Six Nights in West Yellowstone, MT

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For those new to the party that is this blog, I’ll catch you up real quick — Chris and I plan to visit all 50 states.  We do a couple trips per year, alternating who picks the destination.  I’m your big city, Broadway show, coffee shop, casino loving gal.  Chris is your outdoor adventure, push your own limits, buy some gear, hike this trail type of guy.  I share our adventures here.

Last week’s trip (his pick) had us staying six nights in a cabin in West Yellowstone, Montana with 5-6 inches of snow.

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LOGISTICS

Transportation:  I was confused on where to fly into since our primary destination was Yellowstone National Park and it spans Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho (who knew?!).  We flew into the Bozeman, Montana airport which was an hour and a half from our cabin.  The airport feels likes a lodge and is every bit of Montana-esque as you would imagine.  Getting a rental car is a must.  Don’t be headin’ out to Yellowstone thinking Uber is an option.

Accommodations:  We stayed in a cabin.  You heard me.  A cabin.  I’ve actually never stayed in a cabin before.  Since I’m the official booker of all things hotel and flight related, you know it was the most commercialized cabin one could book.  It was not secluded in the slightest and was walking distance to the little town.  We stayed at the Explorer Cabins in West Yellowstone.  I booked it because it said it came with a fire pit and free s’mores kit.  I’d highly recommend staying here but would advise you to request a cabin that is not connected/is a stand alone unless you occasionally want to hear your neighbor slam their kitchen cabinet doors (good news is, the cabins come with a kitchen).

Food:  There’s really nothing to brag about around there.  It’s pub style food, the occasional lodge in the park with dishes like “wild game chili,” or restaurants similar to that one hometown restaurant we all grew up with that has been there since 1965 and they clean the carpets with those weird roller sweepers that don’t make any noise and you always just get the grilled cheese.

Yellowstone National Park:  Here’s what you need to know about the park . . .

-There’s a North, East, South, and West entrance into the park.  You can spend one full day going in any entrance and driving towards one of the other ones (we hit 3 out of 4).

-It is critical you get familiar with the park map and it’s even more beneficial if you buy a Yellowstone National Park book from a bookstore before you head out there so you at least have some general idea of where you want to go.  Good thinking, Chris!

-You can do the park in one of two ways:  1.  You can drive around stopping at the pull-offs to park and look at animals or the view.  2.  You can park at trailheads and set out on foot for a hike.  We did a combo of both every day.

-You won’t leave there without seeing hundreds of bison and elk.  We were also lucky enough to see a bald eagle, grizzly bear, black bear, pronghorns, and some weird mountain sheep thingy.

-No cell service in the park other than near lodges (if you’re lucky).

Grand Teton National Park:  Never heard of this park?  Yeah, me either.  I clearly did not pay attention in any class where geography was discussed.  If you’re clueless too, Grand Teton is another national park that is smaller than Yellowstone but connected to it.  The views of the mountains are so amazing they look fake.

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RECAP OF OUR EXPERIENCE

I was nervous about this trip.  Every time we go hiking I end up having some sort of emotional meltdown.  When a trail gets hard, all of a sudden everything that has ever been hard in my life comes to mind.  I do what any mature adult would do.  I complain.  I cry a little.  I point out everything negative about the weather, the trail, the idea of hiking, and the outfit I have on.  And if we’re really lucky, I end it with a “I’m in the worst shape of my life and feel terrible.”  What a blast.

Going into the trip I made a few promises to myself:  I would do my best to not complain while hiking.  I would be realistic on what I could actually do when we looked at maps and selected a trail.  I would think about things that were stressing me out and sort through them in my mind on long hikes.  I would not check my work email the entire time (you guys, this was my biggest challenge of all and may warrant it’s own blog).

So with a suitcase full of hiking clothes and no make-up, hair straightener, or dress clothes of any kind . . . we landed in Montana.  Every day consisted of Chris waking up happier than he’s ever been, him serving me coffee and breakfast in bed, driving the five minutes around the block to get into the park, and then spending 8-9 hours in the park.  We would drive to different destinations, making pit stops for the occasional view of whatever wildlife was roaming around before we’d finally reach a trailhead and set out for a hike.  Due to the weather (and my history of meltdowns), we kept most hikes to a 2-4 mile trail and traveled by foot around 40-45 miles over the course of five days in the park.

I learned a few things on those snowy hikes:

1.  Like Cheryl Strayed says in the book “Wild,” you think you’re going to use hiking to sort through your life’s problems but really you become immersed in what you’re doing — thinking only about where you’re stepping, the weather, and what is ahead; occasionally getting a random song or specific thought on repeat in your mind.

2.  I am a snow hiker.  If there’s sun and heat, drop me off at the first air conditioned building and call me when you need me.  If there’s cool weather and snow, as long as I have the right gear, I am good to go!

3.  Get the right gear.  Oh, the boots!  The boots I bought changed my life.

4.  If it’s flat, I’ll hike behind you for 10 miles straight.  If there’s elevation, it takes about 2.5 minutes before I am panting and saying “I thought we picked an easy trail.  This is dumb.  How is this even fun?  Why is this so hard?  Seriously.  Is. this. even. fun?!”

5.  Everything tastes better after a long hike.  It’s like magic.  You push yourself and when you finally sit down to eat .  . . even a smashed peanut butter and jelly sandwich tastes like a special treat.

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PHOTOS

2 pair of pants, 2 shirts, 3 jackets, neck gaiter, gloves, and a hat was my standard attire each day.

I love this photo because it doesn’t have a filter on it and the reflection in the water makes me feel like a real photographer.  This is at Trout Lake.  After a short climb up, I sat on a log eating Twizzlers while I told Chris to go ahead and explore without me.  It was a nice spot to sit and enjoy the view.

There’s a saying out in the woods, “leave no trace.”  It insinuates that footsteps should be the only sign that you were there.  But I couldn’t help myself. . . I may have left a couple little snow guys around.  I mean, just thinking of hikers finding them when a path got tough makes me happy.

Remember that time it snowed 5-6 inches in September?!

My standard view as I trail behind Chris 8-10 feet on every trail we do.

The weirdest part about Yellowstone (other than the wildlife that can be within arms distance) are the hot springs and geysers and sulfur type of things that are just random spots on the Earth boiling.

This is Old Faithful while it erupts (or explodes, not sure the right terminology?).  There’s a lodge near it so a number of people line up around it, but we climbed up a mile or so and watched it from the top of a mountain.

This is Natural Bridge Trail.  As the name implies, it’s a bridge that was naturally formed.  Something about water and something over time — I don’t know, but I climbed up there to see it and may have left a snowman on the way up.  If you’re wondering what the orange can is on Chris’ right leg, it’s bear spray.  It’s almost a must in the park.  You hope you never have to use it, but if you’re going to do hiking it’s worth the investment.  We did end up seeing a grizzly bear and black bear, but they were across water and no need to use the spray.

Most of the trip only my eye balls were exposed.

This is Yellowstone Lake which is the largest body of water at that elevation (look at how National Geographic I sound!)

Chris at Fairy Falls

Yup, this is how close you get to bison.  And there’s literally thousands of them!

If you plan to go to Yellowstone and you own binoculars . . . take them!  A genius idea by Chris and we used them so much.  I love this picture because he’s looking at a black bear and I feel like this photo just sums him up.

A popular place to take a photo is called Artists Point, which you can obviously see why.

I survived.  I survived five days of hiking.  In the snow.  Mostly in the same clothes that I had worn the four days before.  I didn’t check my email a single time.  I didn’t wear make-up for six days.  I stayed in my first cabin.  If you have a partner or spouse or friend that likes the complete opposite thing than you — just go!  Go get the gear, hike the hike, take the photos, go to the bathroom in those weird bathrooms you never want to go in again, drink the free coffee that comes with the cabin, bundle up, and experience some adventure.  Hiking is not my gig.  No cell service all day is not my thing.  Packing lunches in a bag and sitting on a rock to eat them is not my preference.  But the experiences and stories and adventure that comes with being willing to buy hiking boots and trudge through snow together was worth seeing the excitement on Chris’ face every day.  This baton we pass back and forth on who calls the shots on the next adventure has made us write a fun life story together.

Next up:  Gulf Shores, Alabama