Last Minute Yellowstone & Grand Teton Trip with Teens
I have wanted to go to Yellowstone for such a long time, but every time that I started to research, I felt completely overwhelmed and unsure of what to plan.
If you’re anything like me, when this happens, I just push it aside. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE vacationing, but I’m not one that really likes the planning.
I know some will say that’s the fun part, but it’s just not something that I enjoy. I think part of it was the reality of a 20+ hour drive one way. The other part is that most people told me that you have to plan this type of trip a year in advance…I have teen boys and a business. I have no idea what will be a year from now!!
We had 2 weeks vacation specifically set aside in June and as of Memorial Day weekend, with NOTHING planned! Part of me just wanted to go somewhere easy, but I decided one more time, to see if it would be possible to plan a Yellowstone & Grand Teton road trip in 3 weeks. I guess I am always up for a challenge 🙂
Most suggest that you should stay on the grounds of Yellowstone, and I agree that is probably the best case scenario, but not really possible last minute and booking accommodations with in the park was not very user friendly. You have to click on each individual resort with the dates requesting.
In my research I came across a blog written by a former park ranger, Dirt in My Shoes. She had some amazing information about where to stay on and off grounds and she even had itineraries available for both Yellowstone & Grand Teton. You can pick the amount of days you’ll be there and she will send a detailed plan. OK this is right up my alley!! It even included a trail guide, restaurant guide and at a glance schedule. There were some other helpful things such as an animal guide, trail guide and helpful hints & links. She does charge for this, but the cost is minimal and we found it definitely worth it!!
The best part is, I was able to find lodging last minute close to each entrance that she suggested we use. So it looked like our trip would happen after all and so it IS possible to book a last minute trip to Yellowstone!
That is why I wanted to write this article in hopes that it could potentially help someone, somewhere.
I decided to break each day up into separate blog posts, otherwise this would be one long article as we were in the parks for 6 days!
I will talk about our journey there and back from Wisconsin and where we stopped. I won’t get as detailed as the itinerary I bought, because I want to encourage you to consider purchasing one from Dirt in My Shoes because you’ll get so much more and it is completely worth it:)
If you’re leaving from the midwest, or Wisconsin like we did, I encourage you to plan on stopping at least one night each way.
If you haven’t been to the Custer State Park of Mt. Rushmore area, try to plan some time there. We made this trip a few years ago, so we decided to drive all the way to Gillette, WY. We grabbed a quick hotel room to get some rest and first thing in the morning we hit the road again.
Our waitress at breakfast told us that we should consider taking a scenic route there and mentioned Beartooth Highway. For some reason this hadn’t come up in anything that I read, but she convinced us and honestly it was completely worth it!! It adds some time onto your travel schedule because it winds up and down the mountains, and the views are breathtaking!
Heralded as one of the most scenic drives in the United States, the Beartooth Highway, a National Scenic Byways All-American Road, features breathtaking views of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains, and open high alpine plateaus dotted with countless glacial lakes, forested valleys, waterfalls and wildlife.
The Beartooth All-American Road passes through what is known today as the Beartooth Corridor. Surrounded by the Custer, Gallatin, and Shoshone National Forests, traveling parallel to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, and abutting Yellowstone National Park, the Highway sits in a million-plus acre wilderness.
Visitors have the rare opportunity to experience and explore pristine, untouched alpine and montane landscapes, lush forests, and alpine tundra in the space of a few miles.
It is one of the highest and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states, with 20 peaks reaching over 12,000 feet in elevation.
In the surrounding mountains, glaciers are found on the north flank of nearly every mountain peak over 11,500 feet high.
The Road itself is the highest elevation highway in Wyoming (10,947 feet) and Montana (10,350 feet), and is the highest elevation highway in the Northern Rockies.
And as you make the trek, make sure to stop at Rock Creek Vista Point. It’s a great place to stretch your legs and walk out to the point for some pictures.
On to our next stop-West Yellowstone.
As you read through our itinerary, we spent 2 nights in West Yellowstone exploring the Canyon Village area on Day 1, and Old Faithful area on Day 2.
The next 2 nights were spent in Gardiner exploring the Mammoth Hot Springs & Lamar Valley on day 3, and The East Side on day 4 and then working our way to Jackson Hole for our Grand Teton leg for days 5 & 6.
We started every day entering the park at 7:30 am and left by 5:30 pm. We had plenty of time allotted for driving to each activity and lunch. We brought a picnic lunch every day because there are so many beautiful areas in the park. You can also buy food there if you’d rather not pack a lunch.
Be sure to read on and explore each day as we made our way through these beautiful parks!
Day 1-Yellowstone Canyon Village Area
Day 2-Yellowstone Old Faithful Area
Day 3-Yellowstone Mammoth Hot Springs & Lamar Valley
Day 4-Yellowstone The East Side
Day 5-Grand Teton Outer Park Road
Day 6-Grand Teton Jenny Lake Area
But before you move on, I have some planning tips you may find helpful:
- Bring Layers: We visited in June and it got pretty cold at night, into the lower 40’s, but by mid day, it warmed up into the 70’s. We brought rain gear, but thankfully we had amazing weather so we didn’t need it.
- Get Choosy: If you have limited time, choose the areas of the park that you’d like to spend your time. The park is very large and you want to keep your driving time down as much as possible. Also, start early when the park is less busy.
- Disconnect: While there is cell service in some areas of the park, and wifi in some of the hotels, connections can be pretty limited. Embrace that and challenge you and your family to be off the grid as long as possible. In a digital age, I think that this is important.
- When to go: While peak season is typically mid July through August, I suggest considering June or September. The park can be less crowded and it will be enjoyable id you don’t have to wait for parking at the popular stops.
- Timing: There are more than 200 active geysers, but almost all of them are unpredictable as far as eruption times. Old Faithful can be predicted within 10 minutes and the times will be posted near the Old Faithful Inn.
- Keep Your Eyes Open: Bring your binoculars and bear spray! Yellowstone is a wild-life watching haven, but please remember that they are wild animals and you should stay at least 25 yards away from bison and other animals, and at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves for the safety of both animals and visitors. When hiking bring bear spray and make a lot of noise so you don’t sneak up and startle the bear. Only stay on marked trails as in some areas the ground is very thin around geysers and springs.
- Have fun: Bring your camera and get some great shots. It will only be a fraction of what you see, but they look great in photo books. Enjoy and just be present with nature.
- Food: Bring a lot of snacks and water. You’ll be dong a lot of hiking, and teen boys need to refuel. If you plan on packing a lunch every day, bring a table cloth to cover the picnic areas. Always keep your food locked in your car when not eating it. You don’t want the bear to have access to it!!