The next stretch of our trip took us out of the Utah heat to Wyoming and Montana. This part of my trip was very special because it was allowing me to relive some memories from a family trip when I was little and create new memories with Aaron as this was his first time to these locations.
Day 4: 6/30/20: Brigham City, UT – Jackson, WY:
5 hours total travel time and 251 miles (60 minutes longer than Google Maps). Left at 8:30am MT (30 min before schedule) – arrived at 1:30pm MT with a rest stop break at a campground off the mountain. This was the best drive so far in terms of wind, smoothness, and traffic. It took us through Idaho.
We woke up to early morning rain, but thankfully it cleared up by the time we closed up camp. We left Utah and drove through Idaho most of the way to Jackson, WY. Aaron is in love with the grassy green rolling hills scenery, low clouds and tall Aspen trees. It is super green here compared to where we came from. We’ve seen a lot of cattle and water. He reminded me that we had a trip planned to be in Boise, ID for the forth before COVID hit. I asked him what trip is better this one or that one and he said you can’t compare the two. Then he even went as far to say that Idaho has his heart. When I asked him what do I have? He said, again no comparison! Lol. I’m excited to come back and spend more time in this gorgeous state, especially in downtown Boise. From what I hear it’s pretty special! So far the backroads are very stunning and peaceful.
The closer we got to Wyoming the taller the mountains and the trees got. Plus the trees became more dense with pine instead of aspen trees with running water in between. We drove through a small town called Freedom that was right on the state line, then came to a town called Alpine that was a little bigger (we almost got gas here, but decided we were okay). Then we crossed Snake River, which is the river that comes from the Grand Tetons. I have some of the best memories from a camping road trip with my dad, brother and cousin that took us from Phoenix, through the Grand Tetons and ending up at Yellowstone. The Grand Tetons are so spectacular and I’m very excited to see them again!
Driving into Jackson, WY was so exciting! I had been here 25 years ago, but didn’t even realize it since our family drive through to camp near the Grand Tetons. Aaron found an RV park right in the middle of downtown called The Virginian at 750 W Broadway, Jackson, WY 83001. This is the first RV park we stayed at on this trip that isn’t a KOA. It had a lodge, restaurant, and saloon attached. Their bathrooms were closed so we had to break our #2 rule unfortunately, but Aaron said dumping sewage actually wasn’t that bad. Also, they did not have a fenced in dog park, but a designated grassy area for dogs to go to the bathroom, which was tricky for Simon and Murray as they usually don’t go to the bathroom on their leashes.
This was definitely the coldest part of our trip and the first time we used the heat. In the early morning it kicked off and Aaron wasn’t exactly sure why. He turned a desk fan on that we brought with and pointed it near the heater to circulate the hot air and thinks it blew out the pilot. He was able to turn it back on pretty quickly. The thermostat in the camper works great! Also, letting in cool air by opening the windows is so nice as we create a decent breeze with the windows on each side. There’s a fan in the bathroom that does a great job of sucking the air out and circulating the air throughout the RV.
With COVID, we didn’t walk around the shops, restaurants or bars in downtown Jackson although we would have been able to walk to all them them easily from our trailer. Also, the traffic was crazy! There were too many people out for my liking. We’d love to come back after COVID so we can experience the downtown area more. Thankfully, I was able to get a photo with the Jackson sign and elk antlers super early the morning we left before anyone was out.
As a head’s up, I have linked a few of my Amazon Ideas Lists that feature the items we purchased for our trailer and trips. If you’re interested in shopping the items that I’ve saved, I really appreciate you checking out the lists as I make a small commission from the items that you decide to purchase. Below is a link to all of my Amazon Idea Lists for essential oil supplies, purchases for the dogs, gluten free finds, etc! A big thank you in advance for supporting me!
Aaron saw on Trip Advisor that the National Elk Refuge is right in Jackson, so that was the first thing we did after setting up camp. We took the dogs with us and went for a drive to the end of the road. It is an open park without any fees. The road starts paved as you drive past a neighborhood at the entrance. There are a few turnoffs to park and hike on trails or take pictures. The roads turned to dirt, but wasn’t bad at all to drive through. We saw antelope in the fields and turned off at the end to capture some photos with the Tetons in the background. There is a campground here and they have elk sleigh rides in the winter. It was pretty drizzly on this day with cloud coverage, so it was hard to see the Tetons in full.
Day 5: 7/1/20: Jackson, WY – West Yellowstone, MT:
2 hours and 40 minutes total travel time and 120 miles (30 minutes longer than Google). Left at 10:45am after touring the Grand Tetons (right on schedule) – arrived at 1:30pm MT. This drive took us over/through the Tetons and back through Idaho again.
We woke up early on Day 5 so we could take a drive around the Grand Tetons before we took off to our next campsite. It was about 30 minutes from our campsite, and we drove around for about an hour, so our time there was a very short two hours. I would love to camp in this National Park and take a couple days to hike around the trails and lakes.
As we reached the entrance for the Grand Tetons National Park I saw a deer drinking at a creek. The fee for this park was $30 for a week, just like Arches National Park, but the attendant told us that we can pay $80 for a full year and it gives you access to all National Parks. Since we’re going to Yellowstone tomorrow and most likely other parks within the year we decided to get the annual pass. The cloud coverage from yesterday was slowly breaking away, but the closer we got to the mountains actually put us underneath the clouds. We didn’t have a clear view of the full mountain unless we were a little ways out. However, you can see the top of the peak sticking out of the clouds if you look close enough. Here we saw Jenny Lake, but there is also String Lake (where I canoed with my family 25 years ago and almost got stuck in a downpour), and Leigh Lake. We saw a couple more deer in the distance, snapped some photos and turned around to close up camp and connect the RV.
After leaving camp and grabbing the RV, the route to West Yellowstone took us over the Tetons and we saw a bunch of people riding bikes and running on the main highway. There were a few hiking trails off the road too. One trail called Phillips Canyon looked packed! On the other side of the Tetons we ended up back in Idaho where we were for most of the drive and we had a perfect view of the Tetons for a little while, which I didn’t mind at all! Then the route took us back through Wyoming again until we hit Montana.
To continue our route around Yellowstone and east to our next spots, Aaron found a KOA in West Yellowstone, Montana. It was about 10-15 minutes from the west entrance to the park. This was another big campsite with a dog park, indoor pool, shop, cabins, etc. We were tucked away in the back corner so it was fairly quiet by us. It rained a little the day we arrived and was pretty cold, but not as cold as the day before in Jackson. This is the first time that we were stayed two nights at one campground, which means it was the first time we didn’t have to be as careful with where we put things and we realized that we needed to give the RV a little refresh and clean it up, which resulted in this RV tour video…
Day 6: 7/2/20 is a day off driving for Aaron, well at least to a new campsite. We did a fair share of driving around Yellowstone National Park. We left around 7:45am and didn’t get home till about 3:15pm. We enjoyed a few of the turnoffs, but only toured the south loop of the park. The road that takes you from the south loop to the north loop from Canyon Village to Tower-Roosevelt was closed while we were there. I don’t think we would of had enough time to do the north loop anyway since we left the pups in the RV. The south loop is roughly 120 miles. As we drove the loop, we questioned why Google Maps didn’t take us through Yellowstone from Jackson the day before. We’re assuming it was due to traffic since it was pretty packed with cars and if there were any obstructions in the road (wildlife crossing) it could be a little while before traffic started moving again.
After entering the park, we drove straight for a while before turning right at Madison or going south along the loop towards Old Faithful. As soon as we were on the south loop road, we saw a heard of Elk in the field. As we were driving there was so much to look at. We saw geysers up ahead and decided to stop and walk around the Lower Geyser Basin to see the Fountain Paint Pot. At this turnoff we were able to walk around a guided path and see hot springs, geysers, fumaroles (stem vents), and mudpots. It’s pretty stinky with an overwhelming sulfur smell, but well worth it. The hot springs have such bright beautiful blues and turquoise colors. The mudpots look like bubbling clay and there was a mudpot in this area that was large enough to actually splash acidic hot spring out like a small geyser.
If you’re touring Yellowstone or another National Park during COVID, I highly recommend wearing a mask as there can be narrow paths and crowds of people that might make social distancing tough. We did a pretty good job at it, but our next stop at Midway Geyser Basin was pretty packed. The path was a one way loop, so if someone stopped to take a photo there wasn’t a socially distanced way to get around them. We took our time and enjoyed the view of a colorful hot spring that was on the edge of a fresh water lake called Grand Prismatic Spring. The loop came around to a hot spring in a crater and the hot spring flowed into a small waterfall into a fresh water river.
Leaving this area, we had a bear sighting (more info below under wildlife) on our way to Old Faithful. We decided not to stop at the Upper Geyser Basin since the park was filling up and we wanted to be sure we could see Old Faithful without a large crowd.
Arriving at Old Faithful, we were surprised by the massive display it had. It had been 25 years and a week since I was there last (see photo!), so I’m sure they’ve built up the area since then. There are tons of benches to sit and wait for Old Faithful right as you walk up past the sign. We decided to keep walking and followed the loop around Old Faithful. We snapped a few photos with Old Faithful in the background, but if it’s not erupting it looks like a steam vent. Aaron found a bench in the back, I grabbed the cooler and we ate our packed lunch while we waited. There are estimations for when the geyser goes off, so if you have little kids be sure to check so you’re not waiting too long. It said it would erupt within 10 minutes of 11:09am and it was right on time. It erupted for about a minute or two (usually it’s between 1-5 minutes only). We hurried out of there to avoid the crowd. As soon as we got back on the south loop road, we had our second bear sighting! We passed the south loop entrance and West Thumb, when I saw the most beautiful turnoff. It showed some hot springs with Lake Yellowstone in the background.
The next area that we came up to on the south loop was Lake Village. We drove into the turnoff and up to this high grass open meadow where we saw four bison grazing with the lake in the background. It was such a gorgeous view! Bison are definitely a favorite Yellowstone animal of mine, since my first sighting 25 years ago. They are so massive and majestic. Although they are herbivores and appear to be so peaceful, they are wild animals with big horns. It is recommended to keep 25 yards of distance. I was at about 40-50 yards and felt super stratified by the view.
We continued driving through Hayden Valley which had a similar terrain as where we saw the first bison and wouldn’t you know there were tons of bison grazing around. They weren’t super close to the road so keeping a safe distance wasn’t an issue, but you could definitely see them in the distance if you were looking.
The next stop was Canyon Village and we saw an Elk bedding near the road. Aaron mentioned that Elk typically eat super early in the day at day break and again at sunset. He thought it might be warm for them, so it made sense that the bull we saw was sleeping.
Earlier in the day we had a bear sighting just south of Midway Geyser Basin. You can tell that wildlife is near the road because traffic will be at a dead stop. It happens so quick, so if you’re not looking you can pass wildlife easily or if you’re too far back in the line of traffic it could be gone by the time you get closer. I’d say earlier in the day is when you’ll most likely see wildlife easier. This bear was off of the road on the outside of the look fishing in the creek. We saw a bunch of cars crowded around a turnoff and blocking the road. There were groups of people and families standing near the edge of the road by their cars (technically you’re supposed to stay in your car) and we drove ahead at the next empty turnoff. I saw the bear run along the creek (frightening) and Aaron watched from his binoculars. As we were getting into the car, I saw the bear run through the crowds of people and cars to cross the road to the inside of the loop (terrifying!) I couldn’t stop thinking about that scenario! How wild that a bear ran within a couple feet of people! How scary if you have children outside of the car. Be sure to read the wildlife rules when they’re given to you at the gate entrance! For wildlife like bears, you’re supposed to be at a 100 yard distance.
The second bear sighting just after Old Faithful was an even closer distance for us to the bear. We were driving and the bear was right at the edge of the road on the inside of the loop. Cars were slowing down to view the bear, but some cars stopped I think because they didn’t want to get too close. The bear walked along the road before climbing back up the mountain away from the road.
The last stop on the south loop that I really wanted to go to was Canyon Village. In this area there are two waterfalls that I went to as a kid and knew I wanted to see again. The first one we came up to was the Upper Falls View off of the South Rim Drive. We parked at Uncle Tom’s Trail and walked about 5 minutes down a path to an overlook of the waterfall. It had a rainbow at the base. Since we wanted to get back to the dogs at camp, we skipped the Brink of the Upper Falls (you can see a photo from 25 years ago) and continued to the Brink of the Lower Falls. This wasn’t the best view, so we continued to the lookout point of the Lower Falls, which was packed! We saw a path that takes you down to another view without any obstructions. This was about a 15 minute path with many switchbacks and dropped almost 200 feet in elevation. We saw several groupings of people stopped on the sides as they were coming up. As you’re getting close there is a wooden stairway. The view is totally worth it! We timed ourselves on the way up and it took us 8 minutes without stopping. We definitely worked up a little sweat! After that we finished the south loop and headed back to camp. From Canyon Village back to Madison was fairly dull. The woods are so thick and go to the road that you can’t see much. I ended up falling asleep to be honest!
Day 7: 7/3/20: West Yellowstone, MT – Billings, MT:
Roughly 5 hours total travel time and 236 miles (1 hour longer than Google). Left at 10:20am (right on schedule) – arrived around 3:30pm MT. Leaving West Yellowstone the road quality was not the best, but Aaron said that the second part of the drive was actually the worst because of the traffic, rain and wind.
As we left our campsite, we drove through the outskirts of Yellowstone, WY and back into Montana. We drove through Big Sky, which has the cutest cabins right on a creek with gorgeous pine tree forest backdrops. Just north of Big Sky in Gallatin, MT there were a lot of turnouts with hiking trails and white water rafting and a camp with a giant obstacle course called Rockhaven. It looked like a great place to spend a summer! We also a few lumber yards with reclaimed wood just before hitting the main town of Bozeman. I haven’t researched these spots yet, but if you’re interested in ordering reclaimed wood they were called, Montana Reclaimed Lumber, Big Timberworks and Montana Rustic Lumber.
As we pulled up to our KOA (Billings KOA, 547 Garden Ave., Billings, MT 59101), we realized that it is the world’s first KOA! It was fairly large with a mini golf area, pool, dog park, playground, cabins, etc. This might have been my favorite one so far. Our campsite had a nice grassy area, a cement area with a table, a swing bench and a fire pit. We spend the most time outside of this campsite including cooking and eating a steak dinner, but this spot was probably the worst in terms of mosquitos. Thankfully I brought my DIY bug spray in a plastic spray bottle along with a bug relief roller just in case. Actually, I used the bug relief roller mostly for an ingrown hair irritation on the backside of my thighs. I shaved right before leaving on the trip and didn’t bring my aftershave gel or my scrub, so after sitting for many hours each day in the car it got pretty irritated. I realized that the bug relief roller is perfect for my leg irritation because it is lavender (calming) and peppermint (cooling). It did the trick and worked better than a medicine I was prescribed for this exact irritation. That night we watched Hamilton on Disney+ in our RV. Aaron was able to stream through his phone and cast on to our TV.