San Antonio for Thanksgiving

This may seem like an interesting choice for Thanksgiving.  Big Sister city of Austin seems to be the biggest draw for outsiders to Texas.   And for those who have been to San Antonio, majority were there for  a conference and could not provide much input besides visit The Alamo and The Riverwalk.   However the deal we got on Expedia, was unreal.  It is why we picked San Antonio.  I looked at packages and based on the price decided San Antonio was our destination. $1100 for airfare, hotel, and rental car for five days. What a deal!   And for our first time we wanted to experience beyond the city and see the surrounding Hill Country.  And so I got to work on my Google map (click to check out our sites) and doing my research of places to see and visit.

Our welcome to the Hill Country began with the most amazing Thanksgiving Brunch I have ever experienced.   The best brunch ever – (my daughter who missed this trip was to quick to ask if it even surpassed the one we had for Easter at The Resort at Marina Village in Cape Coral – and yes. It did.).  And by the crowds and well organized seating for this event, this was truly indeed the place to be!   Under-dressed and seriously disheveled from a 5:00 am flight surprisingly did not make lips upturn but instead brought even more smiles and welcome to Texas from the staff at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort. (I’d link to the menu but is already gone from their site)

So on that rainy Thanksgiving Eve after our huge meal (everything from waffles to shrimp to turkey to gnocchi!), a walk on the nature trails, time in the lawn playing games, and a nice swim in the pool (it would be the last sunny AND warm day on our trip) we decided to check out the famed Downtown San Antonio Riverwalk.   We happened to stumble upon the Alamo just a block from where we parked.  Although not opened, there was something beautiful about it all lit up in the rain without the crowds.  We wandered and found our way down to the Downtwon Riverwalk. And indeed this is an amazing attraction truly like anything we had ever seen.    Being Thanksgiving Eve we were not sure of what to expect, but it was still bustling with people    We wandered down to see where we canceled  reservations for dinner the next night (booked to see the Ford Holiday River Parade) and for a brief moment I regretted cancelling seeing just how close we would have been to the floats. (Luckily my husband showed me again the forecast and reminded me just how full we were .. good choice for the parade was cancelled but not until after we would have been seated for dinner.)

Over the next five days we would only return only once to the famed Downtown Riverwalk after a visit to the Alamo during open hours.  Instead our journeys would take us up river to Museum Reach and down river to Mission Reach   We found these two areas far more beautiful and interesting and for all those who never extend past there downtown hotel they have no idea what they are missing.    Check out this map to get a good understanding of how this all lays out.   Museum Reach extends to the  San Antonio Museum of Art (free the day after Thanksgiving!)  and up to the historic Pearl Brewery Complex.   We enjoyed lunch at Southerleigh Fine Food and Brewery  and beers at the The Granary ‘Cue & Brew  with amazing group of bartenders.  20151127_173949That is when the rain began to pour and so we sat out on the porch and just sipped our beer like we were on our own front porch.

Mission Reach is another amazing place to visit – although not the easiest to navigate to each Mission for the signs are not always clear (thank goodness the rain stopped us from doing the rental bikes to each one – although there clearly was a bike trail following the river navigating the portal (as they call it)  to each Mission did not appear to be as easy) Each Mission is unique in its own way.. it was hard to pick a favorite.   Mass  with trumpets was going on at Mission San Jose when we visited.  As usually the first one you visit because it is where the visitor center is, it will long be remembered.  The quiet and stillness at Mission San Juan and the beautiful church made this a  favorite for me.  However the liveliness, active community, surrounding neighborhood and well cared for grounds of Mission Espada where life continues including not only a church but a daycare  onsite still exists. Mission Concepcion is set apart and not much to see – most of it now gone however there were still volunteers cleaning up the yard around it.  If you cannot make it to all three then this is the one I would skip.  Be sure to visit the NPS website before your visit.  I liked seeing this before visiting the Alamo for it was reminder that originally the Alamo was also a mission.

We also took two journeys up into the Hill Country where apparently few tourists venture.  What a pity.  We met so many nice folks all stunned that we were there on holiday – not visiting family and not there for business – just for fun.   The rain dampened our hiking plans but we were still able to venture out to see the  falls at Pedernales Falls State Park.  Because of all the recent rain this was especially beautiful. Unfortunately the rain closed another State Park we had hoped to visit.

Of course we love to visit breweries wherever we go and this trip was no different especially with just it being my husband and I.  A special mention to Pecan  Street Brewing.  Not because the beer blew us away (good but the selection was limited due to a previous event) but because of the nice people we met who now live in Johnson City and because of the most amazing true hill country Christmas celebration ever.  It was the night of the parade and so we stayed and watched the small, but in every way perfect, tractors pull into town with Santa.  And the lights..  unlike anything I have ever seen.  Johnson City is saved on Zillow… waiting for a perfect little bungalow to pop up!

We ventured out into the Hill County a second time on a Monday to Fredericksburg to see another small town Christmas Display.  Along the way we visited wineries and as seemed to be wherever we went, like at Sisters  Creek Vineyards… we met someone from our hometown state.  (Looking forward to cracking open that bottle of  this New Years Eve!)   A Monday night brought a few disappointments for most restaurants were closed but we still enjoyed the Christmas lights, the shops, and all the friendly folks we met.  And because we headed back to our hotel early, we decided to make one last final stop...Random Beer Garden read for a full write up of this amazing place!

A wonderful hotel is one that can deliver on all areas and the Hyatt Hill Country indeed did that (my full review on TripAdvisor).   For me it ranked up there with Disney Resort. Yes.  We will continue to laugh about the first morning when I awoke to what appeared to be through my blurry eyes a dog looking up at me (and indeed it was – he had come in through the balcony).  And the rain and cold weather (it was colder in Texas then in Pennsylvania that week) put a damper on our swimming plans (although I did venture again into the pool).  However the night sitting by the fire in our pjs with our beer&cheese ( HEM is the best grocery store with an amazing craft beer selection… and I believe the only one…)  where the staff continued to stoke the fire for us the lone guests (and even asked if we needed a s’mores kit) just leaves the best lasting memories of a place.  And that brunch.  That unto itself is a reason to visit.

I’m not one to repeat a destination that requires a flight to reach… but there was just something so special about this place that I want to return… next Thanksgiving seems like a good time… although our Texas friends all suggest trying out another month… who knows.. maybe that bungalow will just pop up sometime soon…


Fall Hikes in and around Bucks County

Taste fall– bite into a crisp Solebury Orchards apple
See fall – hike the trails at High Rocks for a breathtaking view
Hear fall – as the leaves crunch beneath your feet at Peace Valley

Pack up the car, lace up the hiking boots or tie on the sneakers and join me as I explore 10 amazing places  in and around Bucks County to see brilliant fall colors. I’ve included our chosen path – many of these places were new to us and so we just printed a map before arriving (good idea) and followed the markers.

1.Tyler State Park: Visiting this park brings back the best memories.  As a youth we lived nearby to this park and walked the trails, bike on the paths, and canoe down the creek.  And one of the most beautiful times to visit Tyler is Autumn.  With plenty of paved trails and rolling hills this a perfect place to visit on a wet weekend when you have limited time and just want some amazing quick leaf peeping.

Click here for our Favorite Loop at Tyler

2.High Rocks/Ralph Stover State Park: This is was one of the most popular and well know places in Bucks County for seeing the beautiful fall leaves.  At High Rocks one can look out over a 200 foot sheer rock face cliff overlooking Tohickon Creek. If you can find the parking lot and a place to park, then  it is just a short stroll from your car to see this amazing view.   However we prefer to park at Ralph Stover State Park at the base and  hike up to High Rocks.    The approach of first crossing the creek and climbing up the hill to the vista makes the view all the more spectacular and extends this to a good workout hike.

3.ChesLen Preserve:   At the time of visiting this Preserve it was not yet fall, but it is such a wonderful place to visit that I included on the list and hope that we can make it out there again.  I can only imagine how amazing the Peter O. Hausmann Trail would be at this time of year.  Many families were out enjoying  a moderate trail through rolling golden meadows.  We felt like we were wandering through someone’s private property. At the time we did not realize this was part of Natural Lands Trust and only made the connection on a later hike.   We now search out the other preserves found on site & have visited 2 others so far!!

4. Gwyneed Wildlife Preserve:   The second preserve we visited that is part of the Nature Lands Trust.  A perfect place to visit on a SUNDAY in November. I stress Sunday for other days hunting is permitted.   Very easy trails through Tunnel Farm Woods on 1 side of the road & through meadows on the other. There is a total of 7.5 unpaved trails at this delightful little preserve.

5.Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary:  The 3rd preserve we visited that is part of Natural Lands Trust. Because of the local, perched on the steep slopes of Bougher Hill overlooking the Delaware River,   you can get in a strenuous 3 mile hike.   We did not visit this one until just last weekend & at this point the leaves have almost all fallen from the trees.  This provided spectacular scenery but slippery slopes!   Next year I want to return earlier in the season.   I’m just a hiker admiring the beauty however the blog on their site provides great info about what is growing at the park.

6.Pennypack Trust:    We created a wonderful loop by starting at the beginning of the Pennypack Trail which bisects the park.  We enjoyed wandering through trails found in the 812 acres of protected meadows, woodlands and floodplain forest and seeing the historic sites along the way which are listed on the park map.  The park has expanded since I last visited over twenty years ago!

7. Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center:   There are 18.5  miles of trails at this park.  Due to hunting permitted in the park we decided to stay on the East side  in and around the area where hunting is not allowed.   There is a little bit of everything at this park:   The rollings hills provided a good moderate hike,  Jacobsburg National Historic District provides an opportunity to explore historic buildings and take a self-guided trail that interprets the life of the Henry Family and the Boulton Gun Works, and for wonderful leaf peeping on a family friendly trail a walk down Henrys Woods, an old growth forest surrounding Bushkill Creek is a must!

8. Trexler Nature Preserve:  There is not much on their site and so visit google maps where you can see the trails before you head out.  We decided to hike the east side of the park near the Education Center.  The Elk Ridge Trail climbs high up on a ridge allowing you to see the Lehigh Valley Zoo (I never even knew the zoo existed) on your left and the Elk grazing on your right.  It was a good strenuous hike and beautiful fall leaves especially down by Jordan Creek. (There is no admission to hike the preserve but if you want to enter the zoo there is a fee.)

9.Valley Forge National Park: I do not think of this place as somewhere to get a good walk in the woods but was surprised to find there is a series of trails tucked into the woods.  I found this on a trail map online . We  parked near Washington’s Headquarters, explored the historic area then crossed the street to hike the Mt Joy Trails  not a full loop but there are a few different ways to go providing a strenuous uphill slope, variety by taking the smaller loops, and still a beautiful fall hike of around 3 miles.

10. Peace Valley:  This is a wonderful place for either exploring either the Peace Valley Nature Center – 14 miles of nature trails in the woods and meadows at the eastern end of Lake Galena or for a rainy day walking the paved loop around Lake Galena. Although you can bike here,  there are a lot more walkers.  Keep in mind if walking it is about 6 miles to go all the way around the lake!


Essential Yellowstone

Just as difficult it was to start my travel journal of our Great Journey Westward it is just as difficult to write this final piece.   But in 38 days we are flying to a new area never explored … TEXAS! …and so it is time to say goodbye…

It was Sunday evening and we were in our comfy new room at Hayden Lodge drinking tea from our Keurig.  The next day the adventure would begin — Essential Yellowstone.  We lay awake wondering just what was ahead for us. What had I gotten us into?   How bad would those Lake Cabins be? Who would be in the program?   What would our guides be like? How much time would the person from the Institute spend with our group?  Yes. I had done my research and carefully chosen this program after being lured into the tag line on the Xantera page…  Don’t Just See It, Experience it!   We both love educational programs and since it was just the two of us I thought it would be nice to join with a group of other like-minded people.  After researching the Yellowstone Association, I decided that the Yellowstone Lodging and Learning was just what we were looking for – Expert instruction provided by Yellowstone Association Institute naturalist guide and lodging in the park.  And after a phone call to Yellowstone Association, I was able to pick the best program for my daughter and me – Essential Yellowstone.

Because of getting caught up on Mt Washburn in a hail storm followed by a hard fall down the mountain(I think I left that out in my earlier post),  I arrived at the orientation a little out of it, tired, disheveled, and seriously bruised (but luckily no place visible), to meet our group and group leader.  My first moment of surprise was that this was composed of just a small group of us (thirteen) and our leader from Yellowstone Association.  I had no idea he would be spending every day with us including being our driver.  Already I could tell this was going to be an amazing week.

Just this morning I awoke to frost and it brought back fond memories of this trip (reminding me to finish this post)… two months ago my daughter and I awoke to the same conditions.  August in Yellowstone and it was the first morning of Essential Yellowstone.  Unfortunately however there was no gear to retrieve from the closet, only what we brought with us.  And this certainly did not match the forecast posted two weeks prior.  We bundled on pretty much everything we had and waddled out to enjoy our breakfast before our first adventure.

Joining this program was the best decision!  This was an incredible program filled with countless amazing moments.  We left the park with such a greater knowledge of Yellowstone.  The program truly covered the essentials of Yellowstone… which is a lot if you consider the different types of thermal features, the geology, the wildlife, and the history of the park.   The program created a bond with Yellowstone that forever changed us.

Because we didn’t know our full itinerary (just an overview) there were some repeat stops — However for the majority of our time it was all new and certainly was much more informative!   My daughter and I agreed it was nice have our first aha mother daughter moments and rapid picture-taking just to our selves and then have the time with the group to learn and ask questions so I highly recommend arriving two days prior to the park like we did.

Any program can easily be affected by the teacher and the students. And so this is your risk.  Maybe they can tell you who the guide is? If you are lucky it will be Josh. His passion for Yellowstone and his love for life long learning enriched the already amazing program. Our group of 12 of us came from all over (although primarily east cost) with diverse backgrounds:  a retired couple, a family of three, two sisters, a photographer who came solo, and another couple.   And we all blended perfectly together.   For my fifteen year old, she settled in quickly -. Often she would be chatting with one or two other group members learning about their hobbies and interests.  It was great to see so much enthusiasm!

Our guide went above and beyond – like the day we went out wildlife viewing.  DSC00511He altered plans based on the fog and changed to a new location based on tips from other naturalists.  We therefore went to see the Lamar Canyon pack’s rendezvous area.  This was a major highlight of the program for me. How better to learn about wolves and the packs at Yellowstone then to be standing outside and viewing them?  And the ability use high power scopes to see them provided by the Institute made it even better! (Trust me that is wolf out by the tree in that picture!)

DSC00487We went from just seeing a bison and being in awe to seeing the bison and identifying the alpha female who leads the group, which young had a more likely chance of surviving the upcoming winter, and the old male who wanders alone.

And Josh also knew when to be where – like when the sun hit the waterfall just right to produce a beautiful rainbow… or the perfect place to stop and see the sun rising.  And this seemed to be true with the timing of animals too… As if he has things pre-planned — like
the day the black bear came running down the DSC00494meadow to the road we were driving on… another amazing moment!

The hiking was less then expected but considering how I was feeling after my tumble this was a relief and we so enjoyed the company of our group and our time together.  It was ranked at a level of two – Hikes up to 3 miles per day with elevation gains up to 600 feet however we did not seem to go on any walks like that — majority of the time we were on the boardwalks or DSC00545stairs down to the falls with breaks in the van in-between.  (For summer programs there was no education programs offered at level 3 which would have given us a little more hiking.  This would be ideal).  Again our approach of a week full of busy hiking in the Tetons followed by this was just perfect.  This trip could not have DSC00554happened in any better sequence.

The sleeping conditions were horrid as previously mentioned and I feel it is unfair to any reader to not prepare you for this.  Also you needed to drive anywhere to get in a nice evening hike.  Plus because we were so far away from everything it ended up being a lot of time in van.

However regardless of a stinky dirty cabin in the middle of nowhere I still loved every minute of our Essential Yellowstone. Our lives were truly enriched by this program and the wonderful people we met.  I am just disappointed to not have received a group email to stay in touch.  .. perhaps one of them will read this post and reach out to me?

My next dream?   Return for one of the winter programs!

Eating and Sleeping in Yellowstone National Park

View from our Window (1)
Geyser View right from our window!

Old Faithful Inn:  An experience not to miss.   Did you know there are rooms in the Old House (the original part of the Inn) that are two bedrooms with a bathroom I originally had managed to secure one of these  (not online – call Xanterra who manages the park lodging)DSC00332 however because we changed to just 2 travelers, we switched to a queen room in the Old House. This was one of our favorite accommodations… even with a ground floor room with a busy bench right outside our window and the bathroom not only not in the room but one floor up… However where in the world can you stay at the largest log structure in the world? And have the chance to stay in the original part of it?  Loved it!   

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Completion date of Old Faithful etched into a log in a secret location.

About the area: The second best part of staying here is parking the car and having so much to explore.  There are so many neat trails to explore, geysers to watch erupt, and an amazing visitor center (Click here for Old Faithful Area details).    As for dining? Being that I am frugal and we just began our week in Yellowstone,  we stuck with our yogurt and sammies .. eaten on the mezzanine level while people watching below… however we did enjoy coffee and frozen yogurt . .. delicious!

Completed lodge…landscaping still to finish

Hayden Lodge (Canyon Area): New…. I am pretty sure we were either the first or maybe second people to have stayed in this room.   Clean, well laid out.  Tiny but just perfect – including a nice seating area.   Friendly staff who got us a coffee maker … which was so nice to wake up and
enjoy coffee before our early morning hike.

The area: Nice thing here is you have a wonderful Visitor Center and a really neat trail that takes you down to the Canyon area (Click here for NPS site information).  It is less then fifteen minutes and elk are abundant.  The drive out to the Canyon as the sun is setting is just around the corner and how pleasant to be there at that time of night.  We saw less then four people total while there.

Canyon Soda Fountain:  This is a fun diner where we enjoyed a very inexpensive meal.  Keep in mind there are two companies providing food in the park – Delaware North and Xanterra. The counter service type meals found in the General Stores are run by Delaware North.  Nothing more then simple diner menu with simple okay food but the prices are very fair and we had fun sitting at the counter.  We enjoyed picking up beer and dessert from the General Store later that evening to enjoy in our room.  Loved it and would stay here again!

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This desk with a broken leg about to collapse at any moment seemed to sum up the overall room…

Lake Yellowstone Hotel Frontier Cabins:  This was our home for 4 nights for the Lodging and Learning Program (more on that in another post).  If I had not been in the program I would have left.  Members of our group all agreed:  The rooms are dirty, things are falling apart, housekeeping is lacking (where do you arrive in a room to find the shampoo bottle empty?), and the real slap in the face? Each time you walk into the Lake hotel  it is pristine.  I saw staff every time we were in there polishing furniture and dusting the floors.   Add on there is not any trails to explore except a few nondescript ones out to the lake.  There is no visitor center withing walking distance.  And the food options are just ok for a an area so far removed from everything.  Just reading that these were renovated in 2003/04.  … Looked more like the 1950s was the last renovation…  No reason to stay here… you’d be more comfortable and cleaner in a tent then at these cabins.

The area:  Unfortunately our food supply can only last so long in a cooler… You only have four choice here and nothing else nearby.  I would not drive out of my way to eat here but if you are staying here the food is not too bad.  And remember at the dining room you need reservations or else expect a very long wait…   My favorite was again eating at the counter at the octagon shape Lake General Store.  However for my daughter she loved her big plate of food at the Lake Lodge Cafeteria – really an excellent value and if it were not for the fire alarm ordeal we would have eaten here twice.   As for the Lake Hotel Dining room – breakfast buffet was very good and Our big dinner at the  Lake Yellowstone Hotel Dining room was good but it reminded me of  the type of meal you get at a wedding.  That being said sipping a local beer in the lobby area in comfy front row chairs overlooking the lake while listening to the music was magical…

DSC00724[1]Mammoth Hot Springs Cabins:  Small but very clean and updated cabins.    And nothing beats the view – ours looked out the back to a neat hill and out the front to the Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces.  Definitely could hang here for a few nights on our front porch.

Sun rising over the Village on our last morning.
As for the area – This is a little village! There is so much to do & explore.  Great sights to see on the boardwalks & wonderful hiking trails. You can park your car and explore for days!  Visit the historic Fort Yellowstone (but not at night for there are too many elk roaming around the area) and be sure check out the Visitor Center for it offers great educational displays and (it offers free wifi – Relief since we needed to check in for our flight).  DSC00690And of course you got to visit the Boiling River just up the road after a long hike. We ate dinner at the Mammoth Dining room and it far surpassed our meal at the Lake Hotel. However breakfast was not as good. Still by far our favorite area overall.  Great place to say goodbye to Yellowstone!

Experiencing Yellowstone

There is no comparison between the Tetons & Yellowstone National Park.  They may be close to each other but that is about it.  The two complement each other – one offering quiet hikes and the other offering amazing never seen before natural wonders… and I am so glad we explored both on one vacation.

Hiking boots ~ sneakers is the best way to describe it.  

You can see a million pictures of Old Faithful or Grand Prismatic but until you are there to see the bold bright colors, smell the sulfur, hear the bubbling mud pots … there is nothing like experiencing Yellowstone.   How fortunate we are in the United States to have National Parks that preserve and make some of those wonderful sites accessible to everyone

In preparing for a trip to Yellowstone, you will find hundreds of sites listing out the best things to see.  By the end you will have a list so long that it would take you years to see, hike, explore, and visit all those things. As stated before, best not to have a plan. When my daughter and I reflect on our trip we remember the events that occurred at those amazing sites… the moments that turned into lasting memories.  Here our are favorites for the time it was just her and I:

DSC00357Staring into the beautiful Abyss Pool at West Thumb Geyser Basin –  This is the best place to stop when coming in from South Entrance to get your first Amazing Moment!

Walking the Boards around Old Faithful in the cool evening hours when the crowds have gone… best reason to stay at Old Faithful Inn!

Encountering our first Bison:   One way road with a drop to the right and a wall to the left and him staring right at us…DSC00487

Relaxing in a nature made hot tub where the boiling water meets the river:  Just outside of Mammoth – Gardiner

Having an afternoon picnic Nez Perce Ford

Missing Old Faithful countless times but instead watching it erupt in the dark as kids shined flashlights on it

DSC00425_1Rising early (at my daughters request) to hike the small unnamed path that is between the old cabins at Canyon Village to see the sun just beginning to shine over the Canyons

Leaving the crowds behind midday to hike Fairy Falls (Old Faithful Area), Beaver Ponds Loop (Mammoth Hot Spring Area) and Mount Washburn (Day Hiking in Yellowstone)

Exploring in the evening hours when the crowds are gone:DSC00397

*Around the Lake….Hiking Pelican Creek Trail

*At the Canyon Area …driving the North Rim  and watching the sun set just me and my daughter

*At the Forts…Doing the historic tour of the Fort at Mammoth Hot Springs Area when the only other visitors are the elk

And of course our experience on Washburn …….will be the one adventure we will never forget!



Lifetime of Dreaming, Years of wishing to get there, one year of planning…

And six months before we almost cancelled…

As I have said before, as one trip ends the planning for another begins.  And so shortly after we arrived home summer 2014 from South Carolina, excited that the following summer was my vacation pick, I got online to book lodging at Yellowstone.   However for a mix of reasons (not lodging – oh I had amazing lodging booked in the park) the trip planning was just not working out, airfare was ridiculously high and then the length of the trip had to be shortened ….

And just as I was about to cancel and begin a search for a closer vacation destination, my husband offered the opportunity for my daughter and I to travel an additional week on our own.  .. I guess I paused for a minute (?)…The original planning was scrapped and new lodging was found (I assure you although not easy it is possible!)

We decided to equally split the time between the two parks (highly recommend) spending our time in luxury at one and simpler accommodations at the next.  Furthermore because of my love of the outdoors and of learning, my daughter and I decided to join a program to further enrich our time in Yellowstone (and that it did… another post on this at another time…)

So on the morning of Aug 15, when the sun had yet to rise, I took my husband to the Jackson Hole airport and we said our goodbyes. At that moment I was feeling overwhelmed and saddened … It had been years since I had done an extended adventure without him and I wished he was coming along to experience this journey.  I stopped in town to load up on supplies, packed up our bags, said goodbyes to the valet as he pulled up our car, the bellman that retrieved & loaded our luggage, and the front desk agent who checked us out.  We turned off the television and connected one last time to the internet… And at that moment I knew we were ready to leave this behind … and northward we went for our week-long adventure into Yellowstone.

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Arrival into Yellowstone on the afternoon of August 15

My best advice:  I had read early on one post on Tripadvisor suggesting that in Yellowstone you cannot over plan. It is nature. And it is unpredictable.   And how true that was.  Bison can stop traffic (this happened to us several times). Parking lots will get full (twice we circled  for a spot and once we just skipped and moved on).  And weather can turn  very quickly and require seeking shelter (and yes this really happened to us).   And so we had far less of a plan of what we would do the days prior and following our program.  We knew where were sleeping and would let the rest fall in place.  We did not see everything but of the areas we did see we explored every part of it, read almost every educational sign, and took tons of pictures. ….

Sleeping, Drinking, and Eating in Jackson Hole

Just five minutes down the road from the Grand Tetons Southwest entrance there is a Village…

2015-08-15 06.53.35… Teton Village.  And indeed this wonderful ski resort turns into a magical village during the summer.  Music playing, kids running through the stream, plenty of outside venues to eat & drink.   It was really a great place to retreat to after a long day of hiking.

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Our condo is the first one up… huge amazing wrap around deck. Loved it!

Hotel: We stayed at Hotel Terra – Private Residence in a one-bedroom condo with a kitchen.  I found this on a home rental sites but turns out it was through an agency called Luxury Retreats.   I do not recommend booking through Luxury Retreats.  This was an amazing property and we were thankful to have such a nice space to come home to every night.

View at the Top.

Favorite thing to do:  Most nights we would enjoy a long soak in what was really a huge hot tub overlooking the common area..happy that the kids staying at the hotel also enjoyed turning on the jets!  However the best was the FREE lift ride on the Gondola to The Deck.  It was nice to just sit back and enjoy the view.  After our 2nd ride on this, we decided this satisfied our want to reach the top on the mountain and skipped the costly tram.  Afterwards we would enjoy a drink by the cozy fires at the Handle Bar.   That was about the scope of our exploration and restaurants at Teton Village.   We of course stopped through the Mangy Moose Saloon but preferred to pick up beer at the local Bodega.   Only regret was doing Thai in Jackson rather then here.

Map:  Hotel did not give one.  Check this out to know what is in the area

Do you know the difference between Jackson and Jackson Hole? …

And further down there is a town…

Jackson.  Coming from an amazing small town, Jackson did not overly impress us.  It crossed the line of being to touristy for us.  That being said we did go into town several times and here are some of the favorite things we did.

Wednesday Nights:  By far our favorite.  This is where the locals hang out.  I don’t have one picture for we were having such a good time.  It starts with Jackson Hole People’s Market.  Local produce priced right. Great people. Don’t forget your cup .   This was followed by Jackson Hole Live – a great opportunity to  relax, hear music, sip some local beer from Snake River Brewing, and taste multiple best restaurants at their food trucks!  This is an event not to miss.  Very laid back.

Arts: National Museum of Wildlife –  Great little museum. I was overwhelmed by the large area devoted to Rungius but  after visiting another small museum dedicated to one artist who chose the opposite and to only show a few of his works on view, where I left disappointed, I began to appreciate this museum’s approach to displaying so many of his works. And once again we came across a sculptor by Anna Hyatt Huntington…   TIP: The outside sculpture garden and the temporary current exhibit Circle of Animals (through 10/11/15)  also outside can both be viewed for free so even if you are short on time it is well worth a quick trip to see. DSC00228

Dining:  A Birthday dinner for my  husband at Snake River Grill was beyond amazing. Ranks as one of the best ever. We got seated in a wonderful booth with a window to the kitchen. Not sure how we lucked out with that.  If you do one meal in Jackson make it this one.  Eating in the other nights and splurging on this meal is well worth it!2015-09-16 21.14.08

Drinks:  Snake River Brewing enjoyed their beers. Thai Me up offered some good brews (but skip the food), and my husband so enjoyed his tasting of Wyoming Whiskey that we bought a bottle for him (and got this great bandanna)…I think he should be their new mascot….

Floating, eating, and driving through the Tetons

One can see by the hikes we did and the distance we covered that hiking the trails was our primary interest.  We were up early most mornings and on the trails before the crowds arrived. However there is so much else to do in the park.

What to do on a day when you want to take a break from hiking?… For us we chose a midweek sunrise float!  

Have you ever seen the famous Ansel Adams photograph of the bend in the Snake River? (Great photographer’s site on this) DSC00147One can drive to this overlook  (called the Snake River Lookout)… but how about actually floating down that bend in the river?  There are only a handful of float companies allowed to do this  – for us we chose Solitude  because they offered the Teton Sunrise Float launching at Deadman Bar Road. Our guide advised us from the start of our trip that there would be limited wildlife because of the time of year.DSC00162 Spring was by far the better time to do this trip.  Furthermore, I was deeply concerned for instead of seeing the sun coming above the horizon instead we saw lightening crackling in the sky….

However our guide certainly knew the course the weather would take …which was away from us for the time we were on the water.  And once we began our float we did see plenty of wildlife and wonderful views!!  What surprised me most was Pelicans.  DSC00158I had no idea Pelicans lived in this area.  We saw a pair of juvenile eagles, duck, deer, and even a moose. DSC00157 Regardless, if we saw wildlife or not, just being down on the river, being in that bend painted by Adams 73 years ago, and seeing the mountains reflecting in the water was an amazing journey.

Add on that we had a great guide (happen to be from our home area) whose name I do not recall who was a wonderful narrator sharing with us stories of the river, the park, and the surrounding area.  I had no idea it would be such a great informative tour.

And what to do after a long hike and it is only midday?

See the Tetons from another view at the Chapel of Transfiguration.

Step into the past: By far one of our favorite afternoon sDSC00205tops was Menors Ferry Historic District.  This is really a must see when visiting the Tetons…but from the 2 others cars in the parking lot not seen by many.  Step back into time at Menors General Store.  Perhaps the cookies are baking like the day we visited…I was able to take home (and have baked) the delicious cookies!  Step inside Maud Noble’s Cabin where on July 26, 1923 the historic meeting between Horace Albright met with local ranchers and businessmen to discuss the beginnings of the Grand Tetons.

Pick up some delicious lunch:  No visit is complete without stopping by Dornans

Take a scenic drive in the Park:

North Jenny Lake Junction - Wonderful views of the Jenny Lake
North Jenny Lake Junction – Wonderful views of the Jenny Lake
Signal Mountain Road – We heard the views were amazing.. but had no idea the road up would be just as scenic… our first bear spotting!


Hiking in the Tetons for Casual Hikers

Lake-Creek Woodland Trail Loop Plus Phelps Lake

We woke up early before the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve even opened (opens at 9 am) in order to avoid the wait in a car line (there is no other parking anywhere in the area  –  street parking is not permitted and so you literalDSC00062ly sit in line in your car until spots open up) and so I cannot emphasize how important arriving early is.  8:30 am was perfect.DSC00053  Our plan was to the Lake-Creek Woodland Trail Loop which is a nice family friendly even with little ones hike of 3.4 miles  – As fate would always determine our course — in this case I got a little excited and began hiking around Phelps Lake not realizing this would add on an additional 4 miles… however I highly recommend for it is not a difficult hike but instead a nice long and very pleasant loop around the lake.  Best to take long hikes for once you leave a parking spot good luck at finding another one.   I felt the scenery around String Lake was prettier as you looked up at the mountains but still a very nice trail.  My recommendation would be bringing a bathing suite and a lunch (we did not).  A lot of people were swimming in the lake…looked like fun! It would be a great place to just relax for the day.

Jenny Lake – Hidden Falls – Inspiration Point

Oh my.  Be sure to understand the total distance of this hike for it is incorrect on the signs – even with the corrected hand written mileage taped over the original trail sign it was still unclear.  We knew the trail was closed from TDSC00135he Falls to Inspiration Point and would require descending from the falls and ascending again to reach but because we failed to stop at the ranger station beforehand we did not know just what that extra distance was like.  The hike around the lake to the falls is a very pretty way to reach the falls,  in some points right along the water.  Hidden Falls was like being on a Disney Ride due to the trail closures all around it.  You had to literally wait in line to get into the area.

My favorite picture of the trip.
My favorite picture of the trip.

I am sure when this re opens it is fine… but oh my. To reach Inspiration Point at this point of time (Aug 2015) you are required to use a horse trail not on the map –  additional two miles of strenuous switchbacks. More then once we almost turned around.  This climb was our most difficult in the Grand Tetons however the views both down and up in the canyons were the amazing (see picture on the left) . By 2016 this will all be fixed but until then I recommend taking the boat one way.   I believe we clocked this hike in at around 11 miles but now looking at it that may be a bit higher then it really was.  But it sure felt like it. (as you can see we just kept getting higher each day!)

Taggart Lake-Beaver Creek Loop

No wonder this hike is so popular…. One of our favorites, too. You get a lot of scenery for an easy hike. Right away you pass an amazing waterfall.   DSC00166And then you come upon another wonderful glacier lake. I highly recommend doing the loop  — Although we saw no beavers it was beautiful.   However the descent was amazing – a steep climb over a glacial moraine looking back at the Tetons and Avalanche Canyon were truly amazing!

Moose Pond

We chose this short hike on our last day even though I did not have the map printed out DSC00237for it and did  not know where it began. I had seen on our long hike around Jenny Lake signs for a turn off for this trail. It is a nice short hike – just tricky to find the trail at first.  It is at a pullout on Lupine Meadows Road –  we parked and walked the road until we found it.  Just a very pleasant easy hike   – perfect on a rainy morning and after a long week of getting up early and doing long hikes.

Other hikes…

We had a bunch of others that looked appealing but chose not to drive up to the northern end of the park.    Planning to me is preparing. It is not setting the entire course of the trip.  Days just need to happen naturally when in nature!

Exploring the Tetons by Foot

Resources: Two excellent resources that provided a wealth of information and inspiration  that I highly recommend:

  • Grand Teton National Park – Hiking: The first place where the planning started…
  • Teton Hiking Trails:  The day I stumbled across this I knew I hit the jackpot!   Well organized, descriptive, and it includes elevation gain and difficulty rating. I just printed out lots of trail maps of fun hikes and let fate work its course for where we would go each day.

Trail Difficulty Level:  We are moderate level hikers –in good shape but live in an area offering trails with minimal incline and limited distance.   About 7 miles on a moderate hike is perfect for us. There is plenty of this type of hiking in the Grand Tetons.  Yes – there are also plenty of hikes that are strenuous leading you into the Canyons but for us we wanted to hike everyday.

Tip: It may be vacation but you’ll relieve a lot of frustration by getting up early and arriving before 10 at the trail-heads. That seems to be the turning hour when parking lots fill up and roads get busy. Packing a lunch is also a great idea.  Well worth the $20 cooler we bought for this purpose.

1st Hike String Lake Loop

Nothing more glorious then recounting our first hike in the Tetons.   The bright blue sky with the most amazing clouds just above the mountain peaks. Fate chose this hike… first two trail head parking lots were filled so we just kept going… We almost gave up on this one due to theDSC00030lack of parking but found a spot at the Cathedral Group Turnout about 1 mile down the road.  At first we were overwhelmed by the crowds in the area, swimming & boating in the lake and assumed the trail would be crowded. (Which for our first hike I emphasize overwhelmed but due to this being unfamiliar territory with bears being a possibility we were not disappointed to know others were around). However when we got ¼ mile into the trail we left that all behind us – and as we slowly inclined the voices from the water below began to fade. The views were absolutely amazing – both looking up at the mountains and down below to the lake. DSC00016We passed at most four other groups until the final stretch of the hike.   Our favorite spot was the crossing over the footbridge of the Leigh Lake Outlet.  It was just spectacular scenery in every direction!  We decided to add on an extra stretch and hiked over to see Leigh Lake – We did not take the loop around however it would be a nice add on to make a longer hike if we had started earlier and had not parked so far away..

This ranks as one our most favorite hikes for the amazing scenery and our first up close views of the mountains away from the paved roads. It was an easy hike that was just enough elevation change as we began to adapt to the higher elevation.