Why do you need a well-crafted itinerary for your Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks visit? The reason is that these two parks have so much to offer, you will get overwhelmed when planning your trip. Some visitors do not even realize that Yellowstone is much more than buffalos and the Old Faithful. The area delivers spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery with high peaks, deep canyons, waterfalls, colorful meadows, and an incredible variety of wildlife. Also, keep in mind that Yellowstone alone is larger than states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. Together, the two parks encompass nearly 4,000 square miles in the remote and mountainous area of Wyoming. And another factor, accommodation in the parks is limited and has to be reserved eight months in advance for the high season. You will need to create your route early. In this post, you will learn how to navigate the parks to see the most. Here is the comprehensive itinerary for your Grand Teton and Yellowstone visit.
THE ULTIMATE ITINERARY FOR GRAND TENON AND YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARKS
I visited these two jewels of Wyoming twice. My first trip turned out fantastic thanks to long months of planning. Fifteen years later, I had no time for detailed preparation. I added the visit to a last-minute press trip to Wyoming’s stunning Red Reflet Ranch. Of course, with the late start, I had no chance of staying inside the parks. That meant additional hours in a car each day. Do not get fooled by distances. Driving is slow because of the winding roads, traffic due to wildlife viewing, and even your own desire to stop and enjoy the scenery. For those reasons, you may want to consider picking two or even three overnight accommodation inside the parks in order to keep going without retracing your steps. Currently, you can make your reservation eight months in advance, which is crucial for the summer season.
How many days you need to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone
You can easily spend months exploring the parks, but just to see major sights, you need at least seven days. I am suggesting two days in Grand Teton and five days in Yellowstone. This itinerary starts with Grand Teton, famous for its stunning Rocky Mountains scenery and the abundance of wildlife.
Grand Teton National Park Itinerary
Grand Teton remains pristine despite its growing popularity. The park protects stunning mountain scenery and diverse wildlife. Established as a national park in 1929, it takes its name from its most prominent feature, Grand Teton (13,775 ft), the tallest mountain in the range. A total of nine peaks rise in the park to elevations above 12,000 ft. Visitors can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities like hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, swimming, fishing, boating, and wildlife watching. The park is open year-round, but some roads may be closed due to icy conditions in winter.
Day 1 – Teton Park Road with Jenny Lake Drive and Hike
Teton Park Road
The Teton Park Road runs along the base of the Teton Range, connecting Moose and Jackson Lake Junction. You will see the mountains clearly throughout this drive from various changing angles. Trailheads such as Taggart Lake, Lupine Meadows, Jenny Lake, String and Leigh Lakes, and Signal Mountain can be accessed from the road.
Jenny Lake Scenic Drive
The drive skirts the east shore of Jenny Lake and provides spectacular views of the peaks. Access the scenic drive from North Jenny Lake Junction. Drive west toward the mountains, and turn left (south) onto the one-way scenic drive. The scenic road returns to the Teton Park Road just north of South Jenny Lake.
Jenny Lake Hike
I strongly recommend taking Jennys Lake hike too, accessible from the Teton Park Road. The hike is about a mile one way and is easy to moderate in difficulty. You will want to take your time and enjoy Hidden Falls and the view at Inspiration Point. You need about two hours to complete the hike.
Day 2 – Oxbow Bend, Jackson Lake, and Signal Mountain
Make sure to stop at Oxbow Bend, an overlook along highway 89/191 between Jackson Lake Junction and Moran Junction – the most photographed point the Grand Teton. It is a stunning area to view sunrise or sunset and capture the Teton Range reflecting in the Snake River.
The lake is primarily fed by the Snake River, which flows in from the north, and empties at Jackson Lake Dam. It is one of the largest high altitude lakes in the United States, at an elevation of 6,772 ft (2,064 m) above sea level. The lake is up to 15 mi (24 km) long, 7 mi (11 km) wide, and 438 ft (134 m) deep. The water of the lake averages below 60 °F (16 °C), even during the summer. Make sure to explore beyond the dam to find stunning views.
Put driving to Signal Mountain on your Grand Teton itinerary. The road is narrow and steep but worth the effort. Stop right before the top for the best views of the Tetons. You can see the water, the land, and the mountains all at once, framed by pine trees. Look for animals there too.
If you have more time, here check out these 12 Top-Rated Hiking Trails in Grand Teton National Park
Where to stay
Of course, the best place to stay is inside the park at one of its lodges but they need to reserved well in advance. If you are out luck, consider the second-best, Heart Six Ranch if only for the views!
Yellowstone National Park Itinerary
Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, is the world’s first national park. Its mission is to preserve the beauty of the land for generations to come. Today the park is recognized by the United Nations as a biosphere reserve and a world heritage site for its worldwide significance of natural and cultural resources. Visitors can take the 142-mile Grand Loop Road that forms a figure 8, with connecting sputs to the five entrances. The beauty of Yellowstone goes beyond imagination.
Day 3 – West Thumb Geyser Basin and Yellowstone Lake
West Thumb Geyser Basin
Often missed by visitors, West Thumb Geyser Basin stands out from the rest of the parks because of its location on the shore of Yellowstone Lake. The lake creates a dramatic backdrop for the powerful geysers, pools, and springs.
A dirt trail and wooden boardwalk loops through the geyser basin, offering a 2/3 of a mile long wheelchair-friendly stroll. The area is breathtaking.
Drive along Yellowstone Lake
After visiting West Thumb Geyser Basin, take a leisurely drive along the lake and frequently stop to enjoy its beauty. The deep blue water lake sits at 7,733 feet above sea level. It is 20 miles long and covers 132 square miles. It is the largest lake at a high elevation in North America. Wild animals frequent the area.
Day 4 –Upper Geyser Basin with the Old Faithful and Midway Geyser Basin
Upper Geyser Basin with the Old Faithful
I am sure you will have the Old Faithful on your Grand Teton and Yellowstone Itinerary. This most popular attraction in Wyoming draws thousands of visitors per day, to be precise – 2000 people per eruption during peak summer months. The show is guaranteed! Old Faithful, as the park’s most predictable geyser, spouts boiling water up to 17 stories high. It erupts every 35 to 120 minutes for 1 1/2 to 5 minutes.
The Upper Geyser Basin is the world’s largest concentration of hot springs, which occupies about one square mile. It contains several groups of hot springs, including over 150 geysers. The basin is less than a half-mile wide. Most of its geothermal features are situated within a few hundred feet of the Firehole River.
Midway Geyser Basin with Grand Prismatic Spring
This basin is located “midway” between Yellowstone’s Upper and Lower geyser basins. Although Midway Geyser Basin is small, it is home to some of the largest single hot springs in the world. The most notable geysers and hot springs are Grand Prismatic Spring, Excelsior Geyser, Turquoise Pool, Opal Pool, Flood Geyser, Spray Geyser, and Imperial Geyser. The last two require a moderate hike behind the Grand Prismatic. Grand Prismatic Spring is Yellowstone’s largest single hot spring and the world’s third-largest hot spring.
Lower Geyser Basin
Lower Geyser Basin is located between Madison Junction and the Old Faithful area and is home to approximately 100 geothermal features. It covers five square miles and includes hot springs, geysers, and mud pots. Many of the thermal features of the Lower Geyser Basin are easily accessed from the amazing one-way Firehole Lake Drive.
Day 5 – Norris Geyser Basin and Mammoth Hot Springs
Norris Geyser Basin with Emerald Pool
In Norris Geyser Basin, you will find the world’s tallest active geyser, Steamboat Geyser, but do not count on the show. In some years, the Steamboat does not erupt as all, but when it does, it can shoot water more than 300 feet into the air. Despite its top star’s lazy performance, Norris Geyser Basin has many other features to impress its visitors. It ranks as Yellowstone National Park’s hottest and most changeable thermal area, making it one of the most extreme environments on Earth. Make sure to find Emerald Pool there, one of the most photographed sites in Yellowstone.
Mammoth Hot Springs with its primary attraction Canary Spring
Many visitors do not put Mammoth Hot Springs on their Grand Teton and Yellowstone Itinerary, but that is a big mistake. The area delivers out-this-world scenery and should not be missed. Mammoth presents a geothermal show with approximately 50 hot springs. Many are forming terraces with Canary Spring Upper Terraces as the center stage. The scenery is continually changing as new springs appear, and others become inactive.
Day 6 – Lamar Valley
The Lamar Valley is the wildlife’s viewing ultimate location in Wyoming. You will have a chance to see buffalo, elk, grizzly bears, gray wolves, bighorn sheep, black bears, pronghorn antelope, river otters, osprey, bald eagles, coyotes, and more.
Take your time in Lamar Valley. Try to visit early in the morning or early evening to increase your chances of seeing animals. I did not have to wait long for this to happen.
Day 7 – Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Wyoming
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is 20 miles long, up to 4,000-feet wide, and 1,200-feet deep. It is a place of incredible beauty. To see the canyon follow the one-way Canyon Rim Drive. Many trails and walkways wind along the rims and down partway into the canyon. Here is a detailed map of the area.
The main attraction in the area is Lower Falls, nearly twice as high as Niagara. The 308-foot (93.9-m) falls can be seen from Lookout Point, Red Rock Point, Artist Point, Brink of the Lower Falls Trail, and from various points on the South Rim Trail.
Artist Point and Point Sublime
Artist Point delivers overlooks on the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, with an exceptional perspective of canyon’s most famous feature, the Lower Falls. The viewpoint can be reached by a short 0.1-mile walk from South Rim Drive. Beyond the paved trail, you should continue hiking along the rim of the canyon to Point Sublime for more spectacular views.
Upper Falls is located just south of Canyon Village. Drive across Chittenden Bridge to Uncle Tom’s parking area to reach the trailhead. The 109-foot (33.2-m) Upper Falls is not as famous as Lower Falls but should be on your Yellowstone itinerary. A short trail leads from the main road to Upper Falls View.
Plan to stay inside the Wyoming National Parks
You will find lodging outside of the parks in Wyoming and Montana, but that could amount to hours of driving. The popular gateway towns are Jackson Hole, Wyoming (60 miles from the South Entrance), and Cody, Wyoming (52 miles from the East Entrance). To cover all of your Grand Teton and Yellowstone Itinerary with ease, you should stay inside the parks.
How to Beat the Crowds in Wyoming National Parks
To get the most out of your visit, go to bed early and start your day at sunrise. Not only will you beat the crowds, but you will also increase your chances of seeing animals. Take a break in the middle of the day and go back on the road late afternoon. Again, you will most likely see animals before the sunset.