An Insider’s Experience: Travel Journal for 8-Day Yellowstone & West Coast Tour

travel journal

travel journal

Each year, Yellowstone National Park greets millions of visitors from around the world coming to see its charms. As a TakeTours staff member, I am honored that I was invited to participate in one of the more popular and affordable Yellowstone tours. I highly recommend you also book this 8-Day Yellowstone and West Coast Tour from Los Angeles/San Francisco! Here are some main highlights for this tour I wanted to mention:

1) The tour bus doesn’t reverse direction the whole trip, which saves a lot of time on the road.

2) You get to stay one night inside of Yellowstone (Grant Village) and one night at Grand Lodge in Brain Head, Utah.

3) You will visit many famous attractions including Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon West Rim, Antelope Canyon, Lake Tahoe. The 8-day trip covers 6 states with 3,100 miles traveled in total.

Tour map

Day 1 Los Angeles – San Francisco (5/28/2015)
To save some time on the road, I flew to San Francisco to meet the travel group. Most of the travelers chose to depart this tour from the Los Angeles area. The 54-seated bus was new and fully packaged, and people on the bus were from all around the world. It’s a nice thing to be able to meet new friends with multicultural backgrounds. The tour started in San Francisco – Personally, I like San Francisco a lot because it has such a rich cultural ambience. The four attractions (Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf Pier39, Palace of Fine Arts, and Golden Gate Bridge) we visited were well represented by San Francisco’s characteristics. The hotel was Courtyard Marriott SFO. It was nearby by a river, and the room was large and very clean with free WIFI.

Tips: The weather in San Francisco is a bit tricky. The temperature has a huge difference between day and night. Morning was cloudy and foggy, and the temperature was around 54 degrees Fahrenheit. However, in the afternoon, the sun came out, and the temperature reached up to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. San Francisco’s Chinatown may be the largest Chinatown in the United States, and there is a wide range of authentic Chinese restaurants to choose from.

San Francisco, California

Day 2 San Francisco – Sacramento – Lake Tahoe – Reno-Elko (5/29/2015)
In the early morning, we left San Francisco and stopped by Sacramento, to see California’s State Capitol. The second stop was California’s famous ski resort, Lake Tahoe, also considered the largest alpine lake in North America. It was a very nice day, so I ordered a hamburger as lunch, and ate near the lake to enjoy the scenery. In the afternoon, we arrived in Reno, which is known as “the biggest little city in the world”. Many California residents like driving to Reno, Nevada for gambling because it’s closer than going to Las Vegas from California.

Tips: We stayed one night at Shilo Inn, Elko. It’s a 2.5-star hotel and the room had a microwave, a refrigerator and a coffee maker. I think too many people were using the Internet at the same time, so the wifi was a bit slow. It is worth mentioning that there is a grocery story in the front of the hotel. Since we would go to remote locations on the 3rd and 4th days of the tour in Yellowstone-area, I would suggest getting some fruits and other foods at the super market to have with you.

Lake Tahoe

Day 3 Shoshone Falls – Perrine Memorial Bridge – Jackson Hole – Grand Teton – Yellowstone (5/30/2015)
In the morning, we headed to Snake River Canyon to visit Shoshone Falls and the Perrine Memorial Bridge. Perrine Memorial Bridge is famous for base jumping – when I arrived there, someone had just jumped from the bridge. It must be a very brave thing to do! Although Shoshone Falls isn’t larger than Niagara Falls in total size, it is 25 feet higher than Niagara Falls. After that, we visited a famous town nearby Yellowstone, called Jackson Hole. The town has attracted many celebrities, including Warren Buffett and former President Bill Clinton, to come here on vacations or buy vacation homes. Grand Teton National Park has beautiful snow mountains to look at, but it would have been nicer if we had a sunny day. The bus arrived at the Yellowstone Lodge around 8:30PM. It rained heavily, and I could not wait to uncover the mystery of Yellowstone the next day during the daytime.

Tips: The hotel is not the type with wooden cabins as my expectation was, but it’s a comfortable hotel, still made with wood, and located inside of Yellowstone. The hotel facilities are taken into account with environmental protection- the room doesn’t have TV, microwave, and refrigerator, but had a coffee maker and hair dryer. The Grant Village Dining Room closes at 10:00PM and Yellowstone Lake restaurant close at 8:00PM. You can even find bison on their menus if you want to try something different.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Day 4 Yellowstone National Park – Idaho Falls (5/31/2015)
Yellowstone Park is the world’s first national park and has the thinnest surface on the earth. What do we see in Yellowstone National Park? The answer is geothermal movement. This makes the park unique.

The bus drove along the lake for a while in the early morning. The snow mountains and lake were covered in the mist, which constitutes a mysterious feel. The bus stopped at the first attraction, which was at Yellowstone Canyon and Yellowstone Falls. The Canyon is colorful and the Falls are majestic. This attraction was discovered as the first attraction in Yellowstone by an expedition. When we arrived at the Old Faithful Geyser, so many people were already waiting there. The eruption generally happens once every one and half hours, and the eruption time is about 4 minutes. The Grand Prismatic Hot Springs causes the sun to flash back blue water and red-orange shades. Under sunny conditions, it is very colorful and it doesn’t require any expensive programs to take pictures with a camera. Unfortunately due to road closures, we didn’t visit Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Hot. Leaving Yellowstone, the bus headed to Idaho Falls, which is the largest artificial falls in the U.S.

The hotel was called Guest House and the room had a coffee maker, free Wi-Fi, and free breakfast, and was only a 10-minute walk from The Falls. There is a well-known steakhouse called Sandpiper one block away from the hotel, so I had dinner there with a beautiful river view.

Tips: The temperature was down to 35 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning in the Yellowstone-area, so please dress accordingly. Old Faithful and Canyon areas have bathrooms, gift shops and restaurants. You may arrange rest and meals there.

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park

Day 5 Idaho Falls City – Salt Lake City – Brian Head (6/1/2015)
Our first attraction was the Hill Aerospace Museum that’s part of the United States Air Force Program. After that, we headed to the Utah State Capitol. Due to the presence of Mormons in Utah, each state governor is a Mormon.  The inside of the capitol is stunning- it’s like a magnificent palace. If you visit Salt Lake City, make sure to visit the LDS Church office, which is the headquarters of the Mormons. Mormonism is actually a branch of the Christian religion. Salt Lake City got its name because of the lake. The lake area is constantly getting smaller and smaller due to the absence of new water into the Salt Lake. The lake is too salty to have fish living in it, and only a type of shrimp is able to survive there.

Tonight’s hotel was the best hotel for the entire trip, which is called the Grand Lodge in Brain Head. The hotel is built on a mountain and we could still see snow on top of the mountain in early June.
Tips: The hotel has an indoor pool and Jacuzzi- you may relax in the Jacuzzi after a long day. The mountain altitude is about 3,000 kilometers. I had slight altitude stress, but it didn’t affect me too much.

Brian Head, Utah

Day 6 Brian Head – Cedar Breaks National Monument – Bryce Canyon Park – Horseshoe Bend – Antelope Canyon (6/2/2015)
Besides Yellowstone National Park, day 6 was the day I was most looking forward to. We visited several national parks to see the geomorphologic landscape. Early morning, the temperature was about 37 degrees Fahrenheit on the mountains. Cedar breaks is at an altitude of 3,400 kilometers. Cedar Breaks and Bryce Canyon have similar views for red-orange rocks/cliffs, but Bryce Canyon has a closer look of it. After lunch at McDonald’s, we were hurried to Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon- two spots that I liked a lot. After walking 20 minutes in the desert with 90 degrees Fahrenheit, Horseshoe Bend came out in sight. At that time when you see the magnificent scenery, you felt that everything was worth it. Antelope Canyon is also a place that I highly recommend visiting. However, when you go there, you need some luck because plenty of sunlight is needed to make the inside of the canyon shine. I was very lucky to see six colors of the canyon!  With the local Native American tour guide’s help, we were walking along the valley bottom and take pictures – Antelope Canyon is a paradise for photographers indeed. The hotel we stayed in was called Virgin River Casino in St. George, Utah. Here, you could gamble in the casino or watch the free performances at the hotel.

Tips: The casino buffet is closed at 9:00PM, but the casino restaurant is open 24 hours. The food is very cheap in the restaurant, for example, a prime rib was only $6.99 and was very tasty.

Horseshoe Bend

Day 7 Grand Canyon West Rim – Las Vegas (6/3/2015)
The main activity today was Grand Canyon’s West Rim. Those who didn’t want to participate in the West Rim, could choose to have a free day in Las Vegas. The bus dropped them off at the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas at 8:00AM and proceeded to take the rest of the passengers on the bus to the West Rim. The admission ticket of Grand Canyon West Rim is $80/person, which also includes lunch. After sightseeing, you can go to the gift shop to pick up a free souvenir.
It takes two hours to drive from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon’s West Rim. When the bus entered the West Rim, we saw a heliport. If you want a closer look at the Grand Canyon, you can spend $205/ person to enjoy a helicopter and boat tour. The helicopter takes 10 minutes one way and the cruise takes 20 minutes, so the tour totals about 40 minutes. There are attraction buses to take you into the Grand Canyon West Rim’s three stops – buses run every six minutes. The first attraction is a Native American farm. If you have limited time, I would suggest skipping the first stop and directly going to the second spot, Eagle Point and Skywalk Glass Bridge. You can see a third of the Grand Canyon there. A ticket to skywalk Glass Bridge is $35/ person. You can look down through the see through floors of the bridge and see the Grand Canyon. The third stop is Guano Point and where you will eat lunch. If you reach Guano point, you will see the magnificent Grand Canyon with 360 degree view. Lunch was an American-style lunch and included water, vegetable salad, meat (chicken or beef alternative), and a cookie – it tasted good. The bus left West Rim around 3:30PM and we headed back to Las Vegas. You can find many things to do at night in Las Vegas. You can watch a show, take a 4-hour night tour, try some Las Vegas buffets, gamble, or go shopping and so on. Our hotel was LINQ and it’s a modern style hotel located right across from Caesars Palace.

Tips: I would suggest people to try Las Vegas buffets. The price is around $20- $60/ person for dinner. LINQ hotel is new and very clean. The best part of the hotel is the central location on the Vegas strip.

Grand Canyon West Rim

Day 8 Las Vegas – Barstow – Los Angeles (6/4/2015)
Eight days passed quickly and today was the last day of the trip. The bus made a stop at the Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Botanical Cactus Gardens on the way to Los Angeles. The founder of this chocolate factory is the same founder of M & M Chocolate. If you like shopping in Outlet stores, the guide will also satisfy you with a 2-hour shopping at Tanger Outlets in Barstow, California. The bus arrived in Los Angeles around 6:30PM. The tour was finally over, and we had to see goodbye to the friends that we just made in the trip.

Tips: For the passengers who have night flights on the last day, please make sure to book your U.S. domestic flights after 8:30PM or international flights after 9:30PM. The tour offers free airport pick-up and drop-off service.

Las Vegas