The Best of Yellowstone and Grand Teton if You Only Have a Week
A Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park vacation may seem daunting to plan. After all, these two adjacent national parks encompass nearly 4,000-square-miles and offer a seemingly endless number of incredible sights, trails and recreational activities. With a carefully planned itinerary, however, it’s definitely possible to tackle both parks in one trip without feeling like you’re spending your entire vacation in the car. The best part? We’ve already done the legwork for you.
Starting in Jackson, WY, this family-friendly 7-day Grand Teton to Yellowstone itinerary includes ideas for what to do, where to eat and stay, and other insider info to help you make the most of your time in the region.
Getting to Jackson, WY
Located just 10 minutes from the southern entrance of Grand Teton National Park, Jackson, WY is the perfect jumping off point for a Grand Teton to Yellowstone adventure. The two parks sit side-by-side and are linked by the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, a 27-mile scenic stretch of highway that’s managed by the National Park Service, allowing visitors to easily drive between the two parks.
The nearest airport is the Jackson Hole Airport, but flights may be cost prohibitive for many travelers. A more economical option is to fly to Salt Lake City, UT which is about a 5-hour drive to Jackson. Either way, a car is a must-have for this national park adventure, so be sure to check availability of rental cars before you book a flight.
Also keep in mind, you may need to tack on a day or two for travel at the begining and/or end of your Grand Teton to Yellowstone trip.
If you’re planning to drive, check out these fun-filled road trip itineraries to Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
The Ultimate Grand Teton to Yellowstone Itinerary
Day 1 – Taggart & Bradley Lakes | Snake River | Dornan’s
Start your Grand Teton National Park visit with a stop at the impressive Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center. Not only is it a great spot to plan your time in the park, but you can walk along the “video river” exhibit that’s installed on the floor, or dive into the 24-minute film for a fascinating education on the Grand Teton region.
From here, it’s a short drive to the Taggart Lake Trailhead. The moderate 5.6-mile Taggart and Bradley Lakes loop hike offers expansive views of snow-capped peaks before taking you to two stunning glacial-formed lakes at the base of the Tetons. Both lakes will beckon you for a dip, so come prepared for a swim.
If you need a bite to eat, don’t miss pizza and one of the best restaurant views anywhere at Dornan’s Pizza & Pasta Company near the Moose Junction. Afterward, drive the scenic loop through the park. There’s plenty of opportunities to stop and take in the myriad wildlife and panoramic views, including the iconic view from the Snake River Overlook.
Back in Jackson, grab a treat at Moo’s Gourmet Ice Cream before snapping a selfie in front of the antler arches surrounding the iconic town square. Then, settle in for the night at Mountain Modern Hotel. This conveniently located hotel in the heart of town has recently rennovated accommodations and a pool, which the whole family will love.
Day 2 – Jackson Lake Kayaking | Snake River Brewery | Jackson Hole Rodeo
For breakfast on-the-go stop at Pearl Street Bagels in downtown Jackson for a freshly-made bagel and dark roast coffee before heading back into Grand Teton National Park for the day.
Consider a morning paddle session on Jackson Lake beneath towering Mount Moran for a unique perspective of the park away from the crowds. You can rent single or double kayaks from Signal Mountain Marina by the hour or day. Be aware that winds often pick up mid-day and can make for challenging paddling conditions.
There are several restuarants at Signal Mountain Lodge that make for a convenient lunch stop after a morning paddle session. Then head to nearby Colter Bay to strech your legs on the 3-mile Swan Lake and Heron Pond loop hiking trail. Watch for moose, which frequent the lake.
Tonight, grab dinner back in Jackson at the Snake River Brewery. If you can get tickets for the Jackson Hole Rodeo, don’t miss the chance to see this entertaining show (Wednesday & Saturday evenings throughout the summer, and some Fridays). It’s the real-deal cowboy experience.
Day 3 – Rendezvous Mountain | String Lake Swimming | Silver Dollar Bar
For a high-elevation morning hike, head to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to hop on the Aerial Tram for a 4,000-foot vertical ride to the top of Rendezvous Mountain which stands at 10,450 feet. From this high vantage point in the southern Tetons, you can take in sweeping panoramic views of distant peaks and access an extensive network of hiking trails that link the mountain to Grand Teton National Park. The 4.2-mile Rock Springs and Cody Bowl Loop trail is easily accessible from the tram and offers spectacular alpine scenery, along with a unique perspective of Grand Teton itself. Afterward, treat yourself to a famous waffle in Corbett’s Cabin at the base of the tram.
Later, head back into the park to take a refreshing afternoon dip. All of the lakes and ponds within the park are open for swimming, so look for your own slice of alpine lake bliss. String Lake, which is easily accessible (and warmer than most!) is a popular spot. Follow the trail around the lake just a ½-mile or more and you’ll likely be able to find a queit spot of your own.
Cap off your time in Jackson with a visit to the legendary Silver Dollar Bar & Grill. Families can enjoy a casual meal here, but come 7:30 p.m. the Silver Dollar Showroom turns into a legendary music venue where you’re sure to find a foot-stomping good time.
Day 4 – Old Faithful | Mystic Falls | Grand Prismatic Spring
Leave downtown Jackson and drive to West Thumb in Yellowstone National Park. It’s approximately 80 miles and you should plan for at least a 2-hour drive. Try to see Old Faithful before the crowds and tour buses descend (aim for 9 AM or earlier). The world-famous geyser erupts every 35 to 120 minutes. Check the schedule and grab a spot with a good view to wait for the show. Or, try to catch the eruption from from a unique vantage point along the boardwalk which winds its way through the Upper Geyser Basin. Plan for at least two hours to wander here and don’t miss cool sights like Castle Geyser, which has a long and powerful eruption that rivals Old Faithful.
Grab lunch at the Old Faithful Lodge before making your way to Biscuit Basin for an afternoon hike to Mystic Falls. Don’t be scared off by the packed parking area, the majority of the visitors only explore the small area of geysers and colorful springs that dot the half-mile trail and boardwalk leading to the trailhead. Just past the boardwalk, it’s a pleasant 1-mile jaunt into the woods and along the Firehole River to 70-foot Mystic Falls. You can make it an out and back hike or do the 3.2-mile loop which involves a bit of scrambling up some steep switchbacks.
If you still have some energy to burn, stop at the iconic Grand Prismatic Spring before driving to Canyon Lodge & Cabins at Canyon Village. This centrally-located, and recently renovated park lodge, is conveniently located near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and makes much of the driving in the park a lot more manageable. To snag a room here, or anywhere in the park for that matter, you should book 9 to 12 months in advance. There are serval on-site dining options available for your convenience, including the Canyon Lodge Eatery. Don’t be turned off by this cafeteria-style venue. Their wok-prepared meals with fresh ingredients and build-your-own bowls will easily please the whole crew.
Day 5 – Lamar Valley | Tower Falls | Mount Washburn
To see some of Yellowstone’s more elusive wildlife like wolves and grizzlies, grab your binoculars and start your day early by heading to Lamar Valley in the park’s northeast corner. Also home to herds of elk and bison, Lamar Valley is considered one of Yellowstone’s best areas for wildlife viewing.
Afterward, try to beat the crowds to impressive Tower Fall, two miles south of the Roosevelt Lodge area. Take a quick peek from the overlook, or better yet, do the short, but steep half-mile hike to the base of the 132-foot falls. Then, head to the historic Roosevelt Lodge or find a scenic picnic spot for an early lunch before tackling a big afternoon hike.
Ask insiders for a Yellowstone “best hike” recommendation and they’ll likely tell you Mount Washburn. There are two ways up, but from the Dunravan Pass Picnic Area the route is slightly more shaded as the trail climbs 1,400-feet and approximately 3 miles one-way. While it’s not an easy undertaking to climb to the 10,219-foot peak, the views alone are well worth the effort. At the top you’ll see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to the east, Hayden Valley and Yellowstone Lake to the south, and on a really clear day you might even be able to catch a glimpse of the Tetons.
Celebrate your accomplishment with dinner and a night cap back at the Canyon Lodge Dining Room.
Day 6 – Norris Geyser Basin | Mammoth Hot Springs | Cowboy Cookout
Make your way to the northwest corner of the park and stroll along the boardwalks of the Norris Geyser Basin. This geothermal area, the hottest in the park, offers a surreal experience as you wind through a diverse assortment of springs, geysers and pools, including Steamboat Geyser, which is considered the tallest in the world and can reach heights of 380-feet when it erupts.
From here, it’s a 30-minute drive to the Mammoth Hot Springs area. If you enjoy soaking in natural hot springs, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to take a dip in the “boiling river” a stretch of the Gardiner River where a hot spring mixes with the cool river to create a natural hot tub. The parking area is located 2.2 miles past Mammoth Hot Springs toward the parks north entrance (look for the 45th Parallel sign) and it’s an easy .5-mile one-way hike to the “tub.” Your muscles will thank you after hiking Mount Washburn.
Back in Mammoth Hot Springs, you can spend some time strolling around the terraces. Or, explore the area’s historic district, which includes Fort Yellowstone and other structures from the 1800s and early 1900s when Yellowstone National Park was first established.
Later, experience another piece of the area’s history on Roosevelt Lodge’s Old West Dinner Cookout. For this adventure, you’ll hop on a horse for a 1- or 2-hour ride to Yancy’s Hole and enjoy real cowboy grub around a crackling campfire—just like Yellowstone’s first pioneers.
Day 7 – Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone | Yellowstone Lake Kayaking
Head south first thing in the morning to Yellowstone Lake and meet up with an outfitter for a half-day kayaking trip and a unique exploration of the geysers, hot springs and bubbling mud pots at the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Yellowstone Lake Kayaking trips typically depart in the morning (or at sunset) to avoid difficult paddling condition in the afternoon.
For lunch nearby when you get off the water, Wylie’s Canteen at Lake Lodge is a convenient option, or grab a sandwich from the Lake Hotel deli in the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel—opened in 1891, it’s the park’s oldest lodge. Then, enjoy your final chance to take in the park’s incredible wildlife as you drive through the bison-rich Hayden Valley. Be prepared for an unexpected “bison jam” along the way.
Take advantage of Canyon Lodge’s proximity to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and hike the easy, 1.5-mile Brink of Lower Falls trail for a cool view from the top of Lower Falls. Then, zip over to the canyon’s south rim to take in the iconic view from Artist Point. If you go later in the evening, you might just miss the crowds at this popular spot.
It’s impossible to see it all, but this epic week-long Yellowstone and Grand Teton itinerary will leave you feeling pretty satisfied with your national park vacation.
Yellowstone & Grand Teton FAQs
How far is the drive from Grand Teton to Yellowstone?
The driving distance between the northern edge of Grand Teton and Yellowstone’s South Entrance is only 7 miles or about 10 minutes. However, if you’re driving through Grand Teton National Park from downtown Jackson, WY to the park it’s 57 miles and closer to 1 hour and 15 minutes drive time.
Can you visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton in a day?
Based on the sheer size of both parks, most visitors will want to spend at least 1 day in Grand Teton and 1-2 days in Yellowstone to see the main attractions. Planning 6-7 days in the region will give you the chance to not only see all of the best attractions, but also time to explore and enjoy activities like hiking, paddling and swimming in the parks.
When is the best time to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton?
For most, the best time to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone is late-May through mid-September when all of the park roads are typically open. However, visitation can be quite high during this timeframe, especially during the peak summer month. In June, July and August, you should anticipate crowds and difficulty parking at the most popular sights. Those willing to visit in the slower season from October through April, will enjoy less crowds, but weather can be very unpredictable and some seasonal closures may be in effect.
Where’s the best place to stay?
We recommend staying in two different locations to maximize your time in each park and reduce the amount of driving.
Our itinerary suggest several nights in Jackson, which is just 15 minutes outside of Grand Teton National Park and has a wide selection of dining and entertainment. However, there are six lodges within the park if you want to be more immersed in the natural landscape.
There are also a number of lodging options in Yellowstone. We suggest staying at Canyon Lodge & Cabins which is the most centrally-located lodging option. It’s also the largest facility, so be prepared for a more crowded experience here. If you’re unable to secure lodging in Yellowstone, you can explore options in West Yellowstone near the park’s west entrance, Gardiner, MT near the park’s north entrance or Cody, WY near the park’s east entrance.
How far in advance do I need to plan a trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton?
National park lodging is in high demand, especially during the busy summer months, so it’s best to book as early as possible. Yellowstone lodging can be reserved up to 13 months in advance and Grand Teton lodging can be booked up to a year in advance. The same rule applies for loging in gateway cities near the parks like Jackson, Gardiner and Cody which are also in high demand.
Photos: Cari Morgan, James Kaiser, NPS/Jacob W. Frank