Off the Beaten Path
As one of America’s most-loved natural areas, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks attract millions of visitors annually. Yet despite the crowds, it can be surprisingly easy to escape to the natural world. Here are a few ways to avoid the hordes and have the parks to yourself.
- • Visit in the off-season, especially autumn. Fall colors come late to the region, typically peaking the first week of October. The town of Jackson is still busy, but it’s much quieter than in midsummer. Lodging rates are lower, the elk are bugling, and hiking trails are uncrowded.
- • The 15-mile River Road provides an alternative route through the sagebrush of Grand Teton National Park, and is a good place to see elk in the fall.
- • The mostly gravel road into Gros Ventre Valley east of Kelly extends 30 miles into red-rock badlands.
- • Take a backcountry hike to two of the wildest parts of Yellowstone: the Bechler River area and the Thorofare region.
- • Looking to escape the Old Faithful madhouse? Directly behind the geyser, Observation Point Loop Trail climbs up Geyser Hill, with a view over the entire area.
- • Most folks just ride up Jackson Hole Ski Resort ’s popular tram and then head back down, but several excellent alpine trails fan out from here for short hikes or multi-night wilderness treks.
- • In winter, book a trip to a rustic tent cabin along Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River , a fine base camp to explore by ski or snowshoe .
- • Elude the Jackson Hole winter scene with hut-to-hut cross-country ski trips that lead to remote yet comfortable yurts.
- • An hour southeast of Jackson, Granite Hot Springs is a delightful spot for a soak.
- • The 10,947-foot Beartooth Pass cuts through a wide-open landscape northeast of Yellowstone with knife-edged peaks, alpine lakes, pretty campgrounds, and miles of hiking trails.
- • The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, north of Cody, commemorates the thousands of Japanese-Americans who were incarcerated here during World War II.
- • Take the dirt road into Whiskey Basin near Dubois to find herds of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in winter and spring.