THE ULTIMATE ITINERARY FOR GRAND TETON AND YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARKS

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.

Sunset in Yellowstone.
Do not be afraid of crowds when visiting the parks. You can find plenty of solitude there.

THE ULTIMATE ITINERARY FOR GRAND TENON AND YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARKS

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliated links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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 when planning your trip. 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.

Grand Teton and Yellowstone itinerary. A sunset and a hat.
I stayed in Moran, Wyoming, a few miles out of Grand Teton, but I could see the mountain in a distance.

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 and Yellowstone itinerary. The Teton Range reflection in Jackson Lake.
The Grand Teton Range reflecting in Jackson Lake. 

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.

Grand Teton itinerary. A lady posing at the Grand Teton National Park welcome sign.
Let’s explore!

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.

Grand Teton Itinerary. Teton Park Road.
Teton Park Road delivers one stunning view after another.
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.

A teenage boy at Jenny Lake Wyoming.
My son Daniel at Jenney Lake in Grand Teton 15 years ago. 

Day 2 – Oxbow Bend, Jackson Lake, and Signal Mountain

Oxbow Bend

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.

Grand Teton itinerary. Oxbow Bend overlook. .
Oxbow Bend delivers the best photo opportunities in Grand Teton National Park.
Jackson Lake

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.

Grand Teton itinerary. Jackson Lake. The Grand Teton Lake reflecting in the water.
Most visitors gather around the Jackson Lake Dam and have no idea that stepping into the woods would give them those views.
Signal Moutain

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.

Grand Teton itinerary. Signal Mountain at Grand Teton National Park.
Signal Mountain, on the left, delivers excellent views of the Teton Range.

If you have more time, here check out these 12 Top-Rated Hiking Trails in Grand Teton National Park

Where to stay at Grand Teton National Park Area

Lodging inside the park

Try to stay inside the park to avoid unnecessary driving. Lodging choices in Grand Teton National Park are varied providing a range of accommodations. Choose from a modern hotel or motel type room, lodging in a rustic cabin, or even a tent cabin. Learn more about lodging choices in the park.

There are also many options for camping, but keep in mind that most campgrounds are first-come, first-serve. Check your options here.

Lodging outside of the park

If you can’t secure lodging inside the park, consider accommodation at Moran, Wyoming. I stayed at Heart Six Ranch, and I can assure you that the views there are outstanding. Also, check out hotels in Jackson, Wyoming.

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.

Yellowstone itinerary. The sign at the entrance.
A world of wonder beyond will put you at awe!

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.

West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone.
West Thumb Geyser Basin on Yellowstone Lake.

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.

Yellowstone itinerary. West Thumb Geyser Basin.
West Thumb Geyser Basin does not have any famous features, but the scenery certainly compensates for it.
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.

Yellowstone itinerary. Kayaking at West Thumb Geyser Basin.
West Thumb Geyser Basin is boiling, but the lake is deadly cold even in the summer. 

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.

Yellowstone itinerary. The Old Faithful never fails.
The Old Faithful never fails. Just wait for the show. Photo courtesy of Jakub Jasinski.

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.

Wyoming. Yellowstone itinerary. The Upper Geyser Basin in is literally boiling.
The Upper Geyser Basin is literally boiling.
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.

Grand Prismatic Spring. Wyoming.
My son Daniel at Grand Prismatic Spring. Children love Yellowstone. 
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.

Firehole Lake Drive in Yellowstone, Wyoming.
Another painting-like scene at Yellowstone’s Firehole Lake Drive. Photo courtesy of Jakub Jasinski.

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.

Wyoming. Yellowstone itinerary. Emerald Pool.
Emerald Pool, one of the shining stars of the 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.

Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Mammoth Hot Springs terraces will never look like that again. Some of the areas become dormant, while others come alive.

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.

Buffalo crossing the road in Yellowstone, Wyoming.
I have the right of way!

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.

Lower Falls

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.

Stunning Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone River.
Stunning Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone River.
Artist Point and Point Sublime

Artist Point delivers overlooks on the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, with an exceptional perspective of the 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

Picturesque views of Grand Canyon of Yellowstone River from Point Sublime.
Upper Falls

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.

Upper Falls not as impressive as Lower Falls, are still attractive and must-see in Yellowstone., Wyoming.
Upper Falls in Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. 

Yellowstone National Park Lodging

Staying inside the park

Lodges in Yellowstone

For the best experience, plan to stay inside the park. Yellowstone National Park Lodges operates nine lodges (hotel- and cabin-style) with more than 2,000 rooms. All are open from late spring through fall, but only two are open in the winter: Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Be sure to make a reservation early!

Camping in Yellowstone

You will find a wide variety of campgrounds in Yellowstone. Pick the one you like and make your reservation here. Remember, these sites disappear quickly, so do not wait too long!

Lodging outside of Yellowstone National Park

Try changing your accommodation frequently to get easy access to different areas of the park, otherwise, you will be spending a lot of time driving back and forth.

Hotels near Yellowstone:

Gardiner, Montana at the North Entrance

West Yellowstone, Montana, at the West Entrance

Cody, Wyoming, 52 miles from the East Entrance

Hotels in Jackson, Wyoming, 60 miles from the South Entrance

 

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.

Wildflowers in Yellowstone, Wyoming.
Just in case you love wildflowers like I do, there are waiting for you in Yellowstone. 

If you like national parks, here are other locations that may strike your interest:

Why Utah the best state for nature lovers 

16 reasons to take a road trip to Nova Scotia 

23 Reasons to visit America 

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia 

Visiting Verdon Gorges in France – The Grand Canyon of Europe