Three Amazing Parks. Three Unique Experiences.
We live in a magical place. Our headquarters is located just a few short hours from Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier National Parks, three of the world’s most renowned national parks. Having such an array of national treasures, almost literally in our backyard, has given us the opportunity to get to know them better than almost anybody. While each of these destinations has spectacular vistas, teeming wildlife, and a deep sense of history, each of these parks offers their own brand of adventure. Here are three unique experiences that illustrate the differences between these Rocky Mountain destinations.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is the smallest of the Rocky Mountain national parks, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for with the sheer magnificence of the Teton Mountain Range. Soaring more than 13,000 feet high, the Tetons offer the perfect backdrop for any activity.
One of the park’s surprises is the abundance of cycling paths. While other national parks have cycling routes on roads, few have as extensive of a bike path network as Grand Teton. One of the best cycling routes is the Grand Teton Multi-use Pathway running over twenty miles between the town of Jackson and the Jenny Lake visitor center. The Tetons soar overhead while the trail meanders through some of the best wildlife viewing in northern Wyoming.
The thing I love about cycling through any national park is the connectedness you experience with the sights and sounds. Depending on when you go, you may hear elk bugling in the distance. You get the clean mountain air in your face. And in Grand Teton National Park, you can experience it all without worrying about drivers on too-narrow roadways.
Yellowstone National Park
While Yellowstone is most famous for its geothermal features like Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring, it’s the abundance of wildlife that keeps me coming back. Pristine valleys cradled between low mountains create some of the best grasslands in the world for megafauna like iconic herds of bison and elk. The Lamar and Hayden Valleys have been compared to Africa’s Serengeti in terms of wildlife density. Often, hundreds or thousands of bison can be seen grazing in these wide-open spaces.
Elk can be seen throughout the park as well, including hanging out in Mammoth Village. Yellowstone generally has a ranger stationed in Mammoth to stop people from getting too close to the animals (they are wild, after all) and to make sure that traffic can move through. Throughout the summer, smaller groups of elk come together to form herds of one hundred or more. The bulls fight for dominance. Encountering a couple of eight-hundred-pound elk sparring is a sight you’ll never forget.
Because Yellowstone gets a ton of snow in the winter, spring runoff creates vast wetlands. Like Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone is a great place to see moose. These massive creatures can be seen in bogs and wetlands around the park, generally alone or a cow with her calves. For many, seeing the elusive moose is a special moment that ranks up there with seeing a grizzly bear or wolves.
The conditions that draw bison, elk and deer to the Lamar Valley also support the park’s largest wolf packs. The best time to see these hunters is at sunrise and sunset when they’re on the prowl. Train your spotting scope on the edge of the woods and wait for them to come down to the Lamar River. There are a few wolf “hot-spots” we like to hit along the river where regular sightings occur.
Grizzly sightings throughout the park are more common today than they have been since the days when people used to feed bears through the windows of their cars (definitely an illegal and unsafe practice.) That said, if you want to maximize the chances of seeing a bear, we recommend heading up to Dunraven Pass. Grizzlies and black bears are often seen rummaging for berries and grubs at the edge of the forest. Even if you don’t catch sight of a griz, the view of the wildflower-covered mountains will leave you more than satisfied.
Glacier National Park
I’m not afraid to say that Glacier National Park is the most beautiful park in the national park system. Bold words, but Glacier backs up the claim with shockingly beautiful landscapes in every direction. Going to the Sun Road is considered one of the top five drives in the world, winding its way up the side of a glacially-carved cirque to Logan Pass. Jagged mountains hug the valley. Waterfalls cascade down mountainsides. Mirror-surfaced lakes line valley-bottoms reflecting the surrounding peaks.
Postcard-perfect vistas surround you every inch of Going to the Sun Road. But the road only shows a thin slice of the park. The best scenery is revealed when you step off the highway onto one of the hundreds of trails into the backcountry. A short hike away from Logan Pass brings you to one of the most incredible views in the park, Hidden Lake Overlook. Mount Oberlin towers to 8180 feet overhead as you make your way through fields of bear grass. The nearby Garden Wall seems to glow with a thick blanket of red, yellow and blue wildflowers. Below you, Hidden Lake comes into view, nestled between steep slopes, glittering in the sun. At just barely a mile, this hike has a lot of payoff for just a little effort.
With just a little more effort, you can hike to one of the last remaining glaciers that the park is named for. In 1850, the Glacier Park area was home to over one hundred fifty glaciers. Now, only twenty five remain. Grinnell Glacier flows down Mount Gould’s rugged slope into the vibrant turquoise lake at its base and calving off house-sized icebergs all summer. The glacier has lost more than 40% of its acreage since 1966. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see one of these ancient geologic features, this year may be the time to check “see a glacier” off your bucket list.