Our final leg of the trip back to the Pacific Northwest had us make our way through the western plains, into the mountains and then to the strange and beautiful expansive lands of Yellowstone.
From the Black Hills of South Dakota, we took the long route so we could see Devil’s Tower.
This crazy rock formation juts out of the earth and is a playground for rock climbers. We pulled out our binoculars and saw a few roped in halfway up the monument. So insane!
We drove and drove through pretty grasslands …
… until suddenly this gorgeous mountain range appeared.
The Grand Tetons and surrounding area are some of the prettiest scenery we’ve seen. We arrived on a stormy afternoon and the clouds gave everything a very moody, grand feel.
I’ll be honest, I had no idea how wonderful Jackson, Wyoming and the Teton area is. No idea. It is this fantastic combination of outdoor activities – hiking, biking, river rafting, fishing, yoga in the summer with renowned snow sports in the winter. The town of Jackson Hole is touristy without being obnoxious with wonderful shops and restaurants and a big center park.
We arrived at our campground and were instantly in love. As you pull into the rv campsites in the back, you drive through a tree-lined driveway with two rows of these tiny homes on either side.
For years – YEARS! – Ryan has been trying to convince me to put a group of these on a piece of property to use as a vacation rental property. Of course the second I saw it done in real life I was totally convinced. The tiny homes are made by a Jackson, WY company called Wheelhaus and rented at Fireside Resort. We were so tempted to ditch the trailer and stay instead in a cabin, but they were all rented out. If you find yourself in the Jackson area, consider a stay in one of these. Or maybe someday we’ll actually do Ryan’s idea and have a vacation property of our own for you to rent in the Seattle area :)
Our time in Jackson didn’t cooperate in the weather department which limited our activities just a little. If we had more time and if there was no rain, we would have rented bikes for a day of riding around Jenny Lake. Or we would have found a hike to do in the Tetons. Or ride this fun alpine sled at the ski resort.
Instead, we spent our time in the town of Jackson Hole and enjoyed every second of it.
We started with brunch at Persephone Bakery. The long wait was so worth it and the rain held off just long enough for us to dine outdoors on their fantastic patio.
The lattes were excellent, my sweet potato brussel hash skillet was so good. My son had a cinnamon brioche that I was afraid would be really dry and it was anything but. Everything was amazing.
(This is us trying to take a photo. None came out as I had imagined, but I adore the group anyway. I like Ryan.)
Plus, the decor is just so good. I snapped this photo of the wall quickly so I could forever remember this brilliant idea:
Across from the bakery is the town square with massive antler arches.
Jackson Hole feels like the west and celebrates all that makes it that way. Antlers, wildlife, Pendleton blankets, cowboy hats all mixed in with a slightly yuppy and outdoorsy population of visitors and residents. It’s such a fun combination.
We popped into a handful of shops. Ryan and the boys were thoroughly enthralled with everything in the Mountain Man Toy Shop (naturally).
Down the block was our favorite store of all – maybe of all the shops we visited on the road trip! – called Mountain Dandy.
Again, it was more geared toward men, but I was totally into the atmosphere and styling of the space. And Ryan was in heaven.
The rain started on strong, so we hung out in the bookstore to wait and then refueled with coffees at Cowboy Coffee Co.
By this point in the trip the kids were like, “Mom. We’ve had it with pictures.” And so this is what I got.
Our plan for the next day was to ride the gondola up the mountain for what we heard was the most stunning view of the Grand Teton National Park (and world-famous waffles up at the top), but you know what we did instead? Overslept. And then moved very slowly, watched the Olympics and bagged all of our plans. We’ve learned that sometimes lazy days are just as valuable as sight-seeing ones.
We definitely did not have enough time in Jackson and will absolutely put it on our must-visit-again list.
From Jackson, we drove the short drive to West Yellowstone. We arrived in time to drop of the trailer and venture into our nation’s first National Park for the late afternoon/evening.
Up first was a drive through the park to the Old Faithful geyser.
The National Park System predicts the geyser eruptions within 10 minutes and it blows every 60-90 minutes which makes it pretty likely that you’ll see a real geyser! We arrived minutes after it erupted, so we spent about an hour in the visitors center where the kids started their Junior Ranger books, then joined the crowd outside to watch the eruption (is that what it’s called? I’m not sure).
I may have cried just a little. All my life I’ve heard of Old Faithful and here I stood with my kids and watched it blow! It was so cool.
After the geyser, we drove back the way we came and stopped at another popular Yellowstone attraction called Grand Prismatic Spring.
Yellowstone is such an interesting place and one I’ve never really studied so it was all new to me. The land lies above a volcano which creates the craziest hot springs, bubbling pots of mud and geysers. When I picture hot springs, I think of ones you can soak in – this is not the case with the Yellowstone hotsprings. They are hot, hot springs that will burn you if you touch the water.
There are tiny organisms that can survive in the high temperatures and these are what makes the pools appear to have color.
Blues, greens, browns, red, golden. With steam constantly rising and occasional boiling bubbles. It’s the most other-worldly scenery and utterly beautiful.
On the drive home we caught a glimpse of our first bison herd. Yellowstone is home to the largest population of bison (or American Buffalo) where they roam free. Sightings are not rare but absolutely exciting nonetheless!
Yellowstone is laid out with two main loops through the park that create a rough figure 8. Our second day in the park, we took the north loop, stopping along the way at roadside stops to see wildlife, mudpots and other geysers.
The main visitors center and original home of park-keepers is at the north entrance to the park and also home to Mammoth Hot Springs.
This strange terraced formations are made out of limestone and formed in a way that is a bit over my head (read how they are formed here). There are boardwalk trails to walk along all around which preserve the land and allow for close viewing.
A small herd of Elk decided to walk right through the crowd and stop for a nap on the calcium deposits. That was fun.
After a picnic lunch, more elk sightings and a little bit of hiking, we continued our drive around the loop to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and a stop at Artist’s Point.
The Yellowstone River carved a canyon and with the lower falls in the distance, it is just breathtaking.
(P.S. I’m running out of descriptive words. I mean, every single place we’ve been has been amazing and how do you put original words to any of it?! I’m in awe of our God for creating such beauty).
We made one last stop back near Old Faithful at the historic Old Faithful Inn.
The hotel was built in 1902 with local timber and is said to be the model for all National park architecture.
We grabbed a snack, Audrey lost her first tooth and then we sat out on the upper deck to watch the geyser erupt for a second time. It was a great finish to our time in Yellowstone.
I received a message on instagram while we were in Yellowstone asking if I though it would be a good place to vacation with her 4 and 6 year old. My response was that it wouldn’t be my first choice with young kids and I don’t think that was a popular response :)
So let me clarify: every family vacations differently and has different expectations and things they find enjoyable. Yellowstone was awesome and we all enjoyed our time. What I didn’t realize was that there is a lot of driving involved in getting from cool site to cool site and once there, it is mainly walking and looking. These are not bad things to do with young kids and I absolutely think it is valuable to be out in nature as a family, I just wouldn’t have loved it quite as much if we were traveling with younger kids.
Our original itinerary called for a few days stop in Glacier National Park in Montana before finishing up the trip, but a couple weeks before, we decided to cut that portion. Instead, we drove through Idaho and spent two relaxing days at a gorgeous site in Le Grande, Oregon.
It wasn’t planned, but again, having the freedom at the end of the trip to adjust was so good. We absolutely adored all of our travels, each city and National Park, historical site, tour and restaurant, but at this point, all the kids were talking about was ‘The Farmhouse’.
So instead of cramming in another few days of sight-seeing and long-distance traveling, we found a campground just an hour or so away from ‘The Farmhouse’, plunked ourselves down for a few days and grew more and more excited about a sweet reunion with our family.
It is so hard to believe that the travel portion of the trip is complete! What an amazing adventure it has been and one we will never, ever forget.