There’s no doubt that the grandeur of the southern Yellowstone region is best experienced while hiking, boating or horseback riding, and it would take a lifetime to see it all. But, for motorists on a Jackson Hole vacation, here’s a one day trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks that lets you cram in as much beauty and wildlife as possible into a single day.
First, a few caveats: This loop is closed from early November to late May, entering the Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks requires an entrance fee or a pass, and summer traffic can make this route take much longer. Also, please watch out for wildlife, especially at dawn and dusk.
That said, this 254-mile, 7-hour (not including stops) loop takes you through some beautiful country in eastern Idaho and Montana, and right past some of the most popular attractions in both national parks.
First, take Highway 22 west over Teton Pass. At the state line, the name of the road changes to Highway 33 and heads into Victor, Idaho. In Victor, it’s mandatory to stop at the Victor Emporium for a huckleberry milkshake. From there, stay west on Highway 33 through Driggs and Tetonia.
Just outside of Tetonia, take a right onto Highway 32. This route takes motorists over rolling hills through mile after mile of potato fields, and offers some stunning views of the west slopes of the Teton Range.
Highway 32 intersects with Highway 47 in Ashton, Idaho. Take a left onto Highway 47 and then a right onto Highway 20 toward Island Park. At several points, this route intersects the Henry’s Fork, known to anglers as one of the best trout rivers in the lower 48 states. For those who don’t mind a side trip, Harriman State Park offers opportunities for fly fishing, horseback riding, hiking and historic tours.
From Island Park, continue on Highway 20 to the Montana state line and into West Yellowstone, Montana. People with children may want to consider a side trip to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. The center is a non-profit wildlife park for grizzly bears and gray wolves that are unable to survive in the wild. Lucky visitors may get to see Sam the grizzly bear test bear resistant trash containers.
From West Yellowstone, drive east and enter Yellowstone National Park on Highway 191. The route takes motorists along the Madison River toward Madison. Then turn right toward Old Faithful. Along these stretches of road, bison jams are common and any number of the park’s thermal features and pullouts can offer a worthwhile diversion. One of the most popular and most beautiful is Midway Geyser Basin, which hosts Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the United States. Bathers beware, the spring comes in at 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
After Old Faithful, drive east to West Thumb and then take a right toward the park’s South Entrance. After a brief trip through the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, travellers enter Grand Teton National Park on Highway 89/191/287. Again, this route offers plenty of attractions. Depending on traffic and stops, you might arrive at Jackson Lake Lodge just in time to see the sun dip behind the Tetons.
This is the final stretch. Here you can opt to bear right onto the Teton Park Road, or go left to 26/89/191 and then head south toward Jackson. If it’s getting close to dinnertime, either route takes you close to Dornan’s, where weary travelers can enjoy beer and pizza while enjoying yet another amazing view of the Tetons.