Yellowstone is home to thousands of geysers, roaring waterfalls, bountiful wildlife, massive canyons, sprawling lakes. It is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts of all abilities. A perfect vacation is one in which the entire family is occupied with things to do and with no shortage of adventures in Yellowstone, it is sure to amaze people of all ages and interests.
A word to the wise – Yellowstone and Grand Teton are not checklists to mark off of. It’s a terrific place where you will create beautiful memories and carry them with you through your whole life. Be sure to stop, relax and enjoy the experience.
We hope our itinerary helps you plan your wonderful vacation to Yellowstone.
DAY #1 – GRAND TETON (SNAKE RIVER FLOAT TRIP, AERIAL TRAM & GONDOLA IN TETON VILLAGE, MOLTEN BARN, SCHWABACHER’S LANDING)
Stay in Jackson or in any of lodging inside Grand Teton
Snake River Float Trip
A leisurely float through the meandering Snake River is the best way to get oriented to the glory of the Grand Tetons! We booked our float trip through Barker-Ewing Scenic Float Trip and had an incredible experience. They offer float trips throughout the day; I recommend doing the float trip early in the morning or late in the afternoon to increase your chances of viewing wildlife.
Make online reservations in advance for two reasons:
– To be sure to get a space during busy times of the year
– Save some $ to purchase the tickets in advance
Keep your eyes peeled out for wildlife – During our trip, we spotted bald eagles perched all the way up the tallest trees, guarding their territory, a shy moose that hid behind the bushes and refused to come out, a pronghorn and its baby walking along the shallow river bed, osprey and Canadian geese.
Aerial Tram and Bridger Gondola in Teton Village
Teton Village is a popular skiing destination during winter. During summer, it becomes a hiker’s paradise. An aerial tram from the base of the Teton Village takes you to the top of the 10,000+ feet Rendezvous Mountain in 12 minutes. I recommend buying the tickets online to save $10/ticket. When you collect your tickets from the ticket counter, simply show your online order confirmation number and you are all set! With a tag to tie across your wrist, you now have access to the aerial tram and the gondola. The ~3 mile trail from the summit to the Bridger Gondola through the Summit Trail-Cirque Trail is a fantastic trail along the mountains with gorgeous views of the glacier covered mountains and the valley beneath.
T.A Molten’s Barn in Mormon Row
Among the barns built by the Mormon settlers, T.A Molten’s barn has become one of the most photographed barns in the world (yeah, you read that right!). With the massive Grand Tetons mountain ranges serving as the perfect backdrop, this location attracts photographs from all over the world during all the seasons, offering a unique perspective during every visit.
Sunset from Schwabacher’s Landing
Schwabacher’s Landing has lately become a prominent spot to watch the sunrise and sunset. It’s a common sight to see professional photographers bristling with their tripods, clicking thousands of pictures to get that one perfect shot. If you are not as much into photography as your partner, don’t worry, a beaver colony living there is sure to entertain you.
Sunset from Snake River Overlook
Thanks to Ansel Adams; he made this overlook famous. I personally think this spot is losing its charm because of the forest hiding what would otherwise been an extraordinary scenery. Hopefully, our pictures from both Schwabacher’s Landing and Snake River Overlook will help you decide what your choice is (if you don’t have the time to visit both the lookouts).
DAY #2 – GRAND TETON (TAGGARD AND BRADLEY LAKE HIKE, JENNY LAKE HIKE)
Check out from your hotel in Jackson or in any of lodging inside Grand Teton. Drive from Grand Teton to Old Faithful. Stay in Old Faithful
Sunrise from Schwabacher’s Landing
Both sunrises and sunsets are unique and spectacular from Schwabacher’s Landing. Be sure to bring insect repellents to arm yourself against the large mosquitoes.
Hike to Taggart and Bradley Lakes
The trails to both the Taggart and Bradley Lakes start from the same trailhead. The moderately steep trail works its way through open meadows, creeks and aspen groves, giving the opportunity for hikers to enjoy breathtaking views of the Grand Tetons. I recommend hiking first to Bradley Lake and then continuing the hike until you reach the Taggart Lake. My favorite part of the hike was towards the end of the hike, when the trail takes you down to the Taggart Lake shoreline.
Jenny Lake Hike – Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point
The short hike to the Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point is one of the most popular hikes in the Jenny Lake, so expect to brave the crowds. You could either walk over 2 miles one way to reach the Inspiration Point trailhead, or take a shuttle boat (there’s a fee for the shuttle boat) across Jenny Lake to the trailhead.
From the Jenny Lake trailhead, the trail gradually ascends through coniferous forests. Within just a few minutes into the hike, a lovely view of the Cascade Canyon Creek tumbling down the rocks await you. The trail resumes until you reach the short detour to see the Hidden Falls. Continue walking on the trail; it eventually becomes steep, rocky and rugged. The trail ends at the Inspiration Point, from where you get a phenomenal view of Jenny Lake.
DAY #3 – YELLOWSTONE (OLD FAITHFUL, BLACK SAND BASIN, BISCUIT BASIN)
Stay in Old Faithful
Start the day by joining thousands of fellow visitors to watch the Old Faithful Geyser faithfully erupt every hour. For a relatively private view, hike up to the Observation Point to view the Old Faithful from atop. Walk along the boardwalk in Old Faithful to see the brilliantly colored pools and geysers. Check out the timing of the geyser’s eruption at the Old Faithful reception, before heading out on the trail.
A few miles north of Old Faithful is the Biscuit Basin. A commendable hydrothermal feature in this basin is the beautiful Sapphire Pool. A 2-mile round-trip trail from the Biscuit Basin takes you to the cascading Mystic Falls. Walk just a little further up the trail to see the Mystic Falls from up above.
Black Sand Basin
The Black Sand Basin has some of the most interesting features in the area. The Cliff Geyser erupts every few minutes. Emerald Pool looks very impressive.
DAY #4 – YELLOWSTONE (MID GEYSER BASIN, LOWER GEYSER BASIN, SCENIC DRIVES, LONE STAR GEYSER, WEST THUMB GEYSER)
Check out from Old Faithful. Drive from Old Faithful to Lake Village. Stay in Lake Village.
Mid Geyser Basin
Situated in the Mid Geyser Basin is the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the USA. Its striking colors make it the most beautiful hydrothermal feature in Yellowstone. However, the hot spring is often clouded by the steam coming from the high heat. Another impressive feature in the Mid Geyser Basin is the turquoise blue color Excelsior Geyser Crater.
Firehole Lake Drive
This short one-way drive that passes through several geothermal features is worth the detour. Fortunately, we caught the eruptions of the White Dome Geyser.
Lower Geyser Basin
The Fountain Paint Pots in the Lower Geyser Basin is a short trail passing through hot springs, mud pools and geysers. Though the geysers here are pretty boring-looking and not quite active, I particularly enjoyed the bright colors of the Celestine Pool and Silex Spring.
Fountain Flat Drive
It is a short one-mile drive along the FireHole River. Stop at the pullover on the way (there’s no sign), to walk down to see the Maiden’s Grave Spring. Continue driving until you reach the dead-end from where there’s a beautiful sight of the winding FireHole River.
Firehole Canyon Drive
This 2-mile, one-way side drive is one of my favorite scenic drives in Yellowstone. Though the main attraction here is the 40 foot Firehole Falls, my favorite spot is at the beginning of the drive, when the FireHole River flows along the massive canyon walls, and you can walk down to the shores of the river.
The trail to the Lone Geyser is a little over 2 miles one-way through a flat trail along the creek and through the forest. I recommend renting a bike from Old Faithful and biking to the Lone Geyser, rather than hiking. The Lone Geyser erupts every few hours; we were fortunate to see its eruption.
West Thumb Geyser
West Thumb Geyser is one of my favorite geyser basins. Why? Because this is the first time I saw under-water geysers and they look pretty impressive.
DAY #5 – YELLOWSTONE (LAKE BUTTE, HIKE TO NATURAL BRIDGE, WATCH TROUTS IN LEHARDY RAPIDS, MUD VOLCANO, SULPHUR CALDERON, WATCH WILDLIFE IN HAYDEN VALLEY
Check out from Lake Village. Drive from Lake Village to Canyon Village. Stay in Canyon Village
Sunrise from Lake Butte
Lake Butte Overlook is a popular spot to watch sunrise and sunset. Check the sunrise and sunset time and be sure to reach the overlook at least 15 min prior. We were told of a mommy bear and its cub loitering around in the area. When we came here for sunrise, we didn’t see the bears (fortunately), but saw a herd of deers on the mountains nearby.
Hike to the Natural Bridge
Just a few miles south of the Lake Village is the Bridge Bay Marina parking lot. Park your car there, and walk towards the campground entrance to access the Natural Bridge trailhead. The 3-mile roundtrip trail is pretty flat most of the way and meanders through the forest. The last quarter mile is moderately steep and takes you to the top of a hill, from where you can see the Natural Bridge from atop. The Bridge Creek that runs through the Natural Bridge, created this 51 feet cliff you see today. The trail crosses the Bridge Creek, from where you get the best view of this natural formation.
Just a few miles north of Lake Village area is the parking lot for the LeHardy rapids. If you are here in late June or in July, be on the lookout for native cutthroat trouts catapulting themselves out of the water and hurling themselves up the rapids. Even otherwise, the rapids are still a gorgeous sight.
Mud Volcano and Sulphur Calderon
Most acidic geothermal feature in Yellowstone, plenty of earthquake faults converging, hot muddy water pools, an amazing landscape filled with pungent rotten egg smell – Welcome to the Mud Volcano! The area is popular for several geothermal features with muddy water tumultuously bubbling and fiercely crashes against the wall. Look across the street for bisons grazing on the hills. Just across the street is the Sulphur Calderon.
Drive through Hayden Valley and see wildlife
Continue driving through the Hayden Valley towards Canyon. Watch closely for wildlife on either sides of the road. There are several turnouts allowing you to stop and look over the Hayden valley for expansive views of the valley. Your binoculars will come in handy here. We saw a coyote that tore apart a bird and ran away with the bird in its mouth. Bisons were just a stone’s throw away from the road. Allow 2 hours to stop for wildlife and scenery along the way.
DAY #6: GRAND CANYON OF YELLOWSTONE, TOWER FALLS, WRAITH FALLS, UNDINE FALLS
Check out from Canyon Village. Drive from Canyon Village to Mammoth Hot Springs. Stay in Mammoth Hot Springs
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Named aptly for a good reason, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone shouldn’t be missed. Go to the brink of the both the Upper Falls and Lower Falls and see the magnificent waterfalls right beneath you. The Lookout Point and Uncle Tom’s Trail (a painfully steep trail) offer fantabulous views of the falls. The view from the Artist’s Point is a must-see – it looks like a scenery taken out from a painting.
Black Bears in Roosevelt Area
Roosevelt has the highest concentration of black bears in Yellowstone. You are bound to see at least one or two in the area. At one instance, we saw a mommy with its two 6-month old cubs playing with each other. At another instance, we saw a couple of teenaged bears chasing each other up a hill.
Roosevelt Tower Falls
The Tower Falls is about a 30 minutes drive from the Mammoth Hot Springs Area. If you are driving from Roosevelt to Mammoth or vice versa, I’d definitely stop here to see the Tower Falls. Easily accessible by a short hike from behind the General Store in the Roosevelt area, it makes an easy, family-friendly hike. The 132-foot falls itself is pretty admirable, plunging as a perfect water column, crushing into the rocks at its base.
Wraith Falls and Undine Falls
The short 0.8 mile trail to the Wraith Falls is pretty flat most of way, through the grassy meadows, with the last few meters turning uphill, leading you to the viewpoint to the see 100 feet cascading Wraith Falls. The Undine Falls is within a 2 minutes’ drive from Wraith Falls and can be easily accessible from the parking lot.
Elks in Mammoth
Hundreds of elks call the Mammoth Hot Springs area their home. They are just out and about, walking by the streets, crossing the streets, relaxing on the grassy meadows nearby.
DAY #7 – LAMAR VALLEY EXCURSION, MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, HISTORIC TOWN WALK
Stay in Mammoth Hot Springs
Lamar Valley Excursion
Atop everyone’s list in Yellowstone is to see animals in the wild. Lamar Valley has the highest concentration of wildlife, making it one of the best places to spots wildlife in Yellowstone. I recommend booking the Historic Yellow Bus Lamar Valley Excursion Tour in advance; it’s one of the most popular tours and get booked up pretty quickly. During our tour, we saw a black bear, hundreds of bisons, a herd of pronghorns, ospreys and its chicks, wolf and their cubs, and bighorn mountain sheep.
Mammoth Hot Springs
The most incredible feature in the Mammoth Hot Springs area is the travertine, the rock that forms the popular terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs. These living terraces are constantly changing, with a few vents getting clogged and a few new vents opening up. Although I loved all the terrace-like formations in the Mammoth Hot Springs, resembling mini waterfalls, my two favorite features are the aerial view of the terraces from the Upper Terrace Drive and the Minerva Terraces.
Historic Town Walk
The Mammoth Hot Springs area has some historical significance. To save Yellowstone from poaching, vandalism, the U.S Army marched into Old Mammoth in the late 1880s to guard the national park. Today, they are private residences, but one can still walk around to see the buildings that were once occupied by the officers, the building that was used as a prison, the building that was a hospital.
Stargaze at midnight
A number of places are great stargazing spots in the Mammoth Hot Springs Area. One is right outside the Mammoth Hotel, facing the wide grassy area. Another is by driving a few miles south, until you reach the open area near Swan Lake.
The spot right outside Mammoth Hotel is good, not the best, but definitely the safest option. The spot on the pullover to the Swan Lake is better because the flats are wide open, but it’s too dark and the wildlife around makes it a little unsafe. When we went stargazing near the Swan Lake, we heard the sound of howls from a distance. But what was scary is a soft growl sound from right across the street. To this day, I have no clue what it was, but that growling sound made us quickly jump inside our cars and leave the place immediately.
DAY #8 – YELLOWSTONE (NORRIS GEYSER BASIN, ARTIST PAINTPOTS, GIBBON FALLS)
Check out from Mammoth Hot Springs
Norris Geyser Basin
Active earthquake area leading to thermal imbalance; Combination of rare acidic and alkaline geysers; One of Yellowstone’s hottest geothermal areas; Ever-changing geysers and hot springs; Intersection of three major faults – That’s Norris Geyser Basin in a nutshell. Start your hike from the Porcelain Basin Overlook just a little past the museum; the overlook provides an excellent view of the Basin, full of life with geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mudpots.
Contrary to how the name sounds, Artist Paintpots don’t have most attractive geothermal features, but certainly have some of the most interesting mudpots. Having less water to work with, and by using a double boiler concept, most of the features here have mud boiling and shooting up into the air.
Easily accessible from the parking lot, the Gibbon Falls cascades down a bunch of boulders, making it a beautiful sight.