I’ve been staring at the screen for some time now thinking, “what can I possibly say about Yellowstone and Grand Teton?” Everyone knows that Yellowstone is a crown jewel of the national park system. It’s the first national park and one of the most widely known, drawing visitors from every corner of the world. Grand Teton, just a few miles to the south, is perhaps lesser known, but its scenery is equally spectacular. We planned to spend two nights in each park, starting with Grand Teton.
The first night there we camped in Colter Bay campground. They don’t take reservations, but the park has a number of large campsites and we had no trouble getting a spot. The second night we treated ourselves to a camper cabin in Flagg Ranch, which is technically north of the park and acts as somewhat of a transition area between Grand Teton and Yellowstone. The cabins are very basic, with just a bunk bed, table, two chairs and a dresser, but they are new and clean. And hey, sometimes it’s just nice to have a roof over your head.
We arrived in Grand Teton a bit later than hoped, so despite sleeping there two nights we really only had one day to explore the park. Our first stop was Jenny Lake, where we took the shuttle boat across the lake to do a bit of hiking up to Inspiration Point, a lovely overlook that provided some great views – it’s not difficult to understand where the name came from! Instead of buying round-trip boat tickets ($15/adult) we opted to buy one-way tickets ($9/adult) and hike back, which added an extra two miles or so to our outing.
After a leisurely picnic lunch we proceeded with an equally leisurely afternoon. We procured some dinner food and made our way up to our camper cabins to relax by the fire and prepare for an early departure the next morning. Our goal was to get to Yellowstone before the crowds, so we could at least pretend to have the park to ourselves for an hour or two. It sort of worked. Yellowstone is obviously an incredible landscape without compare – how often can you walk inside the caldera of a volcano? Unfortunately, this is a fairly well known fact, and the park is usually mobbed, especially during the summer months. We booked our campsite at Grant Village well in advance, and I think we were wise to do so – they fill up!
So yes, we were expecting the crowds. One thing we weren’t expecting was the cold temperature. The first night it got down to 28 degrees – not too pleasant in a tent. We basically packed our entire lives for this trip, so luckily we had some heavy clothes to throw on, but that still didn’t prevent mid-night shivering. Going to Yellowstone anytime soon? Bring warm clothes! You never know what temps you’re going to get, even in August.
And here’s another tip: bring your own food whenever possible. The general stores in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton offer a limited supply of camp food at a premium price. You’ll have a better selection and better prices if you stock up on groceries outside of the park boarders. We also opted to eat out at the Grant Village restaurant our first night in Yellowstone, primarily to avoid cooking outside in the cold. The food was mediocre, as was the service. But hey, I guess you don’t visit Yellowstone or Grand Teton for the fine dining!
All told, both parks are truly stunning. But you didn’t need me to tell you that! Their reputations precede them, and for good reason. The amount of time we spent in each was pitifully little – you could easily devote a week (longer, really) to these locations. My advice would be to prepare for crowds (patience, deep breaths) and get started early. In the wee morning hours it almost feels like the parks are quiet, the complete opposite from what you’ll get any other time of day. It’s worth the early morning wake up call. Who needs sleep anyway?