Wyoming Winter Wonderland - Adventures By Disney
Many guests might cringe at the thought of actually paying for an adventure in the cold and snow but for me it was a bucket list item that I was thrilled to be able to experience. Wyoming is one of my favorite states and lying in the northwest corner of it is our first national park, Yellowstone. Millions of guests crowd into the boundaries every summer to see the sights making it a great trip but also a congested one.
The Wyoming Winter Wonderland trip was an experience not many will ever have and I am blessed to have enjoyed it with my daughter and grandson. The adventure began in Jackson Hole, Wyoming which is a quaint western town full of history, shops, and outdoor activities. We stayed in the historic, The Wort Hotel, which is located right in the heart of town. We opted to come a day early as winter travel can bring winter delays and we didn't want to miss out on anything or be stressed.
Our first day on our own included a wonderful private wildlife safari around the Jackson Hole area. It was the perfect thing to do while we waited for our Disney adventure to begin. My eight year old grandson loved spotting the wildlife and our guide shared many new facts. Our tally at the end of the day included seven moose, several dozen Big Horn Sheep, bald eagle, a dozen bison, numerous mule deer, and thousands of elk. Jackson Hole is the home every winter for the elk that come down from the mountains to feed in the valleys. This particular valley has been where the elk have come for as long as settlers can remember. They do not feed the elk unless there are unusual circumstances with the winter conditions and they let nature take its course with the circle of life of its inhabitants. (Now we are all thinking about that great song from the Lion King.)
Our first adventure event was a welcome dinner that night. It was fun to meet the other families who were joining us. I had actually met one family two years ago on the Backstage Magic trip so it became a fun reunion of old friends. We enjoyed a buffet meal and entertainment from a singing cowboy. It was a great evening and because this was my seventh Adventure By Disney trip, my daughter's fourth, and my grandson's fifth, we knew it was the beginning of a magical journey. (My previous adventures have included South Africa, Italy, Switzerland, Wyoming summer, Backstage Magic, and Peru). Our guides Ralph and Jaime assured us of the fun that was to come our way over the next few days.
Day 2 was our first full day and it was spent in the Tetons dog sledding. It was probably the most anticipated event for many in the group so the cold frigid temperatures were not a deterrent. Remember this was winter in Wyoming and we woke up to -25 real temperature and -40 wind chill temperature! Nothing was going to stop us except maybe the dogs who acted like we must be crazy trying to go out in those conditions. Some people rode in the baskets of the sled and others, who were brave, actually drove their own team. "On Dasher, on Comet, on Cupid, on Blitzen" kept running through our minds as we trekked for ten miles uphill to our lunch spot.
The lunch stop was at a natural granite hot springs where we were encouraged to change into swimsuits and let our muscles enjoy the warm waters. It was very "cool" to be out in the winter snows swimming in a natural hot springs. However, remember this was a VERY cold day and changing in and out of a swimsuit from our multiple layers of clothes in a small unheated wooden room was a bit torturous. Many laughs and memories were made that day as we talked about this once in a lifetime experience. I can verify now that you should never put a wet body part on anything when it is extremely cold. No-one tried the tongue on the metal railing but we do know that wet hands and wet feet will stick to ice!
Lunch was served around a campfire where we were all kept warm with hot cider and cocoa. Then it was back to harnessing the dogs and heading home the ten miles. The canines didn't need much encouragement this time around as they knew the direction they were taking was toward their warm abodes. It seems we all took a special memory home with us from this great day.
Day 3 was the day I had anticipated all my life. It was the day I would enter Yellowstone National Park in the winter. We were on a bus until just south of the entrance where we stopped for a picnic lunch at Flagg Ranch. From this point we were separated into three winter snowcoach vehicles called bombardiers. They had skis instead of tires in the front and special treads in the back as all roads leading into Yellowstone are snow covered. Our drivers were our guides and they stopped and pointed out great sights along the way. We passed frozen rivers, lush snow covered forests, lakes, fire damaged areas, and geyser and hot spring spots. It took about 2 ½ to 3 hours to make the trek from the southern entrance to Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
Dinner that night was enjoyed in the beautiful dining room of the lodge where we were greeted with hats, leis and horns on our tables. Yes, this was New Year's Eve and we would be welcoming 2015 from the middle of the greatest National Park in the country. To pass the time after dinner we all enjoyed a campfire outside of the lodge and toasted marshmallows for s'mores. The stories we all shared while watching the clear sky full of stars and hearing Old Faithful erupting in the background made this extremely magical. About half of the group actually stayed up to toast at midnight. I would never let an opportunity go by for something as special as that. HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Day 4 was an all day adventure on our snowcoach bombardier vehicles. This was the day you didn't want to leave the camera in the room as the sights we saw were breathtaking. We experienced hot springs and geysers where you could feel the earth shaking when they erupted. We also came upon geyser fields where the steam and the cold air made it appear it was one big hot pot of water. An occasional snowmobiler would pass but it often felt like you were the only ones in the park besides those animals that called it home during the winter.
Two of the most exciting viewings of the day included the great Grand Canyon of Yellowstone with the half frozen Yellowstone Falls in the background. It was an amazing sight that we enjoyed as a group, and it was certainly a highlight for many of them. The other included bison who were trudging along the snow covered roads. They came next to the vehicles so we were all blessed with amazing photos of an up close and personal bison picture to return home with. The history we learned and the sights we saw on this day alone made this trip a lifetime experience!
We returned to our Old Faithful Snow Lodge in time to see the great Old Faithful Geyser erupt before dark and finished the day off with a farewell dinner in a private dining room. Stories were shared, experiences talked about, and pins handed out to all guests. We all went to our rooms knowing this journey was sadly soon coming to an end.
Day 5 was the day we were to return to Jackson Hole or head to the airport for a flight. Jaime and Ralph invited the group to join them on a last hike to see the Castle Geyser. After all, this was a Disney adventure and we couldn't leave without a view of our castle in Yellowstone. It was cold so the walk was brisk but worth the hike. We didn't see a single person out and spotted two coyotes who were using the warm thermal ground for their bed that night. Our final view of Old Faithful and the surrounding area at sunrise was worth getting up just a little earlier.
Back on snow vehicles for the trek out of Yellowstone made us all sad. We had a wonderful group and new friends had been made and hopefully future rendezvous' would happen at another Adventure By Disney location. Most stayed the post night back at the Wort Hotel since flights left before we reached Jackson Hole. Some of the group shopped, some went to museums, and others such as my small family enjoyed a sleigh ride through the elk refuge.
The Winter Wonderland title just doesn't give this adventure justice. It is magical and amazing and beyond beautiful. I fell in love with this part of the country many years ago while traveling with my parents. To be able to experience it in the elements of winter was a lifetime thrill. The accommodations were clean and comfortable, the food was good, and the guides were great. But if you are looking for luxury then check out some of the other options. This was truly an ADVENTURE and one I highly recommend to anyone who loves the natural beauty and history of our country. And don't be afraid of the weather if you are a southern family... we had families from Miami, Birmingham, and Houston. They came prepared, dressed accordingly, and had the time of their lives. We all returned with the gift of our photos to share but nothing compares to the being there in person.
Hmmmm, where will my next adventure be? I do believe I will head to Utah, Arizona, and the Grand Canyon this June with Adventures By Disney. Hope to see some of you there and if not I will be back to give you a report of the experience!
Happy travels to everyone in 2015!