The best driving route from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone

with 27 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:

Capture

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˜‰

Red Iguana-1

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.

Bear Lake-1

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.

27 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 […]

  7. 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 πŸ™‚

      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. 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 πŸ™‚

    • Bharat
      Bharat
      | Reply

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

  9. 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. 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. 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 πŸ˜‰

      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. 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 πŸ™‚

  13. 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 πŸ™

      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. 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?

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