Visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks is a favorite trip for us. It is a 9-hour drive to get there from Colorado, so we can make it in a day. In September, we visited these two parks with a blend of activities in mind: RV camping, hiking, viewing wildlife and ham radio. The ham radio part means Summits On The Air (SOTA) and Parks On The Air (POTA).
Our trip started from Monument, CO, followed by a stop at our cabin near Trout Creek Pass. Heading north, we spent one night at Steamboat Lake State Park (Colorado), which broke up the road trip into smaller sections.
Grand Teton NP
Grand Teton NP listed 27 activations for POTA (POTA K-0031) which is really not that many activations for such a well-known national park. The park and the surrounding national forests have many SOTA summits available, some quite difficult to climb (such as 13,770 foot Grand Teton). We camped two nights at Colter Bay RV Park, inside the park. This is a decent RV-style campground with full hookups and campsites packed in a bit tight.
Our usual POTA station is the Yaesu FT-991 driving a single-band end-fed halfwave (usually 40m, 20m or 17m) supported by a fishing pole and powered by a 20 Ah Bioenno battery. Joyce/K0JJW likes to use a paper log but I usually log my contacts with HAMRS, either on my notebook PC or an iPad. HAMRS is a relatively new logging program that runs on most operating systems (Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, etc.) It is tuned for portable operating, with templates for SOTA and POTA. Check it out, if you haven’t tried it.
One unfortunate surprise while operating from the campsite was a ton of RFI coming from the electronic devices in use by the herd of RVs. The noise floor on 20m was S5— not so good. It seems that today’s RV enthusiast brings along complete wireless network support with internet access points, WiFi routers, and their associated Part 15 emissions. Oh, well.
After setting up on 20m SSB, K0JJW and I both completed 10 QSOs with some difficulty. We were clearly being heard but we had trouble digging signals out of the noise.
Next up was a VHF SOTA activation on Signal Mountain (W7Y/TT-161). This is an easy-to-access drive-up summit with a great view, highly recommended with or without a SOTA activation. We debated on whether to use HF for SOTA on this trip. Normally, we’ve stuck to VHF/UHF on SOTA summits, as part of the Height-Above-Average-Terrain experience. However, knowing that Northwest Wyoming is a bit sparse for VHF activity, we could easily get skunked on a SOTA activation (less than 4 QSOs). Despite that, we opted to stick with VHF for SOTA and focus on a successful activation (1 QSO or more), with or without the SOTA points. On Signal Mountain, we worked two stations on 2m FM, including Steven/KB7ITU in Rexburg, ID, about 60 miles away. (Hey, we worked another state on VHF!)
Speaking of VHF, we used our dualband mobile (IC-2730A) to listen to the national park repeaters while we travelled through the park. Our dual-receive radio always has 146.52 MHz on one side and “something else” on the other side. When inside large national parks, we’ll set the second receiver to a national park frequency. These are generally conventional FM in the 162 to 173 MHz range. I won’t list the Teton and Yellowstone frequencies here but you can find them with a little searching on the interwebz. For example, see wiki.radioreference.com for Yellowstone NP frequencies.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone ( POTA K-0070 ) had only 22 POTA activations, not that many considering it is the nation’s first national park. It also has quite a number of SOTA summits of varying difficulty.
We camped two nights at Grant Village campground, a basic national park campground. The campground had no hookups but the campsites are well spaced with many trees and flush toilets. (The only problem we had was when the park service booked another group of campers onto our campsite one night.)
During a previous visit to Yellowstone, we activated Lake Butte (W7Y/PA-219). On this trip, we had our eye on Mount Washburn (W7Y/PA-163), a well-known 10k summit and popular hike, but the road that provides access to it was closed for the summer due to construction. (OK, maybe next time.)
Instead, we decided to try an unnamed summit 8770 (W7Y/TT-139) that was relatively easy to access but had not been activated for SOTA. We found some trip reports that said there is a nice trail to the summit and the only complaint was that the summit does not have a view due to the many trees. We parked at the Divide Trailhead, about 12 miles west of Grant Village. The trail is 1.8 miles in length (one way) with 700 feet of elevation gain. So not too difficult but a real hike. The summit is broad and sure enough with lots of trees, so no view. Practice normal bear precautions on this trail.
Again, we opted for VHF SOTA, knowing that we might not get enough radio contacts for points…but we only needed one contact to qualify as the first activation. We worked two mobile stations passing through the park on 146.52 MHz. Yes, it is good to always be monitoring the calling frequency. You never know who is going to show up.
For POTA, we noted that the Continental Divide Trail National Scenic Trail (K-4558) passes through Yellowstone NP, which would allow for a double activation. The CDT has always been special to me as it passes through Colorado and provides some of the most scenic hiking in the state. It only had 15 activations listed at that time, two of those were ours from when we activated it a month earlier, in Colorado. We choose the Old Faithful area as a good place to activate Yellowstone NP ( K-0070) and the CDT. We set up near the edge of the parking lot, away from the crowds. Again it was the FT-991 driving the endfed halfwave on 20m SSB. It was midday, so we expected good 20m propagation (and a nice pileup for Yellowstone) but the band was not cooperating. We both made at least 10 QSOs for a successful activation, so we count that as a win, but the pileup never happened.
Besides the radio operating, we had a good time touring through the park and looking for wildlife. We saw tons of buffalo, not quite so many elk and deer, but no bears or wolves. We have had better wildlife viewing on previous trips but it was still fun.
Then it was time to start home, heading south out of Yellowstone back through Grand Teton. Of course, we were monitoring 146.52 MHz, when we heard Lorene/KG6MWQ on unnamed summit 7586 (W7Y/TT-164). She was on the summit with AE6NH, operating both HF and VHF. It was great to catch a VHF activator in Yellowstone. This was the first activation for TT-164, so congratulations to both of them.
We decided to make a stop at the Colter Village area on the way through Grand Teton NP. Our first priority was to use the shower facilities there. Our second priority was doing another POTA activation.
This time we set up in a large parking lot, away from anything that might produce RFI. Again, it was 20m SSB using the halfwave antenna supported by a fishing pole. We sat near the RV on our camp chairs and table. Our typical configuration is to have two sets of headphones so both of us can copy well. We just use the standard handheld microphone which is easily passed between us when we change operators.
Later in the day, we exited the park and headed south through Jackson, WY. We stayed overnight at a farm near Afton, WY which is surrounded by Bridger-Teton National Forest (K-4535). Of course, we needed to do one more POTA activation. We searched around for a usable spot to park and then fired up on 20m SSB. Propagation was OK but not great but we got it done.
The next day, we were up and going early, driving the rest of the way home to Monument. It was a wonderful road trip that blended sightseeing, hiking, camping, and ham radio. Let’s go do it again!
73 Bob K0NR