Renew Yourself in Nature at Yellowstone & the Grand Tetons
If you’re like me, you may be missing all of the fun travel adventures we could experience freely in the pre-COVID world. While we’ve had to get a bit more creative when it comes to travel in our “new normal”, it has struck me how I have overlooked domestic travel in the past. Some of the most basic trips can actually turn out to be the best for the spirit! In fact, being in nature has been found to decrease anxiety & rumination and support complex cognitive functioning. Which is what I found when I took a long weekend trip to Yellowstone & the Grand Tetons. If you’re thinking some nature therapy might be just what you need right now too, here is a weekend getaway itinerary to experiencing the beauty of these two national parks.
The Ultimate Nature Therapy Trip
The ultimate in nature therapy is a trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. With almost 4,000 square miles within the park boundaries and very little cell service, it’s easy to unplug and truly social distance out in the wild. If it works from where you are located, I would highly recommend flying into the Jackson Hole airport directly. It is a small, quaint airport that was really easy to get in and out of from where I live, in Chicago. From there, you are basically already in the Grand Teton National Park. Check out the town of Jackson, Wyoming if you have a few hours left in the day when you arrive – there are plenty of restaurants, including outdoor seating, and cute shops to buy some western wear or souvenirs. For those like me who don’t know all of the details of the area – fun fact that the town is in fact called Jackson, not Jackson Hole! The valley surrounding the Grand Tetons is what is referred to as Jackson Hole. It is of note that bear attacks in either of the parks are possible but rare - if you’re a worrier like me though definitely rent bear spray in Jackson before heading north to the parks. There is one company that rents bear spray in Yellowstone, but they have been closed of late due to the pandemic. Once you’ve had your fill of BBQ and cowboy gear perusing, drive 20 minutes north to Teton Village. This is most notably a resort area for those ski or snowboard enthusiasts, but the resorts and scenery are beautiful in the summer as well. We stayed at the Teton Mountain Lodge, which was picturesque with a hot tub on the roof overlooking the mountains.
Grand Teton National Park - Day Trip Tips
To get the full, uninterrupted nature therapy experience, head out early to avoid some of the crowd and drive north to the Grand Teton National Park. The best tip I received before going on my trip was to buy the Gypsy Guide app. Because there is no cell service whatsoever in the park, it’s not feasible to utilize your normal GPS to get around to all of the spots. If you download the app before you go, it works even without cell service, and guides you around as you drive describing what each tourist spot is and what you could expect if you want to stop there. It will set you back $9.99 for the combined Yellowstone and Grand Teton version, but it was well worth the money to know where we were going and to understand more about some of the less known spots.
Once you arrive at Grand Teton National Park, you’ll pay $35 to enter, and the best spot to head to first is Jenny Lake. Because this is the most frequented spot in the Grand Tetons, the parking lot fills up quickly. If you get there early enough, you can park directly in the parking lot and from there head straight back to the lake itself. There are so many hiking trails surrounding the area, and the boat ride on Jenny Lake is also very nice. From there, you can drive the main highway, Teton Park Road, and let the Gypsy Guide fill you in on whatever might sound interesting to you. Or, you could head over to Signal Mountain Summit Road and see the panoramic views of the Teton Range and Jackson Hole. We actually went horseback riding at Swift Creek Outfitters in our afternoon in the Grand Tetons, which was completely off the beaten path and absolutely amazing!
Yellowstone National Park - Day Trip Tips
If you keep driving north through the Grand Tetons, you’ll eventually run right into Yellowstone National Park. It is also $35 to enter Yellowstone, so you’ll pay when you get to the first entrance. The park is easy to drive because there is a figure eight loop that takes you to all of the main spots. To save on driving time, start on the east side of the south loop. Grant Village is a great spot to find a hotel, as they have amenities such as gas stations and convenience stores.
If you have a full two days for your trip, I would definitely recommend spending one of those full days in Yellowstone. There is a lot to see, even if you just want to hit the highlights. If you stay in Grant Village, Old Faithful is a 30-45 minute drive west on the south loop of the figure eight. Make sure to listen to your Gypsy Guide and head straight to the store to find out when Old Faithful is going to erupt next. It can be up to two hours between eruptions, and since that is the main attraction in this spot don’t do what we did and miss it by a minute because of shopping in the store! Once you’ve seen Old Faithful erupt, the next big attraction is Grand Prismatic Springs. This was definitely one of my favorite spots; if you exit the loop at Fairy Falls instead of the official exit for Grand Prismatic, you can do a modest hike to an overlook of the Springs which is the best view. Continue on that path for a nice 2.5 mile hike to see the Fairy Falls, which is fairly flat so is great for an amateur hiker. This stop will take you around two hours total. If you keep driving north on the south loop you’ll come to Fountain Paint Pots – this is a good spot because it has all four types of geothermal features in one stop. Once you’ve experienced Fountain Paint Pots, the best place to see wildlife is Hayden Valley. This is on the northeast side of the south loop. You can either go straight to Hayden Valley to spot bison or bears, or travel north past Norris Road, which cuts across the two loops, to the north loop. If you choose to take Norris Road straight to Hayden Valley and finish out the south loop, keep driving through Hayden Valley to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The falls here are absolutely amazing! If you choose to head to the north loop, Mammoth springs is beautiful in the very northern part of the park.
Nature Therapy in the National Parks Helped Me Renew & Refresh
So my trip to Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks was a success. Despite sleeping in a new place every night, there is something so relaxing about being out in Jackson Hole. Maybe it was the effects of nature therapy working its magic, maybe it was leaving space for myself to unwind and get away, or maybe all of it combined. All I know is that I came home renewed, refreshed, and ready to have a new perspective on 2020.
Quick Reference of the Trip Itinerary
Day 1 [easy to do in half a day]:
Fly into Jackson Hole Airport
Explore Jackson, Wyoming
Stay in Teton Village (Teton Mountain Lodge was great!)
Day 2 [full day spent at Grand Teton National Park]:
Teton Park Road
Signal Mountain Summit Road
Swift Creek Outfitters Horseback Riding
Stay in Grant Village
Day 3 [full day spent at Yellowstone National Park]:
Fairy Falls & Grand Prismatic Springs
Fountain Paint Pots
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone