Fodor's National Park Road Trips:
The 12 Best Spots to Go ‘Plane-Spotting’ Across the U.S.
A visit to these two parks takes you through one of the last remaining natural ecosystems in this region of the world. Here, you’ll see wildlife ranging from beavers, bison, and bears to weasels and wolves, plus pristine mountain lakes, bubbling mud pots, and the world’s biggest collection of geysers.
At a Glance:
Miles Traveled: 20
Suggested Duration: 1 Week
Start & End Point: Jackson, WY
Parks Visited: Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park
Best Time To Go: Jan - Dec
Day 1: Welcome to Wyoming
Stop Locations: Jackson, WY
If you’ll be flying, the Jackson Hole Airport in Jackson, Wyoming, is probably the best place to start, as it’s only an hour from the southern entrance of Yellowstone. You’ll find plenty of lodging options in Jackson for your first night, or you can book a room at one of the park’s nine lodges—the centrally located Lake Hotel or the iconic Old Faithful Inn.
Depending on your arrival time, you can spend the rest of your first day exploring the town of Jackson or, if you’re staying in the park, taking a short driving tour around the lodge area.
Days 2-4: Yellowstone National Park
Stop Locations: Yellowstone National Park, WY
Dedicate the next three days to Yellowstone National Park, which, because of its sheer size and incredible diversity of wildlife and scenery, could take a lifetime to explore. Spend your first day on the park’s 140-mile Grand Loop Road. This road forms a big figure-eight as it passes nearly every major Yellowstone attraction, and offers interpretive displays, overlooks, and short trails along the way.
On your second day in the park, visit Old Faithful and take a short hike (about 2½ miles round-trip) around Mystic Falls, then head up to the Canyon Village section of the park for a look at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, with its two separate waterfalls. For a more strenuous option, hike from Dunraven Pass to the summit of Mount Washburn for wildflowers, wildlife, and panoramic views (6.2 miles round-trip).
For your third day, explore the northern part of the park, starting with the Mammoth Hot Springs area, with its terraced limestone formations. From there, head past Tower-Roosevelt to the Lamar Valley in the far northeast corner of the park for gorgeous mountain views, enormous herds of bison, and your best chance to spot wolves. Then check out the Mud Volcano and Sulphur Caldron in the Hayden Valley area, just south of Canyon Village.
Days 5-6: Grand Teton National Park
Stop Locations: Grand Teton National Park, WY
Leaving Yellowstone, drive south into Grand Teton National Park. The sheer ruggedness of the Tetons makes them seem imposing and unapproachable, but a drive on Teton Park Road, with frequent stops at scenic turnouts, will get you up close and personal with the peaks. The Jenny Lake Scenic Drive delivers fantastic views as well; just north of Jenny Lake, pull over to the Leigh Lake Trailhead for a hike. You can take the 3.7-mile loop around String Lake, or head north, then take the right-hand branch of the trail and follow the eastern shore of the lake (turn around at the campground on Trapper Lake) for a 9-mile hike. Spend your two nights at any of the excellent lodges or cabins in the park.
Your second day in the park, head back to Jenny Lake and catch a shuttle boat across to the western side, where you can take either a short hike along the Cascade Canyon Trail (2 miles round-trip) or hike the Forks of Cascade Canyon, a 9.6-mile trip that’s well worth the effort. If you’d rather explore Jenny Lake from the water, rent a canoe or kayak or take a guided tour.
Day 7: Head Home
Stop Locations: Jackson, WY
When your visit to Grand Teton is complete, getting back to the Jackson Hole Airport couldn’t be simpler: it’s actually inside the park boundary, about 4 miles from the southern entrance.