THE GRAND TETON & YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARKS
When it came to visiting these two very popular National Parks in Wyoming I was very unsure how much we would enjoy them, from what I had heard they were very busy and the camp grounds crowded. We were actually pleasantly surprised.
DAY 1 – We arrived at Grand Teton National Park located in the North Western corner of Wyoming South of Yellowstone, we arrived quite late on a Saturday afternoon so really unsure if we would get a camp spot or not.
Arriving at the Eastern entrance station to find out there were still a couple of spaces left at the Signal Mountain campground which was a relief, it was only a short 10 mile drive down the road. We were very lucky as these popular campgrounds usually fill by midday.
The camp site was set right next to Jackson lake which was framed by the most spectacular mountains range on the other side, the Grand Tetons.
The camp cost $22 per night and was ok, it had a Bear box which is handy but the mosquitoes where terrible.
That afternoon after settling in we set off to explore the park, we decided to head south and drive the loop on the map back to camp which was about 38 miles (63km). This explored the lower half of the park and was a great drive and introduction to the natural beauty of the park.
Wildlife along the way included Elk, Mule Deer and a large herd of Bison at Antelope Flats, also a lone Moose on the Moose/Wilson Road.
We also took a drive up Signal Mountain, this windy road took you up to a great overlook across the valley and mountains. Lauren spotted a very cool and very friendly Dusky Grouse on the side of the road.
DAY 2 – We decided to get up early and have a look around the area North of our camp also around the entrance station to the East, it took just 10 minutes to spot our first Grizzly Bear! He was quietly feeding right beside the road near the Jackson Dam, we were just in aww of his shear size and girth.
We watched him for 20 minutes or so and he then drifted off into the scrub. We left him to it and headed to do some more searching, we found American Pelican and also a new bird for us the Common Merganser.
We decided to make our way back to where the Grizzly Bear was earlier to see if he was in a better position for a photo.
Lucky for us he had crossed the road and he was a perfect distance allowing everyone to get some great photos and also keep the rangers happy. After a short time the crowd of bear watchers swelled, it was quite a spectacle in itself.
After that we headed South to the parks most popular campground Jenny Lake, again lucky we got there early as it usually fills by 9am.
The campground is set beside Jenny Lake and was a great spot to waste the rest of the day, it was a really nice quiet spot the mosquitoes weren’t half as bad and cost $23 per night.
That afternoon we decided to hike around Jenny Lake which was a 9 mile (15km) walk around this beautiful lake. The scenery was amazing and we even managed to bump into this very friendly American Pika, he was so friendly this photo was taken on my 70-200mm! Mother nature wasn’t so kind with isolated thunderstorms hitting us with pea sized hail and a freezing wind.
DAY 3 – After the big hike the afternoon before we enjoyed a well deserved sleep in then headed north to book our final camp site in the park, Colter Bay. This large campground in the middle of the park was very popular and again filled quickly, the sites were nice enough and it cost $23 per night.
Once camp was set up we set off to one of the many visitor centres in the park to go have a look around and to see if I could squeeze any information about animals out of one of the rangers.
Well the squeezing didn’t go very well but he did tell us where a Great Grey Owl had been spotted the week before. The spot was located a couple of miles down the Moose/Wilson Road, after a patient couple of hours the Owl was a no show but I did manage this shot of a beautiful Great Blue Heron.
DAY 4 – We headed North the following morning to Yellowstone National Park which is actually the first and oldest National Park in the world, established March 1, 1872. It was high on our list of must see places this trip so we were excited.
On the way up to Yellowstone Lauren spotted a Moose crossing a river right beside the road which was cool, he was in a hurry though and didn’t want his photo taken.
We arrived at the southern entrance nice and early to secure a camp spot at Lewis Lake, the drive in was spectacular with its lush green meadows, tall pine trees and crystal clear steams.
The camp site was nice, we paid our $10 per night and headed North to explore the park. First stop was the famous Old Faithful Geyser, we arrived just in time with it going off within 2 minutes of us sitting down. This wasn’t the only geyser here, the area was littered with them, big, small, fat and long, very much reminded me of Rotorua, New Zealand.
We followed the loop North to Madison then Canyon Village and back to camp, the 120 mile (200km) round trip was fantastic with many of points of interest. We really didn’t realise how big this park really is. Animals we saw along the way were some large Bull Elk and a massive herd of Bison but not much else.
Along the way we also checked out the other camp spots to see where we wanted to stay next, we decided to book one for the following day at Madison camp and it allowed us take our time the next morning and not have to rush to get there.
Getting back to Lewis Lake camp there was still quite a bit of snow around and one thing we have always wanted to do.. Build a snow man!
That evening while out driving we didn’t see much wildlife except a couple of Elk but we did get hit by a great thunderstorm that ended up producing this beautiful full rainbow and some great Mammatus clouds.
DAY 5 – After a short drive up to Madison Campground we spent the rest of the day relaxing and exploring the area, the camp ground was nice but crowded and we still didn’t see much wildlife around and a bit expensive at $24.50 per night.
DAY 6 – We got up early that morning to head north to find a better and quieter camp spot near all the meadows and hills around the North East of the park; Lamar Valley. Not far from Tower I spotted our first Black Bear for the trip, she was a beautiful female with three very small cubs in tow and was very photogenic posing for some great photos.
We arrived at the smallest campground in the park, Slough Creek. We were greeted by a lovely lady named Rose the camp site host, the camp site looked full already and it was only 8am! Rose asked us how familiar are were with bears? We quickly replied we were very responsible, had no kids with us and no small bear lollipops (pets) either.
She told us site number one right in the corner was available today but it came with responsibilities, the camp site was located right on the trail that Bison and a family of Black Bears walked daily so we had to be very precocious.
After seeing all the other camp sites in the park we decided we defiantly had the best one. We paid for four nights at $15 per night then went off to explore this part of the park. We also had to find a place to buy some groceries which I wasn’t looking forward too, lucky for us Lauren spotted a little town on the map called Gardiner which had a great little market that wasn’t overly expensive. They even had cheap beer!
It was a great day for Bear spotting, we ended up seeing 4 Grizzly’s and 9 Black Bears, what a day! We celebrated with beer and marshmallows over the campfire, delicious!
DAY 7 – This was our first real rain day, the weather was terrible and really cold. We decided to head out to the East entrance to check out the small towns of Silver Gate and Cooke City, cute little alpine towns with loads of character and characters. We stopped in at a little cafe/bakery for a coffee in Cooke City, surprising good coffee and the best chocolate-chip cookie we’ve ever had!
During the brief breaks in the rain we snuck out to see some animals close to camp including this posing Yellow-headed Blackbird, Barrow’s Goldeneye and a Bald Eagle
That evening we saw Coyote and Mountain Goat further up the road, no luck seeing any of Yellowstones elusive Wolves but I did spot this very damp and dirty American Badger on the way back to camp who had just finished hunting in the mud for Ground Squirrels.
DAY 8 – After a well deserved sleep in we were off exploring again, we soon bumped into some people on the side of the road watching a lone Black Bear. While there watching the Bear Lauren spotted a pair of Williamson’s Sapsucker and then I located their nest hole. I couldn’t get very close as a ranger didn’t want anyone getting too close to the Bear so we had to come back later.
Not far up the road we saw some really cool Ruddy Ducks on the Floating Island Lake near where we were watching the bear. I scrambled down the hill and quickly found myself with very wet and muddy boots, I did manage a nice shot of him though.
Dragging my wet boots out of the mud we headed for Norris, our final road to explore in the entire park. Along the way I photographed my first Bald Eagle for the trip but didn’t have much more luck other than that.
We stopped in at the Ranger Museum at Norris Campground which was cool, they had an interesting video on the history of Yellowstone. Steamboat Geyser in the Norris Geyser Basin is the largest geyser in the park but is very unreliable, it can erupt between every 4 days and 50 years but can get up to 150ft. We saw some really cute Snowshoe Hare on the trail but I didn’t have my camera with me sadly.
On the way back to camp we stopped again at the Sapsucker nest. I set up and didn’t have to wait long, both parents very busily feeding there chicks with termites and even posing for a couple of photos.
While watching the Sapsuckers I spotted another nest, after photographing the Sapsuckers I headed over to find a pair of Mountain Bluebirds doing the same routine the previous couple. They were busily feeding their chicks, you have to love spring time.
That evening just after dinner we finally got to meet our Black Bear family that Rose mentioned when we arrived, Lauren was very excited as she was Black but here cubs were a beautiful Cinnamon colour. They walked right along the edge of camp and then through our camp site, very cool!
DAY 9 – Didn’t start so well, I had set the alarm for 5am to go and see if we could spot some wolves but our car had other ideas. I had parked on a steep incline the night before and all the fuel had drained out of the lines, having under a quarter of a tank of fuel there wasn’t enough pressure to start the car… Even worse was it was freezing, the coldest morning we had had to date. Lucky for us our generous camp host, Rose, offered to run me to the service station 10km down the road for some gas.
Funny thing was, we arrived at 7am and it didn’t open until 8am! It gave Rose and I a great excuse to go and find a Bear while we waited.. Sadly no luck.
The car started though!
The rest of the day was spent having a much deserved shower (after 6 days!) and doing laundry at Canyon Village, getting ourselves ready to make our way north tomorrow to our next National Park.
That night after dinner we headed out into Lamar Valley to try to spot some Moose as we had heard hung out around Pebble creek campground, no Moose but we did see this beautiful male Cinnamon Black Bear right outside the campground. The ranger told us he was the resident Black Bear for that area but a Bison had sat down in his favourite meadow so he was forced to graze along the roadside.
On our way back to camp we noticed the skies were looking promising for a nice sunset, we waited patiently for an hour and well I think the wait was worth it.
It defiantly is a must visit place for everyone in the world, such a large, diverse, undisturbed area with amazing scenery and teeming with wildlife and for you to discover.
It might be busy but I can see why!
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