This wasn't our first time camping through National Parks
Last July, my husband Dave and I flew the kids down to Florida to stay with the grandparents for a week while we whisked away to camp through the National Parks. The first time we did this was in 2018 and that time we went to Yosemite. It was so epic. We hadn't had a week to ourselves since having Sam in 2015, and what's better than a minimalistic trip through the mountains with a tent for two, freeze-dried meals, and no cell phone service? You might sit back and imagine a secluded tropical island where you'll sit in lawn chairs on the beach and be served cocktails with cute little umbrellas. That's great and all, but your soul will be much happier after some crazy hikes, swims in random holes, and a week in the forest with the person you love most.
What you should know before you go camping through bear country
This is BEAR COUNTRY, folks. Be ready. A dangerous grizzly walked through one of our campsites just a day before we arrived, and there were warning signs all over the place. He actually approached the person staying there and bear spray was used. Of course we stayed there anyway because the bear obviously had great taste in campsites-- this one was SOLID. Site 50, backed up into the corner of the Indian Creek campground in Yellowstone with a ton of beautiful trails behind it, and lots of privacy. This was our favorite of two campsites we got in Yellowstone. We stayed mostly in the Grand Tetons, which we thought had much more to offer. Yellowstone was beautiful, especially Yellowstone Falls and Old Faithful which you'll see plenty of photos of down below, however you can only see so many geysers and springs before they all start looking the same. Old Faithful was definitely the best site for those, and Mammoth Hot Springs was pretty cool too. We also wanted to see Grand Prismatic, however after so many geysers and springs and seeing how long the line was just to park, we decided to skip it and head back to the Tetons.
Packing, Planning & Going to yellowstone & the grand tetons: What to bring & what to expect
If you're camping and doing hikes, which you obviously are, you'll need a can of Bear Spray whether you think you do or not. Buy some before you get into the parks so you don't spend an arm and a leg once you're there.
Download some podcasts and music stations before you get out there so you can play them offline. We did a lot of driving around, and either the radio won't have reception at all or you'll be listening to the same local advertisements and country music for hours.
Download the maps of the places you want to see so you have access even when you don't have cell phone service.
Keep a portable charger or two with you, and charge them whenever you get a chance. The more input types the better.
Opt for a convertible. We would normally go for an off-roading type vehicle, being out where we were, but this time we went for a top-down commute and we both agree it was the most epic way to go. Bring a sturdy hat and some chapstick and you're golden.
FOOD: Get yourself some of those freeze dried camping meals. They're actually super tasty, and it's the easiest and cleanest way to eat while camping in bear country. You have to be so careful about storing food and not leaving anything with a scent around, which would lure bears to the campground. With these, you simply boil water, pour it in the bag, and let it sit for 20 minutes. Get yourself one of these little cook sets and a little stove and you'll be good to go. The only thing I will say is that Dave and I are both foodies and we actually enjoy the texture of food. Eating freeze dried food pouches does not provide much crunch. While you're out, there are plenty of stores to grab salad packs, fruit, and granola bars, and when we found a good restaurant we went for it.
Pour-over coffee for the win!
Dave brought some of these drink mixers for our long days of hikes and exploring. They were pretty great, kept us hydrated, and even kicked up our energy levels with some caffeine too.
Pack efficiently. It's cold in the morning and at night, but warmed up during the day. You'll want to bring lots of chapstick, a beanie and some gloves, a rain and wind resistant coat or shell, teva sandals and lots wool socks (because have you ever worn Tevas with wool socks? It's heavenly.)
Bring a good camera, extra CF and/or SD cards, and extra batteries. There are beautiful scenes everywhere you look. This Peak Designs holster is great if you're carrying a larger professional DSLR like I am. Bring a wide lens to capture the scenes, and if you have a long zoom lens like a 70-200 or 300mm, don't hesitate to bring it with you. Every hour on the hour, Dave would hear me grunt and groan, and he'd say, "Let me guess, you wish you had your long lens." Ugh. That was Yosemite; I definitely didn't make that mistake again for the Tetons.
If you want to get an awesome campsite in the Grand Tetons, you're going to have to get there SUPER early because it's first come, first serve. Jenny Lake, with only 30 something sites, is definitely the most sought after and fills up by 9:30am or earlier. We finally ended up scoring a site there the last night out there, but we got site 3 which was definitely the worst, right next to the bathroom. It wasn't the experience we were looking for. Signal Mountain fills up soon after, with an amazing sunset view from the top. Lizard Creek fills up quickly as well. We stayed at all three, but it was definitely a close call each time. Lizard Creek, site 32, was my favorite! We got a site right across from the lake and had our own private beach (photos below.) We stayed there our first two nights.
Go EVERYWHERE early. These attractions get busier as the day progresses, so if you want to see a bunch without waiting in lines, go early.
Water: Bring LOTS everywhere you go. I'm pretty terrible at drinking water -- I never drink enough -- but you don't really have a choice out there. It's dry, and you'll drink water like you never have before. We brought at least 3 full Nalgene bottles on each hike, and kept refillable jugs in the car. There are natural spring watering holes throughout campgrounds and at basically every store, so you can fill up there for free.
We did the 17 mile hike up to Lake Solitude from Jenny Lake and I HIGHLY recommend that you do it too. It's crazy beautiful, long, and mostly uphill. The higher up you get, the more gorgeous the views. DO NOT WEAR HIKING BOOTS unless you know that they are super comfortable. Next time I do a hike like this I'll be wearing these Salomon sneakers for sure. Also, bring mole skin in your pack for any blisters just in case. There's nothing less fun than being 10 miles out with blisters rubbing.
Go swimming in Jenny Lake after your hike. There are little drop-ins off the campground and the trails around the lake.
If you want to see geysers and hot springs, just go to Old Faithful. It's by far the best of the rest.
If you want to see a HUGE, ridiculously awesome waterfall, definitely don't skip Yellowstone Falls. Walk around to all of the different views, they're all worth it.
These camping chairs were so easy to bring everywhere with us. We would hike off into the woods, find a cool spot, break out a bottle of whiskey, and enjoy ourselves in the middle of nowhere. Or at our little beach spot, or at the top of Signal Mountain watching the sun go down, or on "Bear Hill", as I like to call it, where we totally shouldn't have been (but was awesome).
Now, some photos of Yellowstone & The Tetons
Tomorrow we are leaving for our next trip, Arizona. We will be up and around Sedona, and also Tucson for a wedding. It took me about 3 months to actually cull through my photos from Yellowstone & the Tetons, and now I figured I'd better post them before I go on yet another trip and take a year to post the next ones. These are some of my favorites from our trip. Enjoy!