Interrupting our regular noodle and dumpling recipe onslaught with another Woks of Life camping /road trip! In this edition: two of America’s most iconic national parks, Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Kaitlin and I took this trip last September with our cousins, Kim and Chris.
We’re trying something a little different with this post. We wanted it be useful to travelers and fun for casual readers, so:
If you’re here for travel tips, use the links below to jump to a relevant section of the post.
If you’re here for the stories (and a mouthwatering account of the trip’s not-at-all-spartan camping meals), just keep reading!
This post includes:
- Which Airport to Fly Into for a Trip to Yellowstone & Grand Teton
- How Many Days to Spend in Yellowstone
- How Many Days to Spend in Grand Teton
- How Much Our Trip Cost / Our Trip Budget
- Things to Do in Yellowstone
- Things to Do in Grand Teton
- What to Pack (Our Packing List)
As well as:
- Lots of photos (with dorky family-album-esque captions!)
- Our camp cooking exploits (of course)
- Plenty of cousin bonding
- Our advice for how to spend an amazing week in these two beautiful parks
Which Airport to Fly Into for a Trip to Yellowstone National Park & Grand Teton
Yellowstone National Park spans 3 states. While the majority of the park is situated in Wyoming, it also spreads into eastern Idaho and southern Montana.
Grand Teton National Park is smaller, and it’s located in Wyoming, south of Yellowstone.
This widespread geography means that you have several options when it comes to which airport to fly into:
- Jackson Hole Airport (JAC): Located in Jackson, Wyoming, this airport is located minutes away from Grand Teton National Park and a 1 hour drive from the South Entrance of Yellowstone.
- Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN): The busiest airport in Montana, Bozeman may be the easiest airport to find flights for. It’s about 1 hour and 30 minutes from Yellowstone’s North Entrance, and about 2 hours from Yellowstone’s West Entrance.
- Billings Logan International Airport (BIL): The second busiest airport in Montana, this hub is also served by several airlines. It is farther from Yellowstone than Bozeman, however, at 2 hours and 45 minutes from the North Entrance. It’s also 2 hours and 50 minutes from the East Entrance.
- Yellowstone Regional Airport (COD): This regional airport is about 1 hour and 15 minutes’ drive from the East Entrance of the park, with flights connecting primarily through Salt Lake City and Denver.
- Yellowstone Airport (WYS): Generally open only from May-September, this small airport is located in the town of West Yellowstone, just a 10 minute drive from the West Entrance. Though it’s very close to the park, these flights can be expensive and limited, as the airport is served only by Delta Airlines, with flights connecting through Salt Lake City.
When choosing which airport to fly into, consider several factors: your origin city/travel time, cost, the cost of renting a vehicle at your chosen airport, and which park/entrance you’d like to arrive at.
Which airport did we fly into? Funny you should ask. We actually flew in 6 hours north of Yellowstone, at Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, MT.
Yes, this was originally going to be a Glacier National Park trip! We had an abrupt change of plans when wildfires sprung up in the park and we were advised to change our plans, so we drove south to Yellowstone instead.
It wasn’t exactly convenient, but as you’re going to see, we ended up having a great trip anyway!
(Plus, we had a little morning jaunt through Whitefish, Montana a cute town of boutiques and pottery shops. Food bloggers <3 Pottery more than anyone. You heard it here first.)
How Much Time in Yellowstone vs. Grand Teton National Park?
We spent about 3.5 days in Yellowstone National Park and 2.5 days in Grand Teton National Park / Jackson, Wyoming, with 1 day of travel. In that time, we did several hikes, saw most of the biggest sites in each park, and even had 1 city afternoon walking around and shopping in Jackson Hole.
How Many Days to Spend in Yellowstone:
Depending on how much time you have, we recommend 3-4 days in Yellowstone National Park. It’s a big park with lots to see, and you’ll be doing a lot of driving between sights. This was still enough time to fit in a few great hikes.
How Many Days to Spend in Grand Teton:
We recommend at least 2 days in Grand Teton National Park. You could see it in 1 day if your plan is just to drive through, stop at the lookouts, and check out the lodge, but there is very beautiful hiking in the park if you’re able to, and also boating on Jenny Lake. Allow 2 days if you’d like to do a couple hikes.
How Much Does It Cost to Visit Yellowstone & Grand Teton?
Of course, your trip budget depends on your choice of vehicle, whether you’re finding lodging or staying in campgrounds, and whether or not you’re cooking your own meals.
We rented a minivan for the four of us, camped out most of the trip with our own gear (along with 2 nights in an Airbnb/hotel), and cooked most of our meals (get our tips on camp cooking here). To give you an idea, our budget for 4 people on our camping trip was as follows:
- Flights: $2200
- Car/Gas: $700
- Airport Parking: $140
- Lodging (night of arrival and night before departure): $260
- Food (mostly groceries, with a couple restaurant meals): $300
- Sundries (shower tokens, bear spray, fishing licenses, souvenir buffalo jerky, etc.): $200
TOTAL: $3800 ($950/person for 7 days)
We find that the rough cost for any camping/road trip out West (coming from NYC) is usually around $900 total per person, give or take a couple hundred dollars, depending on how many people were on the trip, location, etc.
Things to Do in Yellowstone:
Ok, on to the FUN part. This is in the rough order in which we did everything, making our way from the north section Yellowstone south towards Grand Teton. Spoiler alert: a delightful time was had by all.
1. Take the Mammoth Hot Springs Trail
Close to the North Entrance, the Mammoth Hot Springs area was our first stop.
It’s a collection of hot springs on a terraced hill of rock, and one of the park’s many hydrothermal areas. There are boardwalks criss-crossing the terrain, allowing you to observe up close (but not too close! Stay on the boardwalk!).
Albright Visitor Center is also nearby and worth a stop to chat up a park ranger and get any tips he or she might have.
2. Fly Fish at Slough Creek (or any of the great spots in the park):
My cousin Chris loves fishing, and it was not lost on him that Yellowstone is a fly fishing destination. He perked up every time we passed a body of water bigger than a puddle.
With some suggestions from the rangers at the Mammoth Backcountry Office, we got our fishing permits and set off for Slough Creek Trail.
We could only hike in a few miles, as we didn’t have plans to camp in the backcountry, but it was a very pretty hike nevertheless.
Chris attempted to show my sister and me how to fly fish. I can report that we’re not very good at it.
3. Explore Norris Geyser Basin & See Roaring Mountain
Roaring Mountain and Norris Geyser Basin are two thermal areas a short drive from one another. Roaring mountain contains steam vents that were on full display in the early morning mist when we went to see it.
4. See the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Formed by the Yellowstone River, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a sight to behold. We saw it from Artist Point. There are short hikes you can do here, like the popular Uncle Tom’s Trail, offering an up-close view of Lower Falls (it’s less of a hike and more of a staircase, but it was closed when we were there!).
5. Drive through Hayden Valley
Hayden Valley is full of wildlife, from bison and elk to coyotes. Chris was the wildlife spotting MVP in the car, alerting us to any animal within sight.
6. Hike with a View (Mt. Washburn, Avalanche Peak)
The Mount Washburn hike, with views of nearby mountains and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, was closed when we were there (sensing a pattern here…). We were a bit disappointed, as many have said that it’s the finest trail in the park.
But after doing some research, we opted instead for Avalanche Peak (4.6 miles, 2,100 ft elevation gain to 10,500 ft), a relatively short but INTENSE hike up to some spectacular views.
The hike began in a green forest…innocent enough. We even saw a few cute little deer frolicking about the hills.
The hike became more exposed as we climbed higher.
While this hike was incredibly gorgeous and amazingly rewarding for each of us, it was tough! The hike starts at over 8000 ft, and the elevation change on the hike itself was pretty intense. We got through with salty snacks, lots of water for each of us, and walking sticks for the rockier parts.
Coming back down, we realized that some young families and others we passed early on in the hike never caught up to us, likely having turned around. When we were completing the hike, we also saw some folks setting out for it in casual sandals and tennis shoes, which for this full hike, really could have been dangerous with so much loose rock and craggy slopes.
Always hike smart—bring the right supplies and gear, and know your limits! Okay, my mother’s possession of my body is now over.
7. Rent a Boat on Yellowstone Lake
We didn’t spend a lot of time at Yellowstone Lake, but it is the largest body of water in the park, and offers boating and fishing! Had to include it in this list.
8. See the Grand Prismatic Spring
One of the most iconic sights in Yellowstone, the Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the United States, the third largest in the world, and probably the most photographed feature of the park.
Its colors are the result of different bacteria living in the mineral rich water. Also, apparently it’s deeper than a 10-story building!
9. Visit Old Faithful, The Old Faithful Inn & Biscuit Basin
The Old Faithful Area, home to perhaps the most well-known of Yellowstone’s many sights, was our last stop, as it’s at the southern part of the park. (The Grand Prismatic Spring is nearby).
Here, we checked out the Old Faithful geyser of course, along with the boardwalks surrounding other geothermal features and nearby Biscuit Basin.
But one of the highlights was checking out the Old Faithful Inn, a national historic landmark built in the early 1900s.
If there were an American Hogwarts, we think it would have looked like this at one point. We even caught a guided tour of the place, which was fascinating. There were giant hearths with popcorn poppers to match and lots of tales of the glamorous, leisurely explorers of yore. Highly recommended if you like history!
Things to Do in Grand Teton National Park:
We woke up early on the morning of our last day in Yellowstone to drive a couple hours to Grand Teton National Park.
It’s pretty obvious when you’ve arrived:
Here’s what we did!
1. Hang Out at Jackson Lake Lodge
Another historic landmark, Jackson Lake Lodge has beautiful views of the Tetons from its floor to ceiling windows, and it’s a great spot to get a snack, find souvenirs, and sit on a nice comfy sofa and relax.
2. Hike Hidden Falls & Inspiration Point / Jenny Lake Trail
The Hidden Falls & Inspiration Point Hike (about 2.2 miles roundtrip) is one of the most iconic hikes in Grand Teton, but keeping up with the theme of this trip, the hike was closed! D:
But there’s always another adventure to be had. Instead, we took the Jenny Lake Trail (a 7.7 mile loop) and did most of it, despite the fact that part of the loop was closed for construction. Despite the fact that we were unable to do the whole thing, it was still a beautiful hike with great views of the mountains and the lake. Plus, you’ll save $18/person for the round-trip boat ride across the lake!
3. Go Kayaking / Canoeing on Jenny Lake
At Jenny Lake, you can rent non-motorized boats and get out on the water. We jumped at this opportunity after our hike, and had a friendly canoe vs. kayak race.
4. Hike Taggart Lake Loop Trail
To squeeze one more hike in, we headed to the Taggart Lake Loop Trail.
The incredible views of the lake and the mountains can be seen pretty early on in the hike (which means you don’t have to do the entire hike for that view, and it’s a great option for kids and grandparents!).
With beautiful views all along the hike, this was a highlight and a more leisurely hike on the trip.
5. Spend An Afternoon in Jackson Hole
On our last afternoon in the area, we decided to head into civilization for food we didn’t cook and shopping for
provisions souvenirs we didn’t strictly need!
The town of Jackson is very charming, with tons of great stores and restaurants. Outdoor chic and rugged cowboys collide! The first thing we did was hunker down for some incredible—and gigantic—burgers.
Our Camp Cooking
Ok, so now that we’ve talked about all the fun things there are to do in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, it’s time to talk food. We are a food blog, after all.
We cooked most of our own meals on this camping trip, but that doesn’t mean hot dogs or freeze-dried packets of dust were on the menu.
Here’s our highlight reel of camping meals from the trip!
It’s no secret that we love camping and especially camp cooking. (See our travel posts featuring other national parks, including Big Bend, Joshua Tree, Sequoia, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Olympic.)
We find that it’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of a road trip like this––preparing a simple, delicious meal, and enjoying it around a campfire with family or friends.
Knowing I’d be cooking for four on this trip, I made sure to have two stoves to do double duty.
For more on preparing camping meals (and more photos of camping meals past), check out our post on The Art of Cooking Outside!
Yellowstone/Grand Teton Packing List
If you’re at a loss for what to pack on your trip, or afraid you’ll forget something, here’s my packing list:
Camping & Group Supplies:
- Tent/tent footprint
- 4 insulated sleeping pads
- 4 sleeping bags
- Cooking pots
- Frying pan
- 2 backpacking stoves
- 4 foldable chairs
- 4 sets of utensils, cups, plates
- Cooking spatula
- Other kitchen supplies/seasonings/tea/coffee
- First Aid Supplies, sunscreen, bug spray, ibuprofen, imodium, etc.
- Freezer bags and recyclable plastic containers (to prevent food from getting wet)
- Laundry detergent pods
Individual Packing List:
- Rain jacket
- Baseball hat/sun hat (for hiking)
- Warm hat (for cold mornings)
- 1-2 smartwool base layer or long sleeve shirt
- 1 mid-layer
- 3 t-shirts / tank tops
- 2 pairs pants
- 1 pair sweatpants, 1 pair leggings / base layer pants
- Warm socks & underwear
- Towel & Toiletries
- Water bottle
- AUX cord for car / car charger / portable charger
- Phone (camera) & chargers
Purchased Upon Arrival (per air travel):
- Groceries, cooking oil
- Matches, Stove fuel
- Ice, Water
- Extra batteries (if needed for headlamps)
- Bear spray
- Dish soap
- Non-stick foil
It rained on our last night in Grand Teton, so on the drive back up to Northern Montana, we took everything out to dry in the sun at a small picnic area.
There, we met a fly fisherman on an annual fly fishing trip with his college friends.
We offered him the extra supplies we had in the car (our cooler, packs of oatmeal, an oddball lemon, rice, etc.), which he very much appreciated, having just landed in Wyoming earlier that morning.
When he found out that our cousin Chris loves fishing, he gave Chris a couple of flies he’d hand-tied himself with deer hair, and we swapped stories.
Despite the fact that we had to change our plans a few times due to fires and trail closures, I’d say that’s pretty good travel karma, and the perfect close to another great trip.