Yellowstone/Grand Teton Road Trip

It can be daunting to plan a family vacation to a once-in-a-lifetime destination, like Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park. Plus add in the extra stress of hotels that book up a year in advance and crowded facilities, and it can be a very hard itinerary to navigate. Check out my 10-day itinerary below to take the stress out of your planning for 2022!

Note: The National Parks are slowly reopening in 2021 but some restaurants, activities, and lodging facilities are still closed or operating below capacity. Check the status of each place before your trip. 

Image taken from Google Maps

Day 1: Bozeman, Montana to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

There are several airports that serve Yellowstone but Bozeman is easily accessible from the east coast (through Chicago) and is the closest airport to the northern entrance to the park. We tacked on a few days to the start of our trip in 2019 to spend a few nights in Chicago!

The Bozeman airport is easy to navigate but be sure to reserve your rental car ahead of time. Within an hour, we were on the road to Yellowstone, a 1.5 hour drive from the airport. 

Do: If you have time, visit Bozeman’s fantastic Museum of the Rockies.

You’ll enter Yellowstone through the Wild West town of Gardiner. Be sure to pull off to get a picture at the historic Yellowstone arch. 

Below I’ll list a way to see most of the major sights in the park in 4 days. Be sure to read my Yellowstone post for more details about what to do at each location in the park, including the best way to see the thermal features with kids. 

Download this map before your trip to help you visualize the plan! The main road is in the shape of a figure 8 but be forewarned that the driving times between sights can be more than you think! Be sure to also download the incredibly helpful Gypsy Driving app for your tour.

1st stop: Mammoth Hot Springs 

Eat: Grab a kid-friendly lunch at the Mammoth Terrace Grill. Don’t forget the mammoth ice cream! 

Do: Visit the Albright Visitor Center (buy a Junior Ranger booklet!) and then walk to the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces.

2nd Stop: Norris Geyser Museum and geyser basin

3rd Stop: Canyon Village 

Stay: Canyon Lodge (2 nights)- one of the newest hotels in Yellowstone, the lodge is made up of several buildings and cabins. The rooms are a bit small but nice and come with a mini-fridge. Remember, none of the hotels in the park will have air-conditioning or long-range WiFi. 

Eat: Eat dinner at the retro Canyon Lodge M66 Grill. You’ll need reservations for the restaurant but there is also a more casual eatery as well. (Note the M66 Grill is closed for all of 2021.)

Do: Visit the Canyon Visitor Education Center to prepare for what you’ll see tomorrow!


Day 2: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone 

1st Stop: The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is one of the most breathtaking sights you’ll ever see! Get an early start and head out as soon as you can to avoid the crowds. 

Eat: Grab a quick breakfast at the eatery

Do: Drive the northern rim of the Canyon, starting just 1.5 miles from the eatery. Be sure to take the short hikes to the lookout points for jaw-dropping scenery! After the northern rim, head to the southern rim’s hikes.

2nd Stop: Lunch and souvenir shopping in Canyon Village

Eat: Grab a burger at the retro Canyon Soda Fountain inside Canyon’s Yellowstone General Store for lunch.

3rd Stop: Tower Falls/Roosevelt area

Eat: For dinner, make reservations at the family-friendly Old West Dinner Cookout near Tower/Roosevelt area. Or opt for a dine-in experience at the Roosevelt Lodge Dining Room. Both the cookout and the dining room are about an hour from the Canyon Village area.

Do: If you’re still up for adventure after lunch, drive to Tower Falls to see its beautiful waterfall on your way to dinner.


Day 3: Hayden Valley and Yellowstone Lake

Check out of the Canyon Lodge and drive south on the main road to Yellowstone Lake. You’ll drive through one of the most scenic parts of the park, Hayden Valley. This is where you will see buffalo and all kinds of other wildlife! Keep your eyes peeled!

Eat: Eat breakfast at the M66 Grill before you leave the Canyon Village area.

1st Stop: Yellowstone Lake (45 minute drive)

Eat: With older kids, grab lunch to go at the Lake House Deli. With younger children, opt for a sit-down dining experience at Wylie’s Canteen.

Do: Charter a private fishing boat for a 3-4 hour boat trip (best for ages 10 and up). Eat your picnic lunch and catch some fish for dinner!

If you have younger children, take one of the scenic boat rides instead. 

2nd Stop: Old Faithful area (1 hour drive)

Stay: Old Faithful Inn (2 nights) – this is the most historic hotel in the park! Built in 1903, opt for the rooms in the newer section (from the 1920s). The rooms are small and not luxurious but are adequate and you can even see Old Faithful’s spouting water from many of the rooms! It’s a must-stay hotel!

Eat: Bring your fish from your boat adventure to the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room. The chef will cook the fish for your meal! Even if you didn’t catch any trout, make reservations at the dining room for dinner.

Do: Bring a set of cards and play Go Fish on the expansive deck while watching Old Faithful blow its spout!


Day 4: Old Faithful

This is the crowning jewel of Yellowstone. Just be sure to hold onto little ones’ hands tightly as these thermal features are extremely dangerous.

1st Stop: Upper Geyser Basin walk

Eat: Eat a hearty breakfast at the Old Faithful Basin Store, located near the Old Faithful Inn.

Grab lunch at the Geyser Grill at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.

Do: Start off your morning at the Old Faithful Visitor Center where you can learn more about the geothermal conditions at the park. It is a fantastic educational center and is a good place to learn when the geysers are predicted to erupt. 

Spend the morning walking the boardwalks of the Upper Geyser Basin. You’ll go by numerous geysers and bottomless pools that will fascinate children and adults! 

2nd Stop: Midway Geyser Basin and Fountain Paint Pots

Do: After lunch, drive towards the fountain paint pots, stopping at the other geysers along the way. Don’t miss the midway geyser basin and its other-worldly Grand Prismatic Hot Springs! 

3rd Stop: Old Faithful area

Eat: Eat dinner at the Obsidian Dining Room at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Your kids will enjoy hanging out in its lobby for the WiFi (one of the few areas of the park to have it!).


Day 5: Yellowstone to Grand Tetons

Check out of the hotel and drive to Grand Teton National Park (1.5 hours from Old Faithful). You’ll drive through Grant Village and the West Thumb Geyser Basin along the way.

1st Stop: Grant Village/West Thumb Geyser Basin

Eat: Eat a quick breakfast at the Grant Village Grill inside the general store.

Do: Check out the Grant Village Visitor Center if your child is fascinated with the movie, Planes. It contains a wealth of information about the devastating 1988 wildfires in the park. 

If you want to see more geysers, take a quick stroll around the West Thumb Geyser Basin. This is where you can see all 4 thermal features of the park in one short walk! 

Drive south and leave Yellowstone National Park through the southern exit. Soon you will enter Grand Teton National Park at its northern entrance. 

Grand Teton National Park is a little harder to navigate with young children as its hikes do not include boardwalks like in Yellowstone. If your family enjoys strenuous mountain climbing or hiking, you’ll want to spend more time in the park. My itinerary below is good for families with younger children or those who don’t want to spend much time hiking. Be sure to read my post about activities in the park before your trip!

2nd Stop: Leek’s Marina and Pizzeria

Eat: Grab lunch at Leek’s Pizzeria with an amazing view of the mountains and lake. 

3rd Stop: Colter Bay

Do: Visit Colter Bay Visitor Center to learn more about the park.

4th Stop: Jackson Lake Lodge

Stay: Jackson Lake Lodge (2 nights) – this family-friendly hotel is centrally located in the park and has the most breathtaking view of the mountain range! The rooms are basic but nice, and there is a pool and playground for children. If you have teenagers or want to have hiking trails at your doorstep, consider staying at the pricey Jenny Lake Lodge instead. 

Eat: Make dinner reservations at the Mural Room – request a seat with a view!

Do: Drive up Signal Mountain for panoramic views of the scenery.


Day 6: Grand Teton hikes

Spend the entire day in the park!

1st Stop: River Rafting Trip (leaves from hotel lobby)

Eat: Grab a quick breakfast at the coffee cart in the hotel before your big morning excursion. 

Lunch will be provided as part of the river rafting trip. If you don’t do the rafting trip, grab lunch at the Jenny Lake Lodge Dining Room.

Do: A don’t miss excursion in the park is a guided rafting trip on the Snake River. We opted for the rafting trip with lunch included (not available in 2021). It was the best thing we did on the entire trip! See my post for more details. 

If your children are too young for the rafting excursion, head to Jackson Lake for a scenic cruise.

2nd Stop: Jenny Lake

Do: After the rafting trip and/or lunch, drive to Jenny Lake for hiking. Visit the visitor center and talk to the ranger about the hiking conditions. Take the short ferry across Jenny Lake to hike to Inspiration Point. Be on the lookout for wildlife – we saw a mama bear and two cubs as we were waiting on the ferry!

3rd Stop: Back to the hotel (drive up Signal Mountain on the way back if you missed it yesterday)

Eat: For younger children, make reservations for dinner at the Outdoor Western BBQ at the hotel pool. With teens, splurge on the Jenny Lake Lodge Dining Room.


Day 7: Grand Teton to Jackson

Today you’ll head back to civilization but before you do, you don’t want to miss some of the most picturesque parts of the park!

Eat: Eat breakfast at the hotel’s Pioneer Grill before check out. 

1st Stop: Mormon Row – some of the most historic structures in the park

2nd Stop: Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center

Leave the park and drive past the National Elk Refuge to the little town of Jackson. On the way, drive through the parking lot of the National Museum of Wildlife Art to see amazing sculptures. If you have older children interested in art, you’ll want to visit the interior of the museum. 

3rd Stop: Jackson

Stay: The town of Jackson has lots of options for accommodations, both in-town and at Teton Village. Book two nights at one of these choices:

If you have teenagers, stay at the luxurious in-town Wort Hotel. It’s just steps from all of the restaurants and sights in Jackson!

For a more relaxing stay, check into the Four Seasons in Teton Village (20 minute drive from Jackson).

Eat: Have a filling burger lunch at Jackson Drug right on Jackson Town Square.

If you’re staying in-town with teenagers, opt for dinner at one of the dozens of restaurants in Jackson. We liked The Merry Piglets for fresh Mexican food! 

If you opted to stay at Teton Village, have a casual dinner at the famous Mangy Moose.

Do: Make sure you’re in the Jackson Town Square around 6 pm to watch the nightly Wild West “shoot out” – my kids loved it! 

If it’s a Wednesday or Saturday, check out the Jackson Hole Rodeo for after-dinner fun!  


Day 8: Jackson 

The little town of Jackson is quaint and fun to walk around. It has a very wild west feel with modern amenities. Start your day at the photo-worthy Jackson Town Square and walk along the wooden sidewalks throughout town.

Eat: Grab breakfast at The Bunnery, famous for its gigantic pastries!

You can eat lunch in one of the most historic buildings in Jackson – Cafe Genevieve.

A dinner experience not to be missed is a chuckwagon dinner held near Jackson in the summer months. Get your reservations early for these family-friendly shows/dinners!

Do: Visit the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museums with school-aged children to learn more about the area’s history. Walk around the town square and shop in the stores, especially the Valley Bookstore

Spend the afternoon biking one of the many trails throughout the town. We did a long guided bike trip on the paved trail to Grand Teton National Park. Or in Teton Village, there’s the Jackson Hole Bike Park

If biking isn’t your idea of fun, there’s a great hike appropriate for older children in Teton Village. You can even take the gondola up or down! Don’t miss the amazing waffles at the top (restaurant closed for 2021)!

With younger children, spend the afternoon at the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum or one of the numerous playgrounds around Jackson. 


Day 9: Jackson to Salt Lake City 

It’s your last day of vacation and you have a couple of options. The quickest way home from Jackson is to fly out of Jackson Hole Airport. It’s a bit pricier and harder to get flights in and out of here so another option is to drive to the nearest large hub. We chose to drive to Salt Lake City, Utah for our return flight. It’s only a 5 hour drive, and it allows you to check off two more states on your list! Plus it allows you to visit a cool place for budding paleontologists!

Eat: Grab breakfast at your hotel and eat heartily for the long drive.

Do: Leave Jackson and drive south on Highway 191 through the Bridger-Teton National Forest. You’ll briefly enter Idaho so make sure to check it off your list of states!

1st Stop: Fossil Butte National Monument (2 hours, 45 minutes from Jackson) – see the prehistoric fossils and amazing landscape. 

Continue on to Salt Lake City (2 hour drive from Fossil Butte), traveling near Park City on I-80. 

2nd Stop: Park City, Utah

Eat: Grab lunch in Park City on your drive to Salt Lake City. Check out the options here.

Do: After lunch, drive through Olympic Park in Kimball Junction/Park City to see where the 2002 Olympics were held. 

3rd Stop: Salt Lake City

Stay: Salt Lake City has several chain hotels. Stay near the City Creek Center for easy access to restaurants and shopping. Try the Kimpton Hotel or Marriott there.

Eat: For dinner, pick a restaurant at the City Creek Center and enjoy shopping for last-minute souvenirs before or after dinner!

Do: In Salt Lake City, see parts of the Pony Express National Historic Trail, visit the zoo, or play at the children’s or science museum. Our boys had to see the arena where the NBA team, the Utah Jazz, play! 


Day 10: Fly home

Salt Lake City’s airport is a large hub and is easily accessible from downtown. Be sure to get a glimpse of the Great Salt Lake as you fly out!


Seeing Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are once-in-a-lifetime trips that everyone should take. With a little advance planning, you can make the most of your trip and see the highlights in just 10 days. Start planning now for summer 2022!


Helpful Hints:

  • Weather: The weather in the parks is very seasonal. You’ll see snow on the top of the mountains in August! This itinerary is planned for the summer months (July and August). If you’re visiting outside those months, be sure to check the park’s accessibility and plan accordingly. Some of the suggested routes and activities may not be applicable then.
  • Traffic: The main roads in Yellowstone and Grand Teton are one lane each way. Summer is the busiest time and the only time the parks are able to do any road construction so expect delays. 
  • Crowds: Yellowstone can feel very crowded, especially around the Old Faithful area. Get out early to avoid the crowds. 
  • Transportation: The only way to see Yellowstone is to rent a car. You could fly in and out of Jackson’s airport and take the shuttle between Jackson and Grand Teton National Park if you want to avoid renting a car.
  • Reservations for hotels and dining in the parks are handled by a central company. Make reservations as early as you can (aim for 9-12 months in advance!).
  • This itinerary can be adjusted for varying ages of children but is easiest for upper elementary through teenagers. 
  • Rather than packing for 10 days, pack for a week and do laundry once you get to Jackson. There is a convenient laundromat where you can drop off your laundry and/or do it yourself (850 W. Broadway).

Books to Read:

I’ve compiled a list of my favorite books about Yellowstone/Grand Tetons/Jackson Hole at my Bookshop.org shop (affiliate links).

A few not found on Bookshop.org are (these are Amazon affiliate links):

2 thoughts on “Yellowstone/Grand Teton Road Trip

  1. These photos remind me of our family road trip through Yellowstone and Grand Tetons – such a beautiful place! We flew in to Salt Lake City and then drove through the park, staying in the lodge inside.

    Like

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