Hi guys. Last week I promised you on Insta that I would put together a travel guide for the best trip I’ve ever taken. My husband and I were SO burned out and just needed a getaway to reconnect and be outdoors. I’m a super girly girl so I was a bit intimidated to take a trip that was so focused on hiking and being outdoors, but I can’t even tell you how incredible it was for my soul. Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park need to be added to your bucket list STAT.
First of all, Jackson, WY is the most breathtakingly beautiful place. From the second you step off the plane, the views in Grand Teton National Park completely blow you away. Literally, they have an employee who’s entire job is to keep people moving and resist taking a thousand photos right away. “Keep moving, keep moving. You’ll have more opportunities later to capture those views. We have to keep the runway clear,” she says.
My husband travels every week for work so we have a lot of points/miles that we use for our vacations. We used our miles to fly into Jackson Hole Airport. It’s a bit more expensive but I think it’s worth it because you’re going to spend A LOT of time in the car to go through GTNP and YNP so don’t waste your precious time by flying into another airport and driving an additional 2 hours. The airport in Jackson Hole is super convenient, low key, and right in the middle of the national park so it’s a sight to see in itself.
Alright, time to get down to the details for each hot spot. First up, Jackson Hole. Ya’ll, not only are the sights beautiful but their food is out of this world.
We have Hilton points, but we only had enough to stay two nights in the Homewood Suites. The location was great, it was super clean, and provided free breakfast each morning. The Homewood Suites was within walking distance to all the great places to shop and eat in downtown Jackson, so we didn’t have to worry about parking the rental car. On our final night we stayed at Mountain Modern Motel that was recommended by a blogger I follow, Brighton The Day. Don’t be scared by the word motel- it was recently remodeled and the interior was super cute. As a bonus, it ended up being right across the street from our rental car drop off, which made getting back to the airport for our redeye home that much easier.
For our first meal in Jackson we stopped at Cafe Genevieve for lunch. They’re known for their candied bacon, so of course we had to try it. We had enough leftover to save it as a snack for the next few days.
The Granary Restaurant: Stunning views, delicious burgers, and SO empty for lunch. We came directly after white water rafting and were a little too casual for their ambience but they were so kind. We basically had the whole place to ourselves so I’d say it was our most romantic meal of the trip. The Granary is a show stopper not to be missed!
Thai Me Up: After a VERY long day of hiking and sightseeing in Yellowstone, we drove all the way back to Jackson Hole for our last night. We got back later than anticipated and missed our reservations somewhere else. Most places were closing up when we arrived, but Thai Me Up was recommended by a hostess and it was SO good. Their drinks and dishes put a creative spin on traditional Thai food and was the perfect casual spot to end our trip.
If you’ll be there for an extended trip, I’ve also heard great things about The Kitchen, Gather, and Snake River Grill. I honestly don’t think you can go wrong with food in Jackson, but these were our favorite stops.
Things to Do in Jackson
Mad River Rafting: We took the early morning tour, and while beautiful, it was absolutely freezing. I have never been white water rafting, so we did the scenic tour to “get my feet wet”. The tour guide was great, very knowledgeable and professional, but we didn’t see as much wildlife as were hoping considering it was “scenic wildlife tour”. If I were to do it again I’d probably choose the classic white water rafting trip.
Gondola at Jackson Hole: On our way back from Yellowstone headed towards the town of Jackson, we stopped at Jackson Hole Resort to ride the gondola. During the summer it’s free to ride from 5-9pm so be sure to make time for it. The views are stunning and the restaurants at the top offer a great spot to enjoy happy hour.
Jackson Hole Winery: I was bummed to miss the winery but we simply ran out of time. The reviews are wonderful and I’ve heard the views are too. Add this stop to your list if you’ve got the time!
Grand Teton National Park
We only had one day here but we tried to make it count. We hiked about 4-5 hours and it was beautiful. You have to take a shuttle to Jenny Lake so I’d ask the tour guides which trails are the least crowded and take those. Or get there really early! It’s get pretty crowded around noon so if you get an early start it will be more peaceful.
GTNP is so much less crowded than Yellowstone that I wish we’d had more time there. I left already wanting to plan our next trip back because it was so pretty. The trails were unbelievable and we even saw a few moose. No bears thankfully, but we did have our bear spray on us the whole time. GTNP has a completely different feel than Yellowstone and seemed much more hiking focused.
John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway
This parkway with views of the Snake River connects you from GTNP to Yellowstone. We stopped SO many times at the viewing areas to take pictures because it was too pretty to keep driving.
If you’re planning your trip, book your lodging here first because it fills up fast! We stayed in a standard room in the “Sandpiper” building at the Lake Hotel and loved it. The location was centrally located in Yellowstone and the facilities were pretty nice. The views of the lake from the lobby are gorgeous and offer a nice place to unwind with a drink before dinner. We also booked a late dinner reservation on site to give ourselves as much time as possible to explore. The food and service were awesome.
Must See Sights
Be prepared that Yellowstone is kind of like an adult Disney World. It’s A LOT of driving, parking and walking half a mile to go the sight for a photo and then doing it all over again. There are lots of RVs and campers on the roads so each photo op is very crowded. I was not expecting it to be that way and was a very stark contrast to GTNP. That being said, Yellowstone blew my mind the entire time we were there. I felt like I was walking around another planet.
Because there are hot springs everywhere and large crowds, I would not recommend bringing your kids until they are older. I cannot imagine how stressed I’d be trying to keep my toddlers out of the thermal hot spots. Warning signs to stay on the paths and sidewalks are posted throughout the park, but as we all know toddlers can’t read. My kids would resist holding my hand the whole time and because there is so much getting in and out of the car, strollers really aren’t ideal. This is a trip I’d save for when the kids are all 7 and up so you can all really enjoy (and remember) the sights and hikes together.
When you pay the fee to go through the national park entrance, they’ll give you a map of the entire park. I’d do your research before you go (limited or no cell service!) but these were the sights of highest priority to us. We also stopped a lot en route to the main attractions. You’ll see that certain areas of the park are dense with tourist lookouts and the more cars at each, usually the cooler the spot. Keep an eye on the time though because you can quickly get sidetracked at all the smaller destinations along the way and lose daylight.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Grand Prismatic Spring
Ok, the Grand Prismatic Spring will actually blow your mind. It’s size is unbelievable and those people who look like ants should help you understand the scale. It’s really worth it to the longer “hike” so you can see it from above.
If you’re able to stay at the Lake Hotel this will be in your backyard. It was really pretty in the morning but I’m not sure I would drive out of my way to see it if your lodging isn’t close by. Save your time for the out of this world sights.
You guys, how could I forget to talk about all the bison?! They are EVERYWHERE and SO SO cool. We drove through Hayden Valley on our way to the Lake Hotel and were stuck in a two hour traffic jam caused by hundreds of bison. It was easily one of the coolest experiences of my life. By the end of the trip I realized 1/3 of my photos were of these giant creatures so I’ll spare you the rest, but man I loved seeing them.
The hike up Mount Washburn is no joke. It takes about 4 hours round trip and is a lot of uphill climb time. There were multiple times that I almost turned around because I didn’t think I could keep going. The trail itself is very smooth but you’ll definitely need some endurance and layers. It was SO windy at the top. I’m told the view from the top is absolutely incredible on a clear day but there were a lot of wildfires in Montana then so the smoke really obscured it. Either way the hike was a nice break from the crowds and the constant in and out of the car.
Artist Paint Pots
By the time we got to the Paint Pots a thunderstorm was rolling through so I only had about one minute to get to the top for a quick photo. To me it looked like mold growing out of the ground!
I didn’t know I would start blogging while were on this trip or I would’ve taken better notes. I apologize, I do not have the names for the stops of the photos below. These blue thermal pools were probably my favorite. The colors were SO vivid and if you got up close you could see that they were boiling.
I hope you enjoyed my travel guide. Our itinerary was as follows to help you plan your trip. We left Charlotte really early on our first travel day to make the most of our limited time in Jackson. As you can see we packed a lot in to a short amount of time but it was SO worth it. Ideally, I would go again as separate trips so we could devote more time to each national park but we weren’t sure how long it’d be until we were out there again. I hope this inspires you to start planning your trip!
Day 1: Take redeye out of Charlotte, make connecting flight and then arrive in Jackson around 11am, have lunch, walk around all the cute shops in downtown Jackson, check into hotel and eat a yummy dinner.
Day 2: Early morning rafting tour, lunch at the Granary and then hiking in GTNP. Headed back to Jackson for a late dinner.
Day 3: Left early to start the drive to Yellowstone. It takes about 2 hours but I’d allow 3 because you’ll stop for photo ops so often. Hit Old Faithful and some other trip highlights on the way to our the hotel.
Day 4: Finish our checklist of Yellowstone sights, hike Mt. Washburn, drive back to ride the gondola at Jackson Hole, check into the hotel, and grab a late dinner.
Day 5: Come home on the red-eye to relieve the grandparents as early as possible.
Until next time,