Yep, you read that right. We failed the Tetons. Oh, and then we failed Yellowstone.
Let me explain.
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Three years ago, we took a big trip out west. It was the one hundredth anniversary of the National Parks system. We drove through ten states, logged over four thousand miles, and visited national parks, national monuments, state parks, as well as boondocked our way there and back again. We experienced the Rockies! The inspiring Mount Rushmore! We drove through the Badlands! We also stayed at the Grand Tetons National Park and visited Yellowstone National Park. But alas, we failed them both.
By the time we arrived at the Tetons, we had been on the road for a while and for some reason, we were booking it throughout trip, rarely staying more than one night in each spot. Why, you ask? I have no idea. We were able to secure campsites (my parents, in their Airstream, were with us), and the park ranger said, “if you want to see Yellowstone, I suggest you stay a few nights here, unhook, and drive over to make day trips.”
This was excellent advice!
So, we get to our campsites and settle in and look at a map. We note where we are: the Tetons, which are south of Yellowstone. We note where we want to go: Yellowstone. We note where we want to go from there: east, through Wyoming, to start heading home. After consulting all of this, I, in my infinite wisdom, say, “let’s just stay hooked up, spend the night here, then drive on through Yellowstone, then continue out the top loop towards the east to start heading home.”
Why did I suggest this?!?! What is wrong with me?!?!
Which is exactly what we did. We drove around before we settled into our campsite, awed and amazed by the scenery and the magnificence of the Tetons. We swam in Jackson Lake at the swim beach. But did we do the Tetons justice? Noooooo.
Then, we drove onto Yellowstone. Do you know what’s crowded? YELLOWSTONE. Do you know what makes Yellowstone even more crowded? The one hundredth anniversary of the park system, that’s what. Ugh.
So, we with our 30-foot Airstream, followed by my parents and their 25-foot Airstream, go on into Yellowstone. Now, when I say parking was a nightmare, I don’t just mean that parking was a nightmare. I mean that people get really rude and inconsiderate when it comes to parking. We would pull into the “Bus and RV Parking Only” lot, just to find one spot available. As we started pulling into the spot, oh, just kidding! there would be a Prius parked in the middle of the spot. Not on one end or the other (which we actually could have handled). But in the middle. Y’all, I have nothing against Prius owners, but these are small cars. They can basically park anywhere. Why were they doing this?
So, we continued on throughout the park. The crowds were everywhere, which really we can handle, but there was construction as well as plenty of roads that were only accessible to vehicles that were not towing anything. *deep sigh* Parking lots were full. Trails were packed. We left Yellowstone disappointed and discouraged.
Is that the way to see Yellowstone? Absolutely not! Is that the memory I want my kids to have of Yellowstone? Again, absolutely not.
We did not get off the beaten path once. We did not take a hike. I don’t even think we brought our binoculars along (although we did have our telescope, which is completely useless in that part of the country in the summer, by the way. The stars don’t even come out until close to midnight!).
Now, let me say this. No matter how bad you screw up these two national parks, they are still beautiful. You may fail them, but they will not fail you. They are still jaw-dropping and stunning. Even with the crowds, even with the heat. Every national park in our country, not just “heavy weights” like the Tetons and Yellowstone, deserves to be visited properly, with ample time and planning. Their beauty and majesty inspired us to want to go back and to do things correctly this time.
Further, we were able to make some wonderful memories. We saw Old Faithful and many geysers and thermal springs at Yellowstone. Bison and elk were abundant. The Tetons never fail to leave a lasting impression, and the swim beach at Colter Bay is beyond compare. We were even treated to big horned sheep on our way out of Yellowstone!
So, this summer, we are seeking a second chance. We will find a place, honestly, we don’t even care where, to camp. We will unhook, and take day trips to Yellowstone until we see all that we care to see. We will not hurry.
We will do the same for the Tetons. We will take our time and actually enjoy the parks.
So, dear reader. Don’t be like us from three years ago. Learn from our mistakes, so you don’t make your own. Take your time through these parks. They are truly stunning and you don’t want to go through them so fast that you miss out, and then later regret it.
Have you visited the Tetons and Yellowstone? What were your favorite hikes? What were your favorite places?
Have you ever failed a national park? Have you ever left a park wishing there was something you should have done but did not? If you had a second chance at a park, which one would it be and why? I love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!