Yellowstone and Glacier are amongst Nathanael and my favorite National Parks. We’ve now made it a point to road trip to both of these twice, so I figured it was about time that I whip up a post for you.
If this post sounds…a bit negative, it’s because I am comparing this trip to a previous trip. You’ll understand as you read on.
For Nate’s birthday in 2019 we decided to take a road trip to our favorite National Parks, Glacier and Yellowstone. They stole our hearts back in 2017 when we did a 4,000 mile road trip through seven National Parks. Note – that road trip was in May. Nate’s birthday is in late July…those times of year are VERY different in our National Parks.
There is a fee to enter either of these parks. I don’t know the cost because we just pick up an $80 annual National Park Pass at REI most years.
Let’s start off with Glacier.
You can drive to Glacier from anywhere. There are seven entrances, but the main one is the west entrance. Largely because it grants you access to the “Going to the Sun Road.” This is where nearly all of these photos where taken from. That’s a huge plus to Glacier National Park. You can drive through it, and see most of it’s glory. There are also many hikes in the park where you can see glaciers up close, waterfalls, and different vantage points of the park. But that is not required. Grinnell Glacier has been on our list for a long time now and it still hasn’t happened.
Hint – if you go early in the season when they are still opening the road from winter, you can rent bikes and bike the road. Nate and I did this in 2017 per a tip from an Instagram follower. We had the ENTIRE road and all of Glacier to ourselves. It was magical…and not common, I’m sure. That was in mid-May. But weather is so unpredictable here, it’s hard to know when the road will open for driving.
Because we planned this trip super last minute, the Grinnell Glacier Hike was booked out. I was legitimately upset about this, but didn’t even think about reserving a spot until we arrived. Make sure if you want to do any longer hikes that involve a boat ride or guide, you book in advance if possible.
Grinnell Glacier is the ONLY hike I have a desire to complete in Glacier National Park. But we had two full days, so we booked a boat tour on Saint Mary Lake + a hike to the waterfalls you see in the last three photos. The guides were hilarious. But it was HOT AS BALLS outside, and we booked an afternoon tour. Just poor planning all around. It was a relatively short tour, and better than sitting in a hotel room all day. That’s for sure.
Go to Glacier, plan ahead, and be prepared for whatever season you’re going in. July = super freaking hot.
You can stay in the park or outside of the park but you’ll want to do your research. It can take a decent amount of time to get to each side of the park. So stay near your desired activities if possible. But no matter what, make sure to drive Going to the Sun Road.
This drive blew my freaking socks off. Perhaps its because I didn’t know what to expect. But it was GORGEOUS. Obviously the clear blue skies didn’t hurt.
We drove through the Beartooth Highway on the 212 and entered through the east park entrance rather than going straight down through the north entrance. I HIGHLY suggest taking this route if you can swing the time. It’s a world renowned motorcyle route, and for good reason.
I would break up the drive by staying in Bozeman for a night or two. We booked this trip a week or two before we left so there were NO hotels near the park. We stayed in Bozeman. Which meant at least an hour and half drive to and from the park, plus driving through the actual park itself.
We did the drive on the 212 through the east entrance and then drove back up through the north entrance. Got ‘er done in one day…and we weren’t impressed. Stay tuned.
There was a fire just as we were leaving and they closed the road right after we passed through. If you have ever been to Yellowstone, you know that is a terrible situation. There are basically two loops you can drive, and four entrances to the park. And the park is HUGE. Like it easily takes you a day to do each loop. So if an entrance is closed, you’re talking about driving hours to a different exit. Not ideal. We got lucky.
As mentioned, Yellowstone is massive. And it’s one of our favorite parks because you get to see so many different landscapes and ecosystems in one place. It’s truly amazing.
The first time we went to Yellowstone was in early to mid-May 2017. And it was amazing. We saw bears and a moose and all sorts of baby animals. Sure it was a bit chilly outside, but we saw SO MUCH wild life. And of course there were tourists, but we literally had the whole of Lamar Valley to ourselves. We parked on the side of the road, ate our salami and cheese, drank our wine and didn’t see a single car or bus for an hour.
In July…Yellowstone is a different story. If you can at all control the timing of your trip, avoid July. But if the peak of summer is the only time you can see Yellowstone; then by all means, go to Yellowstone.
I can’t speak in absolutes because I’ve spent four days of my entire life in this park…not exactly an expert. But I can tell you there were distinct differences between May and July.
In July, it’s hot as balls. For you, and for the animals. So during the day, the wildlife are doing what any conscious being would do. They’re tucked back in the shade, where it’s cool. We saw BISON. That’s it. We drove through nearly the entire park and saw ONE type of animal.
Seeing the bison gets old when you’re in the same spot for 30 minutes due to the stock pile of cars who have completely stopped to see the bison…Please, if you go to Yellowstone, know that there are bison EVERYWHERE. Keep driving along.
This wasn’t a problem in May. Again – Yellowstone, worth going? Absolutely. It’s still our favorite. Just not in July.
The other downside you’ll see in the last two photos is the completely dried up salt waterfalls. In May they looked like blue lagoons in Iceland (you can see the glimpse of ONE off in the distance in the last photo). In July they looked like dried pumice stone. We just couldn’t help but think that if this was our first trip to Yellowstone, we’d be highly underwhelmed. But that is because we were comparing it to our first, May 2017, rather magnificent experience.
Even with less than ideal timing, you can still see the beauty that both Glacier and Yellowstone hold. Avoid late June to mid-August if you can. Like most places, May and September are going to be your sweet spot. Both are a gamble with weather. But you’ll get way less tourists backing up the roads. And in May you’ll get the early offspring with more active wildlife.
When you can see more than one National Park at a time, that’s a bonus in our book. And Glacier and Yellowstone make a pretty legit pairing.
Planning a National Park road trip to this year? Pin this post for later!
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