It’s been 3 years now since I came to the United States. Yellowstone and Teton national parks have been on my list of places to visit for twice as long. I mean who wouldn’t want to visit the world’s first national parks! I finally got the chance to visit the mystical place during the summer of 2017. Better late than never eh?
If you are planning a trip up there, I hope this blog helps you find the best spots to live, eat and visit. Let me also warn you that the blog is quite long but I think you’ll enjoy it.
There are a lot of campgrounds and spots for campers to park inside as well as outside the park. If you plan to camp, make sure you reserve yourself a spot well in advance. The spots get filled up really quickly, especially during summer.
Car Rental: I would recommend you rent an SUV as you are going to be driving a lot which means there will be a lot of sitting down. Make sure the car is comfortable. I rented the Kia Sportage from a rental company closest to the airport.
My first stop was Salt Lake City, Utah. I’d never been to this city before so needless to say, I was pretty excited to cross of a new city from my extensively long list of cities to travel to. I got a really nice deal on expedia.com on the Kimpton Hotel Monaco in downtown Salt Lake City. It has been rated one of the best hotels in the city and I was glad to have gotten a room for a really reasonable rate. I was there in mid-June and this meant the temperatures were in the high 80s to 90s. So if you are traveling during summer, make sure to carry lots of sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats to protect yourself.
We reached the hotel in the afternoon and decided to wait for the sun’s blaze to lower to go and explore the city. We went to the City Creek Center. It is a really big shopping mall with nice places to eat and get some good ice-cream to beat the heat.
Just across the road is the Temple Square which houses the Brigham Young Monument, The Salt Lake Temple, The Tabernacle, and The Assembly Hall. It is a one block area of historic churches with beautiful architecture.
The area lights up in the night and has street performers, music playing in bars and people walking about having a good time. This makes it a really lively place to be in the night.
Places to eat in Salt Lake City:
The Robins Nest: This is one of the best places to eat sandwiches in the city. They have wonderful options for vegetarians and vegans. I liked the food so much that I went there twice within the span of 24 hours! My favourite was The Natural.
The Himalayan Kitchen Restaurant: This place is about a mile from Temple Square but definitely one of the best Indian food I’ve eaten. They have a variety of options for both vegetarians and meat eaters. It is a great place for dinner after a long walk in downtown Salt Lake City.
We didn’t want the trip to be very tiring so on Day 2, we decided to just drive from Salt Lake City, Utah to West Yellowstone, Montana. The drive takes about 5 hours without stops.
There is a really amazing place called Jaker’s Bar and Grill in Idaho Falls which is good for a lunch stop. They make amazing honey butter with freshly baked bread which is a must try.
We stayed at The Lakeview Suites which is a reasonable option and not too far from the main entrance to the park (~15mi). They have complimentary breakfast in the morning and an in-room kitchen to cook your own lunch/dinner. We decided to cook dinner, but from the look of it, there were many really good bars and restaurants in West Yellowstone packed with tourists.
Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park Map
The national parks lie in three states: Idaho, Wyoming(mostly here), and Montana. It was really exciting to visit three new states out of the 50. It is always a good practice to start the day early so that you can cover more ground. Let me tell you that 4 days is not enough time to cover the entire park but we tried to cover the main points of interest.
One bonus point about Yellowstone is that most of the major geysers are located very close to the park road. This means you don’t have to hike too much to reach the geysers.
We stopped at Gibbon Falls (one of the many waterfalls in the park) for a while and then made our way to the Artists paint pots and then to Norris Geyser. There is very little walking/hiking at all the geysers (roughly 1 mile). Most of the loops are wheelchair accessible. The Norris Geyser is unique and colourful and gives you an idea of how wonderful and amazing nature is.
Canyon Village is a nice spot to have lunch while inside the park. There’s a mini supermarket where you can buy groceries and they have a restaurant as well. You can also get tea, coffee and other refreshments here. They have a nice gift shop if you want to shop for souvenirs.
Around the village, there are a few must-see spots. The first one is the Upper Falls View. It is a spectacular view of waterfalls gushing from the Yellowstone River. The Brink of the Lower Falls is a wonderful hike. It is a ~700 ft steep decline but absolutely worth the hike down. You get to see the valley more commonly known as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
There is another hike called Uncle Tom’s Trail where you climb down a flight of stairs. You can do one or the other or both if you have time. I loved the Brink of the Lower Falls hike and do recommend it. You can visit the Grand View or Lookout point for a panoramic view of the valley.
Hayden Valley is south of Canyon Village. We drove down here for a while to change pace from geysers to nature and wildlife. We got to see the popular American Bison and Elks roaming around in their natural habitat.
If you think you’ve had your share of Geysers for the day, make room for one more - The Mammoth Hot Springs. It is about an hours drive from Canyon Village but quite worth the drive. The unique layered platform sprouting hot water from the earth is quite picturesque. This is definitely a unique spot in Yellowstone.
It was almost dinner time (6:30 pm) by the time we were at Mammoth. We decided to drive another 10 min to visit the tiny town of Gardiner. It is just outside of the North Entrance of the park. You cross the 45th Parallel (halfway between the equator and the north pole) while going here which was quite cool.
The town is very small but has a variety of restaurants and bars to grab some grub. We stopped at a pizzeria called the Yellowstone Pizza Company. They have a variety of pizza’s, pasta, and salads to choose from. There are gift shops here if you want to buy something for yourself or a loved one.
We checked out of the hotel and began the day starting with the Firehole Canyon Drive. It is a short drive around the Firehole River and won’t take up much of your time but still giving you a scenic drive by. The Fountain Paint Pot and Grand Prismatic Spring are two very important spots. We had a unique experience at The Fountain Paint Pot where a dormant geyser erupted into a giant stream of steam and water sprinkling on everyone that was present. The colours of the geysers are so beautiful and the hot steam coming from the water is really quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. I have never seen such colours and it is really a painters paradise. Take your time walking through the springs and enjoy the raw beauty of nature.
The next spot on the agenda is the Old Faithful Geyser. It is by far the most popular geyser in Yellowstone. It erupts every 92 minutes. You can get lunch here so this is a good place to rest and eat till the geyser erupts.
After lunch, we made our way to the west thumb of the Yellowstone Lake. You can stop here for a loop of the lake. While reaching here, you cross the continental divide. We started south to Grand Teton National Park and then to Jackson Hole.
We booked an Airbnb in Wilson which is about a 10 min drive from Jackson. The drive from Yellowstone to Jackson is scenic with trees on both sides and a slightly hilly terrain. You can stop at the Colton Bay Resort for refreshments and for a view of the Teton mountain.
We kept this day solely for biking to Jenny Lake in Teton National Park. There are a lot of bike rentals available and the ride is scenic, to say the least. We picked our bike from Teton Village and made our way to Moose Junction and then to Jenny Lake. The Lake is beautiful and gives you a grand view of the mountain range. There is a hike called the ‘hidden falls’ that I recommend you do (if time permits). Alternatively, the Philps lake trail is also quite beautiful during sunset.
There are a lot of fun things to do in downtown Jackson.
The Jackson Square: It has arches made of antlers of elk on four corners of the square.
Moo’s Ice cream: It is one of the most popular ice cream parlors in the state. Their Huckleberry ice cream is to die for.
The Wort: They have a wonderful bar and live music playing in the evenings. This gives the place a rustic vibe.
Lotus: A vegan-friendly restaurant and bakery. It serves the healthiest and tastiest food and I would suggest coming here for a good dinner.
We headed back to Salt Lake City on our 6th day. On our way back, we stopped at Garden City which is also called the “Caribbean of the Rockies” for some amazing raspberry shakes.
In the evening about an hour before sunset, we went to the Bonville Salt Flats, about 125 mi from the city. The salt flats are amazing to see just before sunset. There are miles of sand flats and no one around. Although the drive is long, it is worth a visit.
You can’t possibly cover everything in one trip to the glorious national park and every season has its own charm, this trip was definitely one for the bucket list!