With Grand Teton National Park being so close to Yellowstone National Park, it’s pretty common to visit both on a trip. We did it this summer and found a great cabin in Grand Teton that just happens to be 2 miles from Yellowstone: Headwaters Lodge & Cabins.
Where are the Headwaters Cabins within the Grand Teton National Park?
Headwaters is located at Flagg Ranch on the far north end of Grand Teton National Park. While a lot of the park’s attractions that we were interested in, especially Jenny Lake, were on the other end of the park, we enjoyed driving through the park to get to our cabin.
It’s even further (about an hour) to drive to Jackson, Wyoming. Go there if you want a variety of shops, restaurants, and kid-pleasing tourist activities.
The good thing about the location of Headwaters?
Headwaters is very near Yellowstone National Park, making it almost a no-brainer that you should visit both parks. Separate entrance fee applies, though.
COVID-19 measures in place
**We stayed three nights at the cabin in June 2020, so while there were measures in place then, they could very well change before your visit. Read more about Grand Teton COVID-19 safety measures.
Check-in for Headwaters cabins is at the lodge, where you’ll notice the hand sanitizer outside and signage prior to entering.
We wore masks indoors, and you’ll find that less than 50% will too when you go in. Employees wore masks at the lodge and the nearby convenience store.
The cabins didn’t have regular housekeeping.
The restaurant in the lodge did not offer a dine-in service; you could only order take-out. We found this to be the case throughout Grand Teton National Park, as well as when we visited Yellowstone National Park.
What the Grand Teton Headwaters cabins are like
There are two options for cabins, as well as tent and lodge accommodations (though in 2020, the lodge is not open).
We reserved a deluxe cabin since it was the only one available, but also because it was the right size for our family of four. It had two queen size beds, a bathroom with a bathtub, and a small sitting area in front with two rocking chairs.
I took zero pictures of the interior of the cabins because there really wasn’t anything to distinguish it from a regular hotel room. Set your expectations low and you won’t be disappointed.
The cabin is actually a building with four separate rooms to reserve. We never heard neighbors, so it did feel like we had the place to ourselves.
Like all accommodations inside the park, there was no TV, which just about ruined my kids’ lives.
But, there was no TV and there was no WiFi and it took a while for all of us to accept that it was a time to unplug.
There is no air conditioning but you also didn’t need it, even in June. It got pretty cold each night.
How much are the cabins?
The price of the cabins was pretty steep. I’m talking $300+ a night.
There are several lodging options, many with fewer amenities and therefore a better price. But, be warned: Not all lodges at Grand Teton are open due to COVID-19.
You may have better luck finding a cabin outside of the park with more amenities for a more reasonable price.
But you really can’t beat this location of Headwaters, so I’m torn between recommending you look elsewhere or spend big.
If you’re still convinced that these cabins are for you, I recommend booking as early as possible. While I snagged this cabin at the last minute (less than two weeks from our vacation start date), that is not common.
What’s near the cabins?
As you drive south from the cabin into Grand Teton National Park, you’ll pass several pullout stops with great views of Jackson Lake with the Grand Tetons towering behind it.
We visited at the end of June during wild flower season, and it was stunning.
This park is considerably smaller than Yellowstone National Park, so having a home base in the north part of the park was no big deal. During our drives through the park, we spotted several mama bears with cubs, even the famous Grizzly 399!
While seeing the famous grizzly and her cubs off in the distance was definitely a highlight, we saw a juvenile grizzly much closer to the road on our last night in the park.
Keep in mind this was in late June, so the bear activity will likely be different if you visit during a different season.
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Our first trip to Yellowstone National Park was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Granted, Wyoming hasn’t been hit like other states, but it was still a little nerve-wracking when we decided to load up our car and make the road trip. How safe was it? Read on.
** Everything is subject to change after this post has gone live. We were at the park at the end of June 2020 and health and operational guidelines may change. For up-to-date operating hours, visit the Yellowstone website. Please read the CDC’s guidelines for visiting parks.
Safety measures at Yellowstone
The park has taken many steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The one that will impact any visit is the closures of many buildings like visitor centers and inns. Places that are open, like some restaurants (for take-out only) and gift shops, encourage face masks, hand sanitizer and capacity limits.
There are plenty of signs throughout the park reminding people to maintain 6 feet of social distance. I saw them at lookouts and on boardwalk trails.
The popular Ranger chats were canceled while we were there, as well as most guided tours. * See the section below about which activities aren’t canceled.
What are the crowds like at Yellowstone?
I can’t tell you how crowd levels compare to previous visits since this was my first time at the park. However, I had been warned about crowds, and traffic jams, and I didn’t find much of that during our visit in what I had anticipated being peak summer crowd levels.
The most crowded area was at Old Faithful. There were a few people wearing masks outdoors, but the majority of the crowd did not. If you wanted to maintain social distancing and still have a good view, it was quite easy to do, though.
And side note: Parking at Old Faithful was not a problem, which I’m told is unheard of in the summer.
Tip: There are bathrooms near the general store at Old Faithful that will have less of a wait (or no wait) versus the bathrooms much closer to the geyser. There wasn’t much social distancing going on in the geyser bathroom line.
Key lookouts always had a handful of people there, but it was easy to keep 6 feet apart.
The only spots that were a little more difficult to maneuver around people were the boardwalks at Grand Prismatic and Mammoth Hot Springs. At least with Grand Prismatic, it was a one-way walking path. Mammoth Hot Springs had people coming and going down every path.
We stayed at a cabin at Yellowstone National Park and it didn’t have a kitchen nor a fire pit outside. So, we did have to get food from time to time beyond our Nutella sandwiches. Luckily, there were some grills and dining rooms open – all for take-out, by the way. These were what were open in June 2020:
Old Faithful Cafeteria: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Get your ice cream here!)
Old Faithful Lodge Bake Shop: 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Old Faithful Snowlodge Geyser Grill: 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Canyon Lodge Eatery: 6:30 to 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Lake Lodge Wiley’s Canteen: 6:30 to 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Mammoth Terrace Grill: 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Grant Village Dining Room: 6:30 to 10 a.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.
It was an interesting experience getting food there. Employees all wore masks but I rarely saw guests in line with masks, even indoors.
Some places, like the soda fountain at Canyon Lodge, served food to go in compostable containers.
What else is open at Yellowstone right now?
As I mentioned before, gift shops were open. Most seemed to have a single entrance and a separate exit to make sure the crowd went in one direction; though really, once you were inside, it was a free for all.
Again, not a whole lot of people wearing masks, save for a handful of families, and all employees. There were masked employees standing at the entrance and exit of the Yellowstone General Store.
The gift shops that were open when we visited were:
Old Faithful Lodge Gift Ship
Old Faithful Snow Lodge Gift Shop
Lake Hotel Gift Shop
Canyon Lodge Gift Shop
Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel Gift Shop
Along with those gift shops, you’ll find general stores open at Old Faithful, Mammoth, Canyon, Lake Area, Fishing Bridge, and Grant Village.
When I was planning this trip a year ago, I had dreams of chuckwagon dinners and, who knows, maybe some twilight ranger chats. Well, most ranger chats and most activities have been canceled this summer. What IS open?
Horseback rides at Canyon Corrals
Guided fishing and sightseeing charters at Bridge Bay Marina. You can also rent boats there.
Rent bikes at Old Faithful Snow Lodge Gift Shop.
There are two medical clinics open, though luckily, we never needed to visit one. Find the open clinics at Mammoth and Old Faithful.
Where can you stay overnight at Yellowstone National Park?
I almost thought the trip I started planning in May 2019 was going to be canceled since the park delayed reopening some lodging. Luckily, the cabin we reserved in Canyon reopened a few days before our reservations.
At check-in, the clerks were wearing face masks and stood behind plexiglass windows. Our room keys were plastic cards, which were handed to us in small envelopes, presumably so we never had to touch the cards, just the envelopes.
Other accommodations that are open:
Lake Yellowstone Cabins
Lake Lodge Cabins
Mammoth Hot Springs Cabins
Old Faithful Lodge Cabins
Old Faithful Snow Lodge Cabins
Tentatively, there are plans to open up Old Faithful Inn, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Canyon Lodge, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel later this summer. See the predicted reopen dates here.
Most campgrounds are open, and many seemed to be full when we were there during the week. Reservations are highly recommended. To see which campgrounds are open and which are still closed, click here.
Roads that are closed
Unrelated to a pandemic, there are one road closure and construction that will affect visits in the summer of 2020. The biggie: The road between Tower-Roosevelt to Chittenden Road is closed. That closure will probably affect any of your North Loop plans. Check out the map of the road closure to get a better idea of how it will affect your plans.
There is also road construction near the North Entrance and along the Fishing Bridge to Indian Pond. Those closures didn’t really cause us a traffic headache for us, at least.
Plan a vacation to Yellowstone National Park
In the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing more stories about our trip to Yellowstone. Stay tuned for more stories!
With two kids comfortable hiking in Nebraska, hitting trails in Yellowstone National Park was going to be a huge step up (not just in altitude). So, I sought easy trails that packed a lot of views or cool geologic features. Read on for which trails we did!
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How We Found These Trails In Yellowstone
I started planning this trip months in advance, highlighting possible “easy” hike options in Lonely Planet’s “Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks” guidebook. To be honest, though, the easy hikes listed in the book were still long ones for my kids, who are 8 and 10.
We were able to find shorter routes of the suggested hikes in the book, though. Time to put those map-reading skills you learned long ago to good use.
A lot of our hikes were spur-of-the-moment hikes at quick stops as we drove around the park. If something catches your eye, stop! The park usually posts signs at parking lots with trail lengths.
What To Bring For Easy Hikes
Even for a short hike, it’s smart to be prepared in Yellowstone. Bring plenty of water and, if you’re going beyond boardwalks, bring snacks.
Comfortable hiking shoes are important. My kids have been wearing Keen boots for this trip and they’ve been light and durable.
Bug spray and sunscreen are other obvious needs. A hat is also a good idea.
Raincoats are also smart. We left on a hike and it was sunny with puffy, “The Simpsons” type clouds. After about two hours, rain clouds rolled in and drenched us.
Guidebooks and park officials all highly recommend bringing bear spray. I suggest buying it before you make the trip to Wyoming. In Omaha, I could’ve bought it for under $30. On our way through Wyoming, every store we stopped at was sold out of it, so we ended up buying it inside Grand Teton National Park for $55. And, on several trails, I had my hand on it because we were in a remote enough and alone.
Yellowstone National Park trail safety
My advice is to listen to the experts. We followed all of the rules posted at Yellowstone regarding hiking safely, especially since you’re in Bear Country and could be on a trail passing a hydrothermal area.
You can find Yellowstone safety tips for hiking as well as day hike suggestions here.
Southern Loop Easy Trails
Time: 5-10 minutes
This short, but sweet, hike was our first to stumble upon when we entered the park from the south entrance. Lewis Falls is a 30-foot waterfall that’s visible from the road.
I noticed that most who stopped snapped pictures from the small parking area and moved on. That’s fine, but they missed out on a short, dirt trail that takes you closer to the falls.
There is an incline at the beginning that is off-putting, but don’t let it deter you. In a matter of minutes, the trail ends at the falls.
It’s not as spectacular as some of the larger, well-known waterfalls, but it’s nice, short hike that let’s kids (or adults who “don’t do hiking”) feel adventurous.
Tip: If you don’t want to spend much time hiking to get a good view of a waterfall and you don’t want to deal with crowds, stop at Kepler Cascades.
Midway Geyser Basin trail
Time: 30 minutes
The Midway Geyser Basin is home to one of the park’s biggest show stoppers: Grand Prismatic Spring. Its popularity is well deserved. The area is stunning and unearthly. It’s also pretty easy to get to, so you can expect a lot of people on the boardwalk with you.
By the way, the first unreal pool of water you encounter is huge and impressive. Many people stop here thinking it’s the main attraction.
Expect less than an hour to see all the sprigs, even if you linger and take a lot of selfies. I think we spent more time trying to get a parking spot than trekking up to see the sites.
Tip: Keep a close eye on kids. The boardwalk is wide but there are no rails on most of the path.
Lower Geyser Basin
Time: 20 minutes
This fairly short trail was very crowded when we visited, probably because there are a ton of unique geological sights packed into a small area.
You’ll find the fascinating Fountain Paint Pot there, a bubbling spring. And while we were there, Clepsydra Geyser erupted.
It’s near the Midway Geyser Basin, so if you’re planning on seeing Grand Prismatic Spring (which I think you should), this is an easy stop to tack on.
Mud Volcano Area
Time: 30 minutes
We almost didn’t stop for Mud Volcano. It was dusk, we’d spent a hot day exploring the park’s Southern Loop highlights. We were tired.
But the draw of names like Mud Volcano and Black Dragon Caldron on the sign caught my kids’ eye, so we swerved to make the turn.
Good thing we did, because Churning Caldron is worth seeing!
The total hike along this boardwalk is 2/3 of a mile. Part of the route are steep and might make you winded, and may cause a bit of whining, but hang in there.
Tip: There some stairs on this path, so it’s not 100% accessible.
We had a few visceral memories of this area. For one thing, it smells like a lot of stinky mud pots and fumarole do. My kids were pretty dramatic about the stench.
Be sure to keep an eye on kids and stay on the trail here.
Second, like many places in Yellowstone, wild animals abound. A long bison rested very close to the trail. Very close!
Southern Rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Time: 2 and ½ hours
By far, the most rewarding hike and the most difficult hike was the one we took to see the beautiful falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Granted, can easily drive and park at Uncle Tom’s Point or Artist’s Point to catch glimpses, but the most breathtaking vistas are away from the crowds.
Tip: Uncle Tom’s Trail was closed when we were there.
This hike was originally going to be 6 miles and marked “easy” in our Lonely Planet guide. FYI: For kids and non-experienced hikers, 6 miles is never easy, and the incline on some parts of that path would be more considered “moderate.”
Anyway. Six miles was too long for us so we shortened the route.
Parking at Uncle Tom’s Point, we first saw the Upper Falls, before taking the Southern Rim Trail toward Artist’s Point, where you get a great view of Lower Falls (the taller falls).
Tip: Artist’s Point has bathroom facilities. No, it doesn’t have a water bottle fountain. You can guess why I know both of these things.
After admiring the view, we continued on toward Clear Lake. We passed a bubbling hydrothermal area with steaming pools of water. It was hot and stinky and a little eerie to walk through alone.
Clear Lake was a gorgeous view, but also a little nerve-wracking since we saw many piles of fresh bear poop. Hurrying on, we came to an open field and saw a pronghorn.
And then it started to rain. Seriously. Look at the clouds in the Clear Lake picture. We didn’t expect it to be raining about 10 minutes later!
Granted, we had just been complaining about the heat, so it was refreshing. However, we’d also talked to a family who’d mentioned being caught in a hailstorm there. So…
We ran the last stretch back to Uncle Tom’s Point.
Old Faithful area
Time: Varies, but we only spent about 20 minutes on the trail because we wanted to catch Old Faithful’s eruption.
By far, the most crowded area in the park during our visit was around Old Faithful. Before your visit, download the Yellowstone app so you can keep track of when the geyser is predicted to erupt. If you have more than hour, hit the nearby paved trails to explore.
This area is full of geysers and steaming hot springs. Stay on the path!
We ran into a park ranger who answered the kids’ questions. This was the only place we encounter a ranger. I imagine back in non-COVID times, the rangers were a lot more accessible (ranger stations in the park were not open during our visit).
Northern Loop Easy Trails
Mammoth Hot Springs trail
Time: 30 minutes to 1 hour
The other-worldly terrain at Mammoth Springs is a popular attraction in the northern section of the park. We only explored perhaps half of the trail, since we were nearing the end of our stay and the kids were openly rebelling against hikes at that point.
The boardwalk has several steps, making it a bit more strenuous of a trail than others, especially if you make your way to the lookout.
Our favorite part of this area were Mound Spring and Palette Spring, but I imagine you’d find a different favorite. It’s all very strange and unique there.
It’s very important to stay on the trail at Mammoth Hot Springs.
Plan a Yellowstone trip
In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more stories about our time in Yellowstone National Park. Be on the lookout for them: