Although we’ve been back home in Santa Barbara for a few days now, I am still buzzing with majestic energy from our memorable American experience, Roadtrippin’ Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Beyond.
It began when our clients-turned-good-pals Brian and Wade invited us to be part of their wedding day in Pray, Montana. Once we learned the location was so close to Yellowstone, I became obsessed with my lifelong dream of a road trip through Yellowstone. We mapped out a rough plan, booked tickets and found some places to stay. I have family down in southern Idaho, so we tacked a few more miles along the southern route and set out to make some memories.
We caught a flight from LAX north to SEATAC. I was delighted when we landed in concourse C with a layover just long enough to squeeze in a Seattle staple: a Beecher’s Grilled Cheese on Grand Central Como Bread paired with a glass of local Pinot Gris. We then boarded a prop plane and flew to Bozeman, exhaling a visceral sigh of relief as we shed the binding big city layers and descended into the backcountry. From the sky, I spotted only a single semi-truck on the highway for what had to be miles. We marveled at the vast amount of open space that thankfully still exists in this country.
About an hour southeast of Bozeman, in what seems like the middle of nowhere, sits Chico Hot Springs Resort in Pray, Montana, our first destination. A whitetail deer leapt across the road and over a crystal clear stream as the sun set over white capped mountains. Dayn blurted out, “This looks just like a Coors Light can” and he was right.
DAY 1: CHICO HOT SPRINGS RESORT – IN PRAY, MONTANA
Our first morning at Chico was spent with a leisurely breakfast. Weekends are buffet style only breakfasts. The resort is not your run-of-the-mill, overpriced, Southern California spa. It’s an old lodge set in the heart of Paradise Valley, just north of Yellowstone National Park, nestled in the foothills of the breathtaking Absaroka Mountain Range. It’s home to 2 naturally fed hot spring pools, horses, cabins, endless sky and the friendliest staff west of the Mississippi. After overeating at the buffet, we took a hike up above and behind the resort and realized just how remote this location is. You can see for miles and the only thing to be heard is the buzz of nature all around. Peace.
After our leisurely hike, we made our way back to Chico to check out see what gave the place its name. There are 2 separate untreated pools that are emptied nightly and filled daily with fresh water fed directly from local hot springs. One is hot and the other is really hot, and both feel amazing. The pools sit under the vast, open Montana sky and you can pick up a cheap G+T at the poolside bar.
Saturday night was the big night for Brian + Wade. We ascended the wooden staircase up to a meadow called the Field of Dreams and basked in their love under the dramatic skies that warned of a the storm that would hit at dinner. It was pure magic. The night was filled with incredible food, Washington wines, Montana brews and a crew of fun and fabulous folks who danced the night (and the rain) away.
Aside from the pure joy of witnessing our dear friends commit their lives to each other, I had another miraculous moment. We shared a table with a group of folks we’ve never met and we all hit it off right away. I got to talking to a sweet woman named Judy and we chatted like we were old friends. Come to find out, she grew up in Boise and was in my Great Grandmother’s first grade class! It was one of those beautiful moments when you’re overcome with emotion, joy, and pride. She said Mrs. Weaver was her favorite teacher of all time and shared many classroom memories. My heart was so full.
DO: Take a hike, anywhere. There are trails near the pond above Chico. Soak in the Hot Spring pools at Chico Hot Springs. Visit with the resident horses or schedule a horseback riding adventure.
EAT: Breakfast buffet at Chico Hot Springs and have a nightcap with the locals at the Saloon.
STAY: Chico Hot Springs. It’s a one stop shop with everything you need relax and explore Pray, MT.
DAY 2 – CHICO HOT SPRINGS ➔ YELLOWSTONE
Our plans for Roadtrippin’ Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Beyond began a little slow. When you attend a wedding at the same place you’re staying, chances are you’re gonna toss back a few. And boy did I. I woke up with a pretty gnarly hangover but it was miraculously washed away with a tall cup of coffee and an early morning detox dip in the hot spring pool. It’s got me wondering how to install a mineral pool at home…
I had big plans to visit an adorable little bakery called Wildflour in Emigrant, MT on Sunday morning specifically for the big fluffy cinnamon rolls. My heart sank when we pulled up and realized they were closed on Sundays. I’d forgotten that about tiny, rural towns. If any of you are in that area, get a cinnamon roll for me!
We drove on and made a pit stop at the The Corral in Gardiner to fuel up. While they didn’t have the cinnamon roll I craved, we split a smoky BLT and finished it off with a Huckleberry Milkshake! Huckleberries are HUGE in MT. Eat as many as you can while you are there, if they are in season.
Yellowstone! We made it! Just as we pulled into our first stop inside the north entrance we were greeted by a pack of Mule Deer lounging on the grass near the busy parking lot. They were guarded by a ranger and looked right at home.
Our first stop was going to include a dip in the Boiling River, but alas, it was closed just like the bakery. Booooo! We moved on to Mammoth Hot Springs and felt the powerful steam of the thermal springs as we walked the boardwalks. The travertine stone forms a stairway to what looked like glacier heaven while steamy hot streams trickled down.
We forged on and headed south to Norris Geyser Basin and noticed our first Bison standing stoically alone in a field right near the road. Not long after we came upon an entire herd of bison, protecting their sweet and fluffy little calves. The loud and disrespectful tourists quickly began to gather, too close for comfort.
Norris Geyers Basin is huge and there is so much to see her so prepare yourself. There are too many hot pools and geysers to even begin to count. At one point, I realized we had to move on and stop taking photos or we’d never make it out of there before dark.
Steamboat Geyser is actually the world’s tallest active geyser. It shoots up to 380 ft high, 3 times taller than Old Faithful, but not quite as faithfully. The most recent major eruption was in 2014. It’s a powerful and impressive beast.
I think I was most captivated by Cistern Spring. As we approached, there were no tourists to be seen and the blues, aquas, and greens beneath the rising steam captivated me. An interesting fact about Cistern; the pool drains during a major eruption over at Steamboat.
Feeling inspired and overwhelmed with majesty, we drove our Ford Fusion just 5 miles outside of the West Entrance to what we’d call home on the range for the next two nights; our safari tent at Yellowstone Under Canvas. I know I will catch some flack from you diehard outdoorsman, but we glamped it up and it was glorious. Our tent came equipped with a comfy, cloud-like, king sized memory foam mattress, and more down blankets and pillows than you ever knew you needed. There was an indoor, wood burning stove, a plumbed bathroom with a ripping hot shower, and flushing toilet! The wood floors grounded the tent and carried on out the front door to form a homey front deck with adirondack chairs.
I am not going to lie, it was an expensive stay for a tent. But the cost was comparable to a nice hotel and the setting was undeniably worth it. Who needs cable, a mini bar and annoying upstairs neighbors when you can sleep nearly outdoors with nature, a plush bed, an onsite bar and wildlife right outside of your canvas walls? I’m already scheming our next Under Canvas adventure.
We were too tired to wander far for dinner, so we walked over to the lodge and restaurant, Bar N Ranch. We sipped local Montana beers and they tasted better than beer has ever tasted to me. Then we went all in and ate like mountain men. I had a hearty and delicious steak sandwich, very uncharacteristic of me, D had a Bison Burger (which made me feel sad but he loved it). The food was phenomenal and we slept like babies under a big sky.
- Dip in the Boiling River (if it’s open)
- Wander the boardwalks of Mammoth Hot Springs
- Tour Norris Geyers Basin. There is so much to see here. My faves were Steamboat Geyser and Cistern Spring.
- Cinnamon rolls at Wildflour in Emigrant, MT for breakfast.
- Huckleberry Milkshakes at The Corral in Gardiner, MT.
- Dinner at Bar N Ranch in West Yellowstone.
STAY: Yellowstone Under Canvas in a safari tent. It may seem expensive for camping, but the experience is worth every cent.
DAY 3 – YELLOWSTONE & WEST YELLOWSTONE
We started the day with a hot cup of coffee on the front porch of our “tent” while listening to the early morning elk calls and wolf packs gathering in the distance. The tent sat in the middle of an open prairie surrounded by white capped mountains. The sky just seemed to go on forever and truly embodied Montana’s tagline; Big Sky Country.
There is no food allowed on the Under Canvas property, you know, because of bears. I was still craving a cinnamon roll. Woodside Bakery in West Yellowstone serves them, and as promised, they were huge, sweet, spicy and ooey gooey. But, be warned, the cafe serves them with a side of The Book of Mormon and a soundtrack to match.
Old Faithful is faithfully known as a tourist trap. So, we hit it up first thing and it was the best move we could have made. We got there before the influx of tour buses and we were able to enjoy the morning gush before the rush. Dayn and I felt the anticipation, and like clockwork, she blew up hard and she blew up right. We basked in our matching lifelong dreams of this moment over breakfast at the historic Old Faithful Inn.
Once again, the only option was the buffet so we summoned our hunger and bellied up. I was nearly as impressed with the towering lobby and intricate woodwork of the world’s largest log structure as I was with the blow of the beast just outside. Built in 1903-1904 with local logs and stone the Old Faithful Inn still stands strong and steady housing 327 rooms, a full-service restaurant, lounge, snack bar, gift shop and daily tours. It felt like we were walking through a Tarantino film and I was poised to duck, cover and diveroll in slow motion to take cover from an endless spray of bullets behind the enormous stone fireplace at any moment.
Grand Prismatic Spring was at the tip top of our list, so we headed there next. We’d done some research and found a trail that made for an idyllic overhead view of Grand Prismatic, another great option for avoiding those pesky tourists. Unfortunately, when we were there, this trail was closed due to active bears in the area. We avoided risking our lives on the trail and instead, unknowingly, put ourselves directly in the line of fire.
The parking lot at Grand Prismatic was a clusterf*ck, so we parked outside and hiked it in along the road. There is a boardwalk that shuffles you right on top of the technicolor dream hole and the moments when the steam clears literally take your breath away. If you can just avert your eyes and tune out the sound of the tour bus mobs, you actually can experience the majesty of it all.
You’ll need to stay vigilant. I can’t tell you how many times some oblivious tourist, armed with a selfie stick and stupidity, nearly knocked me into the blistering hot waters while swinging wide, trying to photograph their big head brimmed with a newly purchased Yellowstone hat; only to lose said hat in a gust of wind, polluting the pristine prismatic spring with their head sweat and the unnatural material of their obnoxious, neon hat. The tourists were out of control but Grand Prismatic Spring is worth putting your life on the line. I just think we should have taken our chances with the bears instead of the tourists. It seems like a safer bet on getting out of there alive.
I hit my selfie stick limit. We huffed it out of there and got back on the open road. We made a pit stop at the Artists Paint Pots for some colorful entertainment. The short, 1 mile loop covers a lot of ground and offers a variety of sights. The paint pots are boiling hot pots of mud that burp, belch, and fart like the Bog of Eternal Stench. I couldn’t help but smile at the giggling kids. The loop offers a colorful birds eye view of the hot springs, two large mudpots, a fumarole, and a some geysers.
We needed some fresh air and room to breathe, so we headed up to the top of The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone to hike Uncle Tom’s Trail. We, of course, came in from the wrong direction and somehow hiked the North Rim Trail, past the tourists crowding the Brink of the Lower Falls lookout, along the river, over a bridge and around to the South Rim side, ending up at up at the end of Uncle Tom’s Trail, which was closed. Just our luck. I was just grateful to have a ripping waterfall between me and the selfie stick apocalypse on the other side. Despite the closure of Uncle Tom’s Trail, we had a lovely, long and peaceful hike with nobody but ourselves and mother nature.
We drove along the The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and realized just how grand she is! The rustiness of the rocks was caused by the steam of the hot springs percolating and chemically altering the iron compounds over thousands of years. The vast canyon that runs 20 miles and up to 4,000 ft wide bears a striking resemblance to her more famous sister in the Southwest USA. Just as we got out of our car to sneak a peek at this cavernous wonder, the predictably unpredictable weather took a turn and we were suddenly caught in a powerful storm of wind, rain, thunder and lightening. The weather turned on a dime and put a real damper on our explorations for the afternoon.
We headed home to regroup in our cozy tent before heading into West Yellowstone to catch the Warriors Game at the Buffalo Bar. We sipped on local brews, cheered on Steph Curry and chatted up a couple of local old codgers seated at the bar next to us. We swapped war stories of living in a tourist trap town, raised, and clinked our pint glasses together when the Warriors were ahead. We bought our newfound friends a round before leaving and coined a new tradition. Buy a local a local beer. It’s the least we can do when invading their space.
Later, we found ourselves at a local waterhole, Wild West Pizzeria and Saloon, eating decent pizza on karaoke night. I cringed at the thought of the local talent, but was blown away by the first three acts. They had obviously come prepared and this sure wasn’t their first rodeo. When the more beer-confident started getting up on stage, I heard a guy at a nearby table had just been re-released from the hospital for a flesh eating virus. We bounced and headed for cloud city in our glamorous tent.
- Old Faithful, obviously, but go early in the morning before the tour buses show up.
- Old Faithful Inn, to check out the impressive architecture of the world’s largest log structure.
- Grand Prismatic Spring preferably from the overlook hike if the trail isn’t closed due to bear activity.
- Artists Paint Pots for bubbling mudpots and a spectacular birds eye view.
- Uncle Tom’s Trail that takes you from the top of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to the base of the 308-foot-high Lower Falls.
- Woodside Bakery in West Yellowstone for a cinnamon roll.
- Old Faithful Inn for a proper breakfast after viewing Old Faithful blow her load.
- Buffalo Bar to buy yourself and a local a local brewski.
- Wild West Pizzeria and Saloon for a pizza, sipping local brews and views of the locals.
DAY 4 – YELLOWSTONE ➔ GRAND TETON ➔ JACKSON HOLE, WY
We awoke early to watch the sunrise over the prairie. The sky was huge and the pastel pinks, blues and fiery orange of the rising sun were a serene painting of perfection. I can still hear the wolves howling and the elk waking in the back of my mind. We crawled back into that dreamy bed and stayed snuggled as long as possible before a quick and glorious shower and one last cup of coffee on the front porch.
We popped back in Bar N Ranch and had a cowboy style eggs in a hole for breakfast, smothered in onions and BBQ sauce. It was a rustic and hearty start to the day.
The weather turned stormy again just as we left our home on the range and the dark clouds seemed to follow us all the way out of Yellowstone and into Grand Teton National Park. *FYI, If you plan to visit both, be sure to buy a pass for both parks, it’s $50 and lasts 7 days.
The stormy weather got pretty intense and we experienced a straight up downpour at the West Thumb Geyser Basin on the shores of the massive Yellowstone Lake. True blue Portlanders at heart, we casually strolled through the downpour while everyone else sprinted for cover. It was magical to watch the cool rain drip down into the colorful hot caldera pools and steam up like the dickens. The areas where the hot water poured into the cool lake were so enticing, and resembled a tropical paradise.
The clouds blocked our view of the peaks and washed out our Teton hiking plans. So, we made the best of it and squinted to see the mountainous views behind the clouds. The deeper we drove into the Tetons, the less human contact we experienced. The tour buses were nearly nonexistent and the wildlife was at the forefront. We saw elk, moose, bison, fuzzy baby bison, beavers, yellow bellied marmots, eagles, trumpeter swans, basically everything but the bear. It was truly a wildlife safari.
We pulled into Jackson, WY late in the afternoon. We were exhausted and ready for beers! I drew a bath in our kitschy hotel room at the Antler Inn and Dayn went out to fetch us some local coldies. He came back with a sixer declaring that everything in Jackson was so artisanal. I had to laugh. He was right.
We met our newlywed pals, Brian + Wade and some other traveling wedding attendees for dinner at Gather, across the street from the Antler Inn. Dinner was nice. I had an elk bolognese which was just the right fuel that that moment in time, however the deep bowl made it awkward to eat. The grilled brussels sprouts were tasty and crispy. The charcuterie was delish, especially the chicken pate with huckleberry compote! I was a little envious of the ribs though, I gotta say.
We were all thoroughly exhausted at this point, but put on our rally boots and scooted over to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, which maybe should have been named Million Tourist Cowboy Bar, IMHO. I had a Pendleton rocks while sitting sidesaddle on the saddle barstools, and we shared some lovely memories of the wedding. We took a stroll through town admiring all of the vintage neon signs before heading back to our deer dens for a slumber.
- West Thumb Geyser Basin to see the mystic juxtaposition of the hot springs and Jackson Lake. Enjoy the peaceful drive (with minimal tour buses and traffic) down the 191 from West Thumb to the South Entrance and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife.
- Take a leisurely drive through Grand Teton National Park, stopping when you feel compelled, it’s all beautiful. Take a night walk through Jackson to clear your head and feast your eyes on all of the vintage neon signage.
- Enjoy a hot cup of coffee at sunrise from the deck of your tent at Yellowstone Under Canvas.
- Bar N Ranch in West Yellowstone for breakfast. Gather in Jackson, WY for dinner.
- Million Dollar Cowboy Bar for an obligatory drink while sitting side saddle at the bar.
STAY: Antler Inn is easy, inexpensive and centrally located. It wasn’t my favorite place to stay but it got the job done.
DAY 5 – JACKSON, WY. ➔ GRAND TETON NP ➔ JACKSON, WY. ➔ RIRIE, ID
Surprise, I woke up hungry again. Probably because I had been anticipating our visit to Persephone bakery in Jackson. This bakery is legit. It makes no excuses to try and be trendy or “on point” as the hip kids say. The simple white interiors are elegantly rustic and decorated with loving touches throughout, making you feel more like you are in a friend’s home than a public bakery. Every corner is cozy and inviting and just where you’d want to tear into a flaky Cinnamon Brioche Roll or a savory Ham and Cheese Croissant. It was busy in the morning, but the way the space winds around and spreads out, you’d never feel overwhelmed by the line. The coffee was hot and strong and the pastries were perfection. The locals were welcoming to boot! I could have spent all day holed up in this pretty little pastry case.
After the pastries, we walked around a bit more and came up with a game plan for the day. But first, bagels. We saw Pearl Street Bagels on a few recommendation lists, so we hit it up. As with most bagel shops, it felt like we’d walked into the Central Perk in the mid 90’s. It was bright and whimsical and the bagels were piled high in bins behind the counter. While the bagels were pretty good, I was set aback a bit by Pearl Street’s no-toast policy. You see, I am a big supporter of the toasted bagel camp, and for me an un-toasted bagel is just too raw. I’m a proud toaster.
The sun was shining that morning, so we headed back into Grand Teton to hike around Jenny Lake. There is a shuttle boat that runs boatloads of people across the lake every 15 minutes and drops them right at the trailhead for Cascade Canyon Trail, 1.1 miles from the touristy destination overlook of Inspiration Point. It shaves off miles of hiking around the lake, so it’s ideal for families.
We are slightly more adventurous, so we drove to the north end of Jenny Lake and parked at the String Lake trailhead, hiking along the lake until we came to the first sign and headed up the backside of Inspiration Point. It got really remote, and we only saw a handful of people for those first 3-4 miles. We hiked up behind Inspiration Point and came down the hill past some actual hidden falls before coming to the busy Inspiration Point. We hiked down through the crowds, past Hidden Falls along the tourist trail for about a mile, then hung a hard left and headed back on the trail along the quiet and peaceful east side of Jenny Lake. I highly suggest this route if you have the time. It was about a 6.5 mile hike, but the views of the Tetons were unbeatable and we had most of the trail all to ourselves – so worth the mileage. I suggest going back the way you came once you hit Inspiration Point to maximize your quiet time with mother nature.
We checked out a few more lookouts on the drive back into Jackson and basked in the warmth of the sun. We popped into a hip, modern and local catering spot called Picnic for an afternoon pick me up. I had a Cortado and a slice of Nutella Banana Bread. It was tasty, but I make a pretty mean Nutella Banana Bread, myself. We also picked up a loaf of bread to snack on later.
We swung into Persephone Bakery again because I remembered that I wanted to give their bread a try as well. It was only after we had the loaves side by side that I realized Persephone must provide the bread for Picnic. So we had two bread babies, twins!
After all of that running around, I was craving a margarita! We snagged a patio table during happy hour at Hatch, a taqueria and tequila bar. We cooled down with drinks and fueled up with the HH tacos and nachos. It hit the spot.
Then we hit the open road once again and headed west over the mountains to Mountain River Ranch in Ririe, ID to see my Grandma.
DO: Take a hike at Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. I suggest our 6.5 mile loop that starts at String Lake trailhead at the north end of the lake, follows the lake’s east edge, climbs up behind Inspiration Point and comes back down past Hidden Falls along the Cascade Canyon Trail before winding back along the lake. Another option is the shuttle boat ride across Jenny Lake to the 1.1 mile hike up to Inspiration Point. The shuttle boat leaves from the south end of the lake. Stop and take in the stunning views of The Grand Tetons at any of the pullouts along the way.
- Any pastries at Persephone bakery in Jackson but especially the Cinnamon Brioche and the Ham and Cheese Croissant, be sure to pick up a loaf of their handmade rustic levain bread for snacking and picnicking later. The breakfast menu looked amazing too.
- Have a non-toasted bagel at Pearl Street Bagels in Jackson, if you’re into that sort of thing.
- A late afternoon pick-me-up coffee and pastry at Picnic is a nice way to regroup after a day of hiking.
- Grab a seat outside and enjoy happy hour at Hatch, a taqueria and tequila bar after that 6.5 mile hike. You’ve earned it.
DAY 6 – RIRIE, ID & HEISE, ID
My grandma and her BF spend most of their summers at Mountain River Ranch in Ririe, ID. It’s a campy little spot with plenty of RV hookups, camping spots, a small fishing pond, and an old west style “town” complete with a wild west style shootout dinner theater that takes place every weekend throughout the summer. My Grandma is good pals with the camp hosts and they teamed up to reserve us a tiny, one room cabin for two nights. This is probably something I’d never seek out on my own, but I am so glad we got to experience this little spot thanks to my Gma, it was equal parts fun, quirky and relaxing.
My Grandma and her BF took us on a drive to show us around the area they’ve been exploring for decades. We snagged a breakfast burrito at a dingy hole in the wall called Alberto’s in Ririe, ID. Judging by the run down exterior and skeletal interiors (and I was judging) you’d never know that the owner/chef cranks out a massive menu of homemade Mexican food from scratch (tortillas included) all day, everyday.
You can’t always judge a book by it’s worn and dirty cover. The kitchen was spotless and he poured love into the food. Isn’t that all that matters? I had a massive breakfast burrito made of a simple and delicious mix of scrambled eggs, smoky bacon, and Idaho spuds. Hats off to the busy owner/chef.
They’d scheduled us a zipline excursion in Heise, ID, but it was cold, windy and blustery all morning. We opted for a nap instead. We woke to a sunny afternoon, so we played a round of links at the local Par 3 golf course, Heise Golf, which has to be one of the best little courses around. Then, a dip in Heise Hot Springs. I’d heard about it all my life. My mom spent many a summer dipping in those mineral springs tubs.
It seems that Heise Hot Springs has seen better days. While it felt good to dip, we left smelling strongly of sulfur that didn’t quite wash off with a single shower. We’re not quite sure the spring water is solely to blame. We reconvened with the camp crew for dinner at, you guessed it, Heise Pizza and split a couple of pitchers and pizzas. It was really nice to lay low and spend quality time with my sweet and spicy Gma! We got back to camp just in time to catch the tail end of the wild west shootout dress rehearsal and it was truly a barrel of laughs.
- Zipline excursion in Heise, ID, while we didn’t get to do this I’ve heard it’s great fun.
- Heise Golf is an easy-peasy, laidback little golf course where those of us who keep better track of their beers than their balls feel right at home.
- Heise Hot Springs is a dip into deep southern Idaho. It may be past it’s prime and leaves you stinking to high heaven but embrace it for what it is.
EAT: Be adventurous and don’t judge a book by it’s dingy cover.
- Alberto’s in Ririe, ID is a common stop for locals and serves up surprisingly good food.
- Heise Pizza is a family friendly pizza parlor and one of the only places to eat for miles. It’s a cozy space with pizza parlor fare. Buy a local a local beer.
STAY: Mountain River Ranch in Ririe, ID is a campground, RV park and home to a whimsical set of quirky sleeping accommodations from themed cabins to teepees and covered wagons. It’s a good time, and a cozy spot to rest your weary head.
DAY 7 – RIRIE, ID ➔ IDAHO FALLS ➔ EBR-1 ➔ CRATERS OF THE MOON
We awoke early and showered again to rid ourselves of any remaining rotten egg stench. We spent the morning saying goodbye to Gma Sue and then packed up to head west once again. Our first stop was Idaho Falls, the town where my Gma lives the rest of the year. We found a cute little cafe right downtown in the old town area called Diablas Kitchen that served up clean comfort food made with love. I had a lovely Caprese Quiche that was as light and airy as it was tasty. Done right. If you’re in the area, this is the place to eat.
We powered on and drove through the flatlands into an eerie area that’s home to the first nuclear power plant. We couldn’t pass up the draw of an atomic museum, so we found ourselves smack dab in the spot where it all began. EBR-1 is a National Historic Landmark and is now serving as museum and the only place in the world you can see 4 nuclear reactors. It’s a strange and fascinating place with an air of bygone futurism and hope.
This building was once a top-of-the-line nuclear facility, cranking out the world’s first usable, city-powering electricity generated from nuclear energy in 1951. Now, it’s a crumbling relic of the atomic era. It’s fascinating to get up close and personal with the original nuclear reactors and all of the heavy equipment that went along with it. It’s strange, other-wordly, and quite honestly a little unsettling. Dayn was like a kid in a candy store here. I think he gleefully pushed every single button, flipped every switch, and turned every knob in the place.
We split like an atom and hopped in our space capsule to rocket on to Craters of the Moon National Monument. Once you drive through Arco down the lonely highway towards Craters of the Moon, you really do feel like you’re on another planet.
The landscape becomes desolate, dark and rough. Entering the park may be one small step but it’s a giant leap from the green, lush lands to the northeast. This remote monument is made up of 400 square miles of lava flows, cinder cones, spatter cones, and lava tubes that formed over eight major eruptive periods between 15,000 and 2000 years ago.
Craters’ rugged, uninhabitable terrain is strangely beautiful and eerily alluring. There weren’t a lot of people there when we visited, so it truly felt like our own private Idaho on the Moon. We felt especially isolated climbing up Inferno Cone, a short and steep path up the cinder cone at the center of the scenic loop drive. It’s out of this world.
We were lucky enough to visit during a “superbloom” of wildflowers – mostly the tiny and colorful clusters of dwarf monkeyflower that dot the ominous hills like rainbow jimmies. The colors popped so vividly against the stark black lava rock, reminding us that beauty is everywhere, even on the darkest side of the moon.
From Craters we drove on to Boise, ID to spend time with my Grandma Shirley and my extended family. I’d planned to visit some bakeries and restaurants in Boise, but I came down with nasty bug that day and it zapped all of my energy. Quite honestly though, no restaurant or bakery holds a candle to the food at Grandma’s house, so we were happy to stay in for a couple of days and catch up over homemade breakfasts and fresh baked cookies.
- EBR-1 atomic museum, get up close and personal with the first nuclear reactor from the bygone era of the atomic age.
- Drive the 7 mile loop through Craters of the Moon National Monument.
- Stop to hike up Inferno Cone, you’ll feel like a spaceman with a view into the entire universe. If you have time and you’re not afraid of dark cavernous spaces, get a permit to do some cave exploring while you’re at COTM.
EAT: Diablas Kitchen in downtown Idaho Falls, ID. Clean comfort food made with love.
THOUGHTS FROM THE ROAD
I can’t express enough how impactful Roadtrippin’ Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Beyond was for us. Getting out and exploring is a life changing experience that shapes our opinions, lives and values. This year marks the 100 year anniversary of the US National Parks Service. These parks are truly our national treasure and we Americans should be proud of our ancestors and forefathers for preserving these majestic places. While I’ve visited a handful of these monuments, I hope to visit all 58 of the US National Parks in my lifetime. Each park is unique, awe-inspiring, breathtaking and most of all, to be treasured. Seeing is believing and believe me, you need to see them.
HELPFUL TIPS for Roadtrippin’ Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Beyond
- Research but don’t obsess. There is so much to see and you probably won’t see it all.
- Have a rough schedule but leave plenty of space to explore.
- If you plan to go to Yellowstone and Grand Teton, be sure to buy the $50/7 day pass that covers both parks.
- Craters of the Moon also requires a $10 entrance pass, plus an a separate permit for cave exploration.
- You’ll see more bison than bars of cellular signal. Cell coverage is scarce throughout the parks, this is a good thing. Enjoy the disconnect.
- Stay somewhere luxurious for a night, rough it, camp, crash at a roadside motor lodge or airbnb it. Just don’t be a hotel snob.
- Get outside and get dirty.
- Hit the big hits but check out the smaller sites too.
- Experience the parks with all of your senses. See the colors, smell the sulfur, listen to the call of the elk, and taste the fresh mountain air.
- Pack layers. The weather has a tendency to turn on a dime ‘round these parts. Be sure you have a variety of clothes for hot weather, rain, and cold nights and mornings.
- Get off the beaten path and explore. Well, except in Yellowstone. Stay on the marked paths or you may end up boiling to death or a victim of a bear attack.
- Don’t be an asshole tourist, please. Don’t bring a selfie stick. The beauty is behind you, and you’re blocking everyone’s view.
- Respect the land. Respect the animals. Respect your fellow travelers.
- Don’t leave a Doritos trail behind you everywhere you go.
- Make friends with a local at a local watering hole and buy them a local a beer to thank them for sharing their town with you.
- Eat at local restaurants, drink local beers, try local cuisine even if you’ve never eaten elk or bison before. However, I’d pass on the Rocky Mountain Oysters.
- See all that you can see. Who cares if you’re tired, get over it and power on.
- Take the long way ’round.
- Enjoy the view, after all that’s what you’re here for.
HELPFUL LINKS for Roadtrippin’ Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Beyond
- National Park Service is the ultimate resource and the website is jam packed with information about Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park and Craters of the Moon., study up on their site before you go, there is so much to know.
- My “I want to go to there” Pinterest board
- Jason’s Travels – Jason has extensive coverage on all things Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Beyond. We found good hikes using his site.
- 50 Things To-Do In Jackson Hole & Grand Teton National Park – Tammie’s list is full of great suggestions from hikes, to sites, to eats.
- Top wow spots of Grand Teton from Sunset Magazine
- Yellowstone Under Canvas glamping tents
- National Geographic, Yellowstone – The Battle for the American West. May 2016 – Beautiful, bold and honest, this issue of Nat Geo tells it like it is. Yellowstone is dangerous, wild and untapped. Read up.
- 20 Best Restaurants to Eat at in Jackson Hole, Wyoming by Bon Traveler
- Bon Traveler – Yellowstone posts