Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks: Where to Go and What to See
Updated: Aug 18, 2020
In July I had the opportunity to explore Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Both destinations were breathtaking and include a variety of terrains and wildlife. In this post I'll share suggestions based on my experience visiting Yellowstone and Grant Teton National Parks for the first time.
Our summer itinerary included a day and a half in Grand Teton National Park followed by four days in Yellowstone. July is typically the busiest month for both, and all of the roads are open mid-May through October. While we were told by several park rangers that this summer has had less traffic due to the pandemic, we found both parks to still be busy and full of tourists from around the globe. Weekends are even busier with heavier traffic. I'd recommend going during the week if you can.
Animals we saw: bison, elk, momma moose and her calf, wolf, chipmunks, ground squirrels, deer, marmot, fox ibex deer.
Animal spotting tip: As you drive, look for people in groups with professional cameras. We found this to be a fun and helpful way to see wildlife that we would have missed otherwise. Apparently we were one minute late to a bear sighting!
Grand Teton National Park
Known for its jagged mountain range, the Tetons are part of the Rocky Mountains located mostly in Wyoming, and a bit in Idaho.
We stayed in the infamous Jackson, Wyoming, an adorable town with loads of character and lots of restaurants and shops. While there, be sure to snap a photo beneath one of the many antler arches.
I'm so sad we didn't get the chance to eat at The Gun Barrel while there. Gun Barrel is a legendary restaurant serving steaks and wild game. The smells radiating from the restaurant were..heavenly. If you plan to go, make a reservation ahead of time as this is a popular spot for both tourists and locals. We may make a special trip back just to try it out for ourselves!
The serenity of the water combined with the scenic backdrop of sprawling forest, made Jenny Lake one of my favorite stops.
One of Jenny Lakes many treasures are the "Hidden Falls". Two options are available to experience this spectacle of cascading water. Park rangers provide a boating service, or for the more adventurous, a 2.8 mile hike. During our trek to the "Hidden Falls" we were graced with the presence of a mother moose and her calf snacking on underwater vegetation.
The mountainous backdrop creates an awe-inspiring scene, making this the perfect location to fish or partake in water sports.
Antelope Flats provides a glimpse into the America of our ancestors. The majesty of bison roaming the open plains and the backdrop of the mountains make it easy to imagine the covered wagons traversing the wilderness.
The crescent shape of Oxbow Bend provides the wildlife with a natural sanctuary from the coursing waters.
Yellowstone National Park
Spanning nearly 3,500 square miles, the beautiful wilderness sits atop volcanic activity. Spread throughout Wyoming, Montana, and part of Idaho, Yellowstone features numerous terrains, creeks, waterfalls, rivers, hot springs, geysers, and wildlife.
We stayed in Jackson, Wyoming and explored the southern part of the park before driving to West Yellowstone, Montana for the night.
This is a must see when venturing into Yellowstone. Old Faithful is located in Upper Geyser Basin, home to half of the entire world's geysers! Old Faithful's eruptions vary from 100-180 feet in height and this geyser has erupted over one million times since the parks 1872 inception. This historic geyser erupts every 75 minutes and can be predicted with a 90 percent confidence rate, within a 10 minute variation, but eruptions have ranged from 1-2 hours. Talk about old and faithful!
West Thumb Geyser Basin
This collection of bubbling cauldrons are located off the shoreline of Yellowstone Lake. The two main attractions are the extreme depths of the Abyss Pool and the Fish Cone.
This lake is the largest body of water in Yellowstone, boasting of 136 square miles of pristine water.
Grand Prismatic Spring
Grand Prismatic Spring is know for its full spectrum of colors that are caused by microbial bacteria and mineral rich water. Walk around the hot spring boardwalk, or take a hike for a view from above.
Before heading into the west entrance we stayed in West Yellowstone, Montana, located right outside the entrance. It's a small town with a cute downtown area filled with hotels, restaurants, and gift shops. The town is normally packed so make your hotel reservations well in advance.
Norris Geyser Basin
The oldest hot spot in Yellowstone, believed to have existed for 115,000 years, provides boardwalks to safely explore over 3/4 miles of rare acidic geysers.
Museum of National Park Rangers
Originally built in 1908, this rustic log cabin proves to be a educational stop for young and old alike. Unfortunately, the museums was closed during our visit due to COVID-19.
These boiling pools differ from the other thermal locations throughout Yellowstone due to a lack of water. This causes "mudpots" to form, which create their unique look and the notable smell of rotten eggs.
Artist Point (Grand Canyon of Yellowstone)
Artist Point is also known as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It is a stunning lookout point on the edge of a cliff. Here you'll have perfect views of the Upper and Lower Falls. The Lower Falls is taller than a full length football field, and is the largest waterfall in Yellowstone.
Our most favorite spot in the park was the north entrance. We stayed in Gardiner, Montana, a quaint town. Our hotel, Yellowstone Village Inn, had beautiful views of the mountains, and had a rustic and comfortable feel. The hotel is run by an amazing local family who goes above and beyond to provide a wonderful stay. Elk were everywhere in Gardiner, and would walk the streets every night at sunset as they made their way to their usual spot to spend the night.
Roosevelt Arch - Original North Entrance
Built in 1903, Roosevelt Arch was the original entrance to Yellowstone National Park. It was built in the town of Gardiner, Montana for just $10,000. Even today cars can drive under the entrance surrounded by mountains, and possibly a few elk!
Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs is a hot springs on a waterfall hill of travertine. Created over thousands of years ago, the spring's shape constantly changes as the hot water from the spring is cooled and calcium carbonate is deposited.
Mammoth Hot Springs Historical District, also known as Fort Yellowstone remains stuck in time. This small scenic town beside the falls boasts 35 structures dating back to the 1890's and early 1900's. The town was filled with elk, and a few shops with the best Huckleberry ice cream you'll ever taste.
Catching small trout, skipping rocks or playing in the clear waters of Yellowstone, Lava Creek is a scenic and safe place for families of all ages. It's a great spot for beginner flyer fisherman. We rented gear from Park's Fly Shop in Gardiner, and couldn't recommend them enough!
Originally photographed and painted in 1871, Tower Fall, a cascading waterfall, is believed to have been one of the inspirations to create the world's first national park.
This location is geologically unique due to its resurgent domes, which shift based on magma chambers flowing beneath. This literal hot spot is where we saw one of many bison camped out near a boardwalk. They seemed unphased by people as they napped or walked around. Park Rangers were on the scene to ensure no one got too close to the huge animal.
NORTHEAST AND EAST ENTRANCES
We did not enter through either the northeast nor east entrances of the park, but both are conveniently located to many beautiful stops, including Lamar Valley, an open expanse, known for its variety of large wildlife.
Both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks were breathtaking. If you've made it this far through the blog, thanks for following along! If you decided to visit, you will not regret it! For me, it was the trip of a lifetime, and a breath of fresh air to step away from the humidity and heat of Texas summers. Don't forget to bring your bear spray on your trip! You can find it in most stores around the area. Hoping on my next trip to Yellowstone I'll have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of one. If you do, let me know in the comments!