In 2018, our annual trip included some new adventures mixed with some old favorites. The kids are old enough to both travel greater distances and remember the adventure, at least some of the highlights. Yellowstone National Park was picked as our target destination. The kids were excited about the possibility of seeing some incredible animals and geological wonders. The parents were excited about going through the Tetons to get there. Our trip took us across southern Idaho into Jackson, Wyoming, then north through Yellowstone and eventually Bozeman, Montana. The return west took us along the Clearwater River leading us home. We planned nine days to cover 1,500 miles and see some of the most iconic places our country has to offer.
The trip began before the sun peaked over the Blue Mountains. This strategy is partly because we had a lot of miles to cover on the first day and mostly because it allowed us to get a couple hundred miles out of the way while the kids slept. It’s over 600 miles from Walla Walla to Jackson Hole, so I spent some time researching a good stop over location. We really try to take the scenic route whenever time and practicality allow, so we planned our trip through Idaho to take Highway 20 east out of Mountain Home, Idaho so we could get a good look at the Sawtooth Mountain Range. After getting a glimpse of the southern edge, we started talking about a future trip that would take us through the heart of the Sawtooth’s (Hint: 2020 Way Outside Walla Walla). Towns are few and far between along this stretch of road, but the landscape is incredible.
In my search, I stumbled across Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve. Google Maps showed a vast area of scorched earth from lava flows long ago. What fun could come from a place like this? Plenty! A well kept and interesting campground, interpretive center with ranger activities, lava caves, hiking trails, an inferno cone–I could go on! We didn’t expect to love day one as much as we did. If this was any indication of things to come, we were thrilled about the adventure ahead.
No space suite needed! Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve is a unique place. It is easy to see the complex workings of geologic time when the horizon displays its volcanic past so clearly. The vibrant flora in spring juxtaposes the basalt blanketing the landscape. Don’t just make this a one-night stop over. It deserves more time for exploration.
The next leg of our trip took us another two hundred miles east as our destination for the next couple days was Jackson, Wyoming. Making the climb out of Victor, Idaho over Teton Pass was another unexpected highlight of our journey. Climbing to over 8,400ft at a 10% grade made for a slow and steady summit while offering an incredible view of Jackson Hole. Jackson is a small tourist town at the base of the Teton’s. We walked through town window shopping the town center and made a visit to the Jackson Hole & Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center.
Belly’s full and legs stretched it was time to find our camp for the night. I researched some camping options along the Gros Ventre River located not far from town. One is a large campground on the river, the other a small camp further up the hill at Lower Slide Lake. As we traveled along the river we noticed a few cars pulled off the side of the road with people observing something from the rivers edge. We scored our first big game sighting of the trip, several moose grazing a mere 50 yards from the road. Initially we thought we just had good timing to be able to see them so close, however we quickly learned from other observers that they frequent that stretch of river and it was more uncommon to not see them.
The following day we stopped to observe them once again, and this time I feel like we truly caught a memorable moment. We were able to see the bull cross the river to meet a cow on the other side. The water was deep and swift, and we watched in awe as he was able to swim across to the other side, a true display of their power.
While staying in Jackson, we took a day to do a driving tour of Grand Teton National Park. Our day began at the Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center, located just outside of the park, to learn some history of the area and see the exhibits. After entering the park the road parallels the Teton’s and on a clearer day I’m sure it would have been jaw dropping scenery. We weren’t quite that lucky. The clouds were blocking the peaks from our view. We bored our kids stopping multiple times to try and time the perfect photo, which we did finally get, sort of.
The following day we made our way north out of Jackson leaving the Teton’s behind, and said hello to Yellowstone National Park. We stayed along the west thumb of Yellowstone Lake along with several hundred other visitors. Not our ideal type of camping, but it was to be expected. Just as geysers and buffalo are expected, we foolishly neglected to think of mosquitos. Yellowstone in mid June, at least in the campgrounds we stayed at, were full of mosquitos. So instead of hanging around the campsite we took a quick detour out of the park and visited the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center just outside the west entrance.
After making stops at Old Faithful and various other viewpoints, we again made our way north. Just a quick note on Yellowstone, it is an amazing place. The geological significance, wildlife, and landscape are truly incredible. Personally, I feel it is a must see. With that said, it is very crowded at all the major campgrounds and attractions which can at times take away from the experience.
From volcanoes to fault lines, the dramatic scenery continued at Grand Teton National Park. While I could have sat on that path for days, the trip must go on. We weaved our way north to Yellowstone National Park while paralleling the Tetons. I would surmise, there are few more scenic places on Earth.
After leaving Yellowstone we made our way to our most visited vacation destination, Bozeman, Montana. To learn more about how Bozeman actually led to the creation of Outside Walla Walla, check out our podcast. A university town with seemingly unlimited recreational opportunities is what drew us there, the cold long winters is why we didn’t stay. Outdoor recreation in every direction, downtown offers great dining and shopping, and the Museum of the Rockies is an absolute must every time we go. We spent one night south of town at the Hyalite Reservoir and the second night in town at an RV park so we could use hookups in preparation for the final leg home.
We had planned to stop along the Clearwater River not far from Lolo Pass along Highway 12 before making our way home. However, the kids were worn out from the past nine days of travel and discovery and slept hard on our drive. They were still in a deep sleep when as we approached the campground, so instead of stopping we kept driving. After a nine hour day of driving we reached home and the planning for the next trip through the Sawtooth Mountains commenced.