We were lucky enough to be invited to the wedding of the son of close friends in Bozeman Montana at the beginning of August 2016.  Unfortunately for us we already had floor tickets to Adele in Los Angeles the day before the wedding.  These were tough tickets to get and even tougher tickets to sell or give away.  For better seats Adele had set a rule to reduce/prevent scalping that the person who ordered the tickets had to present a credit card to get into the venue.  There were no tickets to sell.  We wanted to go to the wedding so we checked for flights from the LA area the morning of the wedding.  There were very reasonably priced flights from John Wayne airport to Bozeman early Saturday morning, so we decided to go to the concert, stay in LA, and drive to the airport early that morning. We also decided to add-on a visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National park to the trip. It would be a fast 3 day visit, but we would pack a lot of stuff into those 3 days.

The Adele concert was awesome and our hotel was walking distance from Staples Center, but we still got to bed fairly late and had to get up at 4 am to catch our flight. We got into Bozeman early, but by the time we got our rental car we had just enough time to go to our hotel, check-in, change and head to the wedding. The wedding venue was awesome, but there were dark clouds approaching.

Wedding Venue Bozeman Montana

We had a great time at the wedding, but started to feel the long day way too soon. We hung in there, but eventually had to head back to the room and catch up on our sleep. The next day everyone else was heading out-of-town early, so we got up fairly early, had breakfast at a terrific French coffee shop, then heading toward Yellowstone. Originally we had planned to go in the north entry into Yellowstone as it is closest to Bozeman, but later decided to go in the west entrance and leave out of the north entrance on the final day.

So we headed down Highway 191 through the Big Sky area on our way to West Yellowstone. A friend recommended this route and now that we’ve gone both ways, I would definitely recommend this route. It is has very scenic landscape, and we saw both elk…

elk-grazing-in-big-sky-montana

and buffalo along the road. I believe the buffalo was a commercial herd, but still cool.

buffalo-along-highway-191-outside-yellowstone

We only stopped briefly in West Yellowstone, but it looked kind of interesting for a future visit. Our first destination in the park was Canyon Village. Both Jenny or I have been to Yellowstone before, but neither of us had visited the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. We did end up having one unscheduled stop along our route though, Gibbon Falls.

We planned to just stop for a minute to take a couple of pictures from the closest view-point…

gibbon-falls-from-the-lookout-area

but ended up walking on a path for about a half a mile…

trail-along-the-road-to-the-lower-overlook

to get a better view of the falls. The view actually changes quite a bit as you walk along the path to the lower viewpoint. At first there view opens up so you can see the walls on both sides of the falls.

the-view-of-gibbon-falls-along-the-walk-to-the-lower-overlook

Then it opens up even more and there are trees in the view also.

view-of-gibbon-falls-from-the-lower-overlook

We enjoyed the break from the car and the short walk, but then it was back on the road to the Canyon area of Yellowstone. The one advantage of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone over the Grand Canyon, is the much shorter drive from the North Rim to the South Rim.

map-of-the-grand-canyon-of-yellowstone-area

We were able to see the canyon and falls from most of the view points in just a few hours. We did three short hikes during this time. We started with a drive along North Rim Drive. I would actually recommend going to the South Rim first as the North Rim Drive is a one way that takes you back the way you came for several miles. It just makes more sense to do it last. The first stop on North Rim Drive is a trail to the Brink of the Lower Falls. The weather was threatening rain, but of course we had forgotten to pack ponchos. We decided a little water would not hurt and started down the trail. The trail is less than a half mile, but descends about 600 feet. There are switchbacks, but it is still pretty steep. If you look up on the way down, you get a pretty good view of the Upper Falls less than a mile up the Yellowstone River.

view-of-the-upper-falls-as-we-walked-down-to-the-brink-of-the-lower-falls

The rain was threatening and we could hear thunder in the distance so we knew our visit would be a fairly short one. The falls are impressive. We’ve been to Yosemite several times, and the waterfalls are impressive, but the lower falls at the Yellowstone River’s Grand Canyon are right there with any falls in Yosemite. That is especially true this late in the year. The waterfalls slow to a trickle in the late summer and fall in Yosemite. Our first view was from directly over the top of the falls.

view-of-the-lower-falls-from-the-brink-of-the-lower-falls

The view of the water, and the mist, and the green sides of the canyon set against the golden color of the rest of the canyon was spectacular. I can’t recommend visiting this place in strong enough terms, it is my favorite spot in Yellowstone.

I stretched the camera out a ways and got a slightly different angle/shot.

leaned-out-for-a-better-look-at-the-lower-falls-from-the-brink-of-the-lower-falls

This shows how sudden the drop is and how much water is flowing. Finally we went up one level to get a different perspective. This shows the area we had just left, right on the “brink of the falls”.

view-from-a-higher-vantage-point-of-the-brink-of-the-lower-falls-viewing-area

It started drizzling at that point. We were really wishing we had ponchos, but it was a bit late for that. The walk back up was a bit tougher, but it was cool and the threat of heavier rain kept us motivated. There is also a trail from here to the Brink of the Upper Falls, but with the weather we decided to drive further down the road. The next place we stopped on North Rim Drive was Lookout Point. There’s a full view of the Lower Falls from here.

view-of-the-lower-falls-from-lookout-point-at-the-grand-canyon-of-yellowstone

If you look closely in the picture from lookout point you can see a wooden trail heading down into the canyon below. Although the rain had started to fall, we decided to head down this trail to Red Rock anyway. The trail alternates between a steep and more gentle descent. It not only takes you down into the canyon, it takes you a lot closer to the falls. I enjoyed the trail…

along-the-trail-from-lookout-point-to-red-rock

but the view of the falls from Red Rock were even better than from lookout point.

view-of-the-lower-falls-of-yellowstone-river-from-red-rock-in-the-rain

There is something joyful about hiking unprepared in the rain. Sometime it’s hard to contain that feeling so you just have raise your arms to the sky!

jenny-raising-her-arms-to-the-rain-at-red-rock-with-the-lower-falls-of-yellowstone-river-in-the-distance

Jenny seemed to enjoy it so much… I didn’t want to get left out!

eric-rial-raising-his-arms-to-the-rain-at-red-rock-with-the-lower-falls-of-yellowstone-river-in-the-distance

We stayed to enjoy the view for several minutes. I managed to get a picture of this bird (Clarks Nutcracker I believe), resting for a minute in the top of a tree between us and the falls.

clarks-nutcracker-perched-on-a-treetop-in-front-of-the-lower-fall-of-the-yellowstone-river

We waited just long enough to catch the blue sky starting to peek out at the top of the falls. Love the coloring of this picture!

blue-sky-appearing-behind-the-falls

On the way back up I took this picture of the wooden stairs that form the path for much of the bottom of this trail. You can see the rim of the canyon above us.

view-of-the-stairs-as-we-climb-back-to-the-rim-of-the-canyon

I got a couple more pictures near the top of the trail. One back toward the Lower Falls…

one-last-picture-of-the-lower-falls-from-near-the-top-of-the-trail-from-lookout-point-to-red-rock

and the other away from the falls and into the canyon.

view-of-the-canyon-away-from-the-lower-falls-from-near-the-top-of-the-trail-between-red-rock-and-lookout-point

We were soaked to the bone by the time we got to the top. We did take some pictures (evidence), but the smiles could not hide the cold, wet, and a bit worn-out from the climb look. No need to share that look!

We decided to go the Canyon Lodge area for some supplies (bear spray and some ponchos) and to get a bite to eat. Then we headed to the North Rim. Even though the route we took was not the most efficient route, everything is pretty close together here, so we didn’t lose much time, just enough to dry most of the way out!

Our first stop on the North Rim was at Uncle Tom’s point. There is a trail here that leads to a metal staircase that takes you right beside the Lower Falls. The pictures from here were unbelievable. If you are in reasonable shape, definitely go down this trail! The trail is in good shape, but the fun part of the trip is the stairs and the views of the falls.

The first view you get of the falls are some of the best. You are close enough to see the size of the crowd on the Brink of the Lower Falls.

initial-view-of-the-lower-falls-from-uncle-toms-trail

That is near the top of the stairs. There are lots of stairs – 328 per the sign.

some-of-the-stairs-on-uncle-toms-trail

The stairs are impressive mostly because of the spectacular view from them.

the-lower-stairs-and-canyon-on-uncle-toms-trail

You get great views of the canyon down river…

rainbow-over-the-yellowstone-river

of the walls straight across the canyon…

view-of-the-canyon-from-uncle-toms-trail

and of course of the falls.

jenny-and-eric-at-toms-point-grand-canyon-of-yellowstone

Then you get to climb back out! At the top, we debated whether to go on to Artist Point or to hit the road to Jackson Hole, where we would be spending the night. It’s about a 2 and a half hour drive. I’m glad we decided on a quick visit to Artist Point.

From the parking lot at Artist Point it is a short walk to the end of the trail. The difference in the view you get as you walk is dramatic though. At first you catch glimpses of the falls through the trees.

view-of-the-lower-falls-of-yellowstone-river-from-artist-point-trail

The trail takes advantage of a curve in the river so as you walk down the trail the canyon seems to open up and fill your view. At first the trees still dominate the view.

another-view-of-yellowstone-canyon-from-artist-point

But eventually as you approach the end of the trail you can see the full canyon and a long stretch of the river.

canyon-views-open-up-as-you-approach-the-end-of-the-artist-point-trail

From the farthest point you can walk to, the view of the canyon dominates the landscape.

full-view-of-grand-canyon-of-yellowstone-river-and-lower-falls-from-artist-point

I could spend a whole day at this location just taking pictures with different lighting. It is obvious how this place got its name.

We had seen a lot, but not all of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, but it was time to head south. Our route would take us through a big chunk of Yellowstone, past Yellowstone Lake and through Grand Teton National Park. We were hoping there was enough daylight left to enjoy the drive. About a half hour into the drive we noticed a lot of cars stopped in the road. As we approached the area we could see why. There were several buffalo grazing near the road.

traffic-stopped-for-some-buffalo-near-the-road

The traffic was just crawling past this spot and we were at a complete stop several times. We saw the “classic” behavior that can lead to big issues around such big animals. Too many people, too much activity, and people getting way too close. One young lady got to within 30 feet or so to take a selfie. She turned her back on the buffalo smiled big and took her picture. I was afraid to watch!

We took a picture (not great, but good enough for me) from the car as the traffic crawled along.

yellowstone-buffalo-picture-from-our-car-window

We zipped past Yellowstone Lake. We would be back here in a couple days, and we were anxious to get to Grand Teton Park. We got there in time to get some great views of the Tetons. Although we had zipped by Yellowstone Lake, we could not help stopping for pictures of the Tetons across the lakes we were passing in Grand Teton Park.

clouds-floating-above-the-silhouette-of-the-distant-grand-tetons

A few minute later we stopped again with a slightly better view of the mountains.

grand-tetons-visible-in-the-distance-across-a-lake

At this point we were worried about getting to Jackson in time to get a good dinner. We would be back to spend the whole day in Grand Teton Park the next day, so I told Jenny we should not stop any more. Of course a few minutes later I looked over at the mountains, exclaimed “Whoa Nelly” and pulled over again. The full view of the mountains as the sun was setting was too good to pass up. I took a landscape view picture with my phone…

grand-tetons-just-after-sunset

and then this panoramic shot.

panorama-of-grand-tetons-after-sunset

Our reservations in Jackson were at the Cowboy Village Log Cabin Resort. We checked in quickly and got our stuff into our cabin, then walked a couple blocks to have dinner at Snake River Brewing. The service, food, beers, and atmosphere were a perfectly relaxing end to a full day.

We would be having breakfast with a friend, Charles, in the morning, enjoying Jackson Hole for a bit and then going for a hike in the Tetons. We had chosen what was described as the “easiest alpine meadow hike in the Tetons”. But more on that in the next post.

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