Imagine the following:
You are sitting by a beautiful mountain lake out in the middle of nowhere, high up in the mountains. You’re in the middle of a good book, sipping wine, while your kids happily play (screen-free) somewhere in the distance (somewhere FAR in the distance, because you found a rock very far from camp, over-looking the lake). You hear a splash in the water and look up — the juvenile-sized trout that inhabit the lake are just beginning to “rise.” You gaze at the ripples descending across the water. Your eyes glaze over. You reach for your phone to take a picture (or more just out of habit, really) but realize you don’t have it with you….for why should you? There is no Internet availability out here — six miles into the middle of the woods.
You think about what could be going on in the world or who could’ve passed away while you’ve been disconnected from society for the last three days. You say a quick prayer for someone in your family. You start back into the book but those darned trout are rising again. You wonder if you should go grab your pole and drop a line. Suddenly, the wine hits you and you find yourself getting a wee bit sleepy. Time for a little nappy-poo? Of course!!
You quietly sneak into your tent (without your family knowing) and lay on your very comfortable blow-up mattress pad and…
TAKE A NICE, LONG NAP.
Welcome to my version back-country camping.
It’s a lot more fun (and fun for moms and ladies) than you may think.
Before I get deep into the woods (I mean weeds) about our back-packing trip, let me back up for a moment. I wrote this blog post for two simple reasons. First, to chronicle our family trip. Secondly, so you, My Dear Reader, can copy our trip out West to Jackson Hole, WY, down to a tee if you would like. Because it’s so much easier to copy someone else and steal their ideas than to do all the research and endless Internet searching on your own, right?
I will start with Jackson Hole, WY: what we did, what we recommend, what to skip, and where we stayed.
First, if you have never been to Jackson Hole, please, if you can somehow make it there (and afford it), GO!
So without further delay, here is the summary of our trip out West starting with…
Our trip to Jackson Hole:
We flew into Salt Lake City as it’s cost prohibitive to fly directly into Jackson Hole (it’s a five hour drive to Jackson Hole from Salt Lake City). We stayed at the Rustic Inn at Jackson Hole (www.rusticinnatjh.com) which we highly recommend for many reasons which I will put in the P.S. section below. As soon as we arrived at the Rustic Inn, we promptly swam in the cool and clean mountain creek that runs directly behind the establishment. Such a blast! People actually brought tubes and did tubing down the creek. That night we made smores at the fire pits that they have on the side of the mountain there.
The next day, Erik (husband) organized our hiking gear, we walked around town and ate at the Merry Piglets for lunch (Mexican, highly recommend), and then that afternoon we visited the Teton Village and took a gondola up to a restaurant overlooking a beautiful view! (Quick tip: taking the Gondola is much cheaper than the Aerial Tram but the Tram takes you higher up.)
Later that evening, we went to the Jackson Hole Rodeo (www.jhrodeo.com). The rodeo was so much fun for adults and kids alike. The cowboys had some trouble staying up for eight seconds on the bulls. Do not spend the extra money to purchase the expensive, covered seats. We paid about $15 per person (after a 5$ discount if you order tickets on line) and had great seats in the general seating area.
The next day we went back-packing!!!! Which I will get to in a moment.
After we came back from back-packing, we promptly went on a river float tour followed by a whitewater rafting trip! (Dave Hansen Whitewater and Scenic River Trips.) It was super fun. Honestly, to save money, you could probably skip the scenic river float tour (which occurs first thing in the morning, before the white water rafting trip). First, it’s very cold. Secondly, you see just a wee bit of bird wildlife. Put it this way: if you are dying to see a bald eagle and an osprey, do the river float. We saw both! But, you can just skip that and just get to all the action of whitewater rafting.
By far, whitewater rafting was the favorite activity of the kids the entire vacation. It was not overly scary (only class 1 and 2 rapids, with perhaps one class 3) but the kids got to sit right up front and got a ton of action (and water) up there. Erik and Claire got out of the raft and went “swimming” in the Snake River.
The next day, we woke up early and watched the sunrise over the Grand Teton Mountains — breathtaking — and then continued on to Yellowstone National Park. It’s only 55 miles from Jackson but takes about an hour and a half or so to get there. Beware, the traffic can be very bad once you are inside the park. You must go see Old Faithful, visit some of the super-piping-hot lava pits, and be on the lookout for wildlife, including bison and bears! (Quick Tip: we watched Old Faithful go off from the raised outside porch located on the second floor of Old Faithful Inn — highly recommend. Very easy. You can purchase food and drinks while you wait for Old Faithful to erupt.)
The next day we did the ‘Walk Around Town Day’ (shops, restaurants, beautiful artwork, photography, and souvenirs for the kids). And then at night (6 pm) they have a “shoot out” in the middle of the town square! Super fun “play” put on by real actors with some real cowboy “shootings” (with blanks, of course) and old-time Western drama.
That night for dinner we ate at the Lift Restaurant. Great view of the side of the mountain where everyone goes skiing in the winter.
On our final day, we drove back to Salt Lake city but not before I spotted some wild moose by a small creek. We promptly pulled over and took some pictures.
Back-Packing with three kids:
For those who cannot imagine ever doing this with your kids and plan to skip this part, please give me two minutes of your time. Back-packing is hard and wonderful and fun and a pain all at the same time.
Let me first address some of the top fears of non-back-packers: bugs and bears. Yes, there are a few bugs, mostly mosquitos in August, and you can deal with those quite easily with various bug sprays and products. Wildlife: in all the years Erik and I have been hiking, we have rarely seen wildlife in any kind of a dangerous manner, or up close. That being said, we have seen bear and moose from a distance, as well as elk, deer, and bird-life. As for bears: we always bring Bear Spray with us wherever we go. If you hang your food properly you should not have any issues.
On to back-packing:
We drove about 1.5 hours up to the Bridger Natural Forest and hiked 4.5 miles to Middle Sweeney Lake. We camped one night. The next day we hiked only 1.5 miles to our destination: Eckland Lake. It was beautiful! The kids helped Erik pitch both tents, and then Erik promptly made dinner. So what was on the menu for dinner, you may ask? Erik made each of us a personal pan pizza! It was the best pizza I’ve ever had! (I will put some info on camping food in the P.S.S.S. section.)
Before dinner however, while it was still relatively warm (it gets chilly that high up), my daughter Claire and I found a large rock that was located on the side of the lake and jumped into a deeper part of the lake (it was cold!). We were just about to jump in a second time when I saw a leech swimming in the water right near the large rock. The leech was about five inches long and looked like a small snake or eel. I must admit that after I saw the leech I had visions of that small creature slithering up to a certain area of my body, where it does not belong, so I did not jump in the lake after that. 🙂
Over the next few days we we went fishing (Logan caught a rainbow trout and learned how to fly fish!), roasted marshmallows/smores, played charades by the camp fire, hiked a few miles here and there to get a beautiful view, (quickly) bathed in the lake water, kids were silly running around the camp, played UNO in the tent while it rained, waited for Erik to cook us the next meal, and just spent some awesome time together as a family.
Just a quick note to all you ladies and moms reading this blog thinking: “no way!! I could never do back-packing and camping.”
Ladies, things have changed. Camping is different than you may think.
First, you can bring COFFEE and DARK CHOCOLATE into the woods. You can also bring WINE into the woods. You can bring a GOOD BOOK into woods. You can bring a light-weight AIR MATTRESS into the woods. You can bring portable, light-weight CAMP CHAIRS into the woods. You can unplug, relax, read, and spent time with family and friends. And yes, there is hiking and activity involved, but it is often rewarded with excellent views. Bottom line: back-packing is great for relationships, and it’s great for you, too….to unwind and see the beauty of nature, and to unplug.
On the fourth day we hiked out of the woods (about six miles) while the kids asked “when will we be at the parking lot?” about 100 times, got caught in a hail storm, met some people (vegetarians) who drive around the country in their RV looking for wild mushrooms to pick off of logs, and got ready to eat the famous “post-hike cheeseburger!”
We stopped at the The Bird restaurant on our drive down the mountains, which has one of the best mountain views in the area. And then spent the next four days in Jackson Hole, as mentioned above.
In closing, I am happy to say that in the midst of all the activity, hiking, Yellowstone, white water rafting, doing various activities, and driving for hours at a time, we grew closer as a family and had some great conversations and a lot of fun. We also appreciated God as the Creator of all the beauty that we saw…from the mountains, to the beautiful birds, to the clear and cold lakes and streams, to the sunrises and sunsets.
I highly recommend both Jackson Hole and back-packing. Put it on your bucket list, because it was our:
Thanks for reading!
P.S. We stayed at The Rustic Inn, which we highly recommend for many reasons but mostly because of the unique cabins (try to get Creekside if you can), free breakfasts, and most importantly, it backs up to the most lovely mountain creek I’ve ever seen — and you can swim and fish in the creek to boot (there’s abundant wildlife around the creek as well). Also, there is a hillside area above the creek that they’ve recently developed into an area with a nighttime Tex Mex bar as well as a fire-pits to roast marshmallows at night from 7-10:30. Several nights in a row we roasted marshmallows at the fire pits. Great for memories with your kids! Below: sunset on the creek and the view right outside of our room.
P.S.S. Other things to do in Jackson: I highly recommend Jenny Lake. There is a short hike you can do that gives you a wonderful view. You can also take a tram up the side of the one of the mountains. Gorgeous! Also, we heard from fellow whitewater rafters that horseback riding up in the mountains was also really fun and that their 13 year old thought it was the best part of their vacation.
P.S.S.S. Food for back-packing: this will be the hardest part of your entire back-packing trip (mostly the planning, careful packing, carrying it around, and execution of the meal). My husband is an expert at it, and if you want to contact me directly, that might be the best way to go about this. But in a nutshell, you need to order some yummy back-packing meals that need to be re-hydrated with boiling water. A few ideas for meal planning starting with breakfast: instant coffee, bring powdered cream and sugar, instant oatmeal, just-add-water-pancake mix (we put m & m’s in them), and there are some really good egg-wrap meals you can make with rehydrated eggs. You can also add cheese to the eggs. Lunch: individual peanut butter packets with individual jellies with mini-bagels, dried salami, cheese, protein bars, trail mix. Dinners: check out http://www.packitgourmet.com for excellent ideas. We love the cheeseburger wraps. Erik made personal pan pizzas using a heat diffuser. You will need plenty of propane (about two small canisters), a pot for boiling water, a small frying pan, olive oil, small fold-up spatula, camping cups, camping bowls, and camping soap. Don’t forget a water filter and a fire starter, or camping matches. You will also need light-weight sleeping bags and a light-weight tent. There’s more you will need but this will get you started. Have fun!