Whether you visit Yellowstone or Grand Teton (or both if you’re lucky!), you’ll find your days well spent exploring the parks. Both parks are located in Wyoming, Grand Teton NP is just to the south of Yellowstone NP, making it common for visitors to pay a visit to both areas before leaving. However, if you only have time for one, we have some suggestions for how to choose and prepare your trip.
Yellowstone might be the best option if you’re looking for a variety of scenery and are travelling with a family. On the hand, Grand Teton is a better choice if you want to focus on hiking and mountain scenic views.
However, there is a lot more to unpack when deciding! Keep reading for a deep dive into everything you’ll need to know when choosing which park to visit and building your itinerary.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone NP is famous for being the first national park in the United States, established in 1872. It kicked off a slew of other national parks across the nation. Across its nearly 3,500 square miles, you’ll find wildlife, hot springs, geysers, and historic monuments–mostly within the park’s caldera.
Yellowstone is an active volcano, giving the thermal pools and geysers the heat they need to remain active. As the oldest, and arguably most famous, national park in the U.S., it should come as no surprise that millions of visitors flock here each year.
Though it can be hard to decide between Yellowstone and Grand Teton, it can also be as difficult to choose between visiting Yellowstone vs Glacier National Park.
The best months to visit Yellowstone are May to October. Outside of this time frame you run the risk of parts of the park being closed or difficult to navigate due to snow and ice.
That said, you should anticipate crowds during the spring and summer months as this is by far the most popular time to visit the park.
As we mentioned, Yellowstone is a huge national park. This means you’ll need a car to get around (you can rent one through Rentalcars.com if needed). You should also consider staying at different locations throughout the park as you explore its entirety. There are five entrances, one on each side of the park with one extra on the north end.
There are several nearby airports, but you’ll need to rent a car from the airport to reach the park. There are some shuttles throughout Yellowstone, but they are usually localized in small areas, so don’t rely on them to see some of the best parts of the park.
When packing for Yellowstone, make sure you bring a water bottle and comfortable walking shoes. In every part of the park, you will be getting out of the car and walking a trail to see the sites. There are very few parts of the park that you can explore without hitting the trail.
Most of the geyser basins have a boardwalk built over the hot springs and thermal pools for visitors to walk on as they gaze down into the vibrantly colored waters. Summers do tend to be warm, so come prepared with shorts, but also have a jacket on hand for the occasional thunderstorm.
A visit to Yellowstone National Park can vary in price depending on how you decide to spend the night and where you eat. If you take the camping route and cook your own food, a 7-day trip can be reasonably affordable.
If you stay in the lodges and eat in restaurants, you’re looking at a far more expensive trip. We recommend a combination of the two. While staying in the historic Lake Yellowstone Lodge is expensive per night, it might be worth it to stay in a historic hotel in between visiting the many excellent campgrounds throughout the park.
Speaking of campgrounds, Yellowstone is no different from most national parks in the country in that it can be challenging to reserve camping spots. Campgrounds are booked months in advance. Make sure to reserve a spot at the beginning of your trip planning.
Because Yellowstone NP is larger than Grand Teton, you can expect more options for camping. The price per night tends to be comparable between the two parks. Eating out and grocery shopping might be only slightly more expensive in Yellowstone vs Grand Teton.
Things to do in Yellowstone
Old Faithful was discovered in 1870. It grew to fame because of its regular eruptions, making it the only geyser in the park that erupts multiple times per day (hence the name). The geyser is one of nearly 500 in the park, but its predictable eruptions have made Old Faithful into a postcard image for Yellowstone. We recommend a visit in the morning to beat the crowds.
Mammoth Hot Springs
These geothermal limestone travertines stand out with the stark white shades against a green hillside. Water rising from the surface brought large amounts of calcium carbonate which hardened into the white rock terraces seen today. Don’t be alarmed by the sulphuric smell as you step out of the car at Mammoth–this is due to the gas being released from nearby vents.
As the third-largest hot spring in the world, Grand Prismatic is a must-see in Yellowstone. The spring is about 370 feet in diameter and 160 feet deep. Steaming hot and mineral-rich water creates the stunning hues of blue, yellows, and oranges that make Grand Prismatic one of the most iconic hot springs in the park. It’s part of the Midway Geyser Basin.
Upper Geyser Basin
The Upper Geyser Basin is one of the most impressive hot spring basins in the park. With a roughly 5-mile hike taking visitors around the entire area, you’re in for countless colorful and steamy wonders. Here you’ll find the Morning Glory pool, a popular hot spring in the park. This basin is near Old Faithful so it’s easy to visit both in one go.
If you’re looking for an evening spent wildlife viewing, head over to Lamar Valley. The valley is notorious for its wildlife population that come out in the early morning and late evening. You are likely to catch bears, coyotes, rabbits, birds, elk, and much more. Keep in mind that most people tend to flock to the valley in the evening, so a morning visit might be better.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
As the namesake of the park, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a must-visit section of the park. Lower and Upper Yellowstone Falls can be found here, along with several great hikes along the rim or to the waterfalls. The entire canyon is roughly 20 miles long, giving you plenty of space to explore.
Where to Stay Near Yellowstone
If Yellowstone has won your heart in your Grand Teton vs Yellowstone debate, then you’re going to need to find a great place to stay near the national park. If you’re looking for accommodation, check out these suggestions:
Bentwood Inn – Located within easy reach of both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, this luxury hotel is a fantastic option. Situated in Wilson, WY, they have countless plush rooms on offer, breakfast included each morning, and they even offer wine and cheese for guests in the evenings. Click here to see their availability
Yellowstone Park Hotel – This mid-range hotel located in West Yellowstone, Montana is an excellent choice. Situated in a location close to Yellowstone NP’s western entrance, they have a number of great rooms available and even have an on-site swimming pool. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – A private rental — like this condo close to the Park’s west entrance — is a great option if you’re after a bit of privacy or want your own self-catering option while visiting the national park. There are countless properties to choose from that will suit most budgets and tastes. Click here to browse private rentals near Yellowstone!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Yellowstone hotels!
Grand Teton National Park
Just south of Yellowstone is Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton spans 310,000 acres with 40-mile long mountain ranges that boast iconic views. Alpine lakes, rivers, meadows, and mountains all await visitors during their trip to Grand Teton National Park.
When choosing Grand Teton vs Yellowstone, keep in mind that the latter requires more hiking to reach some of the sites. That said, you can see much of the park by driving or taking short hikes.
You will want a car when visiting Grand Teton. The park is not nearly as large as Yellowstone, so you can choose lodging in one place for your entire trip. However, there is no shuttle or bus service available to visitors, so plan to have a vehicle accessible. There are a few options for lodging.
Camping is one of the most popular and, just like Yellowstone, you’ll want to reserve as far in advance as possible. Many visitors opt to stay outside the park in Jackson Hole, but you’ll still want to book early. There are some walk-up campsites, but these are usually made for backpackers who don’t have a car. There is nowhere to park a vehicle in these campsites.
Ranger-led programs are a great way to learn more about the park. They are scheduled throughout the day and evening. During your days exploring the park, you should plan to be walking. There are sections that can be viewed from a car or outlook, but many of the park’s hidden treasures are a hike away.
Make sure you pack accordingly–water bottles, hiking shoes, trekking poles, and sunscreen are all advised. The good news is you don’t have to hike deep into the backcountry or gain elevation to see some of the best parts of the park.
Grand Teton is highly affordable if you camp, cook for yourself, and road trip into the park. If you live far enough away that you fly in, anticipate spending more per person than if you drove. That said, a rental car will likely be one of your highest expenses.
Staying at park lodges can get expensive, but such accommodations may be welcome after a long day spent exploring the park. Eating at park restaurants will also increase the overall expense of your trip.
You should also budget in national park day passes that usually come in around $35 per day, or you can purchase a weekly or yearly pass to visit all national parks if you’re planning more trips during the year.
Depending on where you’re hiking, you will also need backcountry passes. This will only be the case if you are venturing beyond the standard trails, so make sure to do your research before finalizing your plans.
Things to do in Grand Teton
Jenny Lake is one of the most popular parts of Grand Teton. It’s located at the base of the Tetons and the kick-off point of several outstanding hikes.
Many will circle the lake or head out for Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point, and Cascade Canyon, to name just a few. You can explore Jenny Lake by trail or by renting a boat like a raft or a kayak –it’s the perfect place to pause for a picnic.
Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls
Start off your trek to Hidden Falls by taking a boat ride across Jenny Lake and admire the view of the mountains from the water. You’ll hike just under 2 miles round trip for Hidden Falls.
If you’re continuing on to Inspiration Point, follow the signs to keep hiking up a semi-steep and rugged trail before arriving at the outlook.
Mormon Row Historic District
Mormon Row might be the most photographed part of Grand Teton National Park. Here lies a row of barns built well before the park was founded. The best time to visit is during sunrise.
Sunlight reflects off the mountains creating stunning yellows, oranges, and blues across the landscape. If you’re not an early morning person, the barns are still great to visit any time of day.
Snake River Overlook
Speaking of great outlooks and places to capture a photo, the Snake River Outlook is another famous image in the park. Here you’ll see the winding Snake River as it curls across the landscape before turning away from the Teton Range. Sunrise and Sunset are great times to visit but expect crowds.
Oxbow Bend overlooks Moran Lake toward the Teton Range, but it’s also where you’re most likely to spot wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes, bison, moose, and birds especially if you visit during the morning or evening.
On a clear day, the mountains reflect in the smooth water to create a perfect mirror image. Here is another great spot to pause for lunch.
Cascade Canyon Hike
Cascade Canyon is one of the hallmark hikes of Grand Teton NP, but it isn’t for those wary of mileage and elevation gain. The trail takes hikers between the mountains, along a river on the opposite side of Jenny Lake.
Once you clear the forest, you’re met with stunning views of the mountains and canyon. Be alert for moose, as they are known to frequent this trail too.
Where to Stay Near Grand Teton
If you’ve determined that Grand Teton is the national park for you, then you’re going to need to find a great accommodation option. There are lots of places to choose from in the area so if you’re wondering where to stay, have a look at these suggestions:
Inn on the Creek – This hotel is situated within a quick drive to the entrance of Grand Teton National Park and is an excellent mid-range option. Located in the town of Jackson, there are countless quaint and comfortable rooms on offer, a hot breakfast served each morning and they even put out freshly baked cookies daily! Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – If you’re after some privacy during your trip to Grand Teton, then a private rental — like this rustic cabin with incredible views — is an excellent choice. There are countless options that can suit all travel styles and budgets. Click here to browse Grand Teton rentals!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Grand Teton hotels!
Yellowstone vs Grand Teton: The Verdict
If you’re looking forward to a trip spent hiking, Grand Teton National Park is going to be the best fit for you. It’s filled with mountains and valleys that any mountain-lover will adore.
On the other hand, if you want more variety (or you’re traveling with children), Yellowstone might be the better choice.
Between the wildlife and hot springs, there is a huge variety of sites to see in the park and visitors aren’t required to hike long distances to reach them.
Keep in mind that Yellowstone does tend to be the busier of the two. If you’re looking for a quiet trip with some hiking and beautiful sites, Grand Teton could be best.
When visiting Yellowstone or Grand Teton, you’re met with stunning scenery and impressive outlooks that you won’t soon forget. Enjoy your travels.
Are you deciding between a visit to Grand Teton or Yellowstone? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!