No one told us it would be so hot in Idaho! We thought we left the high 90 degree weather in Texas. Idaho sure fooled us! We left City of Rocks desperately craving some water fun. On our way to the Sawtooth Mountains we made a stop at the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area in Murphy, Idaho. We were able to find a free campsite on the Snake River nestled in this beautiful canyon. There were just a few people in the area so it felt like we had this gorgeous place to ourselves!
We had such a great time soaking up the sun on the Snake River we made it a point to find more spots like this! The next day we drove into Boise to prepare for our upcoming backpacking trip. We drove out of Boise and headed east on the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Route. Along this drive, we found another amazing free campsite on the Payette River. Besides a family on the other side of the river, we also had this magical place all to ourselves. Alan set up our tent’s rain cover for shade and we used the river to keep the beer cold.
Our second destination in Idaho was the mountainous high desert reserve known as the “City of Rocks”. As the name implies, this landscape is filled with granite peaks and unique rock formations. Naturally, this park is a hot spot for world class rock climbing. We spent three nights parked on some BLM land just outside the park. Having already been in southern Idaho, we were aware of how surprisingly hot it was here so we did our best to stay in the shade (nothing two Texans couldn’t handle though).
Loop Trail Hike
Having researched AllTrails, we found a 7 mile loop comprised of multiple trails within the park. After eating breakfast, we headed for the trailhead stopping for a scenic overlook along the way. The trail started near a formation called “Parking Lot Rock” and there were already many climbers scaling its large walls. The loop led us through the unique rock formations then we climbed to a ridge that overlooked the bulk of the park. Along the way we mistook a cow laying down for a bear that gave a moment of fright then a good laugh.
Although the trail was relatively short, we took our time, stopping for overlooks and to catch our breath along the way. That evening we returned to our dispersed site, showered, ate dinner, then bedded down for the night.
Given this area is a “climbing mecca” and I was itching to break in our new crash pad, we spent our second day at the park hopping from boulder to boulder with the help of Mountain Project, an online climbing guide. We had a great time hanging out near to boulder attempting previously established “problems” (bouldering routes) and making up some of our own.
This was an awesome location we would like to return to with improved rock-climbing ability. We would also most likely plan our trip during a cooler season having now experienced the surprisingly warm southern Idaho summer. See you later!
We had an amazing time in Wyoming and were excited to see what Idaho has to offer over the next couple of weeks. Our first stop in Idaho was Craters of the Moon National Preserve. After a morning hike at Grand Teton, we headed towards Idaho Falls to resupply then stopped at a BLM called “Hell’s Half Acre” which is made up volcanic rock similar to Craters of the Moon. We did not realize how warm the high desert of southern Idaho would be and it was a sudden change from the mountains of Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
Scenic Loop Road
On our first day at the park, we stopped at the visitor’s center to get a park map and discuss current park conditions with the park rangers. To our dismay, we found out that due to some recent seismic activity in the area, the caves were closed to visitors.
The road through the park took us on a scenic loop past many of the main features. Along the drive we saw huge lava flows, cinder cones, and volcanic craters. We decided to leave the park for the day so we could take advantage of a free campsite on some BLM land near the park.
Tree Molds Trail
The next morning we re-entered the park to hike out to a feature called the “Tree Molds”. These impressions of tree trunks were formed when lava flowed around trees then solidified. The trail is a 2 mile round trip and was a nice morning walk.
This park taught us a lot about volcanoes and the formations created when they occur. We were especially intrigued to find out that most of the volcanic activity took place only 2,000 years ago and that Native American tribes from the area have records of peoples that witnessed eruptions. This is definitely a cool quick stop that should not be missed by anyone traveling through the area.
After spending our last morning at Yellowstone, we made our way south to its neighbor park, Grand Teton. The Teton mountain range is a cathedral of jagged peaks and narrow valleys that sit above gleaming lakes. We spent five nights at the Colter Bay Campground in this mountain dreamland and found it hard to leave when the time came.
Our first couple of days were plagued with overcast and rainy weather so we spent the first day and a half getting caught up on work and blog articles in Colter Bay Village.
Taggart & Bradley Lake Hike
On our second full day at the park we awoke to sunny skies and quickly ate breakfast then headed for the trails. On our drive over to the trailhead, we got our first good glimpse of the Tetons and were both overtaken with their natural beauty.
Upon arrival to the Taggart Lake trailhead, we prepared our day packs then hit the trail. The Taggart Lake trail is a 4 mile loop that connects to a 2 mile loop to Bradley Lake. We went counter-clockwise around hitting Bradley Lake first.
After stopping for a quick snack on the shores of Bradley Lake, we continued down the trail to Taggart Lake. After completing the hike we spent the rest of the day driving around the park stopping at the many overlooks along the way.
Cascade Canyon Hike
The following morning we got up and got out of our campsite early in effort to beat the crowds to the Jenny Lake Area. After a quick breakfast, we grabbed the packs then hopped on the Jenny Lake water taxi. We planned to take the boat across the lake, hike though Cascade Canyon then, hike back around Jenny Lake from the Cascade Canyon trailhead, totaling about 12 miles.
We were told we could spot much wildlife on this trail and before we even got of the boat, one of the passengers spotted a Black Bear near the shore about 50 yards from the dock! Luckily the trailhead was in the opposite direction and we hastily began our hike to the canyon. Shortly after beginning the hike, we passed Hidden Falls and stopped for a quick overlook then made our way up to an overlook of Jenny Lake called “Inspiration Point”.
After Inspiration Point, the trail leveled out and led into Cascade Canyon. While walking through the canyon we had views of the towering peaks on either side. We even had a close encounter with a Moose Cow that was 20 yards off of the trail. She was just doing her thing while we cautiously passed by.
As we continued another three miles down the trail, the views just kept getting better and better. The trail eventually ended at an intersection where you can either go left or right to continue up into the mountains. We decided to stick to our plan and head back the way we came toward Jenny Lake.
String, Leigh, Bearpaw, & Trapper Lakes
We tried to hike to these lakes the previous day but the trailhead parking lot had reached capacity. Determined to beat the crowds, we arrived at the parking lot early the following morning and hopped on the trail. During this hike, we had continuous lake views as the trail follows the String and Leigh Lake shorelines the bulk of the way.
Once we passed Leigh Lake, we hiked another mile to Bearpaw and Trapper Lakes. These lakes were much smaller but equally scenic and much more peaceful. We had a snack and returned the way we came.
Since this was our last day at the park, we took our time hiking back so we could take in the beauty of the lakes and the Grand Teton range one last time. We found a beach area along Leigh Lake and stopped to sit on the rocks and dip our feet in the freezing water!
DANG! Grand Teton blew us both away and leaving this park was not easy. This is definitely one of the top 5 best destinations to date and won’t be the last time we visit. This is another bucket list park we strongly recommend you visit. Until next time!
Yellowstone National Park is a 2 million acre geological wonderland containing hot springs, geysers, mountains, canyons, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. This park is a must visit and should be on everybody’s bucket list! We decided to spend the bulk of our time discovering the geological features the park is known for. We spent 3.5 days viewing hot springs, mud pots, fumaroles, and geysers. As a bonus we saw much wildlife while traveling around the park.
We spent the 3 nights of our visit in Shoshone National Forest on the east side of the park about an hour’s drive away.
On our first day in Yellowstone, we decided to drive the Grand Loop so that we could get familiar with park and stop at all of the geothermal features noted on the park map. This drive is 142 miles and can take 4 to 7 hours. We started from the East entrance and headed South toward West Thumb Geyser Basin.
Once we parked at the basin, we walked the boardwalk loop and saw our first collection of steaming hot springs, mudpots and geysers. SO COOL! This was my first time at the park and Alan’s second so, he was recollecting memories from his first time there while I was just in awe. Because this basin sits on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, we had great views and could see the hot water of the springs flow into the cool water of the lake.
Our next stop was Upper Geyser Basin, near the most famous geyser in the park, Old Faithful. Old Faithful is the most predictable geyser and erupts approximately every 90 minutes. It was getting ready to blow when we were walking up to the viewing area. We opted out of taking pics or videos of the eruption so that we could simply take in the geyser’s natural beauty.
After watching Old Faithful, we explored Upper Geyser Basin via the Geyser Hill Loop. This area is has the largest concentration of hydrothermal features in the park. Upper Basin also has 5 out of the 6 geysers for which the park provides prediction times. We tried to catch Daisy Geyser but weren’t able to walk to it quick enough and saw the eruption from a distance. Luckily, there was plenty more to see in the area. I mean, look at this gorgeous hot spring!
We moved on to Midway Geyser Basin, which is home to the largest geyser in the world, Excelsior and the third largest hot spring in the world, Grand Prismatic. Grand Prismatic is one of the most strikingly beautiful features of the park with its deep blue center surrounded by bright yellow and orange streams that tail away from its edge.
Our second to last stop of the day was, Lower Geyser Basin. This basin had the most mudpots than any other area we had seen so far. Our favorite feature here was the Fountain Paint Pots, a boiling mudpot that had created multiple “pots” over time.
Since it was getting late and we had a long drive back to our campsite, we headed out of the park with a final stop at Gibbon Falls. While driving out, we spotted many bison near the Hayden Valley area. We took the photo below from a safe distance and inside the van. A few days after leaving the park, we learned about a 72 year old woman being gored by a bison for getting entirely too close for a photo. Talk about scary!
After entering the park on the East side again, we headed north so we could complete the Grand Loop drive. On our way into the park, we noticed a few people on the side of the road with binoculars. I looked up the hill to see what all the fuss was about and saw a grizzly bear! Alan quickly pulled over and we grabbed our binoculars so that we could get a better look. Some locals that frequent the park informed us that this particular grizzly was more aggressive than most. A park ranger arrived shortly after and used aerial charges to scare it away. Shortly down the road there was another “bear jam”, so we pulled over and saw a grizzly mother and cub. PRETTY AMAZING!
After the bear high, we continued our drive to Mud Volcano and Sulphur Cauldron. These formations were different than what we had seen on Day 1 and, as the name implies, were a lot smellier.
Next we stopped at the Canyon Village area to overlook the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. This was an awesome overlook of one of parks main attractions.
From Canyon Village, we drove to Mammoth Hot Springs to see the famous travertine terraces. We were a little underwhelmed however because the hot springs were not flowing and appeared to have been dry for quite some time. Regardless, we were excited to see some different formations and elk just hanging out in the village.
From here we worked our way south back towards the Grand Loop stopping to see the Artist Paint Pots. These paint pots were similar to the mudpots we saw the day before.
We had some extra time so we decided to try and catch some geyser eruptions at Upper Geyser Basin. Grand Geyser was predicted to erupt at around 5:50 PM with window of +/- 45 minutes. As we walked up at 6 PM, we could see that there was still a crowd gathered awaiting the eruption. By 7 PM, Grand Geyser had still not erupted! There were some people that had been waiting for 2 hours to see the eruption and the crowd was starting to dwindle down. We decided to call it quits because of the long drive back to the campsite and planned to catch as many geyser eruptions on Day 3.
More grizzlies! Apparently the entrance that we entered the park from the past two days was the best place to spot bears. Lucky us! I decided to get creative this time and tried taking a picture of the two bears through the binoculars. Alan had his doubts but it worked! Not the best photo but definitely better than anything our phones or camera could have taken.
We then made our way to see Grand Prismatic for the second time via Fairy Falls trail. Fairy Falls leads you up a hill behind Grand Prismatic for an elevated overlook of the magical hot spring. It was cold and rainy day so the steam coming off the hot spring was heavier than usual. Still very beautiful!
After viewing Grand Prismatic, we drove over to Upper Geyser Basin and committed our day to seeing as many geyser eruptions as possible. We were able to catch Daisy and Grand Geyser erupt. You can check out the videos of the geyser eruptions in the photo/video gallery, here.
We didn’t originally plan on spending a fourth day at the park but we couldn’t leave without seeing Riverside Geyser erupt. So we headed into the park around 6:30 AM to catch the scheduled 8:30 AM eruption. It was a cold and rainy morning but we were still surprised to see that we were the only people awaiting the eruption. This geyser is unique because when it erupts it flows into the Firehole River. After this, we were able to catch the Grand Geyser eruption for a second time (just as impressive the second time) then called it good. The Tetons were calling us so we had to get moving!
WOW! Yellowstone did not disappoint! We had a fantastic time exploring this park and cannot wait to return. Each day was filled with unexpected wildlife sightings and stunning geological features. This is one national park you do not want to miss!
Side note – In the future we will definitely pay to stay inside the park. Driving an hour to our campsite outside of the park was a bit of a drag at the end of a long day exploring the park. Regardless, we had an awesome time here and made lots of awesome memories!
Our first stop in Wyoming was Devils Tower National Monument. We nearly skipped this monument because we thought it would be too far of a detour but we are so glad we didn’t miss out on this on of a kind geological wonder! This 900 foot tall geological anomaly was formed when magma pushed its way upwards through other rock layers then cooled while still underground. Millions of years of erosion of the sedimentary rock exposed Devils Tower to how we see it today.
Joyner Ridge Trail, Red Beds Trail and Tower Trail
We explored the monument via the Joyner Ridge, Red Beds and Tower trails which amounted to a little over 7 miles. This loop around the park allowed us to view the tower and surrounding areas from afar and up close along along all 360 degrees of its perimeter.
Prairie Dog Town
When we first drove into the park we saw dozens of prairie dogs coming out of there homes for some morning sun. On our way out of the park we were able to get a closer look at them and found them to be more cute than we thought they would be!
This geological mystery is inspiring and made us stop to think about how short our lives are in relation to the story of earth. We hope to return one day to climb the tower and experience it up close and personal.
After enjoying Dinosaur National Monument, we headed East toward Rocky Mountain National Park. On our way there, we stopped in Steamboat Springs and Fort Collins.
Since visiting Crested Butte, we had been wanting to find some hot springs in Colorado. We came across Strawberry Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs. Because of the coronavirus, they were only allowing reservations for 2 hour increments and were totally booked for the day we wanted to go. Fortunately, there were some cancellations the morning of and we were able to snag a spot early in the afternoon. It ended up being a warm day and the pools were even hotter but we were determined to get our money’s worth and stayed in the 100+ degree water the entire time. This was a beautiful spot and we will definitely keep this place in mind during future winter visits to Colorado.
According to Alan, Fort Collins has a pretty awesome craft beer scene so off we went to scope it out. It was a cloudy day and rain was headed our way. Most of the breweries were only allowing patio seating and to avoid contact with staff, we were able to order from our phones. We enjoyed beer from O’dell, New Belgium, Funkwerks and Jessup Farm Barrel House. We wrapped up our beer tour with more carbs at an Italian restaurant called, Cacciatore. Very happy bellies!
Rocky Mountain National Park
On our first day at Rocky Mountain, we decided to hike to Chasm Lake. This is a 9.4 mile out and back hike with an elevation gain of 2,601 feet. Chasm Lake sits at 11,760 feet. This hike was lots of fun and got a little scary as we reached the lake at the top.
The first 2 miles or so took us through sub-alpine terrain featuring 100 ft tall Engelmann Spruce and Flat-Needled Fir trees. As we climbed higher, we found ourselves above the tree line in steep alpine terrain with sandier soils, little vegetation, and unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains. Then, we got to the scary part, a snowy 200 foot long traverse on a sleep hillside 100 feet above sharp, rocky rubble. Luckily, we had our trekking poles with us so we were able to cross with minimal slippage.
After this, we scrambled up some rocks to get to the beautiful Chasm Lake. This lake wins most beautiful mountain lake to date. We soaked in the views of the lake while snacking on peanut butter and crackers and then made our way back down.
Trail Ridge Road
Once we finished our hike, we hopped in the van and drove the scenic Trail Ridge Road to see the various points of interest throughout the park. Along the drive there are turnouts at each overlook that allowed us to park and take in the views. We even saw some wildlife along the drive including elk, moose, and marmot.
On our second and last day at Rocky Mountain, we hiked up to Sky Pond from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. This trail is 9.5 mile out and back hike with an elevation of 1,837 feet. This trail was much busier than Chasm Lake so we sped through some of the early waterfall overlooks to get ahead and away from the larger crowds. We came across some beautiful calm lakes throughout the hike. As we neared the top, we came across some slippery slushy snow patches and a challenging scramble up a waterfall.
This park is every mountain lovers dream! The great views are endless, and the mountain lakes are breathtaking. There is so much to do in and around the park. We will definitely be back!