As the seasons are changing, many of us are looking for our next winter wonderland adventure. If you are looking for that magic experience, this trip might be for you!
We wanted to unplug. A week away from it all – to remind us that less is really more, and that beauty usually lies far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. We had read that cell phone reception was weak in these regions, which for us meant that we’d be tuned in with the surrounding beauty… an express route of being present, per say.
Just picture: vast scenic landscapes composed of majestic peaks, spectacular frozen plains, untouched snow, crisp air, an abundance of wildlife and cozy mountain cabins with their western glory.
I describe this trip as “unconventional,” as we did not plan for it very well… but the unexpected, surely makes for a great story!
We first flew into Salt Lake City, Utah, as it’s known as a gateway city to the National Parks. We rented a car in the city and began our journey. From the start, this drive was absolutely breathtaking. The snow caps grew increasingly whiter as the mountains shot dramatically from the valley floor, framing the city. A couple of hours later we reached Logan Utah, where the winding and narrow paved roads led from the beautiful lush of the national forests into Idaho.
After a few more hours throughout Idaho, we had finally arrived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This once bustling, cowboy cosmopolitan stands as a prime example of contemporary Western architecture. There are foursquare cabins, saloons, and a general store lining of the Town Square.
*I definitely would suggest stopping by Million Dollar Cowboy Bar/Restaurant. There’s a real Old West feel to this place, as you can sit on saddles up at the bar!*
Our cabin was THE perfect winter retreat where we sipped on our hot chocolate and roasted s’mores on the open fire. This stunninggggg cabin in the woods was located on Buffalo Run, in Moran, WY. Moran lies in Grand Teton National Park – close to Yellowstone all while just about 40 minutes from downtown Jackson Hole.
Our first mishap was loosing track of the time and arriving into Buffalo Run, way past sundown. These roads were pitch black, icy, and extremely narrow. We took a wrong turn and in attempts to reverse, our truck became stuck in the snow for over an hour. Here we were, standing around in the middle of the woods – with no bear spray or cell phone reception. We saw several glowing eyes throughout that hour which was terrifying to say the least! Rocking the truck back and forth, digging around the wheels, and adding traction EVENTUALLLY did the trick.
Our cabin was also located nearby Oxbow Bend. Easily, one of the most recognized images of Grand Teton National Park – the scene overlooking a flat water section of the Snake River with Mount Moran’s mirror-like reflection and the Tetons standing tall in the background.
It is a primary location for spotting wildlife like moose, bison, bears, deer, and elk. Bear spray is smart to have in this area, as is common sense (which we clearly lacked throughout the trip..haha).
We first dedicated an entire day to venture throughout Wyoming.
We spent significant time along the Snake River. 16 rivers and creeks make up the Headwaters of the Snake. It is considered one of the last intact functioning temperate ecosystems on Earth and is also often referred to as one of the most pristine in the nation! Wildlife sightings near the Snake occurred so often, it almost felt surreal. In a span of 10 minutes, we witness a fox running across the way in pursuit of a chipmunk, in the distance, a momma and baby moose drinking water, and to our right, a lone wolf scavenging for food. These majestic creatures have made this valley their home and thrive by the waters.
Of course, we were anticipating on doing different excursions (skiing, kayaking, wildlife tours, etc) but unbeknownst to us, we were visiting literally in mid-season…ski resorts had just closed down for the off season, ice layers were still too thick in the river, and tours were not yet operating -____-
All that to say, I’d recommend going either in the very beginning of winter or later in the spring time to take full advantage of all that Wyoming has to offer.
We had utilized a brochure which highlighted important sites in the area, there was also a check-off list of wildlife sightings, which I would suggest using on your next trip! It was definitely an interactive way of exploring the area.
Due to the time of year, bear sightings were limited thus far, so naturally our curiosity was spiked when we saw footprints in our driveway!
It was suggested to us that we stop by Oxbow Bend, a place bears frequented. Yet again, without bear spray we went into the forest and explored. We heard the rustling of leaves every so often but there were no bears in sight! We shared our confusion with a few of the locals once we got back into town and it was explained to us that it is common for bears to be perched up on trees and their branches, especially to Oxbow!! Soo all that to say, thank the lord we were safe.
The next day, we decided to head down to Idaho Falls, Idaho. From the mountains of the Teton Pass to the plains of Eastern Idaho, this three hour drive was nothing short of scenic.
If you wanted to take a pitstop of a lifetime, I would stop by anywhere along the 3,000 miles of rivers, including the Salmon – the longest free-flowing river in any state! We saw hundreds of people out fishing, hiking, and rafting – a premier alpine river experience.
Idaho Falls was not so much waterfalls but rather a series of cascades, located right on the greenbelt in downtown Idaho Falls. 6 miles of paved pathway follow the Snake River here, offered a great place to picnic, stroll, bike, run.
The drive home should have taken three hours but of course we were snowed in on the Teton Pass for six (in the dark)! Due to the unpredictable driving conditions, I would suggest filling up your gas as often as possible. We found that the gas stations were few and far between and often times, the smaller stations were covered with thick layers of snow, making it impossible to get gas from.
The next day we had woken up before dawn and were ready to take on Yellowstone! Our main adventure was about to begin, from the geothermal wonders of Old Faithful, the unsurpassed beauty of Yellowstone Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, we were freaking stocked!
Yellowstone’s closest entrance was a short, hour and a half drive from our cabin. Once we arrived at the South entrance a ranger delivered some pretty shitty news to us…. most park roads were closed to regular vehicles from early November to mid-April. In fact, the roads leading to the Old Faithful geyser, Yellowstone Falls, and other popular Yellowstone destinations were also closed!! The only road open year-round is from the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana. We thought okay, a couple more hours wouldn’t hurt, LITTLE DID WE KNOW… the North Entrance was over six hours away!! All this to say, it takes several hours to drive between these entrances, so be sure to check the status of roads at the entrance you intend to use, hahah.
Not too far from the North Entrance is The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. T’was pretty damn magical! This facility housed nuisance bears or their orphaned cubs. The Bears and wolfs were rotated into the habitat, allowing its visitors to stand just feet away during their interactions.
Yellowstone’s amazing geologic features were even more spectacular than I had imagined. Once we arrived into Yellowstone, we drove along the river and made an interesting stop at the Mammoth Hot Springs.
*Mammoth Hot Springs*
It truly felt like an other-worldly experience. You’ll see gurgling mud pots and steaming hot springs surrounded by frozen landscapes.
There were a number of people swarmed around areas of the hot springs. So naturally, we followed the crowd UNTIL we were pulled aside by rangers. We were scolded then cited for not walking along the designated boardwalks. At first we were taken a back at how seriously we were reprimanded. But then we were given recent examples of a number of people who fell through the crust and burned to death.
Two months later, a similar report came out…
“Yellowstone visitor, 23, who died after wandering off designated trail, falls into acidic hot spring that dissolved his entire body”
All this to say, be careful and stay along the boardwalks, people!
The rest of the day was filled with close wildlife encounters and spectacular f*cking views:
This moment was too awesome. At first we were in awe…but as they began to surround our truck, we became increasingly freaked out. It went something like…”OMG, OMG, HOLYYYY SH**T!”
The car was scratched up and even rocked a bit but it was quite the greeting!
Later in the evening, we saw a pack of wolves feasting on a baby bison in the valley. Pictures were too gruesome to post, but it was fascinating to watch! In fact, this was a bear vs wolf showdown. A grizzly bear would takeover the carcass, which queued the wolves to back off – but there was a teetering of this exchange throughout the night.
On our last day, we literally just drove throughout Wyoming. We had absolutely no idea where we were headed, our reception was little to none, so we just winged it. I am so glad we went off the map as we discovered some of the most breathtaking panoramic views.
We then encountered this massive frozen lake! We were obviously in awe and a bit nervous to step foot on it. According to a local who lived nearby, he saw people who had cross-country skied the lake earlier that morning…so he believed that we’d be okay with walking on it ourselves. *And for some reason, we trusted that. HA!*
*Pretending not to be scared out of my mind*
In retrospect, we took many chances on this trip! But I hope by sharing my experience, it’ll urge you to make this Yellowstone Loop adventure for yourself. This trip was one of the best weeks of my life. Break free from the daily barrage of emails, texts, social media alerts and everything else that over stimulates us these days. Make the commitment to go off the grid this Holiday season. Be present in nature. If you have always dreamt of visiting somewhere peaceful, wild, rugged, and untamed – this trip may be just what the doctor ordered.