A short guide to Yellowstone & Grand Tetons National Park

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Yellowstone & Grand Tetons form one of the most amazing landscapes of the planet, with countless geysers, hot springs, creeks, waterfalls, lakes and peaks.

As in the best tradition of the NPS, the park is very visitor-friendly. Of course this also means that most of the attractions are relatively crowded. This is somewhat alleviated by the sheer dimensions of the parks, since the visitors have to spread over a large surface. In turn, this also means that long drives from one place to another are necessary to reach the main attractions (driving speed in the park is very slow, and made even slower by cars frequently stopping in the middle of the road to watch wildlife).

Yellowstone Park

  • Northern Lake Area & Hayden Valley
    • Lake Yellowstone is a huge alpine lake that sits in the middle of the park. This is perhaps the nicest location in the park to sleep and to use as a base for visiting.
    • Two accomodations are available on the northern shore of Lake Yellowstone: the Lake Lodge and the Lake Hotel. The Lake Lodge is cheaper and offers nice cabins. The Lake Hotel is more elegant and somewhat decadent and more expensive. Very difficult to get a room with lake view in any case.
    • Hayden Valley is the name of the area between Lake Village and Canyon Village. Wildlife sightings are virtually guaranteed (elks, bisons, and possibly eagles). Best times for this are early morning and late afternoon. Bisons can't be missed because they usually graze along the main road and often cross it causing huge traffic jams.
    • The northern shore of the lake also has a couple of nice spots that are ideal for relaxing & sunbathing on the lake (Mary Bay and Sedge Bay).
    • The Lake Butte Overview (off the road between the Lake and the East Entrance) features a wonderful view of the Lake and, on clear days, of the Tetons.
  • Southern Lake Area
    • This is the area along the road the runs parallel to the west shore of the Lake Yellowstone and leads to the Southern Entrance.
    • Main attractions here are Lewis Lake & Falls, and the Natural Bridge. The latter can be reached with a 30-minutes stroll off the main road.
  • Geyser Area
    • The Geyser area is the most crowded place in Yellowstone, mainly because of Old Faithful.
    • The popularity of Old Faithful is mainly due to its predictability. While geysers normally erupt basically at random (i.e. there is little or no correlation between two consecutive eruptions), Old Faithful erupts with impressive regularity (every 60-70 minutes or so). An amphiteater has been build to accomodate the herds of tourists awaiting the next eruption.
    • The same basin of Old Faithful (called Upper Geyser Basin) hosts a number of other geysers and pool, with all possible colors and shapes. The stroll among them is highly recommended, and is actually much more interesting that Old Faithful. A short detour (15-20 minutes uphill) leads to Observation Point with a view (just so so) of the entire basin.
    • Further north, the Midway and the Lower Geyser Basins are also a must-see. The former has probably the most beautiful colors (Grand Prismatic Spring).
  • Canyon Area
    • This area revolves around the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a gorge carved by the Yellowstone River, that has also produced two major Falls.
    • Convenient lookout points all around the Canyon (Lower & Upper Falls).
    • Dunraven Pass and Mt Washburn offer opportunities for feasible and rewarding (in terms of scenery) hikes, but unluckily the Pass was closed at the time of our visit.
  • Mammoth
    • Mammoth is an area of intense hot spring activity. Hot springs differ from geysers in that they don't erupt periodically, but the continually release flows of hot steam.
    • The Mammoth Terrace (a white rock formation) is the highlight of the area.
  • Norris
    • This is another area of thermal activity, perhaps the one with the most apocalyptic scenario.
  • Tower / Roosvelt
    • Tower & Roosvelt indicate the upper right corner of the park, a hilly region centered around the Lamar Valley. The scenery is here softer than around the Lake as most of the peaks are not visible.
    • This is a prime area for hiking or horseback riding.
  • Bechler Corner
    • This is the south-west edge of the Park, a remote area that can be accessed only with long hikes and/or from a road that is not connected to the rest of the park (a 5-6 hour detour would probably needed).

Grand Tetons Park

  • Jackson Lake
  • Jenny Lake
    • This is surely one of the best spots of the whole Yellowstone area, with the tiny lake surrounded by the impressive Tetons. The Jenny Lake scenic drive is a must.
    • From Jenny Lake one could do an epic and attractive hike looping around the Tetons (Paintbrush Canyon, Lake Solitude, and Cascade Canyon).
    • The Jenny Lake Lodge is an upscale resort fundamentally in the middle of nowhere and beside the lake. No idea how it came out to be, but the Jenny Lake Lodge has some of the best meals of the area (in an elegant restaurant) and 400$ cabins including five-course dinners, bycicles and horseback rides.
  • Driving tour
    • Grand Teton can be quickly visited with a loop drive going south by Jackson Lake and Jenny Lake to Moose Junction, and then north towards Moran Junction.
    • Mormon Row (off Antelope Flats Road), with the remains of the houses of some early settlers, is another must


Most of the cafeterias throughout the park are managed by the same company. Bad sign. The menus look alike or identical in most of the places and every day (not a good omen for quality). An elegant alternative is the restaurant of the Lake Hotel (reservations needed). or the restaurant of the Jenny Lake Lodge, if one happens to be around there.

Ideas for a Vacation
** Get a cabin at the Jenny Lake Lodge.
** Use this as a base for an epic day hike through Paintbrush Canyon and around the Tetons (~20 miles).
** End the day with the five-course meal at the Restaurant of the Lodge (included in its pricey fare).
** That would be the best for the mad-keen hiker & gourmand that manages this site :-)

Virtually infinite hiking possibilities. Among them, appealing ones are:
- Mt. Washburn & Sevenmile Hole (~12 miles one way)
- Paintbrush Canyon Loop (see above)

Horseback Riding
Three corrals in Yellowstone: Mammoth, Canyon & Roosvelt.


"Lonely Planet Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks" by Bradley Mayhew and Andrew Dean Nystrom

Jenny Lake Lodge

Yellowstone Pictures

Morning Light over Lake Yellowstone

Herds of touristis waiting for Old Faithful

Old Faithful

The Geyser Loop

Any color you like

Grand Prismatic Spring

Slow down

Apocalyptic landscape at Norris

Lamar Valley

Mammoth Hot Springs

Evening in the Hayden Valley

The view from Artist Point

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Tetons Pictures

Driving towards the Tetons

Jenny Lake

A house in Mormon Row

Another view from Mormon Row




© Lorenzo Casaccia