Best of Yellowstone & Grand Teton
This summertime trip provides a wonderful introduction to the region, starting in Jackson Hole and taking in the popular town sights before heading north into Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Jackson is accessible by nonstop flights from Denver and Salt Lake City, and car rentals are available at the airport.
Fly or drive in to the bustling town of Jackson and you’ll quickly see why it’s such a popular destination. Stop by the sod-roofed Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center for a plethora of brochures and a helpful staff to answer your questions.
You can’t miss shady Town Square with its four elk-antler arches, but you may need to park in the big lot a couple of blocks to the north. Evening shoot-outs are a summer favorite activity, and several dozen art galleries (and many other businesses) fill nearby shops. Just north of town is the outstanding National Museum of Wildlife Art.
Downtown, travelers will find an amazing variety of dining choices. For dinner and a great beer, join the throngs at Snake River Brewing Company. Don’t miss the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar with its saddle barstools and nightly country-and-western bands.
Drive north into Grand Teton National Park to take in the mountain vistas and explore a few of the sights. Stop first at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center for an orientation to the park and its history. For a great half-day adventure, book an easy float or rollicking whitewater raft trip down the Snake River; a dozen local companies offer trips. You can also rent a bike and head up the paved bike path to Jenny Lake, a wonderful jumping-off point for hikes. Spend the night at a park campground (Jenny Lake is especially notable) or at Jenny Lake Lodge.
This is a day to explore Grand Teton. Starting from Jenny Lake, take the park road north to Jackson Lake. Stops along the road include the photo-perfect barns of Mormon Row, and spectacular turnouts facing the Tetons, including Snake River Overlook (where Ansel Adams took his famous photo), and the view at Oxbow Bend, a great place to look for wildlife.
At Jackson Lake, Colter Bay Marina offers scenic cruises, boat and kayak rentals, and guided fishing on this large reservoir. Not far away is grandiose Jackson Lake Lodge, built at the behest of John D. Rockefeller (who also played a big role in establishing Grand Teton National Park), where you will spend the night. A nice evening drive is the winding road to the 7,593-foot summit of Signal Mountain, where the panorama encompasses the majestic Teton Range, Jackson Lake, Snake River, and the long valley called Jackson Hole.
Spend today exploring Yellowstone by driving north to West Thumb, where you may want to stop for a brief look at the hot springs and other features before turning west to visit famous Old Faithful Geyser and Upper Geyser Basin area. Be sure to take time to wander around majestic Old Faithful Inn and the modern Old Faithful Visitor Education Center. It will probably be mid-afternoon by this point. There’s no camping at Old Faithful, but excellent lodging options are available at Old Faithful Inn or Old Faithful Lodge.
Another full day in Yellowstone begins by heading north from Old Faithful to Norris Geyser Basin. Take in the Back Basin loop to see if Echinus Geyser is active, or head down Porcelain Basin to enjoy the ever-changing colors. Continue on to Mammoth Hot Springs and stroll the boardwalks at the colorful terraces, check out historical photos in the visitor center, and get lunch inside the hotel.
In the afternoon, drive to Roosevelt Lodge, where cabins and delightful Old West cookouts are available (book in advance). Take an evening drive into nearby Lamar Valley, one of the finest places for wildlife-viewing. Wolves and bison populate this scenic corner of Yellowstone.
A few miles south of Roosevelt Lodge is Tower Fall, a dramatic 132-foot waterfall. Farther south, the road winds over Dunraven Pass, where Mt. Washburn trails are popular in late summer. Be sure to take time to explore Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, with its spectacular waterfalls and multihued canyon walls. An evening hike along one of the rim trails is a great way to end the day. Lodging and campsites are available in Canyon Village; Dunraven Lodge is the nicest.
Drive south through lush Hayden Valley (pull out your binoculars to glass for bears or wolves) to Yellowstone Lake. Spend your final day in the park exploring the Yellowstone Lake area, where you can take a one-hour boat cruise and enjoy lunch at historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel. From here, it’s a leisurely three-hour drive south to your starting point in Jackson Hole.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton, 5th Edition