mammoth Hot Spring - 1.75 mile round trip

That concluded our two-days adventure at Yellowstone National Park. The next day, we woke up early and drive south towards Grand Teton National Park.

Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park, located only 10 miles south of Yellowstone, is huge park that boasts a diverse ecosystem with 310,000 acres of terrain ranging from wildflower meadows to whitewater streams.

It took us less than two hours of driving from Lake Yellowstone Hotel to the entrance of Grand Teton. Along the way, we still managed to visit one last geyser basin, West Thumb Geyser Basin, before exiting Yellowstone.

Some of the spots we visited..

Colter Bay Village General Store where we bought a couple of GTNP souvenirs to bring home to. Had lunch at Pioneer Grill at Jackson Lake Lodge (get their Nutella shakes!). Then we proceeded to Jenny Lake for a nice afternoon stroll around the lake. We also went to Oxbow Bend hoping to spot some moose. Last spot before we left to check into our hotel was the Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center. It’s probably one of the most beautiful visitor center buildings I’ve ever seen so you definitely have to check it out!

The Harkness Hotel
Our last night was spent at a boutique hotel nestled in McCammon, Idaho, a town populated with less than 1000 people. The Harkness Hotel has a charming exterior that looks slightly dated but the interior has been modernized and renovated gorgeously. We were in awe to have found this hidden gem in such a rural town of Idaho.

And that concludes our 6 days trip to the two most iconic national park in the USA, Yellowstone and Grand Teton.

Some pro tips for your Yellowstone + GTNP trip:
• Book your stays early if you want to stay inside the Yellowstone National Park
• Most of the areas within the Yellowstone National Park have little to zero access to wifi/internet. My mom got worried sick when I hadn’t replied to her text in 2 days so make sure your loved ones know you’re going to be offline during the duration of your trip!
• If you’re like me who can’t eat cold cut sandwiches for two straight days, I’d recommend bringing your own food (and utensils!). Food options in Yellowstone were extremely limited and ridiculously overcharged.
• Please please please respect the animals. Don’t do anything that might be harmful to them when you’re trying to take photographs.

Here's my 6-day itinerary to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park

Saturday, June 9
• Fly from San Jose to Salt Lake City
• Take shuttle from airport to Idaho Falls (6:00pm)
• Stay a night in Idaho Falls

Sunday, June 10
• Pick up rental car at Idaho Falls airport
• Drive to West Yellowstone
• Have lunch at Las Palmitas
Fountain Paint Pot (Lower Geyser Basin) - 0.5mile RT 
Grand Prismatic Spring (Midway Geyser Basin) - 0.8mile RT
Old Faithful Geyser -> Morning Glory Pool (Upper Geyser Basin) - 2.8mile RT
West Thumb Geyser Basin - 1mile RT
Monday, June 11
• Have breakfast at hotel
• Explore North Yellowstone whole day
• Go to Hayden Valley (early in the morning)
• Go back to hotel, eat breakfast, rest 
• Upper Falls of Yellowstone -0.25mile RT 
• Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Artist Point -1mile RT
• Lookout Point for Lower Falls of Yellowstone 
• Mammoth Hot Spring - 1.75mile RT
• (if time allows) Norris Geyser Basin 
• Dinner reservation at Lake Hotel 
Tuesday, June 12
• Have breakfast at hotel
• Explore Grand Teton Park full day
• Colter Bay Village Grocery Store 
• Lunch at Jackson Lake Lodge (Mural Room / Pioneer Grill
• Oxbow Bend (to look for Moose) 
• Teton Park Road 
• Jenny Lake 
• The Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center 
• Visit Jenny Lake/Schwabacher Landing to see Sunset 
• Stay a night in The Lodge at Jackson

Wednesday, June 13
• Explore Grand Teton Park half day
• Get coffee/bread from Persephone Bakery, Made, Lee’s Tees 
• Stay a night in The Harkness Hotel

Thursday, June 14
• Drive back to Salt Lake City
• Fly back to San Jose

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6-day Travel Itinerary to Yellowstone and Grand Teton

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