Having lived in the USA for almost a year- I was eager to start exploring the abundant and wonderful national parks this country is blessed with! And, what better way to start my adventure than the most famous one- Yellowstone National Park!!!
With Yellowstone and Grand Teton just 31 miles apart, it made sense for us to complete both the parks together over our 5 day trip. This itinerary isn’t a detailed plan of things to do and see in Yellowstone and Grand Teton but rather an overview of our trip- of how to get there, places to stay and famous sites worth visiting.
There are a couple of options of starting your road trip depending on where you are getting from. Since we were flying from San Francisco, we flew into Salt Lake City and enjoyed a 5-hour scenic drive to Grand Teton National Park.
Other options include flying directly to Jackson Hole Airport which would be much more expensive but you would end up saving time and land right next to the Tetons! It sure would make for a scenic flight. Other budget friendly options include flying into Denver and then driving the 10+ hour drive to the Grand Tetons.
Day 1: 26th May, 2018
We left Salt Lake City early morning and drove 5 hours to the Grand Teton. On our way we stopped by Jackson Hole Town and enjoyed browsing souvenir shops, taking pictures, watch the famous Jackson Shootout and enjoyed a few drinks at the quirky Cowboy Bar.
We then drove further up to Moose Junction and Jenny Lake and spent our night at the absolutely breathtaking Jackson Lake Lodge inside the Grand Teton National Park. The drive from Jackson Hole town to the lodge is extremely scenic and is famous for wildlife spotting especially during autumn when the Elks are migrating towards the Elk Refuge Centre.
Tip: Accommodation within the park can get filled quickly, especially during summer and long weekends so plan to book early!
Accommodation: Jackson Lake Lodge
Day 2: 27th May, 2018
On our second day we departed from Jackson Lodge (Grand Teton Park) by mid-morning and headed towards East Yellowstone. Our activities and site-seeing for the day included: West Thumb Geyser, Mud Volcano, Calendron Springs, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (Artist Point) and Hayden Valley.
We thoroughly enjoyed all the sites in the area and the highlight of the day was definitely spotting bison up-close near Mud volcano. It is also worth spending some time reading the sign boards and explanations under the geysers to understand the way our amazing Earth works and to make the trip a little more enjoyable and science-y!
Artist point is another site to not be missed! Although it was crowded, everyone was respectful and gave enough time for photos- the hues of colors present here along with the waterfall makes it one of the most terrific sites to visit in the Yellowstone! After a long and fun-filled day with animal spotting and wonderful sites we spent the night at the oldest and most beautiful Lake Hotel. The service was top-notch and the views from rooms, sun-room and dining hall were absolutely stunning!
Accommodation: Yellowstone Lake Hotel
Tip: Some of the geothermal smells, particularly Mud Volcano and Norris Geyser Basin are particularly pungent so it’s worthwhile taking a handkerchief covered in aromatic oils for those sensitive to smell.
Day 3: 28th May, 2018
On our third day we drove towards the North entrance heading to Mammoth Springs through Tower-Roosevelt. Here, we saw Palette & Canary springs and once at Mammoth we were in for a huge surprise with the number of elks casually grazing and relaxing amidst large crowds. It was such a wonderful sight and made for some very fun photos.
Although we enjoyed watching the elks, the mammoth springs were a bit of a disappointment and if you’re short on time then I’d recommend skipping the springs and spending more time hiking or driving through Fishing Village or Lamar Valley which are famous for Bird watching and wildlife spotting.
After a quick lunch break in Mammoth Springs, we headed South towards Norris Geyser Basin, Midway Geyser Basin, Excelsior Geyser, Grand Prismatic, Firehole Canyon & Firehole Spring River. These sites are NOT to be missed! Norris Geyser is the parks hottest and most dynamic thermal basin which hosts over 550 geothermal features. The vivid colors that the thermophile bacteria create in each of these geysers is an absolute wondrous sight!
On our drive from Norris Geyser to the Midway Geyser Basin- we had the most amazing chance encounter with a grizzly Mama bear and her two cubs!! The mama bear was swimming joyfully in the river with the two cubs calling out for her from the other side of the river. We never imagined to be so close to the bears and we are so grateful that we had this lucky experience! It truly is the highlight of our Yellowstone Holiday!
The Grand Prismatic is of course one of the most famous springs in Yellowstone- known widely for its hues of orange, yellow, green and blue. The numbers of colors you see in the Grand Prismatic is highly dependent on the time and weather conditions. The colors are clearer on a hot and clear day and during sunrise. As a result of time constraints, we didn’t get a chance to see it during sunrise so we saw fewer colors but it still made for some excellent pictures and it was just so fascinating to firsthand witness the beauty of our wonderful planet!
After an exhausting but thoroughly enjoyable day we spent the night at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge Inn. This lodge was comfortable and had a very rustic charm to it and would definitely recommend anyone looking to stay near Old Faithful to stay here. Alternative options include the infamous Old Faithful Inn which truly looks like you’re inside Hogwarts!!
Accommodation: Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins
Day 4 – 29th May, 2018
On our final day, we stayed to watch the Old Faithful geyser erupt. The Old Faithful erupts every 90 minutes for 5 minutes with it’s maximum height ranging from 90 to 184 feet. Huge crowds often assemble to watch this geyser and once the eruptions start, it almost feels like you’re in a concert with people screaming and shouting! It also makes for very cool videos but stay at a distance because the sprays from the geyser can be felt at a huge distance and can feel a little icky!
After the eruption, we drove out of the park and headed back to Jackson. We spent the day on a boat cruise to catch one last glimpse of the Grand Tetons and spent our last night at the beautiful Rustic Inn hanging by the creek and playing cards as the mountains faded into the sunset and the memories of our 4-day trip lingered on…
Accommodation: Rustic Inn
Again, this itinerary isn’t an wholly inclusive plan of the Yellowstone but rather an overview. There are plenty other things to do in the Yellowstone depending on how much time you have- from hikes, camping, wildlife tours with rangers, science and educational programs for children and multiple other activities. Therefore, researching and planning your trip is key to make the most out of all that the beautiful Grand Tetons & Yellowstone have to offer!
**Photography by Gaurang Desai