Like many, I had quite a few travel plans in 2020 that I was really looking forward to, but COVID had other ideas. If you’re anything like me, you need something to look forward to at all times. It doesn’t have to be big, but something needs to be planned or in the works. After a few trips got canceled due to travel restrictions, I decided road tripping was the safest way to travel during these unusual times. If you learn anything from my blog, I hope it’s the realization that you don’t have to travel far, or even spend a ton of money, to get out and explore.
I had recently purchased a National Parks Pass and had been wanting to check out Glacier National Park, so I figured a road trip to Montana and Wyoming would make the perfect mini vacation. Not to mention we had just converted the car so we could sleep in it and I was dying to try it out!
Including driving time, we were able to explore three national parks in 7 days, and I felt that was an adequate amount of time for us to get everything done that we set out to do. Something to note is that only the West side of Glacier National Park was open, so we really only were exploring about 1/3 of the park. If the whole park had been open, I would’ve wanted another day to spend just at Glacier because there was so much to see and do! Because this was our first time car camping, we alternated between car camping and Airbnbs. I wanted us to have the chance to shower and clean up so staying in an Airbnb for part of the trip was the way to go.
Our route was as follows:
Day 1: Seattle–>Kellogg, Idaho (354 miles)
Day 2: Kellogg, Idaho–>Glacier National Park (255 miles)
Day 3: Glacier National Park–>Helena, Montana (220 miles)
Day 4: Helena, Montana–>Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming (332 miles)
Day 5: Yellowstone, Wyoming–>Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (47 miles)
Day 6: Grand Teton, Wyoming–>Missoula, Montana (340 miles)
Day 7: Missoula, Montana–>Seattle, WA (481 miles)
The only thing I would’ve changed is to have driven farther the first day so we were closer to our first destination. We were fairly alert and could’ve gone longer, but had booked an airbnb in Kellogg. One recommendation I have is to avoid staying in an airbnb on your way home. Car camping allowed us the flexibility to drive as far as we wanted until we felt tired. Typically by the end of the trip you’re ready to get home, so having the freedom to sleep anywhere makes it a bit easier to get home on your own schedule.
Glacier National Park Must Dos
Glacier ended up being my favorite park we visited. You can see some of the most incredible sights just by driving through. It’s crazy to think how little of the park we actually saw due to the closures; yet, some of the more memorable sights from the trip were here! I will definitely be planning a future trip to Glacier so we could explore it in it’s entirety.
Hikes I recommend:
Glacier has some of the most incredible hiking and we barely scratched the surface! We stuck to relatively shorter hikes so we could see more of the park, but the views did not disappoint. If you plan to hike in Glacier, bring bear spray! It is not uncommon to spot a bear on the trails, and every person we passed had some. I’ve got a link to the kind I have here. Speaking of bears, they often close some trails due to bear activity, so I recommend having a list of backup hikes just in case the one you want to do is closed that day!
Avalanche Lake–5.6 miles, easy/moderate
This ended up being my favorite hike of the entire trip! It’s one of the more popular hikes at Glacier and as soon as you arrive at the lake it’s evident why. The lake is a beautiful green color and you can see water falling from the mountains that surround the lake. Though a popular hike, you can continue walking around the lake allowing people to spread out. I’ve hiked to numerous alpine lakes living in Washington, but the color of this lake makes you feel like you’re on a tropical beach.
St Mary & Virginia Falls–2.9 miles, easy
If you need a family friendly hike this is a great option! It features two waterfalls and a bridge that’s a popular cliff jumping spot. The first waterfall is bright blue and pretty early on in the hike, so if you want an even shorter hike you can hike 3/4 of a mile to the first fall.
Hidden Lake–5.2 miles, moderate
Unfortunately the day that we did this hike we were only able to hike to the viewpoint of the lake and not down to the actual lake due to bear activity. Even though we ended up only doing about 2 miles of the hike, it was totally worth it! You hike on a boardwalk surrounded by Glacier Mountains. These were some of my favorite trail views of the trip!
Other things I recommend in Glacier:
Cliff Jumping/Laying out–Glacier has so many opportunities to pull off the main road and hang out by crystal clear streams! The water is FREEZING but it can be refreshing on a long day, especially after hiking! Swimming in these pristine glacial streams was my boyfriend’s favorite part of the entire road trip.
Driving the “Going to Sun Road”–This is a scenic mountain road that goes throughout the park. This was the most beautiful drive I’ve ever been on. Something I appreciate about this park is you can see so much of its beauty just from the car. I’m aware that not everyone is into hiking, but this road is something that makes Glacier such a diverse area to visit, there really is something for everyone! My favorite stop was St Mary’s Lake overlook. If you’re lucky you may even see wildlife during the drive, we saw both a bear and a ram!
Lake McDonald–This is one of the more iconic stops in Glacier! It’s the reason so many people come to the National Park. In fact you’ve probably seen photos of this lake with the rainbow colored rocks. I recommend checking this place out at sunset if you have time, it’ll be a little less crowded.
Yellowstone Must Dos:
We only spent about a half day in Yellowstone so although we didn’t see much of the park, we were able to do most of the things on our list we set out to do! Unpopular opinion, but Yellowstone was my least favorite park. That said, it’s still a place that I recommend everyone experiencing. The geysers and hot springs are a very unique thing to see. The crowds deterred from some of the beauty of the park, but we did go during Labor Day weekend. Something to note, although we didn’t do any official hiking in Yellowstone, we still managed to walk about 8 miles in the park. Pack comfortable shoes!
Mammoth Hot Springs
Depending which side of the park you’re coming from, this could be your first stop once you enter. Here you’ll walk over boardwalks through steaming hydrothermal grounds. Like much of Yellowstone, seeing the springs was such a unique sight, you’ve likely never seen anything like it! A lot of Yellowstone feels like you’re visiting an alien planet.
Norris Geyser Basin
This is one of Yellowstone’s oldest and hottest thermal areas and this was our first experience with thermal pool. You could smell the sulphur from yards away–it stunk! Our favorite geyser was located here, Steamboat, and it was erupting when we were there.
Grand Prismatic—Midway Geyser Basin
If you want to see more geysers, head to the Midway Geyser Basin and see The Grand Prismatic, the largest hot spring in the US. Many would argue this is the most beautiful geyser in the park due to it’s abundance of colors. This was by far the most congested area of the park, so be prepared for the crowds, but it was well worth it! It’s also right next to a big beautiful blue spring called Excelsior, so you get a two-for-one.
If you want to be able to see the Grand Prismatic with a birds eye view, park at the Fairy Falls Trailhead and hike the 1.6 mile round trip trail to view the geyser from a platform.
We ended our day in Yellowstone viewing the old faithful erupt. This is one of those things you just have to do for the experience. Its eruption is fairly predictable so this can help you plan your visit! This was another spot that was very crowded! Try to get their early if you want a good view.
The Miss List
There was a couple things we didn’t get to that I wish we had seen. 1) The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and 2) West Thumb Geyser Basin.
Grand Teton Must Dos:
Grand Teton is absolutely incredible, yet it’s ofter overlooked because of the popularity of Yellowstone. Even during the holiday weekend, it felt empty! It had such a calming energy, it was exactly what we needed after the chaotic crowds in Yellowstone.
It was quite smokey from all the wildfires so my photographs weren’t as sharp as I had hoped, but even covered in haze the park was amazing! It actually snowed our last night of the trip, so we woke up to a winter wonderland. Seeing the Tetons covered in snow was a memory I will never forget. How fortunate we were to see it in two different seasons, in just two different days. We barely scratched the surface of this park and will definitely be back!
Blacktail Ponds Overlook
When we drove into Tetons, we actually car camped at this spot. You are not supposed to car camp in national parks…so this is up to your discretion but it was an incredible place to wake up. Not to be dramatic, but I think this moment was one of the top 5 memorable moments in my life.
This was my favorite viewpoint in Tetons. I joked that I would love to get married right there. The next day we decided to stop by after it had snowed and there was a wedding happening in the EXACT spot. It was so beautiful with the fresh covered snow. This is a great spot to go for a quick stroll, the farther you walk the more beautiful it got!
Hotel Continuum–Teton Village
This was one accommodation that we “splurged” on for our last night of the trip. Because we car camped and stayed in cheap airbnbs, I felt comfortable staying in one nice spot during the trip. Teton Village is a mountain resort about 25 minutes from the park. I recommend staying within the village if you’re visiting the National Park. It can be fairly pricey in the winter season when people come to ski, but it was relatively affordable in the summer!
This was another highlight of the park. The water is crystal clear and there’s boat tours that will take you across the lake. There’s not many views that I love more than a lake surrounded by mountains and this is exactly what you get at Jenny Lake!
Delta Lake–9 miles, hard
This was the big hike we had planed in Tetons. We put it off until our last day because I was really hoping the smoke would clear up. To our surprise, the smoke completely cleared up but that’s because it snowed all night long. I’ll be honest, doing this hike in 30 degree weather after a fresh snow fall was not the safest thing. There were a few moments I thought, “What the hell are we doing?”. There were two large boulder fields you had to crawl up. People typically complain about this in normal weather conditions, but after the snow, this was BRUTAL! Hands and knees the entire rest of the way up the mountain. This was the definition of type 2 fun. The last half of the hike I just wanted to be done, but thinking back I’m so glad we didn’t give up because the lake was magical. To be honest, we spent an entire 7 minutes at the lake. I was cold, wet, and miserable. I’m glad I have photos to remind me just how beautiful it was.
Jackson Hole Town Square
This is the perfect place for shopping, eating, and drinking! They had a Pendleton store that I fell in love with. This was by far the busiest place near Teton. I recommend making a reservation if you’re wanting to eat at a specific restaurant.
Shop My Trip Must Haves Here:
- Bear Spray–this is a must! Seriously, you should 100% carry bear spray at these parks, especially if you’re hiking in Glacier.” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener nofollow”> <<Shop it here>>
- Pendleton quilt–We love our Pendleton for car camping. ” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener nofollow”><<Shop Pendleton here>>
- Cooler–This is so important for national parks. It’s often hard to find food in parks, so we always bring stuff to make our own sandwiches and always pack enough food to last us a full day in the park. I was apprehensive about Yeti because of the price, but it has been so worth it because it keeps our ice cold for multiple days at a time.“> <<Check out ” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener nofollow”>Yeti coolers here“>>>
- Storage Bins–We love these for car camping. They’re small enough where they don’t take up too must space but they’re essential for keeping our things organized.” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener nofollow”> <<Shop storage here>>
- Hiking Boots— Good shoes are a must when visiting National Parks because you always end up walking more than you think. I love my danners, I’ve done hundreds of miles in them.” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener nofollow”> <<Check out Danner’s here>>
That’s a Wrap:
That concludes our 3 National Parks Road-trip! These parks had some of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen and I hope this helps you plan an epic trip. Happy exploring!