This post is going to be a long one. You may want to grab a drink and put your feet up.
Last year at this time I started planing an adventure in an area of the country I knew very little about. It was for our annual mother-son trip and the first where I would take both boys on a plane.
As you can see someone was very excited.
Evan is just about 4 and half years old and this was his very first plane ride. Ryan, who just turned 10, is the flying pro now. He even completed his very first sudoku in flight!
It’s just over a 4-hour flight from Baltimore to Salt Lake City. The boys handled it well.
No naps but lots of silliness.
We landed in Salt Lake City around lunch time and picked up a rental car. We had about a 5-hour drive to our first destination in Idaho.
On the way we stopped for lunch in Brigham City, Utah.
And before we knew it we were at the state line.
I really wanted to stop at the Idaho Potato Museum on the way but we missed it by 15 minutes. They closed at 5 p.m.
But that’s OK. At least we did got to see the giant potato!
Just before sunset we reached our mountain cottage. At least that’s what we’re calling it.
This was my first experience booking from AirBnB and I have no doubt I’ll do it again — if you don’t know what AirBnB is click here. Basically, it allows you to rent accommodations around the world from individuals. We rented from a woman in Tetonia, ID and her little cottage apartment was perfect for us.
The view was fantastic!
The next morning we awoke nice and early to start the first part of our adventure and were greeted by this lovely hot-air balloon. The kids though it was the coolest thing so we pulled over and watched it for a bit.
Our first stop self-exploring was Mesa Falls.
I can’t say enough about this little spot in the Targhee National Forest. There’s two views of the waterfall.
The first is from a distance called “lower falls.” There’s a short path and a view station to take photos.
The second is called “upper falls” and the paved trails and stair casings allow you a close-up look.
Of course the super powerful water fountain was just as impressive to the kids as the falls so I let them stop and play.
Once we approached the falls, however, we were blown aways by its awesomeness. With the morning sun behind us we got a perfect rainbow!
We sat for a bit (with snacks) and just watched the water flow over the rocks.
On the walk back we stopped to read about the local wildlife and history of the falls.
Before heading back to the car we decided to stop in at the visitor station. Good thing, too! We were blown away by all the displays of animal skins and bug collections.
The kids were having a blast and being silly, of course.
“Mom, look! A staring contest.”
Of course anything big brother does… well… you know.
The raccoon may have been cool but the bears really stole the show.
We hopped back in the car and headed toward Yellowstone.
Making a pit stop in West Yellowstone for some shopping and a bite to eat.
The kids really needed a break from the car and I let them pick out a small thing to entertain themselves while we were driving.
It was not these hats, although they were super cute!
We headed across the street and enjoyed lunch…
…before driving into Yellowstone.
We only had one day to explore, and we had two spots picked out. The first was Fountain Paint Pots, a short hike around active geysers and springs.
It was fascinating! Even the kids thought so.
Ryan actually took the camera and had fun snapping away.
Which means I actually ended up in some photos!
Then we made our way to what may be the most famous part of Yellowstone. Yes?
Old Faithful blows about every 90 minutes. When we got there the park ranger told us we had about an hour to wait. So we grabbed some ice cream (there’s lots of shops and such around) and then took a seat to wait for the show.
It didn’t disappoint!
Leaving, I snuck ahead to snap this.
They melt me.
At this point I could have turned around and headed back to our mountain cottage but I had a feeling the kids would pass out and they did.
So instead of returning the same way I came, I went an hour out of my way and looped through Grand Teton National Park for different views.
This way had us pass through Jackson.
We stopped for dinner and decided on Thai.
The kids LOVED it! Mild, of course.
These kind of experiences are the direct result of two of my travel rules:
- No eating at restaurants we can visit at home — especially fast food.
- No ordering generic stuff off a kid menu (That means no mac & cheese, no chicken nuggets, no corn dogs, etc — if it’s not on the adult menu they aren’t allowed to order it.)
So we split an appetizer sampler and a rice noodle dish with chicken — I so wish I took a pic. It was delicious! Everyone thought so!
On our way back to the cottage we had to climb Taylor Mountain on Rt. 22 and it was GORGEOUS! I had to pull over to get this view even though my photo does it NO justice.
The next morning we woke up bright and early again to meet our tour group for the camping/kayaking trip. We drove the mountain this time stopping to grab a shot of the Wyoming sign.
We had breakfast at The Bunnery – this place may have the best waffles I’ve ever tasted!
And then spent an hour just walking around Jackson.
On our way into the park we saw, what I think were, mule deer.
Then found our group and got suited up to kayak!
Unfortunately, it was a bit gloomy and raining.
But still fun and beautiful.
Evan was the coldest of the bunch so he got to ride on the boat with a blanket to our first island. By the time we got there it was starting to clear up.
We had about 7 miles to cover to get to the island we were going to camp on.
It ended up to be a gorgeous day!
Ryan kayaked with me. Evan was with one of the guides.
He looked so stinkin’ cute in there!
I don’t have many photos of the first night because we got caught in a thunderstorm. Around 8 p.m. the wind picked up and it started to hail. The kids and I cuddled in the tent and fell asleep.
I think it was a blessing in disguise. We needed the rest!
The next morning we packed up camp and headed to another spot for a hike.
This is Zack, one of our guides pointing out bear claw marks on the tree.
A little while later on the trail we spotted this.
Part of me would have loved to see a bear but I’m also quite all right NOT seeing a bear if you know what I mean.
After about 2 miles we made it to Leigh Lake.
We brought my Nikon COOLPIX S30, which is a waterproof camera I picked up a couple of years ago. It’s not the best option out there but it takes AA batteries making it super easy to carry along on camping trips where charging is a problem.
It’s also great for kids. Ryan has no problem using it and the photos we get are sufficient for documenting our water travels.
After a dip in the lake we headed back out for about 6 more miles of kayaking to our next campsite. Evan didn’t quite make it.
He took a nice nap en route.
We had much better weather for our second night of camping.
The kids got in a little fishing.
And just hanging out at the campsite making funny faces.
Having a 4-year-old around all the time can be a little exhausting if you can’t tell by Ryan’s face.
Exhausting but fun.
And they really do get along so well.
The thing I like most about these trips is our complete disconnection. I don’t allow any phones, game systems or iPads to come with us so the kids have to find ways to amuse themselves… like banging a stick on trees, which provided a lot of excitement.
Sunset that night was beautiful!
The next morning we had a short kayak trip back to our original meeting point. This time I got to ride with Evan!
I also snuck a selfie.
Once we got back we unloaded everything and took a short drive to an entry point on the Snake River for some rafting.
The kids loved it!
We disembarked at Deadman’s Bar and the kids were still all smiles.
These trips aren’t only great for my relationship with them…
but they get time to bond as well.
We hopped back in the car for our trek back to Salt Lake City.
We checked into our hotel around 8 p.m., ordered dinner, cleaned up and relaxed.
The next morning we walked around the city exploring.
With no real agenda we decided to visit Discovery Gateway, a children’s museum.
The kids loved it! Especially the stop-motion animation lab…
And the outside helicopter.
Evan didn’t want to leave!
But the hotel pool was calling.
I love that picture. Evan was timid about jumping in the water but we laid down the ground rules and practiced a bit. Within minutes he was an old pro like his big brother.
And I love having a camera I can take in the water!
Our last night we walked to the Red Iguana, a Mexican restaurant that came highly recommended.
All I’ll say is it was TOTALLY worth the 45-minute wait. Delicious!
The next morning we headed to the airport with our sad faces.
It was time to go home. Our 7 Day, 6 Night, 5 Bag, 4 State, 3 Camera, 2 Kids vacation was over but we made memories to last a lifetime.
This is our 4th trip since I started the Mother-Son yearly travel tradition:
- Last year Ryan and I drove the Pacific Coast Highway.
- The year before that we rafted the Green River.
- We kicked off the tradition with a day in DC.
I hope you enjoyed traveling with us!