Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone
Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone - Pack Your Bags - Essentials for National Park Road Trips
When embarking on a national park road trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone, packing strategically is key. These parks are located in remote areas, so you’ll want to bring ample supplies while still traveling light enough for hiking and camping. Planning your packing list ahead of time ensures you’ll stay comfortable and prepared for any situation.
Start by packing layers to accommodate Yellowstone and Grand Teton’s variable mountain weather. Temperatures can fluctuate 30 degrees from daytime to nighttime, so bring lightweight base layers, midlayers like fleece jackets and pants, and a waterproof outer shell. A warm hat, gloves, and hiking socks are also essentials. Be sure to pack hiking boots or trail shoes with sturdy traction for navigating diverse terrain.
Next, include camping gear like a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, headlamp, camp chair and stove if car camping or backpacking. National parks require hard-sided storage for food to keep it secure from wildlife, so bring a cooler and/or bear canister. A first aid kit, sunscreen, sunglasses, bug spray and plenty of water are daily use items you’ll need as well.
For road tripping between parks, have phone chargers, a road atlas or GPS and emergency kit with jumper cables, flares and basic tools on hand. Pack a National Park Pass to cover entry fees into both parks. Keep a camera, binoculars and field guides for spotting wildlife in your pack too.
When determining luggage, soft-sided bags that can be packed tightly are ideal for fitting all your gear efficiently. Backpacks make excellent carry-ons for hikes, while larger roller bags or storage containers can house bulkier items you only need at camp. Try to pack as lightly as you can while still being prepared - you'll appreciate a lighter load while navigating airport travel and rugged terrain.
What else is in this post?
- Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone - Pack Your Bags - Essentials for National Park Road Trips
- Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone - Hit the Road - Best Routes to Yellowstone and Grand Teton
- Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone - Grand Teton's Majestic Peaks - Hiking and Viewpoints in the Tetons
- Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone - Watch Wildlife Roam - Spotting Bears, Bison and More in Yellowstone
- Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone - Camp Under the Stars - Pitch a Tent in Yellowstone's Backcountry
- Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone - Thermal Features and Geysers - Yellowstone's Unique Landscapes
- Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone - Capture Postcard Views - Most Scenic Spots for Photography
- Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone - Fuel Your Adventure - Dining Options in the National Parks
Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone - Hit the Road - Best Routes to Yellowstone and Grand Teton
The open roads winding through Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks offer epic scenery along the way to your adventures. While there are multiple routes to reach these bucket-list parks, a few key highways provide the most direct and scenic access. No matter where you’re coming from, road tripping to Yellowstone and Grand Teton on these iconic drives really allows you to soak in the dramatic landscapes at your own pace.
One of the main roads bringing you straight into the action is Highway 89. Stretching from Arizona all the way to Canada, this route cuts right through Grand Teton with stunning views of the jagged Teton Range the whole way. Entering from the south, you’ll drive past herds of buffalo with the Tetons reflecting off Jackson Lake. Further north, the highway meanders through sagebrush flats with panoramas of Mount Moran and its neighbors towering above.
For an equally beautiful drive into Grand Teton, take Highway 26/89/191 north from Idaho Falls. This peaceful road winds between ponds and pines of Targhee National Forest before entering Grand Teton’s southern end. It then traces the Snake River through antelope-dotted plains under the rugged peaks defining the park. The route connects to Highway 89, letting you take either road deeper into Grand Teton.
Highway 89 is also your access road from Yellowstone’s south entrance into the park’s central habitats. Cruising along Yellowstone Lake through lush forests or across volcanic plateaus, you’ll see how the scenery changes across this vast park. For a more desert-style landscape, take Highway 191 north from Jackson to Yellowstone’s southern gates. Passing through sagebrush prairies beneath the Tetons’ limestone cliffs, you’ll enter areas of the park brimming with thermal features.
No matter which entrance you take, driving the Grand Loop Road is an essential Yellowstone experience. This 142-mile route forms a circle through the park’s incredible landscapes, taking you past iconic sites like Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone along the way. With so many scenic outlooks to stop and take it all in, driving the Loop over a few days is the best way to capture Yellowstone’s essence.
Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone - Grand Teton's Majestic Peaks - Hiking and Viewpoints in the Tetons
Rising sharply from the valley floor, the Teton Range exemplifies the rugged beauty of the Rockies. Topped with glaciers and draped in forests, these mountains offer countless ways to experience their grandeur. From hiking trails to scenic overlooks, you’ll find endless inspiration around each craggy peak.
For up-close views unlike anywhere else, lace up your hiking boots. Trails like Cascade Canyon and Paintbrush Canyon bring you straight into the folds of the mountains. As the path winds uphill along rocky cliffs and through flower-filled meadows, the jagged ridges of the Cathedrals and Teewinot suddenly tower thousands of feet above you. It’s humbling yet energizing to stand amid such awesome natural architecture.
Alternatively, Jenny Lake’s west shore has mellower trails through shady forests perfect for a family-friendly adventure. Stop often to gaze upward through the pines at the Tetons scrambling into the clouds. When you reach Inspiration Point, the perfect panorama over the deep blue lake framed by soaring peaks makes the reward exponentially greater than the effort.
Those short on time or mobility can still absorb the Tetons’ splendor from scenic roadside pullouts. Schwabacher Landing overlook showcases the mountains reflecting across the meandering Snake River at sunrise, their tips lit with a fiery golden glow. Oxbow Bend watches moose graze with Mount Moran mirrored on the still waters at dusk, often with the pastels of sunset spilling across the sky.
No matter where you are in Grand Teton, the rocky ridges are visible on the horizon. But the most expansive views come from trailheads along the crest of Signal Mountain. As you gaze out over Jackson Hole, the Tetons march across the valley in all their glory, with summits like the Grand, South Teton and Middle Teton unmistakable. Driving up Signal Mountain itself treats you to panoramic scenes with the Snake River carving through the valley below.
Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone - Watch Wildlife Roam - Spotting Bears, Bison and More in Yellowstone
Yellowstone was established as the world’s first national park primarily to protect its unique diversity of wildlife. Home to free-roaming populations of bison, bears, wolves, elk and more, Yellowstone offers unparalleled opportunities to observe these animals behaving naturally in the wild. Witnessing iconic wildlife up-close is for many the highlight of a Yellowstone visit.
Bison are the quintessential symbol of the American West, and Yellowstone is one of the few places where these shaggy beasts still dominate the landscape as they have for centuries. Massive herds grazing on the grassy plains of Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley make for stunning scenery and prime viewing. Visitors are often awed seeing newborn red-hued calves by their mothers’ sides in spring and watching bulls butting heads during the July rut. Early morning and dusk are the best times to catch bison roaming the roads and riverbanks.
Equally thrilling is spotting Yellowstone’s bears foraging and fishing. Grizzlies are frequently seen near roadsides in the northwestern corner of the park, especially between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower-Roosevelt. Watching them dig for fresh roots, flip over logs hunting grubs or claw salmon from the Gardner River is an unforgettable privilege. Black bears also fish the Yellowstone River near Fishing Bridge and the Hayden Valley’s Trout Creek, where cubs scamper behind mothers in early summer. Keeping a safe distance from all bears is critical, but seeing them in their natural habitat ignites the imagination.
Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone - Camp Under the Stars - Pitch a Tent in Yellowstone's Backcountry
After days exploring Yellowstone’s iconic attractions, spending a night camping under the stars in the backcountry offers an entirely different perspective on this incredible landscape. Pitching a tent surrounded only by nature is the ultimate way to immerse yourself in the park’s expansive wildness. Backcountry camping reveals Yellowstone’s magic that can’t be experienced from the road.
With over 1,000 backcountry campsites to choose from, you have ample options to craft the experience you desire. Whether seeking solitude in a remote valley or community at a popular lake, there are sites to accommodate every style. Permits are required for all backcountry camping and must be obtained ahead of time, so plan your route and reserve your sites early.
For multi-day backpacking trips, Shoshone Lake makes a stellar basecamp with 15 lakeside sites along its shore. Located far from roads in the park’s southwest corner, Shoshone’s pristine waters are perfect for both paddling and fishing for cutthroat trout. You may share camp with grizzly bears, moose and other wildlife also drawn to the lake. Use a bear canister to store food securely and cook away from your tent.
If seeking a family-friendly car camping experience, Pebble Creek Campground in the park’s northeast is ideal. Each of its 27 sites is nestled along a babbling creek shaded by lodgepole pines, creating a peaceful ambiance. Hike the adjacent Crevice Creek Trail to spectacular views of Barronette Peak and the Absaroka Mountains fromunique geological formations. Enjoy ranger-led campfire programs at night.
For backpackers, Slough Creek’s trailside sites offer premier access to Lamar Valley’s incredible wildlife watching. Wake early to watch wolves and grizzlies hunt bison in the valley below your tent door. The abundance of wildlife also means staying constantly bear aware. Hang food bags at camp and make noise when hiking to avoid surprise encounters.
Along the shores of Yellowstone Lake, boaters can paddle or row between backcountry sites, each with its own beach. Camp at South Arm for stunning sunsets behind the Absaroka peaks and geysers bubbling in the shallows nearby. Or camp at the remote western bays where the trails to Mount Sheridan and Heart Lake begin.
Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone - Thermal Features and Geysers - Yellowstone's Unique Landscapes
Of all Yellowstone’s treasures, its otherworldly thermal features are what leave visitors most awestruck. From blazing multi-colored hot springs to thundering geysers shooting towering spouts of water into the sky, these one-of-a-kind phenomena give Yellowstone its distinction as a place like no other on Earth. Formed from the same volcanic geology powering the entire park, the thermal features reveal nature’s raw, creative force in action. Their surreal beauty draws millions each year.
Wandering the boardwalks winding through steaming pools and bizarre bacterial mats at Mammoth Hot Springs utterly transports you to a different reality. These ever-changing terraces cascade down the hillsides, deposited over centuries as hot water percolates through limestone. The bulging orange and yellow formations resemble a living, breathing organism more than dirt and rock. The power driving it all becomes tangible up close, from the shimmering heat waves above springs to violent eruptions blasting water skyward without warning from vents underfoot.
Yet nowhere exemplifies Yellowstone’s geothermal spectacle like its geysers. Old Faithful may be the most famous, but Yellowstone contains over 500 geysers scattered throughout its volcanic calderas. Some erupt predictably, others with no set schedule, reaching up to 300 feet in the air. Being there the moment casts of water and steam thunder out of the ground and towering into the sky is humbling yet invigorating. The sheer force is jaw-dropping.
Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone - Capture Postcard Views - Most Scenic Spots for Photography
With its diversity of wildlife, unspoiled wilderness, and otherworldly geothermal areas, Yellowstone presents endless postcard perfect photo opportunities at every turn. This landscape photographer’s paradise allows endless chances to capture the park’s iconic scenery and fleeting moments that embody its spirit. Taking the time to immerse yourself in Yellowstone through your camera lens is the best way to come away with images that authentically reflect your experience.
One key to photography in Yellowstone is taking advantage of the ideal light during the early morning and evening hours, known as the golden hour. Every scene takes on a magical quality when the low sun casts a warm glow over the landscape. During sunrise, head to spots like Schwabacher Landing to photograph the Tetons illuminated in alpenglow reflected on the Snake River’s serene surface. At dusk, capture rich sunsets over Yellowstone Lake from Fishing Bridge or behind the White Dome Geyser at Roosevelt. For more intimate scenes, photograph bison silhouetted in golden light strolling across the Lamar Valley’s hills or soaking in the brilliant colors of Grand Prismatic Spring before the crowds arrive.
In a landscape shaped by geothermal wonders, no images better represent Yellowstone than its iconic geysers and fumaroles. For unforgettable photos of Old Faithful, scout locations both in front and to the side of its eruption zone to portray its height and the crowds’ reactions simultaneously. Or hike to remote thermal areas in the backcountry, where you can frame dragon’s mouth fumaroles exhaling steam or undisturbed pools glowing in rainbow hues all to yourself. At Mammoth Hot Springs, shoot wide to capture the steaming terraces’ vivid colors and intricate texture details.
Just as memorable are serendipitous wildlife encounters that happen unexpectedly. Always have your camera ready when driving the park roads, where you may spot elk, bison, big horn sheep or even a grizzly crossing your path. Hiking or boating also brings you eye level with subjects like moose feeding in waterways, curious marmots peeking from their burrows or the private lives of birds gliding across tranquil lakes. Spending more time exploring increases your chance of spontaneous photo ops to forever imprint Yellowstone’s spirit.
Cruise Through Grand Scenery: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone - Fuel Your Adventure - Dining Options in the National Parks
After adventures exploring Yellowstone and Grand Teton’s incredible scenery and wildlife all day, you’ll have worked up a mighty big appetite. Fueling up on delicious food is the perfect way to wrap up the day and prepare for more excitement tomorrow. The dining options inside these national parks may surprise you with their quality and diversity. From hearty campfire fare to upscale Western cuisine, Yellowstone and Grand Teton offer tasty meals for all budgets and palates.
In Yellowstone, fuel up on a juicy bison burger and fries at Canyon Lodge’s cafeteria-style eatery. Located centrally in the park, it’s the perfect pitstop mid-adventure. Or enjoy Montana ranch cuisine like trout, bison meatloaf or elk stew served in a rustic log dining room at the Old Faithful Inn. Fine wines and microbrews accompany the steaks at Roosevelt Lodge’s Old West-themed saloon. For a special night out under the stars, book a cookout with barbecue ribs, brisket and all the fixings at sites like Canyon or Grant Villages.
In smaller parks like Grand Teton, dining choices are more limited, but the quality remains high. Dornan’s Chuckwagon has an Old West vibe serving juicy burgers, bison chili bowls and Rocky Mountain trout. Tucked inside the Jackson Lake Lodge, Blue Heron Lounge is the place for fine wines and panoramic Teton views with your meal. Enjoy a sack lunch overlooking Jenny Lake from the General Store, or pick up trail snacks before a hike at one of several markets in the park.
Beyond the main restaurants, it’s easy and rewarding to create your own meals in the parks’ campgrounds. Grilling hot dogs and hamburgers over the fire then roasting s’mores under the stars makes for quintessential national park memories. Pack non-perishables like nuts, crackers, dried fruit, jerky and canned goods to round out easy camping meals. Invest in a high-quality cooler, and you can cook steak, fresh veggies, eggs and other perishables at your site too. Fire restrictions are common in these parks, so also pack a camp stove and lantern.
For an authentic taste of Jackson Hole, be sure to sample the cuisine in gateway towns like Jackson and West Yellowstone. Jackson offers upscale eateries known for game meats like elk loin, wild boar and quail alongside steakhouse classics. Casual hotspots dish up bison meatballs, Rocky Mountain trout and pasta with local veggies. In West Yellowstone, look for burger joints, BBQ shacks and Western fare perfect for refueling after time in the park. These lively towns add even more variety to Yellowstone and Grand Teton's already abundant dining options.