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Frommer's Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

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Frommer?s guidebooks, unlike those of many of our competitors, are written by local experts (not outsiders)?like Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan, a Montana resident, naturalist, and noted travel journalist. In this handy, pocket-size book, she?ll help you sort through all the options, so you can tailor an adventure that?s right for you.

This guide contains:
? Insider advice on the best ways to experience some of the country's most dazzling natural landscapes, including tips on the best views, the best backcountry trails, the best scenic drives, and the best activities outside of the parks
? Insightful commentary on park landmarks and specific trails, from the majestic Old Faithful Geyser to the iconic, multicolored Mammoth Hot Springs to the solitary Signal Mountain Summit Trail
? Detailed practical information, including tips on safety, advice for beginning backpackers, and when and where to go to avoid crowds
? Opinionated write-ups of hotels, campgrounds, and restaurants?no bland descriptions or lukewarm recommendations here
? Exact prices listed for every establishment and activity, so there?s no guessing or nasty surprises
? Helpful maps throughout

List price: $17.95

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10 Chapters

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1 INTRODUCING YELLOWSTONE & GRAND TETON

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Introducing Yellowstone & Grand Teton

Y ellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are life-list destinations for millions of people—not just Americans—the world over. That’s because you won’t find places like these anywhere else on the planet: No other region combines rare geothermal fireworks, skyscraping mountains, glaciers, and a huge variety of wildlife such as grizzly bears, wolves, elk, and moose in one spot the way the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem does. Here, you can spend days getting lost among the geysers and hot springs, gazing up at or down from towering peaks, marveling at incredible waterfalls, sniffing carpets of wildflowers, and scoping for that next thrilling wildlife sighting. There’s something for everyone at these two exceptional parks—and as soon as you check this place off your life list, you’re bound to start dreaming about your next visit.

Creatures great and small thrive in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. In the wilderness of Yellowstone’s southern corners, grizzlies feed on cutthroat trout during their annual spawning run to the Yellowstone headwaters. In the soft blue depths of Octopus Pond, microbes of enormous scientific value are incubated and born; in the mountain ridges, gray wolves make their dens and mountain lions hunt bighorn sheep. Bald eagles and ospreys soar above the banks of the Snake River in Grand Teton, moose munch their way through meadows, and elk and bison traverse the park on the same roads as visitors.

 

2 THE PARKS IN DEPTH

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The Parks in Depth

I n Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, spectacular scenery combines with a genuine frontier history to create what we consider the real American West. The land is uncluttered and the setting is one of rugged beauty: the remote wilderness of Yellowstone’s Thorofare country, the soaring peaks of the Teton Range, and the geothermal activity sprouting from below the surface of the Earth.

There’s a little more modern civilization here than there was in years gone by, but this is still one of the few places in the U.S. where there are vast tracts of untouched wilderness. Make sure to take the time to experience it without the noise of cellphones, cars, and other trappings of the 21st century: Your hiking boots and water bottle may be the most important items in your luggage.

Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks Today

The struggle to balance recreation and preservation is as old as the parks themselves, and it’s an issue that continually rears its head in questions about the visitor experience, wildlife management, and what types of activities should be allowed within the parks. How can the park preserve the wilderness feel of the place while keeping its doors open to more than 4 million people every year? What’s to be done about controversial populations of bison and wolves? Should snowmobiles be allowed in the park, and if so, how many? What about drones? These and other issues play out season after season, posing management challenges but also proving the parks are just as dynamic as they’ve ever been.

 

3 EXPLORING YELLOWSTONE

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Exploring Yellowstone

Get used to the idea right now: Yellowstone is a colossal park, and you’d never see everything here if you tried for a lifetime. Just embrace the fact that anything you choose to do while you’re here will be fascinating, wondrous, and 100-percent worth your time. Whether you go off in search of wolves and bears, tour the geyser basins, hike the trails, or cruise the park roads, Yellowstone is guaranteed to blow your mind.

Grand Loop Road, the 154-mile, figure-eight road looping through the heart of the park, connects most of the major and minor attractions, and you’re bound to spend some time cruising it. But stop frequently and get out of the car: Exploring the park’s highlights and, even better, getting out into the backcountry on a hiking trail will enrich your trip by leaps and bounds.

You could visit Yellowstone for a single day—and if that’s your only option, by all means, take it—but you need a minimum of 3 days to really get a feel for the place. A week or more is even better. Hit up the must-sees, such as Old Faithful, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mammoth terraces, Lamar Valley, and Yellowstone Lake, but also to check out some of the lesser-known but still incredible destinations. Attend a ranger-led program or sign up for a class with Yellowstone Forever for an in-depth experience. Consider spending a night under the stars, either in a drive-in park campground or deep in the backcountry. The farther you go from the road, the more solitude you’ll enjoy, and the more Yellowstone’s wild heart will be revealed to you.

 

4 GETTING OUTDOORS IN YELLOWSTONE

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Getting Outdoors in Yellowstone

T he Great Outdoors: It’s why you’re here. And Yellowstone’s natural wonders are unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere on the planet. Roads will show you only a fraction of the immense wilderness here, but more than 1,200 miles of trails can lead you to peaceful lakes, up airy peaks, and through steaming backcountry geyser basins. Make sure to hike at least one trail while you’re here—you haven’t really visited the park if you don’t.

With hikes ranging from short, easy strolls to strenuous, multiday endeavors, there’s something for everyone at Yellowstone. Even better, the trails offer the best way to escape the inevitable summer crowds: Believe it or not, only a tiny fraction of visitors get out of their cars and explore the trails. Besides hiking, the park is also a terrific place for boating, paddling, biking, and winter sports.

In fact, there’s so much to see and do here that it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the choices. Here is the crème de la crème: Choose one or more, and you won’t be disappointed.

 

5 EXPLORING GRAND TETON

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Exploring Grand Teton

Grand Teton is a bit like Yellowstone’s kid brother—a much smaller slice of a similar ecosystem populated by similar wildlife. But it’s also a premier national park in its own right: Few, if any, other parks can claim such a stunning mountain skyline, and the Tetons’ backcountry is the stuff of legend for hikers and river rafters. You could blaze through the park roads in a day, but you’d merely be scratching the surface of this fascinating combination of geologic artistry and ecological diversity.

One more bonus Grand Teton has on its northern neighbor: The park’s proximity to Jackson, Wyoming, means you can easily combine the alpine wilderness with an A-list travel destination. Where else can you hike in the shadow of 13,000-plus-foot peaks by day, then sit down to a perfectly prepared steak and dance the two-step by night?

Essentials

ACCESS/ENTRY POINTS Grand Teton National Park runs along a north-south axis, bordered on the west by the Teton Range. Teton Park Road skirts along the lakes at the mountains’ base. From the north, you can enter the park from Yellowstone National Park, which is linked to Grand Teton by an 8-mile stretch of highway (U.S. 89/191/287) running through the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, along which you might see some bare and blackened trees from the 1988 and 2016 fires. If you enter this way, you will already have paid your entrance fee to both parks, but you can stop at the park information center at Flagg Ranch, just outside Yellowstone, to get Grand Teton information. From mid-December to mid-March, Yellowstone’s south entrance is open only to snowmobiles and snowcoaches.

 

6 GETTING OUTDOORS IN GRAND TETON

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Getting Outdoors in Grand Teton

Grand Teton may be a smaller park than Yellowstone, but its hiking is every bit as stellar. Backcountry trails skirt placid lakes, delve into wildflower-filled canyons, and even scurry straight up the tallest peaks. With some of the most dramatic wilderness scenery in the country just a hike away, the Tetons are bound to amaze anyone who steps off the beaten track.

If you have limited time to explore, choose your hiking destinations based on your favorite ecosystems. Looking for a lakefront hike? Try the shoreline trails at Jackson or Jenny Lakes. Challenging climbs with great views? Head up one of the canyons. Trying to get away from it all? Hit the Teton Crest Trail. This selection of top trails will help you decide.

Day Hikes

The park’s many trails vary greatly in length and level of difficulty, so you’ll want to consult with rangers before tackling them. The rangers can suggest hikes suited to your ability and update you on everything from bear activity to trail conditions to weather concerns. They also conduct guided walks. Remember: If you are planning to hike for more than 30 minutes, carry a supply of water and some rain gear.

 

7 WHERE TO STAY & EAT IN THE PARKS

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Where to Stay & Eat in the Parks

D o all you can to stay inside park borders at least 1 night. It’s not that the gateway towns around the parks don’t have excellent lodging options: They do. But there’s something absolutely magical about bunking right where the action is. You’ll be treated to a quieter, wilder park after the daytrippers depart, and without the light pollution from civilization, a dazzling night sky awaits. You’ll also be inside the park during the prime wildlife-watching times of dawn and dusk; it’s quite something to be able to roll out of bed and spy elk, bison, and even bears and wolves steps from your room. What’s more, you’ll skip the sometimes- lengthy drive into the heart of the parks from the gateway towns, maximizing your time.

Carefully consider your lodging choices before you book. Yellowstone is a vast park, and you might spend several hours driving between its top attractions even when you start inside—so where you sleep can have a big impact on what and how much you’ll be able to see in a day. Grand Teton is a bit more manageable, but staying at the southern versus northern ends can determine whether you can venture into Yellowstone the same day, too. If you’re most interested in geysers, shoot for a room at Old Faithful; grab a cabin at Roosevelt Lodge or a campsite in the Lamar Valley if you want to join the dawn wolf-watching patrol; go for Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Colter Bay Village, or Jackson Lake Lodge if you’re into water activities. That said, though, take advantage of any park lodging you can. Hotels and campsites are in high demand, and every one offers its own incredible experience.

 

8 GATEWAYS TO YELLOWSTONE & GRAND TETON

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Gateways to Yellowstone & Grand Teton

You’ll find civilization waiting outside almost every park entrance, but the gateway towns vary considerably in amenities and vibe, from a remote frontier outpost to a ritzy getaway packed with art galleries and high-end restaurants. Read on to choose your ideal basecamp.

West Yellowstone, Montana

At the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

West Yellowstone has a tiny year-round population, but it bustles with travelers most of the year. It sprouted up around the Union Pacific Railroad’s Yellowstone Special line starting in 1907. Though much of the town is hotels, souvenir shops, and overpriced restaurants, Yellowstone’s western gateway also offers excellent access to outdoor pursuits both inside and outside the park. A few historic buildings from the early 20th century remain in town, and a surprisingly good wildlife park is probably the top in-town attraction.

Essentials

GETTING THERE For information on air service and car rentals, see “Getting There & Getting Around,” in chapter 10. West Yellowstone is 90 miles from Bozeman via US 191 and 108 miles from Idaho Falls via US 20.

 

9 A PARKS NATURE GUIDE

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A Parks Nature Guide

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks have distinct differences. One is an immense wilderness plateau that sits atop a caldera seething with molten lava; the other is a striking set of peaks rising from a broad river plain. One encloses some of the most remote backcountry in the lower 48 and provides crucial habitat for rare species; the other is a short drive from a chic resort town and includes an airport and grazing cattle in its mixed-use approach. What they do share is the affection of millions of visitors who come here annually to renew their ties to nature through the parks’ mountains, alpine lakes, majestic elk, and astonishing geysers.

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is an interdependent network of watersheds, mountain ranges, wildlife habitats, and other components extending beyond the two parks into seven national forests, an Indian reservation, three national wildlife refuges, and nearly a million acres of private land. It is one of the largest intact temperate ecosystems on the planet, and covers an area as vast as Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware combined.

 

10 PLANNING YOUR TRIP

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Planning Your Trip

It’s no one’s idea of a fun vacation to end up inhaling exhaust behind a long line of cars waiting to access Yellowstone’s east entrance, or wearing a T-shirt in a late-season Montana snowstorm. Few things can do more to ruin a much-anticipated vacation than poor planning. So look over some of the crucial information in this chapter before you hit the road—it might make the difference between a trip you’ll never forget and one you’d rather not remember. For additional help in planning your trip and for further on-the-ground resources in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, see “Fast Facts,” later in this chapter.

Getting There & Getting Around

The automobile is the main method of transport within the parks. You won’t find any trains or buses with regular schedules in the parks, although many tour operators use buses. Bikes are a common sight on park roads, but both riders and drivers should exercise extreme caution here: Roads are twisty and rife with wildlife, pulled-over vehicles, and jaw-dropping scenery.

 

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