Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks are two of the most spectacular and also most popular national parks in the United States.

From high, exposed alpine peaks to otherworldly thermal and geologic features, this region is truly one of a kind. Not to mention, this is one of the best areas in the country for wildlife.

For intermediate to advanced hikers, the Tetons and Yellowstone are world-class. This suggested itinerary is geared toward those who are more serious about hiking, but want to enjoy the can’t-miss highlights of the two parks as well while enjoying some relaxing spots in between.

As always, I suggest using this itinerary as a template and adjust based on your own individual preferences. This is a fairly ambitious itinerary, but for the more challenging hikes, I offer suggestions for shorter alternatives.

Feel free to reach out in the comments section if you have any further questions.

Overview

Part 1 – Grand Teton National Park

Day 1 – Arrive in Jackson

Day 2 – Hike Phelps Lake, Float the Snake River

Day 3 – Hike to Leigh Lake and Beyond, Visit Colter Bay Beach

Day 4 – Hike the Paintbrush-Cascade Loop

Part 2 – Yellowstone National Park

Day 5 – Visit Old Faithful, Hike to Shoshone Lake

Day 6 – Hike Avalanche Peak, Visit Yellowstone Lake

Day 7 – Hike Mt. Washburn, Visit Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Day 8 – Hike Electric Peak

Day 9 – Visit Lamar Valley and Hike Specimen Ridge

Day 10 – Drive to Jackson and Depart

When to Visit

July through September is the best time in order to complete the higher elevation hikes in this guide. To nail down the timing even further, late July through early September is the best window for encountering little to no snow issues on the Paintbrush-Cascade hike in particular.

Of course, this window is also the most crowded time of year. Mid to late September can be a great time to visit when the crowds are thinning and fall foliage season is getting underway, but it can snow on the higher trails at this time of year.

Early October offers even more solitude, but is starting to push it when it comes to increasing snowfall at higher elevations. Also, a lot of campsites and other facilities inside of the parks close for the season at the end of September.

Earlier in the season, some of these hikes are doable in June, but this is too early for some of the higher elevation hikes due to lingering snowpack.

Where to Stay on Your Trip

Lodging is very expensive in this area in the summer compared to other outdoorsy travel destinations in the U.S. Also, AirBnb options are in short supply because Jackson does not permit AirBnb rentals for residential properties within its town limits due to local workforce housing issues.

Lodging options along this trip can be found in Jackson, Gardiner, and West Yellowstone, while there are numerous lodges and accommodations within the parks themselves. However, unless your budget allows, I would recommend camping as your primary means of sleeping while on this trip.

Camping options outside of the parks are numerous, but are more challenging inside of the parks due to reservations and demand. I’ll give a brief overview of recommended zones for camping along portions of this trip.

Camping in or near Grand Teton National Park

There are five full service campsites within Grand Teton National Park that have all become very popular in recent years.

Starting in 2021, campsites in the park are moving to an advance reservation system. Of the campgrounds inside the park, the Gros Ventre and Lizard Creek Campgrounds tend to fill up less quickly than the others.

I recommend dispersed camping in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, just east of the national park. There are tons of places you can find good places to camp on backroads.

Most of the crowds head to Shadow Mountain and Curtis Canyon – instead, head north and scout out some of the backroads near Moran Junction to find a site. Freecampsites.net is a good starting place.

If you’re looking to take a shower during your stay in the Tetons, the Teton County Recreation Center in Jackson offers day passes for only $7.

Camping in or near South Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park has moved to reservations for some of their campsites but remains first-come-first-serve for others. Check out the Yellowstone Campsite Page for the latest information, as their policies are evolving as of 2021.

For the southern portion of Yellowstone (Days 5-6 of this itinerary), Lewis Lake, Grant Village, and Bridge Bay are the best options.

Yellowstone is such a large park that dispersed camping on the outskirts is more difficult and results in added driving time, but it’s doable if you don’t want to deal with camping inside the park or if everything is filled up.

If you decide on dispersed camping, for Southern Yellowstone, your best bet is along Grassy Lake Road in the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkways, which is located in the narrow corridor separating Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

Camping in or near North Yellowstone

The campgrounds in relative proximity to Days 7-9 of this itinerary include Canyon, Tower Falls, Slough Creek, Indian Creek, and Mammoth.

For dispersed camping outside of the park, head north outside of the Mammoth entrance. There are dispersed camping options near the town of Gardiner.

Leave No Trace while Camping

Dispersed camping has understandably increased in popularity in the lands surrounding Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks in recent years. While this is a wonderful way to experience the great outdoors, incidents of trash left behind at campsites and undisposed campfires have risen significantly as well.

All we ask is that you take some simple steps to camp responsibly and to treat the local lands with respect.

Here are some of the Leave No Trace Principles and how they apply to dispersed camping:

Camp on Durable Surfaces: Set up your tent in areas that avoids trampling vegetation as much as possible, and also camp at least 200 feet away from water – both to protect the water from human impacts (food, human waste, etc.) and to give wildlife a buffer to travel along the water’s edge undisturbed.

Dispose of Waste Properly: This is a big one, and sadly has been neglected by many parties in our national forests. Pack a trowel with you and when you “have to go”, dig a hole and bury your human waste, at least 200 feet away from water and trails. Also, carry ziploc bags to pack out your used TP – please do not leave used TP as this is a (especially disgusting) form of littering.

Minimize Campfire Impacts: Use existing fire rings. Use dead wood for fuel and refrain from breaking branches off of live trees. Most importantly, please be extra thorough about properly extinguishing your fire, and use more water than you think you need. Our forests are susceptible to fires during the summer dry season and unattended campfires are one of the most common causes of forest fires.

Learn more about Leave No Trace principles.

Safety Considerations

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are high elevation environments and the weather here can vary drastically, even in the summer. Be prepared with layers at all times of year and expect large temperatures swings between day and night.

Snow can fall in most areas of these parks as late as June and as early as September, and high elevation alpine environments can see snow at any time of year. Thunderstorms are also common in the summer and several of the higher elevation hikes listed that involve summits and passes are more exposed to lightning.

Wildlife abounds in the parks, which adds to the mystique. However, this is bear country with healthy populations of grizzly and black bears inhabiting both parks. Be sure to carry bear spray while hiking and know how to use it. Make plenty of noise when travelling through dense vegetation and try to hike in groups of at least two if possible (three or more is even better).

Unless you’re hiking late in the season, be sure to bring bug spray as mosquitoes and biting flies can be thick in certain areas of these parks. June through early August is typically the worst time for bugs. By mid/late August and beyond, bugs become much less of an issue.

Day 1 – Arrive in Jackson

In recent years, flying into Jackson Hole has become more convenient and more affordable compared to past years. As a result, this is the recommended option for arriving.

Flying into Salt Lake City is an option as well if flights are significantly cheaper, but doing so is lower on the convenience factor since it’s about a 4.5 hour drive to Jackson.

Upon arrival, plan on hitting the grocery store to stock up on food, and any number of gear shops in the town of Jackson for last-minute items. For groceries, I recommend Smith’s and Whole Foods (formerly Jackson Whole Grocer), and for gear, I recommend Teton Mountaineering and High Country Outfitters.

Day 2 – Hike Phelps Lake, Float the Snake River

The first day will start out with a relatively easy hike, though you’ll have the option to add on some distance and elevation gain depending on your acclimatization to the altitude.

After hiking, plan on taking a guided mellow float trip down the Snake River through Grand Teton National Park for a scenic, relaxing afternoon.

Phelps Lake Hike at a Glance

Distance: 7.0 miles roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 725 feet

Extended Option to Death Canyon Patrol Cabin: Add 5 miles RT and 1,200 feet of elevation gain

Phelps Lake is located in the southern portion of the park off of Moose-Wilson Road. There are multiple trailhead options, but the best way to complete the loop hike around the lake is to start at the Laurence S. Rockefeller (LSR) Preserve.

This parking lot does fill up quickly and there is no overflow parking, so be sure to arrive early to start your hike.

The loop around the lake is about 7 miles long with only minor elevation gain – a perfect warm-up for the trip.

If you’re feeling more ambitious, you can also take a side trip up Death Canyon to the Death Canyon Patrol shack. This makes for a longer hike with more significant elevation gain. However, there is a nice pool along the banks of a creek to take a dip in near the patrol cabin that is quite refreshing on warm days.

Snake River Float Trip

National Park Float Trips offers 10-mile scenic cruises down a mellow portion of the Snake River through the national park. You’ll have stunning views of the Tetons and surrounding lands and opportunities to see wildlife and it’s a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon.

Day 3 – Hike to Leigh Lake and Beyond, Visit Colter Bay Beach

This is another hike you’ll need to start early because the popular String Lake Trailhead tends to fill up. Fortunately, you’ll leave many of the crowds behind the farther out you hike here, as most of the crowds lounge at String Lake or spread out among the numerous trails in the area.

Leigh, Bearpaw, and Trapper Lake Hike at a Glance

Distance: 7.8 miles

Elevation Gain: 137 feet

This is another flat and easy hike but is a good leg stretcher before a big hike the following day (more on that to follow). Leigh Lake is gorgeous enough in of itself with close-up views of Mt. Moran, but you can turn this into a 7.8-mile hike with minimal elevation gain and fewer crowds by heading to Bearpaw and Trapper Lakes.

Colter Bay Beach

The north side of Grand Teton National Park is filled with large lakes that are wonderful to visit on warm, sunny afternoons and Colter Bay is a great spot to lounge and on the lakeshore beaches away from the overcrowded String Lake shoreline.

The main Colter Bay area is bustling but you’ll find plenty of open spaces on its pebble beach shorelines. Alternatively, head to Leek’s Marina where sand beaches are available. There is also a restaurant located here that is famous for its pizza.

If you’re looking for a more adventurous afternoon activity, you can alternatively head over to Signal Mountain to rent a kayak and paddle around Jackson Lake. You can even visit an island directly across the water from the Signal Mountain Lodge.

Day 4 – Hike the Paintbrush-Cascade Loop

This is a big one. The Paintbrush Canyon to Cascade Canyon Hike is daunting at nearly 20 miles, but is an absolute classic for serious, fit hikers.

Paintbrush-Cascade Loop at a Glance

Distance: 19.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 4,087 feet

This is a full-day loop hike starting at String Lake and can be completed in 8-12 hours by fit hikers, depending on pace and the number of breaks. I’ve done this hike numerous times and actually prefer it as a day hike since you can go light and fast without a heavy multi-day pack weighing you down.

Paintbrush Divide is the crux of this hike and is located above treeline at an elevation of 10,700 feet, so check the weather forecast and be sure to start your hike early in the morning if there is even the slightest chance of thunderstorms in the forecast.

Shorter Alternatives

There are other viable options in the area if you are not feeling a huge 20-mile hike, or if conditions are not safe – i.e. if snow conditions are too dangerous over Paintbrush Divide.
For information on snow conditions, check with the Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers or visit their website.

Lake Solitude and Holly Lake are two lakes located on the loop hike and either can be completed by itself as a shorter dayhike.

Lake Solitude is the more scenic but also more crowded of the two hikes. It’s still a big day covering 16 miles roundtrip, but the elevation gain is much more gradual compared to the loop hike. Regardless of if you complete the full 19-mile loop or Lake Solitude as an out-and-back, you’ll definitely want to spend some time at Lake Solitude.

Holly Lake is a shorter but steeper hike at 12.4 miles roundtrip and is located in Paintbrush Canyon. It’s still a very scenic hike by itself, but not as stunning as Lake Solitude in my opinion.

Heading to Yellowstone

After your big Day 4 hike, the next leg of the trip will take you north into Yellowstone – the larger of the two parks, which means it takes more time to explore.

You can either hold on to your Teton area campsite for one more night, or if you want to get a head start, you can head into Yellowstone to camp that night, or camp off of Grassy Lake Road which is located between the two parks.

For reference, the driving time from Moran Junction in Grand Teton National Park to Old Faithful in Yellowstone is about 1 hour and 30 minutes, so this is certainly doable if you head out early on the morning of Day 5.

Day 5 – Visit Old Faithful, Hike to Shoshone Lake

This day will start out with a visit to some of Yellowstone’s most famous thermal features, followed by an easy hike to a lake.

Old Faithful and Surrounding Geyser Basins

The Lower Geyser Basin is home to the famous Old Faithful Geyser as well as numerous other thermal features. This is one of the more crowded areas of Yellowstone, so get an early start.

Old Faithful itself is a “bucket list” feature you have to see at least once. You can watch it erupt up close, or hike to Observation Point to watch it from a slightly higher elevation – or do both, since Old Faithful erupts 20 times per day on average!

The Lower Geyser Basin surrounding Old Faithful is full of geysers and thermal features with marked boardwalks winding all through the area. You can spend hours here exploring and it’s highly worthwhile despite the crowds – the sights here are unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Just north of Old Faithful, check out the Midway Geyser Basin, highlighted by the stunning Morning Glory Pool.

Shoshone Lake Hike at a Glance

Distance: 6.3 miles roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 291 feet

Leave the crowds behind on this easy, relatively flat hike. You won’t entirely have the trail to yourself, but it will be a nice taste of wilderness in contrast to the more hectic scene at Old Faithful.

The hike to Shoshone Lake is forested for much of the way, but some beautiful meadows start to open up as you near the lake and the lake itself is a great spot to hangout with a nice beach filled with volcanic sand.

Word of caution: If you’re hiking here in July, be prepared with bug spray, head nets, and long sleeve clothing as the mosquitoes can get thick here.

Day 6 – Hike Avalanche Peak, Visit Yellowstone Lake

Ready to bag your first peak on this trip? Avalanche Peak is an awesome hike, and although relatively short, it is very steep.

Avalanche Peak Hike at a Glance

Distance: 4.7 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,073 feet

The hike to the summit of Avalanche Peak is located near Sylvan Pass to the east of Yellowstone Lake.

It’s a relentless climb from the get-go, but quite scenic as you rise above treeline before topping out on the 10,440-foot summit. The views are outstanding and include Yellowstone Lake before you.

The hike has a trail all the way to the summit, but it does get a bit loose toward the top so trekking poles are helpful.

Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake is the largest high-altitude lake in North America over 7,000 feet in elevation. The lake spans an impressive 141 miles of shoreline and also holds the largest population of wild cutthroat trout in North America.

The Lake Lodge area is a good pit stop for food with a couple of restaurants on site. You can also take a scenic boat cruise on the lake or even rent a boat yourself. If you’re looking for some more hiking, the Storm Point Trail is a nice, short hike right along the lakeshore.

You can easily access more thermal features from the Lake area too, including the Mud Volcano and the West Thumb Geyser Basin.

Day 7 – Hike Mt. Washburn, Visit Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Mt. Washburn is another classic summit hike, but it’s not as strenuous as Avalanche Peak. There are two ways to hike this trail and both are fairly similar in terms of effort. Note that either trailhead occasionally closes for various reasons (construction, weather, wildlife, etc.), so you’ll want to be flexible.

Mt. Washburn Hike at a Glance

Distance and Elevation Gain from Chittenden Road: 5.6 miles roundrip, 1,482 feet gain

Distance and Elevation Gain from Dunraven Pass: 6.8 miles roundtrip, 1,394 feet gain.

2021 Construction Closure: Throughout the 2021 season, the road from Tower Junction to Chittenden Road will be closed, meaning the only way to access Mt. Washburn will be from the Canyon side to the south. In addition, the Chittenden Road is only scheduled to be open from June-August.

Honestly, either of these trailheads are good starting points. Dunraven Pass is closer to Canyon Village and Chittenden Road is just a little farther north. Chittenden Road is a short drive off of the main highway – sometimes this stretch closes, but you can still park at the beginning and hike the extra 1.2 miles of road.

Both hikes feature old road beds to the summit, but involve spectacular high mountain views all and vistas that span across large portions of Yellowstone. The Chittenden Road hike is a bit more open and expansive, for what it’s worth.

Wildlife also abounds on this hike. Grizzly bears are sometimes spotted on the open slopes, and a herd of bighorn sheep resides here as well. There is a sturdy fire tower located at the summit of Mt. Washburn at the 10,243-foot summit of Mt. Washburn as well, which makes for a great spot to take a snack break and enjoy the views.

I recommend starting this hike early due to both its popularity and its exposure to afternoon thunderstorms.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Yellowstone Canyon is another must-see spot regardless of the crowds. There are overlooks and easy trails spanning both the north and south rims of the canyon that are both worthwhile.

There are even some trails that head away from the canyon (and the crowds) on the south rim such as Clear Lake and Lilly Lake, if you’d like to make a loop.

On the north rim, the Brink of the Lower Falls and Bring of the Upper Falls hikes down into the canyon are both worthwhile for excellent views of a couple of massive waterfalls in the canyon.

Day 8 – Hike Electric Peak

The crowds and highlights in some of the more popular sections of Yellowstone can be overwhelming after a while. That’s what this hike is for. Electric Peak is a serious undertaking as it is a long dayhike and involves scrambling and routefinding near the top.

However, this is arguably one of the best day adventures you could have in the park, and you won’t see very many people either.

Electric Peak Hike at a Glance

Distance: 18.8 miles roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 3,691 feet

Starting Point: Glen Creek Trailhead

The first several miles of this hike are actually pretty mellow, but also very scenic. In fact, the entire hike is filled with incredible scenery. As you approach the peak, the hike gets much steeper and then of course you have the more exposed scrambling to reach the summit.

Electric Peak is the most dominant mountain in the northern portion of Yellowstone at 10,962 feet, and is actually located just over the Montana border, but still inside the national park.

True to its name, this mountain is prone to thunderstorms and is not a place you want to get caught, so be willing to shift your days around depending on the weather forecast.

Shorter Alternatives

If Electric Peak is more than you’re looking to bite off, there’s another outstanding option in the same vicinity. Sepulcher Mountain is another beautiful hike on a relatively smaller mountain close by to Electric Peak. You’ll still enjoy many of the same views.

The hike listed on All Trails starts from near Mammoth Hot Springs involves a stout 3,517 feet of elevation gain and 11.2 miles roundtrip, but you can shorten your climb by starting at the higher elevation Glen Creek Trailhead and hopping on the Fawn Pass Trail.

Day 9 – Visit Lamar Valley and Hike Specimen Ridge

Lamar Valley is another gem located in the northern section of Yellowstone, and relatively speaking, is less congested than areas farther south in Yellowstone.

Lamar Valley is also the location where the first wolf pack was re-introduced to Yellowstone in the mid-90’s and remains one of the most well-known areas for spotting wolves in the park.

Specimen Ridge Hike

Specimen Ridge is a wide-open beautiful hike and a wonderful way to explore this wild section of Yellowstone. Technically, the entire trail is a long 17-mile point-to-point hike with over 3,000 feet of elevation, but you can hike just a portion of this trail and still have a wonderful experience.

Start at the Specimen Ridge Trailhead near Tower Junction and simply hike as far as you would like. The trail through open sagebrush country disappears at times, so you may have to do some of your own route-finding.

Drive through Lamar Valley

After your hike, be sure to drive through the open, scenic Lamar Valley to take in the sights and look for wildlife. Head all the way to the northeast entrance and grab a bite to eat in the small town of Cooke City.

Soak in the Boiling River

Between Mammoth Junction and the northern entrance to the park lies a unique opportunity. Hot water from nearby thermal features flows into a section of the cold Gardiner River, creating a stretch of river known as the Boiling River with hot springs-worthy water temperatures. This is a great spot to relax to cap off your trip.

Head to Island Park for your final night

Since this is your last day, it helps to get a head start on your drive back to Jackson. Instead of driving south through Grand Teton National Park, head out the west entrance through West Yellowstone.

However, instead of stopping in this busy summer town, heat a bit farther south into the Island Park community where camping, lodging, and dining options exist.

Stop by the Trout Hunter for dinner and eat outside on the deck overlooking a beautiful river. This is a popular spot so call ahead for reservations.

Day 10 – Drive to Jackson and Depart

It’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Island Park to the Jackson Hole Airport, so hopefully you’re able to schedule an afternoon flight out. This is actually a beautiful drive as well and you’ll get to pass by the western side of the Teton Range, which offers a totally different perspective than the national park side.

Extending Your Trip to 14 Days

GTNP – Hike to Surprise, Amphitheater, and/or Delta Lakes.

YNP Area – Leave the park’s northeast entrance at Cooke City and drive the Beartooth Highway to Beartooth Pass. Go for a hike starting from Beartooth Lake and/or Island Lake.

YNP Area – If mid-August or later, hike to Dunanda Falls in the Bechler region. If July to mid-August (of if you’re craving more alpine terrain), hike to Fawn Pass in the northwest corner of the park. The Bechler region tends to be boggy with bad mosquitoes prior to mid-August but is wonderful late in the season.

West side of the Tetons – Spend your final day near Driggs, Idaho and the Jedediah Smith Wilderness. Hike to the top of Table Mountain and enjoy epic views of the Grand Teton.

Condense Your Trip into 7 Days

It’s hard to pull of a 7-day trip and get the full experience of both parks, but if I had to do so and still wanted to get some good hikes in, here is what I would do:

Day 1 – Arrive in Jackson

Day 2 – Hike Phelps Lake, Float Snake River

Day 3 – Paintbrush-Cascade Loop (or shorter options if not fully acclimated to altitude)

Day 4 – Visit Old Faithful, Hike to Shoshone Lake

Day 5 – Hike Avalanche Peak, Visit Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Day 6 – Hike Specimen Ridge, Visit Lamar Valley

Day 7 – Depart

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