Saturday, January 26, 2019

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park Review

In the last 10 years or so, we have done a lot of traveling and have been to some very awesome and unique places. Yellowstone National Park is by far my most favorite, unbelievably wild experience that I’ve had in my life.  It is hard to believe that a place like this really exists- and is in the United States! Is Yellowstone is on your bucket list? Make it your next vacation. If Yellowstone isn’t even on your radar, it needs to be! Yellowstone National Park is the world's first national park and it is a privilege to witness the beauty and history it holds. There is truly nothing like it and trust me when I say that you need to experience it!   
I’m going to divide this review into 4 different categories: general things to know before you go, when to go, where we stayed and what we did. We spent most of our time in Yellowstone; but Grand Teton National Park is right next door and I'll talk briefly about that as well. 

Upper Geyser basin area

Things to know before you go
Getting around:
Yellowstone is an extremely large National Park. It spans 2.2 million acres, most of which is located in the state of Wyoming. It takes a VERY long time to travel through and around the park. There are a number of reasons that contribute to this, but it’s mostly due to the size of the park. On average, we spent 3-5 hours in the car each day. That may seem like a lot- and it is, but remember that you’ll be traveling through incredible mountainous terrain and ever changing landscapes thanks to the parks’ 10,000 geothermal features, and you'll have the opportunity to see wildlife around every turn! The park is a sensory overload in the most amazing way and you will want to stop frequently.  
 If you are looking at a map and planning to travel to a point of interest that’s 30 miles from where you are, you should plan for that to take an hour. Another reason that it takes a lot of time to travel through the park is that the average speed limit is 45 mph, and at times it drops to 35. The low speed limit is entirely for your safety and the animals safety. Could you imagine hitting a 2,000 lb animal at 50 m.p.h?  You’ll also need to account for slow moving wildlife (read: bison) being in the road (which you may encounter many times a day), that can often bring you to a dead stop for 15-20 minutes- sometimes up to an hour in the busy summer season. Because we visited in the fall, we made it through the “bison jams” fairly quickly. We truly loved getting to stop for these massive creatures- it was just amazing to witness them and their behavior so close up! My advice while you wait in a jam: Roll down your windows, take in the sights and smells, (oh the smells!) and just be present where you are. Yellowstone is truly just a place of wonder!

 Bison jam! One of our very favorite Yellowstone memories.

Another factor in the time it takes to get around the park is road construction. Again, because we visited the park in the fall, we did not encounter any of this, but I have heard that road construction in the summer (it’s the only time of year it can take place) can cause road closures and slower traffic.

Download the GyPSy guide for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park before you go. Having this audible GPS guide is actually my number one recommendation for visiting the park. It’s like having a personal tour guide of the park right in the car with you! Since the tour is run off of GPS, the tour guide tells you exactly what you are seeing as you see it. He will let you know what’s ahead, tell you what you MUST see, gives history of the park and the science behind the thermal features. My kids loved this and I really believed it helped make the long drives fun for them! It’s 9.99 for the app (for both Grand Teton and Yellowstone) and honestly, it would be easily be worth $50. Please don’t visit the park without having this guide! Also: pack an auxillary cord so that you can listen to this guide over the car speakers instead of your phone's speaker. 

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are essentially connected; when most people talk about a Yellowstone trip, it's likely that they also spent time in Grand Teton. Grand Teton is arguably the more "scenic" of the two- the Teton mountain range is quite majestic and grand. Since the Teton range has no foothills, the mountain range shoots up dramatically, seemingly out of nowhere! When you are trying to decide how to divide your time between these two parks, we found that about 1/4th of the time is a good amount for spending in Grand Teton; 1-2 days is plenty if your trip is about a week. 

We were able to enjoy free admission to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks for free because my son is in 4th grade. The National Park Foundation has a program that gives every 4th grade child free admission to National Parks, some State parks and historic sites during their 4th grade year and for the summer afterward. 

When to go
There are likely many reasons and advantages for every season in Yellowstone. I cannot recommend a fall trip highly enough. The park has quieted down from its busy summer season (you'll be able to get around quicker), wildlife activity is incredible (the elk were in rut!) and the fall colors in the Tetons were beyond words. 

Grand Teton N.P., Jenny Lake area

We visited the park at the end of September through the first week of October. It’s worth noting, that the park does begin slowly shutting down for winter in the first week of October. A lot of the hotel's last reservations for the year are in October, so if you do plan a fall trip, be mindful of that. In November, all entrances to the park close except for the North entrance which remains open all year, and at that point, only a handful of in-park accommodations remain open. 
I realize that fall trips are not always possible for families because of school being in session- but if you can take your kids out (our kids missed 4 days) don’t hesitate! The experience of Yellowstone is a lifetime one and I can say with certainty that they’ll learn more from an experience here than they would in the classroom.  If a summer trip your only option, I’d recommend going at the end of May or during the month of June. Yellowstone Park receives one million visitors in July and August alone. If July or August is your only option, I’d still recommend it! Yellowstone is just THAT amazing, but I strongly urge you to consider going outside the busy summer months.
Because we traveled in the fall, we were able to secure accommodations 4-5 months prior to our departure. If you're planning a summer trip, you'll need to begin looking into accommodations at least a year in advance. 

I think it’s also worth noting my opinion for a good age for children traveling to the park. My kids were 7.5 and 9.5 at the time we went. I really thought it was a great age and I wouldn’t have wanted them to be much younger. My kids travel well (in cars especially) but you need to consider how much you could see each day and handle with your kids. There is a lot of driving, a lot of walking, and getting in and out of the car. This is my personal opinion, but I would not take a child who is in a stroller, was not potty trained, and who still needs naps. Maybe save the trip for a few years when they (and YOU) would get a little more enjoyment out of it!

Where we stayed
For our entire stay, we stayed outside the park in West Yellowstone, Montana. Our condo was just 1 minute from the West Yellowstone Park Entrance. From the Jackson Airport (the closest choice for visiting the park if you’re flying), its about 118 miles, and that drive took us 3 hours with no traffic jams. We chose to stay in this location because we thought it would provide us with quick, central access to the park, which it did, but again: the park is very large and it does take longer than you think to get to where you're going. 

The closest site for us from West Yellowstone was probably Old Faithful, which was still a 45 minute drive with NO traffic. We also chose this location because it put us in between the Upper and Lower loops of Yellowstone, which was where almost everything we wanted to see was located. I really would recommend West Yellowstone as a location to stay, however, I would also consider dividing your time between two locations if you can. 
We didn't look much into in-park accommodations (Old Faithful, Canyon Village, Mammoth, etc), but it would be a good idea to do so if you aren't looking for a condo. Staying inside the park would significantly cut down on some travel time on a few of your days. These accommodations are historic and many of them are described as “Park-itecture” (a term for the buildings that are made to have a rustic appearance and blend in with its surroundings) so even if you don’t stay in them, go in and explore them! 
Looking back, I think it would have been wise to better plan an itinerary for each day, and then stay accordingly to the general location of what we were seeing. Having said that, I don’t regret where we stayed at all. I think just knowing that driving was going to take up a large part of our sight seeing experience would have been good to know.

Things not to miss
We were in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons for 6 days, not including travel days. It was really a great amount of time to be able to see the main parks attractions, and also enjoy some really great “off the beaten path” adventures and hikes. We even had two “down” days, where we didn’t really go far into the park and just sort of relaxed a bit. Even if you only had ONE day in the park- say, you are just passing through in route to somewhere else, I highly recommend checking out a few sites! Here are my top suggestions:

Upper Geyser Basin Area
  • They say that Yellowstone is more than just Old Faithful, and while that’s true, I would personally suggest putting Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin area (home to hundreds of other great geysers) on the top of your list, especially if you were short on time. Plan to spend at least a ½ day here walking around the boardwalks and checking out all of the amazing thermal features.

  • The Midway Geyser basin, home to the world’s largest hot spring, The Grand Prismatic, cannot be missed. You’ll want to see it from the ground (on the boardwalks) but there’s also a short hike (Fairy Falls) that allows you to see the Grand Prismatic and take incredible pictures from up above.
  • Mammoth Hot Springs. This area looks like snow covered mountains, but it’s actually Travertine formations that are constantly changing! Also located near Mammoth is the Boiling River- a frigid river that’s met with hot springs run off. You can get in the water here (we did!), and there are areas where the two extreme temperatures collide and provide excellent little “pools” to relax and soak in. 

 Mammoth Hot Springs terraces

It is wild to experience the Boiling River- where one foot can be in a current that will literally scald your skin, and the other foot in a current that's so cold it feels like a thousand knives. Here I stand where I found a happy medium! 

  • If you stay in West Yellowstone, you’ll pass through Madison Valley every day on your venture into the park. Madison Valley is a hot spot for bald eagles, bison, elk and moose! The Madison River runs through here which draws so much wildlife. If you don’t stay in West Yellowstone, a drive through this area is worth it. Pack a picnic lunch, and find one of the many pull outs in the area along the river to enjoy some time watching fly fisherman and surrounding nature. 
  • The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone truly illustrates the parks grandeur, and its two main parts, the Upper Falls and Lower Falls are a beautiful site to behold. One of my favorite viewpoints in all of Yellowstone, Artist Point, was the very spot where a painter named Thomas Moran painted the Falls and with his painted image, convinced Congress and President Ulysses Grant to establish Yellowstone as the first National Park in 1872.  Also in this area, Canyon Village, has lodging, food and a wonderful Education Center that is definitely worth a stop in!
  • Norris Geyser Basin is home to the world’s tallest geyser, Steamboat geyser.
  • Grand Teton National Park. If you’re flying into Jackson, Wy, you’ll actually land inside the park boundaries of Grand Teton. If you are able, sit on the right side of the airplane coming into Jackson for an epic view of the Teton range! There are so many wonderful things to explore in the Tetons and I think a day, two if you have it, is sufficient time to take it all in. Oxbow Bend is an iconic overlook and is a great place to spot wildlife on the Snake River. The Teton range is quite magnificent, and there are many hikes that put it in your view. Perhaps the most popular, Jenny Lake, is a great hiking area, and you can take a boat tour there in the summer season. We ended up hiking around the entire lake to Hidden Falls (10 miles) but you can take the water taxi (summer season only) and cut the hike to just one mile (round trip) if you're looking for a short hike with great views. 
Jenny Lake: We found a very friendly single hiker from The Netherlands to hike with. We liked her because she had bear spray (which we did not have) and a fun accent; she liked us because we had loud children to potentially eliminate a surprise bear encounter.

Our 10 mile hike wiped us out for any more sight seeing that particular day, but I have heard that a drive to Signal mountain should not be missed: it's the highest road in the park and gives wonderful views of Jackson Hole and the surrounding mountains. 
  • Jackson, WY. The town of Jackson is just a 20 or so minute drive from the Jackson Airport, and its a quintessential little mountain town with lots of galleries, restaurants and souvenir shops. We enjoyed the Persephone Bakery for ridiculously great pastries and coffee, and also Healthy Being (right next door to Persephone) for cold pressed juices, smoothies and healthy snacks. 

Well, that's it! I think I've covered most everything that we did. If you have any specific questions I'd love to answer them. Please free to email me directly at, as I'm more likely to see your question there versus the comments on this blog post. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


We officially have a school boy on our hands- Cameron started his first day of Kindergarten yesterday! He has been ready to go to Kindergarten for so long and now the time has come!

Although I love having him at home with me, I love that he gets to go to school too. And, for another year I get the best of both worlds since he's just doing half day K.

This summer, while we had SO much fun, I often struggled organizing things for him to do. Because of the daily crafts he got to do in Pre-K, he pretty much expected a daily craft at home too. Even though I browsed Pinterest for the latest and greatest crafts and experiments, I came up short toward the end of summer- and Cameron told me I was a "bad craft mom", ha! That sure gave me a good laugh, but it was then that I realized it was time for him to be in school again!

The first day went great- and he says he wants to go to school every day except Sundays. I am anxious for him to make new friends and learn new things!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Farewell, Summer.

Believe it or not, I used to despise summer. For starters, I really hate the intense, never ending heat. And when my kids were younger, it was such a chore to get them out of the house only to sweat through whatever it was that we decided to do. And swimming with two young toddlers who didn't know how to swim was far more trouble than it was worth.

This summer has been a complete game changer for me. Since we were so busy last year with school, Bible Study and other commitments, a laid back summer has been such a welcome change. We have spent a lot of time swimming and both kids have become pretty darn good swimmers. We've been busy, we've been lazy. We traveled across the United States and yet there were a few days we didn't even step foot outside the house.

With Cameron headed to Kindergarten I am realizing that the summer season truly does have a beginning and an end date- making these fun, carefree months seem incredibly short, and I'm coming to realize, incredibly special. My days at home with them are definitely numbered! Here's a glimpse of what we've been up to this summer.


One of our first memorable adventures this summer was picking strawberries at the strawberry patch. The kids loved this so much. We came home with about 5 quarts (some with little Kylie sized bites out of them) that we have used all summer. Its important to me to teach my kids exactly where food comes from (how and where it grows) so they don't assume it just all magically comes from the grocery store! They have asked to go back many times so I'm pretty sure this will become an annual tradition.

The kids both had a session of swim lessons (Kylie's first) this summer too. It is amazing to me how far they have come! Both can swim independently on their own now. Kylie has no fear in the water and has much more skill at 3 years old than Cameron did at that age. We will definitely keep swimming over the fall and winter. 

An evening of Riverfest fireworks, a Wingnuts baseball game, and WAY too many food court concessions. I love this picture- even though it's just a quick cell phone shot! 

Father's Day!

Summer shenanigans... I'm not quite sure what Kylie is doing here! Silly kid.

Cameron and Jon have done quite a bit of fishing this summer. Cameron has caught some impressive fish right from our backyard, and even caught sharks on vacation! We went on a shark fishing excursion and collectively we caught 22 sharks. 

 And speaking of our vacation, we went to Hilton Head Island, SC. We had so much fun there two years ago that we decided to go again. We were there over 4th of July and had a blast!

 We went on boat rides, kayaked, the kids rode horses, ate ice cream (nightly), rode bikes, and of course, spent a ton of time at the beach.

It has been an incredible summer and if I'm honest, I'm not ready for it to end! I always look forward to fall but I'm absolutely savoring the last 7 days of summer before we send Cameron off to school.  

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Life Lately

Hello! I suppose it's about time for an update, huh? It's so hard to believe that it's May already! Now that I have school aged kids, time seems to go even faster. Cameron has 2 weeks left of school and then he is done with Pre-Kindergarden. And then, in just 3 and a half months, he'll start kindergarden! Schools around here start in the middle of August and I know that it will be here in no time at all. Typically I dread summer (the heat, mostly) but this year I'm looking forward to it making the most fun memories with my kids! We have lots of swimming ahead, a beach vacation, and other fun things planned that are sure to make summer fly. 
 Easter Sunday

We've been having a great time this spring, spending as much time as we can outdoors. We visited the Tanganyika Wildlife park in town a few weeks ago, and its such a special treat to be up close and personal with all the animals. It's also a great learning experience as every area has a knowledgeable staff member telling you all about the unique animals.

The kangaroos- probably my favorite. It's so neat to see the little joeys nursing or sleeping in their mommas pouches. 

One of the things keeping us busy outdoors at home is our new vegetable beds we built. We've had some onions and carrots in the ground for some time, and we'll soon get several varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers and broccoli in. Cameron has been helping me water almost daily but we are ready to see the fruits of our labor!

Random: I've mastered french braiding Kylie's hair! 

My niece got married and Kylie was the flower girl. She did perfect and looked so cute!

Seriously, is he not the most handsome boy?!

Cameron had his Pre-K singing program the other evening and it was a western theme. All the kids sure were cute! I am so proud of the kind, sweet boy he is. It really makes me so happy when all of his teachers tell me what a joy he is! I still can't believe I'll be walking him to his Kindergarden class in about 3 months.
Thanks for reading, and I'll be back before too long. =)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Kitchen Updates (and new flooring)!

A couple of weeks ago, we completed a few long awaited updates to our home! We have always wanted a home with hardwood flooring. It was a desire of ours even while living at our old home (and knowing that it wasn't the place to do it) so when we started looking for new homes, we knew that hardwoods would definitely be a part of it. Our current home was very much everything we were looking for, it just needed some changes to make it less cookie cutter and more "ours". We've been at our home how for 2 1/2 years, and have lived with the tile floor and basic carpeting it came with up until this point, knowing that we had other priorities to take care of first (namely, basement finishing). The time finally came and we are so happy with how it turned out!

The After:

We chose a 5" hand scraped maple, and while you cannot see it in the above photo, the planks are fairly distressed have quite a bit of natural wood dimpling. Having that characteristic in wood was really important to me so I didn't freak out every time Cameron dropped a hot wheel on the floor or came into the house with dirt covered roller blades. Jon actually dropped a wrench from a ladder the day we got the new floors in, and we couldn't even find the indention from the fall.

We also chose to change out our countertops to granite, and change the old backsplash (old pictures below). I've never been a big fan of granite as I generally tend to gravitate toward more "subtle" stone countertop patterns. Jon never really has much of an opinion when it comes to home decor, but really expressed his desire for granite in the kitchen. I ended up finding a beautiful granite slab I liked- not too busy or loud- and it looks incredible with our existing cabinets. 

We were able to use our old sink, and undermount it which has been awesome!
The Before (from move in day, hence the mess): Our kitchen came with laminate counters, and a tile backsplash and floor (also the same tile on the bar top there).

Another view of the "before"

I also had the chance to paint the entire living room and kitchen (what a project in itself!). Previously (see: The before) it was the paint color the builder had chosen, which was a beige with yellow-green undertones. I knew I wanted to lighten it up a bit (especially since we were bringing in dark flooring) so I chose 'Chocolate Froth' by Behr (a creamy white) for the majority of the main level and 'Mocha Accent' by Behr for the accent wall you can see above. LOVE those choices. I probably went through 15 paint samples before I landed on these.

Previously, the microwave had its home above the stove, but its been down for weeks and I LOVE not having it (and all its bulkiness) there. The plan is to tile up a bit further, and install a hood. A smaller microwave will go inside the pantry. Also, the floor reads pretty red in this picture, even though it's not. 

The dining nook. Oh, this table set has seen better days. It is really beat up but the size is so perfect for our family and the nook that it's in. I have been looking for a different table for many, many months, one that's the same size but has the capability of extending to seat more people. I have come up empty handed (bar height tables are hard to find!) so Ive decided to build a new table top with a leaf, and use the existing table base and install an extender. I scored some really sweet (and ridiculously cheap) new chairs from Restoration Hardware right before Christmas that will be a part of the new "set" once I'm done.

That's about it! The living room is pretty bare bones and I hope to share more later as I find a rug and some artwork to hang on the walls (that have largely remained blank!). Hope you enjoyed a tour of our updates! =) 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Kylie turns 3!

Kylie is officially 3! I'm a little late with her birthday update (she turned 3 on the 10th) so I thought I'd better update before January was actually over! We had such a fun time spoiling her on her special day. On the evening before her birthday, we went to Chuck E. Cheese for a little fun with the family, and on her actual birthday we celebrated at one of our favorite hibachi restaurants for dinner.

Kylie is a little bit sassy and and is definitely more independent of the two. She doesn't crave or give affection quite like Cameron does, but she still shows her sweetness from time to time. She is much more adventurous than her brother, so open to trying new foods and other things. She is a coffee lover, and most mornings will ask for her own (little) cup of coffee. Last month when we were in Kansas City at The Great Wolf Lodge, we were doing a bit of shopping and Kylie was tired and on a short fuse. While we were inside a store Cameron was harassing her (as he often does) and she wasn't having it. All of a sudden she bursts into tears and screams "I JUST WANT COFFEE!! I JUST. WANT. COFFEE!!" It was a hilariously epic meltdown witnessed by many, and within seconds of exiting the store, she was asleep on my shoulder. Poor girl just wanted some coffee!
She is into everything girly- princesses, bows, jewelry... you name it! I love having a girl so much.

Kylie is definitely a daddy's girl, these two are just so sweet to each other. Jon even got her a bouquet of flowers for her birthday to put in her room. He's such a great dad and the relationship they have is so special!

I made Kylie an Ariel cake for her birthday and it turned out OK, especially for piping it all on (instead of cutting out shapes out of fondant). It took me forever though and I probably won't ever do anything quite that fancy ever again, ha! 
I don't think I will ever get over how incredibly blessed I feel to be her mom. Sometimes I look at her and can't believe that this life we live is indeed real, not just a dream. I just love her to death! 


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