Thursday, August 16, 2018

Vacation: Bozeman Montana, Yellowstone and Jackson Hole

Well the Hubby and I returned a few days ago from a full week in Yellowstone & down to the Grand Tetons. When I was planning this trip I found some information but not as much as I would have liked that was helpful. Especially since most of the info I found was monetized (had advertising). So here's the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful of our trip and hope it helps someone else.

So this is not really so much about Resourcefulness but in a way it is. We have been on this path long enough that we could relax and finally afford a big vacation. If you follow Dave Ramsey we are on Baby Step 4, paying the mortgage. The debt it done, the 6 months savings is there, and now we are to a point that our extra money goes to our mortgage. There is now a little room to relax after many of years of simple vacations. Part of the reason we are on this path is so we can enjoy life more but it took some time to get here. It's so worth it.

My husband had open heart surgery about 3 years ago and that put everything into perspective. The value of life, experience, and living your life came clearly into focus. In a moment of clarity I made a decision to take my husband on his dream vacation, one he has talked about for years, Yellowstone. I quickly booked up everything I could find in Yellowstone sitting in a parking lot outside of a pizza restaurant. This was only 12 weeks ago. Yellowstone can book up a year in advance. I then came home and poured over info to find the best places to stay, rescheduled and moved things around, rented a car, found out where to fly into and that lead me to make some changes.

We flew into Bozeman Mt., what a beautiful place. I highly recommend it. The flights on United where substantially cheaper and we had great service from United. For two people round trip it was roughly $1000.
We had one bad experience at a hotel that lead me to another one on a recommendation from a lady at a ranch supply store. The C'mon Inn (less than $200 a night). It was great! The least expensive hotel and the best priced of all of them. Highly recommend. Hotels here are expensive! Outside of the park it's possible to find something for under $200 that is nice, inside the park equivalent lodging it about double.
I would recommend flying Little Rock (If you are in Arkansas) to Bozeman on United, then staying at the C'mon Inn. Go straight to Walmart and buy these things
1. Bear Spray (one can should do, it cost $50 or $10 a day in the park, you figure the math).
2. A cheap ice chest that is soft $4.94
3. Refillable insulated cups for water to save on buying bottles, it's dry and you will need a lot of water. $6.94
Then you can buy your snacks here or go to the Bozeman Co'op and buy food. We ate here twice, and got our green juice. They have great picnic boxes and hot food. I am a foodie and was able to get a nice chicken curry while my cowboy husband got a salad and some organic chicken. LOVE THIS PLACE.
We had dinner at Montana Ale Works twice. The food is great and it's worth a visit.
We also went to the local movie theater though I don't remember the name and it was very clean and nice. Take some time to drive around the city of Bozeman, over in the neighborhoods near downtown. There are parks and walkways. It is one of the cleanest cities I've ever seen.

We then headed to Yellowstone, driving through the North Gate, Stopping at Mammoth Hot Springs. Then going down to Lake Yellowstone stopping and looking at all the sights along the way. Including the buffalo. We took the North West side down and over to Lake Yellowstone. Lake Yellowstone Inn is the most expensive hotel in the park, the food is good at the restaurant but not great for the price. It's embarrassing what we paid for a room and I wish we hadn't. It was suppose to have a lake view but the window was very small, the room was small, and though very nice it was not worth $536.00 a night to stay here. I went into Lake Lodge down the street and wish we had  stayed there, it was more "cabin lodge" feeling and more our speed. Not sure the pricing but it's in between Jackson Hole and Bozeman. The lake is beautiful and we drove out to the lower west side about half way until the lake ended, a beautiful drive.
This was a beautiful place to stay but be warned the hotels, lodges in Yellowstone are not that comfortable. The beds were small and  hard.

The park is in the shape of the letter 8 with fingers going N,NE upper, NE lower, S, & W, five total roads out of the park.

Day 3 we drove to Jackson Hole through the Grand Tetons stopping along the way to view all the magnificent sights. I stress that this was a hard drive for a girl afraid of heights! Wow. So beautiful though I cannot begin to express the beauty of the Grand Tetons. We stayed at the Rustic Inn, which was about $416 a night. It was very nice, the rooms where amazing and comfortable and all were individual little cabins, though very close together. There was a nature walk, a pool (heated), hot tub and sauna. My husband used the workout room and a very nice breakfast was included. My only complaints where they started cooking at 5 a.m. and we apparently were next to the kitchen wall! The other issue was that they needed someone to walk around and be aware of trash and picking it up around the nature area. It wasn't terrible but for that price I expected it to be picked up. They were busy so I give them that. We took full advantage of this resort and experienced all it had to offer that came with our room. They light the outdoor fire pits at night and this is very nice. The breakfast was very crowded and let's just say that Southern manners we are used to are not used here, people were a bit pushy. My husband was pretty irked.
We had dinner at The Silver Dollar an old hotel there and it was great. Service was great, very friendly staff. While there we walked downtown to Healthy Being so I could have my juice fix (I had the it was tart but good, I had some stevia in my purse to add to it).  I would go here again, they have a basket of lawn blankets and wonderful places to sit outside. It's like a park.
We also ate at Jackson Grocers, which was really good and similar to a small size Whole Foods. I really liked that they support local health food stores all over the place and there are no chain health food stores. We also had lunch at Cafe Genevieve, it was good. I had a salad and it was very good. My husband had breakfast fare and said the bread was amazing. Everyone told us to go the Million Dollar Cowboy bar but we were so tired we didn't make it. The highlight for us was the Jackson Hole Art Fair, it was amazing. We visited several parks, one of my favorite things to do and enjoyed this very much. Highly recommend visiting the local parks here for a place to rest and enjoy the natural beauty.
Be prepared to walk, the traffic is bumper to bumper.

Day 4 back to Yellowstone up the South entrance, so much beauty going back that you get a different perspective and it's worth it. We drove up to Old Faithful and waited for it on the second row viewing deck of the hotel. Grab a drink and have a seat and enjoy from the deck. This is the best place. Visit the gift shops and relax a bit. We then drove up the west entrance a bit, so much beauty I cannot even explain, you must experience it yourself. We headed over the Canyon Village. Canyon is beautiful and we had stopped here to eat earlier on our way to Lake Yellowstone. Canyon Village is the place in Yellowstone to eat, buy gifts and see The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The lodge looked nice but it was booked and I booked a cabin, and I loosely call it a cabin. I'm in the process of working on getting our money back. The cabins are a group of rooms that are like going to camp when you are a kid. Our room had a dirty floor, hair on the bed and was generally pretty nasty. I won't go into details but I cannot recommend the cabin, they were $313 a night and not worth $69 a night. I would choose the lodge. The chicken dinners at Canyon Village in the middle area of the Village where great. The food here was excellent. $33 for two, not bad.

The next day we went up to Roosevelt after sleeping only 2 hours. I had booked a 2.5 hour horseback ride not knowing much about what I was doing. Unless you are a seasoned rider I would not recommend this. It was great, but I was not prepared to go straight up a mountain literally inches from the side. I would recommend the 1 hour ride. Our team that led us was amazing, I loved my horse Mr. Longhorn, slow and hungry as he was he was a good boy. Even though I have horses I was not used to riding for 3.5 hours...yes that is right, 3.5 hours. The 2.5 hour ride is actually 3.5 hours. My behind still hurts.
We also did the covered chuck wagon dinner, which I highly recommend but I would not recommend riding a horse to it because you will have a full belly on horse going back. Plus the guides give you so much information about Yellowstone that it's worth the money. This was about $154.00 I believe for two. Drink the Cowboy Coffee, at least taste it, best coffee ever, like mud and delicious! Very much worth it. Roosevelt is not much on food and the wait is very long. This place is old and dusty but very cool. Pack a lunch with you. We purchased some food at the gift shop or what they call General Stores and had a picnic, it was very nice. Drive out to Lamar Valley while you are here between the morning horseback ride, lunch, Lamar, and then to the Chuck Wagon for dinner. A great day!

We finished dinner around 7 and headed back to Gardiner, Mt where we stayed at the Yellowstone Village Inn (about $154 a night). So clean, simple, laundry facilities and a great price. Highly recommend. They do not have coffee in the rooms but it's in the lobby. Super friendly people, spotless simple rooms, comfy beds and a heated pool, breakfast is simple but enough, we had oatmeal, an apple and peanut butter, my husband had some toast. Great outdoor sitting spaces. It was a super respite. There is a simple grocery store down the road with anything you might need.

We got up on day 6 and headed to Bozeman with a stop at Chico Hot Springs, $8.50 for the heated mineral hot springs pools. Pack your swimsuit and flip flops and don't miss this! For two people with two rented towels it was only $19.50. What a bargain. So worth it. We enjoyed taking our time going back to Bozeman. We needed a more restful day and it's a scenic 84 miles. We stopped in at Livingston at the Wheatgrass Saloon for our juice. It was great. My husband went to a local ranch store while I stayed outside and petted the shop cat and visited with the sweetest young man, he had Downs Syndrome and he kept winking at me, smiling and talking to me, this made my day. He was such an angel. Meeting many of the sweet people and seeing the animals was really nice.

We then got into Bozeman and checked in to the C'mon Inn, went back to the Co'op for lunch, went to a local park where we walked around a pond and then to a movie and back to Montana Ale Works for dinner. We were about 10 minutes from the airport (Bozeman International). We had rented a car, a Subaru Outback for less than $500 for 7 days. The airport is small and not to busy. An hour was perfect in getting there.

We saw coyotes, elk, bison, deer, pig whistles (similar to a ground hog and so cute!), antelope, and many birds, some huge ravens and hawks. None where scared of us and they are everywhere.

The park is less than 2% developed and 98% is undeveloped. This is why the horseback ride is nice, you get to see more of the park. We had a healthy fear of bears and many had been seen so we didn't do much hiking, just walking around the park on the areas that are designated to look at the sights was a ton of walking. The animals will be very close but be careful. None where aggressive but we kept our distance. This was a trip of a lifetime. I am not sure how you would see as much if you didn't move around like we did, however this was not a restful trip, it was very active. If you are good only going to Yellow Stone I can highly recommend Gardiner as a place to stay. However if you have the time the Grand Tetons are out of this world. Some of my friends rented an Air B and B and had that as their home base. Many people told me that staying in the park was worth it. The convenience is worth it but you will pay a premium for far less amenities. Also I would recommend finding out about construction (there is a lot of roadwork in Yellowstone) and being aware of not planning to take Mountain passes at night or more than once. They are beautiful but the roads are very curvy with little to no guard rails, it's not for the faint of heart. My favorite spot was Lamar Valley and all the Bison!  Also if a road says 18 miles in Yellowstone plan on about 40 minutes to an hour, you will be driving slow due to curves, mountains, wild life and constantly stopping to take in the wonder of it all!


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