Day 1-Fly out from Pittsburgh to Bozeman, Montana with a layover in Minneapolis. We drive from Bozeman airport to Gardiner, Montana, stopping in Livingston along the way for groceries. The views are amazing and we see many elk happily grazing in alfalfa fields. We spot Pronghorn near the rental cabin. We eat dinner at a Gardiner restaurant named Rosie’s Bistro where you can order beef and bison lasagna. Outside the restaurant we see elk coming down to the local school yard area for the night to rest.
Day 2-After breakfast we hike Bunson’s Peak. (Named for german scientist Robert Bunson who invented the Bunson burner.) This four mile hike has 1,300 feet of elevation and goes through areas that were damaged in the 1988 wildfire which are now slowly recovering. From the summit there are fantastic views of the Gallatin Mountain Range, Swan Lake Flat, and Gardner’s Hole. In the town of Gardiner, we check out Timberlands Books and Café which doubles as a nice little bookstore and coffee shop offering fresh baked goods.
Day 3-We complete a five mile loop hike around Beaver Pond. There are great views of ponds, meadows, and local wildlife. That night we get wood-fired pizza from Yellowstone Pizza Company in downtown Gardiner. After commenting on the nature photography along the walls we learn that it all comes from a single source; Yellowstone Wild a gallery a few doors down. We go to check it out and eventually end up buying some of the prints.
Day 4-We drive out to examine the waterfalls around Lava Creek. We also spend time in the Lamar Valley region which is the best place for bison spotting. Indeed we had to stop the car twice because of bison herds composed of bucks, does, and calves crossing the road. Since the bison were notably unconcerned with causing a pile-up of traffic among humans at one point a ranger vehicle came through blaring odd noises through a siren to ‘encourage’ the bison to hurry up. On the way back, we stop for a picture shoot by the 45th Latitude sign marking the exact equidistance between the Equator and the North Pole.
Day 5-We explore Norm’s geysers in the morning and sight an elk with a ten point rack. We then hike the Cascade Lake trail through fields of wildflowers. We spot a gigantic moose at one point in the woods peacefully resting in a mossy dell. Near Cascade Lake itself, we see a blue heron. But our best wildlife spotting is yet to come. That night after dining at the Mammoth Hotel restaurant we sight two large male elk engaged in a standoff near the river. The larger of the two elk brayed and bellowed at the smaller, younger male. Towards the river were a number of female elk who no doubt sparked this competition. It was an awesome sight I know I will never forget.
Day 6-We visit Artist’s Point an overlook area on the edge of a cliff on the south rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It offers an incredible, panoramic view of the entire canyon area and Yellowstone’s legendary Lower Falls. We then drove to the Yellowstone Lake Hotel where we spent two nights. Yellowstone Lake is quite simply breathtaking. It is the largest body of water in Yellowstone Park and covers 136 square miles with 110 miles of shore line to walk along. That night we dine at the beautiful Yellowstone Lake hotel which is designated a historic landmark. (We had to make reservations well ahead of time.) There is an excellent bar as well and I sample a huckleberry margarita.
Day 7-We spend the day walking along the shore and enjoying the beauty and serenity of the lake area. Coffee and pastries are available at both a deli inside the hotel and a park managed General Store nearby. That night since we can’t get into the Yellowstone Lake hotel restaurant we go just down the road to the nearby Lake Lodge and eat at the cafeteria there.
Day 8-We drive to Jackson Hole, Wyoming a town located right outside Grand Tetons National Park. We check into the Anvil Hotel, a hipster friendly location, (with a resident dog named Bella) right in the heart of downtown Jackson. We explore the town and visit Mangelson’s Nature Photography Gallery. Tom Mangelson is one of the world’s foremost nature photographers and his work is on permanent display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. He is also co-founder of The Cougar Fund dedicated to protecting cougars, mountain lions, pumas, panthers, and other such carnivores throughout the Americas. Their office is in Jackson Hole as well. That night we eat at St. Genevieve’s.
Day 9-We hike the three mile Taggart Lake trail loop in Grand Teton National Park which offers majestic views of Taggart Lake and the Teton Range. Continue to window shop and sightsee in downtown Jackson Hole which offers many world class art galleries as well as great shopping! We quickly discover and develop an attachment for the Valley Book store, Persephone Bakery, and Cowboy Coffee.
Day 10-It so happens that our last full day in Jackson Hole turns out Old Bill’s Fun Run. Old Bill’s is an annual fundraiser that benefits numerous local charitable groups in the community from conservation organizations, to soup kitchens, to legal clinics, to youth and family services, and more. All of these organizations had booths representing themselves at the Run. We got a shirt from the Jackson Hole Family planning center. We were particularly taken with ambassadors from the Teton Raptor Center which included a golden eagle, red-tailed hawk, grey owl, and a kestrel. The event also sported a lively farmers market area, local community band, and a diaper derby for tots. The Fun Run bazaar pretty much took up our whole morning. Later that afternoon, we visited String Lake where I hiked a gorgeous three mile trail. The views of the Tetons are outstanding.
Day 11-We all fly home, weary but happy.
Top: The Grand Tetons in Wyoming are reflected in the still waters of Jackson Lake. This is a popular vacation destination in the Yellowstone and Jackson Hole areas.