If you didn’t know by now, National Parks are my current list. First it was collecting mini Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, then it was Broadway shows I’ve seen, followed by states I’ve slept a night in, countries I’ve backpacked through, breweries I’ve drank at, and now it’s National Parks. I’m not somebody that enjoys exercising by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s something about the vastness of the outdoors that inspires me. I’m newly fascinated by mountains- looking at them from different vantage points, tuning into all of my senses on a trail, and attempting to capture all of their greatness in photos. Throughout our few years of National Park trips, I’ve learned that hiking isn’t scaling Mount Everest in crampons ahead of pack mules, or joining a trailblazing club of members who spend their whole life training, rather it is the long, easy trails, the moderate climbs and anything I want it to be. In the few years I’ve made National Park hopping my hobby, the mountains have changed me. And I hope that by you reading this blog post, you’re changed too.
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In July, Nat and I flew into Bozeman, and took a 1600-mile road trip loop through Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Our plan was to hike in three national parks, eat and sleep in three states and experience whatever else there was to experience on the way.
The very first thing we did when we landed was trap ourselves in a hail storm. We may have been soaked, but thankfully we had some fun. Since we had a few hours before our rental car was ready, we Ubered to a creamery and brewery. Pictured are truffle goat cheese from Amaltheia Dairy and a flight at Madison River. Both of these were so inexpensive. The beer was unremarkable, but for $4 it’s worth placing on your list.
We spent our first night in Helena, as we made our way to Glacier National Park. We had some beer at the Lewis and Clark Brewery and Blackfoot Brewery. We ate delicious Japanese food at Hokkaido Ramen & Izakaya. Lastly, we waited on line for a huckleberry ice cream cone at Big Dipper. The ramen and ice cream were worth every bite.
On day 2, we entered Glacier National Park from the East side. We planned to hike, but we didn’t expect to do 8 miles! We started at Many Glacier hotel and had an interesting encounter with a goofy park ranger. She was so generous to let us borrow her bear spray, which is vital to bring in the Montana mountains. The Many Glacier hotel is rustic and historic. Many people book rooms there, but they were out of our budget. Many trailheads begin at the hotel, which is where we started our hike. We took the Swiftcurrent Lake trail to the Josephine Lake trail to Grinnell Lake, and we walked the return route. At Grinnell Lake, we rewarded ourselves with a refreshing tiptoe across the rocks to this little island. The water was ice cold but felt great on our sore muscles and was a nice contrast to the sweat from exertion. This entire trail was gorgeous, offering many views of the mountains reflecting into the lake. As the sun was setting, the peaks showed off these gorgeous warm colors and we couldn’t resist resting at a boat stop to stare at the sky and to take some pictures. The boat shuttle service requires ticket purchases in advance or is first come first served at each area. There are a few stops along the route. However, some visitors tour the parks only by boat and don’t do any hiking, therefore, the few empty seats fill up fast. We contemplated trying to get on a boat but we ended up walking the whole way back. It wasn’t a very hard hike and it took about 4 hours. I would highly recommend it for motivated beginners.
On our drive out of the park, we spotted a Grizzly bear, awfully close to the road. In hindsight we should have followed all of the cars around us and pulled over to get out for some good pictures, but we expected to see more on the trip. Here’s one photo.
That night we stayed in Babb, which was quite the experience. Our motel was so far north that we were a stone’s throw from Canada. We had little to no cell phone reception in the area and we were a little skeptical at first when we approached the motel *see photos*. However, the warehouse looking building ended up being nicely renovated and was completely booked. Even though the WiFi wasn’t available “due to multiple reasons” and the common area looked like a miniature waiting room in a doctor’s office, it was a very pleasant stay after all.
We dined at one of the only restaurants in the area, which was a steakhouse. It would be hard to be a vegetarian and even worse to be a vegan in this neck of the woods. The locally sourced steak and sides were tasty. They made their own salad dressings, which was a plus!
We also “shopped” in a general store, which made a nice photo background.
The next morning, we stopped at an unnamed coffee stand near the park entrance only for some espresso, yet got persuaded into buying a breakfast burrito and a homemade cinnamon bun. Being from NJ, we’re used to going through life at such a fast pace. In these small western towns, no one is in a rush to go anywhere. The owner of the stand talked to us for about twenty minutes as she prepared our food one step at a time. The one thing from the conversation we should have listened to was her recommendation of driving the park in each direction. We thought she was just biased and wanted us to stay in her hometown, rather than the touristy one on the other side of the park, but later on we realized that wasn’t the case. The drive through the East side of the park towards Going-To-The-Sun-Road (West side) was unbelievable and it really would have been cool to see the reverse direction. Unfortunately, our timeline didn’t allow for another night in this area, but next time we will drive the other way. The road hugged the cliff on the passenger side for miles and miles; dipping in and out of mountains and winding around hairpin turns. We stopped at various overlooks, explored unpopular pull offs with streams on foot, and we hiked John’s Lake trailhead, an unassuming 2 miler. Before we left the park, we checked out Apgar Village and put our feet in Lake McDonald. People kayak and swim there, but the layer of smoke from the wildfires was a turnoff.
We tried huckleberries in Coram. They were handed to us by a farmer with the dirtiest hands we’d ever seen, and we gratefully accepted a sample right from his fingers. They look like cranberries and taste like tart blackberries. Then, we met friends from home for a beer in Hungry Horse. They were coincidentally there for a wedding and stayed in these sweet cabins.
Later that afternoon, we walked around the town Whitefish, which was cute and lively. We bathed at the “beach”, had some tasters at Bonsai Brewery, Spotted Bear Spirits Distillery and Unleashed Winery. Then we tried a slice of pizza at a place called Jersey Boys Pizzeria, which of course was nothing like Jersey pizza.
We went to 2 more breweries in Kalispell (Kalispell Brewing- don’t have a photo of this and Bias Brewing) and had mediocre Mexican food at Casa Mexico before calling it a night.
In the morning, we got a latte and a vegan sandwich at Max’s Market in Bigfork, 2 pounds of cherries at Flathead Lake and drove towards Missoula. Natalie found this hike that I absolutely hated. The trail was wide open and you could see the entire 2 miles in front of you. Each hill we were summiting came with dread; and since there weren’t any trees blocking the sun, it was exceptionally hot. I was very happy when the 4 miles round trip were over, and even happier when we found an awesome fast casual Brazilian spot for lunch. Five on Black, a play on Roulette, was located in downtown Missoula and they create individualized bowls. The topping options incorporated flavors we don’t have often, and I wish we had the chain back home.
We spent the night in Salmon, Idaho, the smallest redneck, town endorsing “Fuck Joe Biden” on lawn decorations. Of the two restaurants to choose from, we picked Last Wave, simply because the referred place had a long wait. The owner happened to be our server so we learned that the restaurant was pretty new, and that their chef is from Thailand. Naturally, the menu featured American and Thai cuisine and we were happy to report that everything we ate was flavorful and really well priced. Pictured are the smoked salmon appetizer (we were IN Salmon after all), the pad Thai and the mixed tacos.
In the morning, we woke up early to hike the Elkbend trail to the Goldbug Hot Springs. It was the most nerve wracking hike for me because it was listed as at least moderate, depending where we read about it. The other stressful aspect was that we wanted to have a peaceful time in a pool on top, without crowds.
It started with steep switchbacks and ended with rock scrambles and staircases. The terrain in the middle was mostly flat with some ups and downs, a mix of open land and treks next to breezy streams. Thankfully, it wasn’t as strenuous of a hike as I thought it would be and there were very few people at the top. Along the way, we saw campsites set up and noticed some hippies who looked like they’d been there for a while. One naked couple lounged in a lower spa. We chose to soak in the spring with the sunflowers, simply because it was empty when we got there. We were in awe. Check out these pictures! They might be my favorite of all!
Later, we floated in the Salmon River on a surprisingly private tour with a guide. There were supposed to be others on the raft but no one else had booked for that day. It was relaxing but not that exciting.
We slept in Idaho Falls that night, as a means to be close to our next national park. We ate some fries at a dive bar just to say we had potato in Idaho, but they literally tasted like any other fries we’ve had anywhere.
On day 5 we arrived in Jackson, WI for Grand Teton National Park, Nat’s absolute favorite. Unfortunately, the motels and hotels in Jackson were outrageously expensive or else we would have spent more time there. We ate lunch at Persephone (I still can’t say this correctly) Bakery in Jackson and tried their elk sausage sandwich, a croissant and a Cowboy cookie. Every single bite was wonderful.
In the park, we walked the Jenny Lake Loop Trail, to Hidden Falls waterfall, and ascended to Inspiration Point, for a whopping total of 9.5 miles. The views were incredible; from the height of the waterfall to the panoramic view of the Tetons, to the private-ish lake that we dipped in, even to the horses and their large BMs! The hike was very long, and totally out of our comfort zone but following the Tetons made it rewarding. Most of the way, we had the trail to ourselves and passed people here and there. There were boat ride options at this park too, but with boats come tourists. Nat says we’re more like travelers, than tourists. I’d like to believe that. At the end of this hike, I felt like I had accomplished something huge.
We ate dinner at Thai Me Up/Melvin Brewing which was recommended by many people. I don’t know if it was because I couldn’t feel my legs or that it was so humid, I just wasn’t in the mood to be out at dinner; making it difficult to enjoy. All I wanted to do was lay in bed but I tried really hard to walk around as much of downtown Jackson as much as I could that night. We bought some souvenirs and pretty quickly ended up back in our trendy motel.
The next day, we ate brunch downtown, at Cafe Genevieve. We ordered a fried green tomato Benedict and a salad with “pig candy” aka really crispy candied bacon. Then, we explored Mormon Row and what was left of the 19th century community that was once inhabited by Mormon settlers. After some additional turn offs to sightseeing locations, we sadly left Grand Teton and headed towards Yellowstone.
Yellowstone is statistically more visited every year than Glacier and Grand Teton, but it was our least favorite. This park was sold to us as “more of a scenic drive” park, which if you’ve been paying attention, that’s not what enchants us. What we did get out of Yellowstone was some wildlife action. We saw our second grizzly bear (and by saw I mean, hardly, through binoculars). You don’t actually have to peep the animals yourself, all you have to do is look for groups of cars pulled over on the side of the road. We were forced to stop a few times for many packs of bison. They are cute and ugly at the same time and spend their days roaming, rolling in the grass and being admired by annoying passer-biers with cameras.
In Yellowstone, we went to the West Thumb Geysir Basin to get a glimpse of the the turquoise pools and the boiling mud pots. There’s just so much cool natural stuff out there, it’s remarkable. We didn’t make any time for the most common attractions like the Old Faithful, but we’re positive our night in “Cowboy” Cody was more unique.
Cody, WI pays homage to Buffalo Bill and is one of the most untamed places we’ve been to date. We checked into our private cabin (think glamping) and went to Cassie’s Supper Club for dinner. This restaurant opened in 1933, had walls covered in taxidermy and somehow I received the best cooked piece of meat of my life- this tenderloin steak.
And then, we went to our very first (and probably last) rodeo. The show started with an American flag being spun around the ring, as cowgirls on horses performed a patriotic routine. Next came the stampeding, the wrangling of calves, cowboys being violently thrown off of bulls, and children showing off their newfound lassoing skills. I literally had to turn my head at some of the acts. Is no one else disturbed by this pastime??
The next day, we drove back into Yellowstone from the northeast and exited through the north. We had seen 4 of 5 entrances at this point and there’s some special characteristics about each of them. The northeast side is known for its wildlife in Lamar Valley. The north side takes you to the historical Roosevelt arch as you enter the area of Gardiner. On this drive we saw a LOT of bison. We went to the Yellowstone hot spring, in Gardiner, which is more of a hidden gem than it sounds like it would be. We tested out the varied temperature pools and took a self timer photoshoot. Although it does appear that we’re in a diarrhea swamp, the cement siding is just an unfortunate brown color for one reason or another. We took in bbq dinner from a local supermarket, which we ate on our motel bed.
When we woke up, we got breakfast at the Tumbleweed Bookstore and Cafe and headed back to Bozeman. We walked around town, bouncing in and out of shops looking for souvenirs. We sampled beer at MAP Brewing, Bozeman Brewing and Mountains Walking Brewery, and got tasty pizza and Brussels sprouts at the last one too. I wanted to check out a casino in MT so I dragged Nat to the one I deemed the nicest, based on my online search. It was interesting. Everyone sits at one machine the whole time, choosing from many games. All beer and wine was complimentary and brought to us swiftly. No matter how gross the beers were, they tasted great for free. I think we lost $25 bucks but don’t they say something about the experience being priceless??
We ate lunch at MAP brewing the next morning because the food looked delicious. It did not disappoint! We went to the local coop grocery store for some treats for the plane.
I think we both agreed that we could have had one night less and been just as satisfied, but overall it was such a jam-packed phenomenal trip and I’m already planning another one.
Since we are primarily a food/beverage blog, here are the top places we went to:
Helena: Hokkaido Ramen & Izakaya and Big Dipper
Whitefish: Bonsai Brewing
Jackson: Persephone and Cafe Genevieve
Cody: Cassie’s Supper Club
Bozeman: MAP Brewing