32 Hours From Jackson to Packwood via Craters of the Moon National Monument

32 Hours From Jackson to Packwood via Craters of the Moon National Monument
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After 6 days in Jackson, it was time to move on to our next destination—Packwood and neighboring Mount Rainier. With a long day of plans and driving ahead of us, we opted to stick close to our rental in Jackson for the last morning. We wanted to see the city streets without the crowds and traffic. We walked the mile or so down from our condo to the main square to arrive just at sunrise. Then back to the rental to load the car and hit the road.

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Next up was a 9 am appointment for an oil change in Idaho Falls. Long road trips require more maintenance than you’d expect. We planned the oil change for Idaho Falls because we had some college friends we wanted to connect with in the town. A few years ago, these friends lived in Los Alamos and we drove right through on our road trip out to Oregon without stopping to say hi. Ever since, we’ve had them on our radar and this year, they had moved to a location we would be driving right through! Scott had to work but Marianne and their four kids were available for a coffee and walk date. After purchasing the largest blended coffee drink I have ever seen, we strolled along the river park with them for a couple of hours while our car was in the shop. We ran through sprinklers, talked about our lives in the last 12 years, and enjoyed getting the kids talking and asking questions. The Wallin family is good people and after Marianne dropped us off back at the Subaru dealership, we were so thankful we had the chance to catch up with them. 

Onward for the day. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve was just a bit down the road. We waved at Scott’s office as we passed en route and took a short and hot hike up to an overlook on Inferno Cone. Middle of the day in the summer was not an ideal time to visit but we still got to check off a new National Park Service site and squeeze in a super short hike. There were several trails in this area we would have loved to hike in more comfortable weather and a decent campground. On a future road trip, we might plan to spend a night here to capture morning or evening light and explore more. 

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We had plans for dispersion camping that night and had scoped out Wallowa-Whitman National Forest right off the interstate. Sure enough, a dirt road right off the exit whisked us into the mountains. We watched as the temperatures dropped from the sizzling high 90s to the low 80s and eventually into the 70s. After our last dispersion camping experience, we wanted something a bit further off the road and flat. Eventually, we picked a side road to explore and near the end of it, we found a wide open spot with a fire ring, plenty of flat space, and pretty trees. We walked around for a bit to see if we could find a view for sunset with no luck. No worries. We set up chairs, made some sandwiches, and used the trace internet to catch up on Facebook and Instagram. As soon as dusk started coming in, we crawled into bed and decided to sleep without an alarm. I still woke up shortly after 5 am but it was refreshing to linger and dawdle. Pretzels dipped in Nutella for breakfast was a big hit. This site definitely renewed our faith in dispersion camping. Nice scenery, a comfortable night’s sleep, and complete solitude in the wilderness was just what we needed 

We headed out for the rest of the day with no good plans for hiking. Our check-in time in Packwood was not until 3 pm but we thought we’d be able to find some views or short hikes and things to do on our way to and around Packwood. We we were wrong. The views on the drive were great but the town of Packwood was much smaller than we expected. At least we had gotten groceries in Jackson Hole a couple nights before. We grabbed lunch in town (which we would later substantially regret), managed to get the key to our room so we could get in later that night without stopping by the office, and headed into the park.