The best driving route from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone

with 11 Comments

It is no secret that Yellowstone National Park is huge. I mean which park covers almost three states, has five entrances and close to 470 miles of roads? As you look towards planning a visit to Yellowstone, driving long distances can sound intimidating especially if you are strapped for time. To begin, you could take a leaf out of our book. Check out our first blog on a Yellowstone itinerary to know what’s in store.

In this blog, we will try to force you (ok, just coax you!) to follow a particular scenic route if you decide to fly into Salt Lake City, Utah to begin your Yellowstone journey, as we did. If you read our previous post, you might have noticed that we flew into Salt Lake City but departed out of West Yellowstone airport. This helped us avoid a long return drive, save time, making the the one-way drop off fee for car rental totally worthwhile.

Enough talking, now to the point. If you search for routes from Salt Lake airport to Yellowstone, Google suggests the following options:

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Route I-15 which goes via Ogden might be the fastest, but that is not what we are after. We took the route I-89 North. Following this highway will eventually make you reach Yellowstone. Also, don’t worry about the tolls as there are none (even though Google says so). I will highlight the major stops along the way before we entered the south entrance.

Salt Lake City, UT

Our arrival was a late night one, so we stayed in one of the hotels near the airport. There’s not much much to rave about except that we got a free shuttle ride to the hotel and a basic breakfast to start with. We picked up the car rental close to the hotel and set off.

Pro-tip: you save quite a bit of money if you do not pick up the car rental from the airport, choose one of the nearby city locations instead.

However one thing which we do need to rave about is the meal at Red Iguana which was delicious beyond words! We’ve had Mexican cuisine many times, but this has to be one of the best. Their moles are to die for and you can even request for the sampler plate before ordering your entrees. Normally we hate stopovers, but glad we had a 5-hour in Salt Lake on our way back to Boston πŸ˜‰

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Bear Lake, UT

Two hours north of Salt Lake City is the town of Garden City, home to the gorgeous Bear Lake.

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Pro-tip: do not miss pulling over when you see the sign of Bear Lake Rest Area and Overlook. It comes right before you start taking the curvy roads down to the town center.

Have your fellow passenger be camera ready as you start descending down. On a clear day, the shades of blue on this lake look too good to be true! Most likely, Google Maps will lead you to the marina center where there is a parking fee, but you can park for free at the state park and walk to the lake. We had our first picnic lunch of the trip at this spot πŸ™‚

Besides the lake, this town is famous for raspberry shake. Head over to Raspberry Square and get yours! With the views of the lake and the yummy shake in hand, life will seem good. Count some more time in as you start driving north, as the vistas on the right side will urge you to pull over constantly.

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Afton, WY

In about 90 minutes, you will reach the town of Afton, Wyoming. We considered this as a quick stop for a stretching our legs and getting a glimpse of what Wild West towns look like. The biggest attraction here is the world’s largest arch made of elk antlers. The quirky cafes and bars made for good photo ops too.

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Jackson, WY

About 70 miles north and you will reach the most commercial town in the Jackson Hole valley. However don’t rush but enjoy the drive up till here, as the panoramas just begin to showcase what this valley and the national parks hold for you.

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Jackson is a nice, well planned ski town and base for exploring Grand Teton and Yellowstone. You might opt to reach Yellowstone directly, but I would highly recommend planning a night stay. Here’s why:

  1. You’ve had an exhilarating day of drive today- why not celebrate it with a nice meal and few drinks?
  2. Besides stocking up on snacks, waking up early next day will enable you explore the jewels of Grand Teton NP with no crowds. It is literally a 20 minute drive away!

We stayed at Ranch Inn in Jackson and would rate it very fair for the price. Besides the location and free parking space in the heart of town, the staff was very friendly (hell, I also befriended the server in the breakfast area who was from Slovenia on a summer gig. We’re friends on Instagram now). Normally I am an early riser but Supriya is not. But on this trip, she was up and pushing me to get in the car before sunrise. So next morning (and every morning thereafter in Yellowstone), we were driving around to the scenic spots or trails before the 10 AM crowd barged in. In this case, we drove to the most photographed places in Grand Teton, only to find company of few like-minded travelers with their tripods set up. It is also the best chance to view elusive wildlife, though we were not lucky that day. However it was great to breathe in the crisp mountain air.

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We got back in time for the breakfast at the motel, packed up and followed our route to the South Yellowstone entrance. Our Yellowstone journey continued there on.

Pro-tip: walk to Persephone Bakery to have a coffee or grab something to go! It is clearly a local’s favorite.

I am not kidding but we literally witnessed how weather can be such a drama-queen on this drive from SLC to Jackson. Would we do it again? Yes, absolutely!

Tripod selfies, because why not ;)
Tripod selfies, because why not πŸ˜‰

 

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Bharat
Follow Bharat:

Bharat, the co-founder of Fun Travelog is based out of Boston, USA. He loves making travel plans with his like-minded wife Supriya, reading, toying with his digital SLR and playing tennis.

11 Responses

  1. Efthimis K.
    | Reply

    Thank you for the nice suggestion. The elk arch in Afton looks incredible! I love road trips and I know how difficult is to organize one!

    • Bharat
      Bharat
      | Reply

      You’re welcome Efthimis πŸ™‚

  2. SHRADDHA GUPTA
    | Reply

    This is such good information! The pics just keep getting better with each post! πŸ˜€ The pro-tip about the car rental is very interesting – knowing Harish, I am sure we would have never thought of it!

    • Bharat
      Bharat
      | Reply

      That is why he has you πŸ˜‰

      Believe it or not, it is becoming hard for us to select the pictures as we are penning blogs on Yellowstone. Thanks so much – we should plan photos walks around Boston together!

  3. Karla
    | Reply

    We took a tour to Yellowstone and although I loved it, I would have wanted to stay longer—- so I guess—- next time, I will go on a road trip.

    • Bharat
      Bharat
      | Reply

      Yes absolutely Karla. Road trip would be the best way to explore these parks, go for it!!

  4. Lara Dunning
    | Reply

    That sounds like a great route. I’ve taken part of that route in Utah and really liked the scenery. Making a note to stop in Bear Lake next time I’m that way. Wow! What a view and the color of the water. I haven’t been to Jackson Hole since I was 11 or so, would love to go back.

    • Bharat
      Bharat
      | Reply

      Thanks Lara. Yes you got to make a visit to this lake, it is gorgeous on a sunny day! We can’t wait to make a visit to Utah state again, the scenery all over is a photographer’s paradise!

  5. Holly
    | Reply

    My friend lives in Salt Lake and it would be pretty cool to go see Yellowstone. So I will have to share this with them. Also great tip with stopping at the lake. It looks really beautiful.

    • Bharat
      Bharat
      | Reply

      That would be very kind of you to share! Also if you visit SLC, a meal at Reg Iguana is highly recommended (if you like that kind of food) πŸ™‚

  6. […] How to enjoy the drive from Salt Lake City to Grand Teton National Park […]

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