Last year, we road-tripped from Albuquerque to San Francisco, hitting five national parks along the way. We LOVED that trip and set a new goal of visiting every national park in our lifetime. So this year, for our three year anniversary trip, we choose three more parks to check off the list.
Neither of us had seen the northwest United States, and my knowledge of Montana came 100% from watching Hannah Montana, so we picked Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Parks.
Stick around to the end to read my summary of the trip, what we liked best, and what I recommend for anyone doing the same trip!
Overall, the trip being amazing, it didn’t start out that way. We were supposed to have ten days at the parks, but we only got nine.
Our first flight from Austin to Denver at 6:00am was cancelled, and we couldn’t get another flight to Kalispell, Montana until the next day. So…we missed the first 26 hours of our vacation, but ended up in Chicago for a night, where we ate authentic deep dish pizza. It was awesome. SO much cheese.
Glacier National Park
Many Glacier Hotel
We camped most nights, but stayed in this amazing hotel on our anniversary. As soon as I saw pictures of this place online, I knew we had to stay here. It was even better in person, and I highly recommend spending a night here or in the Many Glacier area!
The hike to Iceberg Lake was our favorite hike at Glacier (or possibly the whole trip), but it was rough at times. I bought this pink waterproof jacket at the gift shop just a few minutes before starting this hike, because I realized the one I brought wasn’t going to keep me dry enough.
This hike was also a wakeup call because it showed us that the whole trip would be much COLDER than we thought it would be. On the way there, it rained, then snowed, then hailed, but we decided not to turn around. The views along the trail were incredible, and it was awesome watching the weather roll through the mountains, changing very quickly.
During the last mile of the trail, we hiked over snow and a glacier. It’s a good thing that our trip to Sedona earlier this year thought me how to hike on snow and ice.
Our reward for making it to the lake (aside from the amazing view and feeling of accomplishment) was Clif Bars. The White Chocolate Macadamia Nut flavor is soooo good.
Matt always finds local beer when we’re traveling.
Yellowstone National Park
From the east side of Glacier, we drove straight down to the North Entrance of Yellowstone, which took about 7 hours.
Mammouth Hot Springs
The cabin was cute, but very hard to keep warm at night.
The Canyon area of Yellowstone was my favorite and had the best hiking.
We were lucky to see Steamboat Geyser erupt while we were passing through that area. We thought it was a lot more interesting than Old Faithful, because it’s more powerful and unpredictable.
Grand Teton National Park
There are thousands (millions??) of lily pads on these ponds.
Yep, there’s a town called Moose.
And now for the awards…
BEST HIKING: GLACIER
Definitely Glacier. The trails made it super easy to actually hike UP and IN the mountains, as opposed to Grand Teton, where you mostly saw the big mountain views from a distance. And at the end of nearly every trail is a lake with the most blue water you’ve ever seen.
MOST UNIQUE: YELLOWSTONE
Yellowstone is HUGE, and the variety in what you can see is awesome. You’ll find mountains, canyons, rivers, a lakes, grassy valleys, and unique landscapes like hot springs and geysers that come from sitting on a volcano.
BEST FOR SEEING WILDLIFE: YELLOWSTONE
Within 20 minutes of driving near Roosevelt Lodge, we saw bison, a black bear mom and her cub, deer, elk, and lots of unique birds. That being said, we did see a grizzly bear on a trail in Glacier too!
MOST IMPRESSIVE VIEWS: GRAND TETON
These mountains are just huge. Because the mountains were carved by glaciers, they look very different from most mountains in the United States.
MY OVERALL FAVORITE: GLACIER
But it’s a tough choice, because I want to visit all of them again. Glacier was the least touristy with the best hiking trails, and also has the ruggedly luxurious Many Glacier Hotel. It’s the best of both worlds. (See what I did there?)
Tips for doing the same trip
- Check the weather! The entire trip was much, MUCH colder than we thought it would be. Before the trip, we had checked the forecast in towns that are near the places we were staying. But in reality, the elevation of these towns is much lower than at our campgrounds inside the park. We slept in our rental car for a night because it was 15 degrees and snowing.
- Wear layers, because the weather may chance by 30 degrees within a 3 hour-long hike.
- Bring quality water-resistant clothes. It rains a lot in the early summer.
- Book campgrounds and lodges early. Some campgrounds don’t allow you to book ahead of time, but some open up 6 months in advance on the park’s website.
- Buy/rent bear spray!! It’s $45 to buy, but it’s absolutely necessary to feel safe(ish) while hiking in these parks. We walked around the corner on a trail in Glacier to find a grizzly bear 20 yards in front of us. We yelled at her, and she went away, but if she was in a bad mood that day, the bear spray could have saved our lives.
- Rent a car! Unlike Zion and Yosemite, these are not parks where you can rely on a free shuttle to get around. In all three of these parks, be prepared to drive a lot, and look for gas stations inside the park.
- There are just a few roads inside of Glacier, and the only road that connects the west to east sides of the park, Going to the Sun Road, is closed almost all year because of snow.
- Like any national park, visit the Visitor Center in each region to pick up free maps and ask park rangers their recommendations on what to do.
- There is little/no phone signal, so you’ll need to use maps to get around.
- We flew out of airports in Kalispell and Idaho Falls. You can also fly out of Jackson Hole Airport, which is extremely close to Grand Teton, but we chose Idaho Falls (2 hours away and a beautiful drive) because it was much cheaper on the day we needed.
- Allow several days to explore each park. We spent 4 days in Yellowstone and still missed the entire Northeast region of the park! You could easily spend 7 days in Yellowstone alone.
- That being said, if you’re going to Yellowstone, definitely plan to visit Grand Teton too, because it’s only 30 minutes away!