Seattle to Salt Lake in Ten Days
2020 has turned into the year of domestic travel for many. Because of our beloved Covid, many people have had to cancel or postpone their international trips. I feel ya! My Epic Olympics trip and Triathlon in Edmonton have been postponed. With many borders still closed, and so much uncertainty still around travel, we decided to hit the road and head out West.
Two National Parks that have been on my list for years now have been Glacier National Park and Yellowstone. These two parks are within a 3.5 hour drive of each other and offer completely different geological wonders. We debated between driving from Chicago or flying into Seattle and then renting a vehicle. The decision was made to skip the awful drive through Illinois and Minnesota, and start in Washington. Our predetermined route had us fly into Seattle and out of Salt Lake. No round trip, just some one-way action!
Side note- For any trip, If you decide to do two National Park within a seven day window, and don’t already have your National Parks Annual Pass, get one. The pass is $80 (each National park costs $35 to visit) and you get to use the prepaid line, which moves much quicker.
Day 1. We spent one evening in Seattle. I’m hoping to make a trip dedicated to the north west corner eventually, so we didn’t invest much time here. A few things to check out if you’re there for a short time are the Pike Place Market, Belltown, and South Lake Union area. We ate at Duke’s Seafood. A bit pricy, we had a really good crab cake sandwich. Something to note, the homeless people in the downtown area are somewhat intimidating. This is from a Chicagoan’s POV.
Day 2. From Seattle, we drove over to Okanogan- Wenatchee National Forest. It’s only a few hours from Seattle, on the way to Spokane. We hiked Snow Lake trailhead, which was nestled in a quaint alpine village called Alpental. By the time we left, the parking lots were completely full. We had no idea this trail was such a popular hiking destination. Definitely get there early! The trailhead takes you up a mountain and down to lake views. It was a moderate climb, with a decent amount of elevation and a rocky path. Bring layers! We went from cool and foggy, to sunny and warm, to sleet and rain, and then back to cool and foggy. We didn’t get the killer end view, due to the fog, but we saw plenty along the way!
Our night stay was in Spokane. We stayed at the Spokane club, which I would definitely recommend. The hotel is a unique, historic building with clean rooms at a fair price and walking distance to the river and downtown area. The downtown is quiet, but pretty cool. Stop by Whistle Punk for a beer flight (the beer here was my favorite on the entire trip). Grab a burger at Durkin’s Liquor Bar.
Day 3. We drove straight from Spokane to Glacier. We arrived in the park later than expected. We were running short on daylight, so we opted for a hiking trail that was closer to the West entrance. Avalanche trail was a pretty easy hike, which takes you to Avalanche Lake. Great views at the end!
We stayed in Kalispell, 45 minutes outside the west entrance of the park. Not ideal, but it was more affordable than in Glacier and the other surrounding areas. Stop by Moose’s Saloon for some local vibes, cheap beer, and great service.
Day 4. We woke up the next morning to a massive cold front that came from Canada and continued all the way down through Denver, dropping the temperature in most places by at least forty degrees. In Kalispell, we had rain and gale force winds. In Glacier, they had two to five inches of snow, so the Going-to-the-Sun road was closed from Avalanche to Saint Mary’s Lake. Not what we were hoping for on our first full day. We tried driving around to access the park from the East entrance. Halfway into the drive, we found signage claiming the East entrance was closed as well. Thanks again, Covid.
Side note- phone service at or near most national parks are nonexistent, so make sure you do your research before you get in the car. Have your destinations saved in Google maps or elsewhere, if possible.
We decided to head back into the park from the west entrance, and found a trailhead that was still accessible. We hiked Snyder Creek Trail, which was a moderate hike (challenging, with the wind and decent elevation. The route was mostly dirt and rock. Your hard work is paid off with panoramic views on the way up. You have a lake view at the destination, which was “meh”.
Side note- Layer up! As we made our way up the mountain, we had to shed a lot of clothing and put them all back on once we were in the mountain pass. Afterwards, we made our way out of the park because the traffic was no bueno and we were running out of options. We drove over to the Apgar visitor center and got a few photos ofLake McDonald. We found Camas road, and took that over to Outside North Fork for some scenic driving. If you can’t access the park for any reason, this is a good option for other trails and scenic overlooks.
I would recommend you only drive this road in a four-wheel drive or SUV vehicle, since the road is not paved. We did this in a Hyundai Elantra and is was sketch-balls the whole way. We drove all the way to Bowman Lake. On this note, if you do rent a car, try to do a small SUV or Subaru. You may do some off-roading or hit weather. You’ll be happy you made the investment!
Day 5. The main road was still closed, so we decided to call it quits and head south to Helena. It was for the best, because they ended up closing the entire park. We decided to go off the beaten path and took a chance on Glacier Lake trailhead in Montana. This was another sketchy drive down a gravel road where we held our breathe the entire time. This was an easy hike with minimal elevation, a few log bridges, and a beautiful lake at the end. Pack a lunch and some beers and spend some time here!
Side-note- If you’re going to be doing any hiking out west, you’ll want to consider purchasing bear spray. Yes, just do it. You’ll have a little more peace of mind. We did not end up using it, but bears, wolves, and cougars are prevalent in these areas.
Our stay between Glacier and Yellowstone was Helena. There’s not much to see in this town. They have a quaint downtown area where most of their restaurants and watering holes are located. Stop by the Blackfoot River Brewing for a flight and then grab some pizza from Bridge Pizza next door. You can bring the food into the brewery and hang out at their indoor or outdoor seating.
Day 6. We left Helena, and headed over to Yellowstone. It’s about a three hour drive to the West Entrance. What’s beautiful about Yellowstone is you can see almost everything from your car and the boardwalks. This place is great for families, older folks, and people who may have a hard time getting around. Something that I didn’t know is that Yellowstone sits on top of a giant super volcano. Not very comforting, being that it’s 2020. Oh well.
We started our day at about Noon. We walked around the Lower Geyser Basin, Midway Geyser Basin, and Old Faithful. After we saw Old Faithful take off, we hiked Fairy Falls. Easy trailhead with minimal elevation on a dirt path through the woods which leads you to the Falls. Then, we drove up to Mammoth Hot Springs and Walked around as the sun began to set. The Geyser Basins and Hot Springs have boardwalks for easy access.
Day 7. We drove out to the Yellowstone Grand Canyon. We hiked the Clear Lake Trailhead, located off of South Rim Drive and Uncle Tom's Trail. We did a loop, getting views of the upper and lower falls, Lilly Pad Lake, and Clear Lake. Easy trail that was about 3.5. miles.
Then we headed south, since the road between Canyon Village and Tower was closed. We went through Hayden Valley, where we saw a ton of bison. Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley are known for having the largest concentrations of bison. It was crazy how close we got to them! We drove to Lake Butte Overlook, where we had a great 360 view of the caldera. If you are feeling athletic and don’t mind the hike, a little bit further south you can hike Avalanche Peak and get the same panoramic views, but with a workout. Next, we drove towards Old Faithful, and stopped at Mystic Falls (Mystic BALLS according to the sign). This was another easy hike that was about 3 miles round trip. Light on the elevation, but you do see a pretty cool waterfall at the end. On the way back, we ventured through more geothermal pools and again, got uncomfortably close to another bison. From what we saw, they are not temperate at all. They usually don’t even acknowledge your existence.
We ended the day early to grab dinner and a treat so that we could head back into the park to check out the night sky. Unfortunately, I did not have a good food experience in West Yellowstone. We stayed just outside the west entrance to the park. Most places fill up quickly after a busy day in the park, so be ready to wait since most places aren’t taking reservations these days. In my experience, the food quality was “meh” and the prices were high, due to location. If I were to do this trip again, I would have bought groceries and prepared my own meals. I will say, they have some good candy shops. Give Rustic Candy Shop or Outpost Sweet Treats a try. Montana is known for their huckleberries, so try their huckleberry ice cream or chocolates.
We took our goodies back out to the park, where we waited until sunset and ate our treats under the stars. If you are not camping, it’s worth the drive out to see the night sky. You won’t be disappointed. We did have our windows up for the most part. My fiancé likes to place it safe with the wildlife.
Day 8. We had a white water rafting adventure planned in the Jackson Hole. We drove through Yellowstone, heading south through the Tetons until we hit Jackson. We didn’t do any hiking in the Tetons, unfortunately. There are a ton of places you can pull off and catch views of one of the youngest mountain ranges in North America.
Once we got into Jackson, we were astonished by how busy and active the city is. We had about two hours to walk around and grab a bite to eat, so we didn’t get to do much exploring. If you find yourself in Jackson, you need to stay at least a day. We were bummed we didn’t allot more time here. There are a ton of shops and restaurants, and the town has a very rustic western vibe. We grabbed lunch at Healthy Being Grocery because I needed something green in my life. We did our white water trip with the Dave Hansen group. Great customer service and a really well-run operation. We were a little disappointed with the rapids. We were on the Snake River, and rode levels 2/3 rapids. We were looking for something more legit, and if you are as well, I’d look at nothing less than level 3 rapids.
Again, I wish we had stayed at least one night in Jackson, especially since we had a four and a half hour trip to Salt Lake City. If you’re looking for a good place to stop en route, we were told Melvin Brewery has fantastic beer. The drive from Jackson to Salt Lake is lovely. You travel along the Snake River, and head back through Idaho through the hills and valleys. We were on the road at sundown. I would recommend trying to do this drive in the daylight. There are a number of free-roaming cattle ranches, so having as much visibility as possible is important. We made it to the highway before sundown, (whoop whoop)! We grabbed a late dinner at Arempas. Good spot for a quick, late night bite.
Day 9. Our last, full day on the trip we spent venturing around Salt Lake City. We drove up to Ogden in the morning to check out the Arc’teryx and Salomon outlet store. Ogden has a quaint downtown area, with a ton of options for outdoor activities, such as hiking and biking.
They also have a farmer’s market on Saturdays downtown in the summer. We wandered around and headed over to Talisman Brewery. This was my favorite brewery in the Salt Lake Area- great customer service and really good beer.
They also explained to us some of the strange drinking regulations that Salt Lake has. See here for more details: https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/utah/strange-alcohol-laws-ut/
One of the rules I found to be very annoying is that in breweries, they can’t serve beer that is more than 5% alcohol. They sometimes have it available for purchase, but you have to drink it elsewhere.
Next, we went to check out the actual Salt Lake. We took a drive over to Antelope Island State Park. The park costs $15 for single vehicle entry. When you drive in, it looks like you are on a completely different planet. The Salt Lake is eerily still, and is surrounded by rocks and desert like plants with wild bison walking around. The beach is not your typical beach. The sand is hard, dry, and rocky. Walking up to the water, you see black clouds rise, fall, and then dissipate. We come to find that they are swarms of gnats. The water doesn’t exactly look clean, but it could be that 30% of the lake is composed of sodium. Definitely not a place you want to have a beach day, but it’s worth checking out.
We drove back into Salt Lake, where we did a short brewery crawl from Bewilder to Kiitos, to Fisher Beer. All three were solid, but Kiitos was my favorite out of the three. There was a greater beer selection. I was still in the mood for ethnic food, so we got dinner at Papito Moes, which is a Puerto Rican restaurant. Great service and food. We ended the night with treats at Bruges Belgian Bistro. They make these really good waffles with an array of toppings you can choose from. Amazing.
Day 10. We flew home! We tried to get on an earlier flight, but with no avail. We flew out at 3pm, so we did some more sightseeing. If you’re looking to kill some time or do some walking around, go check out Temple Square, the Utah State Capitol Building, which is near the Memory Grove Park.
If you are looking for a road trip in a short amount of time, I hope that this post will be of use in your future travels! I’ve included a Google Map with all most of our stops, along with a few extras we didn't hit.