Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons are two places you will want to add to your family’s bucket list! You can expect a lot of outdoor adventures and beautiful views! Today’s post includes everything you need to know about our 5 Day Yellowstone and Grand Teton Trip with kids!
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Grand Tetons and Yellowstone
It has always been a dream of mine to visit Yellowstone and other US National Parks with my kids. We have been waiting for our kids to be at good ages where they can hike, bike and sit in the car for long periods of time! Now that we have two teenagers and our youngest is nine, we felt that they were ready for this kind of trip. Since my son is going into fourth grade we were able to sign up for the 4th Grade National Parks Pass, Every Kid Outdoors Program. His pass was good for free admission to all of the National Parks we visited. It is a great time to go when your child is in fourth grade!
Last fall, we started to plan our trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Truthfully, I did not know a lot about Jackson Hole, the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. So, it took a lot of research and looking at maps over and over again to get an understanding of where everything is and how far each location was from each other.
In combination of talking with friends who had been there recently and reading other travel blogs, we put together a 5 day itinerary for Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. We added another day to the trip for travel to the airport. So all told, we were on the trip for 6 nights and 7 days.
Where to go first
When deciding whether to start in Yellowstone or the Grand Tetons, you really can not go wrong. The biggest factor on where you start is what airport you fly into (or if you are driving there). If you are flying, there are several options including Denver, Salt Lake City, Jackson Hole and even Montana. It depends on how much driving you want to do and where all you want to visit.
Our plan was to fly into Salt Lake City, then make the 5 hour drive to Jackson Hole/Grand Tetons. Due to some flight delays and cancelations, we actually got a last minute flight directly to Jackson, Wyoming. Life saver!
After spending three nights in Jackson Hole, we then made the two hour drive to West Yellowstone by driving through the south entrance at Yellowstone. We spent two days in West Yellowstone. Then, we drove six hours to Salt Lake City and spent one night there before catching our flight home.
It really depends on which airport you are flying into and how much driving you want to do. We could have gone to Yellowstone first and had a longer drive from Salt Lake City. Then our drive back to Salt Lake City on our last night would have been a little shorter. But, we decided we would rather have a shorter drive on our first day so that we could get right to exploring!
3 Days in Jackson, Wyoming and Grand Tetons
We packed so much into our family vacation that as I write this, it is almost hard to believe we did all of this. It is certainly not a relaxing and lazy type of vacation. We came home each night ready for bed!
First, we arrived on a Saturday afternoon, quickly checked into our hotel and we grabbed a late lunch/early dinner at Hand Fire Pizza. It was a cool, open space that used to be a theater. We ordered two wood fire pizzas to share among the five of us. My kids loved the Jackson Hole Root Beer!
We did not have a lot of time to explore the town just yet because we had tickets for the Jackson Hole Rodeo.
This is an authentic rodeo in which cowboys and cowgirls are actually competing for money. It is wise to get tickets ahead of time as the show can sell out, especially on weekends. We opted for the covered seating, which was a little extra per ticket.
The show goes on rain or shine, so it was nice to have the coverage just in case! It was a really cool experience and the kids loved it! There is even a part in the show that kids can come out onto the field to try to grab a ribbon from the sheep! I’d recommend that the kids wear closed toed shoes as it is pretty messy out there!
Day Two Jackson, Wyoming and Grand Tetons
The next morning, we got up REALLY early for a guided van tour of the Grand Tetons through Jackson Hole Eco Tours. This was a great way to see a lot of the Grand Tetons and to get a good understanding of which areas we wanted to explore later on. I am glad that we went on this tour early in the trip.
I will say that it was hard to get up so early after our long day traveling the day before and being up late for the Rodeo. Jackson Hole Eco Tours also offers a sunset tour which would have been really cool too!
The great benefit of the tour is that the guide takes you to spots you wouldn’t necessarily know about and she was so good about finding wildlife for us to see.
The guides radio each other if there is an animal spotting. So, we got to get a perfect view of a baby moose with its mama.
The tour included a light breakfast with local pastries, granola and oatmeal. Plus, we could have a lot of coffee! We also got out of the van several times for some of the more iconic places including Jenny Lake. It was a really good overview of the Grand Tetons.
After our tour, we went back to the hotel to rest a little bit before lunchtime. Jackson has a TON of shops to explore. It is a really cute town that could warrant an entire day just to explore it. Be sure to check out Mursell’s Sweet Shop with your kids!
My boys opted for more swim time than shopping experiences.
We also made sure to get the requisite antler picture in the town square. There are actually four antler arches in Jackson, so you are likely to find one of the spots available for picture taking!
We found time before and after meal times to get into a few stores. My daughter and I went shopping for a bit while the boys rested. There are souvenir stores, some name brand stores including Lululemon and some high end speciality stores with jewelry, cowboy gear and art work.
The boys met us for lunch at Big Hole BBQ. I’ll admit that service was slow but the food was good! Overall, I would say that restaurants in Jackson were all busy. I think we went at one of the busiest weeks in the summer.
Snow King Ski Resort Summer Activities
After lunch, we went to the Snow King Ski Resort for some adventure activities. This was probably my boys’ favorite activity in Jackson.
There are a lot of summer activities at Snow King including the mountain roller coster, alpine slide, miniature golf and zip lining. We chose to do the roller coaster and alpine slide. Each ride requires one ticket and unfortunately rides are not unlimited. We loved both of the rides but I would say that the roller coaster was the family favorite! You get beautiful views of Jackson as you are coming down the mountain on both rides!
After our adventures at Snow King Resort, everyone was ready to relax! We came back to our hotel and swam at the pool. Then, we ordered pizza for dinner! It was a BUSY day and we were so tired.
Day 3 in the Grand Tetons
On our last full day in Jackson and the Grand Tetons, we spent time at Jenny Lake and the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
After breakfast, we stopped at The Picnic in Jackson to get sandwiches and snacks for a picnic at Jenny Lake. I definitely recommend packing food for the park. There are limited food options at Jenny Lake and there are limited food options in the entire area. We packed this collapsible cooler in our suitcase for this very reason. It came in handy many times throughout our trip. This backpack cooler would also be a great choice too!
Once we had our cooler full of food, we drove to Jenny Lake. We knew we wanted to do a little hiking and we also wanted to take the boat across the lake for those iconic views of Jenny Lake. One thing to know is that the parking lot at Jenny Lake fills up early! We got to the park by 9 am and we had to spend a lot of time driving around the lot to find a spot. By the time we left the park, parking stretched out into the road that leads to Jenny Lake. This is definitely a tourist hot spot. It is no wonder it is crowded, the views are absolutely beautiful!
We happened to talk to another family who had just finished hiking and they gave us great tips about the hike. We opted to take the 3 mile hike halfway around the lake and then take the Jenny Lake Ferry back to the start. This was a great choice because it was a nice reward to take the boat back after the hike! You could also start with the boat ride and then walk back the three miles. There is no wrong way to do it! Although I think walking first and then getting relax afterwards is the way to go!
The three mile hike was quite an adventure. There are a lot people on the trail but you can usually have some distance from each other. As we were walking, we got a lot of tips from those passing the other way including moose and bear spottings!
We were so lucky we got to see a moose and his dad. Then, later on our walk, we spotted a mom and her baby bear! We kept a safe distance from all of these animals. The hike is a good three miles. We were tired and hot at end. My nine year old was a trooper and I certainly saw younger kids. But it is not a simple stroll! It was a nice reward to rest on the boat ride back to the beginning. If you walk first and then take the boat, you pay for your boat tickets after the ride.
When we got back to the entrance, we got our lunch from the car and then had a picnic at one of the many tables in the park.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
After lunch, we drove over to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village. This drive could have taken thirty minutes from Jenny Lake. But the only access road was closed at the time. So we had to drive back to the town of Jackson and then over to the lodge. So it took us almost an hour to get there.
It was worth it. The ski village has so much to offer! We started with a mountain tram which climbs over 4000 feet in 12 minutes. The views are breathtaking on the way up and at the top!
The best part about this attraction is that you can get the famous Corbet’s Waffles at the top of the mountain.
These waffles are made to order and include toppings like Nutella and fresh fruit. We are still talking about these delicious waffles!
After we ate, we took the trip down and then we took a ski lift up a different mountain. Each of these rides are unique but if you are only looking to do one, I would suggest the tram. The ski lift was cool because we saw a moose grazing under us. At the top of the ski lift is a restaurant that you could get drinks or dinner. Since we were full from the waffles, we did not stay up there long.
There are many shops and restaurants in the ski village, so you could certainly spend more time here.
We had dinner reservations at Snake River Brewing, so it was time for us to head back to the hotel. We had a great dinner but we were sure tired! We came back to the hotel and relaxed before bedtime.
Jackson, Wyoming Tips
- Use the GypSy travel app. We relied heavily on the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone Guides (purchased together it was around $15). The app works without internet so even when our GPS was not working, we could use this app. We turned on the app when we were in the car in one of the parks. We got so many tips and ideas from these guides!
- Make reservations for dinner. If you go in the summer, you should get reservations for dinner. It is a very busy town filled with tourists.
- Consider ordering pizza or grabbing take out food one night to save money and to avoid the crowds.
- Pack layers. Each morning started off in the 50’s and then by lunchtime it was in the 80’s. The sun feels hot but it was not humid.
- Pack a cooler so that you can bring lunch with you to the park.
- Ask your hotel about borrowing bear spray. You can buy it or rent it from the stores in town. But many hotels will loan you the spray for free!
Day 4 Drive Through Lower Yellowstone
The next day we woke up early to make our drive to Yellowstone. There are two ways to get to West Yellowstone from Jackson, WY. We could have opted to take the highway out of the parks directly to West Yellowstone. But, we decided to go through the Grand Tetons and then the south entrance of Yellowstone. That way we could explore the Lower Loop of Yellowstone on the first day. This was a great decision as the south entrance was not busy and we were able to cover everything we wanted to do in the lower loop on that first day.
Again, we relied on the GyPSy Guide to get around.
We got ideas on where to stop and we learned so much history about the National Parks. The guide has a soothing voice that it like your own personal guide as you drive. (You can always skip the narration if you do not want to listen to the guide). He gave us some off the beaten path spots, which were not crowded!
We stopped for some pictures along the way including the Grand Tetons sign and the Yellowstone entrance sign. It was a beautiful drive.
It was around lunchtime when we got to Old Faithful Geyser. That was one of our main goals of the trip to Yellowstone. My kids were really excited to see Old Faithful and the other geysers. (Which I honestly did not realize there were other geysers to see!)
We thought Jenny Lake was crowded but wow was Yellowstone packed!! It was the most touristy place we visited during the entire trip! We waited to have lunch at Old Faithful and if I were to do it again I would have packed a lunch to picnic there. The food options were limited and everything was very expensive! I would not eat there again.
Right when we got to Old Faithful we stopped in the lodge to get the times that the Geysers were estimated to erupt. I highly recommend doing this so that you can catch as many geyser eruptions as possible.
We were fortunate enough to catch Old Faithful right away. Then we took the walking path to see many other geysers. There are some geysers that erupt sporadically throughout the day. So you are sure to catch eruptions of different sizes and types as you walk along the trail.
After several hours at Old Faithful, we continued on our way to West Yellowstone. We made stops along the way that the GyPSy app recommended. It was nice because the app told us about must see places and then some nice to visit places, so we were able to pick and choose based on what sounded interesting.
We spotted more wildlife along the drive including several Bison, Elk and Moose.
We got to our hotel in late afternoon. We checked in and then walked around town to find dinner. West Yellowstone has a different feel to it than Jackson. It has a little bit more of an old West feel to it and it is very unpretentious. I liked that it was a lot less crowded than Jackson. We found a family restaurant, Bullwinkle’s, for dinner and it was really good. There are a lot of rustic, family friendly food options in West Yellowstone. The nice thing is that you do not need reservations at most places. We found it to be a lot less crowded of a town than Jackson.
After dinner, the kids grabbed ice cream from an adorable little hut called Espresso West. The prices were so reasonable and the food was delicious. This was a rare find on our trip! We popped into a few souvenir shops and then we called it a night.
Day 5 Upper Loop of Yellowstone
On our final full day at Yellowstone, we really packed it in! We did not really have a game plan, so my husband and I had to make some quick plans. Across the street from our hotel was the West Yellowstone Visitor Center. We talked to someone there who recommended that we make the drive around the Upper Loop. Without stopping it is around a three hour drive. However, with all of our stops including lunch, it took us six hours. I could see how you could easily spend several days on this drive as there was a lot to see.
The west entrance of Yellowstone was busy and we waited in line for twenty minutes or so to get through the gates. It helped that we already had our park pass so we could go in a faster (no payment) line.
We had to be selective on what we decided to stop to see as we knew it would be a long day. Our kids were not quite as enthralled with every single waterfall or Mountain View after four days of great scenery. (Just being honest!) So, we listened to the GyPSy app and we stopped at things that really sounded cool.
We spotted more wildlife along the way including this bison!
Just like our day at Jenny Lake, we stopped at a deli to pick up lunch food for a picnic. This worked out well again.
Some of our favorites stops included the Artist Paint Pots which is just a 1 mile hiking trail.
We also made stops at Roaring Mountain, Indian Creek and Gibbon Falls.
Some of these stops were a five minute stop with a quick picture. Other times we went on a hiking trail. You really can not go wrong on how you spend your time. We found it best to go with the flow and we did not stress out if the kids did not want to spend a lot of time at a particular spot. In order to enjoy a family vacation, you have to be flexible.
Another popular stop on the Upper Loop is the Mammoth Hot Springs. You can even opt to swim in one area of the springs, although it was closed when we were there.
Mammoth Hot Springs is a cute small town with several shops and a few places to eat.
One of our favorite stops on the Upper Loop was Canyon Village. Here you will see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. You can catch waterfalls in multiple spots including the Upper and Lower Falls. We choose to get out of the car and walk to the lower falls. It was so beautiful and we managed to catch a rainbow!
We were all very tired after a full day of driving but we still had dinner plans to get to.
Dinner at Meadow Due Ranch. Idaho
We made reservations at Meadow Vue Ranch for a cowboy and rodeo dinner! It was a highlight of the trip!
I was not sure we would enjoy the rodeo since we had already seen one earlier in the week. But this rodeo was run by the Meadow Vue Ranch Camp and it was showcasing campers that were learning the ropes of the rodeo!
We all loved seeing these kids trying to learn how to bull ride, ride their horses and much more! It was about an hour show that was followed by dinner.
Meadow Vue Ranch is in Idaho and it was about a thirty minute drive from West Yellowstone.
The dinner, the views and the entire experience was just amazing! To be on this big ranch surrounded by the mountains and fields was so neat.
The food was delicious especially the mini skillet peach cobbler!
It was a really memorable experience and the perfect way to end our vacation in Yellowstone!
- Start your day early to avoid the crowds and catch the animals in action! The animals are most active at dusk and at dawn.
- Pack a lunch and bring it with you into the park. Food options are VERY limited.
- Fill up your car with gas before you go to the park. There are just a handful of gas stations in the entire park.
- Utilize the Gypsy app for ideas on where to stop and to learn more about the history and important facts about the park.
- Have a paper copy of the map of Yellowstone as internet connection is very spotty.
- Ask your hotel about borrowing bear spray. It costs $60 for a can of bear spray and around $10 to rent from a store. But many hotels will loan it to you for no charge.
Last Day in Salt Lake City
The next morning, we packed up our things and we made the 5 1/2 hour drive to Salt Lake City. We did not have a whole lot of time in Salt Lake City. Our flight left in the morning on the last day. So, we did a little shopping at City Creek Center, which had every store you can think of. Then, we got dinner near our hotel at a SLC favorite, Cafe Rio! It was so good that we still talk about this meal, even though it was just casual dining!
We wished we had more time in Salt Lake as it seems like there are a lot of attractions to explore. Hopefully, we will be back on another trip
5 Day Yellowstone and Grand Tetons Itinerary
If you plan ahead, you can cover a lot of ground in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in five days. I recommend planning some of your bigger outings ahead of time and then leaving some open time to explore and find things to do as you go.
Where to Stay Yellowstone and Grand Tetons
In Jackson we stayed at the Elk Country Inn. It was just a few minutes to walk to the town square. Nice location and a fun indoor/outdoor pool. We stayed in one of the family cabins which admittedly is very small. But, it served our needs and we appreciated having a small kitchenette.
Lodging is very expensive in both Jackson and West Yellowstone during the summer months. If I were to go again, I might explore a VRBO home in Jackson. But, I would definitely stay at the Elk Country Inn again. A really nice breakfast was included with our stay.
We stayed at The Clubhouse Inn in West Yellowstone. This was a traditional moderate level hotel. The accommodations were nice and there was a small indoor pool. We certainly paid for the location as in the case for all lodging in West Yellowstone. We loved the location as it was just a three minute car ride to the West Yellowstone entrance.
Overall, we had a great time on our 5 day Yellowstone and Grand Tetons trip! It was great to explore a new to us part of the United States. We learned a lot about our National Parks and we had a lot of time to bond as a family!
What questions do you have about our trip? Please leave them below!