The best driving route from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone

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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. While you’re here, you could also check out our blog about an itinerary for Yellowstone National Park to know what’s in store.

In this blog, we will share our perspective on what is truly the best way to get to Yellowstone. We’ll share why you should follow a particularly scenic route if you decide to fly into Utah and drive from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone, 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 one-way drop off fee for car rental totally worthwhile.

Where to fly into for Yellowstone?

Before we begin, let me put it out there: there is no one best airport for Yellowstone. Depending on where you’re flying from, you can play with various flight and road trip permutation combinations. 

Yellowstone is spread over parts of three states: Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. If you are planning your trip to Yellowstone and are looking at flights, you have the following options. 

Airports near Yellowstone

  • Airports in Montana:
    • Bozeman to Yellowstone West entrance (97 miles, 2 hours)
    • Billings to Yellowstone North Entrance (172 miles, 2.45 hours)
    • West Yellowstone to the Yellowstone West Entrance (this is the closest airport to Yellowstone and operates only seasonally. The airport is only 3 miles away to the park, a 7-minute drive)
  • Airports in Wyoming
    • Cody, WY to East Entrance (52 miles, 1 hour)
    • Jackson, WY to Yellowstone South Entrance (57 miles, 1 hour)
  • Airports in Idaho
    • Idaho Falls to Yellowstone West Entrance (108 miles, 1.48 hours)
    • Pocatello Yellowstone West Entrance (158 miles, 2.32 hours)
  • Airport in Utah
    • Salt Lake City to South Yellowstone (300+miles, 4.5-6 hours)

Unless you arrive at West Yellowstone airport, you will end up renting a car and being on the road for at least an hour.

You may be keen on saving on flights, and arriving at an airport which is a bit further away could be the right choice for you. Or, you may be the sort who doesn’t mind multiple flight connections (a note of caution though: a flight delay could seriously affect your plans). Lastly, you may be planning your trip with kids and may need to consider activities and stops according to their age group. A bunch of these factors could affect your decision on where to fly into for Yellowstone.

We’re here to tell you why you should take the slower route. More below. 

What are the different driving routes from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone National Park?

Enough talking, now to the point. If you search for routes from Salt Lake City Airport to Yellowstone National Park South Entrance, Google suggests the following options (click to open map in Google Maps):

Google Map for route options from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone
Comparing route options from SLC to Yellowstone

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. This is arguably the most scenic route. The distance to Yellowstone from Salt Lake City is 300+ miles.

Additionally, you also have the option to drive to the West Yellowstone Entrance from Salt Lake City, which is about 323 miles. Here’s a comparison of the two routes to the south and west entrances. If you prefer maps, I’ve also embedded both routes below.:

  • SLC to Garden City, Afton, Jackson, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone South Entrance (distance 355 miles)
  • SLC to Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Mesa Falls scenic byway, West Yellowstone (distance 323 miles)

Adding another 15-20 miles to your route improves the experience of the journey considerably. 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 also highlight the major stops along the way before we entered the south entrance. You can take a look at them on this map as well, though all our tips and sidenotes are mentioned below.

Why should you fly into SLC to go to Yellowstone?

With so many options on hand, choosing one particular route over another can be a tad bit confusing, especially if it takes a few hours extra. But Salt Lake City isn’t just a starting point for Yellowstone. Drive southeast from the city, and in three and a half hours, you’ll reach Moab, the gateway to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. Head out an hour west of the city, and you’ll reach Bonneville Salt Flats. In four and a half hours southwest and you’ll find yourself in Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. To sum up, the city is strategically located between so many natural wonders!

To give our example, we decided to fly into Salt Lake City to visit Yellowstone because:

  • We wanted to fly direct. It turned out to be more cost-effective and allowed us to minimize the chances of delays since we had no additional flight connections. Do note that we chose to fly out of West Yellowstone. It wasn’t a direct flight – but that was at the end of our trip. We were comfortable taking that risk as we knew we would eventually end up getting home, even if there was a delay.
  • The scenic route was hard to ignore, especially as we were also getting a chance to see Grand Teton NP on the way. If you take the SLC to West Yellowstone route through Idaho Falls, you miss out on seeing one of USA’s most beautiful parks! Secondly, you may not end up planning a trip in the near future just to see Grand Teton separately. 
  •  We wanted to maximize our chances of seeing wildlife. Though we didn’t spot a moose in Grand Teton, as we had hoped to, it was worth taking a shot. 
  • We love road trips. The thrill of getting into the car, watching the scenery change, and stopping along the way for nature’s little treats is incomparable. It’s a travel style we New Englanders have ended up adopting in our home region. 

Salt Lake City to Yellowstone National Park road trip

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 rent a car from the city instead of the airport.

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 😉

Bear Lake, UT

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

Bear Lake in Utah
Bear Lake in Utah

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 🙂

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.

Besides the lake, this town is famous for its 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.

Bear Lake, Utah
Bear Lake, Utah

Star Valley Scenic Byway

The 80-mile Star Valley scenic byway stretch is one of the most pleasurable drives that you will encounter on your journey to Yellowstone. The byway begins along the Idaho-Wyoming border on US-89 and continues till the Teton county line till Snake River Canyon up north.

A scenery in Star Valley Scenic Byway, Wyoming
Star Valley Scenic Byway, Wyoming

Afton, WY

In about 90 minutes, you will reach the wild west town of Afton, Wyoming in Star Valley. We considered this as a quick stop for 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.

Things to do near Afton

  • Go for a horseback ride at one of the nearby ranches
  • Go flyfishing by the Salt River
  • Whitewater rafting on Snake River
  • See Snake River Canyon
  • Visit Melvin Brewery in Alpine, WY
Afton, Wyoming
Afton, Wyoming

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.

Jackson, Wyoming
On the way to Jackson, WY

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

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

Enjoy scenic driving routes? Read our post on six stunning driving routes inside Yellowstone National Park next.

Hotel recommendation in Jackson, WY

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 (So much so that I also befriended the server in the breakfast area who was from Slovenia on a summer gig. We’re friends on Instagram now).

Eating & Drinking Suggestions in Jackson, WY

  • Spur Bar for drinks with a view
  • Million Dollar Cowboy Bar for live music, entertainment, and iconic saddle stools to sit on
  • The Organic Lotus

Pro-tip: Walk to Persephone Bakery to have a coffee or grab something to go! It is clearly a local’s favorite. Their croissants are delicious

Grand Teton National Park

This remarkable national park is known for its alpine terrain and mighty Teton range. 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 the company of a 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. Also, Grand Teton is only 31 miles away from Yellowstone.

What to see in Grand Teton National Park in a day

  • Moulton Barns: Two picturesque barns on Mormon Row that are a favorite with photographers. To get here get on highway 191 from Jackson and take a right onto Antelope Flats Road. You will be on a dirt road in 1.5 miles, where the barns are located.
  • Schwabacher Landing: A popular spot to see wildlife, and catch a reflection of the Teton mountains on the waters of Snake River. This landing can be accessed from highway 191, north of the barns. Get here early in the morning.
  • Snake River Overlook: A breathtaking overlook made famous by an Ansel Adams photograph. Continue on highway 191 from Schwabacher Landing and you’ll reach the overlook on the left side of the road.
  • Oxbow Bend: To get a panoramic view of the Tetons. The bend is also on highway 191, and a popular spot to watch sunrise and sunset.
  • Jenny Lake: If you have time for a hike, explore Jenny Lake which is at the base of the Teton mountains.
Grand Teton NP
Grand Teton NP
Schwabacher Landing, Grand Teton National Park
Schwabacher Landing, Grand Teton National Park

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 thereon.

Is it worth a long drive to get to Yellowstone National Park?

We traveled as a couple to Yellowstone, and for us a scenic road trip was irresistible. Though your situation may not be the same. First off, prioritize your goal for the trip. Ask yourself the following:

  • Do you have flexibility in terms of time? 
  • Are flight prices and timings of concern? 
  • Does arriving into Salt Lake City save you a big chunk in $$, despite paying for car rental and gas for the said number of days on the way? 
  • Are you willing to spend more on flights over an extra night along the way if need be?
  • Are you taking a baby or kids along? Would breaking up the trip over a few days work for them and you?
  • Do you absolutely love scenic drives and want to visit two parks in one trip?

Hopefully, these questions will help you get closer to your decision. If the answers to most of them is a yes, then you know how to begin planning!

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!

Bharat & Supriya
Tripod selfies, because why not 😉

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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.

31 Responses

  1. Avatar
    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 🙂

  2. Avatar
    SHRADDHA GUPTA
    | Reply

    This is such good information! The pics just keep getting better with each post! 😀 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 😉

      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. Avatar
    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. Avatar
    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. Avatar
    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) 🙂

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

  7. Avatar
    Rachel
    | Reply

    Hi thanks for sharing! I’ll be making a round trip to Yellowstone from Salt Lake City. On my way there, I plan to take your recommendations to drive there. Any recommendations on other scenic route to drive back to Salt Lake City after Yellowstone? Thanks!

    • Bharat
      Bharat
      | Reply

      Thanks for stopping by Rachel and glad you found our recos useful 🙂

      On your way back, my only suggestion would be to consider taking scenic US-26 which passes through Alpine and Hoback Jn. I remember reading about it- that it passes through Snake river and the scenery is beautiful with the alpine vistas. However we did not cover this part of route ourselves.

      Also are you traveling to Yellowstone this month?

  8. Avatar
    Sophia Grace
    | Reply

    Never been at Salt Lake City but as you shared the route best driving route from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone looks really amazing. A long drive always make happy to traveler but it becomes more amazing when you found a good route to travel 🙂

    • Bharat
      Bharat
      | Reply

      Absolutely Sophie. Exploring through this scenic route was so worth it!! Are you planning to travel there soon?

  9. Avatar
    Barb
    | Reply

    I am trying to plan a motorcycle trip, and trying to navigate an itinerary for 5-6 days, starting and returning to Salt Lake City, this looks like a great start! Any more tips you can give me?

    • Supriya
      Supriya
      | Reply

      Hi Barb, A motorcycle trip sounds so exciting. Are you looking for specific tips on places to stop by or something else? 5-6 days is just about right for visiting the main spots inside Yellowstone and spend a day at Grand Teton maybe. For Yellowstone, maybe you could look at our post to get some ideas:
      https://www.funtravelog.com/yellowstone-itinerary

      Hope this helps and feel free to reach out with specific questions.

  10. Avatar
    Walt
    | Reply

    I enjoyed reading about your drive, as my wife and I will be doing the same this fall. Can you tell me if there are any high, mountain roads on the route you took, as I am terrified of driving on roads high up in the mountains with no guard rails or shoulders.

    • Bharat
      Bharat
      | Reply

      Hi Walt, glad you enjoyed our blog. From what I can recall, some stretches from Afton towards Jackson could be called as high mountain roads but very broad and well paved. We had no trouble at all driving past this route, neither our car was a 4WD. Hope you guys enjoy the drive ?

  11. Avatar
    Uma
    | Reply

    Hey Bharat!

    We are travelling from Indian and visiting yellowstone in 1st week of june. We are taking this trip on my 7 year old son’s insistance. I would really apprieciate your feed back on which is the best place to live, which entrance west or south and what are the best things to do ( as there are too many).

    Looking forwards to your reply.
    Uma

    • Bharat
      Bharat
      | Reply

      Hi Uma,
      Thanks for checking out our blog! June 1st week would be a fairly good time to visit- we did around mid-June (evenings obviously a bit chilly). Did you read our other two blogs on Yellowstone (one of which is a storybook itinerary)? I am sure that will give you a perspective as to how we planned each day at the park without being overwhelmed. Yes it is BIG 😉

      Two key factors- how many days will you be exploring the park, where you intend to fly in and out of? There are five airports around the park.

      South entrance is popular because this gives you the opportunity to explore the nearby Grand Teton National Park (I highly recommend!). To save time, you can fly into Jackson, WY. We however flew into Salt lake city and road tripped to Jackson. At the end (to avoid backtracking), we flew out of West Yellowstone airport as we did a glamping stay on our last night, which was very close to it.

      For stays, we booked way in advance for the lodges INSIDE the park (and that is what I would recommend to save time/fuel). Consider yourself lucky if you find availability now for June (https://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/stay/summer-lodges/). Keep trying as there are cancellations all the time. Otherwise depending on your plan for each day, choose to stay in the nearest town like Jackson, Cody, West Yellowstone.

      Shoot us an email if you need any further help ?

  12. Avatar
    Shabbir Motorwala
    | Reply

    Hello Bharat
    I like the itinerary you posted and it is the same suggested by AAA
    Can you tell us how much time one needs in Yellowstone National Park and where does one finds a good place to stay around Yellowstone National Park as all
    the Inn inside Park are fully booked
    Thanks

    • Bharat
      Bharat
      | Reply

      Hey Shabbir, glad you liked our blog!

      The lodgings inside the park gets booked well in advance, which is what we recommended in our other blog on Yellowstone (did you get a chance to read that?). Please see my reply to Uma’s comment as well above. It depends when are you planning to go and where are you flying in and out of?

      You could spend weeks exploring the park as it is HUGE. However we crafted one week itinerary and that worked well for us. If you are not finding anything inside, we would suggest look in the nearby towns of Jackson, Cody, West Yellowstone (situated at different sections of park). It will add to your driving time every day but that’s the next best option you have right now.

      Happy to help further 🙂

  13. Avatar
    Terry
    | Reply

    Hello, staying in a timeshare in garden city Utah…is it possible to go to,yelliwstone and other areas daily from that location? Thanks

    • Supriya
      Supriya
      | Reply

      Hi Terry, I would say not a good idea for daily trips because you’d be driving for roughly 5 hours back and forth to the nearest entrance 🙁

      However, if you can manage to stay for at least a couple of nights in Jackson, WY you could still do day trips from there.

  14. Avatar
    Paddy
    | Reply

    Hello
    Nice blog, thanks for sharing your experience. I am trying book for June 2019. I was trying to find flights out of West Yellowstone airport but no luck. Which website did you book your travel for that airport? Appreciate your help

    • Supriya
      Supriya
      | Reply

      Hello, glad you liked our blog! We booked on Delta’s site as I believe it’s the sole carrier out of West Yellowstone. We booked about three months before. However I think their 2019 schedule is not open yet. Check out this link- http://www.yellowstoneairport.org/flights.shtml

      Maybe you can call them and ask the release date for 2019 schedule to be able to book asap when it does?

  15. Avatar
    Madhu R Vadlamani
    | Reply

    Hi Bharat,
    Thanks for posting about your experience to Yellowstone from SLC. As a group of 4 people, we are planning for a trip to Yellowstone. Your points would definitely help us. I wanted to check with you if 2 days would be sufficient to enjoy the road trip and the Yellowstone from the South Entrance.

    • Bharat
      Bharat
      | Reply

      Hi Madhu, glad we were of help! In our honest opinion, 2 days would not be enough. Yellowstone and Grand Teton are huge and fitting all in 48 hours would leave you guys exhausted. Either you explore it selectively or add 2-3 days more to it. The drive itself would eat up a day, if you’re following like we did.

      Hope this helps. Let us know how did it go 🙂

  16. […] with the best driving route from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone National Park, take a look at our five favorite driving routes in the area with some beautiful photos of […]

  17. […] Supriya | fun travelog […]

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