On Wednesday 7 June, following 12-days of moochdocking in Colorado, we hit the road for the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks. With a vague notion of destinations, no reservations anywhere, and no solid schedule other than returning to CO before July 4th, it felt great to be back on the road.
We spent the morning making our way across Colorado’s high plateau from the Vail Valley towards Wyoming. After a delicious lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Craig, CO, we turned north on CO-14 and entered Wyoming. For miles on end we saw nothing but rolling hills, distant mesas, and the occasional Pronghorn. Eventually, we met up with Interstate-80 for a quick 80-mile jaunt to the west towards Rock Springs, WY, before heading north towards Jackson.
For the most part, we prefer the meandering and more picturesque US and State highways more than the Interstates. We enjoy driving through the small towns and seeing the interesting sights along the way. The back roads give us a real feel for an area’s personality. However, sometimes we need to strike a balance between our back roads mosey and the need to put some mileage behind us and an interstate is the solution.
After 413-miles, we finally called it a day. We spent the night at the very nice Warren Bridge BLM Campground just outside Pinedale, WY. We considered some free dispersed BLM camping options further south, but Warren Bridge was an hour closer to Jackson and had a dump station on site. It made more sense for us because we planned to dry camp in the Tetons and wanted empty black and grey tanks and a full fresh water tank. There were only a handful of other rigs at Warren Bridge and the über-friendly hosts immediately greeted us and gave us the rundown. Owen enjoyed riding around the campground and playing in the labyrinth after 8-hours cooped up in the truck.
Early the next morning, after a thorough pump and dump, we headed north and followed the thaw-swollen Hoback and Snake Rivers into Jackson, WY and Grand Teton National Park.
The Tetons is one of our favorite National Parks. Both Anna and I still recall the awe we felt upon first seeing the peaks rising up over 7,000-feet from the floor of Jackson Hole. We could sit and watch the vast array of diverse wildlife in the valley or the clouds roll around the peaks for hours on end. Grand Teton National Park never seems to gets old to us.
Though we didn’t have reservations, with several options both inside the park and in the National Forest surrounding the valley, I was confident in our ability to find somewhere to stay. Our first choice was a National Forest dispersed camping area known as Upper Teton View. Given the quantity and quality of reviews on Campendium, I suspected this area might be busy. I was right!
Luckily, we arrived at Upper Teton View early and managed to snag a prime spot with gorgeous, unobstructed views of the valley and the Tetons. Once we were parked as the afternoon wore on, the dispersed area quickly filled with other travellers. The building community didn’t bother us though, we still had our view and new-comers were spacing themselves out nicely so as to not interfere with other campers. However, after a GIGANTIC Texas fifth wheel pulled up right next to us, deployed their multiple slides, and fired up their TWO loud and obnoxious generators, I was beginning to question the wisdom of our decision.
Over cocktails that evening, Anna and I even began to discuss moving to one of the National Park campgrounds because they have rules and designated sites. For instance, you generally can’t run your generator 24/7 and you have to park in a designated site, that isn’t right up in your neighbor’s junk. Thankfully, the Texans killed their generators sometime around 10pm—I guess when they were done playing video games and watching their satellite TV—and everyone had a restful nights sleep.
We awoke the next morning to find the Texans (and several of the other late arrivals) gone; the camping area was peaceful and empty again. This would become the routine for the remainder of our stay. By mid-afternoon, overnighters would start to arrive in droves and by sunset the place was packed. However, by early the next morning the grassy plateau was relatively empty again. Since we were out and about most of the time, combined with our relatively isolated and front-row view of the Tetons, we spent four glorious nights enjoying our own little slice of paradise. We hated to leave. That is until we were packing up and three GIGANTIC matching fifth wheels pulled in.As the new rigs jockeyed for position, I noticed they were hovering like vultures, waiting for our luxurious site to open up. Being a good neighbor, I mentioned we had about 30-45 minutes before we were ready to depart and they were welcomed to our site. No problem, the new comers killed the time by unloading a couple full-size, residential propane grills and more than one ATV, while enjoying several PBRs and smokes. Meanwhile multiple dogs and kids ran amok around the entire dispersed camping plateau, inspecting the other sites and alternately throwing rocks off the ridge or at each other. Maybe we didn’t hate to leave after all?
Where I was pretty confident in our ability to find a campsite in the Tetons, I was less so about our chances in Yellowstone. Given how crazy Yellowstone is in the summer, combined with the fact that many of the first-come, first-served campgrounds were still closed for the season, I was concerned that we may not find a spot inside the park. Because Yellowstone is HUGE, we definitely wanted to be inside the park so we wouldn’t be forced to deal with the entrance lines.
Towards the end of stay in the Tetons, after we had done everything we wanted to do, we decided to take advantage of a bad weather day and drive to Yellowstone to scope out campgrounds. Grant Village was the first open area as we drove north from the Tetons. While Anna and Owen checked out the Grant Village Visitor Center, I went to the campground to see what was available. Our plan paid off with a reservation for five nights in the Grant Village campground. On Monday June 12th we moved to Yellowstone National Park.
We had first visited Yellowstone in October 2009, during a cross-country move. Anna was five months pregnant at the time so Owen has never been to Yellowstone. Our 2009 visit was right after the first snowstorm of the season and the park was relatively empty and incredibly beautiful with all the fresh snow. We managed to score a last minute room at one of the lodges near Old Faithful and had a fantastic time touring the empty park. While we knew it would be much busier this time around, we looked forward to sharing Yellowstone with Owen.
In all, we spent 10-days in Yellowstone. Our plan was to spend the first half our stay in the southern portion of the park and then move further north to make exploring that end of the park easier. During our stay in Grant, we managed to explore most of the major southern areas, including multiple visits to the Upper and Midway Geyser Basins, as well as the Canyon area. We also spent one long afternoon driving out through the Lamar Valley, which was relatively deserted and stunningly picturesque.After Grant, we headed north. We had been unable to get a reservation for our second half stay and planned leave early and stop at campgrounds until we found something. Our first planned stop was at Madison (our preferred choice). If no joy, then we would venture onward to Norris, Indian Creek, and ultimately Mammoth. If we couldn’t get a site anywhere in the park, we would take it as a sign and leave Yellowstone to continue our explorations into Montana. As we approached Madison, I commented to Anna that since I had been unable to get a reservation all week, we should skip it and continue to Norris. Anna insisted we stop and I’m glad I listened to her! Even though the sign out front said “Full” we snagged a really nice pull-through site. The folks at the front window cautioned me that I might not fit into that site, but we easily got into it and had room to spare. In our opinion, the Madison Campground is one of the nicest campgrounds in Yellowstone and is easily our favorite.
Where Grant was old, run-down, crowded, and muddy (we had a lot of rain and snow during our stay), Madison was much newer, with clean and well-maintained facilities. Madison’s campsites were also large with plenty of open space amongst the trees to spread out. With the majority of our touristing completed, we were able to sit back and enjoy Madison’s numerous Ranger Programs and its easy access to the Madison, Firehole, and Gibbon Rivers. Although Owen had already completed his Junior Ranger and Young Scientist booklets and earned the patches, he attended several Junior Ranger programs at the Madison Junior Ranger Station. The campground’s location at the confluence of the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers into the Madison River made fly fishing these world-renowned rivers an easy walk from the campground. Owen and I spent a few mornings and afternoons on the water looking for fish. The Bottom Line? We loved Madison and can’t wait to go back.Midway through our visit to Yellowstone we began to notice an increasing number of daily visitors. On Saturday, 17 June I drove into West Yellowstone, MT to procure a very specific fly rod for Owen and discovered a quarter-mile long line to get back in to the park. Finding a parking spot at the popular attractions between the hours of 10am and 4pm was becoming difficult. Trash was starting to overflow. The geysers were beginning to sprout hats and vault toilets at the pullouts were extra ripe. On Monday the 19th, we drove to Mammoth Hot Springs and promptly got stuck in a 5-mile long Bison-Jam that took an hour to negotiate. Yellowstone finally thawed for the season and Humanity was beginning to bloom; time for us to go…
We knew it was time for us to move on as congested roadways, wildlife-induced traffic jams, overflowing parking lots, and humanity-clogged visitor centers became the norm. Don’t get me wrong we love Yellowstone! Spending 10-days in the park had us reconsidering future plans and wondering if a season in Yellowstone was right for us? We enjoyed almost every minute in the park and briefly considered relocating to Mammoth or trying to extend our stay at Madison, but we knew we had to pull-chocks and continue our journey. So, we were just a little sad as we packed up and headed out on the 20th. But our departure decision was quickly validated as we passed a 10-1/2 mile long, on-coming lane, Bison-jam that was filled with cars, trucks, and RVs of every shape and size, all loaded with people looking for some Yellowstone magic. Time for us to go before that magic wore off…