Dylan and I have lived in the van for 10 months, but it’s time for something new! This past week his parents and sister, Ali, flew across the country to caravan with us in the van 🚐🚐. Our trip together took us from Yellowstone to the Grand Tetons.
Before the trip, I was incredibly stressed about having this week go perfectly. I didn’t want his family to have a bad time. But, I can honestly say that this was one of the ✨ best weeks ✨ we have ever had in the van. We got to explore two amazing parks, swim in gorgeous lakes, and give his parents a tiny slice of van life.
Read below to find out how our week with Dylan’s family went! Learn about all of our best moments, our minor mishaps, and our incredible adventures. It’s been a crazy time and it couldn’t have gone better!
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Table of Contents
Van Life Grand Tetons to Yellowstone
Grand Tetons National Park
We went directly from picking up the van to Grand Teton National Park NP #42. To say this park blew me away and made me fall in love is an understatement. I am already dreaming of going back.
We drove into the Grand Tetons and were immediately greeted with views of the austere mountains. I knew right away that I was going to fall in love 💕 with the park. First, we drove to our campsite and then, chose to get dinner at the marina on Colter Bay.
As we ate pizza on the deck, the sun started to set over the water 🌅. Wow, the sky truly put on a show that night. Pinks and oranges filled the sky and it was one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever witnessed. We all marveled at the sight and spent time taking it all in. It was the best introduction to a park that I have ever had. It was truly special.
Bradley & Taggart Lakes
We started our time in the Grand Tetons on a relatively easier hike 🥾. Dylan and I knew that his family would not be used to the elevation. Also, the two of us go on hikes multiple times a week, so we needed to take a step back.
This trail started towards the Tetons with abundant wildflowers along the path. As soon as we made it to Bradley Lake, we stopped for lunch and to enjoy the scenery at the alpine lake. It was just a preview of the stunning scenes we would see that week. We continued down to Taggart and it was so refreshing looking. The three “kids” decided that we needed to take a dip 💦. It was refreshing and the best end to our first hike in the Tetons.
That evening we drove to our campsite and gorged on charcuterie fixings. We ate so much that we didn’t have room for dinner. Instead we drove up to Signal Mountain for panoramic views around the park. Although it wasn’t a stunning sunset, it was a nice way to end our first full day.
Jenny Lake & Cascade Canyon Trail
On Sunday, we woke early to watch the sunrise over Oxbow Bend and get to the most popular area in the park: Jenny Lake. Watching the sunrise 🌄 at Oxbow Bend was peaceful and a wonderful way to start the day. Jenny lake sits right under the Tetons with boat rides and abundant hikes. We took the shuttle boat across the lake to the Cascade Canyon trailhead.
We climbed up the mountain to the gushing Hidden Falls, stunning Inspiration Point, and scenic Cascade Canyon. As we walked, we marveled at the stunning landscape and colorful wildflowers. We also saw a hare that clearly had the zoomies, which was exciting. Although this trail continues to Lake Solitude, we decided to call it a day, so that we wouldn’t tire too much.
After our wonderful hike, we drove to town to get ice cream and visit REI. Unfortunately, there’s only one spot in town for quality ice cream: Moo’s. This joint has won awards for its delicious Huckleberry flavor. However, we had to wait in line for 40 minutes and all five of our ice creams cost $60 💸! (Dylan did get an $18 milkshake). It was quite good, but I wouldn’t go back for more.
Then, we all drove to our next campsite at Gros Venture on the South side of the park. Despite having ice cream, we still wanted to eat a delicious dinner. So, we introduced his parents to one of our favorite meals: spring rolls. It’s kind of a daunting task for van life, but it is our third time making it. They loved it and spoke about how they wanted to make it again.
Delta Lake Hike
Dylan’s dad dropped us off the next morning to hike the wonderful Delta Lake hike. This is one of the most popular unofficial trails that I have ever seen. The hike travels 4 miles, climbs up 2200 feet, and over precarious rock scrambles. These treacherous obstacles simply make the destination that much sweeter 😌.
When you finally get to the end, you are greeted by the bright turquoise waters of Delta Lake. We took the trail slowly to make sure that Dylan’s mom and sister felt good. Luckily, the four of us made it to the end and were blown away 🤯 by the scene. We sat, ate lunch, watched people jump in, and enjoyed the reward from the tough trek.
The way back down felt like a breeze and Dylan’s dad was ready to scoop us up at the trailhead. We all drove into town once again to get luxurious showers 🚿 at the Teton Rec Center (classic van life). Then, we spent the night chowing on pasta, resting at our campsite, and making s’mores over the campfire.
Working in the Tetons
Unfortunately, the next morning everyone (except Dylan’s mom) had to work. We rose early to watch the sunrise at Mormon Row and search for moose 🔍. Luckily, we spotted a moose mama and her baby, which helped get us through the work day.
Dylan and I showed his family another very classic part of our van life: working at the library. Over the past nine months, we have learned that public libraries are the best places to work 📚. They usually have great seating, fast WiFi, and a quiet environment. The Teton Public Library was wonderful and Dylan’s dad gushed about it for days. They even had picnic tables where we enjoyed a delicious meal of burritos.
Rafting on the Snake River
Similar to many van days, we had an adventure planned after work. We were going on a whitewater rafting trip 🚣♀️! A bus took us South of Jackson to the Snake River. There, they dropped us off and divied everyone up into the rafts. We got a very short safety discussion and then we were off!
It was such a fun boat ride and it made me want to take many more rafting trips. At times, we cruised along the twists and turns of the river watching Bald Eagles and enjoying the views. At other times, we had to paddle fast, while water covered us and slapped us in the face. It was equal parts relaxing and exciting. It was the perfect trip 💯.
Once we made it back to Jackson, we were all famished. So, we went to Bapp, a Korean restaurant in Jackson. Korean is my favorite cuisine, so I was in heaven. The food was incredible and left us all incredibly full.
That night was our first night showing Dylan’s parents how to free camp. We found a pull-off right outside of the park next to a river. His parents were excited, but they realized their battery wasn’t charging 🔋. His mom told us to check in the morning to make sure their alternator was working. We went to sleep with a layer of stress over us.
Dylan and I woke up early and immediately I told him to check on his family…. Womp womp. In nine months of living in the van, we have never broke down (knock on wood), but four days in his parents did. Their van wouldn’t even start and we had no service. So, they couldn’t figure out was wrong and Dylan still had to make it to work. They told us to go without them and if they didn’t show up in a few hours then go back. I felt very unsettled.
The three kids went straight to the library and luckily in just under an hour we heard from his parents. They figured out how to turn the van back on and were running it 🚐. Once they got to town, they tested the van by turning it off. It turned back on and his family was satisfied it was working.
So, while we worked, Dylan’s mom and sister went to the laundromat (more van life). They nicely did all of our laundry for us. It felt so nice to get back to the van to freshly folded clothes.
When the work day ended, we all drove to find a free campsite and chill for the night. We drove into Bridger Teton National Forest and up through the hills there. As we drove, we saw many campsites were taken or had signs saying they were. I started to worry we wouldn’t find a good spot. At the end of the road, Dylan and I forced his family over a sketchy hill and.. BOOM there it was. The best spot we have ever found 🙌🏻.
This campsite had a direct view of the Grand Tetons. Also, There was a fire pit and just a couple of quiet neighbors. The five of us set up camp for the night, pulling out all our gear. We lounged on the inflatable couch, made a campfire, roasted hot dogs, cooked campfire pies and stargazed. Honestly, it was one of my absolute favorite days 😍.
That next morning, we all watched the sunrise from bed. Then, Dylan’s sister made pancakes and we enjoyed our last views from this campsite. It was a wonderful, slow morning.
After a final day of working at the library, we went on an afternoon hike. I was so excited for this trek, because we were going to Phelps Lake. On the shores of Phelps Lake lies jumping rock, a 30 foot boulder that is perfect for cliff jumping 🪨.
Unfortunately, the easier Phelps Lake Loop trail was closed, so we had to take the Death Canyon trail to the lake. We descended 800 feet and 2.5 miles to the shore’s edge and the rock. Once we got to the rock, we immediately stripped down to our bathing suits.
Dylan and I pulled out the GoPro and prepared for our first jump. We got to the top of the boulder, counted down from 3 and jumped! This jump was so long that I still felt myself in the air before hitting the water below. I submerged and came up to the surface to see Dylan’s hands wide open with nothing in them. Oh no… we lost the GoPro 📸.
He immediately dove down, but came back up quickly without the camera. We called to the people above and asked if they could see it. No luck. Everyone started to work together to try and help us out. A group of four girls brainstormed with us on how to find it. They also treaded water and dove multiple times to find it. It was just too hard to see below the surface and no one had goggles 🥽.
Despite this loss, I still loved the jump and we went a couple more times. After agreeing to leave the GoPro behind, we went back on the trail. On the way back to the car, we saw another mama moose and her baby! It helped us to feel better about the loss of our camera.
When we got back, we got burgers and sandwiches at Dornans. They were wonderful and the restaurant had great views of the Tetons. Once we were full, we drove back to a free camp spot at the base of Shadow Mountain. The sunset was bright and vibrant, which was a great sendoff to our time in the Tetons.
Yellowstone National Park
After a perfect week, we drove from the Grand Tetons to Yellowstone National Park NP #43. I had been once before and honestly I think this park is overrated 😱. There’s way too much driving and far too large of crowds. I was not particularly excited about the journey, but we actually had an amazing time.
Geysers & Old Faithful
On our first day in the park, we drove directly to the Geysers of West Thumb. These are my ⭐️ favorite geysers ⭐️ in the park, because they are located on the gorgeous Yellowstone Lake. I highly recommend getting the trail guide, so you can learn even more about these awesome geothermal features.
After a brief walk through West Thumb, we went to Old Faithful. Of course, we knew it was going to be terribly crowded, but we braved it anyways. Dylan and Ali had never seen a geyser go off before. There was about thirty minutes before the next expected eruption. So, we all grabbed some delicious soft serve cones and waited. The area around the geyser was packed, so we stood amongst the crowd. We watched it erupt and then left swiftly to leave the crowds behind.
Then, we quickly went to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It’s one of the prettiest parts of the park with views of the upper and lower falls. Artist’s Point 🎨 is one of the most scenic views in the whole park. Everyone enjoyed seeing this spot, but again we left quickly because of all the people.
Finally, it was time to go wildlife searching. Lamar Valley was closed due to the flooding earlier that summer, so we went directly to Hayden Vally. As soon as we entered the valley herds of buffalo greeted us 🦬. There were hundreds of them all around with babies and families. We were able to pull the car close enough where we had fantastic sightings. * It’s important to always keep two bus lengths between you and the bison. *
Our car was thrilled and we loved just sitting and watching the bison. However, it was getting darker and later and we hadn’t eaten. So, we drove to a Picnic area just a little South of Hayden Valley. Thunder started rumbling ⛈ and we knew that we had to get things done fast. Jenny (Dylan’s mom) was head chef and the rest of us followed her orders.
We tried to get things done as quickly as possible. Luckily, we were able to finish cooking a delicious meal of bison steak and mac and cheese before any storm clouds opened. All of us were enjoying our dinner when all of a sudden there was a knock on our door. A man asked us,”Is it normal for bison to be that close?” We look outside and they are right next to the van.
The five of us shout “No!” and pull the man into the van for safety. His name was Josh and he was traveling from Denver to Canada on a scooter. All of us are thrilled and a little nervous about the bison. However, we also start bonding with Josh and even share one of our hard kombuchas. He took it without hesitation.
Eventually, the bison start wandering away and we feel okay to leave Josh for the night. His plan was to sleep right there in a hammock 😴. We drive back to our campsite and turn in for the night after that adrenaline rush.
The next morning, we wake up and go back into Yellowstone for one last sight: The Grand Prismatic. This is one of the most vibrantly colored springs 🌈 in the park. In fact, the best way to see it is from above because it is so large. So, we took the 1.5 mile trail towards Fairy Falls. There, we stopped at the overlook and took in the beautiful sight. It was a fantastic way to see the park off before departing.
We started to make our way back to Bozeman, because Dylan’s family was going to fly out of there. Along the way we went on a couple more adventures and got to see my best friend once again. It was sad to end the trip, but we truly enjoyed everything we did.
Cliff and Wade Lakes
Dylan’s mom told me that she wanted to spend the day swimming. Luckily, I had seen a friend’s instagram post talking about the Caribbean blue lakes of Cliff and Wade located in Southwestern Montana. However, the road to get there is long and a bit sketchy. His parent’s “check engine” light had come on 😬, but we weren’t aware.
By the time we got down to the lakes, they were very stressed. We tried to put it behind us and just hope that the van would start on our way back up the hill. So, we all got ready to have a day by the lake. We packed snacks, towels, and chairs. Then, we spent the day swimming in the clear waters, talking while standing in the lake, and lounging by its shores 🏊♀️. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful place to spend a few hours.
Luckily, their van started when we got back, so we continued to Bozeman. In Bozeman, we got a delicious meal at Montana Ale Works and then met Emily (my bff) for some ice cream. It was a lovely day.
On our last day together, we woke up early to get baked goods and go on one final venture. If you are going to Bozeman, then you should definitely stop at Wild Crumb for delicious pastries. Once we were full of pastries and coffee, we drove to Emily’s house to pack all of our picnic needs 🧺.
We were going to spend a day at Hyalite Reservoir, one of the most popular recreation areas near Bozeman. First, we went on a short hike to a lake. Then, we spent the day hanging in a wooded spot by the reservoir. All of us soaked up the sun ☀️, floated on inner tubes, and paddled the waters. It was a peaceful and wonderful way to say goodbye to our loved ones and Montana.
Caravanning from the Grand Tetons to Yellowstone with Dylan’s parents was incredible 🌟. This might have been my favorite week we have ever had in the van. It was full of cool swims, amazing hikes, and funny moments. I can’t believe we have already almost been in the van for a year and this first year is coming to a close.
Where We Stayed:
- Colter Bay Campground
- Gros Venture Campground
- Gros Venture Road (43.64083,-110.58111)
- Best views (43.77054,-110.53004)
- Shadow Mountain Base (43.70418,-110.62170)
- Flagg Ranch Campground
- Bozeman Trail Campground
Let me know in the comments if you enjoyed this van chronicle!
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