After throwing out tons of other vacation ideas, we landed on a road trip to Jackson Hole for our summer vacation, with about two weeks to get the trip planned. I was originally not on board with driving fifteen hours each way, but a conversation on my Facebook page totally swayed me. The driving was remarkably not bad, if not altogether awesome. It was very nice to pack as much stuff as we wanted (even though I WAY overpacked) and not have to deal with the airport nonsense, and knowing that if my kids were kicking someone’s seat at least it was my seat and not a stranger’s.
Day 1 – Orange County to Salt Lake City
Our first day of driving was largely uneventful. We made our first stop four hours into our drive at the lovely Stateline, Nevada. We had a truly terrible food court lunch and picked up new school shoes for the kids at the Nike outlet. It was nine frillion degrees outside so we had no motivation to stop at any of the other touristy spots along the way. We made a quick stop in the unfortunately named Beaver, UT for ice cream, gas, and gas station snacks. (In spite of the fact that we had a car full of snacks, I couldn’t resist the siren song of crushed ice and a fountain soda. On the plus side, my needs are remarkably simple.) Final stop – Salt Lake City. Total time start to finish – 12 hours, zero traffic. I was thrilled that we only needed three stops in that time as we had been prepared for many, many more.
We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Salt Lake, mostly because the price was right and it had great reviews. We give it two thumbs up. The indoor pool was the perfect energy release for my kids, the hotel was clean, new enough, and immediately off of the freeway, and there was a decent breakfast available in the morning. (Kids are free!)
Day 2 – Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole
We got a leisurely start knowing that we had a five hour drive ahead of us, but also knowing that we couldn’t check in until late afternoon. We ended making the trip in four and a half hours without a single stop. It’s pretty fortunate we didn’t need to make many (any) stops, because while the drive from Utah to Wyoming is certainly prettier than the long stretch of nothing between CA and UT, towns with even so much as a gas station visible from the (one lane) highway were few and far between.
We had some time to kill once we arrived so we had a late lunch at Eleaven in town. I thought it was just okay, but everyone else really liked it. We cruised through town, had ice cream, and waited for our room to be ready at the Rustic Inn. Once we were checked in, we checked out the property and I was thrilled with our choice. The grounds were beautiful. (Our room was tiny and dark, but clean and cutely rustic.) There is a creek that runs behind the hotel, wooden swings throughout the property, and fire pits that are lit every evening. You can grab a s’mores kit from the hotel bar (although at $8 for 4 s’mores you could probably grab your own supplies in town, which is just a two block walk.)
Our room had a fireplace, which we never needed, but would have been fantastic during the winter. (Obviously.) The only thing that continually irked me throughout the trip was the the air conditioner was a wall unit on the far side of the room from the beds and it was LOUD. Pro-tip. Book the cabins, not the rooms. The cabins are newer and have a better layout, although the rooms are essentially the same size (and roughly the same price.)
At this point we were well and truly worn out, so we showered and ordered pizza. After pizza, we roasted marshmallows in our pajamas. Vacation!
Day 3 – Yellowstone
This was the day we had looked forward to when booking this trip. Yellowstone day! Jackson Hole is about 45 minutes outside of Yellowstone, and we booked a tour through Grizzly County Wildlife Adventures. It was pricey (like, WHOA) but we justified that with the crazy amount of money we had saved by not flying. In my opinion it was WELL worth it. They picked us up at our hotel at 7:00am and drove us into Yellowstone. We hit Old Faithful first since we were on a bit of a schedule to see that, and then they took us through quite a bit of the park. We saw lakes and animals and a number of geothermal features (geysers, mudpots, steam vents, hot springs.) We contended with a thunder storm for about two hours of our trip, but the cooler temps in Yellowstone were completely welcome and nobody really minded the rain. Grizzly Country provided binoculars, snacks, water and a full lunch, and they also know all of the good bathroom stops. (Thank goodness for that.)
Old Faithful was, as expected, really cool. It’s not the largest geyser in the park, but its predictability has made it famous (and given it its name.) We talked a lot about the likelihood of the super volcano erupting during our trip. Some scientists believe an eruption is imminent, but in scientific terms that can mean sometime in the next 7000 years, so it seemed unlikely that we would need to worry about that during our stay.
Our Yellowstone day was about 11 hours long and my kids talked for roughly 10 hours of that time. At one point their talking turned to bickering and I started to lose it. You can imagine that many hours of riding around in a car, only to hop out to look at something started to wear on them. I eventually bribed them and they both took short naps. I was pretty proud of them during this day. They did remarkably well considering that this part of the trip was most definitely more for us than it was for them. Our tour guide did a great job of including them and would adjust the height of his high powered binocular tripod so they could look and see whatever animal was in the distance. (He was also a fairly handy family photo taker.)
We were once again wiped out at this point, so it was showers and room service for everyone with the Home Run Derby on for ambiance. (We eventually make some better culinary choices, but I was very, very happy to have pizza delivery and room service for dinner options.)
We’re going to call it a day there. Up next, hiking in the Grand Tetons in Part 2!