yellowstone national park

When you think of the American traveler bucket list going to Yellowstone immediately comes to mind! The geysers, the bison, the quasi-apocalyptic landscapes capture the imagination. And then, right next door you have Grand Teton National Park, home to the most majestic mountain range you might ever see. There are few trips more awesome than getting to explore these natural wonders back-to-back. To help make your dream long weekend trip a reality, we put together the following Yellowstone and Grand Teton 5 Day travel guide to tackle what active adventurers should do to make the most out of their chance to visit!

Disclaimer: This is not your typical relaxing, I-have-all-the-time-in-the-world travel guide. Ya it would be awesome to spend 1+ weeks at each park, but let’s be honest, no American traveler has the time to do that! So this guide and all our National Park Travel Guides are written to the frugal and practical American traveler who has squeezed this adventure into a long weekend and probably with a holiday in there as well. It will be short on park descriptions (you’ll learn all the same fun facts about the park while you’re there) and heavy on the hiking and efficient time planning. Little to no time is set aside for restaurants. It is assumed you’ll make one stop at a grocery store to pick up everything you need to eat on the trail or at your campsite. Our goal is to help you pack as many (usually free) fun-filled things into your cherished vacation time and make the most of potentially a once in a lifetime visit to these spectacular places. If you’re looking for something more relaxed, there are plenty of other awesome travel guides out there for you!

old faithful geyser
Time to go see Old Faithful!

The Itinerary

We’re just going to dive right into the itinerary. It assumes that you have 4 full days to be in the parks. Wyoming is hard to get to so you’ll probably fly out late after work or super early the next morning. Adjust the schedule to what fits your flights best!

Day 0 – Tuesday Night

  • Fly into Boseman after work and rent a car. Any car will do, all roads in this itinerary are paved or well maintained gravel roads.
  • Stop by the grocery store and, if needed, a REI to grab anything you’ll need for the trip. For packing recommendations, check out our Car-Camping packing list post!
  • Stay at an AirBnb in Bozeman or nearby in Gardiner

Day 1 – Wednesday

  • Wake up at or before sunrise and head into Yellowstone.
  • Stop at Mammoth Hot Springs and then head east through the Roosevelt Gate.
  • Continue heading east into the Lamar Valley, one of the best Bison spotting areas in the park. Animals are most active at dawn and dusk so the earlier you get here the better.
  • Double back and head down past Mt Washburn to get to Yellowstone Canyon. Park on the South Rim near the Upper Falls viewpoint and hike/walk along the rim to Artist Point. You’ll find great spots for lunch if you walk from Artist Point out towards Point Sublime. Don’t go all the way out to Point Sublime though, the views are much better along the way.
  • Drive through the Hayden Valley (stopping if you see Bison) and go explore the weird structure that is the Mud Volcano.
  • Retrace your steps back up into the Hayden Valley, stop at a pull out and hope for bison! Remember they are more active closer to dusk than at midday!
  • Drive to Bridge Bay Campground for the night.

This may feel like a lot of bullet points for one day, however it’s pretty much all sight-seeing. There is not much hiking to do in Yellowstone (and you’re going to do all of it tomorrow).

yellowstone canyon
Checking out Yellowstone Canyon is one of the many highlights from Day 1!

Day 2 – Thursday

  • Wake up at or before sunrise.
  • Head over to the Upper Geyser Basin to see Old Faithful. Get there as close to sunrise as you can to beat the crowds and get a good seat to watch the show (there are literally rows of bench seats set up around the geyser). Old Faithful erupts approximately every 75 minutes.
  • Explore the Upper Geyser Basin (2-3 hours of walking and looking at geysers)
  • In the late morning / early afternoon, continue driving north and park at the Fairy Falls trailhead.
  • Hike up to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, then to Fairy Falls (a great spot of lunch) and then to Imperial Geyser (8 miles round trip).
  • Head back to Bridge Bay Campground. On the way, stop at a turnout for Yellowstone Lake to take a polar plunge in the cold, cold water to freshen up those tired legs!
grand prismatic spring yellowstone
In addition to tons of geysers, you’ll also get to check out Grand Prismatic Spring on Day 2!

Day 3 – Friday

  • Get up early and drive over to the Colter Bay campround in Grand Teton National Park at sunrise (~1.5 hours). Don’t do this drive in the dark as you will miss out on spectacular scenery.
  • Options:
    • Kayak Jenny Lake. You can rent kayaks from an outfitter near Jenny Lake for roughly $80/day.
    • Hike to Hermitage Point. This 10 mile round trip out and back with mountain and lake views. There is not much shade at Hermitage Point but it’s a good spot in hop in the water and swim a little!
  • Drive the Grand Teton Park Loop (created by Teton Park Road and HWY-89). Here are some potential places to stop and have a look around:
    • Oxbow Bend Overlook: Viewpoint
    • Snake River Overlook: Viewpoint
    • Schwabacher Road: Short walk to beaver dams
    • Jenny Lake Lodge: Old Lodge and viewpoint
    • Jackson Lake: Viewpoint
  • If you’re looking to sneak a short hike in, you can drive down Moose-Wilson Road in the southern part of the park to the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve and hike up to Phelps Lake (3 mile roundtrip).
  • Time permitting, head over to the swim beach near Colter Bay Campground for a sunset swim!
  • Head to back Colter Bay Campground and pack up lunches and water for your big hike tomorrow!
beaver dams grand teton
Exploring some beaver dams is on the list for your first day at Grand Teton!

Day 4 – Saturday

  • Wake up in time to arrive at the String Lake Trailhead parking lot at sunrise.
  • Hike up through Paintbrush Canyon and over the pass to Lake Solitude and then down through Cascade Canyon among the Tetons themselves. Total mileage is roughly 20 miles roundtrip with 300 floors elevation change and max elevation of 10,700 ft (2 miles!). Set aside the whole day for this one.
  • Go to Dornan’s Pizza Pasta Company in the park to fuel back up!

This might just win the award for the coolest hike ever. It’s a trek for sure but it’s so worth it. Bring plenty of water (at least 3 liters per person) and plenty of salty snacks!

paintbrush canyon grand teton
Hikes really don’t get to much cooler than this!

Day 5 – Sunday

  • Relax and enjoy some time at your campsite before heading off to the airport!

This itinerary can be done from north to south or south to north, modify it as necessary to suit your flights!

Where to Stay

Due to the enormous size of both parks, you want to stay within both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park in a tent.

Yellowstone

Yellowstone usually has a mix of reservations and first come first serve campsites. Campsites cost ~$30/night. The price is the same for reservations and first come first serve. For this itinerary, making reservations at Bridge Bay is recommended but if you have more time you could play it by ear.

upper geyser basin yellowstone
Camping in Yellowstone allows you to get to places like the Upper Geyser Basin before anyone else!

Grand Teton

Grand Teton campsites are all first come first serve. Campsites cost ~$36. The price is the same for reservations and first come first serve. Jenny Lake is the most popular campsite in Grand Teton is Jenny Lake and it fills up very early (think 6-7AM). Colter Bay in the largest and has a nice location near the water as well. You can check the recent times campsite have filled up on the Grand Teton Camping website.

Due to increased demand during the high season in 2020, people were showing up the night before and sleeping in line in their cars to get a campsite anywhere in Grand Teton. We went Labor Day weekend as the high season was winding down and were lucky to get one of the last spots in Colter Bay at 8:45AM on a Saturday.

grand teton national park
Even through the September 2020 wildfire smoke, it’s hard to imagine a more picturesque mountain range.

Note

Assume campsites in both parks can accommodate two tents and up to six adults. I had originally booked the Yellowstone campsite for 2 people and then two friends decided to join us. We were able to update the reservation upon arrive with no extra charge.

How to Get There

If you aren’t in the middle of a Southwest US National Parks road trip, you will likely fly in/out of airports on the north and south end of the parks. North of Yellowstone, you can fly to Bozeman. South of Grand Teton, you can fly to Jackson.

Helpful Apps

GyPSy

Wishing this travel guide included a little more information and fun facts about the park? No worries, we left that up to the experts. GyPSy is a location based guide service that will provide you with awesome fun facts and park navigation directions as you drive. It costs a total of $10 to download both Yellowstone and Grand Teton guides and it is 100% worth it. We named the guide Roger, he sounds like a Roger. So say hi to him for us!

morning glory pool yellowstone
Roger will tell you all about how these colorful pools are formed!

Maps.Me

Probably our favorite travel app ever made. It has all the hiking trails and walking paths clearly marked and has easy to download offline maps. Whether we are in Colombia or Glacier National park, we know we’ll never be lost with Maps.me. Plus, it’s completely free!

Be sure to open the app and download the map when you have WiFi. You download regional maps by zooming in on a certain area. There’s nothing worse than opening up  Maps.Me once you’re on trail and realizing you forgot to download your map!

AllTrails

An app that gives you trail distances and recent reviews for hiking trails. It’s worth checking AllTrails a day or two before you do a longer hike as it is updated frequently for hikers. It’s basically Yelp for hiking. Plus, it’s free too!

sunset yellowstone lake
Yellowstone Lake is the place to go for a cold swim and a serene sunset.

Where to Go Next

If you have the luxury of time, you are near some other incredible states and National Parks!

Glacier National Park! (North)

Known as the Crown of the Continent, Glacier National Park is home to massive views over breathtakingly vast Montana landscapes. The 6 hour drive between the 2 parks is very picturesque and it’s worth stopping in scenic mining town of Butte for lunch and a walk on the way!

Idaho! (West)

Although not originally on our list for the road trip, Idaho become one of our favorite destinations! From Grand Teton National Park, you are about 4 hours from Crater of the Moon National Park (yes, the surface of the moon can be found in Idaho!) and then just a couple hours from the spectacular Sawtooth Mountains! This westward, detour won’t take you too far out of your way as you’re just a 5-6 hour drive to Salt Lake City!

Utah! (South)

From Grand Teton National Park, you are about a 4 hour drive from Salt Lake City. Home to great restaurants and surrounded by mountains, it is worth a couple days. From Salt Lake, you are 3-4 hours from 5 incredible national parks – Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion!

Conclusion

You’re good to go for Yellowstone and Grand Teton. You’ve got an itinerary broken down into power-packed yet manageable days. Plus you’ve got all our lessons learned!

There you have it our Yellowstone and Grand Teton 5 Day Itinerary! From us to you, happy adventuring!

yellowstone and grand teton 5 day
Onward, dear reader, your adventure awaits!

Notes

All prices and information as current as of September 2020.

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