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How to spend one day in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Yellowstone Grand Prismatic Spring

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If you read about our road trip through the Western U.S., you may have wondered what we did during our one day in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and whether a day was enough time to spend there.

A short answer to the second question: NO, one day is NOT enough time to spend in either park, let alone both parks combined. However, if you find yourself in the area with only a day to spare, read on for a great one-day itinerary to cram in as much as you can.

Cost to visit

Though Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are next to one another and connected by the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, each park charges a separate entrance fee of $35 for a 7-day visit. If you visit both parks, it will cost $70.

The America the Beautiful Pass costs $80 and allows entry for one year to all National Parks and other national monuments, historic sites, etc. throughout the U.S., so you might as well buy that pass if you go to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton. You can purchase it online in advance or in person at the entrance stations.

Best time of year

Many of the park roads are closed to vehicles from November through late April. Always check the Yellowstone National Park website and the Grand Teton National Park website for seasonal opening dates and park alerts.

Winter: Winter sounds like an amazing time to visit both parks and is less busy than the summer months, but winter travel restrictions may be in effect.

Early summer: We recently visited in late May, and it snowed a good chunk of the day. Snow still blanketed the ground in parts of the parks, especially in the higher elevations, so we got a sense of what the parks would look like in the winter, minus the travel restrictions. One unfortunate aspect was that it was hard to see some of the colorful hot springs in Yellowstone; the air was so cold that the dense steam rising from the springs blocked our view.

Yellowstone National Park blanketed in snow
Yellowstone National Park blanketed in snow

Mid-summer: We visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton years ago during the week leading up to July 4th, and we probably don’t need to tell you how insanely busy they were, especially Yellowstone. Parking was at a premium in many lots, and we often circled the lot many times before finding a spot.

In one parking lot, an enormous tour bus was trying to leave, but a little Volkswagen Beetle blocked its path. Since the bus’ path was blocked, no one else could leave, either. Chris joined a few other men to literally PICK UP the Volkswagen and move it aside so the bus–and the cars lined up behind it–could get by.

Overall, the best weather will be in the summer months, but if you can go in the shoulder seasons (April/May or late September/October/early November) and the park roads are open, those would be the best months for avoiding crowds.

A great hotel option near both parks

Staying at a hotel or cabin within Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks is the absolute best lodging option. However, lodging within the parks may be expensive or unavailable. If you only have one day in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, you need to stay as close to both parks as possible.

Jackson, Wyoming, about 13 miles south of Grand Teton’s Moose Junction entrance and 57 miles south of Yellowstone’s South Entrance, is full of lodging options.

If you’re looking for a quieter experience, check out the Hatchet Resort, about 8 miles east of Grand Teton’s Moran Junction entrance and 35 miles southeast of Yellowstone’s South Entrance. We chose the Hatchet Resort due to its closer proximity to both parks.

Hatchet Resort, Wyoming
Hatchet Resort, Wyoming

The Hatchet Resort is a cute place with both motel-style rooms and separate cabins. We booked a cabin, and it was spacious with a gas stove, queen bed, private bath, and front patio. A back door opened to a grassy area with Adirondack chairs.

The resort has a Sinclair gas station, a convenience store stocked with local craft beers and Pabst Blue Ribbon–something for everyone–and two dining options: Hatchet Grill and Whetstone Lodge. You can also pick up a boxed lunch to go.

The Lodge offered inexpensive beer and wine. Entrees were in the $20-$25 range. There’s not much else around for dining options, so you are a captive audience.

One day in Yellowstone National Park

We started our one-day visit to Yellowstone EARLY. If your lodging is in Jackson or anywhere outside the park, you will not only have to drive TO the park, you may also encounter a line of cars to get INTO the park. If you stay overnight within the park, this won’t be as much of an issue, but you should still get going early because one day in Yellowstone and Grand Teton has to be a very full and very loooong day.

You will likely see several bison and elk throughout the park, and maybe even a grizzly bear, so keep those cameras and binoculars at the ready! You may even run into a traffic jam or two because of bison in the road or people snapping photos of a bear in the distance. If you have a telephoto lens, have it handy at all times. But please, stay a safe distance from the wildlife! We don’t want to read about you getting attacked by a bison in the news.

Bison at Yellowstone National Park
Bison
Grizzly bear at Yellowstone National Park
Grizzly bear

Orientation

Looking at this map of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, notice how the roads within Yellowstone form two loops in the shape of the number 8. Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower-Roosevelt are located along the 70-mile upper loop, and Old Faithful and Lake Village are located along the 96-mile lower loop. Roads from each of the five entrance stations lead to the loops.

Many of the most popular and well-known sights, including Old Faithful, are located along the lower loop, so we focus on that loop below. After entering through the South Entrance, the description below assumes you drive clockwise around the lower loop starting near Grant Village.

The road crosses the Continental Divide twice, and there are pullouts at each spot to snap photos of the Continental Divide signs or have a picnic.

Continental Divide sign, Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful Geyser (Upper Geyser Basin)

The first major sight is Old Faithful Geyser in the Upper Geyser Basin. The parking lot is HUGE, so parking shouldn’t be a problem.

Castle Geyser, Yellowstone National Park
Castle Geyser

The Yellowstone phone app shows the predicted eruption times of Old Faithful Geyser, Castle Geyser, and a few other geysers. Use this to plan your time in the Old Faithful area. Otherwise, signs near the main geysers predict the next eruption times. Old Faithful usually erupts every 60-110 minutes.

Determine how much time you have to explore the basin before the next Old Faithful eruption. If you have an hour or more, take the walkway around Old Faithful, Geyser Hill, Grand Geyser, Castle Geyser, and other springs and geysers. If you have more time, continue along the path northwest of Grand Geyser along the Firehole River.

You can view Old Faithful from various spots. For best views, an extensive seating area stretches around the geyser, but you can also see it from Old Faithful Lodge or from the patio benches at Old Faithful Inn. The volume of water spurting out of the gound is quite a sight to see!

Old Faithful Geyser eruption

For some cool facts about Old Faithful, check out these FAQs on Yellowstone’s website!

Stop in at the Old Faithful Inn to admire the interior of the lobby. The Inn opened in 1904 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Grand Prismatic Spring (Midway Geyser Basin)

Hop back in the car and drive to the next major sight, Grand Prismatic Spring. Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the best things to see in Yellowstone, with its turquoise water and bright orange edges.

If you’re up for a hike and a spectacular view of the spring, park at Fairy Falls Trailhead. The 1.2-mile roundtrip Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail takes you to a fantastic overlook of the spring; in fact, the featured photo at the top of this post and the following picture were taken from that overlook.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park
Grand Prismatic Spring from Overlook Trail

After–or instead of–the hike, continue on the loop to the Grand Prismatic Spring parking lot. Parking is limited, so expect to circle the lot a couple of times to snag a spot.

A boardwalk winds around Grand Prismatic Spring, Excelsior Geyser, and other springs. If you visit during cool weather, look for bison tracks and dung on the ground. Maybe they enjoy the warm springs when it’s chilly out!

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park
Grand Prismatic Spring

Fountain Paint Pot (Lower Geyser Basin)

Next up is Fountain Paint Pot. You can either drive straight there or take the short, one-way Firehole Lake Drive, which loops around Great Fountain Geyser and ends near the parking lot for Fountain Paint Pot. To be honest, Firehole Lake Drive isn’t very spectacular. The turquoise springs, Fountain Paint Pots, and Clepsydra Geyser are impressive thermal features.

Clepsydra Geyser

Firehole Canyon Drive

Firehole Canyon Drive is a scenic, one-way road along the Firehole River with a view of Firehole Falls.

Gibbon Falls

Turn east at Madison to continue on the lower loop. Stop at Gibbon Falls and walk the path to the overlook see a view of the falls.

Artists Paintpots

Continue on to Artists Paintpots, where a boardwalk takes you around very colorful, steamy pools. If you are good on time at this point, check out Norris Geyser Basin a little farther down the road.

Bison walking on the side of the road, Yellowstone National Park
Bison walking on the side of the road

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Next up: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The canyon is flanked by North Rim Drive and South Rim Drive.

North Rim Drive

Start with North Rim Drive, a one-way road that begins south of Canyon Village and loops north back to Canyon Village. The road has a few parking areas where you can get out and walk along a rim trail as far as you like.

Stop first at the Brink of Lower Falls viewpoint for a nice view of the waterfall.

Next, drive up to Lookout Point, which offers an even better view of the falls. Keep an eye out for an osprey nest perched atop a narrow rock pinnacle within the canyon. The ospreys use the same nest year after year. According to the nesting osprey interpretive sign, they lay eggs in May or June, and the eggs hatch in 4-5 weeks.

From Lookout Point, either walk a short distance along the rim trail or drive to the next parking area, Grand View. The trail is fairly flat and easy in this area.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

If you walked to Grand View, return to the car and continue on to Inspiration Point, the last viewpoint before the road winds to Canyon Village. Grand View and Inspiration Point both offer additional views of the waterfall, river, and sloping canyon walls. Watch for rainbows!

South Rim Drive

After the North Rim Drive, continue to the South Rim Drive. The South Rim Drive is shorter than its counterpart to the north. Like the North Rim, a trail runs along the South Rim.

Start with Uncle Tom’s Point and walk along the rim trail or Uncle Tom’s Trail if you so desire.

Afterward, head to Artist Point overlook at the end of the road, where you will see the most spectacular view of the waterfall–better than any of the North Rim Drive viewpoints.

Waterfall at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Waterfall as seen from Artist Point on the South Rim Drive

Yellowstone Lake

Head south to Yellowstone Lake. If you have time by this point, check out Lake Village and/or Bridge Bay (especially Gull Point). At the very least, stop at a few pullouts or picnic areas to take in views of the lake.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

For the last activity within Yellowstone, walk the 0.6-mile boardwalk loop around West Thumb Geyser Basin. Watch for elk lounging around. The cool thing about this geyser basin is its location adjacent to Lake Yellowstone; the views of the lake and nearby mountains are stunning. A few geysers bubble in the water along the edge of the lake.

West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park
West Thumb Geyser Basin

A couple of hours in Grand Teton National Park

Besides stopping at pullouts along the road, the best way to see Grand Teton National Park is by hiking. However, it is difficult to do much hiking when you only have one day in Yellowstone and Grand Teton combined.

Orientation

If you are staying in Jackson, you will pass Grand Teton National Park on your way to Yellowstone either on Highway 191 or on Teton Park Road through the park.

Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park

If the sky is clear in the morning and the Tetons are fully visible, you may want to consider driving the Teton Park Road and stopping at the pullouts to snap photos on your way to Yellowstone. Weather can change quickly, and it would be a shame if you wait to take photos until the end of the day and the mountains are covered in clouds.

On the return from Yellowstone back to your hotel, you can take the highways for a faster route and a slightly different vantage point, or you can take the Teton Park Road again.

However you choose to plan your one day in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, we highly recommend being at the Tetons for sunset. You may get stunning sunset views, with orange, pink, and purple clouds behind the mountains. As the sun dips behind the mountain range, its rays light up part of the mountains. Photos don’t do it justice.

Grand Teton National Park at sunset
Grand Teton National Park at sunset

The route below continues from where we left off with Yellowstone near West Thumb and Grant Village, leaving through Yellowstone’s South Entrance.

Lewis Lake and Lewis Falls

After leaving Yellowstone National Park through the South Entrance, stop at Lewis Lake and Falls to take in the waterfall and landscape. If you visit in late spring or early summer, the ground may be blanketed in snow–a beautiful sight to see.

Teton Park Road

Drive the Teton Park Road along the mountains and stop at the numerous pullouts along the way, especially along Jackson Lake. In the right weather, you can get a nearly-perfect reflection of the mountains in the lake, like the photo below.

Grand Tetons
Reflection of Teton Range over Jackson Lake

If it’s open, take the five-mile Signal Mountain road to an observation area at the top of–you guessed it–Signal Mountain. The road climbs 1,000 feet in elevation and is closed in the winter.

Drive down to Jenny Lake and snap some photos there. Stroll around the lake if you have time.

A bike path runs parallel to the park road; biking along it would be an awesome adventure for another, longer trip.

The park road ends at Moose Junction, where you can continue to Jackson or take the highways back to the Hatchet Resort if you chose to stay there.

One day in Yellowstone and Grand Teton

One day in Yellowstone and Grand Teton barely scratches the surface, but the activities and sights above will give you a good taste of the parks. If you can, return another time to explore the upper loop of Yellowstone and hike around the Tetons.

Yellowstone Lake at sunrise
Yellowstone Lake at sunrise

Looking for more National Park inspiration?

Check out our post about virtual visits to National Parks to plan out where you want to travel to next or read about sledding down gleaming white sand dunes at White Sands National Park in New Mexico!

Have you been? Would you go?

Have you been to Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks? Is there anything you would do differently given only one day in Yellowstone and Grand Teton combined? Tell us in the comments!

If you haven’t been there, would you go? Anything more you want to know? Let us know in the comments or contact us!


One day in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

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