The Grand Tetons, WY
A couple of years ago, Oscar and I got the opportunity to visit this beautiful state and explore all of its natural wonders with some of our closest friends. Even though we haven’t been back since we have the best memories of our time there. We spent the first half of our trip in Grand Teton National Park. This beautiful park ranks very high on my favorite US National Parks list for multiple reasons. When I think of The Grand Tetons, I’m instantly taken back to breathing in the fresh mountain air, the way the snowcapped peaks tower over endless green pastures and the wildlife that roams so freely throughout the park. If you are looking for a National Park that has it all, you truly cannot go wrong with this choice.
If you are planning on visiting The Grand Tetons, I suggest at least 3 days, but more is probably best to really see and experience the most. We went in mid-August, and despite some hazy days from far away wildfires, the weather was pristine – a little chilly in the morning but warm in the afternoon (Pack layers! See my packing guide for Wyoming here).
We combined our trip to The Grand Tetons with Yellowstone and initially only allotted ourselves 3 days in the park. I can tell you, we definitely needed more (We added a day later on towards the end of our Yellowstone trip because we loved Grand Tetons so much!)
Day 1: Fly into Jackson Hole, WY.
This airport is very unique as it is actually located inside the National Park (the flight in alone was amazing – make sure you fight your friends for a window seat!). Once you arrive, you have the option of renting bear spray directly from the airport. We chose this option because it was much cheaper than purchasing ($27 versus $60!), and we were already planning on returning to this airport for our flight back home. If you didn’t already know, you are not allowed to bring bear spray onto airplanes – another benefit of renting versus buying! Remember, this is not only bear country, but GRIZZLY country, and bear spray should not be skipped!
In addition to renting bear spray, I would also recommend renting a car. The Grand Teton National Park is not necessarily big compared to others (ex., Yellowstone), but it is so much more convenient to rent a vehicle. We spent some time exploring Jackson before we headed to our accommodation. We decided to stay outside of the park here to save some pennies and chose Luton’s Teton Cabins in Moran, WY (this town is located towards the NE side of the park and takes about 45 minutes from Jackson).
Luton’s Teton cabins were so cute and cozy, located in a quiet and peaceful area with views of the Teton Mountain Range. We found that we could typically get to where we needed to go in the park within 30 minutes, sometimes longer depending on wildlife traffic jams (this is seriously a real thing, so make sure you always drive the speed limit and keep your eyes on the road at all times!).
Once we got settled into our cabin, we decided to head to Schwabacher’s Landing for sunset. Let me just say…this place must be at the top of your list, especially if you are a photographer or just enjoy a beautiful view. We even got to see a moose snacking on some grass and wading in the water, completely unphased by all the patrons fawning over her. It was an amazing experience.
Day 2: Jenny Lake
This is one of the most popular places in GTNP, and for good reason. The crystal-clear blue-green lake sits directly underneath the Teton mountain range, and at first, glance looks like it’s directly from a postcard. We decided to spend a good chunk of time here, really taking in the scenery and experience. Make sure you arrive early; the parking lot fills up fast!
We chose one of the most popular hikes (Hidden Falls) to see what the hype was about. You can choose to hike around Jenny Lake or take the shuttle boat across the lake directly to the trailhead. We chose the latter because we wanted to maximize our time here, but I’m sure hiking around the lake would be a beautiful hike as well (if you have the time). There is a small fee for the boat, but it was an awesome experience and totally worth it. The ride is a little less than 10 minutes, and you really get to see Jenny Lake in all its glory. Once we reached the falls, we could understand why this is one of the most popular hikes in the park.
From there, we decided to continue on the trail to Inspiration Point. The trails seemed to empty out from this point on. There is some elevation gain, but not super challenging. The view from the top is truly spectacular, and you get to see all of Jenny Lake. Highly recommend taking the extra time to go on this hike!
Once we finished the hike, we caught the shuttle boat back to the dock. Once we reached the end of the dock, we were able to catch a mama bear and her cub snacking on some huckleberries. It was an unforgettable experience! If you do plan on trying to catch some wildlife, patience is the name of the game. When we first saw the bushes rustling, we weren’t able to see the bears, but we knew we were there. Several people got tired of waiting and left. They missed out on an incredible experience!
We spent some more time at Jenny Lake, visiting the gift shop and relaxing by the water. Afterward, we headed into Jackson to grab some food before we headed to String Lake. If you plan on swimming, String Lake should be at the top of your list. Prepare yourself for cold water but astonishing views. I would suggest going here earlier in the day where the sun is not covered by the mountain peaks (don’t make our mistake!). Regardless of the time, though, you will not be disappointed.
We stopped by Snake River Overlook for sunset to get some cool pictures before heading home. This is another great photo spot!
Day 3: Delta Lake Hike
A 9ish mile out and back trail with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain where the payoff is an incredible, glacial lake with hues of blue and turquoise. Let me preface this by saying that although my friends and I have done some pretty crazy hikes, we were definitely nervous about this hike. At the time, none of us were avid hikers and truly didn’t know what to expect from this hike. We started very early in the morning (0630) and headed towards Amphitheater Lake trailhead. We were told that this parking lot also gets full quickly, so we made it a point to get there early. The trail starts off relatively easy but begins to pick up elevation about a mile or so in – from this point on; you will continue at a constant incline for the remainder of the hike – make sure you are stopping frequently for breaks and water!
To get to Delta Lake, you will follow the Amphitheater trailhead and will eventually break off onto an unmaintained trail at around mile 3-3.5. After the 6th switchback, you will see some wooden staircases off to the right of the trail. This is where the unmaintained trail begins. It is easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled! WARNING: This will be the most challenging part of the hike – you will need to climb on boulder fields, and you will gain about 1,000 feet of elevation in this last mile or so. IT IS CHALLENGING. Take your time, and make sure you are looking back every now and then – the view is incredible!
Eventually, you will get to the lake, and all the effort will be completely and totally worth it. I kept having to remind myself that I wasn’t in another country. This lake is unreal in its beauty and splendor. If you decide to jump in – keep in mind – this is GLACIAL water and, by definition, is absolutely freezing! If I were you, I would get in as soon as I get there, so I don’t lose my nerve (spoiler alert: I lost my nerve)
Day 4: Jackson Lake
We decided to spend this day on Jackson Lake since we didn’t really get a chance to visit it the days prior. We rented some kayaks (I’m going to sound like a broken record, but get there early!). It was relatively cheap to rent them and totally worth it! Unfortunately, it was a little hazy this day, but beautiful nonetheless.
Afterward, we headed to Jackson Dam and enjoyed a nice picnic by the water. We then headed to Mormon Row to see the iconic John Moulton Barn and look at all the old barns and homes that were built in the 1800s. It’s one of the more touristy things to do here, but it was really neat to see how people lived back then.
We grabbed some dinner and headed back into Yellowstone that night. We really wanted to take the Aerial Tramway up the mountain and have dinner up there, but due to COVID-19, it was closed. We still enjoyed a nice meal at ____.
We could have easily spent a week in this beautiful park. If you are short on time, plan to spend at least 3 days, but if you can, longer is best. If you are looking for wildlife, make sure to stop by Oxbow Bend and Moose-Wilson road. We did stop at Oxbow Bend briefly a few times and were told by others that this is a great place to view the famous Grizzly 399 and her cubs. You’ll see a lot of photographers and wildlife enthusiasts posted up here waiting for the perfect shot. Make sure you make a pit stop here to see the mountains’ reflection in the water below.
Remember, this itinerary can help guide you on what to do each day, but sometimes it’s best to go with the flow. If you see a spot with a beautiful view or wildlife, make sure you get out and enjoy it! Your travels are meant to be enjoyed. Always remember to enjoy the view 😉
Final Thoughts: Grand Teton National Park really blew me away. I think this park is truly underrated —to be honest; I had never even heard about this National Park until I started doing research for Yellowstone. If you are planning on visiting, the summer months are the best, but be mindful of wildfires in or around the area.
If you didn’t already know, Yellowstone IS HUGE! It can take several hours to get from one side to the other. Because of this, we decided it would be more logical to stay INSIDE the park. This can be a little expensive, but worth it to not spend precious time in your car. For the first 3 nights, we stayed in Canyon Village. This is one of the best places to stay in Yellowstone due to its proximity to everything we wanted to see. We then stayed 2 nights at the Lake Hotel to see more around that area.
Day 1: We left GTNP early and made our way north towards the South Entrance of Yellowstone (~40 min drive). When I was doing research for sample Yellowstone itineraries, I found it especially hard to figure out what the heck to do each day to see the most. After lots of research, I found that downloading the NPMaps of Yellowstone was extremely helpful in seeing where each popular site was located. This is an exact replica of the NP Map they give you at the park. Refer to this map as you read along! It really helps to get a visual.
We decided to head West and hit up Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin first and follow that road, stopping at the other sites along the way (Midway Geyser Basin/Grand Prismatic Spring), then heading east at Madison towards Canyon, stopping at the sites on that road as well.
We left GTNP very early (~7 am) to get to Old Faithful before the parking lot filled up. We did make a pit stop at Lewis Falls – a very pretty waterfall along the way. Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin is a very popular tourist spot, and Old Faithful is probably one of the most well-known geysers in the world. It isn’t the biggest geyser, but it is the easiest to predict (hence the name), erupting 17-20 times a day! If you want to see it erupt, there will be information at the visitor center as to when the geyser will erupt next (give or take ~10 minutes). We waited here for about 30 minutes, taking turns walking around nearby and in the Visitor Center. Once you’ve seen Old Faithful erupt, make sure you walk along the boardwalks and see all the other geysers here at Upper Geyser Basin. There are so many, and they are all unique in their own way!
From there, we headed to see Grand Prismatic Spring, a gigantic, colorful spring that spans 370 feet wide and 121 feet deep. From the parking lot, you will walk a short distance to the boardwalks that are right next to the springs. You will get an up-close look at the different colors and details — it’s truly incredible to see up close! We opted to hike a short distance to the Overlook (HIGHLY recommend!) to see the spring in all its glory. I truly believe visiting the Grand Prismatic Spring is not complete until you have seen it from the Overlook. It’s out of this world.
Continuing along the same road, we decided to skip a few of the other spots with Geysers (Lower Geyser Basin, Norris Geyser Basin) and head towards Artists Paintpots for our last stop of the day (take a right at the Madison Junction). We stopped at Gibbon Falls before arriving at the Paintpots. The reason we chose to stop at the Paintpots is because of the uniqueness of the area; there are areas where the dirt is red, and there are even bubbling mud pots. It was a very neat place with Boardwalks that take you up to a high vantage point. At that point, you can see all the different shades of brown and red mixing together, resembling an artist’s paint palette.
After spending some time at the Paintpots, we headed towards our accommodation at Canyon Village. We decided to stay here due to its proximity to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and short distances to most everything else we wanted to see.
Day 2: The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Although each part of Yellowstone is unique, this area may have been my favorite. To be honest, I’m a sucker for waterfalls. There are so many hikes to do in this area that take you to different viewpoints of both the Upper and Lower Falls as well as the canyon itself. I can’t even tell you which hike was my favorite because they are all incredible. In case you weren’t aware – there are two waterfalls in this area. Upper Falls is the shorter but wider one, whereas Lower Falls is the taller but skinnier one that falls directly into the canyon. I would allot a whole day or at least a good portion of the day for these hikes.
We decided to start with the hardest – Uncle Tom’s Trail. This hike takes you 500 feet down into the canyon by the Lower Falls via a very large staircase – a “quick but strenuous hike,” according to Google. Unfortunately (but probably fortunately for our knees), this trail was closed when we arrived. We decided to hike along the South Rim trail towards Chittenden Bridge, taking in the overlooks of the Upper and Lower Falls along the way, making our way towards the Brink of both Upper and Lower Falls (these take you right next to the waterfall’s edge). These trails are GORGEOUS. Talk about scenic!
After visiting the Brink of the Upper Falls, we continued along the trail towards the Brink of the Lower Falls. We made a pit stop at Crystal Falls first so a few of us could take a dip in the small pool off to the left. Once we made it to the Brink of the Lower Falls trail, it was packed with people. Apparently, this is a very popular hike! It was probably the most challenging hike of the day because of its elevation gain on the hike back up (252 feet in 0.4 mi!), but absolutely 100% worth it. My favorite lookout point of the whole day!
From this point on, you can continue onto the North Rim trail to Lookout Point, Grand View, Artist Point, and Inspiration Point – we, however, were exhausted and decided to head back to the vehicle at Uncle Tom’s Point and drive to the mentioned spots. They were worth the trip, but I probably wouldn’t have liked the hike all the way to the end of North Rim and back to South Rim!
After checking out all the lookout points, we headed back to Canyon Village to enjoy some drinks and dinner by Otter Creek. This was an amazing little spot for sunset and astrophotography!
Day 3: Mammoth Hot Springs and Lamar Valley.
From Canyon, we drove west and then north to reach Mammoth Hot Springs (~50 min). By this day in our tip, nearby wildfire smoke had crept its way into Yellowstone and made for an eerie backdrop for this strange place.
Upon arrival, one of my friends mentioned that this region looked like “a wasteland.” Another one of my friends said it reminded her of the movie Silent Hill. It was certainly an odd place, but one that was brand new to all of us. We have never seen anything like it and probably won’t again in our lives.
After spending some time here, we decided to visit the neighboring town of Gardiner, Montana. We had originally planned to swim in the nearby Boiling River, but it was closed. If you haven’t guessed already, it is very important to check daily what is open/closed in Yellowstone, as things can change quickly. Shortly after we had visited Old Faithful and the neighboring geysers, the road closed due to another nearby wildfire.
As we passed the hotel by Mammoth, we saw a huge group of female elk and their babies. It was so magical. Once we arrived to Gardiner, we spent some time looking through the shops and grabbing a bite to eat before heading towards Lamar Valley to the east.
Lamar Valley is one of the best, if not the best, places to see wildlife. The best times to visit are sunrise and sunset, as this is when the animals are most active. We headed towards the valley from Gardiner around 4 pm and planned to spend lots of time admiring the scenery along the ~40 mi road. Upon entering, we saw a giant herd of bison. We saw several herds throughout our drive, and each time was just as exciting as the last.
Something to watch out for when trying to spot wildlife in Lamar Valley are cars parked on the side of the road. We passed by a very large amount of cars parked to the side and patrons with telescopes and cameras set up. We always made sure to stop and ask what they saw or what they were waiting for. This time, we were told that there was a large carcass down off the road, and they were waiting for predators to stop by. This is the best way to see wildlife in Lamar Valley, but we figured we would take our chances and continue to drive along the road.
About an hour or so into our drive, we stopped in Icebox Canyon to enjoy the incredible river and surrounding scenery. At this point, we decided to head back towards the entrance of Lamar Valley. To our surprise, we came upon the same people we had seen earlier, but this time there were more patrons, and this time they were actively taking pictures. Something was definitely there! I jumped out of our van and quickly made my way to a good overlook spot. Once I looked into the viewfinder, I saw it! A grizzly! I was so excited I could barely contain it. I was able to snap a few pics before the bear took off running.
We decided to wait around a little bit to see what other predators might be stopping by to pick at what the grizzly had left behind (if anything). We heard chatter from those around us that they believed they saw a wolf pack in the area earlier. We lucked out again a few moments later when we saw a lone black wolf pop up over the hill in the distance, looking regal as ever. It was truly an incredible experience, and I still feel so lucky that our timing was perfect enough to capture both these predators in action. A very worthwhile trip indeed.
We headed back to spend our last night in Canyon Village before departing for our next accommodation in the morning. (Note: The Tower-Roosevelt road from Lamar Valley that runs directly towards Canyon was also closed – so we made our way back towards Mammoth and back towards Canyon that way. I have a feeling we would’ve spotted more animals on this route if it had been opened).
Day 4: Horseback Riding, Lake Hotel, and West Geyser Thumb Basin.
We had originally planned to spend some time on Tower-Roosevelt Road this day, possibly hiking up to Mt. Washburn and visiting the Towe Falls. However, as mentioned above, this road was closed, and therefore this was impossible. The great thing about Yellowstone is there really is so much to do that we didn’t have a hard time figuring out what would replace this time.
Throughout our time in Canyon, we passed by the Canyon Horse corral Stables several times and thought it might be a fun experience to horseback ride. They offer several different options for horseback riding at a relatively cheap price (~$50 for adults). We opted for the 1-hour ride through the hills and countryside. My horse’s name was Sneezy and he was the sweetest boy!
After our little morning adventure with the horses, we headed towards Yellowstone Lake (~45 minutes), where we planned to spend our last two nights in Yellowstone at Lake Hotel. We also chose this accommodation due to its proximity to the rest of what we wanted to do, plus we wanted to enjoy the beautiful lake and hotel!
Lake Hotel and Cottages is a beautifully designed building that I would recommend visiting simply just because of how pretty it is. We stayed in one of the separate cottages and it was so cozy and quaint! Once we checked in, we headed south towards West Thumb Geyser Basin (~45 minutes) for sunset.
I really loved this part of the park at sunset because you could really see the rich blues of the springs, and the steam rising from them near the lake was a super cool experience. Truth be told, by this time in the trip, we were all a little bit tired of the geysers (I know, I know, it’s part of the Yellowstone experience!), but I was pleasantly surprised by this basin.
We stopped a few times on the way back to our accommodation to sit by the lake and watch the ducks and geese playing in the water, but the wildlife highlight was the male elk we saw eating grass on the side of the road. We had been waiting to see a male elk the whole trip!
At this point in our Yellowstone vacation, we had decided that we had basically seen all the main highlights and wanted to spend our final day in Grand Teton National Park. We REALLY loved The Grand Tetons when we went prior to visiting Yellowstone and thought this would be a good opportunity to do some kayaking down there. Lucky for us, our accommodation in Yellowstone was relatively close to the GTNP and Coulter Bay (1 hr 22 minutes). You can find my GTNP post and itinerary here.
Final Thoughts: Yellowstone was an incredibly unique and beautiful place. I felt like each region was a different planet! Yellowstone is the only place in the entire world that has so many geysers in one place and is truly one of a kind. I could probably explore Yellowstone multiple times and not even scratch the surface of all the things there are to see and do.
As a registered nurse working in the Emergency Department, I can honestly say that this trip was one of my favorites. I was able to fully disconnect from the stressors of the pandemic (at the time) and my job and focus on the beauty and splendor of nature. If you’re like me and need the break, you will have no problem finding that here as there is hardly any signal and/or cell service. Sprint and T-Mobile definitely did not work, but Verizon did okay in certain areas. Good Wi-Fi is hard to come by here, but isn’t that kind of the point? Be prepared beforehand and download maps of hikes and roads prior to coming to be extra cautious! I recommend the AllTrails app for hikes, but be careful – to utilize the offline maps, you have to upgrade ($30/year or $60/3 years). You also can’t go wrong with the good old-fashioned National Park Maps! It’s been a couple of years since we took this epic journey through Wyoming, and I still consider it to be one of my absolute favorites.
We hope you enjoyed this article on how to spend an incredible eight days in Wyoming! Have you visited Wyoming? What did you do and where do you recommend others visit during their stay? Comment below.
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