If you like to drive and explore North America this trip is for you. You can see first national park in US. Our trip we did in December and we wanted to see wildlife and some Christmas decorations on the way.
We start Friday evening after rush hours in bay area and after 4h stoped in Reno. It is like small Las Vegas with casinos and shows. We stayed in Peppermill, where you can go for breakfast (Cafe Milano) and eat giant cinnamon rolls.
On the way to Salt Lake City we stopped in Safe Haven Wildlife Sanctuary in Imly – 2hrs from Reno. This place is real sanctuary. Tour is $15 per person and it took about 1.5 hr. Very interesting and informative about exotic animals treating like pets.
After Imly we recommend to stay for lunch in Winnemucca and eat pizza in Winnemucca Pizzeria. Try pesto chips and “small” chocolate chip cookie – you will like eat.
Salt Lake City is beautiful during holidays. Temple square is the best place to see lights and lot of creches.
You can stay here in Salt Lake City for night or drive more. We stayed in Idaho Falls and next day we saw falls there and kept going to Jackson Hole near Grand Teton.
Grand Teton National Park
Jackson Hole is good place to stay. From here you can choose lot of tours by snowmobile. They are expensive but if you want to have fun. Try it. We recommended to take from West Yellowstone. From here tour takes 11-12hr and is with minimum stops because it is far and day is short. From West Yellowstone it is around 6hrs and with nice stops on the way and you don’t feel rush.
Evening go to downtown square and try good food and drinks. We recommend Snake River Brewery.
We stayed here three nights but if you do not have time two are enough and we really liked our hotel Hampton Inn – great service and delicious breakfast. All day you have coffee, tea and chocolate. We took one morning tour to see wildlife in Teton with Jim from Bear Witness Safari and it took 4 hrs. It was cold day so make sure that you have good warm clothes and shoes. During tour we saw lot of mooses, elks, deers, bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheeps and bald eagle. We really wanted to see wolves, coyote and red fox but no luck this time.
You do not need tours for watching wildlife. Take something to eat, hot coffee and drive around. We spent one day just driving around and below is list where we found animals:
– bighorn sheeps: Miller butte in National Elk Refuges
– bison: Grand Teton National Park
– mooses: Moose Wilson Road (you can find near water) and Sagebrush flats near Gros Ventre
– pronghorn sheeps: Sagebrush flats
– elks and swans: National Elk Refuge
Yellowstone National Park
Next you should go to West Yellowstone and book a snowmobile tour to Old Faithful or Grand Canyon. You can not entry park by car. Make sure that you will book tour few days before, specially if it is weekend. We didn’t do it and just got luck with cancellation and got spot.
Our snowmobile tour was to Old Faithful from Two Top and it was amazing. It starts around 10, but you have to be around 8 am to check in and take gears. On the way we have few stops e.g. Fountain Paint Pot, Firehole Falls, Kepler Cascades and some for photos of wildlife. We saw bisons, bald eagle and coyote. In Old Faithful you have 90 minutes break for food and see eruption of geyser. Lunch you can eat in Geyser Grill or dinning room in lodge. We try Geyser Grill and was ok, quite fast like for crowd. There is many tours even in winter. You can take your food and eat in tent. They have two tents with fire inside – nice and warm place to relax and wait for eruption. Eruption of Old Faithful is good experience and your guide will tell you what time it will be. Our was exactly 90 minutes after our arrival.
We took also snowcoach to Old Faithful from Backcountry Adventure. It started after 8 am and they will pick you up from hotel. The way is the same like snowmobile but you have longer way near river. We saw lot of swans and otters. You will reach early to geyser before crowd. They gave also 90 minutes there. Even we saw again Old Faithful the eruption was different and different places we saw on the way and more animals. After geyser break we had longer walk near Fountain Paint Pot with lot of information from our guide. We stopped also at Firehole Falls and Kepler Cascades, but before Cascades we had nice short hike and nice view of waterfall. Of course we saw lot of bisons crossing front of us, some coyotes.
If you like wildlife you will enjoy every visit in park because you will see animals in different situations. We stayed in Best Western hotel and every morning around 6:30 when we ate breakfast we saw red fox running near entrance.
Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone
Discovery Center is very nice place to visit if you want to see wolves. Admission is for two day and you can be back next day. Every 30 minutes they show grizzly bears. For us the best were wolves.
Very popular are wolf watching tours which take 3-4 days and are expensive. Again they will not take you more inside to park and you will watch from the roads. We stayed in Gardiner and every morning drove to Yellowstone.
We spent two days driving around and if you see lot of cars in one spot just ask what they are looking at. They will share and if it will be wolf even share spotting scope. We got luck and saw two packs of wolves. They were very far far but people allowed us to look by their scopes.
Below is list where we found animals:
– wolves: Blacktail Deer Plateau (8 mile pack) and near Jackson Butte (Jackson Butte pack)
– coyotes and red foxes: on the road after Mammoth Hot Springs in the morning, coyotes also after sunset
– bisons: easy to find just driving
– mooses: Soda Butte Creek
– big horn sheeps: before Mammoth Hot Springs
– elks: near entrance and after Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs
In Mammoth Hot spring you can check visitor center and walk to Lower and Upper Terraces.
We also ate lunch in dinning room near Mammoth Hot Springs hotel. But if you do not want to spend lot of time check General Store, they have really good hot chocolate and flat bread.