Is it possible or even practical to visit both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park in just two days? Yes. Absolutely it is.
But let me amend that by saying I would only recommend attempting both parks in two days during off season months, like April, September, or October. Why? Far less traffic and people at each site.
Back in early October, my husband John and I visited both parks in one weekend. Yellowstone National Park on a Saturday and Grand Teton National Park on a Sunday. What we accomplished in those two days would have taken twice as long with summertime crowds.
While two days is not the most ideal scenario to work with, it is possible to see and experience A LOT inside each park with just one day each. And that includes getting out of the car. Again, during off season.
Even if you do choose to go during peak season and have more than two days, I hope our itinerary below gives you some ideas for must-see sites at both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.
Planning the Trip
Originally, we’d planned this trip with John’s sister and brother-in-law. Unfortunately, John and I managed to get the dates wrong and booked our flights for the weekend after we were all scheduled to go. And, we didn’t figure out our error until the night before his sister and brother-in-law were flying out. Major oops—and nothing we could do about it at that point. So they went one weekend and we went the next.
Also originally, we’d planned to do two days in Yellowstone and not even try with Grand Teton NP. I did some preliminary research on both parks, and Yellowstone is so vast we didn’t know how much we’d get to in one day. But, that first evening, after maximizing our time on an ideal-for-October weather day, we decided to hit Grand Teton the next day.
Whether or not you’re a trip planner, I do think it’s helpful to review the park maps for a relative idea of what there is to see, where things are located (north, south, east, west), and how far apart some of the major sites are to budget your time.
Getting to Yellowstone
We flew into Bozeman (BZN) on Friday morning and stayed there that night. Bozeman is beautiful, I gotta say. I really didn’t know what to expect, but it has an upscale western vibe—even at the airport!—and the sprawling mountain views are magnificent.
After landing and picking up our rental SUV, we drove to historic downtown Bozeman and grabbed an early lunch at Red Tractor Pizza—which we chose because of the dairy-free pizza options. John went with real cheese on his and I made my gut happy with non-dairy, and we both thought our pies were delicious! Thankfully, we missed the local high school crowd. Less than an hour later, the place was slammed!
Next up, we hit a cool, local food co-op across the street from Red Tractor, then took a trip across town to Costco. It’s kind of our thing now when we travel… checking out any Costco in the area. It may sound silly, but to us it’s an adventure!
Speaking of adventure, that afternoon, we also hiked the College M Trail. The giant white ‘M’ on the side of the mountain stands for Montana State University. It’s a popular trail, about 2.4 miles roundtrip if you take the easier trail. The steeper, more difficult path is 1.9 miles roundtrip. We improvised and took the “easier”—though still had me huffing—trail up, and the steeper side down. Going down, I was honestly afraid of sliding on the gravel and falling on my bum pretty much the entire way, but it really is much faster.
For dinner, we ate at Montana Ale Works. The wait was 70 minutes and well worth it! I ordered a medium rare bison steak and it was cooked to perfection. The inside dining room is huge with an open, modern vibe. We would definitely eat there again and wait just as long for a table.
Oh, and y’all… we slept in a silo! Sypes Canyon Adventures converted two silos into Airbnb accommodations that include a full bathroom, full kitchen, living room space, and bedroom area. Location-wise, they’re ideal. Just a quick drive from the main retail areas. It was such a unique experience!
Early the next morning, we left Bozeman and drove less than two hours to West Yellowstone for a day at Yellowstone National Park.
Our One-Day Yellowstone National Park Itinerary
Grand Prismatic Spring
We entered the park just after 11:00 am local time and drove about 18 miles to the Grand Prismatic Spring parking lot. It was noon when we arrived and we snagged one of only a few open parking spots. This was early October. I can only imaging the parking issues in peak summer!
There’s a bridge and boardwalk to get to the springs. Yes plural, because there are a few other springs along the boardwalk. Grand Prismatic is at the back and because you’re viewing it at ground level, the colors aren’t really visible. I don’t know if that would change on a day with more sunshine and less smoke, but for us, it was interesting to see up close but at eye level it does not live up to its name.
Still, it’s worth a stop if you can find a spot in the parking lot. We spent about 20 minutes there and as we left, spots were pretty much filled and more cars were trying to enter.
Fairy Falls Trail and the Best View of Grand Prismatic Spring
About 3 miles further south along Grand Loop Road is the Fairy Falls parking lot and trail head. Fairy Falls trail is about 5 miles out and back with barely any elevation gain. The falls are as picturesque as you can imagine and a great spot to snap some photos and take a snack and water break. There are other waterfalls in Yellowstone, but if you’re looking for one with an easy, but lengthy hike, this fits the bill.
And, there’s a spot along the hike where you can view Grand Prismatic Spring from above. It’s only a few minutes of steep elevation gain and then you’ve got a view of Grand Prismatic that shows off all the colors. If you’ve seen vibrant photos of the spring, they were likely taken here.
Honestly, even if you don’t want to hike the entire Fairy Falls trail, at least go to the Grand Prismatic lookout. It’s maybe a mile in, if that. So, two miles total for a stunning payoff you won’t regret!
Some may say it’s too touristy. And I might have been one of those people at one point. But seeing Old Faithful erupt really is a marvel of God’s creation. Of course, it’s likely madness in the summer months, so I can’t really blame anyone for wanting to avoid those crowds. Even on October 9th, there was a ring of people already waiting for the next eruption about 30 minutes ahead of time. Still, we’re glad we didn’t miss Old Faithful.
There’s a Twitter account @GeyserNPS that predicts the time, which was helpful as we waited—and helpful it you’re hoping to time it so you don’t have to wait too long. Not on Twitter? Check out geysertimes.org for prediction times and more.
Depending on when you visit Yellowstone, if you have the time and the patience, add Old Faithful to your itinerary.
Yellowstone Lake and the Continental Divide
If you continue east on Grand Loop Road from Old Faithful, you’ll reach Yellowstone Lake. Along the way, you’ll also cross the Continental Divide—twice. But back to the lake. Grand Loop Rd. runs along the shoreline for about 20 miles (it’s a large lake!), till you get to US Highway 14. We stayed on Grand Loop Rd., but Hwy 14 continues around the edge of the lake and goes all the way to the east entrance of the park.
Even if you don’t stop along the lake—we didn’t—it’s a beautiful drive and there are pull-offs along the route to relax and enjoy the view. I honestly did not expect such views of the lake when planning to drive around that part of Grand Loop Rd.
Upper Falls of the Yellowstone
While researching our Yellowstone trip, I saw many instances of tourists posing with the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone as a backdrop. There’s a viewing point at the parking lot for Uncle Tom’s Trail with a clear view of the Upper Falls just up river. To get to that parking lot, take South Rim Rd. off Grand Loop Rd. a bit south of Canyon Village.
For a very up close view, we also went straight to the Upper Falls parking lot. From there, a short paved path—less than 0.5 miles roundtrip—takes you right above the falls to look down on them and hear the water roar.
Along the full Grand Loop Rd. drive that day, we also spotted wildlife—a wolf eating an animal carcass, several bison, an elk, and smaller critters. My dream of seeing bison cause a traffic jam even came true!
The speed limits aren’t fast but even if the traffic is light, be sure to watch your surroundings.
All in all, Yellowstone amazed us with its varied landscape. It changes so much as you drive, with patches of geysers, wooded areas, mountains, wide open valley spaces, the lake, higher elevations (where it even snowed a bit!) and more. Make room on your phone for all the photos you’ll take and never want to delete.
After Upper Falls, we headed back to West Yellowstone—a 40 mile drive. It was golden hour by then, which illuminated the sights around us in an otherworldly way!
Arriving in West Yellowstone around 6pm, we were very much ready for dinner. Three Bear Restaurant was our planned dinner spot, as it’s rated well on Google and also has dairy free options on the menu. Also, the wait was fairly short for almost 6:30pm on a Saturday. Inside, the ambiance is hometown rustic and the food tasted like good ol’ home cooking.
A few doors down from the restaurant was a local general store, so we popped in and bought a few Christmas ornaments. We collect ornaments on our travels and it was the perfect place to find some unique ones!
And then it was time to relax. We stayed at Golden Stone Inn in West Yellowstone for two nights. Our cabin’s décor was modern chic, with a mini-fridge, coffee maker, large bathroom, comfy queen bed, TV… everything you could need. Oh, and free continental breakfast with both hot and grab-and-go options. Highly recommend!
Our One-Day Grand Teton National Park Itinerary
With our minds made up that we’d spend our last full day in Grand Teton NP, we left West Yellowstone around 7:30am. The quickest route was actually through Yellowstone, so we retraced our steps till just past Old Faithful, then took US 191 south through Yellowstone’s south entrance and on to the Tetons.
Again, thankfully I’d done a bit of research on things to do in Grand Teton National Park. Getting a few shorter hikes in was the goal.
Colter Bay Lakeshore Trail
Our first stop was Colter Bay—only a two hour drive from West Yellowstone. Colter Bay is located on the east side of Jackson Lake, with the Teton mountain range sprawled across the west side.
When researching, I saw there were a few short hikes around Colter Bay. Since we also planned to hike around Jenny Lake, we opted for Lakeshore Trail, a two mile loop that lives up to its name by running along the lakeshore the entire way. We expected it to be a super quick hike with basically no elevation gain. However, the shoreline is covered in stones of all sizes and walking on those slowed us down. The view is so stunning the entire way, though, so we did not mind slowing down a bit!
Note: If you’re looking for the trailhead using Google Maps, it’s not exactly easy to find. When you see the Colter Bay Visitor Center with restrooms, continue northwest to what seems like the far end of the parking lot. The road continues there to another parking lot, and that’s where Lakeshore Trail begins (and ends).
Jenny Lake Trail
Next on the itinerary: Jenny Lake. If it seems that every Grand Teton itinerary you see includes Jenny Lake, it’s for good reason. During the busier months, you’ll likely have to go early or late to avoid crowds. In early October, it wasn’t too bad, especially when you venture out on the trail past the people who stay around the parking lot.
Our plan was to hike about two miles north along the lakeshore to the Jenny Lake Overlook and then turn around. We made good time, and at the two mile point John suggested… what the heck? why not do the entire Jenny Lake Trail loop (a total of just over 7.5 miles). Why not, right? I agreed and we made it a game to see how fast we could do the entire loop trail. Though there wasn’t much elevation gain on the trail, it had its ups and downs and rocky spots. And, it was crowded in a few places, like the north end of the lake (where there’s another parking lot) and near Hidden Falls waterfall just off the trail on the west side of the lake.
Still, we managed to do the full 7.58 miles in two hours and nine minutes… including about four minutes of stops for photos… so two hours and five minutes. At an average of 3.5 miles per hour, we’ll take it!
While the views from the east and north sides of Jenny Lake offer the best mountain views, the entire loop trail is beautiful and worth the trek if you have the time and energy. We didn’t hike to Hidden Falls due to time and also that part of the trail seemed busy—and we’re very much crowd avoiders. It looked like that trail was fairly uphill, though, just so you know.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
From Jenny Lake we were so close to Jackson Hole, so how could we not walk around a bit. We also needed a proper lunch, and, after walking around town to scope out our options, decided on The Bunnery Bakery & Restaurant. John selflessly let me pick out the restaurant based on dairy free options, and The Bunnery was a great choice. The dessert menu is drool-worthy!
We spent a bit more time walking around Jackson Hole and popped into a few gift shops before calling it a day. Our legs were pretty much done.
Instead of going back through Yellowstone the way we came, we decided to take the slightly longer way through Idaho. Neither of us had been to Idaho before, so why not cross three new states off the list in one weekend? To go the Idaho way, we took Teton Pass through the mountains and the grade was STEEP. John pushed our Toyota Forerunner to the max to get to the top. It was worth it for the views, though.
That night, back in West Yellowstone, we had dinner in our room and turned in early.
The next morning, we drive back to Bozeman to make our flight before noon… in a snowstorm, I might add, which delayed our flight and caused us to miss our connecting flight in Dallas. All good, we somehow made it home before 1am ET that night and still worked the next day.
And that’s how you do a weekend trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.
Of course, we want to go back to see more of that glorious land God created. But, we’re perfectly happy with what we did see and wouldn’t have done anything differently. Admittedly, though, I don’t think I’d want to follow this itinerary during peak season. It’s more ideal for fringe season.
Would you attempt two national parks in two days? Or have you?