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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.