Once more, the annual grand Frolik family vacation adventure took place. This year we escaped the August heat, with a 12 day long expedition to the mountains.
Fly out of Pittsburgh to Jackson Hole, Wyoming through Chicago. Jackson Hole, has a small (but very cute) airport with a fabulous display of wildlife photography. We drive down to Yellowstone Lake Village. It’s a beautiful ride and we see bison. Yellowstone Lake itself, the largest body of water in Yellowstone Park, is stunning. The Yellowstone Lake Hotel has porch seats with direct water views. We stay at the slightly less ritzy (but still quite comfortable) Yellowstone Lodge which also makes great use of the tranquil setting for the night.
Take an early morning boat tour of Yellowstone Lake while a helpful ranger explains local history and the lake’s ecology. Then we start driving north to Gardiner, Montana. Because of ongoing construction in the park, we take a slightly longer route through the Tower Falls area but can’t complain when we make long distance sightings of bears AND wolves. Would have hiked the Falls but are interrupted by a thunderstorm. Have lunch at Roosevelt Lodge which is smaller than some of the other better known Yellowstone Lodges (like Canyon Village and Old Faithful) but has a wonderful cozy main dining room with a fireplace and the food is spectacular. Eventually arrive in Gardiner and check into the Cowboy Cabin that we’ve rented for the week. We know it’s going to be a great time because on our first evening in Gardiner, we look out our front door and see a mother deer with two speckled fawns practically across the street from us!
Today we headed over to Lamar Valley to spend hours gazing at bison (many of whom will cross the road directly in front of you halting traffic), osprey nests, and prong horned antelope. We also do a short hike on the Trout Lake trail. It turns out that the rustic town of Gardiner, where many of Yellowstone’s seasonal employees stay during the summer, is a magnet for elk herds, that can be spotted in people’s yards and in front of the visitor’s center. Elk pay NO attention to humans, but casually go about eating and loafing around in the designated no hunting zone. (Elk aren’t stupid.) This is why in Gardiner, all attempts at flowers and gardening invariably feature metal netting. That night we have dinner at the Mammoth Springs Lodge Dining Hall.
Wake up early to the sight of deer out my bedroom window and elk in the driveway. Dad and I do a ranger guided hike from the Mammoth Springs area known as the Claggett Butte Trail. There are eight people, and we see marmots, hot springs, and encounter elk bones as we make a 1,000 foot gain in elevation.
We visit Tower Falls, eat lunch at Canyon Village, and then drive to Lamar Valley once more and this time besides the bison, we spot prong horned antelope and big-horned sheep. That evening we do our laundry at a local laundromat in Gardiner.
Today another long ranger guided hike of the Garnet Hill Trail that is eight miles long and where we go through multiple eco-systems. That night we go out for dinner at the Raven Grill where they serve delicious elk lasagna and huckleberry crème brulee.
Check out the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the Upper and Lower Falls. Then do Uncle Tom’s Trail which is a quick but quite strenuous hike of hundreds of steps to get a close-up view of the Lower Falls. That night we go out for huckleberry ice cream in Gardiner.
Today, we go horseback riding in Yellowstone Park out of Roosevelt Lodge. The ride takes us past the Lost Falls and through the Pleasant Valley. It’s beautiful and so are the horses but horses can have a mind of their own, and riding can be quite tiring as some members of our party learn so be careful!
Leave Gardiner, Montana. Drive past the spectacular Firehole Falls and Canyon area, which also features an amazing swimming hole. Also spot at the Fountain Paint Pot geysers and hike the trail. Finally we arrive at Jackson Hole, Wyoming to stay at the Cowboy Village Motel where we’ve rented two great cabins. We’re only a short walk from the Town Square, and that evening we explore Jackson Hole, which is MUCH larger than Gardiner and far, FAR more upscale. You do NOT see elk or black-tailed deer on the streets of Jackson Hole, but you will find some of the best dining and shopping imaginable. Not to mention some great art galleries and realtor branches of Sotheby’s and Christies as well selling real estate to all the big money that comes into this area. It doesn’t feel as ‘authentic’ as Gardiner, but it’s certainly fun to hang around.
Visit Grand Teton National Park, specifically the Laurence Rockefeller Preserve Center which was the first LEED certified property in Wyoming with composting toilets and a 10kw photovoltaic system. It’s also just incredibly pleasant and relaxing space to be in whether you’re enjoying the mountain views from the deck chairs, checking out the great library where every window feels like a perfect nature photo, or experiencing the full stereo surround room where you hear nature sounds so real you’ll swear you can actually feel the raindrops on your skin. We do a hike up to Lake Phelps which is of course lovely. This part of the country absolutely spoils you for its beauty and its wildlife spottings.
Today, I rent a wet suit and go white water rafting in an eight person boat (courtesy of the Dave Hanson Whitewater Rafting Company) along the Snake River. Since I am at the direct front of the boat and we are going through Class 3 rapids, I of course get completely soaked but it’s well worth it. Along the ride we see ospreys and even a couple adolescent bald eagles.
We wake up extra early to do the Taggert Lake this morning, while its still cool out and not very crowded and enjoy views of the lake and panoramic views of the mountains. Spend the rest of the day kicking around Jackson Hole, before eating at a great local restaurant called “Local” where I order bison medallions and a smores panna cotta.
Fly Back home, and think about what a truly awesome vacation it was! Reality (and Pittsburgh’s humidity in August), will be such a comedown.
Top photo: Grand Teton National Park at Snake River overlook sunset
All photos from Bigstock