We took our annual family camping trip to a whole new level this past week by heading to Yellowstone National Park. We had too many adventures to share in one post, so many that we assigned each family member a story to remember and retell. To say the least, I thought I had researched the trip enough and knew enough about camping…until we got there.
Following are a few highlights, lessons learned and, of course, what we ate.
Fueling up: We started our trip by flying into Salt Lake City and loading up the car with everything we needed to survive our week in the woods…or so we thought. Thanks to Trader Joe’s, we had several packages of organic chicken waiting for us and loads of other Margolin family food staples. We picked up wood for our Shabbos eruv and a propane gas grill at Ace Hardware and anything else we couldn’t fit on the plane at Walmart.
Lava Hot Springs, Idaho: From Salt Lake City, we headed up to Idaho for a night, camping near hot springs and relaxing. It was a 2 hour drive from SLC, which was perfect after flying and running errands.
Grand Teton National Park: The next morning, we packed up in record time and drove up toward Jackson Hole and the Tetons. On the way, we dodged cattle casually crossing the road and marveled at the mountains and wide, open spaces. In Jackson, we bought some final supplies, and of course, some souvenirs and then headed up to the Tetons. We spent the rest of the day at Jenny Lake, taking the boat shuttle across the lake and then hiking up to Inspiration Point. It’s said to be the best hike in the Tetons, and after seeing it, it’s no wonder.
Home Sweet Home: Our campsite in Flagg Ranch was where we had our most “lessons learned.” We’ve been camping for 9 years and even did a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park last year, so I thought I knew what I was getting us into. Not quite. Here’s what I wish I had known:
- Camp near Jackson Hole or even West Yellowstone. Camping in between Yellowstone and the Tetons was perfect for accessing both parks but hard if you like seeing civilization in between hikes. I love having no cell service for hours, and even a couple of days, but more than that was hard. Plus, if you forget anything, you’re stuck paying the hiked up prices in the national park.
- Pack for summer and winter. It was 29 degrees on Shabbos night. We needed down coats, 4-season tents and down sleeping bags. Oops. We should have rented our equipment from REI instead of buying cheap equipment that we squeezed into suit cases.
- Reserve multiple sites. The West is so vast that it makes sense to stay in multiple different locations. While moving can be annoying with a family, we weren’t able to leave everything out at our campsite because of the bears anyway. We normally have a hammock, a clothes line, a table cloth and even some dishes strewn around, but in the National Parks, this isn’t allowed. Moving would have been no big deal and would have cut down on our driving.
- Chipmunks are scarier than bears. We spent so much time worrying about keeping our bear box closed every time we left the campsite, but we were pretty lackadaisical about leaving it open while present. A run in with a chipmunk that sent me screaming and tripping over the fire pit proved to be our closest scary animal encounter.
Yellowstone National Park: It took me a few days to understand Yellowstone. Unlike past vacations, where we choose some cool destinations and then hike most of the day, Yellowstone is best toured in a car. I’m not a fan of driving for hours at a time, especially with my kids fighting in the back seat, but once I understood that this is the only way to see the vast park, I accepted the plan wholeheartedly. We drove all day for one of our days, stopping every time we saw something interesting, wild or crazy…which was pretty much every mile.
A traffic jam of bison is totally normal in YNS. Just don’t tick him off.
This waterfall at the the lower falls of Yellowstone Grand Canyon was my favorite spot.
Pulling up stakes: My husband loves when we actually do an idiom, which is exactly what happened on our last day of camping. Campgrounds staff woke us at 5:30AM because we were being evacuating due to a forest fire. We threw everything in the car with little regard to sorting or packing and then headed north. The way back to Salt Lake City was south, but that road was blocked. We had to head all the way up through Yellowstone and then out the west entrance into Montana. At least we checked off one more state!
What we ate: Our camping meals were similar to every other camping trip.
- Breakfast: Whole wheat pancakes from a mix (just add water) and cereal
- Lunch: Pasta or sandwiches prepared in the morning on our camping stove
- Dinner: Grilled chicken, hot dogs, veggies and potatoes. We also make a lot of Minute Rice, cous couse and even Imagine soup in our stove.