How We Successfully Spent Two Weeks Car Camping in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks – Part 1 – Be Prepared
In late 2016, my husband and I found ourselves in Alamogordo, New Mexico exploring White Sands National Monument. It was out of coincidence that we were there, but it changed our views on traveling in the US. Our visit to White Sands sparked a desire to become more in touch with the natural world around us and to visit more National Parks, Forests, and Monuments.
It was this time last year that we decided it was time to visit Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. We booked our campsite months in advance because we read that they fill up quick (and they do!). Visiting these two iconic national parks was one of our most memorable vacations. Not because of where we were or the history of the parks, it is because of what we accomplished just by being there in the outdoors for two weeks.
Disclaimer: this post is NOT intended for anyone looking to do any hardcore backpacking. If you are someone who wants to put everything in their car, drive across the country, and pitch a tent mere feet away from your vehicle – this is for you!
It took a LOT of preparation for us to be able to spend two weeks living out of our car and in camp sites. Going to a national park and NOT staying in a hotel nearby requires a lot of thought and effort. Car camping is certainly not for everyone but my husband and I have enjoyed camping together since our first spring break when we started dating 8 years ago.
This is going to be a two part post: the prep and the survival. Again, a lot goes into traveling across the country to spend two weeks in national parks. Part 1 is all of the preparation we did and what we wish we would have done in order to have a smooth(ish) trip. Part 2 will be how we did once we got to the parks.
Preparing for Two Weeks of Car Camping in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks
Both Yellowstone and Grand Teton are relatively remote parks.
In my mind, I had pictured Yellowstone as this massive park yet everything you wanted to see was very close together. All the blogs I had read never mentioned drive time between sights (we’ll get to traffic in part 2). You might think that Artist’s Point and Old Faithful are just minutes away from each other. In reality, they are on opposite sides of the park. It will take about 45 minutes to get from the east side to the west side of the park depending on where you are at. With how remote they are, make sure you fill up your gas tank frequently at the pumping stations scattered throughout the park.
The only town we visited while staying the parks was Jackson, WY. Located on the west side of Grand Teton NP, it offers an airport, dining, lodging, and shopping. Traffic to and from Jackson wasn’t too bad. Just don’t go around 9am or 5pm – picture rush hour traffic on a two lane road to and from the park! A LOT of tourists stay in Jackson during their visit. On the way back to the park, you get a nice photo op with the National Park sign.
Tune Up Your Car and Insurance
Driving from Oklahoma to the middle of Wyoming was no small feat. We drove my husband’s mid-size SUV. We got new tires, changed the oil and filters, signed up for AAA roadside insurance, and thought we were totally okay to make this trip without issue (more on that in Part 2).
Go Camping Ahead of Time
Nothing can better prepare you for spending time in a National Park car camping than actual camping. My husband, D and I went on multiple camping and hiking trips before taking the journey to Yellowstone and Grand Teton. This allowed us to see what we truly needed and to make a list of the things we wished we would have had.
This also showed us what we were able to tolerate. As in, I wanted to sleep on a blow-up air mattress instead of roll out mats (which we still packed), how many days I could go wearing my hiking boots and no other shoes, how many days I could go without showering, etc.
Book Campsites in Advance
Grand Teton did not allow for advance booking so we did a lot of research on which campsites filled up the quickest and which ones we wanted to stay at. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights fill up the fastest. We got to the campground we wanted at about 11am and had no issue. I recommend Lonely Planet’s “Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks” book for mapping out the campsites and their location relative to the activities you want to do (available on Amazon).
We ended up at our first choice, Colter Bay. We were able to walk to the general store and to Jackson Lake from our site. It also had a pretty great view. Note: the picture below is just of our tent. There are also bear boxes at every campsite. Ours happened to be on the other side of our site where we parked our car.
Yellowstone is a whole different story. Campsites are at capacity almost every night during the summer so booking in advance is a must! You’ll need to start NOW (February/Early March) and book through the agency that runs the sites (Xterra). Their link is available through the National Parks website.
When to Go
D and I went at the end of June 2017 and it was absolutely perfect weather. There was one day when it stormed but that’s what rain gear and water resistant shoes are for. After asking a colleague who used to live in the area about the weather, he suggested that the end of June/early July is best. This is because mating season is over and there are no baby animals for mamas to protect. June/July is also when the snow is almost gone but the days aren’t too hot.
When we climbed Mt. Washburn, there was still a good amount of snow the further up we got but very little snow, if any, left in the rest of Yellowstone or Grand Teton.
Food and Water
While NPS provides a plethora of dining and grocery options for all visitors, it is very advantageous to cook meals at your campsite with food you brought with you. We packed a large black tote with canned goods (soups and beans), oatmeal, instant coffee, and other dried goods. In our cooler we brought chopped fresh veggies sealed in plastic bags and divided into meal size portions (we are vegan so no meat), jelly (for PB&Js), sports drinks, a few cans of Diet Coke, and hummus. We also had a five gallon water jug that we constantly filled so we had water to drink and to cook with. Cooking at your site will save you money in the long run since the dining options can be pricey.
We have a two burner Coleman stove so there was no campfire cooking for us. I desperately tried to make s’mores but it wasn’t worth it. Since we drove around all the time, we rarely ate lunch at our campsite. We made sandwiches and ate hummus and trail mix for lunches. Much cheaper than finding a veggie sandwich or salad at one of the restaurants.
What We Packed
Packing for any trip might just be my favorite part. I love to plan and organize, so I have made this list for you. D packed very similar items (minus female only things). The only things we wish we would have packed were a mosquito net and a wash tub for dishes.
I thought I had taken a picture of the car before we left, but alas, I did not. In the next post I’ll show how much room everything took in our car.
Car Camping Two Week Packing List
– 2 large tarps
– Extra tent steaks
– Strong twine
– Sleeping bags/mats/air mattress/pillows
– Headlamps and/or lantern
– Camp stove and propane
– Pot and pan
– Plates/bowls/mugs/water bottles
– Eating utensils (like an all-in-one spork/knife)
– Cooking utensils
– Camp soap/sponge/wash basin
– Paper towels/dish towels
– 5 gallon water jug
– Life Straw or Iodine tab (bonus points)
– Fire starter/lighter/storm proof matches
– First aid kit
– Day packs with bladders
– Rain gear
– Ice chest/cooler
– Bear spray
– Phone chargers with car adapter
– Emergency ponchos
– Camp chairs
– Plastic sacks (for trash and wet items)
– laundry bag/laundry detergent
– hand sanitizer
– Battery powered alarm clock/thermometer
– 2 pairs hiking pants
– 1 pair long johns
– 1 pair shorts (2 for men)
– 1 pair athletic pants
– 1 pair jeans
– 5 shirts
– 2 base layers
– 4 pairs socks
– 7 pairs underwear
– 3 sports bras
– 1 heavy jacket
– 1 hoodie/light jacket
– hiking boots
– Chacos (doubled as shower shoes)
– tennis shoes
– Hair brush/hair ties/headband
– Glasses/extra contacts/contact soultion
– Minimal makeup
– Nail clippers/nail file
– Body wipes
– Feminine hygiene products
– Bug spray/sunscreen