In September 2017, we put together a two week road trip to the Northern Rockies. Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks were the main goal, but we also spent 4 nights getting there and 3 nights on the return. Weather was pretty good, except for the three snow days in the Parks!
The plan was to tent camp 8 total nights in the parks (6 in Yellowstone and 2 in Grand Teton), but wound up doing only 6 total, as you will see down below! We bought a great double wide and thick sleeping pad that made sleeping on the ground very comfortable.
We stayed the first night of the trip in Denver visiting Steven and Amanda. Then on to Buffalo Wyoming crossing the prairies of Eastern Wyoming. The drive was broken up with a stop in Casper to walk the urban path along the Platte River, plus an unexpectedly good lunch at a Venezuelan restaurant!
Then on to Buffalo WY for the night. The next day we drove to Red Lodge Montana, driving through the Bighorn Mountains. We of course got in a hike to some beautiful lakes in the Cloud Peak Wilderness on the way. Love those mountain reflections in calm water!
The next day was a drive along the Beartooth Scenic Highway. The views were spectacular, even though distant vistas were compromised by some smoke from forest fires in other Western states! The road is a high drive above tree line with views galore and many lakes. We only covered 60+ miles today, ending up in Cooke City MT.
Another hike to Island, Night and Beauty Lakes, mostly on a high flat plateau. As you can see, gorgeous weather.
Finally got to Yellowstone! We entered via the Northeast entrance (the Senior Pass is great!) and drove through the Tower/Roosevelt area.
We stopped MANY times for wildlife, pullouts and short hikes. We saw distant Mountain Goats, easy to spot with their white against the rocks. A juvenile Osprey in its nest. We loved the mountain reflections on Trout Lake. Our longest hike was in the Lamar River Valley. Pronghorn Antelope and close up walking through a herd of Bison was outstanding. Reminded us a little bit of the plains and animals in Africa.
Tower Falls was very nice, as were all the views of the North Yellowstone River canyon. We did another short hike along the canyon rim, hurrying along due to some ominous clouds on the way...
Mount Washburn at 10,243 feet. Views were kind of bad due to low clouds, but it looked to be the best day of the next several days! Windy too. Sitting inside the lookout tower at the top was nice!
The next day was our only peak hike, up Also encountered LOTS of Bighorn Sheep, some up close and personal. The clouds started breaking up a bit on the way down, so there were some views. We'll have to reclimb in good weather on a future visit!
In the afternoon we drove south through the Hayden Valley towards Lake Yellowstone, passing by the Sulphur Cauldron and Mud Volcano geothermal area. Lots of steam, mud pits, pools, etc. Then on to the lake, in a driving rainstorm! Needless to say, our lakeshore hike plans were abandoned.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Upper and Lower Falls The are probably the most scenic area of the park. We visited three time in varying weather conditions: cloudy and snowing, snow on the ground, one sunny morning. Thus the following pictures are a selection from all visits. The colors of the canyon are beautiful and the Lower Falls is so photogenic from the close as well as far viewpoints.
We got in several short hikes to closer viewing platforms, a couple down 500 feet of vertical into the canyon. Looking down from the "Brink" platforms was very interesting! And the scenes with snow also amazing.
Mammoth Hot Springs due to the first overnight snow that left a couple of inches in the campground. Checking at the visitor's center Day showed
We were not sure we would get to Dunraven Pass to the North was closed, but would open soon. So we putzed around with a long breakfast and revisited the canyon and falls.
The pass opened late morning so we headed to Mammoth, seeing Pronghorns and Bison in the snow. Beautiful Undine Falls too. The Springs geothermal features were also outstanding with the snow and steam. We saw our first elk here, and there were lots! Even one huge bull elk right in town. Hiked the Beaver Ponds loop above Mammoth, seeing ponds, more elks and views into Montana. Then saw lots more elk along the drive back, including bulls bugling. And Wraith Falls, including a lone wolf above the path to the falls (no pics unfortunately).
Madison was our second campground in Yellowstone. The river valleys were very scenic, with isolated geothermal areas and Gibbon Falls. We saw a couple of elk groups with their big bulls watching out for interlopers! A short hike to Harlequin Lake revealed a pretty sight with lots of Lily pads.
Norris Geyser Basin and surrounding hot spots. What can you say? Gorgeous pools, colors, steaming cauldrons, small geyThe second geothermal area we visited was the sers, weird forms, bubbling mud pits. You can see everything here!
Now for the big tourist spot! Old Faithful Day! There are actually three different areas on the drive south from Madison: Lower, Middle and Upper Geyser basins (Old Faithful is in Upper). Of course we stopped at all the basins!
The view of the Lower Geyser basin from afar was great, with many steaming pools. We saw some great small geysers erupting too, along with the fantastic pools, colors and forms. The most amazing sight was Grand Prismatic Spring in the Middle Geyser Basin from above (a two mile round trip hike to the observation point). It looks like a huge weepy eye!
And finally, the crowded touristy area around Old Faithful. It goes off about every 90 minutes and the crowds do arrive early! But our favorite geyser was Castle Geyser. It only erupts about every 10-12 hours but we lucked out on our timing. It erupted up to 90 feet high and went on for more than 20 minutes.
After six nights of camping in Yellowstone, we were planning on transferring to a Grand Teton campground for the next two nights. Wrong! It was snowing and sleeting hard as we broke camp, thus we could not keep our gear dry. So we bagged the camping and reserved the next two nights at the Togwotee Mountain Lodge east of the park!
The other big problem was that most of the Yellowstone roads/exits were closed due to the snow with no estimated opening times! The West entrance/exit was still open so we had to make a big western loop through Idaho and come into Grand Teton from the South. No time for additional activities, ugh.
We did get some clearing skies for a time and the Grand Tetons views were outstanding! We did several hikes on the second day to String/Leigh Lakes and Hidden Falls in the Jenny Lake area (taking the shuttle boat back across the lake from the falls).
We had our third snowfall that last night at the Lodge. Up to 6 inches on the vehicle that morning! Luckily it did not cause any driving issues... We lucked out bigtime when it came to our only Moose sighting. At the last pullout we stopped at before leaving the park, a van driver told us where to find a small Moose group along a dirt road a few miles away. And sure enough, we found them: two bull Moose in the snow!
Leaving the mountains and forests behind and driving down Western Wyoming into Utah. The scenery changes into desert and reds and interesting shapes! The Flaming Gorge Reservoir is an intense blue against the reddish canyon walls. We also saw a nice group of Bighorn Rams along the rim. The next day we visited Fantasy Canyon way out in the middle of nowhere! It is a small area of very weird erosional forms. Just the kind of weird desert and badlands landscape we like!
On to Colorado! We visited several Rock Art sites outside of the town of Rangely, including Mellen Cave, East Four Mile Draw and the Kokopelli pictograph right along the highway. Then on to Grand Junction and the Colorado National Monument.
Western Colorado is much like Utah, with beautiful desert scenery and red rock canyons and monoliths. We did a long hike down into Monument Canyon, enjoying walking below the rim and alongside towering spires. The picture of the Bighorn Sheep walking along a stone wall was neat! We also did a short hike to the Devil's Kitchen, a fun rock exploration area.
The last day was spent driving down through the San Juan mountains of Southwest Colorado. The big peak in the snowy mountain range is Mount Sneffels. We climbed that back in 2010. Being the end of September, the fall color between Ouray and Silverton was outstanding! Instead of "wildlife jams", we encountered "leaf peeper jams" at several colorful aspen vistas. We also visited the Ironton mining ghost town and the scenic Colorado Boy mine.
A great trip! We saw lots of great scenery, lots of wildlife (except the Grizzly Bear), had interesting experiences with snow! But now we have to go back, because we missed too many sights and trails! It just takes time!
Hope everyone enjoys this travelogue.