My eyes almost popped out of my head when an invitation from Ford arrived in my inbox. I was being invited to go on an epic road trip from Bozeman, Montana to Jackson, Wyoming. Those two states have been on my bucket list for years and so has Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons National Parks. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity even though I was just coming off of a round the-world trip. I’m so glad I did it because not only did I get to see one of the most beautiful parts of our country but it also allowed me to be one of the first to check out Ford’s new, luxurious Explorer Platinum. Here’s how the trip played out, including 12 reasons why this SUV is perfect for road trips:
I was stoked to discover that United had a nonstop flight from Los Angeles to Bozeman so Ford booked my ticket and I paid $39 to upgrade to Economy Plus (for 5 extra inches of legroom). I’m so glad I didn’t bite on United’s last-minute offer to upgrade to first class for $144 because it turned out I had more room than the guys in first since I had an empty seat next to me. It made the 902-mile, two-hour flight on a regional jet so much more comfortable.
Bozeman to Big Sky
Upon landing, a representative from Ford was waiting for me at the bottom of the escalator near baggage claim. When I told her I hadn’t checked a bag, she escorted me to the waiting car and driver for the 42-mile, one-hour drive to Big Sky. I was bummed I didn’t get to check out the town of Bozeman but the scenery on the way up to Big Sky was just gorgeous. I couldn’t stop taking photos.
Summit at Big Sky
Ford put us up for the night at the Summit at Big Sky (50 Big Sky Resort Rd; Big Sky, MT 59716; Tel.: 406-995-8001). The elegant, Euro-Western Summit at Big Sky is famous for having both President Obama and Vice President Biden vacation at their property. The Summit is only 100 yards away from a lift to take skiers, snowboarders, mountain bikers and hikers up one of the Rocky Mountains. Big Sky was a great choice since they have all kinds of lodging (from cabins to condos) and activities (from archery to zip-lining). They also host a lot of conferences since they have 5,000 square feet of meeting and event space. After I dropped my bags off in the room, I took a walk around the mountain village. I grabbed a $5 Ono (BBQ, bacon, and pineapple) Yeti Dog and Uncle Dan’s Sky Cookie (oats, flour, chocolate chips, peanut butter, and sunflower nuts). I tried to Periscope but the signal wasn’t strong enough.
FYI: I have T-Mobile which didn’t work well the whole trip. Those with Verizon fared much better.
Before dinner, the good folks from Ford gave us a quick presentation on the new luxury SUV and a rundown of how the day’s event was going to play out the next day. This was followed by cocktails and dinner at the lodge.
There were about 24 media flown in and there were around a dozen cars so we each had to pair up with someone. Most of the auto writers knew one another so they were all set. I was going to ride with a nice lady from Ohio but we didn’t see eye to eye on stops. She wanted to see everything and I only wanted to see the major things. Ford let us do whatever we wanted and go whichever route we desired. We could have driven straight to Jackson, which would take around 3.5 hours or we could go the long way and we could leave anytime between 7am and 9am and just arrive to Jackson in time for dinner at 6:30pm. They gave us a cool map with suggested stops and even plugged them all into our car’s GPS.
I ended up going with two other writers (Stephanie Yoder from Twenty-Something Travel and Samantha Feuss from Have Sippy Will Travel). It worked out well because it was less driving for me after I didn’t get but an hour’s sleep. It was for a combination of reasons that I didn’t sleep but mostly the high altitude. Big Sky is at an elevation of 7,510 feet (2,289 meters).
Tip: Drink lots of water when at high elevation and ask for a humidifier in your room.
Big Sky to Jackson
The next morning, Ford had a private breakfast buffet for us, which included Ford branded pancakes (see gallery below). Pretty cool, eh? On top of that, they had a cooler (no alcohol of course) for each car and a table full of snacks so we could pick and choose treats. The three of us headed out at 8am and our first stop was West Yellowstone, which was about an hour’s drive. I was planning to get some shuteye in the back seat but since the scenery was so spectacular, I ended up snapping hundreds of photos including some of moose passing by! Tip: If you see cars pulled over to the side of the road, there’s a good chance they have spotted an animal.
Yellowstone National Park
We stopped in West Yellowstone to check out the touristy town, gift shops and to use the facilities. I then took over the driving and we headed just a couple of miles into Yellowstone National Park. There was a pretty good lineup of cars but we stayed right where it moved much faster. Entry fee is $30 per car and it’s good for seven days.
Driving through the park was both amazing and aggravating. The aggravating part is that there’s a lot of traffic especially if there’s a wild animal around. Since they only have single lanes, you can’t pass the cars and usually drivers just stop in the middle of the road instead of pulling off to the side. I can understand after spotting your first couple of bison but after the twentieth, it gets to be a bit much. The scenery in Yellowstone is some of the best I’ve ever seen and I highly recommend going there. I can’t believe I waited so long and can’t wait to show it to my wife, my dad and other loved ones.
Bison vs. Buffalo: What’s the Difference?
According to Live Science: “Early American settlers called bison “bufello” due to the similar appearance between the two animals, and the name “buffalo” stuck for the American variety. But it’s wrong. The American bison lives only in North America, while the two main buffalo species reside in Africa and Asia. A small population of bison relatives called the European bison (Bison bonasus) lives in isolated parts of Poland.” Here’s more.
We stopped at a few of the major attractions like Excelsior Geyser, Grand Prismatic Spring, Fountain Paint Pots and Old Faithful. There aren’t a lot of bathrooms around and the line at the Fountain Paint Pots was long and we were there the two days after Labor Day – I can’t imagine what it was like during the summer. However, there were more than enough bathrooms at Old Faithful and they weren’t just port o potties so they were much cleaner and … fragrant. We stopped for lunch at the Old Faithful cafeteria. I had a Jack Daniel’s BBQ chicken sandwich for $8.50.
FYI: Here’s a list of Yellowstone’s geysers.
Grand Teton National Park
We then drove to and through Grand Teton National Park. It’s another jaw-droppingly beautiful park and this one didn’t have an entrance or fee. According to the National Park Service (NPS) here, “you can explore over two hundred miles of trails, float the Snake River, or enjoy the serenity of this remarkable place.” We pulled over a few times to take some pictures and then drove to Jenny Lake.
Good to know: Parking at South Jenny Lake is highly congested and often full from 10 am to 4 pm. The Jenny Lake area remains car-accessible from May 1st-October 31st.
The nice woman working in the Jenny Lake gift shop said the drive to Jackson Hole should take about 30 minutes but it took us around an hour. Not sure if we made the wrong turn or not but one of the roads we were planning to drive down was closed because there were too many bears on it. We tried to get the officers to let us down to take some pictures but they just laughed. We arrived at our Jackson Hole hotel right on time at 6:30pm.
Snake River Lodge & Spa
Ford put us up at the Snake River Lodge & Spa (7710 Granite Rd; Teton Village, WY 83025; Tel.: 307-732-6000), which is located in Teton Village, 55 miles from Yellowstone National Park and 12 miles from the historic town of Jackson Hole. If you want to go up the mountain to hike, bike or ski this is one of the hotels you want to stay at since it’s just a 100-yard walk to the Jackson Hole Ariel tram (takes visitors up 4,139 vertical feet in 12 minutes). The hotel has a variety of rooms and mine had a deep soaking Jacuzzi and fireplace. In the closet was a humidifier, which my cousin, who lives nearby, recommended I use to sleep better. I did and it worked.
Overall, the two-day trip was quick but it proved that you can see one of the most beautiful parts of America in a weekend.
And now: 12 reasons why Ford’s new 2016 Explorer Platinum is perfect for road trips:
1. Rearview camera with washer
I love new cars because many have a rearview camera, which makes backing up that much easier. But Ford has taken the rearview camera to the next level. First, they put a washer on it (and on the front camera) so when you’re driving in snow, sleet, or mud, you don’t have to get out of your car to wipe off the lens. But most importantly, the rearview camera is 180 degrees. It’s great that you can see directly behind you but it’s ridiculously amazing that you can see what’s coming at you. This camera saved my insurance from going up when I was backing up between two buses at Jenny Lake and most likely would’ve gotten plowed if it weren’t for the camera. It’s a lifesaver and should be on every car ever manufactured.
2. Gas mileage
I live in California so gas prices are some of the most expensive in the country. Today, they were $3.74, which is a lot cheaper than what they were a month ago but still, this adds up. I thought for sure that by the time we finished our road trip from Big Sky to Jackson that the SUV would have had no gas in it. I was shocked as were my road-mates when we had almost a half a tank of gas left and we had driven over 200 miles. According to the manufacturer, it gets 16/22 miles per gallon (MPG) in the city and highway but it seemed like we got even more. And you can fill it with regular gas not like the Premium my 2004 car eats up.
3. Speed limit is listed
Okay, maybe I haven’t driven a new car in a while but I was blown away when I saw that the odometer listed the speed limit and it was accurate. I would monitor the different speed limit signs just to see if it would change and sure enough, it did and immediately. How the heck does it do that? The bad news is you can’t use the excuse that you didn’t know the speed limit if a cop pulls you over!
4. USB chargers
This SUV not only has four USB chargers (two in the front and two in the back) but it also charges devices twice as fast. In addition, there’s 12V powerpoint and a SD card reader! I don’t even know what I would do with the SD card reader but my wife’s new Macbook doesn’t even have one.
5. Voice-activated navigation system
You have to love a vehicle that has a voice-activated navigation system. But what I really loved is that when we were mapping out our road trips, we didn’t just have to keep inputting where we were going while on the road. Instead, we set waypoints all at the beginning of the trip so there weren’t any hassles or delays from point to point.
You can’t go on a road trip without good music or a sound system. The good music is your responsibility but Ford installed 500 watts, 12 speakers including a subwoofer, new 14-channel amp. It’s unique to the Platinum series and includes Clear Phase audio and Live Acoustics functionality to help reduce distortion and enhance sound presence for a crisp and clean listening experience. On the flip side, if you want quiet, you can get that too since they sealed up the vehicle so much. Oh, and all SUVs come with an introductory six-month subscription to SiriusXM.86 radio with more than 130 channels, including 100% commercial-free music.
7. Roomy vehicle with dual-panel moonroof
There’s plenty of room in the car including in the back seat (I spent half the time back there). What also is nice is that those seated in the second row (there’s a third row of seats available if you need it and don’t have luggage), also have views including straight up thanks to the dual-panel moonroof. Note: The only thing I found wrong with the car is that when you have the moonroof closed and the windows open the interior linen flaps in the wind.
Did you know? Ford has sold one Explorer every two minutes for the past 25 years?
8. Heated steering wheel
The steering wheel is a combination of wood and leather and both parts can be heated … and quickly. The steering wheel can warm up from -4°F to 74°F within five minutes and maintain a temperature of up to 90°F. Those with poor circulation or drivers in cold weather will absolutely love it!
9. Massage seats with heat and A/C
Not only do both the driver and passengers seats have heated and air conditioned seats but they have massagers in them as well and you can adjust all facets of it as well.
10. Ambient lighting
By just a push of a couple of buttons, you can set the mood in the vehicle with ambient lighting. Color choices include Ice Blue, Orange, Soft Blue, Navy Blue, Red, Green and Purple.
11. Remote keyless entry
Let’s say you plan on going to the beach to surf and you don’t want to leave your keys out in the open. The Explorer Platinum has remote keyless entry so you can leave your key in the car and not worry.
12. Hands-free power liftgate
I don’t have kids but if I did, I’m sure I would be busy wrestling them to get in the car as well as putting the luggage in. The new Platinum comes with a hands-free power liftgate. That means you can open or close with a kick of your foot within the range of the rear bumper’s sensors as long as you have the key fob in your pocket or purse.
Without a doubt, I could list 30 or maybe even 50 reasons why I would love to have Ford’s new Explorer Platinum series on all of my road trips. I didn’t even get into the Eco blast 350 torque twin turbo engine or the adjusted arm and foot rests to make more room for the driver. I think Ford’s new look and series will do really well especially for their target customer, which is a family adventurer. If you are someone who loves to live life outside the home, then I highly recommend taking a test drive. There’s only one price and everything comes included for $53,195.
Related: Here’s my Flipagram of the trip.