Travel Guide: Top 20 Musts in Yellowstone National Park & the Grand Tetons

Hey guys!! Russ and I just got back from an awe-inspiring trip in the Midwest. We traveled between 4 states over 6 days to see some of the prettiest part of this country and I wanted to share a little behind the scenes action about our trip with you guys just in case you’ve been itching to plan a trip here too! Below, I have listed some of my absolute must-sees if you are interested in making the most of an adventure of this magnitude. Because, trust me, there is just so much to see.

Yellowstone-98

  1. Fly into Salt Lake City in the afternoon and Book a place in Island Park, Idaho.  It’s a little under 4 hour drive but the sunsets in Utah are worth it.  Island Park is a small recreational town located in Targhee National Forest conveniently located 30 minutes outside of the West Yellowstone entrance. Salt Lake City, Utah

Day One:

2. Once you’re settled in, make the drive from Island Park to Mesa Falls.  The Upper Falls of the Henrys Fork River measure at 114 feet high and 200 feet wide. It is is impressive to say the least.  There is a small museum and gift shop located on the property that adds to the history of this beautiful place.

3. Spend your first day in Yellowstone National entering through the West Yellowstone Gate and head North. We bypassed the Norris area and headed straight to Mammoth Hot Springs to see the boiling water rush over the travertine terraces. The short drive above them is a safe vantage point for those with little ones. We chose to stay on the boardwalks of the Lower Terrace.

4. Next stop, the Lamar Valley, where we hit a traffic jam. The buffalo were feet away from our car.  As they grazed, I hung out the window and took photos. Though there were some brave souls who were getting WAY TOO CLOSE to these wild animals, I had no plans of being stampeded or worse. These animals are unpredictable, wild. I can’t stress that enough.

5. After spending the afternoon in the Lamar Valley, we headed back to the Roosevelt Lodge and then on to Tucker Tower. This is where we caught our first glimpse of the Yellowstone River. I also snagged a few ornaments at the gift shop because I do this everywhere we go. Our tree is getting quite cluttered.

We made our way south to one of the park’s biggest attractions, The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We didn’t have the best light in the afternoon so I’d recommend aiming for closer to sunset but it was a sight to see. Though we stopped at multiple vantage points, Artist’s Point was the last stop and where we spent the majority of our time.

6. From Artist’s Point we headed to the Artist Paintpots. This particular stop was full of geothermal features such as boiling mud pots, geysers and fumaroles. We hiked the whole path, staying on the boardwalks AT ALL TIMES. Again, DANGER. This place is full of unpredictable elements. Trust me, you don’t want to be the one who slips off the boardwalk into one of these bad boys. Also, don’t read Death in Yellowstone. You’ll have nightmares like I did.

7. Spend the rest of your drive back to Island Park stopping to see animals. At dusk, these guys are all over the place. We saw coyote, moose, elk, deer, you name it. Also, carry Bear Spray if you plan on walking around in this backcountry.

8. Put some time aside to enjoy the sunset on your way out of West Yellowstone. This one goes out to all my photographer friends. Don’t miss out on this opportunity. The animals are one thing but we had the opportunity to view an impressive sunset too!

Let’s Recap: Enter West Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs, animal sightings in the Lamar Valley, Grand Canyon, Artists’ Paintpots & Sunset! On our way out, we stopped at Wild West Pizzeria. The pizza was the perfect pair for a pitcher of PBR and I kid you not, it is a Steelers bar! 6 Time Super Bowl Champs baby!

Day Two:

9. Wake up early and head back into the Park through the West Entrance and head straight to the Upper Geysir Basin. If you hit it early enough, you don’t have to see another person while you view this impressive landscape. We chose to stop and walk the boardwalks to view the geysers and geothermal pools.

10. The Grand Prismatic Spring. I had seen photos of it but until you are in its’ presence, you couldn’t possible appreciate its’ beauty. We opted to skip the up-close and take the hike to Fairy Falls. At just under 2 miles, this short hike gave us the opportunity to view the Spring at a more aerial view. Though I did huff and puff making my way up to the viewing platform, I am so happy we got to see this. The colors were so vibrant. Seriously, don’t miss this.

11. Old Faithful! This is probably the park’s largest attraction. We didn’t hang around for the explosion but you get the gist. Stop at the famed Lodge for lunch and wait out the 90 minutes in between eruptions to see this natural phenomenon in all its’ glory.

12. We couldn’t resist heading south for a glimpse of the Grand Tetons. We chose to have lunch at Jackson Lake Lodge. We split the burger and pickled veggies. After lunch, we made our way to Jenny Lake for a scenic cruise. Though the wildfires in Montana made our view nearly impossible, the smoky haze somehow enhanced the raw beauty of the mountains’ jagged edges. Tip for first timers: Bring a jacket or a blanket for the ride.

13. After our boat ride, we exited the park and made our way to Mormon Row, a famed photographic must-see. This abandoned barn is located on a dirt road that directly backs up to an impressive view of the Grand Tetons.  We encountered pronghorn and a small family farm lined with a colorful assortment of blooms.

14. Once the sun had gone down, we began making our way towards Jackson Hole. We took a drive around town and decided to start making our way towards Idaho. We made it back to Island Park just in time to grab a pitcher of PBR and a chicken sandwich at the Trout Hunter.

 Let’s Recap: Upper Geysir Basin, hike Fairy Falls to view the Grand Prismatic Spring, Old Faithful, lunch at Jackson Lake Lodge, Grand Tetons, Jenny Lake scenic boat cruise, Mormon Row, drive around Jackson Hole and dinner at the Trout Hunter.

Day Three:

15. We woke up late after a long night at the campfire and chose to spend the day exploring Idaho & Wyoming. We headed to Hebgen Lake and Quake Lake, a historic site known as the Night of Terror. When an earthquake hit around midnight on August 17th, 1959, 28 people died in the aftermath when Hebgen Lake shifted 19 feet and the quake swallowed its’ surroundings. Though exquisitely beautiful, this place still has an eery feel to it. After exploring a portion of the Madison River, we stopped at the Happy Hour Bar for a quick Arnold Palmer and relaxed by the lake for the first time!

16+17. We spent our morning touring lakes and we spent our afternoon kayaking 2 of Island Park’s wonders, the Box Canyon and the Snake River. Thankfully, the latter brought us right back to our dock. During our float, we saw Moose, Osprey, Elk and a whole lot of trout. Whether you’re in the mood to fly-fish or to animal watch, this place had more than enough options.

18. After a long day on the river, we chose to have dinner around the campfire with our host. He gave us a tour of his property including his sheep camp! This antique was used by Basque immigrants who worked the land as shepherds and farmers as cozy, mobile shelters. In fact, it was so comfortable, we couldn’t get his dog Colter out of the bed.

19. After dinner, we made our way down to the dock to let our hosts’ dog play in the Snake River while we watched the sun set. Colter frolicked along the dock and we watched the osprey fly over the vibrant sky. #19 Don’t Miss a Sunset! This is the one thing I was most thankful for on this trip. Time to sit back and enjoy the night rolling in.

Let’s Recap: Drive to Hebgen and Quake Lake, stop at Happy Hour Bar, Kayak Box Canyon, Kayak the Snake River, photo shoot with my favs on the dock during sunset, beers around the campfire.

Day Four:

20. Last, but not least…Idaho Falls! On our way to the airport in Salt Lake City, we pitstopped for lunch along the riverwalk in Idaho Falls. August had been kind to the flora surrounding the impressive falls. We stopped to see the Latter Day Saints Temple and reflected on what an amazing trip this has been!

I hope this article was helpful to anyone who is planning a trip in this area! If you have any questions about this wondrous place or any of the other places we’ve been this year, feel free to reach out. Email me (therustienailhead@gmail.com) with any and all inquiries because I would love to help you plan your next big adventure! Where would you like to see The Rustie Nail head to next? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

Travel Guide: 9 Day Colorado Road Trip

Hey guys! We are hitting you with another Travel Guide. This time around, I am going to take you behind the scenes of our epic 9 day road trip around Colorado. Back in June, my husband and I had the opportunity to hit the pavement and make our way around Colorado. I wanted to take you behind the guidebook and share some tips and tricks on how to get the most out of this kind of adventure. If you are a traveler or planning to travel in the Denver vicinity, this trip is one for the books so don’t miss out.

From the minute we got off the plane, I was captivated by the beauty of the Rockies. It would be my first time traveling in Colorado and to say I was stoked was an understatement. During our trip, we hiked a glacier, tried our luck at whitewater rafting in Clear Creek, climbed the stairs at Red Rocks, saw a Rockies/Yankees game in Denver and amongst many many other things, explored the haunted history of the infamous Stanley Hotel. Below, I have highlighted our itinerary and hope you find yourself feeling that stab of wanderlust!

Day One: DENVER TO IDAHO SPRINGS

We flew into Denver out of DFW and drove to Idaho Springs. About an hour outside of Mile High, we climbed to 10,000 feet and visited my high school buddy, Matty. We could not believe the views from his front porch. After settling in and touring his cabin and teepee in the woods, we made our way to Clear Creek and white water rafted a Class 3. Though the water was 32 degrees, we had the time of our lives. We even ended up randomly being paired with fellow Yinzers. Steeler Nation! To boot, the company provided us with a CD of high quality images of our adventure. After squeezing out of our wetsuits, we headed out for dinner at Mountain Prime. After having gotten in the workout of a lifetime rafting the river, the Blackened Tenderloin Stroganoff was the spot on. 3 beers later, I was pooped. The elevation really does get to ya. I was out like a light the minute we got back to Matty’s.

Day Two: IDAHO SPRINGS & MORRISON

We woke up and headed to St Mary’s Glacier. It was an easy hike to the most picturesque place. There was a family snowboarding the glacier…in JUNE. I was so glad that I brought my camera along to capture the view. Though I heave hoed my way up, it was totally worth it. This 1.5 mile hike only takes about 2 hours round trip. Next activity on the list, get ready for Red Rocks. We were going to the see the Lumineers in Morrison. This venue is an experience everyone should have. I laughed until I cried and the cheesecake was amazing until we had to hike up the hill. Again, this elevation got the best of me. Red Rocks was immensely beautiful and the acoustics that resignated from this group was out of this world! At one point, the Lumineers made their way into the crowd to perform “Skies are Blue” and they were only about 10 rows in front of us! It was an amazing night.

Day Three: LEADVILLE, TURQUOISE LAKE, & BRECKENRIDGE

Wake up and jump in the car. We headed to Leadville, the highest incorporated town in America. We took a 2 hour train ride up the mountain. At 12mph, the ride was so relaxing. The sun shining down on us and the slow ride made for the best afternoon. After the train ride, we made our way to Turquoise Lake to snap a few photos and then headed to Breckenridge. We met with my cousin, Scotty and his family for dinner at Fatty’s Pizzeria. We had a few drinks and headed back to the condo that my cousin had put us up in for the next couple nights.

Day Four: BRECKENRIDGE

We woke up early and headed to the Summit to fly fish. My cousin, Scotty  is a legit flyfishing guide. You can book your tour with him here. We only ended up catching 5 fish all day, though he probably caught 2o. We started in a stream to learn the basics and headed to a gully at the top of a mountain for lunch. The views we’re just out of this world. On our way back to town, we stopped at one more place, South Park, so we could have our picture taken as Kenny and Cartman. After fishing, we headed out for dinner. This was our one luxury during our entire trip. We went all out to thank my cousin for such an incredible time in Breck. The Blue River Bistro was out of this world. I had the Ruby Red Trout, a pecan encrusted filet of fish carmelized in an onion vodka buerre blanc and served with gruyere risotto. I dream about this meal sometime. The drinks were perfect and it was so nice to catch up with my cousin over a great meal.

Day Five: GRAND LAKE, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK & ESTES PARK

We woke up and headed to Grand Lake. Our plan, put on lots of sunscreen and then rent some kayaks at Mountain Paddlers. This quaint and more importantly, adorable town is settled near an entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park so we knew it would be a perfect place to stop and soak it all in. We made our way out on the lake but within 20 minutes, it started to thunderstorm. Though Russell’s first time kayaking was a bumpy ride, we both had a blast!

After stopping for ice cream, we entered Rocky Mountain National Park. In a million years, I couldn’t have imagined the sites I saw on that 2 hour trip over Trail Ridge Road. I even managed to snap a few photos of a guy proposing on top of  the mountain. That’s up on the Blog next! We were happy to find out that the access to Trail Ridge Road had literally started that week. During the winter, the path is impassable but lucky for us, we made our way through all 4 seasons as we climbed the 14,000 feet. We saw hundreds of elk, moose and deer and the flowers were endless and unimaginable. RMNP will forever have a place in my heart. After touring the park, we headed to our hotel, the Castle Mountain Lodge in Estes Park. We jumped in the shower and headed out for beers at Estes Park Brewery and had dinner at Smokin Dave’s BBQ. There, we had the Not-So-Teeny-Wahine which included ribs, chicken, brisket, pulled pork, 4 sides and cornbread. We got our doggie bags and they rolled us to the car. We ended the night watching the sunset over the rocky mountains.

Day Six: THE STANLEY HOTEL, ESTES PARK & MARY’S LAKE LODGE

The next morning, we headed to the infamous Stanley Hotel. For those of you who don’t know, Stephen King’s novel, The Shining, is rooted in the haunting stories of this historic place. We had the great pleasure of touring the hotel with Scary Mary. We highly recommend booking with her. Book your tour at the Stanley Hotel by heading to this link. She has done her homework and knows all about the Stanley & the hotel’s haunted misgivings. Fun fact: the Stanley family made millions being the fore running photographer in the new century. The tour was fun and creepy and it’s a must for those of you with any interest in Colorado’s history.

After our tour, we booked a 4×4 Jeep Tour into RMNSP with Green Jeep Tours. It was bumpy but oh so beautiful. I even found a place to move to, should we decide. We also passed the most beautiful church on our ride, San Malos Catholic Church. That evening, we headed to the Stanley’s sister hotel, Mary’s Lake Lodge and had dinner in their signature restaurant. I had the Mountain Man Meatloaf, a bacon wrapped wild boar, elk, venison, antelope and bison meatloaf served with mashed potatoes swimming in a wild mushroom bordelaise. Add a few glasses of the hotel’s signature malbec and a Penguin Stanley Cup Championship, we were golden. I ended the night watching Game of Thrones from our clawfoot tub!

Seven: RED FEATHER LAKES

We woke up and traveled to Red Feather Lakes to meet Scooter, my husband’s buddy from PA. He put us up at the the Beaver Meadows Resort Ranch. We stayed in a cabin overlooking the valley and a stream leading into a lake. It was amazing and so quiet. We literally sat around the fire and ate all night. It was awesome. There were horses nearby and as the sun set over the mountains, we made smores and brats over the campfire.

Day Eight: DENVER

We started our trek back into Denver through the Poudre Canyon and met with my good buddy, Dave. That night, we headed to the Rockies/Yankees game. Russ managed to snag us some impossible seats and we managed to watch the sunset over the mountains. What a stadium and what a game, it was a perfect night to catch up with my buddy and have a few beers at the ballpark! After the game, we headed out for a bite to eat at Machete Tequila + Taco. At $4 a pop, these bad boys are worth the walk. I had the Langosta and the Arrachera con Chile Relleno, both = bomb.

Day Nine: HEADED HOME

Up and attem for the Voodoo Doughnuts I had heard so much about. OMGEEEE, these were so delicious. We grabbed the Memphis Mafia doughnut and the Rapper’s Delight Collection of the Dirty Old Bastard, Marshall Mathers and the Maple Blazer Blunt Doughnuts. At a whoping $4.20, our breakfast satisfied without breaking the bank. We had just enough time to head downtown and check out a mall. As a tradition, we snagged a photo album to put all our adventures in. And then, we then jumped on the plane and cried ourselves to sleep. Seriously, best vacation evvva!!

 

If you have questions about our trip or how we planned, shoot me an email at therustienailhead@gmail.com. I would be so happy to help you put together your next big adventure. Keep wandering!