Like so many this year, my family and I really needed a summer vacation. But as we weren’t ready for a family trip that required air travel, we decided on a road trip to see some of the United States’ fantastic national parks. And since Kusini now represents an amazing domestic partner in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, a visit to see Julie and Paul from Gather Away was a must-do. But first, we ventured farther south, spending a week exploring some of America’s western national parks from the little known and under-appreciated Great Basin National Park to the awe-inspiring (and less-crowded) north rim of Grand Canyon National Park, we were blown away by the magnitude, diversity and beauty of the southwest. But more on all that in a later trip report.
We arrived in Jackson, WY on day eight of our two week trip to a very warm welcome from Julie and Paul from Gather Away, followed by a great BBQ at their home on the edge of the National Elk Refuge. After a week of camping and road trip fast food, we were grateful for the hospitality and a great meal hot off the grill!
We stayed about 15 minutes outside of Jackson in the town of Wilson at the family-friendly Trail Creek Ranch. They have half a dozen comfortable little cabins on the property offering privacy, quiet and bucolic views at a really fantastic price, especially for Jackson Hole in the summer where the Motel 6 can be $400+ per night! It’s a working ranch with horses but even better for kids, they have a big swimming pool, which our 7 year old daughter loved! While the ranch doesn’t have a restaurant, most cabins have kitchenettes and the small town of Wilson is just a five minute drive away where there are a number of nice restaurants, an excellent coffee/bagel shop and an awesome ice cream stand! Paul and Julie can help find the best lodging fit for your travelers and will fill in any service or culinary gaps (ie meals – box breakfast, picnics, restaurant recommendations, etc).
The next day we dove into the activities that make Jackson such a great destination. We went rafting down the Snake River with Paul and Julie, doing the locals version of what a tourist would do. We saw lots of wildlife including myriad birds (including lots of bald eagles) and elk. Mornings are better for rafting, with fewer crowds. Views of the Tetons from the Snake River are spectacular, though admittedly, our view was a bit hazy due to wildfire smoke, which unfortunately is something more common during the late summer months now. While we loved the locals tour, Gather Away offers a vintage wooden boat float to the Tipi camp, a pristine riverside setting where guests can then have a champagne brunch or al fresco dinner (depending on time of day). It’s a really nice and relaxing way to spend time and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
The next morning, we had an early departure (6am) to go wildlife viewing in Grand Tetons National Park with Paul. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get up and get out early. Paul said it used to be his secret weapon as no one else would do it, but now the word is out, so it’s even more important to get that early start. Paul knows the spots to go, and it was evident by our awesome wildlife sightings in just a morning of game viewing. First, we spotted a moose in a pond eating aquatic plants while her calf waited on shore. During the 30 minutes or so we watched the moose, we also spotted a family of sandhill cranes.
From there, we drove up a bit higher into the park which resulted in better views of the jagged peaks of the Tetons, through the smoky summer haze. Eagle-eyed Paul spotted a black bear on the foothills, giving us the chance to observe it through a scope. Michelle then spotted a second bear, which set us up for an interesting sighting! The bears weren’t aware of each other at first – check out the (grainy) video below of the moment when they did spot each other – one bear dashes off screen at the sight of the other!
We also saw bighorn sheep – again Paul spotted them with a scope high up in the foothills. And the best thing, there was no one else there – just the four of us watching through a scope in the beautiful morning light. We also saw a great blue heron nesting in a nearby tree and a beautiful mountain bluebird.
It’s a great reminder that while there is abundant wildlife in the area, it’s often hard to spot without an expert guide and a good scope. This is one of the things which make game viewing different than in Africa. And why a skilled and experienced guide is even more important when on an American safari! And with a naturalist guide team that’s second to none in terms of skill, knowledge and experience, that’s one of the major benefits of working with Gather Away. After enjoying the bears and sheep, we drove by Jenny Lake for some more photos of the Tetons and then headed to Jackson Lake where we saw a big herd of elk just off the road. It was a very satisfying and rewarding morning’s worth of game viewing. We also enjoyed a delicious boxed breakfast (in a beautiful setting) provided by Gather Away.
Back in Jackson, Julie and I then spent an hour on site inspections in Jackson. Make sure to check out Gather Away’s preferred accommodations document HERE.
We followed this with a lovely outdoor lunch in town at Persephone Bakery. This is one of Julie & Paul’s favorite spots to buy baked goods for picnic/boxed breakfasts and lunches. Our lunch was uber delicious, fresh and creative. Our afternoon, which during this incredibly busy summer for domestic travel often finds many parks and tourist towns like Jackson uncomfortably busy, was spent away from the crowds at Trail Creek Ranch hanging out, relaxing and swimming, which was just perfect after our early start and busy morning exploring in the Grand Tetons. We capped our wonderful two days in Jackson with ice cream, local favorite huckleberry for me! Next, we head to Yellowstone!