12 Day Itinerary to see 3 National Parks in Montana and Wyoming
My two friends and I booked a ticket to Kalispell, Montana in late March thinking “what the hell- let’s go on a trip”. We all have wanderlust in our blood and we were ready for an adventure. We were dropped off at the airport with our luggage, bear bells and a plastic baggie as a wallet – what did we get ourselves into?
We landed in Kalispell, Montana and picked up our rental car from National Car Rental (a great way to save money if you’re under 25). We spent about $75 a day on a car split between the three of us- not bad. Once we found our mid-sized SUV rental car we drove to Glacier Under Canvas which is a hotel based stay in canvas tipis or canvas deluxe sweets.
The staff was incredibly sweet and accommodating so when we arrived we were upgraded to a deluxe sweet for half off. We ended our night around a bonfire roasting s’mores and huddling for warmth since it was an unexpected 32 degrees outside… in July.
Our alarm went off at 8 and we all slowly rolled out of bed to begin packing up and we wanted to grab some breakfast before we began our hiking adventures. One of staff suggested we check out Glacier Grill about a half mile down the road from Glacier Under Canvas so we went there for a quick bite to eat.
After breakfast, we arrived at Apgar Campground (closest campground to the entrance of Glacier) at about to make sure we could snag a campsite.
While we were searching for the host of the Campground, we ran into an older camper who suggested we go hike to Hidden Lake on our first day. On our way to Hidden Lake Overlook (2.8 Miles round trip, gains of 460 ft), we hiked through mud, snow water while taking in the majestic views. Little did we know, the views would get better with each day.
*The hike down to the lake was closed off due to bear sightings so we stayed at the Hidden Lake Overlook.
After Hidden Lake Overlook, we decided to fill our day with another hike to Avalanche Lake (4.6 miles round trip, gains 460 ft). This hike was along waterfalls and streams which led us to a beautiful lake surrounded by mountain peaks.
After completing about 7.5 miles on our first day we decided to head back to the campground for some nutritious spaghetti o’s, cooked on a fire, and wine on Lake McDonald (we didn’t quite get the cooking down yet).
Day 3 – Highline Trail 15 Miles RT, gains 2,300 feet –> Swiftcurrent overlook add 1 mile, gains 1,000 ft
Highline Trail (15 miles, gains 2,300 ft), here we come. We were advised by a Park Ranger to begin the hike the hardest way possible. We started with a four-mile climb at “the loop” gaining 1,500 feet in the absolute epitome of bear country.
We were clapping and screaming and singing the alphabet in hopes of keeping the bears away.
When we reached the top of the four miles, we could finally see the trail we would be hiking on for the next 9 hours along the Garden Wall. While we were scouting out the trail we spotted another trail veering off up a steep mountain to overlook Grinnell Glacier.
We thought it would be a great idea to hike up that 1 mile climb gaining 1,000 feet to overlook one of the last glaciers in the park. We were scaling mountains, hiking through waterfalls and taping up blisters, but the view was worth it.
After our two mile detour we decided to get back on the Highline trail to finish out what would now be a 16 mile hike.
Note to self: Always bring more water than you think you need & bring sunscreen– we ran out of water with 6 miles left and got burnt to a crisp using snow found along the trail to keep us cool.
The hike to Grinnell lake was nice and flat, unlike our hike the previous day. We met a woman along the way who, to our much loved surprise, enjoyed taking photos of us. *If you followed us on Insta- sorry for blowing you up (not really)* This was a much more leisurely day and hike all together if you’re ever looking for an easier hike on the East side of Glacier.
Day 5- St. Mary’s Falls, Virginia Falls & Barrings Falls – 4 Miles RT, gains 260 ft
Hiking to these falls were again pretty flat except for a few inclines. The waterfalls were beautiful and a great way to keep cool on a hot and sweaty day.
Off the bridge by St. Mary’s waterfall, a few of people were cliff jumping, so we decided to join the fun! When we jumped off the cliff we made sure to land in the rapids so that the rapids would pull us away from the waterfall.
This was glacier water, so it was FREEZING.
After cliff jumping, we hiked along St. Mary’s lake to bring us to Barrings Falls which was another beautiful waterfall to end our day of hiking.
Day 6 – RedRock Falls 3.6 Miles RT, gains 100 ft
This our last leisurely hike before we were off to our next campsite, Norris Hot Springs.
Norris Hot Springs is a campground with a hot spring pool. The 120-degree hot spring flows into the “pool” which is then cooled down by sprinklers. Food, beverages, and campsites are provided at Norris for a very reasonable price ($22/night).
Day 7/8 – Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone was beautiful with mountains covered in green trees and flat grounds filled with all kinds of crazy animals. We saw a million and one Geysers and Hot Springs while driving through Yellowstone. The hot spring most worth our time was The Grand Prismatic Spring- the colors were unreal!
**Be careful when visiting hot springs and geysers as the ground is Thermal and can give out at any moment**
All you really need is a day and a night to see a lot of things in Yellowstone and enjoy a campground. Madison Campground is centrally located in the park and only takes reservations (access it through the west entrance and reserve ahead of time). We stayed by the North Entrance at Mammoth Campground, it was great, but not well located.
Day 9 Grand Tetons National Park
Jenny’s Lake Hike to Inspiration Point 7.5 Miles RT, Gains 250 feet; 6910 ft elevation
Day 10 Grand Tetons National Park – Delta Lake 10 Miles RT, gains about 3,000 ft; 9,016 ft elevation
On our way to Amphitheater Lake, we ran into a father and his two children who work in the park. They said they were going hiking in the backcountry and were headed to Delta Lake. Backcountry hiking was something we had always heard about and decided that we couldn’t miss out so we tagged along with the family. We followed Amphitheater Trail until we came across a trail veering off to the right that was not maintained (use a backcountry map if going for the first time). We followed the “trail” that led us under tree trunks, over boulders, over rivers, and through bushes. When we reached the peak, it was all worth it. The murky blue water and the mountains were spectacular. ~Good things come from talking to strangers.
Day 11 Jackson Hole
Tuesday nights are known for Bluegrass bands at the Wort Hotel in Jackson, WY. We enjoyed the bluegrass band until 10 and then headed over to the famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar to enjoy a live band (and a burger) for the rest of the night. We requested many songs, especially our trip anthem “Die a Happy Man”. We were hoping to see Thomas Rhett, but didn’t luck out there.
Day 12 Jackson Hole –> Home
We woke up in our first hotel room in 12 days with hot water and a shower! Cleaned the car, packed up and headed home. We met strangers who turned into friends, learned lessons that we will take forever and made memories for a lifetime. Cheers to our gypsy souls!