10-Day Road Trip to Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park

August 30, 2017

“Live your life as you would climb a mountain. An occasional glance toward the summit to keep the goal in mind, but many beautiful scenes are to be observed from each new vantage point.” ~Harold Melchert

Those are wise words. The mountains are where I feel most alive, and being among them reminds me about the kind of life I want to live. My senses are all engaged by the fresh air, the stunning scenery, the smells of pine and wildflowers. I’m fully present in the moment with no distractions, cell phones or work tugging at my attention. The peaks that seem to soar beyond the clouds remind me how small we are in this world that is so much bigger than ourselves. I recently spent 10 days on an extraordinary road trip to Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park in our quest to visit all 59 parks. Hiking the trails, running on mountain paths and introducing Baby rUnladylike to our love of the outdoors filled my soul. Indeed, a trip to our National Parks is more than a vacation or road trip; it is an experience of a lifetime.

Our National Park Road Trip by the Numbers

  • 6,000: Average elevation (in feet) we stayed at during our trip
  • 1,000: Miles we drove through Wyoming and Montana in 10 days (yes, in a minivan)
  • 30: Miles we hiked carrying Baby rUnladylike on our back
  • 16.2: Total miles I ran while on vacation
  • 9:  Miles we ran pushing Baby rUnladylike in the running stroller
  • 7.3: Mileage of our longest hike (in Glacier National Park)
  • 6: Moose we saw during the trip (three on just the first day)
  • 6: Total number of places we stayed during the trip (two didn’t have air conditioning in the parks)
  • 5: Bags we checked on our flights (thank you pack-n-play and car seat)
  • 4: Number of times I ate a meal that consisted of buffalo, including buffalo chili, meatloaf and burgers
  • 4: Breweries we visited (Snake River Brewing, Flathead Lake Brewing Co., the Great Northern Brewing Company, Bonsai Brewing Project)
  • 3: Huckleberry-flavored treats I consumed, which included huckleberry ice cream, licorice and a drink (Everything is about huckleberries in this area. You won’t step foot in a single store without being bombarded with huckleberry souvenirs to bring home with you.)
  • 3: National Parks visited on the trip and official passport stamps in Baby rUnladylike’s National Parks Passport
  • 2: Number of times I popped a squat behind a bush in the great outdoors (I know, disappointing. My unladylike behaviors were slim on this trip.)
  • 0: Bears we saw … thank goodness because all the signs about being in grizzly country are enough to scare you right out of your pants, especially while hiking with a baby

10 Days in Heaven: Highlights of our Road Trip to Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park

We started our trip in Jackson, Wyoming, where we stayed for three nights. Grand Teton National Park is just several miles away from downtown, making it one of the few parks that has an amazing city destination right next door. Jackson and Grand Teton immediately stole my heart. I secretly believe it was my favorite of the three parks we visited on our trip.

Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park Road Trip
Under one of the historic antler arches in downtown Jackson, WY
Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park Road Trip
Baby rUnladylike getting her first official stamp in her National Parks passport in Grand Teton National Park.

Jackson is a quaint, romantic little town with true mountain style, boasting not only great hiking (and skiing) but also boutique shops and fine dining. We stayed at the White Buffalo Club, which was quite pricey but incredible for traveling with a baby. Our room was like a small apartment with a full kitchen (including a refrigerator and freezer for breast milk and baby food as well as an oven and stove for families who want to cook), a washer and dryer (yay for cleaning icky baby things and stinky hiking/running clothes before continuing on a long trip) and a separate room for Baby rUnladylike’s pack-n-play so Mr. rUnladylike and I didn’t have to tip-toe around in the dark after her 7 p.m. bedtime. It also had a great balcony where we sat in the evenings and ate dinner and had drinks once the baby was asleep. A continental breakfast was included, and the best part was that it was located within walking distance of all the great shops and restaurants and was just 0.25 miles from an incredible running and biking path.

Grand Teton National Park truly took my breath away. There are many family-friendly hikes for people traveling with kids or, in our case, carrying a baby in a 30-pound backpack. My favorite was a nearly 4-mile hike to Taggart Lake that looped back to the parking lot via Beaver Creek, which we hiked in the early afternoon after a quick picnic from Aspen’s Market near the trail head. This hike had everything: tree-lined paths, stunning mountain views, open fields, a gorgeous lake and more. The terrain and elevation also didn’t create a strain with the baby. Mr. rUnladylike carried her for the first half and I carried her for the second half.

If you look closely at our photos from this hike, you might notice we’re wearing some pretty amazing (matching) National Park shirts and hiking shoes. Brooks Running teamed up with REI to create a special edition line of shoes and shirts inspired by our National Parks. My friends at Brooks sent Mr. rUnladylike and me a pair of the special Cascadia 12s and shirts for the trip. We did every hike in these shoes and absolutely loved them. Five percent of the proceeds of this special line benefits the National Park Foundation to conserve our amazing outdoor spaces. If you love the National Parks like we do, get these before they are gone. Learn more here. {Brooks affiliate link}

After the Taggart Lake hike, we pulled out at a turn-out to admire Grand Teton’s immense beauty for a while.

The other hike we did at Grand Teton on our second day in Jackson was at the popular Jenny Lake. We hiked around the lake to Hidden Falls, a waterfall that is literally hidden unless you hike to the very spot where it is located. Although we wanted to also hike up to Inspiration Point and add another 3 miles of hiking to the day, we took a boat back across the lake after our 4-mile morning journey (we have a baby with us, remember?). We followed our hike with lunch at Dornan’s, which is actually located in the park and has breathtaking views. The views are much better than the food, but sipping on some ice cold beer while kicking back at a picnic table is hard to beat here.

Running in Jackson and Grand Teton is easy and amazing. I ran twice on the path near our hotel that starts near the intersection of Cache and Mercill in downtown Jackson. It takes you all the way to Moose, WY. Within the park, there is also a long paved trail perfect for running with stunning mountain views.

While in Jackson, you can’t miss walking around downtown exploring the shops and restaurants. We had great meals from Moe’s BBQ, Liberty Burger and Snake River Brewing. Snake River Brewing was great to take kids with an outdoor green, corn hole and putt-putt out front.

The cherry on top of our time in Jackson and Grand Teton was lunch at the Blue Heron Lounge at the Jackson Lake Lodge on our way from Grand Teton to Yellowstone. No words (or photos) can do the view justice. The drinks and food were top notch and the scenery was breathtaking.

Next, we made our way to Yellowstone National Park.

Baby rUnladylike’s second official passport stamp in Yellowstone

We checked into the historic Old Faithful Inn for one night. The Inn is just steps away from Old Faithful herself, a renowned geyser that erupts about every 90 minutes. The Inn has a second level balcony and bar where you can have drinks and watch Old Faithful or walk out to it for a closer view. Also surrounding the Inn is the Upper Geyser Basin which has the largest concentration of colorful hot pools in the world. It is a long boardwalk that is perfect for a post-dinner walk, especially with a stroller, wheelchair or other similar device.

We ate dinner at the buffet at the Old Faithful Inn and then watched Old Faithful during sunset before retiring to our room, which does not have air conditioning, wifi, phones, TV or other modern amenities. The rooms are very small, especially while traveling with a baby or child. Be prepared to be in close quarters in every way shape and form.

The next morning after watching Old Faithful one more time, we did a 3-mile hike to Mystic Falls, which was a perfect hike to start the day. There were gorgeous pools at the beginning and a stunning waterfall at the end.

We then drove to Canyon Village which is known for having the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.” We drove up to see Artist’s Point and then tried to hike the South Rim Trail, but unfortunately it was closed. Lunch at Canyon Village did not disappoint, where we were able to find a healthy “create your own stir-fry” joint within the lodging system as well as purchase some fresh fruit and snacks at the general/grocery store there.

After a short time in Yellowstone (we wish we had stayed one extra night), we began our drive to Glacier. We stayed at the half-way point in Helena, Montana before continuing onto the park the next morning. It was a nice chance to run on the hotel treadmill and get a little speed work in since lodging in the parks don’t have a gym (obviously) and not every park location is ideal for running. On the second part of the drive, we stopped for lunch at Flathead Lake Brewing Company which was fabulous and is definitely a must-stop. I had a delicious stuffed portabella mushroom and an excellent cherry sour beer. The view on the deck looked down at the lake which was simply beautiful and a nice way to break up the drive.

For our time in Glacier National Park, we decided to split our trip up with half our time on the west side of the park and the other half on the east given how different the two sides are.

Third passport stamp in Glacier National Park!

We started on the west side where we stayed at Village Inn in Apgar Village. To say this place was magical was an understatement. The view was breathtaking. All you had to do was open your door. All the rooms face Lake McDonald and people sit outside lined up in a row to see sunrise and sunset.

The room we had was actually two bedrooms, so Baby rUnladylike was able to have her own room so we could enjoy time after she went to sleep. We brought her monitor so we could sit out on our front porch and also steps away on the lake. The little town of Apgar itself was also lovely, with great gift shops and Eddie’s Restaurant which was the only option for dining but did not disappoint. We ate there both nights while in West Glacier.

There were bad wildfires in the park during our time here, so some of our views were hampered by the subsequent smoke. Highlights from the west side included a 5.5-mile hike to Avalanche Lake and the Trail of the Cedars followed by lunch at Russell’s Fireside Dining Room at Lake McDonald Lodge.

Lake McDonald Lodge

After a morning hike, we put Baby rUnladylike down for a nap and rented a paddle board. We took turns taking it out on Lake McDonald while the other stayed on baby patrol. Apgar Village is the ultimate spot to rent kayaks, paddle boards and small boats. It was only $10 per hour to rent our paddle board. Great fun for 60 minutes!

We returned to Lake McDonald Lodge later that day for a one-hour evening boat ride on the lake which was chockfull of great history and information about the park and the lake. Tickets can easily be purchased at the lodge and we had no trouble securing seats the same day.

The number one thing most people will tell you to do while at Glacier National Park is to drive the Going to the Sun Road. And they’re definitely right. Since we were making our way from one side of the park to the other, we drove the 50-mile stretch. At first, you’re not sure why it is so famous until after you get past Avalanche Lake about 10+ miles in. Then, you quickly understand why it is so amazing. It is a nail-biter of a drive that winds along the edge of mountainous cliffs along a narrow two-lane road. Mr. rUnladylike was white-knuckled gripping the steering wheel.

You can see how these epic views were a little tainted by the haze from the wildfires.

If you plan to eat lunch along the road, be sure to pick it up before you leave as there are no restaurants or food stops between Lake McDonald Lodge and Rising Sun Motor Lodge. We grabbed a take-out lunch in West Glacier to eat at Logan’s Pass.

We stopped at Logan’s Pass which is mile 32 of the drive and perhaps the most popular and beautiful spot in the park.

After a quick picnic lunch, we hiked a mile on the Highline Trail before turning back and hiking the 3-mile Hidden Lake Trail. Both are must-do hikes and incredibly amazing. While I would have loved to hike the entire 11 miles of Highline, it is mostly on an edge of a cliff. I did not feel comfortable carrying Baby rUnladylike on our back this close to the edge (all I could think about was this), so we quickly turned around when we realized that was going to be a long portion of the hike. The views were simply majestic though, and I’d encourage anyone to tackle that hike if not traveling with kids.

The Hidden Lake trail was equally stunning in a different way. The first part is steep but along a boardwalk with steps, leading to a gorgeous lake at the end. We felt like we were in a scene from the Sound of Music on this hike.

After a long day of driving and hiking, we checked into our room at Rising Sun where we had a small cabin (also without air conditioning) that was hot during the day and cool at night. We ate a great meal at Two Dog’s Flat, the only restaurant at this lodging spot. It was excellent. Each night while we were at our cabin, Mr. rUnladylike and I sat on our front stoop after the baby went to bed and drank a few beers and recounted the day’s wonders. How about that sunset!

On our final day in Glacier, we drove to Many Glacier and did a 7.3-mile hike to Grinnell Lake. I can’t recommend visiting Many Glacier Lodge and doing this hike enough. The views are gorgeous from the hotel, and the hike led to the most memorable view of the trip. While the hike itself was incredibly easy and not much to write home about, the payoff was fantastic. Grinnell Lake is a turquoise jewel tucked between mountains and just below Grinnell Glacier. It is surrounded by a little beach that is perfect for picnicking or just sitting and appreciating the scenery. It was the perfect hike to end a perfect vacation. We at lunch at the lodge after the hike.

Running is not very easy in Glacier. On the west side, one of the great biking and running paths had warnings about bear frequenting all over it and there aren’t many paths that don’t have heavy car traffic. In Apgar, we ran circles around the small village until we got to 4 miles. I would strongly suggest running on the Swiftcurrent lake path in Many Glacier if you have the chance. This is a 2.6-mile loop around the lake that is absolutely beautiful and perfect for an easy trail run.

As all things must come to an end, so did our trip. On our final day, we drove to Kalispell, Montana, where we stayed the night near the airport and then flew home the next day. Our road trip to Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park was truly the trip of a lifetime. Although a tad aggressive on the travel front with little ones perhaps, it exceeded our expectations beyond measure and we enjoyed every minute. The best part was simply being together without distractions, phones, TVs or access to the rest of the world. It was us and the mountains … a pretty spectacular way to live.

“Best of” Moments 

Planning a road trip to Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park? Here were some of our favorite “don’t miss” moments, restaurants and activities.

  • Best meal: Blue Heron Lounge at Jackson Lake Lodge: While the food and drinks were great, the view simply can’t be beat. There’s also a cute gift shop at the opposite end of the restaurant on the second floor of the lodge.
  • Best hike: Taggart Lake in Grand Teton National Park, taking the loop that returns along Beaver Creek (4 total miles): This hike had a little bit of everything, from tree-lined paths to a gorgeous lake to stunning mountain views to open fields.
  • Best hotel: White Buffalo Club in Jackson, Wyoming: With a full kitchen, washer and dryer in room, suite-style set-up, balcony sitting area and separate area for a baby, this was the perfect place to stay with a baby. It was in Jackson Hole in walking distance to all the cute shops and restaurants and was 0.25 miles from an amazing running and biking path.
  • Best lodging within the National Parks: Village Inn at Apgar: The rooms and amenities are nicer than most other in-park lodging and the views from the room simply can’t be beat. You are just a few steps away from Lake McDonald, and the small little village has cute shops and a great restaurant. You are also steps away from water fun, including boat, paddle board and kayak rentals.
  • Best brewery: Flathead Lake Brewing Co. in Big Fork on the way from Yellowstone to Glacier National Park. I had an incredible cherry sour beer here, and the food is delicious too.
  • Best view at the end of a hike: Grinell Lake in East Glacier: This hike starts at the Many Glacier hotel and is a 7.3-mile round trip with almost no elevation gain. While the hike itself isn’t much to brag about, the most stunning, turquoise lake awaits you at the end. You could stay here for hours picnicking, reading and relaxing.
  • Best running path: Swiftcurrent loop around Swiftcurrent Lake at Many Glacier (2.6-mile loop)
  • Best one-hour activity: Boat ride on Lake McDonald (renting paddle boards on the same lake from Apgar Village is a close second)
  • Best place to watch the sunrise: Village Inn at Apgar
  • Best drive: Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park
  • Best perk: Limited or no cell service or wifi in most places throughout the parks and surrounding areas so you are totally present. Your phone truly becomes just a camera.

If you’ve been on a road trip to Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park, tell me about it? What are your favorite parts of each park? If not, tell me about a National Park trip you loved or one you’d like to go on.

Comments

Natalie
Reply

Ahhh!! My friend – I can’t love this post enough. As a mountain girl at heart, a vacation like this is better to me than pretty much anything. I love your pictures and detail of all 3 parks so, so much. Gosh, reading this makes me want to go back! Everytime we go to Montana or WY, I’m always thinking – can we buy a little cabin here?! 🙂
We haven’t been to Glacier yet and it looks absolutely stunning. Thanks for making me smile today Jes! xoxo
PS: beautiful family!!!!

Jen K
Reply

Grand Teton has always been my favorite. Those views just smack you right in the face and I may have a soft spot for Jenny Lake as Jenny is what I was always called growing up. My best friend got married in a morning ceremony on the terrace of Jackson Lake Lodge. It was spectacular.

Laura King Edwards
Reply

I loved this post, and I relived our trips to all three parks through your words and photos. They’re all amazing, but Grand Teton NP has a special place in our hearts. The sight of those mountains just rising out of the valley floor…it’s indescribable. Taggart Lake is the first hike we did in Grand Teton. We also loved the Lupine Meadows trail to Surprise and Amphitheater Lakes. Yellowstone is like an alien planet. Grinnell Glacier is the last trail we hiked in Glacier last month. We made it to the glacier and would have sat watching the water and cliffs for hours if not for a pop-up storm. And kayaking on Lake McDonald was an incredible way to wind down after running the Missoula Half. Keep exploring! Can’t wait to hear about next year’s adventures.

Linda N
Reply

I loved reading about your family trip and looking at all the beautiful pictures, especially of Bella. Looks like she enjoyed every minute. Thank you for sharing

Kim
Reply

My husband and I were able to experience this same trip!! We were gone for a total of 21 days, we put 7000 miles on our pickup, but a whole bunch of wonderful memories were made!! I love the west, and cannot wait to return. Loved seeing your pictures, and your daughter is a beauty!! I’m sure your mom is one happy grandma!

Laura @ This Runner's Recipes
Reply

I love everything in this post. What an incredible vacation! We haven’t visited any of these National Parks – when we drove through Wyoming and Montana on our drive to move to Seattle, we had our puggle and couldn’t stop at the National Parks. I love the smile on Bella’s face in all of those photos – she loves the outdoors!

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