This post will mainly involve airports, but I’ll take some time at the end to reflect upon our travels, and share some thoughts from everyone about the trip.
Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport
We started extremely early this morning: we woke up close to 03:00, and arrived at the BZN airport in Belgrade, MT by 04:00. I had a couple leftover pastries from Polebridge for breakfast. One was stale and inedible, but the huckleberry bar was still good – a small bright spot this early in the morning. Everyone else either opted not to eat so early, or ate some of our leftover snacks that would have otherwise been thrown away.
After fighting through the TSA and grabbing some snacks from a vending machine, we finally boarded our flight to Minneapolis, our connecting airport, around 05:45. Our flight took off just after 06:00MST. The recently-renovated Bozeman airport is very nice, and we enjoyed a stunning sunrise through the mountain-facing windows.
Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport
After about a two hour flight, we landed at the MSP airport. As we landed, we could see downtown in the distance. On the way out to SLC we flew American, but flew Delta on the way back. We were fortunate enough to get a free seat upgrade for both our flights home, and the extra legroom was very welcome.
Our layover at MSP was originally going to be almost six hours, but fortunately a couple months ago, Delta moved up our flight back to CLT by two hours. Still, four hours is a long time to kill, even in a large, bustling airport like MSP. Unfortunately, many of the restaurants were closed or short-staffed, so our lunch options were limited. After much searching, we finally found a place called The Blue Door Pub that serves a Minneapolis specialty, a “Juicy Lucy”. It’s basically a burger with cheese cooked in the middle of it. This one also had bacon in the burger patty. Dad and I got burgers, while Faith got a chicken Caesar salad, and Mom got a turkey bacon cheddar sandwich. It was very good for airport food.
Our second flight landed in CLT around 17:00EST. We gathered our luggage, took the shuttle back to Park’N Go, and finally made it back to our car. Compared to the climate we’d been in for the past two weeks, it was excruciatingly muggy. We stopped at Chick-fil-A in Lincolnton to get some dinner, and made our way back to Granite. Faith and I drove the extra hour back to Boone just to get it over with.
I think it took me a solid week or two to recover from our trip, but I’d still go back and do it again.
I thought we’d each share our final impressions from the trip.
Isaac – “All the side trips in Yellowstone had something unique; I was surprised at how quickly the weather changed; the lakes are gigantic.”
Faith – “I’m surprised we got to watch the moose as long as we did, and how close we were to the goats and sheep in Glacier.”
Jerry – “Great Fountain Geyser – I’d heard of old Faithful, but never of that one. I was surprised traffic was not bumper to bumper on Going to the Sun Road (due to the ticketing system).”
Amy – “I was surprised by the number of bison and how the crowds and traffic didn’t faze them. The water was amazingly clear!”
Isaac – Old Faithful, limited amenities open this summer
Faith – Fairy Falls was probably not worth the dust/distance, not getting to eat at TroutHunter in Island Park
Jerry – dining halls in lodges were closed, the bugs were bad even at high altitudes, Old Faithful was overhyped especially compared to other geysers
Amy – the historical dining halls in the lodges weren’t open (due to lack of staff), Tower-Roosevelt section in Yellowstone was closed
Things Worth Doing a Second Time
Isaac – Many Glacier (and really all of Glacier)
Faith – Highline Trail, kayaking
Jerry – Tupelo Grill, Polebridge
Amy – “I would do it all again, especially Many Glacier.”
Things To Do Differently
Isaac – “I would skip: the Yellowstone Lake area if you’re short on time, Flathead Lake Cheese, and downtown West Yellowstone.”
Faith – “drink more water so I wouldn’t get altitude sickness”
Jerry – “skip Flathead Lake Cheese, buy groceries before you get to the touristy places so you don’t wait an hour in a checkout line”
Amy – “skip Flathead Lake Cheese; pack a picnic for the Saint Mary side of Glacier, since there’s a poor selection of restaurants”
Grand Teton National Park Favorites
Isaac – Moose-Wilson Road, Craig Thomas Visitor and Discovery Center, Jenny Lake
Faith – Mormon Row, Signal Mountain, Craig Thomas Visitor and Discovery Center
Jerry – Jenny Lake, seeing moose on Moose-Wilson Road
Amy – Jenny Lake Drive – “I didn’t really know much about the Tetons at all before we got there, but really enjoyed the park.”
Yellowstone National Park Favorites
Isaac – Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley, seeing the moose
Faith – Mammoth Hot Springs early in the morning, Great Fountain Geyser
Jerry – Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Great Fountain Geyser, Lamar and Hayden Valley, seeing moose
Amy – Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, seeing the black bears, Firehole Canyon Drive
Glacier National Park Favorites
Isaac – Kayaking Swiftcurrent Lake, Highline Trail, Many Glacier
Faith – Highline Trail, Kayaking, Lake McDonald sunset, Going to the Sun Road, seeing the mountain goats, Polebridge
Jerry – Bighorn sheep coming down Lunch Creek, Polebridge
Amy – Big Bend/Paradise Meadow, Weeping Wall, Jackson Glacier Overlook, Many Glacier
Here are our favorite restaurants/foods from the trip.
Faith – “My favorites were the huckleberry white mochas, Piccola Cucina at Ox Pasture (the pasta and Caesar salad), the Mexican bus, the bison ribeye at Tupelo Grill, Shumway Farms, Persephone chocolate croissant, Black Coffee Roasting Company, and the spinach cheese pastry at Polebridge.”
Isaac – [in no particular order] – Tupelo Grill (Whitefish), Las Palmitas (West Yellowstone), Flitter Bee Buzz Thru (Hungry Horse), Persephone Westbank (Wilson), Sweet Peaks Ice Cream (multiple locations), Shumway Farms (Afton), Black Coffee Roasting Company (Missoula), Revelry (Bozeman), Piccola Cucina at Ox Pasture (Red Lodge)
Jerry – “In order, my favorites were (1st ) Tupelo Grill, (tie 2nd) Revelry and the taco bus, (4th) Piccola Cucina at Ox Pasture.”
Amy – “My favorites were the morning scramble at Beartooth Bakery, Sweet Peaks huckleberry ice cream, Tupelo Grill, and the fish tacos at Tamarack Brewing Co.”
Advice for Future Travelers
- If there’s somewhere you really want to eat (or if you want to eat at busy times), make reservations! Otherwise you’ll waste hours of your trip waiting.
- Make sure you wake up as early as possible, and stay out as late as possible; make use of every minute of daylight. We woke up around 04:00 almost every morning and it was always worth it. Plus, you beat the traffic (sometimes an hour wait at the gate) into the park. Early in the morning (and late, sometimes) is your best chance to see wildlife. It also made the switch back to EST easier.
- As much as you can manage, don’t stay on the same side of the park too many nights in a row. The parks are so big, you’ll waste hours every day driving to get to places. Plus, each little town is unique and worth visiting, and you’ll get a different view for sunrise/sunset.
- Buy supplies in major cities rather than near the parks. We waited in a grocery checkout line for over an hour.
- We all highly recommend you download the GyPSys app. It’s an audio guide that we used while driving around. It provides lots of interesting facts, and points you to things in the parks you could easily miss.
- Only park in designated places, or you will get a federal parking ticket. We saw dozens being handed out.
- If you’re buying food, always be willing to try something new if it’s available. You can get a cheeseburger, fries, garden salad, etc. anywhere, but you’ll never rarely find things like elk/bison, huckleberries, or other local specialties. Also, elk and bison are delicious, sustainable, and nutritious. They have more flavor than beef, but are also leaner.
- Wear sunscreen about 3-4x as frequently as you normally would (or wear long sleeves). It’s much easier to get burned at higher elevations.
- Altitude sickness is not fun, so give yourself time to acclimate. Drink lots of water.
- Put on bug spray well before you realize you need it.
- Bring (or rent) hiking poles! They save your feet from getting blistered, speed up your pace, and save your knees while going downhill.
- Make sure you always carry bear spray, even if you’re on a popular trail or “not going that far”.
- Don’t think “it’s just another waterfall/etc.” and drive by; every waterfall/geyser/view is unique and worth stopping to see.
- Leave no trace! Stay on the designated trail, pack out everything you bring with you,
- Be flexible. Trails often close for bear activity, the weather doesn’t cooperate, or there are traffic jams.
Advice - Grand Teton National Park
- If you want to take the ferry across Jenny Lake to get to Hidden Falls, get there first thing in the morning. We weren’t able to get a spot.
- Visit the Snake River from different overlooks (near Wilson, in the center of the park, and near Jackson Lake). The views are very different in each place.
Advice - Yellowstone National Park
- If you walk 15 yards farther than where the crowds are, there will hardly be a soul around. Compared to the masses who visit, barely anyone hikes or uses the trails in Yellowstone; everyone is there to see the easy-to-reach attractions close to the road.
- We’d highly recommend the Roosevelt Hotel in Gardiner.
- Make use of the picnic tables (this also applies to the other parks). They’re plentiful, and there’s always a great view you can enjoy while you eat.
Advice - Glacier National Park
- We enjoyed staying in the Bearhat Cabin in Hungry Horse (I think we booked on VRBO). There’s an identical one called the Logan Cabin right next to it. The location was perfect for Glacier.
- Waterproof, sturdy shoes are really important, especially if you hike the Highline Trail. You’ll be hiking through many waterfalls and streams, and sturdy shoes are important for the rocky ground.
- I’ll reiterate: make sure you have hiking poles!
- Even if you don’t have time to go to the terminus, still consider hiking a trail. There are great views on most trails just 100 yards from the trailhead.
- Make sure you get an entry ticket for the Going to the Sun Road! They sold out in less than 30 seconds every day.
- There are far more amenities on the Lake McDonald side of the park (especially places to buy food/supplies) than on the Saint Mary Lake side.
By the way, I don’t get any compensation for recommending these things. I/we don’t recommend things unless I genuinely like them.
Thanks for following our trip! It’s been a pleasure to share another adventure with you. Click here to subscribe to email notifications for future posts/trips if you haven’t already. I’ll be taking another trip with some friends in the fall, but otherwise I’m not sure what’s next for us. Stay tuned…
– Isaac, Faith, Jerry, and Amy