Wild West Road Trip 2017 Part 2: Utah and Wyoming

After visiting Colorado, our next stop was Midway, Utah just outside of Park City in the Heber Valley. It’s where my sister-in-law’s parents live and was a great stop over the 4th of July holiday, which is the busiest time of the year in national parks. My brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and niece flew out to meet us and show us around for our short time there, which was really fun. Her parents were fantastic hosts, too so I don’t have very many food or lodging recommendations for the area.

After leaving Utah, we embarked on the very unknown portion of our trip, to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which served as our base for visiting Yellowstone National Park and Grand Tetons National Park. Neither my husband and I had ever visited before, but I had gotten a lot of advice  about how to make the most out of a visit to the area. It’s essential to plan for a trip well in advance (just like to the Rocky Mountain National Park area) because lodging (particularly inside the parks) fills up quickly, up to a year in advance or earlier.

Day 7: Leave Estes Park at 9 a.m. for Midway, Utah (travel time: 8 hours with stops)

The drive to Utah took us east along the Big Thompson River and up through Fort Collins and into Wyoming to I-80 at Laramie. We took I-80 across southern Wyoming to Midway, which is just south of Salt Lake City, which is on the eastern edge of Utah. The scenery all along the route was just stunning as it changed from the mountains to buttes and rocks to prairies with wind farms and back to snow-capped mountains. I-80 is lined with signs about what to do when the interstate closes due to weather as well as snow fences, so it was very different from the interstate landscape of the south.

Midway is in the Heber Valley, with a view of Park City and Deer Valley’s ski areas, which turn to ATV trails in the summer. It’s a beautiful area.

Heber Valley

Day 8 (4th of July!): Midway, Utah

Much of the day was spent preparing for the neighborhood parade, but we did get a chance to visit Heber Valley Artisan Cheese for cheese curds and ice cream. Huckleberry (which is just another name for the wild blueberry) is one of the most popular flavors of ice cream (and just about everything else from syrup to lip balm) in this area, so I definitely had to try the huckleberry ice cream, which was delicious. I’m also a sucker for fresh, squeaky cheese curds (they have several flavors, but plain white cheddar is my favorite).

After the parade, the whole neighborhood has a party and watches the fireworks launched from Memorial Hill.

Heber Valley Artisan Cheese

Day 9: Park City, Utah

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law took my husband and me into Park City to walk around downtown. We stopped for beers and snacks first at Wasatch Brewery and again later on in the day at the No Name Saloon. It was fun to see this area on a quiet day; I’d only seen pictures taken of it during the Sundance Film Festival.

Day 10: Leave Midway, Utah for Teton Village, Wyoming (travel time with stops, about 6 hours)

To serve as a home base for our visits to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons National Park, I chose Teton Village, Wyoming. It is a quiet and small community of resort hotels, condominiums, and single family homes. We stayed at Eagle’s Rest Condominiums, at the base of the Jackson Hole ski area, walkable to the community playground, a handful of restaurants, and to the famous Jackson Hole Aerial Tram. Teton Village is much less crowded than Jackson proper and is closer to the entrance of the parks.

The drive from Midway took us along the border of Idaho and Wyoming, which we crossed several times. It was beautiful and the weather was clear but hot. We even got to see a moose (with head submerged) in a river alongside the highway.

In Afton, Wyoming the area known as Star Valley, we stopped for a mid-afternoon snack at Taco John’s. We didn’t know much about it, but we were intrigued. Out west, they’re big fans of mixing Tex Mex cuisine with tater tots. Nachos with tater tots as a base instead of tortilla chips? Yes, please.

View of Jackson Hole ski area from Eagle's Rest
Teton Village playground
Petting a foal in Teton Village

Day 11: Yellowstone National Park with Buffalo Roam Tours

We didn’t have much time to spend in the area and I had gotten a lot of tips regarding Yellowstone (what to see, what to skip, and what to expect). Since I knew this would be the most crowded time of the year, I opted to book a tour with Buffalo Roam Tours so we wouldn’t miss the best spots. Our guide picked us up at 7:15 a.m. and spent the day making sure we saw lots of wildlife and all the best parts of the part. We were able to see all the highlights in a day (which was about 13 hours) and more iconic wildlife than I’d ever seen. The guide was great for making sure we got to see Old Faithful blow, eat at the best restaurants in the park, get the best photos, and see everything since neither of us had to worry about driving. He even helped Mini Eats get her Junior Ranger certification.

Among the highlights was seeing a moose calf nursing with his mother, the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic, the hot springs, The Old Faithful Inn, and herds of bison, elk, and pronghorns (generally known as antelopes).

After such a long day, we were happy to dig into some takeout from Teton Thai, a great little restaurant in the Village.

Yellowstone Falls
Old Faithful
Inside Old Faithful Inn
hot spring
measuring the temperature of a thermal feature
steam from a thermal feature
Getting her Jr. Ranger certification

Day 12: Grand Tetons National Park

We got up early to beat the crowds to Jenny Lake to take the shuttle boat across the lake and over to hiking trails to Hidden Falls. The lake is spectacularly beautiful and the falls were huge (you hike right next to them). There’s a popular swimming area on the lake, but we took the scenic drive up to Colter Bay and then to the Jackson Lake Lodge where we had lunch at the historic Pioneer Grill. It’s an old diner that’s been thoroughly restored and has a great menu. It’s really fun. All the seating is bar style.

Jackson Lake Lodge is also breathtakingly beautiful with spectacular views. It’s a great place to stay, I’m sure, if you can book far in advance. We also visited the dam on the Snake River that created Jackson Lake and also visited the “beach” at the String Lake swimming area. It’s warmer than other lakes, but still way too cold for me.

Jenny Lake
Jackson Lake
Pioneer Grill
Pioneer Grill

Day 13: Jackson Hole

I reserved a day just to explore around the touristy areas of Jackson and Teton Village. We started the day by taking the Aerial Tram up to the top of the mountain to Corbett’s Cabin, which is famous for its waffles. There’s not much else up at the top, but it’s popular for paragliding in the summer and for some hikes. There’s usually still a bit of snow for skiing, too.

After taking the tram back down the mountain, we drove to Jackson to shop for souvenirs, see the famous elk antler arches (the elk shed their antlers annually, so it is not grim at all), have ice cream at Moo’s. Jackson was a little too busy and there wasn’t much to do, so we headed back to Teton Village ride the gondolas up and down the mountain and the Teewinot chair lifts, too. We got an unlimited all-day pass so we just went up and down the mountain over and over. It was a lot of fun!

Later, we headed back to the Tetons to take some sunset photos and to see more wildlife, which gets more active in the evening. We had more ice cream and visited the swimming area of Jackson Lake (which was popular but also cold!). I’d wanted to see Swan Lake, but the hike was too long; by this point in our trip, Mini Eats wasn’t up for much more hiking. Afterwards, we visited the Snake River Overlook, the site of the famous Ansel Adams photo.

Corbett's Cabin
View from the top of the Jackson Hole ski area (including the aerial tram)
Snake River Overlook (scene of the famous Ansel Adams photo

Next up is Part 3: Eastern Wyoming and South Dakota. See Wild West Road Trip 2017 Part 1: Colorado also.

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