Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park practically border each other, making it an easy plan to see both parks in one trip. Yellowstone is huge so don't start thinking this proximity means no driving. But with a little bit of scheming, you can fit a lot into a week’s trip.
If you’re camping, Yellowstone has a mix of campgrounds that take reservations and campgrounds that are walk-up only; Tetons has only walk-up (first come, first serve) campgrounds. If you go this route, we’d recommend reserving something in Yellowstone and then taking advantage of your proximity to get an early start for a spot in Tetons.
If you’re more of a hotel/rental person, we recommend staying in either Gardiner, Montana or West Yellowstone, Wyoming and then Jackson Hole or Moose, Wyoming. Inside the parks, Canyon Village and Jackson Lake Lodge are great options for hotels. Rentals in each of these places tend to be expensive and inside the park, prime dates will book up a year in advance, so plan ahead and set aside funds accordingly. Condo rentals allow you to cook some of your own meals, if that’s your thing.
OK, so here are our recommendations, assuming you are staying in Gardiner and then driving down to Jackson Hole or a lodge in Grand Teton itself. The itinerary is a solid minimum, meaning that you can add stops or hikes quite easily. Both parks are so lovely that you’ll want plenty of time to linger in beautiful spots. And you may find yourself needing to find quiet space if you get caught in high-season tourist traffic. Remember our advice to pick one primary place to go each morning and then consider everything else that happens a bonus.
Day 1: Arrive in Gardiner. Drive into Yellowstone to check out Mammoth Hot Springs. If you have time, drive out to Lamar Valley for wildlife viewing at sunset. (Driving time from Gardiner to Mammoth Hot Springs is 15 minutes, Driving time from Gardiner to Lamar Valley is 50 minutes)
Day 2: Take a hike up to Specimen Ridge or down into Hellroaring Creek. Head down to Canyon Village for lunch and then brave the crowds to view Artists Point. (Driving time to Hellroaring Creek trailhead from Gardiner is 40 minutes and to our Specimen Ridge hike is 50 minutes; driving time from these hikes to Canyon Village is ~45 minutes and the return drive to Gardiner is about 75 minutes.)
Day 3: Try another hike or take a driving tour of more hot springs areas. If you’re into whitewater rafting, book a trip out of an agency in Gardiner. Another great option is to do a tour of the park with Yellowstone Forever, which you can access from Gardiner (planning ahead for a tour is a good idea).
Day 4: Drive south to Tetons. Stop by the Paint Pots, Grand Prismatic and/or Old Faithful (listed in north to south order). Spend some time viewing wildlife in Hayden Valley or along Bridge Bay road. Hike out to Stormy Point if you need to stretch your legs. (Driving time to Grand Prismatic from Gardiner is 1.5 hours, and from Grand Prismatic to Jackson, WY is another 2.5 hours, which takes you right through Grand Teton National Park).
Day 5: Get your bearings in Grand Teton National Park. Hike up Taggart Lake or around String Lake. Talk to a ranger about conditions. Stroll up Lunch Hill. (Driving time to Taggart Lake from Jackson is 25 minutes and its another 20 minutes to the Lunch Hill hike)
Day 7: Get up for sunrise at Schwabacher’s Landing or Oxbow Bend. Stretch your legs on an easier hike if you have the time.
How to Get There: Several regional airports serve the area but we suspect they are pricy. You might try Jackson, Idaho Falls, or Cody, WY. Or Twin Falls or Pocatello, ID. Northern cities in Montana including Great Falls or Bozeman might make good stops if you are considering adding in a trip to Glacier National Park (about 6 hours from Gardiner, MT). From Denver, you can expect to drive 10 hours to Gardiner and then 8 hours back to Denver from Jackson. A route from this location can easily add in a few days at Rocky Mountain National Park. Salt Lake City is only 6 hours from Gardiner and 4.5 hours from Jackson. Utah is home to five awesome National Parks but they are all south of Salt Lake. If you are basing out of Salt Lake, we recommend a stop in Twin Falls, Idaho.