There are trips you take that refresh; there are trips that fascinate; there are trips that change your outlook. This trip did all that.
From small towns that helped to build the West to salt flats and towering mountain ranges looming above great expanses as if they’d been pulled toward the heavens, there is something for everyone in every season on the Yellowstone Loop.
Stop #1: Brigham City, Utah
Just 60 minutes to the north of Salt Lake City and its stunning landscape lies Brigham City. The small town prides itself on its history, and it has plenty of it. Being the closest town to the spot where the golden spike was hammered in 1869 to complete the Transcontinental Railroad, it truly connects East and West.
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, a 74,000 acre refuge considered one of the best birding destinations in the world. | Idle Isle Cafe, opened in early 1920s, is a mainstay for the town. Don’t miss the family-owned candy shop across the street for a piece of their decadent almond cream toffee. | Crystal Hot Springs: Just 15 minutes outside of Brigham, these hot springs have the highest mineral content springs in the United States.
Stop #2: Logan, Utah
In Logan, you can take in the incredible scenery by day and enjoy the vibrant performing arts scene by night. The town has three functioning historic theaters, all on the same city block, including the Ellen Eccles Theatre, home of the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre. Heading outdoors? You’ll find fishing (fly and regular), snowmobiling, skiing at the longest-running family-owned ski resort, hiking, bird watching and more in this hilly town.
American West Heritage Center: This 65-acre historic center just 6 miles out of town, offers the chance to get hands-on with hatchet throwing, cow milking and log-sawing experiences. Plan ahead and enjoy one of the many seasonal carnivals. | Bluebird Candy Co., where they’ve been hand-dipping chocolates since 1914 and which is part of the Cache Valley Foodie Trek. | Angie’s: They serve breakfast all day and their deep fried scones (sweet and savory fry breads) are for those with a sweet tooth or not. Finish off your meal with The Kitchen Sink, a dessert worthy of multiple Insta stories served in an actual kitchen sink. Light eaters need not apply. | Logan Canyon Scenic Drive: The 43 miles through Logan Canyon are truly awe-inspiring thanks to the vast, untouched land offering dramatic landscapes and unique terrain.
Stop #3: Lava Hot Springs, Idaho
The quaint town is the home of outdoor natural spring-fed pools which give visitors the chance to bask in pools of various temperatures while taking in the crisp mountain air. Then make your way into the hills for a quick hike. Thanks to the surrounding diverse terrain, you’ll get an eyeful and perhaps even see some wildlife.
The Royal Pizzeria: The royalty of this restaurant is their pizza and calzones. The quick service will hardly give you an excuse to order your second local beer, but go ahead and order seconds … of both. | Alpaca Inn: The name of this quaint 13-unit inn is more than a hipster homing beacon; the couple who owns the cozy spot actually raises alpacas! Make sure to ask how they got their first buck-toothed fur baby that became the inn’s namesake. | Chuck Wagon: Huddle up here for an early breakfast. They have a vast menu, but their skillets steal the show.
Stop #4: West Yellowstone, Montana
This is as far as the road goes before Yellowstone’s vast wilderness closes in. Just a mile from the west entrance to the park, this small town is the perfect jumping-off point. Surrounded by national forests, there are plenty of outdoor activities to occupy your days.
Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center: Have you always wanted to meet a bear without having to play dead? See rescued grizzlies, birds of prey and wolves up close at this small but well-populated wildlife park. | Bullwinkle’s Saloon & Eatery: This family-friendly restaurant makes a mean Huckleberry Bread Pudding to follow their rich Elk Ravioli and salad bar. Stop by their attached liquor store (open 365 days a year) for a bottle of local huckleberry vodka.
Stop #5: Yellowstone National Park
With four ingress points, this 3,500-square mile patch of the United States spans across portions of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Towering volcanic mountains, colorful hydrothermal pools, rolling alpine-lined rivers, waterfalls, and numerous other natural awe-inducing formations give visitors endless experiences. If you plan to stay in the park, there are nine lodges to choose from, but reserve around a year in advance. (Look into the chance of a Full Moon Old Faithful viewing if you stay locally!)
Pro Tips: (1) Take your time. Don’t try to fit too much in a day because speed limits are all under 45mph … and that’s without bison jams! (2) Go early or at dusk to avoid crowds. (3) Be respectful of the animals; keep your distance. (4) There isn’t any phone service in the park, so plan ahead. (5) Don’t miss the huckleberry ice cream while you watch Old Faithful.
Old Faithful (our all-time favorite); Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, the largest hot spring in the country with an extraordinary spectrum of colors rings in at 132º F; Mud Volcano Thermal Area, including the Sulphur Cauldron with the same pH level as battery acid; Steamboat Geyser in Norris Geyser Basin, the tallest active geyser in the world; Silex Spring and Fountain Paint Pots (Lower Geyser Basin) – a boardwalk area with a complete collection of formations in one walking tour; Excelsior Geyser Crater (Midway Geyser Basin), a large open hot spring that throws off extreme steam from a colorful spring.
Stop #6: Grand Teton National Park
This 310,000-acre park featuring 200 miles of trails and the Snake River made famous by Ansel Adams could, like Yellowstone, be a trip in itself. You’ll find sweeping views of the mountains from miles away at the Snake River Overlook off of Highway 89.
Stop #7: Bear Lake & Garden City, Utah
Heading back south, you’ll find breathtaking scenery between Jackson Hole and Salt Lake City. A stop in the Bear Lake region offers activities to entertain and the mystery of the Bear Lake Monster. The various annual festivals, like Raspberry Days and the Bear Lake Monster Winterfest where attendees dip their fishing poles in hopes of catching the native Cisco Fish, bring droves of visitors. Feeling adventurous? Take a chilly dip during the annual polar plunge.
Cody’s Gastro Garage: The menu is as large as the portions, and with everything made in-house, you’ll taste the quality in every delicious bite. With cinnamon rolls as large as your head, this is a great spot for a hearty breakfast to start your full day of adventures around Bear Lake. | Conestoga Ranch: By far one of the most intriguing lodging options in the area, this glamping village hosts guests in anything from covered wagons to family-friendly tents with views of the bright blue waters of Bear Lake. | Campfire Grill: Set on Conestoga Ranch, this rustic restaurant’s fare is an absolute delight for the palate. When weather permits, the large scale tent’s sides are rolled back for diners to enjoy the sweeping views from the dinner table.
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Cover: Brigham City, Utah is the county seat and largest city in Box Elder County, home to Mantua Reservoir and Willard Bay. Photo Marc Piscotty, courtesy Box Elder County Tourism
Susie O. is a freelance cocktail, spirits, food, and travel writer from Dallas, Texas … or wherever her travels take her. Susie is the founder of SusieDrinks.com and TheJetsweater.com, contributes to Bevvy, the Dallas Observer, D Magazine, Where Magazine, and Texas Lifestyle Magazine, and runs her own social media consulting agency. But she’s never too busy to dive into “research” for her articles, because the perfect Gibson isn’t going to find itself.