Below is a day-by-day itinerary of our family’s fabulous week in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. (Click here to read my tips for planning the trip.)
Day 1: Arrival
Fly into Jackson Hole, Wyoming and rent a car. Grab your last non-national-park meal in Jackson Hole. Stop at a supermarket to stock up on snacks for the next few days. Plan to lug all the edibles you buy into the hotel each night if you don’t want to share with the bears. Preview the gorgeous Grand Tetons on your drive to the historic Old Faithful Inn.
Day 2: Old Faithful – Firehole Falls
Watch Old Faithful do its thing first thing before the big crowds arrive. Grab the eruption schedule for the other geysers, get trail updates and learn lots more about the park at the Old Faithful Visitor’s Center. Wander the easy trails near Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin for more geysers and pools around the Firehole River for the rest of the morning (here are some of the good ones – like Castle Geyser, below). If there’s time, take the short loop up to the observation point behind Old Faithful (and hope for a glimpse of a marmot scrambling around the rocks!)
Drive north to the Fairy Falls trailhead. Check out the Grand Prismatic Spring and enjoy the relative lack of people on the way up to view the falls. Cruise Firehole Lake Drive and back to the main road for herds of bison and elk. Wrap up the afternoon splashing in the warm water of one of the park’s only swimming holes at the base of Firehole Falls. Overlook the mediocre food and high prices for the historic feel of the Old Faithful Inn dining room. Don’t miss the ice cream!
Day 3: Park Tour – Hayden Valley
Let someone else take the wheel and describe the sights: Board the Circle of Fire bus tour for a big-picture perspective on Yellowstone’s main sights. Enjoy bus time to play games, relax and chat with other families traveling. Expect to see elk, baby bison, bald eagles and maybe a yellow-bellied marmot. Consider another hike or excursion if bus tours aren’t your thing.
Gather your belongings and aim north for The Canyon Lodge & Cabins which has hiking and herds of elk right on the property. Allow 90 minutes for the late afternoon drive on which you will stop often to watch wildlife along the way.
Eat an early dinner and drive to find grizzlies in the Hayden Valley. Get ready to see bighorn sheep (even babies!), pronghorn deer, white-tailed deer, black bear and brown-coated black bear.
Day 4: Yellowstone River/Falls – Roosevelt Lodge
Spend the day marveling at the waters and walls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Hike chunks of the North Rim Trail for classic views. Descend the steep and slippery spur trail to Red Rock for the closest view of Lower Yosemite Falls – keeping an eye or an arm on younger kids. Be inspired by the full canyon view at Inspiration Point. Consider a stagecoach or horseback ride if you have time (book ahead to be sure you get a spot.)
Wind down the day at the famous Roosevelt Lodge. Give your name to the hostess at the surprisingly good restaurant (if you didn’t make a reservation) and enjoy the wait with drinks and games in rocking chairs on the porch. Alternatively, do the Old West thing and book ahead for a cookout. Be careful to get back to the hotel before dark or risk colliding with an unsuspecting and massive critter.
Day 5: The Lamar Valley – Yellowstone Lake
Get an “Alpine start,” hire a guide and head for the Lamar Valley (AKA “The American Serengeti.”) Experience the best wildlife viewing of the week watching coyotes eat breakfast, elk so close you can touch, grizzlies wandering less than 100 yards away, and other creatures such as marmots, pronghorn and ospreys.
Head south, stopping at the Victorian-ish Yellowstone Lake Hotel for lunch in the dining room or cafeteria. Absorb your last glimpses of Yellowstone along the lakeshore and say “hello” to the Grand Tetons again. Stay anywhere near Colter Bay Village, Jackson Lake Junction or just outside the park (we loved Teton Mountain Lodge – great food and the kids appreciated the condo-style rooms, big TV, pool and hot tub!) Pat yourself on the back for good parenting with a huckleberry margarita and some gorgeous scenery at the Jackson Lake Lodge.
Day 6: The Grand Tetons – Jenny Lake
Take in Oxbow Bend and more famous views of the Tetons as you amble south to Jenny Lake. Go for a day hike: Try the Lake Solitude Hike to Jenny Falls, the trail to Inspiration Point, or hike around the lake and take a boat back. Find moose, a beaver dam, osprey and cutthroat trout (bring your rod and throw out a few casts while the kids horse around.)
Reward yourselves with an afternoon of swimming, kayaking and relaxing at the lake or Coulter Bay. Choose from the much-improved dinner options of Coulter Bay (Leek’s Pizza worked for us.)
Day 7: Snake River Rafting – Jackson Hole
Get up your courage, hang onto your oar, and ride the rapids of the Snake River with Lewis & Clark. Appreciate their smooth organization, their commitment to safety, their knowledgeable and experienced guides, and their comfort with kids and families. Love the looks on your kids’ faces as they run the river. Agree when they say it was their favorite part of the trip. Expect to pay dearly for any photographic memories of the trip taken by Float-o-graphics.
Book a table at one of Jackson Hole’s popular dinner spots. Wander under the famous antler arches and explore the rest of downtown on your last night in the wilderness.
Day 8 – Departure
Try to squeeze in one last activity/breakfast/game drive on the way to the airport!
MORE! Don’t miss Bethany’s tips for planning a Yellowstone trip: A Prescription for Planning Yellowstone.
by Bethany Phillips, April 2015
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