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Postcards from MUSE: Adventures of a Not-so-Adventurous National Park Visitor


Hi guys! My name is Grace, one of the 2023-2024 MUSE editors!

The following two weeks I’ll be going to the Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks and I’ll be trying to take you along with me to get an idea of what the experience can be like.

I want to preface these diary entries by letting you know I am not a wilderness or even National Park expert. I’m no hard-core hiker and you won’t hear survival stories or find methodological research and documentation, but I’d say my experiences are pretty realistic for a family vacation. In the past two years, my family has visited almost ten parks so I’m hopeful I have at least some experience that can lend to these reviews. Wish me luck!

July 16 (travel day)

After a layover in Minneapolis, we made it to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I’m definitely mid-westernized because the first thing I thought after seeing the mountains was that they looked like a bottled water company logo. The ride to town itself was exciting as I adjusted to the not-so-flat terrain. Hopefully, I’ll still be fond of the mountains and hills by the end of this vacation.

July 17 (Grand Teton National Park)

Total distance hiked: 2.0 miles

Hike highlight: Hidden Falls/Inspiration Point

Scenery ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Neither Hidden Falls nor Inspiration Point is super unique but still gorgeous. Hidden Falls offers a shaded, secluded rest area to watch the waterfall powered by melted mountain snow. Inspiration Point is a viewpoint over Jenny Lake and the expansive mountains farther off.

Distance/Difficulty ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The hike was about two miles both ways. It’s pretty flat until the stretch from Hidden Falls to Inspiration Point, which gets progressively steeper. It definitely gets hot when you’re not in the shade, so make sure you have something that can cool you down, like water or a fan.

If you’re not looking to get tired at all, Hidden Falls is a great view on its own. Inspiration Point is worth the extra half-a-mile but it isn’t required if you’re just looking for a good trail without elevation.

July 18 (Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park)

Total distance hiked: 4.2 miles

Hike highlight: Taggart Lake

The trail offers views of horses, a stream, mountains and possibly a bear(!). Taggart Lake itself is surrounded by peaks and offers a lot of great photo spots.

The full loop is around four miles, but you can go back the same way to cut the distance. There’s almost no elevation and it’s definitely a smooth trail.

This trail will take you through a bit of everything, from forest to prairie to water. I would definitely check it out, especially for a short trip to Teton.

Must see/do of the day: Visit Jackson Lake

This lake is so sparkly it was like it was made of diamonds! You can just park on the side of the street and have a perfect view, so it’s a great place to stop for lunch.

July 19 (Yellowstone National Park)

Total distance hiked: 6.5 miles

It’s geyser (and hot spring) day! We started the day off with the big one: Old Faithful. We walked along to the far side of the boardwalks and encountered a few eruptions before the big one. I’m not sure who names the pools and geysers because some are really positive, like “Sapphire Pool” and others are less positive like “Depression Pool” or “Bacteria Mat.” Faithful was set to erupt at 11:20 a.m. and living up to its name, it did. While the spray was high I don’t think it was the most visually interesting of the day.

Hike highlight: Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook

While the boardwalks are great, this trail offers a different vantage point. Seeing the spring from a higher perspective allows you to see all the colors and surrounding landscape in one view.

The hike was only about two miles to the overlook and back. While steep, it was worth it for the view and the walk down is a breeze.

It’s a straightforward hike that will take you to an iconic view, can’t ask for much better!

Must see/do of the day: See some mud pots
After, we headed to the most unique walk of the day alongside the Fountain Paint Pots. Mudpots are basically acidic hot springs without enough water to really spray, instead, they bubble like cauldrons. The Red Spouter was a distinct point due to its seasonal nature. If you go in late summer like we did there’s enough water for the vent to actually spout mud; by fall the water table lowers and the Spouter spouts gas as a fumarole.

July 20 (Yellowstone National Park)

Total distance hiked: 6.5 miles

Hike highlight: Ice Lake/Wolf Lake Trail

Scenery ⭐️⭐️
This hike is probably not worth your time at Yellowstone. It offers lake views, however, most are obstructed. The view isn’t anything unique to the park so if you don’t have long I wouldn’t bother. You might catch a few swans if you’re lucky though.

Distance/Difficulty ⭐️⭐️
I have no idea the true distance of this one, but with half the trail cut off, it wouldn’t be possible to get through it anyway. The trail has very limited elevation and plenty of shade from the evergreen trees surrounding the lake.

Overall ⭐️⭐️
The hike was meant to be a rim trail from the Ice Lake Trail to the Wolf Lake Trail but no signs marked the transition. The trail ended up stopping completely with nowhere to go but back, so the total distance couldn’t be accounted for.

Must see/do of the day: Find some Buffalo! Make sure you visit Hayden and Lamar Valleys if you’re looking for these fluffy cows! We were lucky enough to witness an entire herd cross the street. They might stop traffic but it’s worth it. Both Valleys offered ample views of large herds. Make sure to bring binoculars and stay 25 yards away! Sometimes you have no choice if they come up to your car though…


July 21 (Yellowstone National Park)

Total distance hiked: 4.5 miles

Hike highlight: Sublime Point Trail

Scenery ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The actual point you hike to isn’t that “sublime.” The highlight of the trail is the scenery you see along the way of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. With the hoodoos and bright colors of the rocks, it feels like a combination of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. A good amount of the trail isn’t actually on the canyon rim though, those areas are just forests you pass through on the way.

Distance/Difficulty ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The hike isn’t long. There are a few steep points but the short distance makes the hike not bad. Overall middle-of-the-pack difficulty; the elevation is bearable and you probably aren’t at any risk of slipping as long as you pay attention to the ground.

Overall ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The hike is pretty good, You can see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone from outlooks but this will get you a closer view!

July 22 (Yellowstone National Park)

Total distance hiked: 2.0 miles

Hike highlight: Tower Falls Trail

Scenery ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This trail will take you out to a strong part of the Yellowstone River, it seems to be a great fishing spot! The actual trail offers little scenery until the river.

Distance/Difficulty ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The hike is only 1.5 miles, however, it is straight down and up.

The river is a nice place to take a break and enjoy the scenery, the trail itself is uneventful but not difficult.

July 23 (Yellowstone National Park)

Total distance hiked: 7.2 miles

Hike highlight: Grizzly Lake Trail 

Scenery ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
While you can get pretty tired of hiking to lakes in these parks, Grizzly Lake is pretty large and unique with a clear view of mountains in the foreground. You can see the lake in its entirety from the hill the trail takes you through. The route isn’t very interesting but will take you along mountains as well as prairies.

Distance/Difficulty ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
The trail is a total of 4.0 miles and the first mile takes you to the top of a steep hill. While it’s a nice view, it’s not an easy incline. The rest of the trail is much less steep so it isn’t too bad overall.

Overall ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
The view isn’t the most unique, but if you have some time, it’s not a bad hike to fill time. Make sure to stay staff with the steep areas!

Must see/do of the day: Pallete Spring
Pallete Spring is the most dramatically white and tiered hot spring in the area and is conveniently located right down the boardwalk!

July 24-25 (travel day)

July 26 (Glacier National Park)

Total miles hiked: 12.0 miles

Second worst national park day I’ve ever had (Bryce Canyon holds the record). The miles hiked alone tell you this was not a great first day in Glacier, at least not the first half of the day. We set off to Twin Falls from a side route that was only 3.4 miles long. Early on, the hike had a great clear view of Two Medicine Lake but it curved into the forest and the lake was completely hidden from view. Hidden Falls offered a nice place to rest and laze around. You could climb up to the top of the falls, dip your feet in, or just take a nice photo.

The route back was when it got difficult. While most casual hikers ride a boat at least one way from the main Two Medicine Lake parking area, we had gone the opposite direction from the boat ticketing booth. We made it to the boat landing, but the effort was futile since tickets had to be purchased in advance. The trail heads back weren’t the clearest, so a series of confused turnarounds racked up the miles even more. The trail back was about five miles and relatively steep at times. While the view was nice for parts of it I was too tired to care. Save yourself the swollen feet and exhaustion and get a boat ticket.

Must see/do of the day: The entire Going-to-the-Sun Road!
The absolute gorgeousness of this scenic road raised my spirits after the aforementioned hike. The first stop was Wild Goose Island in Saint Mary’s Lake. The lake was a bright green-blue and the island felt like a home to fairies. As you continue driving to Logan Pass, you’ll be welcomed by the best mountain views I have seen on the entire trip. Make sure to visit around sunset. We went in the morning and evening and the golden hour views were breathtaking. The mountain air is seriously something else.

July 27 (Glacier National Park)

Total distance hiked: 1.5 miles
I somehow got my feet to hike again today, albeit much less than the day before.

Must see/do of the day: Swiftcurrent Lake (from the middle of the lake!)
Go on a boat when you’re in Glacier! It can be a boat tour, or a canoe or kayak. My sister and I canoed around Swiftcurrent Lake for about an hour and it was a refreshing change to finally be in a lake and not just looking from the trail. The lake didn’t live up to its name, it was still and just sitting and looking at the scenery and animals (including a moose drinking water) was immediately calming.

July 28 (Glacier National Park)

Total distance hiked: 1.6 miles

Hike highlight: Hidden Lake Overlook (yet another lake!)

The trail to the lakeshore was closed but we weren’t planning on venturing quite that far anyways. The overlook offered ample views of a bright teal lake and a tall mountain behind it. The trail itself featured a ridiculous panoramic view whenever you turned around from the high view. You’ll also see wildflowers, small waterfalls and if you’re lucky, an unbothered mountain goat.

The trail was 1.4 miles but almost entirely uphill on the way to the lake. Lots of the hike was on the boardwalk, so it was more bearable, but it can get tiring.

I enjoyed Hidden Lake, at least more than I expected after seeing my fair share of lakes already. The wind and cold temperatures made the uphill hike bearable and the mountain goat encounter didn’t hurt.

This is my last day before going home and I’d say it was a good ending to a fun (but long) vacation. Some advice for your visit: 1) Bring a fan. You’ll get hot even if Montana and Wyoming aren’t known for being scorching, 2) Be prepared. This is basic but so true, Always carry your own water and have high-calorie snacks on hand if you’re hiking. 3) Remember where you are. Even when I wasn’t having the best time, I’d look around and remember I’m lucky to be able to see all nature offers in these protected places and I’ll miss the views when I get home.

And now, for the final park ranking. 

1) Glacier National Park⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It might seem like this is only ranked highest because it was the last stop, but I loved this park despite the hike that will haunt me for years. 

Glacier is gorgeous, that’s undeniable. There are views you can only see by trail, but Going-to-the-Sun Road alone makes it worth the visit. If you only have one day, make sure to hit that drive and stop at the overlooks. You can even tour it in an iconic Glacier National Park red bus. Make sure you bring a jacket, it’s cold even in July but so worth it.

2) Grand Teton National Park⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Grand Teton could almost be described as a slightly less striking Glacier National Park. The park was large but approachable. The diversity of mountains, forests, prairie and water offers a lot, but even a casual visitor can enjoy the scenery. Watch out for bears, they got surprisingly close to the trail!

3) Yellowstone National Park⭐️⭐️⭐️

The buffalo saved it for me. I’ll be honest, I don’t think it’s necessary to stay in Yellowstone for a full week unless you’re a hard-core hiker or camper. While the park is huge, at some point the views get repetitive or the smell of sulfur gets to be too much. The large crowds didn’t help the atmosphere but visiting in non-peak seasons would help. It’s still beautiful and I’m glad I witnessed the unique nature Yellowstone offers, but I’m not sure if I’ll be returning anytime soon.

While I’m ranking them, it is a privilege to see nature maintained the way it is in national parks. Whether you’re hardcore or casual, go see something pretty and take a hike. You’ll sweat, your feet will hurt and you might not know if it’s worth it, but at least you’ll have a good story. Thanks for following along guys! Go explore your national parks and enjoy nature when it’s still here! Speaking of that–pick up your litter and leave no trace. Thanks for coming along with me!

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