Two of the most beautiful and iconic national parks in the U.S. are next door neighbors to each other: Grand Teton and Yellowstone. We booked early – and got lucky – and were able to line up in-the-park lodging for both. In Grand Teton, we stayed in a charming, historic cabin in the Colter Bay area. It was perfect for getting around to other parts of the park and for enjoying nature right outside our door. On our first day at Grand Teton, we drove to the popular Jenny Lake area. Despite the long line, we took the boat across the lake to hike up to Inspiration Point and then continued into Cascade Canyon. We certainly had plenty of company, and there was a bit of smoky haze, but it was a great day. The following day, we stuck closer to home and hiked the less spectacular, but more secluded areas of Heron Lake and Swan Lake. Getting up and getting out early helps a lot and we saw very few other hikers along the trail. We took a day to tour the historic buildings around the park: a Mormon Village, and a trading post with a barge to transport people across the river. We also enjoyed a little “city time” in nearby Jackson Hole. On our last day at Grand Teton, we got up early and rented a tandem kayak to paddle around Jackson Lake. In the afternoon, I took a little walk and was lucky enough to see – and photograph – a fox! At the end of the day, we took a swim at Swim Beach, a fun place, despite its unoriginal name.
Our time at Grand Teton was easy – we skipped the full-service restaurant there to avoid waits, but enjoyed food from a pizza and salad place in Colter Bay, and were pleasantly surprised at the variety of prepared foods at the Colter Bay grocery. We supplemented with food we had brought and we used our kitchen-in-a-suitcase when needed. We had prepared ourselves for more challenges in terms of crowds and limited availability of food and services but, all in all, it was a very pleasant visit.
Challenges at Yellowstone
John and I had reservations at the Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone. I had been to the Canyon Village six years ago when my daughter and I tent camped in that same area. I was excited to get back there and also to get to stay at the Canyon Lodge. Sadly, the Canyon area was a challenge from the beginning. On our first day there while at the Visitor Center, we were gently told that masks are now required in federal buildings, and we happily complied, even though we are both fully vaccinated. By 48 hours later, the Visitor Center had closed down entirely, leaving a ‘lone ranger’ sitting at a desk in front of the locked building, a long line of park visitors waiting for her advice.
The Canyon Lodge was disappointing as well. The power went out multiple times per day, the hotel needed cleaning, and internet service was practically non-existent, even in the places where it should have been offered. Worst of all, this large area had only one eatery open in the evening, with ridiculously long lines. I overheard one conversation between disappointed people who approached a Canyon Village employee to see if there were other dining options. She snapped back at them, “You’re in the middle of nowhere. What do you expect? If you can’t stand in line, try the gas station (in the Village) and see if you can find something to eat there.” Once again, our kitchen-in-a-suitcase and food we had bought before we arrived in Yellowstone saved the day. In our small room in the lodge, hunkered down over our bowl of rice and ranch beans sprinkled with cheese, it felt a little more like a gulag than a national park adventure, but it kept us fed!
You might wonder if we would make the decision to stay in the park if we had known what we were in for, and it might be a surprise to know that the answer is a definitive “yes, we would.” We spoke to people who stayed in West Glacier, outside of the park, who waited for over an hour in a line of cars to get in the park and then still had another hour to drive to get to a place such as the Canyon Village – and that could be longer if there are buffalo blocking the road. In these parks, getting up and out before everyone else is paramount to avoid crowds, and there’s no way to do that if it takes several hours of travel to even arrive at your planned destination.
In the end, we had some wonderful experiences in the park, most notably hiking the South Rim trail of the Canyon up to Artist’s point and seeing some of the geothermal features. Due to the situation in the Canyon Village, however, we made the decision to leave Yellowstone two days ahead of schedule, which was fine because our proximity to good areas of the park enabled us to see a lot in the three days we were there.
Moving on from Yellowstone
The question was, where to go? When my daughter, Mary, and I were tent camping in Yellowstone six years ago, we left one day early due to rain and sub-freezing temperatures (in July!) and so we just went up to Bozeman and got an inexpensive motel room to wash our clothes and dry out our soggy tent. John and I checked Bozeman, only to find that prices for the few hotel rooms available were way out of line. The Comfort Inn was $300 plus a night! We’ve read that so many out-of-state folks have moved to Bozeman, mostly from California, that it now sports the nickname “Boz Angeles.” We continued to look and settled on Ennis, MT a fly fishing destination southwest of Bozeman. Neither of us had ever heard of Ennis, but we were happy to get what I think was the last reservation in town for two nights. It turned out that Ennis was charming and fun, with plenty of local characters. One of those local characters, a waitress at Bynee’s restaurant named Karen – and, yes, we did ask her about she thought of what the name “Karen” now stands for, and she was pretty funny – a friend told her that a “Karen” is abrasive and bossy and “our” Karen’s response was, “yeah, so?” She told us about Virginia City, former capital of the Montana territory and gold rush town that was bought up by Charles and Sue Bovey in the 1940s and made into an open-air museum of Montana’s gold rush era. It was less than twenty minutes from our hotel! We headed to Virginia City and its neighbor, Nevada City, on Sunday and made a full, and very fun and interesting, day of it.
So, I think what we have learned as we travel is this: if something isn’t working out, don’t be afraid to be flexible and move on to another place – we never know what fun and interesting adventure lies just around the corner.