The next morning, we quickly broke up camp before sunrise and made it back to the main road. We decided that we first wanted to visit Grand Tetons and with a bit of luck, get a campground from which we could explore both parks. In contrast to Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons’ campgrounds all have a first come first serve policy, so we didn’t feel too bad about our chances getting there early in the morning. If this plan failed, we would just try to get a backcountry camping pass from a ranger and camp in the woods in the park.
From 6am to 7am we slowly saw the sun rise over the Tetons as we waited to get picked up. Eventually, a car filled with a large Chinese-American family stopped and offered us a ride to the southern Moose entrance of Grand Tetons National Park. This was perfect. At the entrance, we found out that the Visitor’s Centre wouldn’t open for another hour. This meant that we couldn’t get a backcountry permit and would just have to try for a regular campground. We walked to the entrance of the park, where we were greeted by a ranger. He was completing his prep for the day, which included raising a flag over the entrance. We were ready to pay him our entrance fee, but he declared that officially he wasn’t open yet and that we could just walk on. He did hand us some maps and advised us to try Jenny Lake campground since it was still open.
It turns out that hitchhiking on one of year’s busiest weekends in a park where everyone is trying to make it quick to one of the few first come first served campgrounds is super stressful. Everybody is competition and everyone is on their own. It’s a dog-eat-dog world after all. Luckily, we got picked up by a climbing instructor who was going to the Jenny Lake campground. As we hawked for a spot, the campground manager drove by us in his golf cart and informed us that there were spots in the hiker/biker campground. When we got there, there was only 2 other tents. We realized that we had happened upon two great travel hacks for US National Parks. Firstly, if you show up early enough, the gates are not yet manned (or they are, and the ranger doesn’t care) and you can just enter for free. Secondly, all national parks have designated hiker/biker campgrounds for travellers without a motor vehicle that never really fill up. (On the second night, there was only 1 other campsite occupied out of 10 spots.)
Just behind our tent, the Grand Tetons mountain range loomed and lured us in for some spectacular hikes. However, we decided to postpone that until tomorrow and go explore Yellowstone instead. That way, we could do a hike earlier in the morning, thus beating the heat and the crowds.
It is possible to visit Yellowstone’s numerous attractions, but it is not easy especially if you don’t have a car. It took us 8 rides and a lot of waiting to see the two main attractions we wanted see (and a bunch of others on the way). One of those eight was an RV filled with a family of 8 (6 children…on vacation with 6! children). This was the first RV that picked us up since hundreds have passed by us in all the roads in the United States. This made us retract the words that all RV owners are selfish and never pick up hitchhikers. The first stop of the day was Old Faithful, the world’s most famous geyser. When we walked in, we thought we had accidentally walked into Disneyland or maybe a shopping mall on Black Friday, because it was absolutely packed with thousands of people who all had come to see this famous natural fountain. 20 minutes after schedule, Old Faithful finally spurted. It was nice, but definitely not worth the hype as we saw many other geysers going off in the background.
After Old Faithful, we made it to the Grand Prismatic Springs. Along the way, we saw a bison just chilling on the side of the road, and the massive traffic jam this had caused. At the Springs, we found them particularly gorgeous since there were so many colours on display. However, it was also dotted by a lot of tourists, and it was hard to get a picture without someone in the background. By now, we had seen enough volcanic activity and too much people and decided to make it back to our tranquil campground to go make some dinner over a campfire. But first, we had to watch someone try to park an RV who clearly did not have any experience doing so, and it took them about 10 minutes before a horrible parking job was made.
Many people had warned us that, unless you go get a permit and really go back-country into Yellowstone, it is a bit overrated. We fully agree. Sure, the geysers are cool to see, there is some big wildlife (we saw a bison chilling on the side of the road), and the alpine mountains are pretty. But at the same time, it is also an absolute zoo of people and similar pretty places easily been seen elsewhere without being trampled by thousands of tourist and hundreds of RVs.