It’s hard to recap a beautiful 11-day trip to three national parks, but, of course, I’m going to try!
Let’s start at the beginning: We flew into Salt Lake City on July 22 and drove to the Grand Tetons. Along the way, we had a delicious dinner at Union Grill in Ogden, Utah, and then shopped for some groceries and a $17 Igloo cooler at Walmart in Ogden that had a beautiful view from the parking lot.
We had a great first day in the Tetons. We took the shuttle across Jenny Lake and hiked to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. We had a picnic lunch at String Lake, where we regretted we weren’t prepared to swim. We drove down the road and briefly explored Menors Ferry. Then we came back to Teton Village, where we stayed on Rachel Way, and rode the aerial tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain, where we had delicious waffles — one mixed berry cobbler and one peanut butter and bacon! Then had dinner at the Mangy Moose in Teton Village.
Day 3 – Tetons & Yellowstone
We started Day #3 with a 13-mile scenic boat tour on the Snake River with Dave Hansen Whitewater and Scenic River Trips. Then we had lunch at Snake River Brewing while we were in Jackson, WY. We finished up our self-guided tour of the Tetons with stops at Mormon Row, Snake River Overlook, and Oxbow Bend.
Such beautiful views! And good information, thanks to GuideAlong, which I highly recommend for guided driving tours. Download driving tours that work even in national parks that don’t have good cell service.
We left the Tetons that afternoon and headed into Yellowstone National Park! We headed north from the Tetons, came into the south entrance of Yellowstone, and stopped to see Lewis Canyon before we came to our townhouse in West Yellowstone. We had dinner at a pizza place that didn’t have a wait and huckleberry ice cream from City Creamery.
Day 4 – Yellowstone
Day 4 was another good day … and we finished with 17,000+ steps!
We started with the roadside Gibbon Falls and Beryl Springs, then hiked about a mile around the Artists Paintpots, and walked more around the Porcelain Basin Trail at Norris Geyser Basin.
Then we went off-road into the backcountry with a “secret” hike to Little Gibbon Falls. I really loved it, but my kids had lots of nervous feelings about it because we only saw six other people the whole 1.4 miles. It was lovely and felt adventurous.
We met up with my Uncle Rick and Mom in Mammoth for a picnic lunch, a history tour courtesy former park ranger Uncle Rick, some hot springs site seeing, and the Roosevelt Arch. We also saw our first wildlife that wasn’t birds — two separate elk. Mom joined us for the rest of our trip.
For dinner, we came back to The Buffalo Bar in West Yellowstone and then finished the night with more huckleberry ice cream from City Creamery.
Day 5 – Yellowstone
We had another good day in Yellowstone. Day 5 was filled with lots of hydrothermal sites and 15,000+ steps.
We drove along Firehole Canyon Scenic Drive, walked around the Midway Geyser Basin, and then hiked to see an even grander view of Grand Prismatic. Then we spent longer than I expected at Old Faithful, where we saw the geyser erupt close up and from a distance. We also walked around Geyser Hill, had a picnic lunch, looked inside Old Faithful Inn, and did some souvenir shopping.
We had some “rest time” today back at our West Yellowstone townhouse and then went to Canyon Street Grill and, yes, of course, had ice cream at City Creamery. Then we played our new Trekking the National Parks board game.
Day 6 – Yellowstone
Day 6 of our vacation took us to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Yellowstone Lake. Such beautiful drives and sites!
We started with the North Rim Scenic Drive, including Brink of the Lower Falls hike and Lookout Point. We meandered around the interesting Canyon Village Education Center and then visited Artist Point on the canyon’s south rim.
We lunched at a picnic table at Bridge Bay Marina, where we also saw five elk playing in Yellowstone Lake. Then we stopped at Fishing Bridge and hiked on Pelican Creek Nature Trail, which lead us to a sandy lake beach. Ben and Rachel played in the water there — something they’ve been wanting to do. These were definitely lesser-known locations, but I really loved this part of the park.
Driving through Hayden Valley twice was also enjoyable — such pretty landscape! We did see a few bison. Dinner was back in West Yellowstone again, this time at Beartooth Barbecue, which was so yummy! And, yes, we followed that with ice cream from City Creamery.
Day 7 — Yellowstone & Livingston, MT
Our last day in Yellowstone was another good, full one.
We saw Tower Fall, two grizzly bears on our way to Lamar Valley, lots of bison and some pronghorn in Lamar Valley, and a black bear after Lamar Valley. We had lunch at Beartooth Cafe in Cooke City before experiencing the 68-mile Beartooth Highway. We had the best huckleberry milkshakes at Whistle Stop Cafe in Columbus, MT, on the way to visit my aunt and uncle in Livingston, MT. So much beautiful scenery and finally the animals for which we’d been watching!
Day 8 — Travel through Montana
Another travel day, but of course there are pretty views in all directions. We left Livingston, MT this morning to head north to Glacier National Park.
We happened upon the only pitstop for many miles — Trixi’s in Ovando, MT. It was exactly what you’d think a Montana saloon would be: casino games, bar, pool table, and animal heads and beer brands as decorations. I felt like Rip and Jimmy could have walked in at any moment. And my burger and fries were delicious. I loved the whole experience!
After checking into our cabin and the kids checking out the hot tub, we went to see the Hungry Horse Dam. Dinner was at Paul Bunyan Bar & Grill — and it was good.
Day 9 — Glacier
We had a great first full day in Glacier. We started with eventually finding a parking spot for the Trail of the Cedars and then explored Sacred Dancing Cascade, a pretty waterfall in the shallow McDonald Creek. We also saw McDonald Falls just down the road.
We had our picnic lunch near the Lake McDonald Lodge. Then we did a little souvenir shopping before going on our whitewater rafting trip 9 miles down the middle fork of the Flathead Creek. Great Northern Resort provided a great, family-friendly rafting trip that was perfect for my kids’ first experience.
Day 10 — Glacier
Our last day of vacation included nearly 17,000 steps and three of my family members jumping off a rocky cliff.
We started by driving on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The scenery was gorgeous! We stopped at Logan’s Pass, where we hiked to the Hidden Lake Overlook. The boardwalk and steps were deceiving and it was a harder-than-expected, 2.8-mile trail, but I’m glad we did it anyway.
Then we drove to Jackson Glacier Overlook and to Sun Point, where we did a short hike to a beautiful view of St. Mary Lake. We had our picnic lunch at Sun Point and then took the shuttle a little bit west to the St. Mary Falls hike. The trail is hauntingly beautiful with lots of burned trees with newer wildflower and bush growth on the way to a gorgeous waterfall and glacier-blue water. This is where Greg, Ben, and Rachel jumped off the rocky cliff into the St. Mary River.
We headed back to West Glacier to get cleaned up and regroup before dinner at Monaco Steakhouse & Sports Grill in Columbia Falls, MT. Then we tried to fit all the pants and sweatshirts we didn’t use back into the suitcases – and finished the huckleberry pie!
Day 11 – Travel home
We flew home from Missoula, which offered better flight times and prices than the closer Kalispell. We returned a very dirty Armada to Avis and had a smooth trip home by flying through Chicago to Nashville, where we were reunited with our minivan.
In the airport, I asked my family some post-trip questions inspired by author Laura Tremaine to capture their thoughts.
What was your favorite thing we did on this trip?
- Greg — Driving through Lamar Valley and Beartooth Highway
- Kristin — Jenny Lake hikes, “secret” hike in Yellowstone & rafting
- Cate (16) — Hot springs on Yellowstone & rafting
- Ben (13) — Jumping off the cliff at St Mary Falls
- Rachel (7) — Swimming in the hot tub at Glacier rental
- (But after we gave initial answers we kept saying other things …)
What was the best thing we ate?
- G — Snake River Brewing
- K — Huckleberry ice cream in waffle cone from City Creamery
- C — Glacier Taphouse Pizza & Huckleberry Lemonade
- B — Canyon Street Grill in West Yellowstone
What could we do differently next time?
- G — Go at a less-crowded time
- K — Pack less
- C — No “secret” hikes
- B — More steak
- R — Sleep with mom and dad every night (not just in Glacier …)
What memory would you like to make next?
- G — Alaska cruise
- K — Alaska cruise
- C — Go to Mexico and go snorkeling
- B — Go on another Royal Caribbean Cruise
- R — Go to Disney World or “Big Mickey Boat”
Without a doubt, I recommend you spend money on Dirt in My Shoes itineraries and GuideAlong’s audio driving tours. Both are how I planned this trip to flow in ways that made sense and allowed us to see so many glorious things. My local friends also have a business (Awestruck Family Outfitters) that could plan a fabulous trip for you.
Another way we make traveling work well is by using our Capital One Venture credit card. There are travel discounts and rewards. We get a higher percentage back in rewards when we make travel-related reservations, can cash rewards in to cover travel purchases, got reimbursed for our TSA Pre-Check application when we used this card as payment, and can book hotels and rental cars with discounted rates directly through the credit card website. Win-win, I tell you. (Learn more here!)