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Trip to Yellowstone and Teton National Parks

Author: Terry Marsh
Date of Trip: May 2007

First let me say I am sorry this review is so long. I wanted to include as much info as I could to help anyone planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park (N.P.) and/or Grand Teton N.P.

We recently went to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park for 8 days. Over all I will tell you it was a good trip. The National Parks were absolutely beautiful and in Yellowstone, you will see things that you will have a hard time finding anywhere else.

I will start out by stating the one big mistake of our trip. We flew into Salt Lake City and rented a car – Lincoln Navigator (was a perfect car for the trip). We drove up a very scenic route through Utah, a small portion of Idaho and then into Wyoming until we got to Teton Village which is where we stayed for five days. We stayed in the Snake River Lodge and Spa. Although Snake River Lodge was wonderful, it was a mistake for us to stay there for five days. The reason I say that is because from there to Yellowstone’s South entrance is at least and an hour. If you get behind slow moving traffic, it could take you 1.5 hours just to reach the entrance. So you spend two to three hours of your day just getting to and from the entrance of Yellowstone. When you are trying to cram as much of the park into your day as you can, you can see where this ends up being a waste of your time. If you are going to be there any time at all, you should break your days up by staying a few days near the north entrance, a few days near the west entrance, etc. Or actually by staying a few days in the park. Like at Old Faithful Inn or Hotel on Lake Yellowstone, etc.

The last three nights we stayed in West Yellowstone, Montana in the Club House Inn. Now from what I saw of West Yellowstone, all they have available are “Comfort Inn, Motel 6, etc” kinds of hotels. Not what I am comfortable staying in because I like having the option of room service, etc, however I will say that the Club House Inn seemed to be very new and was very clean. West Yellowstone is right at the West entrance to Yellowstone.

We originally stayed in Teton Village as long as we did because we expected to do more in Grand Teton national Park. To be as honest as I can be about that, Grand Teton National Park is beautiful, but as far as I know, we pretty much did all there is to do there in one day. Now I say that from the prospective of what we wanted to do which was drive around, stop and see the beauty, etc. I am sure if you are looking for a more active vacation, hiking, etc, there is a lot more to do in Grand Teton than one day worth. We bought a week’s pass at the entrance to Grand Teton N.P. that was $25.00 and was good for a week at both National Parks. You can buy an Annual Pass that is good for any National Park you go to for like $80.00 and if you are a Senior Citizen, you can get the annual pass for a greatly reduced price, although I can not remember what it was.

Ok.. Since most people reading this probably want info on the parks, I will start with my take on those:

Grand Teton National Park:

Grand Teton is BEAUTIFUL. I honestly could have just stopped and looked at it all day. We did go to Jenny Lake and we took the boat ride across the lake. My memory is it is 9 dollars a person round trip. When you are deposited on the other side of the lake, there is a trail for you to hike (I believe its .5 miles long) up to Hidden Falls. The .5 miles hike is almost straight up. I went half way up (I am semi handicapped) and I stopped at a place that had the most beautiful cascades. My partner went all the way up to the falls. From his description and from the video he shot, I think you will be disappointed after making the hike.

We saw Moose, Elk, Coyote, and Chipmunks in Grand Teton N.P.. There was this one female Moose who stayed pretty much the whole time we were there in this shallow pond eating and eating and eating some kind of plant that was growing on the bottom of this pond. She was very cute and I loved watching her.

There is a turnoff outside of the park, along a highway that goes between Yellowstone N. P. and Jackson, WY that will take you up to the top of a much smaller mountain where you can look out over Grand Teton Mountains and look out over the valley. To be completely honest I was asleep when my partner found it, so I do not know how to tell you to find it, but I am sure if you asked locals, they would be able to tell you how to find it. I recommend doing this highly as it was a BEAUTIFUL sight from every look out on that mountain.

Yellowstone National Park:

What can you say about Yellowstone N.P. It is exactly as I had always thought it would be. Beautiful, rugged, filled with animals and VERY diverse landscape. You will be driving down the road and literally turn a corner and you are in a completely different type of setting than you were just minutes before. Animals were EVERYWHERE and that was wonderful.

As far as animals, my only disappointment was we did not see more Moose. I think total for the whole trip we saw maybe three Moose. In Yellowstone we saw Elk, Buffalo/Bison (still not for sure which is which or what the difference is), a Female Grisly Bear and her baby cub, a black bear and a VERY large brown bear, Big Horn Sheep, Mountain Goats, Chipmunks, Ground Squirrels, Marmots (extremely adorable and shy creatures), Bald Eagles, Osprey, Canadian Geese and their many babies and even trout jumping out of the streams.

On the way into Yellowstone past the South entrance we stopped at Crawfish Creek. If you stop there and get out, you can follow the very short trail to a beautiful and accessible waterfall. When we were there, some college kids were playing on top of the fall and down below in the pool formed by the fall. I loved that stop. We also went the route that took us by the Lower Falls and the Upper falls. These waterfalls are in the Yellowstone Grand Canyon and I HIGHLY recommend this route. The Lower Falls are the most fantastic falls in the park, in my opinion. I don’t mean to say they are more beautiful than others. But just on a grand scale, they are breath taking. The other waterfall that I would say is a “can not be missed” stop is Tower Falls. Some say this is the most beautiful waterfall in all of Yellowstone, so you do not want to miss it. Every waterfall that is on the main routes was worth seeing. But if you have limited time, make sure you see the Lower and Upper Falls, the falls at Crawfish Creek and Tower Falls.

We also, of course, had to see Old Faithful. Now here is where I probably will be unpopular with a bunch of people. We waited for well over an hour.. I think an hour and 20 minutes to see Old Faithful. I am very glad that I can say I have seen Old Faithful erupt. To me, it is a huge part of “Americana”. However, I have to say, it was not more impressive to me than the many other “water features” we saw. By “water features” I mean geysers, caldrons, boiling mud pots, etc. One that you can NOT miss if you want to see something spectacular is Mud volcano specifically Dragon’s Mouth. You must stop there and walk the circle path. Also I recommend Sulphur Caldron. Be ready for the smell, however, at both locations. If you do go to Yellowstone and go see Old Faithful (how can you go to Yellowstone and not see it, right??), the walk around Old Faithful area to see the caldrons and other geysers is worth the walk. One last “water feature” I have to say I wouldn’t want to go to Yellowstone and miss is Firehole Lake Drive.

Ft. Yellowstone, which is just south of the North entrance is a very quant looking “village” and I enjoyed our time there. It was a nice respite. This is where we went up to the North entrance. You will see the Roosevelt Memorial Arch. There is a little town just outside the entrance that we just didn’t have time to explore, but I will say it looked interesting.

One thing I recommend the most is taking a drive out of the Northeast entrance and driving the Bear Tooth Mountain Pass.

I am sure I am leaving out some important stops that we made. But these are the ones that made the most impression on me.

Rental Car and Airport:

I have nothing bad to say about Salt Lake City’s Airport. It was clean and the staff was friendly and efficient. I do think I would be remiss if I did not give you a tip of travel right here. When you are getting ready to travel, make sure you do not leave home with a driver’s license or passport that is going to expire while you are away. While on the trip to Yellowstone, my sister’s driver’s license expired on her birthday and I did not think security was going to let her get through the airport. Now this is STUPID to me. One day she is an honest, law abiding citizen and the next day her license expires and she is a criminal?? A terrorist?? Give me a break. The way the American Airlines Representative and the way the airport security treated her was inexcusable.

We rented the Navigator through Hertz. The line to get the car was long and moved slowly. I could not believe our luck that we got in line behind the 10 or 12 people in the country who have never rented a car before and had to have every thing explained to them. This was a minor mistake on our part because I am a member of Hertz Gold Club which has your car waiting for you when you get there. You literally get off the plane, get your luggage and walk right to your waiting car. Only thing is, we didn’t think of this and my partner booked the rental car this time, not me, so it was not waiting for us like it would have been

Food:

Jackson:

Silver Dollar Bar and Grill – This was the first place we ate after arriving in Teton Village. Silver Dollar is actually in Jackson right in the middle of all the shops, restaurants, etc. The only reason I would recommend anyone going there would be if they were looking for good soup. We all started with the corn chowder and I have to say it was probably the best I have ever had. Other than that, the food was horrible and expensive. I would list out every thing we all had, however I don’t believe anyone liked theirs, so let’s just say, if it isn’t soup, don’t order it at the Silver Dollar.

Teton Steak House – We ate here for breakfast one morning. They have a breakfast buffet for $5.95, all you care to eat. I am not big on breakfast buffets; however this one was very good. It is small but very well stocked. Great biscuits and gravy and delicious fresh fruit. We kept saying we wanted to go back to have dinner here, but just ran out of time. If you like breakfast buffets, I really think you will like Teton Steak House.

The Virginian – We ate breakfast here two or three mornings and I have to say, probably the best breakfast I have had in a LONG time. The first morning I got their typical breakfast. You know.. eggs, bacon, biscuits, etc. My biggest complaint about this place is they only have sausage gravy, and I do not like sausage gravy. I will not hold that against them however because every where we went only had sausage gravy, except Teton Steak House. The rest of the mornings that we ate there I got their “build you own omelet”, and I have to say, except for one I had in Cancun, Mexico, it was the best omelet I have ever had.

Merry Piglets Mexican Café – Please let me say this. I am from Texas, born and raised. I thought the only good Tex Mex you could get was in Texas. The Merry Piglets Mexican Café changed my mind about that. We ate here a couple of nights. The staff was very friendly (the first waitress that helped us happened to be originally from Texas). Here again, I will not make a huge list of food that was good because literally every one of us enjoyed what we ordered. I hate this about myself, but I am a creature of habit. So let me just say this… I had their Chili Relleno my fist time there and had it every time afterwards. DELICIOUS. DO NOT go to Jackson and not eat here at least once.

Teton Village:

Mangy Moose – When you look at their menu, you will think it’s very pricey. However if you do not mind sharing, their portions are HUGE. Easily enough for two. My partner ordered their Mesquite Grilled Pork Chops which are topped with a maple au-jus and grilled apple compote. I swear it had to be 2 to 3 lbs of pork chops. Literally two big 1 inch thick pork chops. As delicious as he said they were, he could only eat one. I had their Wedge Salad (always one of my favorites). For my main course I had sautéed mushrooms and grilled asparagus and a baked potato. I just did not feel like meat that night. My memory is that the pork chops were around $18 or $19 dollars, which I do not feel is THAT extreme, however like I say, if you don’t mind sharing a plate, very reasonable.

Alpenrose – Let me just say this.. OH MY GOD. This place was SOOOOOOOO good. Again, pricey (it was a little over $100.00 for the two of us), but SO worth it. This place also offer’s half portions on their entrée’s so you can go a lesser expensive route. I had their appetizer that was like sautéed polenta triangles with asparagus tips, goat cheese, walnuts, etc. I absolutely can not tell you how delicious this was. I literally could have had that for an appetizer and another order of it for my dinner.

Yellowstone National Park – We ate three times at the little grills they have through out the park. My take on them was they were crowded and had bad food. They are very reasonable, but poor service, bad food, etc. The only one that was enjoyable was the one at Fort Yellowstone. Very clean, nice staff, food was ok, but they have an ice cream counter there.. YUMMMMM.

Old Faithful Inn – There was a cafeteria here that was REALLY good. I’m sorry I don’t remember the name of it, but there couldn’t be too many cafeterias at Old Faithful. They had like four or five stations within the cafeteria to choose food from. One was a typical cafeteria style food, turkey and dressing w/cranberry sauce, meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy, etc. A barbeque station and a couple of other different types of food to choose from. I had the turkey and dressing and it was very good. You could sit and eat and watch Old Faithful. Wish we had found this place before we waited an hour outside for Old Faithful to go off. If you are at Old Faithful and you are hungry, I recommend this place.

Over all, if you can just snack and wait until you are back out of the park to eat a meal that is what I would do. There is a hotel, Hotel on Lake Yellowstone; I believe is the name of it. Beautiful hotel, and I heard several people say the food was delicious. Wish I had gotten to try it.

West Yellowstone, MT:

Three Bear Restaurant – We ate here twice. Once for dinner and once for breakfast. Dinner was delicious. We both had the filet of beef and both enjoyed it. I don’t remember how much it was for dinner, but was not too expensive. Maybe $25.00 to $30.00 a person and for filet of beef, salad and soup, baked potato and rolls, I don’t think that is too bad. Now… breakfast. I don’t honestly know how a restaurant can mess up breakfast. Isn’t breakfast the easiest meal to cook? Most people who can’t cook a thing can cook breakfast. My first biggest complaint was their Jelly. I ordered toast instead of a biscuit because they only had sausage gravy. When they brought me the toast, it was then I realized they only had two flavors of those little jelly packet plastic tub things to choose from. Apple Jelly and Mixed Fruit Jelly. No grape, no strawberry, etc. Now what got me about that was not so much that they only had two types of jelly to choose from .. but when I asked about it, they literally looked at me like I was crazy for asking for grape or strawberry, etc. Mixed Fruit Jelly??? I have never heard of that in my life. Dinner, ok, but breakfast, you are better going to MacDonald’s.

Timberline Café – When you read on their menu “homemade pies”, they mean it. We had the coconut and the chocolate pies. Literally as good as my Mom made, and she made the best pies. My only complaint about their pies… they ran out of them too quickly. We went back the next day to get a piece of pie to go and they were out of the chocolate. I do not eat a lot of sweets, but I promise you, I literally think I could have eaten a whole chocolate pie myself. The night we actually ate dinner there, we asked to buy a whole pie. Most places that serve pie will charge you so much per piece, but then will sell you a whole pie for a reasonable price. Not this place. If they charge you $3.50 for a piece of pie, then you pay $28.00 for the whole pie. Is it worth it? Try a piece of the pie, and then tell me. As far as the rest of their food, they had a great salad bar and the soup I choose from the salad bar was Cabbage and Ham soup. Salad bar and soup were fantastic. The main course I had was HORRIBLE. I ordered chicken fried steak. It was so gross I literally could not eat a full bite of it. So if you go to Timberline Café, stick with the salad and soup bar and their pies.

Outpost Restaurant – We had dinner here one night. My sister-in-law and I both got the grilled beef liver with bacon and onion and my partner got a steak. If you like liver, and I do, theirs was delicious. My only complaint here was that I couldn’t clean my plate. The liver was done perfectly, bacon was crispy, onions grilled to perfection. Although my experience with this restaurant was limited, from what I had there, I recommend it completely. One reservation I have is they only have booths. They will tell you they have two tables that are not booths, but all they mean by that is the table can be moved around a little bit, that it is not attached to the wall, but it is still a booth. If you don’t like booths, you will not like this place.

Hotels:

Snake River Lodge and Spa, Teton Village – This hotel is located at the base of a Teton Mountain and is a very pretty lodge. Our room was the smallest of the deluxe King rooms offered but was adequate. My biggest concern was storage. Our room was so small we could only have one of our suitcases opened at a time. Our balcony had the view of a brick wall of the hotel next door. If you walked out on the balcony, tilted your head 145%, twisted yourself to where your shoulders were sticking straight out in front and behind you, you could see the tip top of the mountain. The people we were with all had nice big rooms and beautiful views, so I guess it is just luck of the draw. Another concern I have for this hotel was their elevators for the towers. They have a north elevator and a south elevator (I believe that is how they are labeled). These are the old fashioned kind of elevators, small, only two people, maybe three , can fit in them comfortably, and you have to close the outer door, then pull the folding door close, then push the button to your floor. That’s no big deal really, however the smell in our elevator was HORRIBLE. And finally, the towels in the room were so thin and cheap I honestly could not believe it. I can tell you this. No slam against motel 6 or that caliber of hotel, but I am sure their towels are as good or better than the towels we had at Snake River Lodge. Other than those concerns I was very pleased with the hotel, the room, etc. The staff is very friendly. In fact, when we checked in, not only did the bellman greet us at our car to help with luggage, but while we were gathering our belongings from the car, the front desk person came out and got our info so they could start checking us in and have our keys ready for us by the time we walked in the lobby.

With all of my “concerns” of this hotel, I have to say I would stay there again, I would just make sure I got a better room the next time.

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