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National Parks Road Trip Itinerary: Utah to Yellowstone & Grand Teton

National Parks Road Trip Itinerary: Utah to Yellowstone & Grand Teton

In this national parks road trip itinerary we’ll take you from Salt Lake City up to a few of the most iconic national parks, but not without passing through a myriad of smaller, more quaint, less-traveled towns that Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho have to offer. 


#thisismyroute

Prepared by:
Tobey

State: 
Utah, Idaho, Wyoming

Start/End: 
Salt Lake City, Utah

Total miles:
940 (1,500 km)

Suggested days: 
At least 8 – 14

Suggested season:
summer, fall, late spring

Overview

What’s great about this national parks road trip is that it’s accessible and adjustable for all kinds of groups including first-timers to the US, families with children and grandparents, honeymooners, photographers, campers, van-lifers, and more. Our route has you flying in and out of Salt Lake International Airport. Rather than hitting the road right away, we recommend spending your first few days exploring Salt Lake City. Most people will be flying in from a lower elevation than SLC, and driving into Wyoming will take you even higher, so acclimating your body first will prevent sickness, which no one wants on road trips!

Preparation

This route is intended for a summer, fall or late spring season road trip. While most of the destinations on our itinerary are very popular winter ski destinations (Park City, Utah literally hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics), the roads between these places are not always open and can be dangerous with snow cover. It’d be best if you have about 10 to 12 days for this trip, but it could probably be done in eight days if you didn’t mind driving a bit every day.

#1 Salt lake City, Utah

Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah.

If you don’t know a lot about Salt Lake City, you might at least know these two facts: it’s known for being the city with nine ski resorts within an hour’s drive, and for being the world headquarters of the Mormon religion.

Save the skiing for winter, but don’t miss visiting Temple Square, whether you’re religious or not. It’s a 35-acre area in the heart of downtown with plenty of historical buildings, food, sights to see and activities. Right beside Temple Square, you can visit City Creek Center, Salt Lake’s unique shopping center.

Best family activity:

Visit the Natural History Museum of Utah

Best place to take the kids:

Ogden Adventure Park

Must-do hike to see the wildflowers:

Hike in Albion Basin

Most popular mountain biking trail:

Wasatch Crest Trail

#2 Cache Valley

Logan Canyon road in Cache Valley, Utah.

1.25 hours – 81 miles/130 km

About 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of SLC you’ll head into Cache Valley, which is home to the metropolitan area of Logan, Utah. 

We recommend spending a day and night here, as there’s a lot to see and do

Probably the most epically scenic drive is through Logan Canyon—September and October are perfect months to see the fall leaves changing colors. 

About an hour outside of Logan, and on your way, we recommend stopping to explore Bear Lake—often called the “Caribbean of the Rockies” because of its turquoise water and sandy beaches.

Best activity at Bear Lake:

Jet Skiing or Water Trampolines

Best spot for history:

 American West Heritage Center

What to do in the evening:

Go See a Show

Best hike:

Wind Caves in Logan Canyon

#3 Star Valley

Antler arch in Afton, Wyoming.

2.25 hours – 119 miles/191 km

On your way up through Idaho and into Wyoming, you’ll be passing through some authentically western, undiscovered small towns that are all worthy of a visit. The first is Montepelier, Idaho, which is just 35 minutes from Bear Lake. For a classic American breakfast and your “cup of joe”, we suggest starting your driving day off at Ranch Hand Trail Stop in Montepelier. Biscuits and gravy for $3? Count me in. Next you’ll head into Wyoming and drive through Afton, Thayne and Alpine. We suggest spending a night in Alpine before heading into the busyness of Jackson and the national parks.

Best place to stay in Alpine, WY: 

Flying Saddle Resort

Must-do hike in Afton, WY: 

Intermittent Spring

Best place for sweets in Afton, WY:

Star Valley Chocolates

Most western activity in Thayne, WY:

Visit & Tour Haderlie Farms

#4 Grand Teton National Park

Wranglers in front of the Grand Tetons, Wyoming.

1.75 hours – 84 MILES/135 KM

We said this was a national parks road trip, right? Well, park #1: The famous, jagged mountain peaks of the Grand Tetons are one of the reasons the park attracts so many visitors, putting it on the list for the top ten most visited national parks. We recommend that you first do a scenic drive through the park to take in the views and get acquainted with the area. 

Fishing and hiking are among the best activities here. If you want something more casual, wildlife viewing is a good option as animals are ubiquitous in the park, such as black bears, bison, moose, elk and more—just do not approach them. Ever!

Most scenic drive:

Jenny Lake Scenic Drive

Best place to view wildlife:

Oxbow Bend

Most adventurous activity:

Canoe to Your Campsite at Leigh Lake

Best place to stay: 

The Cabins at Togwotee Mountain Lodge

#5 Yellowstone National Park

Elk walking through meadows in Yellowstone/Teton/Idaho area

2 hours – 73 miles/173 km

Watching Old Faithful Geyser erupt in Yellowstone National Park? Time to check that one off your bucket list! Old Faithful erupts about 17 times a day and it’s one of six geysers that park rangers currently predict, out of nearly 500 geysers in the park. You’ve come all this way, so stay a few days. 

Yellowstone covers a lot of acreage, so it’s best to spend a night or two in the park. Other than sight-seeing, we recommend going horseback riding—you are in cowboy country after all.

Out-of-the-ordinary activity:

Soak in Natural Hot Springs

A must-do in cowboy country:

Go Horseback Riding

Activity for the whole family: 

Drive the Grand Loop

Best fishing hole:

Firehole River

#6 Pinedale, Wyoming

Downtown Pinedale, Wyoming.

3.25 hours – 160 miles/257 km

It’s time to head down to one of those small, undiscovered Wyoming’s towns we told you about. In Sublette County, bordered by three incredible mountain ranges, you’ll find the town of Pinedale, which the locals call “the real Wyoming.” 

With a population of under 2,000 people it’ll be a nice change of pace from the traffic in the parks. Pinedale really does have it all: incredible mountain views from town, glacially-fed lakes, great fishing in the rivers, and an awesome brewery. What more do you need?

Best place to get a drink:

Wind River Brewing Company

Best spot for photos:

Photographer’s Point

Most popular destination:

Cirque of the Towers (backpacking trip)

Casual activity in town:

Disk Golfing

#7 Flaming Gorge

2.5 hours – 163 miles/262 km

You’ll be heading back toward the desert, but the trip is not over yet. On the border of Wyoming and Utah is Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, a 91-mile long reservoir with stunning desert-red cliffs towering above. 

Between boating and water sports, hiking, and rafting, Flaming Gorge Country is stacked with fun things to do.

For the adrenaline seekers:

Raft the Green River

Best place to stay:

The Private Lake Cabins at Red Canyon Lodge

Best hike for the whole family:

Moonshine Arch

Most laid-back activity on the water:

Boat Camping on the Reservoir

#8 Vernal

Two people paddle boarding in Dinosaurland, Utah.

1.25 hours – 52 miles/84 km

Not far from Flaming Gorge Country is Vernal, Utah, the gateway to Dinosaur National Monument. Vernal is known as one of the best places in America to see fossils, and you can’t leave the western US without looking at fossils and petroglyphs! 

There are tons of other things to do in Vernal, in addition to visiting Dinosaur National Monument.

Best family hike:

Desert Voices Trail

Best spot to bike:

Yampa Bench Road

For a day inside:

Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum

Best spot for a picnic:

Steinaker State Park

#9 Park City, Utah

Park City, Utah

3 hours – 161 miles/259 km

Like we said, Park City held the 2002 Winter Olympics, so they’re kind of a big dea. To this day, the Utah Olympic Park is used as a training facility, and they allow visitors to join the fun as well. So, if you’ve never ridden a bobsled at 70mph (112kph) or been extreme tubing at speeds of 50mph (80kph) then Park City is the place for you! 

When it’s not snowing, Park City is a great place for mountain biking, ziplining, golfing, hot air ballooning, and more.

Must-do year-round activity:

Bobsled at Utah Olympic Park

Don’t want to miss:

Flying Ace All-Stars Freestyle Show

Most unique adventure: 

Hot Air Ballooning

Activity everyone will enjoy:

Food Tours Park City

Salt Lake City is just a 45-minute drive from Park City. Take some time in SLC to unwind after a packed trip, or catch your flight home and start planning when you’ll return for your winter ski trip! Cheers!
 
 




A National Park, the Rocky Mountains and Back

A National Park, the Rocky Mountains and Back

This is a road trip of epic proportions as you travel from sea level to 10,000 ft.  and back again. From the pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains, and through a national park or two,  this trip will give you an experience of a lifetime.

national park


#thisismyroute

Prepared by:
James

States:
Washington, Montana, Idaho

Start/End:
Seattle, Washington

Total miles:
2,000

Suggested days:
At least 14

Type:
epic road trip

Recommended for: 
First-timers to the United States, honeymooners, photographers, road trippers

Suggested season: 
Spring through Fall

Overview

This trip will not only take you from the rain-soaked Pacific Northwest to the high desert beyond the Rocky Mountains, but also through a beautiful National Park or two. This will be an epic road-trip that will start in the mists of the Pacific Northwest and head east to the sun-soaked sage-brushed flats of Idaho, before turning back west and ending back in Seattle. The trip will take you from sea level to 6,000 ft or more, so be prepared for a little acclimatization. Seattle is one of the world’s great cities, and there is so much to do here, from the expansive parks to the piers where you can fresh fish right off the boat. Our recommendation would be to fly into Seattle, immediately get your luggage and car, and then head out on the road to explore a National Park. The reason being, this is going to be a unbelievably fun trip, but there is so much you are going to see and do, that to “unwind” for a few days in Seattle before you head back home would be a great way to end your trip.

How to Prepare

We recommend at least three weeks to encompass all of the possible offerings that are suggested in this itinerary, including a National Park. A lot of distance is covered here, so it would be ideal to spend a couple of days in, say, North Cascades National Park or Mount Rainier National Park, driving many hours to and from there. (Of course, the drives themselves are wonderfully scenic, so it won’t feel long at all! The journey is the destination, as they say.) Many of the drives are relatively short – many are only around three road hours between stops – while at least two of the drives will take a good portion of your day, so plan accordingly. (These longer drives could be broken up into segments, too.) The weather in the region is generally predictable: somewhat chilly in the early spring, quite hot in the peak summer months, crisp and cool in the fall. In Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, it can occasionally snow in the later fall months, so pack intelligently. This trip could be done almost any time of year, but possible heavy snow in November through February can make driving in those more mountainous areas rather dangerous. Aside from frequent rain in the winter, the coastal regions would be fine at any time.

DAY 1: arrival in seattle

Fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and pick up your rental car. The city is relatively easy to navigate by car, though it may be best to avoid driving in the late afternoon, as the freeways and roads can be horribly gridlocked around rush hour. We know you might be itching to explore Seattle, but our recommendation would be to head toward your first destination, North Cascades National Park and save the wonders of Seattle for the end of the trip where you can treat yourself to a few days of Rest and Relaxing in this great American city. As you head North on Interstate 5 towards Cascades, here are some suggestion for you to stop along the way to start your trip off in style.

Best place to stock up on gear:

REI-Flagship Store

Best place to stock up on supplies:

Whole Foods Market

Stop to Stretch your legs-Delta:

Langus Riverfront Park

Grab a taco on the road-Arlington:

La Hacienda

Best place to stay for the night-Marblemount:

Buffalo Run Inn

Must stop-Marblemount:

North Cascades Visitor Center

DAY 2: North Cascades national park

3.5 hours/186 miles

North Cascades National Park is one of the most singularly beautiful places in the world. Ice Capped Granite spires rise to meet the sky and blue-tinged glaciers slowly work their way down to become tumbling mountain streams in moss covered banks. It is also one of the least visited Parks in the lower 48, for one very specific reason. While staggeringly beautiful, it is also very remote. The only way into the park is on foot or hoof, and once you get inside the borders, there are no amenities, ranger stations or structure of any time. But there are a few ways into the park and you can spend a few on the outskirts as your base camp while exploring the fringes of the park, or head in, but you will need to be prepared for self-sufficiency for the duration of your stay.

Best short hike:

Thornton Trail

Best long Hike:

Sourdough Mountain

Grab a bite on the road:

5b’s Bakery in Concrete

Pedal your way around the valley:

Stehekin Discovery Bikes

Best place to grab some dinner:

Stormy Mountain Brewing

Best place to stay:

Cambells Resort

DAY 3: Beautiful Coeur D’Alene

national parks

3.5 hours/182 miles

Your next stop as you head east is the lovely Idaho town of Coeur D’Alene, nestled on the banks of the massive 25-mile-long lake of the same name. The town’s proximity to two major ski resorts and generally tranquil natural setting has made it a destination for outdoor-oriented travelers. Camping, hiking, kayaking and skiing are all within a short trip from the center of town. As this city is on the edge of the Pacific Northwest, there are the usual quality-of-life perks, even in this relatively small town: fine coffee, plenty of microbrews and a wide array of stellar places to eat.

Best place to shop local:

Kootenai County Farmers’ Market

Best place for a swim:

Couer D’Alene City Park

Best secret trip:

Seven Stars Alpaca Ranch

Best place to stretch your legs:

Tubbs Hill Nature Trails

Best place for dinner:

Crafted Tap House

Best Night Out:

Downtown Coeur d’Alene

DAY 4: Missoula

3.2 hours/168 miles

Go Grizzlys! Today you head to the fantastic university town of Missoula. Missoula is a really fun town and you are going to have to make a choice if you want to do all the outdoor activities, all the indoor activities or a mixture of both. A great place to start your decision making process though, would be to head to the visitor’s bureau; Destination Missoula. They wil be able to help you fine tune your trip, but in the meantime, here are a few suggestions.

Great place for a hike:

Blue Mountain Recreation Area

Best Missoula thing ever:

A Carousel For Missoula

Best place to grab a quick bite:

Five on Black Brazilian Cafe

Can’t miss it:

Brennan’s Wave-a man made kayaking wave in the heart of downtown Missoula

Best place for a picnic:

Caras Park

Where the locals eat:

The Depot

Drink local:

TAke your Pick-Missoula has 10 breweries, 2 distilleries and one cider house

Best place to catch a show:

The Top Hat

DAY 5: Missoula to Butte via Phillipsburg

national parks

2 hours/119 miles

Today you head out through the Lolo National Forest to Butte. Its a relatively short drive, but this will give you a chance to have a lazy breakfast at the best breakfast joint in Missoula, Paul’s Pancake Parlor. After that, head south to little mining town of Phillipsburg. Stop at Montana Gems to mine for precious stones before spending an hour or so at the Granite County Museum. From Philipsburg, its just a short drive into Butte. Butte is the county seat of Silver Bow County, Montana and has a long and fascinating history with mining and the mining industry. There are numerous tours and museums dedicated to this rich history, but one not-to-be-missed tour is the Old Butte Historical Adventure Tour. Two hours in length, the tour takes you through some of the more interesting and quirky aspects of Butte, including a tour through the old jail.

Great place for a hike:

Big Butte Open Area

Best historical visit:

The Dumas Brothel

Other best historical visit:

The Mai Wah

Best place for a quick bite:

Front Street Market

Best place to cool off:

Ridge Waters Park

Best place to have a upscale dinner:

The Uptown Cafe

DAY 6: Rexburg, Idaho

3 hours/150 miles

From Butte its off into Idaho and the town of Rexburg. This town of nearly 26,000 has plenty of things to see and do but there are two not-to-be-missed experiences that you should make time for. The first is the BYU-Idaho Campus and the magnificent Rexburg Idaho Temple located right near by. The second is Yellowstone Bear World, a phenomenal wildlife attraction, this park is essentially a drive through North American wildlife in their natural habitats including rocky mountain elk, bison, white-tail deer, rocky mountain goats, moose, and of course, American black bear, grizzly bear and gray wolves.

Best place for a stroll:

Porter Park

Best place take a lazy float down a river:

Warm Slough

Best place to learn about bears:

Yellowstone Bear World

Best place to grab a bite:

The Hickory on Main

Most unique experience:

Heber Hatchets Axe Throwing

Best coffee in the morning:

June’s Place

DAY 7: rexburg to Pocatello

national parks

1 hour 15 minutes/78 miles

The drive from Rexburg to Pocatello will be fairly short, but this will give you a full day to explore the surrounding area, including Craters Of The Moon National Monument and Preserve. Craters of the Moon formed during eight major eruptive periods between 15,000 and 2000 years ago. Lava erupted from the Great Rift, a series of deep cracks that start near the visitor center and stretch 52 miles to the southeast. During this time the Craters of the Moon lava field grew to cover 618 square miles. Our recommendation would be to head to Pocatello and get settled for the day, gather a picnic together, then head out to Craters of the Moon. The best place to start your adventure is at the Robert Limbert Visitor Center. The center will be able to provide you with maps and information, as well as an exquisite exhibit center and bookstore.
After Craters of the Moon, head back to Pocatello and get ready for a great night. There are a number of different things to do in Pocatello, but we would recommend heading right to the heart, Old Town Pocatello. From specialty shops to fine dining, Old Town Pocatello is a magnet for people looking for a unique experience.

Great breakfast:

Frontier Pies

Best Coffee on the go:

June’s Place

Best Hike:

Wilderness Trail

Can’t miss it:

Exploring the caves

Best place to catch the sunset:

The Sunset Cone

Best place to get some dinner:

Uncle Jim’s Family Dining

DAY 8: Pocatello to Twin Falls via Massacre Rock State Park

1 hour 58 minutes/115 miles

From Pocatello you turn west to Twin Falls and the Gateway to the Snake River Canyon. But first you will take a little detour into Massacre Rock State Park. Massacre Rocks were a well known location along the Oregon Trail where the trail passed through a series of narrow rocks where ambushes from Native Americans were expected. Though this actually happening was extremely rare, it is an interesting historical park and well worth a visit. Upon arriving in Twin Falls for the night, we would recommend heading to the Blue Lakes Inn for a great family-style hotel.

Can’t miss it:

Perrine Coulee Falls

Best hike:

Shoshone Falls

Best museum:

Herrett Center for Arts and Science

Great photo op:

Evel Knievel Snake River Canyon Jump Site

Where the locals eat dinner:

Elevation 486

Drink local:

Koto Brewing Company

DAY 9: Spectacular Sun Valley

From Twin Falls your road heads North and into the resort town of Sun Valley. This is a short drive, but that’s okay because it will give you plenty of time to explore this great little town nestled in the Sawtooth Mountains. There is a plethora of outdoor activities here, but being a resort town, there is plenty of civilization for you to enjoy. Sun Valley and more specifically Ketcham, is known as the last home of the famed American writer Ernest Hemingway. A memorial pays homage to this father of contemporary American prose. It is well worth a visit.

Best place for a stroll:

Sawtooth Valley Botanical Gardens

Best hike:

Bald Mountain Trail

Best place to ride a horse:

Sun Valley Stables

Most unique experience:

Fly Sun Valley

Best place for dinner:

Enoteca

Cant’s Miss it:

The Casino Bar-Where Hemingway Drank

DAY 10: Through the Sawtooth National Forest and Boise

national park

4 hours/198 miles

The trip into Boise will take you through the beautiful Sawtooth National Forest on the Highway 75 Sawtooth Scenic Byway to the junction of Highway 21 Ponderosa Pine Scenic Route at Stanley. This road will wind its way through the Sawtooth Valley and up over the mountains. Traversing this road in the early spring or late fall, however, could lead you into some snowy conditions, so keep up to date on the road conditions. A great stop along the way is Redfish Lake, just outside of Stanley. This is the largest lake in the Sawtooths and can make for great stop to snap some photos.  Once you pick up the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Route in Stanley, the road will follow winding canyons and mountain peaks, so make sure you plan plenty of time for stops before ending for the night in Boise.

Best place for a quick bite:

Stanley Baking Company

Can’t miss it:

The Springs at historic Idaho City

Best place for a hike in Boise:

Hulls Gulch

Best trip into history:

Old Idaho Penitentiary

Best way to see Boise:

Boise Scavenger Hunt

Best spot for dinner:

The Barbacoa

DAY 11: to Lewiston and Washington

national parks

5 hours/270 miles

Today will be a longer driving day, but will take you through some of America’s most pristine examples of the High Desert. So sit back, plug in your favorite playlist and enjoy the road. There are plenty of little towns along the way, so feel free to stop at your leisure and explore. One thing not to be missed, however, is the Nez Perce National Historic Park and Scenic Overlook. Its a beautiful area and a great place to stop and stretch your legs. From here its down into the valley of the Clearwater River and your stop for the night, Lewiston.

Great place to learn about the Corps of Discovery:

Lewis and Clark Discovery Center

Can’t miss it:

Hells Gate State Park

See a ghost:

Lewiston Ghost Tour

Stock up on gear:

Follettt’s Mountain Sports

Great place for a stroll:

Historic Downtown Lewiston

Best local burger and brew:

MJ Barley Hoppers

DAY 12: walla walla washington

national park

1 hour 45 minutes/95 miles

Welcome to wine country! When you get to Walla Walla, you will officially be in the Columbia River Valley and some of Washington’s best vineyards. With only a two hour drive from Lewiston, you will have plenty of time to visit the valley’s numerous winery’s. There are plenty to choose from, but perhaps the best way to see them is to take a few different tours. Here are some options.

Walla Walla Wine Tours

Imbibe Wine Tours

d’Vine Wine Tour

Can’t miss it:

Whitman Mission

Best outdoor recreation:

Mill Creek Dam and Bennington Lake

Visit Walla Walla’s oldest mansion:

Kirkman House

Best place to buy local cheese:

Walla Walla Cheese Company

Best place to get some culture:

Sheehan Gallery

Where the locals eat breakfast:

Maple Counter Cafe

DAY 13: Yakima and the Yakima Reservation

2 hours 19 minutes/134 miles

Today you are heading to Yakima and the Yakima Indian Reservation. Our recommendation would be to first find a place to stay before heading into the Reservation for the day. A great place right in the heart of Downtown Yakima is the Hotel Maison. After dropping off your gear, explore some of the towns of the reservation and get a feel for the traditions and culture of the Yakima people. A great place to start would be the Yakima Nation Cultural Center located in the town of Toppenish. After exploring the reservation, head back to Yakima and the bevy of things to do in this city.

Find more Information on the Yakima Reservation here.

Shop local:

Downtown Yakima Farmer’s Market

Best museum:

Yakima Valley Museum

Best place for a stroll:

Yakima Area Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

Shopper’s Paradise:

Downtown Yakima

Can’t miss it:

Johnson Orchards

Where the locals eat dinner:

Cowiche Canyon

DAY 14: Mount Rainier National Park

national parks

2.5 hours/103 miles

Your next stop of this journey is to Mount Rainier National Park, which, at 14,410 feet is an iconic feature of the Washington landscape. This active volcano is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States and spawns six major rivers. Visit the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center to get some orientation around the park and decide if you want to spend a full afternoon here or even longer. (As with all of the national parks, you could spend a day or a week at Rainier, so it’s largely up to you to figure this out.)

Best road for photo ops:

Circle Mount Rainier Drive

Best hike:

Shadow Lakes Trail

Can’t miss it:

Narada Falls

Take in mountain wildflowers:

Paradise Valley

Best place for dinner:

The Snorting Elk Cellar

Best place to stay:

Crystal Mountain

DAY 14: Back to seattle

2.5 hours /80 miles

Congratulations on completing the Great American Road Trip! You deserve a little Rest and Relaxation and Seattle is just the city to provide it.  Like many West Coast cities, Seattle is fairly spread apart, so it’s best to pick a few neighborhoods and explore from there. Downtown has the iconic Pike Place Market, as well as the Seattle Art Museum, the Seattle Aquarium and the first ever Starbucks Coffee, all within easy walking distance. Other great walkable neighborhoods worth checking out include the Ballard, Fremont and Capital Hill districts.  Spend a few days here. You’ve earned it and the memories will last a lifetime.

Best place for a stroll:

The Seattle Waterfront

Can’t Miss It:

Pike Place Market

Best architectural wonder:

Seattle Space Needle

Best city view:

Kerry Park

Best place for seafood:

Elliot’s Oyster House

Best place to stay:

Inn at the Market