For those of you who know me, you know how much I love scenic landscapes. I guess that is what has drawn me to our national parks. They have some of the most beautiful landscapes this world has to offer. There is nothing more serene than being in nature with nothing to occupy your mind except for Mother Nature’s beauty. That is what got me into photography in the first place. I wanted a way in which to capture those moments to share with others.
I have been to exactly half of the 46 National Parks in the continental United States, with plans to visit the remainder of the parks here and outside the 48 continental states. And I have plans to write about each and every one of those parks so that I can share with you my experiences and any tips I might have collected along the way.
No better place to start than with this country’s first national park and two of my favorite national parks – Yellowstone and Grand Teton. As you can see in the map below, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are located in very close proximity of each other, in Northwest Wyoming. In fact, Yellowstone National Park is so large that it covers small parts of Montana and Idaho as well.
How to Get There
When we visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton, we drove so that we could take in some of the views along the way. To give you an idea of how long it will take you to get there, I put together a little drive time table below to give you an idea.
|From City||Drive Time|
|Kansas City||18 hrs|
|Salt Lake City||5 hrs|
If you aren’t interested in driving, you can always fly into Billings, Montana and then drive to Yellowstone National Park. From the airport in Billings, it is about a 3 hour drive to Yellowstone. From Yellowstone, it is about an hour drive South to get to Grand Teton National Park.
Best Time to Visit
Yellowstone and Grand Teton are fun to visit any time of the year, and the best time to visit will ultimately depend on what you want to see when you’re there. Summer (June thru August) is the peak season for the parks, so the parks will be the most crowded during these months. However, if you get off the beaten (or paved) paths and explore the back-country of the parks, you can escape the crowds any time of year.
If you are into snow shoeing and cross country skiing, then the winter months (December thru March) will be of the most interest to you. The park is so quiet and peaceful during the winter, and the thermal features are extra beautiful under a fresh blanket of snow.
Top Things to See
There are so many things to see in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. To give you a place to start in your planning, I have outlined some of my top spots in both parks for you below. I have also included some great resources below where you can find more information about the parks.
- Yellowstone National Park Map
- Yellowstone National Park – Plan Your Visit
- Grand Teton National Park Map
- Grand Teton National Park – Plan Your Visit
Yellowstone National Park
The following are my top attractions in Yellowstone National Park:
Grand Prismatic Hot Spring
The largest hot spring in the United States, the Grand Prismatic hot spring is my favorite site in Yellowstone National Park. Different color algae grows in the different temperature bands of the hot spring, giving it beautiful rings of color. There is a board walk that takes you right up to the hot spring, but if you have the time and are adventurous, I would suggest taking the hike up behind the hot spring on to the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring Overlook. The views are amazing!
Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls
The Yellowstone Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone consist of the Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls. There are several hikes that give you a great view of the falls, as well as the Lookout Point, Artist Point, and Falls Overlook, which allows you to get to the precipice of the falls.
Old Faithful Geyser
Arguably the most famous attraction in Yellowstone National Park, I probably don’t need to give you an introduction into Old Faithful geyser. Popular because of its predictability, Old Faithful erupts every 45-125 minutes and can usually be predicted by park staff almost to the minute. There is plenty of seating up close to the geyser, but if you want to get a really great perspective of the eruption, take the Observation Point Trail. There are some great views of Old Faithful from this trail.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Located in the far North of Yellowstone National park, Mammoth Hot Springs is a very large group of hot springs on a travertine hill. It includes over 60 thermal features, including the Angel Springs, Devil’s Kitchen and Devil’s Thumb, Marbel Terrace, Painted Pool, and the Sulpher Pits. There is a boardwalk that takes you thru the hot springs, and if you have the time I would absolutely recommend exploring the thermal features here. A great way to get more information about the Mammoth Hot Springs region of Yellowstone is to check out this online Virtual Tour.
Hayden and Lamar Valleys
I absolutely love the valleys of Yellowstone National Park, and Hayden and Lamar Valley are arguably the park’s most famous. They are, without a doubt, the best place to view wildlife in the parks. You are almost guaranteed to see bison, elk, and antelope grazing in the valleys. And if you are lucky, you will get to see grizzley bear wandering thru or the wolf packs that patrol the valleys for prey. Bringing binoculars (spotting scopes are even better) is an absolute must as the valleys are very big and sometimes the wildlife you want to see is quite a ways away.
Not as often mentioned as the park’s thermal features, hot springs, and waterfalls, Yellowstone Lake should not be overlooked when planning a trip to the park. It is the largest body of water within the park, covering 136 square miles, and has an average depth of 136 feet. My favorite park of the lake is seeing the thermal features releasing steam next to the shoreline. Makes for some fascinating views.
Found at the Northern entrance to the park, the arch is one of the most iconic images of Yellowstone National Park. It welcomes visitors with the message, “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people”, which was taken from the Organic Act (the legislation passed in 1872 that designated Yellowstone as the world’s first national park). President Roosevelt himself laid the cornerstone of the arch in 1903, and the arch has been welcoming visitors to Yellowstone ever since its completion.
Norris Geyser Basin
The Norris Geyser Basin is a large geothermal area in Yellowstone National Park that includes a large number of geysers and other thermal features. These features include Porkchop Geyser, Whale’s Mouth, Pinwheel Geyser, Emerald Spring, and Steamboat Geyser. This is an area of Yellowstone that is another absolute must-see. For a neat tour of the Norris Geyser Basin region of Yellowstone, check out this online Virtual Tour.
Grand Teton National Park
The following are my top attractions in Grand Teton National Park:
Formed by glaciers, Jenny Lake is jaw-dropping beautiful, especially at sunrise and sunset. If you like camping and kayaking, I would absolutely recommend camping out at one of the campgrounds by the lake and enjoying some time out on the lake in a kayak. On top of being incredibly peaceful, the views from the lake are gorgeous. If you are looking for a campground, the Jenny Lake Campground is a great option.
The Teton Range
They are pretty hard to miss. Often likened to the Matterhorn of Switzerland because of their jagged peaks, the Teton Range has the most Swiss Alps feel of any other place in the US Rocky Mountains. There are plenty of places to take in the view of the peaks, and I would suggest soaking them all in.
Teton Park Road
A great way of doing an initial investigation of the park is to take the Teton Park road. I would still recommend getting out of the car and exploring the back country, but some of the views from the park road should not be missed. One of my favorite viewpoints is the Snake River Overlook. There is just something about the river winding its way at the foot of the mountains that is just so beautiful. If you are interested in some other scenic drives, here are some ideas to explore.
This is one of my favorite spots in Grand Teton National Park. The view of these old buildings at the foot of the Teton Range is stunning. Make sure you bring your camera because you can get some fantastic shots here.
Here is a map on how to get to Mormon Row:
In my opinion, if you want to really see the Grand Teton National Park, you have to get out of the car and explore. There is no better way to take in the beauty of this park than from in a boat on a lake. Especially when the lake is at the foot of the prettiest mountain range in the continental United States. I would recommend Jenny Lake. And if you don’t own kayaks, not to worry, you can rent them there.
Snake River Overlook
This is one of my favorite scenic overlooks on the Teton Park Road. The view of the Teton Range resting just beyond the meandering Snake River is a sight to behold. I would absolutely recommend making a pit stop to take in the scenery.
Getting out in the back country to explore our national parks always pays off, and that is no different with Grand Teton. There are views you just can’t see from the road. If you have the time, I would strongly recommend getting out and hiking, even if it is just a short hike. Here is a great resource for some of the more popular hikes in Grand Teton.
If you like camping, Grand Teton National Park is a great place to do it. The camp sites at the campgrounds aren’t right on top of each other, so you actually feel like you are camping. Nothing like sleeping out in nature, and this is a gorgeous place to do it. Just make sure you respect the campgrounds and practice proper bear etiquette. Hear are some more options for campgrounds in Grand Teton National Park.
Jackson Hole Gondola
No trip to Grand Teton is complete without a pit stop in Jackson, Wyoming. Jackson Hole ski resort is gorgeous, as is the city of Jackson. The shopping and restaurants are fun to take in. But my favorite part of visiting Jackson is going on the Jackson Hole gondola. The sites from the top are out-of-this-world. Here is some more information on the Jackson Hole gondola.