I will preface this post that 1 week in both parks is not nearly enough time. In fact, we are going back out there this upcoming summer for a round 2.
In this trip, we covered many of the "touristy" areas since we haven't seen the park with adult eyes (last time for me was 14+ years ago). Even though we stuck to primarily touristy areas, we still packed a lot into each and every single day.
If you have the stamina to push hard for a week to see everything in both parks, then our game plan is perfect for you. Otherwise I would recommend picking a zone each day and do as much as you can each day, and make note of what to come back to at a future date.
For round 2, we plan on doing more hikes and getting further away from the roads, and trying to find wolves!
For us, it is a 750 mile journey from our town to West Yellowstone, which we split over a day and a half to get there. Almost the entire trip we stayed at free campsites along the way, except for 1 night in Victor, Idaho so we could shower and sleep in a real bed.
This trip occurred at the end of July 2020, and the bugs were pretty bad at many of the campsites. However, all the campsites were in really good shape and was easy access to the parks.
If you want to see a variety of photos from the trip, scroll down and click on the images for larger versions of them.
Day 1: Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley, Norris Geyser Basin
This was probably the biggest push in any day that we did. We covered some of the largest areas in the entire day.
We knew that Mammoth Hot Springs gets busy later in the day, so we got up early and went straight there. We hiked around and checked out the springs and the town for a couple hours before moving on to Lamar Valley.
Plan on lots of animal stops along the way to Lamar Valley. We would stop every few minutes for photos, and we saw a wide range of animals including bears, bison, elk, and birds of prey. We made our way all the way to the Silver Gate and turned around.
The road from Tower-Roosevelt was closed otherwise we would have done a loop, so we had to backtrack back the way we came.
We weren't planning on doing Norris Geyser Basin, but we swung into the parking lot last minute to see if there were any spots. There were cars parked for miles along the road, so we figured it wouldn't work, but somehow we ended up with front row parking.
Norris Geyser Basin is another couple hour trip since there are a couple loops you can do. This was definitely a pretty area and a 'must-do' section of the park.
Afterwards we went back to our campsite outside of West Yellowstone and prepared for the next day.
Day 2: Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Yellowstone Lake, and Old Faithful
The next day we shot out towards Canyon Village and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Surprisingly this section took a very long time, we did all the main stops which was different views of the same location and waterfall, but every view was different and unique. This was also the hottest part of the park so we got cooked in the heat.
Afterwards, we headed towards the East Entrance to see what was that way. We made sure to stop at the mud volcano and any other geyser-ish place we could find. Once we reached the lake, there wasn't much other than views of the lake and surrounding mountains. We then made our way back towards Grant Village and West Thumb Geyser Basin.
The West Thumb Geyser Basin was pretty neat, and we met a park ranger who we talked with for close to an hour. He told us about a lot of different locations we would have to check out on future trips.
We then made our way to Old Faithful. FYI, this is a huge tourist trap, it took at least 20 minutes just to park. Most people sit and wait for the geyser to go off, but there are lots of other loops and geysers to go look at, which we highly recommend. Then make your way back for the show at Old Faithful, which is kind of neat.
That concluded the day for us.
Day 3: Grand Prismatic, Tetons, Jackson, and Victor
On Day 3, we had to make our way down to the Tetons, but we still had stops to make along the west side of the park.
We made sure to hit up all the geysers along the way toward the South Entrance, including the famous Grand Prismatic. Make sure to hit this one early as it gets extremely busy.
We then traveled south, making our way through the Rockefeller Memorial Parkway.
When we arrived in the Tetons, it was moody out and tough to see the mountains, but from what we could see, it was stunning. This was a driving day, so we drove through the park and took notes of places we wanted to revisit over the next couple of days.
We made our way to Jackson, and explored the town. Again, this is a busy area so stay off the main roads unless you want to be stuck in traffic for way longer than necessary. There are tons of little unique shops in town, and some tasty restaurants. Fair warning, the price of food is 2-3x more expensive than West Yellowstone.
We then jumped over the pass back into Idaho and stayed the night in Victor where we got to sleep in a bed and shower (this was like Day 5 of the whole trip).
Day 4: Grand Teton National Park
We timed our 'cabin day' terribly as on Day 4 a Thunderstorm was projected to come through the park. We got into the region early to set up our tent before the weather got too crazy.
Once camp was setup, we went after the park as hard as we could before the storm came in. We went to the north end of the Teton Park Road and followed it south, stopping at Signal Mountain, Jenny Lake, and a few other pulloffs.
We then saw the storm coming in, so we shot out towards the Gros Ventre River Road to see what was out there, which actually turned into a fun drive. We were trying to outrun the storm as we could see lightning in the distance. Finally towards the end of the day, we made our way back to our campsite where we had amazing views of the park the entire time.
Day 5: Finishing the Tetons, and Back to Yellowstone
We woke up very early on Day 5 so we could get some wildlife photography in. I was still not that impressed with the moose shots I had already gotten, so we went around the rivers trying to find moose before it got too hot out.
Unfortunately, we didn't find any moose early in the day, but we did run into a wildlife youtuber that we literally were watching on the way to the park. I recognized Steve Mattheis as we drove past, and when he came back, I jumped out to say hi. He was one of the most polite 'famous' people we've ever met, and was ecstatic to be recognized. He also told us there was a grizzly not too far away but we couldn't see it enough to photograph it. As we parted, he gave us a location to find a bull moose, which was my ultimate goal.
We went to the location to find the bull moose, but kept coming up short. Right as we were turning around to head back to the car, I noticed what didn't look like normal branches in the woods. Sure enough, it was the rack of a bull moose who was laying down trying to hide from the sun.
After that, we made our way back up towards West Yellowstone for 1 final night before heading home.
Day 6: Last Chance at Lamar Valley
I had checked off almost all boxes I wanted to, except for seeing wolves. This was our last chance to find them, so we shot straight up to Lamar Valley.
Unfortunately we didn't find any wolves, but we did find a biker gang that stopped vehicles that were trying to get around a few bison and made them back way the heck up to give the wildlife space. It was pretty neat to see a group take pride in the park and animals and call out others who didn't give a s&*t.
This was it for our trip, and it was time to head back to Washington. We have a lot of new locations we want to visit for our trip this upcoming summer.
If you have any questions about our trip, write a comment down below!
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