A vacation to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park need not be expensive. We spent a week there and spent $1000, including food, accomodation and transportation.
Here's how we made the vacation more affordable for us -
Most folks tend to fly to Yellowstone, and end up paying for expensive flights to land in the tiny airport of Jackson Hole. People also fly in to Boise or Salt Lake City, which are relatively bigger airports than Jackson Hole, and drive from there. We decided to drive from California to Wyoming because we had to rent a car for driving within Yellowstone anyway. Instead of flying in and renting a car for a week, we chose to drive our own car and used it for commute within the park. So we saved money on flights and car rental.
It is a long drive from California to Wyoming. With a overnight pit stop in Elko, Nevada, we were able to make it to Yellowstone without feeling tired or hating the drive.
While driving back, we started early at sunrise and decided to skip the pit stop at Elko and drove the whole day back to California. It worked out because we were returning back home and had an extra day of vacation to relax at home. We did this for Yellowstone National Park because there are no buses or other public transit options for commute within the park (like the way Yosemite offers). If there was reasonable public transportation within the park, we would've considered flying. Having a car also allowed us to head to nearby Grand Teton National Park for a day and explore it.
Most folks tend to book hotels and cabins for their stay in the park. While they are not exoribantly priced, they are not certainly not cheap. We booked a campground in Canyon Area for our stay in Yellowstone, and it cost us less than $230 for 7 nights. This may sound cliche, but it's true - Yellowstone offers the best campground facilities compared to all other national parks I've seen so far (including Yosemite).
Along with a campground booking, you get free daily showers and the shower facility is super clean and huge. There are laundromats available in the shower facility for a nominal charge should you want to use them. The campground itself is spacious, the restrooms are clean, they have flush toilets, along with hand soap and hand dryer! YNP has set the campground standards so high - no other national park can reach it.
Even if you've never camped before, you should try it at Yellowstone. Not only is it a great deal for the price, but it's also a great way to experience living up-close with nature in the midst of woods. There's no better way to experience sleeping under the stars than at Yellowstone.
If you are camping, you have the freedom to cook your own meals instead of relying on the food available in the park. We cooked most of our breakfasts and dinners at our campsite. Breakfast was typically milk and eggs. Snacks included fruits, granola bars and nuts. We usually made pasta, noodle-soup or rice and lentils for dinner. Sometimes we made our own lunch too - avocado sandwiches with bread, cheese and some veggies. We ate them with sides of fruit and chips. We used to make these sandwiches at picnic spots throughout the park.
We bought all of our groceries at Walmart before we entered the park, so we avoided buying any food related items inside the park. Grocery within the park didn't seem unreasonably expensive, but there were long lines to purchase food. We're glad we managed to skip these lines :)
The only touristy activity we spent money on was renting a boat and driving it around on Yellowstone Lake. We did this because neither of us had driven a boat by ourselves before and we wanted to experience it. Every other activity we did in YNP - all the hikes, geyser-viewing, wildlife-watching, swimming in hot spring rivers, checking out canyons and waterfalls, every thing was free.
We avoided doing activities that felt touristy like the Historic Yellow Bus Tour or Stagecoach Adventure Tour. There is no need to book a wildlife tour to see the animals. All you need is a good pair of binoculars. Biking and Kayaking are the other activities we considered, but ended up not doing them because we've experienced them in California. Biking in GTNP is actually a huge thing, so if you're considering biking, GTNP maybe a better bet.
Our Expense Breakdown
|Category||Cost/Couple (in USD)||Notes|
|Transportation||170||We drove our own car, so this is only gas price.|
|Food||400||Groceries for one week, restaurants for a few days in
between and snacks and meals during the road trip drive.
|Accomodation||280||Camping in Yellow Stone and Grand Teton for 7 nights
and Travel Lodge at Elko, NV for one night.
|Entertainment||150||Includes our boat ride in Yellowstone Lake,
souvenirs for us and gifts for kids in the family.
|Total||1000||Yep, that's all it takes :)|
Looking back, I'm sure it is possible to do this trip for cheaper than $1000. We bought way too much alcohol during the trip instead of carrying it with us, so our food budget shot up. My point is - don't think a vacation needs to be expensive. With some planning, you can enjoy a great vacation with a small budget. Think outside the box, and step outside your comfort zone. That's what I did, and now camping trips are my most favorite vacations!
Have you stepped out of your comfort zone for a vacation? How did the experience go?