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Old 11-09-2013, 06:56 AM   #1
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MTgirl's Yellowstone and Grand Teton travel thread

Those of you that know me know that Yellowstone and Grand Teton are my second home, my "back yard", and that at this point I could probably drive through the parks blindfolded.
I've gotten a few messages lately from other TW'ers asking for help planning their trips to the parks so I thought I'd start a thread to keep all of the information in one spot. I'll try to keep the first few posts updated with the bulk of the information. If you've been to the park and have something you'd like to share then speak up!

So be it information about camping, hiking, wildlife watching (where's a bear & yelly wildlife), great views, Taco friendly drives or tourist free spots that you seek I can help.
P.S. All of the places I mention will be shown on the free park map that you will receive as you enter the park. A few places may be outside of the park but I will give you detailed directions to find them. And if you plan on spending any length of time in the park or doing any backcountry hiking I highly recommend picking up a copy of the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Park Map. It has all of the info that the free maps have plus a lot more - and its printed on that nifty waterproof paper so you can use it as an umbrella in an emergency .

A few helpful links:
Opening/closing dates. The park does not have 100% access year round. Summer (100%) access is usually mid-April to early November weather dependent. From November through mid-April the only part of the park accessable by vehicle is the northern road from Gardiner, MT to Cooke City, MT - the rest of the park is off limits during this time. From mid-December through February the whole park is accessible by snowmobile and snowcoach. There are several private companies that offer guided tours of the park during the winter.
And I know some of you will ask so: guns in the park. Yes, you can carry a gun in the park (not in any of the buildings/visitor centers though). HOWEVER, it is illegal to discharge a firearm within the boundaries of the park. So if you think you're going to carry your gun for protection think again. You can have it but you can't use it. Get bear spray. Its more affective and is the preferred means of deterring an animal attack.



First, a few rules.

Don't be like this guy, he was incredibly lucky that the elk didn't turn on him. Animals can be unpredictable, especially during rut. Keep 25 yards between you and the animals (100 yards for bears).

Traffic laws still exist in the park. Please don't stop in the middle of the road to take a picture. Speed limit is 45mph, if you want to go slower please pull over and let the backed up traffic pass you.
Do not walk, touch, or poke at the thermal features. Do not throw things in the thermal features. Stay on the boardwalks/paths. These people should be permanently banned from the park IMO.

And hold on to your camera and lenses.


and now that we've gotten that out of the way we can move onto the fun stuff.
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Old 11-09-2013, 06:56 AM   #2
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If you want to see animals in the park different times of the year mean different animals are more active and in different parts of the park.
In the spring (may through early June) there will be lots of babies hanging out with their moms. The elk and buffalo tend to just lounge around the river banks throughout the parks and are in clear view of the roads. The babies sleep a lot so unless you're really lucky or patient and can catch them playing you'll just see a bunch of little brown lumps in the grass.
In July the buffalo all migrate to Hayden and Lamar valleys for rut (mating season). The bulls will butt heads and fight to gain dominance over the herds. Traffic will come to a complete stand-still so be prepared for that. In fact, anytime any animal is seen at any distance from the road, traffic comes to a stop. Make sure you're a defensive driver and watch out for brake lights and vehicles stopped on the road (its a no-no but people still do it).
In the summer when weather is usually pretty hot and the bugs are plentiful the animals tend to not be very active and they'll bed down in the trees/shade alot. You'll still see your fair share of elk and buffalo but I'd head out early in the day or late to catch them.
Moose can be tricky and I've only ever found moose in Yellowstone in the fall and winter - mostly in the NE corner and very south end. Highway 191 between Belgrade, MT and West Yellowstone is a GREAT place for moose (and bears). Its not often that I make that drive without seeing something.
Bears are active all summer. They'll start coming out of hibernation in March/April depending on the weather and they'll get more active as summer goes on. They have a phase called "hyperphagia" which means they eat all of the time. They are on the move constantly trying to find any available food source to fatten up for the winter. The NE corner of the park, Lamar Valley and the area around Yellowstone lake are great areas to spot bears. just remember to keep your distance, they can run faster than you. The best thing to do is stay in your car, please don't approach the bears.
In the fall the animals will get a lot more active - elk especially. Once rut is in full swing the bulls are awake 24/7 trying to gather up a harem of cows and fend off any other bulls. If you're camping in the park be prepared to listen to the elk bugling all night long. Its a cool thing to experience but after a few hours you'll be wishing they'd just give up for the night and be quiet. Mammoth and Madison are two great areas for elk.
Also in the fall Yellowstone is a rest stop for lots of migrating birds. herons, cranes and swans to name a few will congregate in the rivers and ponds. Trumpeter swans will show up in large numbers in the early winter around Hebgen Lake.
In the winter animals are really easy to spot. Most of them hang out on the roads - its easier for them to walk on the packed/groomed or plowed roadways than it is to walk in the deep snow in the fields. And the ones that are off at a distance usually stand out against the stark white snow. Most elk will migrate out of the park, usually to the west. Antelope will gather around Mammoth and Gardiner (their legs/hooves are so small that they literally can't walk in the snow and need bare ground to survive). The buffalo will be on the roads, near rivers and thermal areas. They're probably the heartiest of the park animals and they still try to find the least amount of snow to deal with. Coyotes and foxes will be in the fields. Eagles migrate to the park in the winter as most of the rivers don't freeze so the eagles can fish year round.
And onto the pics...
Mammoth Elk (there were 5 boys in the area of the hotel that morning)




Herons on the Madison River (they're pretty well camouflaged)

Moose near Pebble Creek camp (momma, baby and baby daddy? )


And if you haven't seen enough animals check out the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. This is about the only chance you'll have to get up close to bears and wolves - they have several raptors too. Its a great place and they take in troubled bears and injured birds that otherwise would have been killed or died.
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Old 11-09-2013, 06:56 AM   #3
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Great stops to make not too far from the beaten path:
GET OUT OF THE CAR!! there are miles and miles of boardwalks that are easily accessible. and even more hiking trails. if you drove every inch of the roads in the park but never left your vehicle you would only see 2% of the park... and 100% of the tourists. Get out and explore. And it doesn't take that long to leave the crowds behind, even on the busiest of days I've found myself totally alone on the hiking trails.
Brink of Lower Falls along the north canyon rim (first stop/parking lot along the drive) has the best view hands down in the park. Its a short but steep hike - the view makes it all worthwhile.

Uncle Toms' Trail (first stop on the south rim drive of the canyon) is a scary metal staircase stuck to the side of the canyon wall. This is not for the faint of heart. I have a pretty healthy fear of heights and its all I can do to walk down these stairs.
A view from the end of the trail

And a shot of the staircase


And you can't go wrong with the geyser basins. Each one is unique with different "thermophile" colonies of bacteria and algae growing in the scalding water. Its like like alien life and abstract art rolled into one. Each basin has a boardwalk that encircles it so you can get up close and personal (but yet at a safe distance) to all of the thermal wonders that Yellowstone offers.
I find this site very informative - they have maps of each of the geyser basins as well as pictures and descriptions of most of the geysers, pools and springs.





Grand Prismatic Spring in Midway Geyser Basin as seen from the Fairy Falls Hiking Trail
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Old 11-09-2013, 06:56 AM   #4
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Places outside of the parks that you won't want to miss & "Taco friendly" drives:
These are all great places to get away from the crowds and still enjoy the beauty of the area.
As Janster and a couple others have mentioned the Beartooth Highway and Chief Joseph Highway northeast of Yelly are breathtaking. You'll reach 11k ASL and drive around dozens of hairpin turns while surrounded by the largest expanse of wilderness in the lower 48 states. The downside is that these roads are only accessible from early June to mid October (weather dependent). It snows a lot up here and the road may be closed at anytime due to snow fall. To access the highways you'll need to start in either Cooke City, MT at the northeast entrance to Yelly, in Red Lodge, MT (stop at Red Lodge Ales for some microbrews) or in Cody, WY. Its chilly and windy at the top and the mosquitos are awful all of the time so come prepared. If you're feeling extra adventurous and want to give the Taco (not the rental car) a good workout there are a few trails that connect to the highways. Namely Daisy and Lulu Passes outside of Cooke City and the Morrison Jeep Trail near Long Lake on the BTH - these were the trails that we visited for the TW August 2013 WY meet.
The locals are friendly too

Some pics of BTH & CJH awesomeness...
Pilot and Index Peaks near the junction of BTH & CJH

Twin Lakes near the summit of BTH

Island Lake

View from the summit

Beartooth Lake & Butte

A map of hte area on the north end of the BTH

On the road to the Glacier Lake trailhead - left past the Greenough Lake and Limber Pine campgrounds at the north end of the BTH


Coming down from Hellroaring Plateau - right past the Greenough and Limber Pine camps

Snow drift near the top of Hellroaring (this is in late July)

Outlet of Goose Lake near Cooke City. Do not attempt this drive alone, the trail is pretty rough in spots and you may want to have a buddy or two long in case there is any trouble.

Goose Lake, Wolf Mtn & Sawtooth Mtn

Fisher Mtn from Lulu Pass

Sunset view from Morrison Jeep Trail, Pilot & Index peaks

View looking SW from the Morrison

Sunset from Morrison
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Old 11-09-2013, 06:57 AM   #5
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Grand Teton Park

There are two reasons why I go to Grand Teton: amazing hikes and MOOSES!!!

GT is a hiking park. You have to hike to see the beauty that the park has to offer. I have a personal goal of hiking to all of the lakes within the park - there's over 2 dozen. I highly recommend the Best Easy Day Hikes book. Its organized from easiest to most difficult and written by people who actually hiked the trails!
A few favorite, and relatively easy hikes, that I have done more than once:
Phelps Lake. The trailhead is located along Moose-Wilson Road and the Laurence Rockefeller Preserve. There is limited parking available so show up before 9 am or you could have to wait for a parking space. Its an easy/moderate 4 mile loop hike. I've it done it both clockwise and counterclockwise, no real change in difficulty. The tricky part comes where you get near to the lake, there are several trails that tie together and its easy to end up walking around in circles. There is an additional trail that goes around the lake - be cautious as there are several berry patches along the way. And those berries are protected by bears.

Taggert (4miles) & Bradley Lakes (add on 2.5 miles to the Taggert trail) are another pop0ular hike. CW/CCW no difference in difficulty but you have better views going CCW.



Leigh Lake and String Lake are another easy hike, the views are so-so compared to Phelps and Taggert though


And if you're feeling a little more adventurous you can hike up the service road for the gondola and chair lifts at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. They call this Top of the World and when you get up there it certainly seems like the top. 360* views of endless mountains. Its 7 miles one way and it gets steeper as you go so its a pretty brutal hike. The bonus is that if you hike up you can ride the tram down for free (if you want to ride up and hike down you have to pay).



Jenny Lake Trail - you can go 0.5 miles, 2 miles or 6 miles around the lake. There is also the option of taking (for a fee) a boat ride to the far side of the lake and hiking back. The boat ride makes access to the far side of the lake very crowded so its kinda of a pain. People pay to ride over because there is a great view from Inspiration Point which is only less than 1 mile if you take the boat...they're too lazy to hike the whole way. Last time I was around the lake I skipped the Point because there was a waiting line to get up the hill Thank you super-sized fast food!



And if you're camping (in a tent) in the park you have to try to get into Jenny Lake Campground. Its amazing. You are 5 minutes from the lake shore and its just a great place to camp. Only tents are allowed here so its really quiet and you're in the heart of the park. But its very busy. checkout time is 11 but people usually start leaving camp really early and its full again by 10. It took me 4 trips down there before I got a site. So worth it though.



And my first night at Jenny Lake was when I became "the Elk Whisperer" I had a bull elk that decided he wanted to camp with me and he hung around while I made a fire and settled in for the night. Then he scared the crap out of me when he returned at 3am and bedded down a few yards from my tent. This is bear country so my first thought was that there was a bear in my camp...you have no idea how fast my heart was beating when I heard footsteps just outside my tent that night


Then, if that wasn't enough, he decided to give my truck a tongue bath while I was in the ladies room the next morning...notice the slobber marks on the windows


And the best part about GT is the mooses!!! Mooses everywhere! My personal record for moose sightings is 14 in a single day. Not sure I'll ever top that.
Great moose spots are: Moose Junction, along Moose-Wilson road (after you climb the hill there is a large pullout on the left, stop there and check out the ponds), Blacktail Ponds turnout just north of Moose Junction, and along the Gros Venture River road (pronounced like Gro Vont). There's a large turnout about 2.5 miles up Gros Venture Rd and there are always moose in here. 3 bulls and 2 cows that I've seen and this past summer I was told there was a cow & calf in here too. They're all pretty patient and photogenic....if you're lucky you can even get them to smile for the camera...

or they just act goofy

And a few more of my mooses (all spotted at the sites listed above)


I should probably also mention grizzlies #610 and #399. They are mother (399) and daughter (610) and they like to hang out in the northern portion of Grand Teton around Moran Junction and Jackson Lake Lodge. If the area around the lodge is closed to hiking/fishing I guarantee its because 399 and/or 610 have been frequenting the area. And they sometimes hang out together...with their cubs. Both mother and daughter are famous because they almost always have twins/triplets. Their lives have been very well documented over the years since they are often spotted near the road. Heck- they're even on Facebook and youtube! The most amazing thing about these two is that in the summer of 2011 they were foraging in an area together and when they went their separate ways 610 (who started the day with 2 cubs) "adopted" one of 399's cubs. 610 then finished raising her half brother. No one knows why 399 gave her cub to her daughter, momma bears are very very protective of the cubs so its strange that she just walked away with one less cub that day. The good news is that 610 finished raising her two cubs and her half brother and they are still all doing well to this day. The sad news is that the two cubs that stayed with 399 were both killed - one was hit by a car and the other disappeared and hasn't been seen in over a year. 399 was spotted again this spring with triplets so I hope these cubs fair better than her last brood.
Here is my encounter with 610, her twins and her half brother....taken from the safety of my truck. They were only about 50 ft away. There was a little voice in the back of my head saying "get out of the truck, you'll get better pics that way". Once 610 looked at me and our eyes met that little voice went away.
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Old 11-09-2013, 07:38 AM   #7
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Great idea! I've been to the Tetons about a half-dozen times, but the most recent would be 1987. Around '80 or '81 for Jellystone so ya, it's been a while.

That jackhole in the first picture deserves to be stomped into the parking lot. One look at his license plate told me everything I needed to know.
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Old 11-09-2013, 07:39 AM   #8
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Old 11-09-2013, 07:45 AM   #9
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Thanks Lisa ... and Good Morning.
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Old 11-09-2013, 01:54 PM   #10
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Great idea! I've been to the Tetons about a half-dozen times, but the most recent would be 1987. Around '80 or '81 for Jellystone so ya, it's been a while.

That jackhole in the first picture deserves to be stomped into the parking lot. One look at his license plate told me everything I needed to know.
why so long?!?! I get a little antsy if I don't go there at least once a month!
And yes, if that guy had gotten stomped on he would have deserved it but the elk most likely would have been euthanized too. No sense in an animal dying because of a human's stupidity.
I did show that pic to a ranger that showed up to monitor the situation (lots of bull elk running around that morning with people in close proximity) and he immediately went over to have a little chat with the guy.

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Thanks Lisa ... and Good Morning.
Welcome. There will be lots of pics in here I'm sure.
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Old 11-09-2013, 03:53 PM   #11
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why so long?!?! I get a little antsy if I don't go there at least once a month!
And yes, if that guy had gotten stomped on he would have deserved it but the elk most likely would have been euthanized too. No sense in an animal dying because of a human's stupidity.
I did show that pic to a ranger that showed up to monitor the situation (lots of bull elk running around that morning with people in close proximity) and he immediately went over to have a little chat with the guy.
Spent the past three decades moving all over the country and am currently two-days drive away. I definitely want to get back up there again at some point. Good on you for pointing the db out to the ranger. Great pics so far and for more!
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Old 11-09-2013, 04:04 PM   #12
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Great thread, as newcomers to Wyoming we're looking at heading to Yellowstone next season. Thanks for the pics and info.
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Old 11-09-2013, 04:06 PM   #13
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I am jealous of where you live! I have a brother-in-law in Fort Collins that I would love to visit, but I don't think I would come back home!

I always look forward to your posts, and pics, of camping and hiking, and (gasp), your TITS!

Subscribed!
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Old 11-09-2013, 05:50 PM   #14
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Spent the past three decades moving all over the country and am currently two-days drive away. I definitely want to get back up there again at some point. Good on you for pointing the db out to the ranger. Great pics so far and for more!
excuses, excuses... I hope you do make it back someday, its going to look SO much different.

I yell at or tattle on stupid tourists all of the time

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Great thread, as newcomers to Wyoming we're looking at heading to Yellowstone next season. Thanks for the pics and info.
Stay tuned, I'm piecing together more info now and plan on adding to it as needed.

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Originally Posted by udy2554 View Post
I am jealous of where you live! I have a brother-in-law in Fort Collins that I would love to visit, but I don't think I would come back home!

I always look forward to your posts, and pics, of camping and hiking, and (gasp), your TITS!

Subscribed!
Well that wouldn't be a "visit" now would it?
And thanks, I like to share
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Old 11-11-2013, 06:06 PM   #15
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Looking forward to the information and great pictures, MTg!
Thanks for sharing your bit of paradise with the rest of us. :O)

Lee
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Old 11-11-2013, 06:14 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MTgirl View Post
Stay on the boardwalks/paths. These people should be permanently banned from the park IMO.
Tour bus.

On the bright side, they didn't have enough time to screw up the more exotic and fragile features, and will likely never be back to Wyoming again.
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Old 11-11-2013, 06:47 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by surfnmoto2 View Post
Looking forward to the information and great pictures, MTg!
Thanks for sharing your bit of paradise with the rest of us. :O)

Lee
No problem. I love Yelly and want to make sure that everyone gets the most out of their visit(s) to the park.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rich91710 View Post
Tour bus.

On the bright side, they didn't have enough time to screw up the more exotic and fragile features, and will likely never be back to Wyoming again.
They better not come back.
Too many times I've seen shoe prints where they don't belong, people scratching their names into the bacteria mats, people approaching the animals...it just pisses me off.
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Old 11-11-2013, 06:50 PM   #18
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Would you be my escort?
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Old 11-11-2013, 07:39 PM   #19
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Would you be my escort?
Sure...if you can keep up with me. I cover 5 to 7 miles a day easily and I'm up from 5am to 10pm. you can be my sherpa and carry my camera gear for me. And if you get out of line I'll shoot you with my bear spray

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Yellowstone sucks no one go there! Wyoming sucks too! I would never ever go there. Maybe drive through as fast as possible but that's about it. I would never move here...



Really? I heard it blows

Yelly and Grand are awesome.... the rest of the state...meh...
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Old 11-12-2013, 07:33 AM   #20
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I want to THANK YOU MTgirl's help & suggestions for our trip this past summer!!!

Our web hosting service finally fixed our photo gallery issue - I haven't been able to upload photos to it for over a year.

I'm uploading photos as I type.... Our vacation was only 5 days. We had two days of traveling & only 3 days to enjoy the area. It was short but ABSOLUTELY breathless!! You can take a short trip and be totally blown away by how beautiful it is!!! I'll post a trip report with pictures later today.
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