Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks are three of America’s most famous, and, in my opinion, America’s best national parks. These three national parks will be popular destinations for families looking to take a road trip this summer of 2020. We’ve taken a Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks road trip many times and want to provide you with some tips and insights we’ve learned over from our experiences.
America The Beautiful Pass For Your Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip
Each one of these National Parks costs $35 per vehicle to enter. This fee is good for 7 consecutive days and covers all the passengers in your vehicle and is good for motorhomes as well. If you were only going to one park, this would be the way to go.
However, if you do this Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip, you are better off buying the America The Beautiful Pass which covers entrance fees at ALL national parks, national wildlife refuges, day-use fees at national forests and grasslands, and BLM areas. It’s only $80 for an entire year!
You can purchase it online but it’s easier to just buy it when you get to the entrance of your first national park.
Tips for Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is huge and while the geothermal activity and large bison are something everyone should see in person at least once in their life, I have to say that visiting Yellowstone, especially in the summer, is like going to Disneyland. It’s crowded and the main attractions are far apart, which means you’ll be spending a lot of time driving and circling for parking.
If you plan ahead and get campgrounds near Madison or Canyon, then you are in a central location and can break the park up into small segments. Since we road trip pretty much year-round, I prefer to only do one day in Yellowstone at a time and have broken it into different chunks with each visit.
Having a plan when going into Yellowstone is crucial since it is so big and because you won’t have cell service once you’re in there.
This is so important! To save some time, download offline maps before going into the park. Read our blog, How to Use Your Phone as a GPS if you don’t know how to do this already. You can also print out maps of Yellowstone and Grand Teton NPs here.
No trip to Yellowstone is complete without seeing Old Faithful erupt! It’s called Old Faithful for a reason and it can be seen shooting water into the air every 94 or 68 minutes (+/- 10 minutes). You can click here to get predictions for the next eruption of Old Faithful and many other geysers in Yellowstone.
Last, while there are so many viewpoints, picnic areas, fishing areas, and short hikes in Yellowstone National Park, if you try to see them all you’ll probably be exhausted. I would aim for these 4 top attractions in Yellowstone and then add in a few others if you have time.
What you can’t miss in Yellowstone N.P.
- Old Faithful
- Grand Prismatic Spring (Midway Geyser Basin)
- Norris Geyser Basin
- Grand Canyon of Yellowstone + Lower Falls
If you aren’t looping Yellowstone and instead, are driving through only one direction, I recommend driving from the Northeast entrance, through Lamar Valley, down to Canyon, west to Norris, and then South through Madison to Grand Prismatic and Old Faithful. With this itinerary, you will skip Mammoth Hot Springs and Yellowstone Lake, which are nice to see, but not as amazing as the others.
If you have more time, check out:
- West Thumb Geyser Basin
- Mammoth Hot Springs
- Lamar Valley
Tips For Grand Teton National Park
Now, compared to Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons are way more condensed, and quite honestly, this is my preferred place to go to chill and take in the mountain vibes.
The Tetons are jaw-droppingly beautiful especially when they are sprinkled with snow. You really don’t need a lot of time here (though you could spend A LOT of time here) but it’s worth it to at least take in the view from Colter Bay.
If you have time, walking around Jenny Lake or hopping on the boat to get across the lake to hike Cascade Canyon is the best.
Note that driving time from Old Faithful to Colter Bay is about an hour and a half (maybe even a little longer if you are driving an RV). And then driving time from Colter Bay to Jenny Lake is another hour.
Where to Camp in Yellowstone
Getting a campsite in Yellowstone can be difficult as they book up way in advance. There are 4 reservable and 6 first-come-first-serve campgrounds in Yellowstone NP. If you have cell service before you enter the park, you can click here to see which campgrounds have availability at that time.
Note that if you are looking for showers and laundry in the park, both Canyon and Grant Village have paid showers and laundry facilities that are open to the public.
You also have the option of camping in West Yellowstone, however, this town is very touristy and overpriced. We’ve stayed at the Brandin Iron Inn’s campground before and while there is not much draw to the actual campsite, it’s within walking distance to restaurants and grocery stores, plus it had free hot showers and a laundry room, which made it a good stopping place for a night to clean up and restock.
Where to Camp in Grand Teton
Since personally I would consider it a sin to visit Yellowstone without also visiting Grand Teton NP, I prefer camping at Colter Bay. This is a huge first-come-first-serve campground with 350 sites, however, it still fills up quickly in the high season. Colter Bay also has paid showers, laundry, and a general store that is open to the public.
There are a few other options if you don’t want to wing it or if you get there and there are no sites available.
- Try another first-come-first-serve Grand Teton NP campground.
- FR 30310– There is free, dispersed camping available on this fire road.
- Headwaters RV Campground at Flagg Ranch Resort– You can reserve a campsite at this RV resort which is located between Yellowstone’s south entrance and Colter Bay.
- Colter Bay RV Resort– This resort is located next to Colter Bay campground and takes reservations, however, they tend to fill up a year in advance.
- Jackson Lake Lodge or Colter Bay Village – You may also want to take a break from the RV and enjoy a night on the lake.
Tips For Visiting Glacier National Park
As of writing this on June 16, 2020, a lot of Glacier National Park is still closed. Normally, these are the things that you can’t miss in Glacier:
- Going to the Sun Road
- Views of Grinnel Glacier from the Highline Trail or Grinnel Glacier Trail
- Avalanche Lake Hike
- Lake McDonald
- Wildlife and wildflowers at Logan Pass
Luckily, even with all the changes to the park this year, you can still do 3 of the 5 things. The road is open to all traffic up to the parking lot to hike to Avalanche Lake. This is a gorgeous and fairly easy 4 mile round-trip hike.
One of the most memorable things I’ve done in Glacier NP is biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road. It’s a little challenging but we aren’t avid cyclists by any means and did it fairly easily. You can rent a bike from Glacier Outfitters and they even rent e-bikes to make the ride easier for you!
The views of Glacier NP from Lake McDonald, especially close to sunrise or sunset, are amazing. You may want to look into staying one night at Lake McDonald Lodge.
If you are going to go to the Saint Mary Lake area of Glacier NP, note that it is a 2 hour drive when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed. In my opinion, it isn’t worth the detour considering how many amazing things there are to see between Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.
Where to Camp in Glacier
In a normal year, I would recommend camping at Apgar Campground because it’s close to the visitor center which makes it easy to get on the shuttle. However, for 2020, the shuttle won’t be running and many of the campgrounds aren’t opening. To play it safe, you may want to reserve a campsite in one of the many campgrounds just outside the park or do one of the road trip options listed below.
Related Blog: 12 Tips for Camping in Glacier National Park (this is a good resource for when the campgrounds and roads open up)
Things to Do Between Yellowstone NP and Glacier NP
- Drive the Beartooth Highway from Red Lodge to Cooke City
- Explore Highway 83 from Seeley Lake to Swan Lake (blog COMING SOON)
- Camp at Holland Lake (or stay in the Lodge) and hike to Holland Falls
- Hike in Big Sky (We loved Beehive Basin)
- Check out Ringing Rocks (you need a high clearance vehicle and don’t forget a hammer)
- Explore or camp at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
- Stop at Ewam International: Garden of 1000 Buddhas
- Hike, Mountain Bike, and Eat in Whitefish (blog COMING SOON)
- Explore Butte, Missoula, or Bozeman
Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip 1 Week Itinerary
Okay, if time and money aren’t an issue, then you really need a week in the Tetons/Yellowstone area and another week in Glacier and a few days to travel between the two. But since most people do have a limited amount of time or money, I’m going to break down how you can do this trip in only 1 week by starting south and working your way north.
If you are flying in for this trip, you have a lot of options for airports and RV rentals. You can fly in/out of:
- Billings, MT
- Bozeman, MT
- Missoula, MT
- Jackson, WY
- Idaho Falls, ID
- Kalispell, MT (also known as Glacier International).
I think flying into Kalispell, Montana, is the easiest because the airport is so small, it’s very close to Glacier National Park, and there is a Costco 15 minutes away to stock up on food.
Day 1: Jenny Lake
May as well start with one of the best hikes ever! Start at Jenny Lake Visitor Center and take the ferry across to hike either to Inspiration Point or do all of Cascade Canyon. Then, head to Colter Bay to grab a campsite.
Day 2: Colter Bay
Wake up at sunrise and take the easy hike Colter Bay Lakeshore Trail to get epic pictures of the Tetons. Then, chill at the campground or by Jackson Lake. If you are feeling super adventurous, the hike to Delta Lake is AWESOME!
Day 3: Yellowstone NP
Today you’ll do all of Yellowstone so be ready to roll out of the campground early and have food and snacks prepared to make the day easier. I recommend these stops:
- See Old Faithful
- Grand Prismatic (you get much better views doing this 1.6 mile hike than if you go to the boardwalk, however, I would do both but you’ll have to see how crowded the parking is)
- Optional: If you have time and energy, stop and do the 1 mile hike at Artists Paintpots
- Explore Norris Geyser Basin
- See or hike Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
- Optional: Mammoth Hot Springs
- Optional: Drive Lamar Valley to see Bison herds and maybe even wolves
Tip: Don’t forget binoculars to spot wildlife and bug spray for all the mosquitoes (they are vicious here).
If you skip Mammoth Hot Springs and Lamar Valley, you’ll backtrack towards West Yellowstone and be able to take the scenic Highway 287 which goes past a bunch of scenic lakes and has a ton of campgrounds along the way. Look on the Allstays app for campgrounds along this road and Hebgen Lake. This route also takes you through the rad town of Ennis. You’ll also go through the historic town of Butte if you need to restock on food or supplies
Day 4: Drive toward Glacier (stop at Holland Lake)
Finish the drive toward Seeley Lake. This is a long drive and there isn’t much between Butte and Seeley Lake. I recommend camping at Holland lake and if you can get there with enough time to hike to the falls, even better.
Day 5: Glacier NP
Drive into Glacier NP, hike Avalance Lake and take photos at Lake McDonald. Camp in West Glacier.
Day 6: Glacier NP Going-to-the-Sun Road
Depending if it’s open, drive up the Going-to-the-Sun road and do a hike from Logan Pass or rent a bike and bike the Going-to-the-Sun road. Camp in Whitefish.
Day 7: Whitefish
Get breakfast in Whitefish at Amazing Crepes, hike Danny-On Trail at Whitefish Mountain Resort or just hang out at the resort and stroll through the cute downtown district of Whitefish.
If you are looping this, drive back south on Highway 93, taking in the gorgeous views of Flathead Lake from the west side of the lake. Be sure to stop in Arlee to see the Garden of 1000 Buddhas.
Tips for RV Camping on your Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip
We’ve been road tripping for a long time and have pretty much mastered the art of life on the go. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to be self sufficient in an RV and explore our amazing planet.
However, I wasn’t always an expert and there were certainly some fears and misconceptions I had to overcome along the way.
The biggest thing when you are new to RVing or taking a road trip is respect your comfort zone and be overly communicative with your significant other, children, or whoever is traveling with you.
After all these years of RV travel, I’m a minimalist. We travel light, fast, wing it, and boondock (free camp) most nights. But if this is your first road trip or you tend to get anxious easily, you need to respect that and move slower, plan a detailed itinerary, and get a campsite with full hookups. I have a blog 14 Tips For Planning Your First Road Trip that can help you overcome some initial concerns and has insights into keeping harmony in your family dynamics while you travel. There’s also How To Plan A Successful Road Trip that will help your with the planning process from researching destinations to booking campgrounds and mapping out your route, this will help newbies feel more confident on the road.
Having the right food on hand is my other secret to road trip success. We always stock up at Costco (check out our list of How to Shop Healthy at Costco) or Trader Joes with lots of hiking snacks, well-sourced protein, good fats like avocados and nuts, fruits and veggies, and rice and beans. If you can keep everyone’s blood sugar level while traveling, it will make a huge difference in how much energy and patience everyone has.
Saving money along the way has been a big part in allowing us to live this lifestyle for 5 years, here are some of our Tips for Road Tripping on a Budget as well as, How to Find Free Camping along the way.
Last, be sure to download our free Road Trip Pack List and you might want to add these apps to your phone:
- iOverlander- Helps you find free campsites,
- Allstays- Lists campgrounds, truck stops, Costco, Camping World, and more
- Gas Buddy- Find the cheapest prices on gas, however, if you have a Costco card they are typically the cheapest gas in town
- NPS Yellowstone National Park- Predictions for when Old Faithful is erupting, road conditions, available campsites, and more
- NPS Grand Teton National Park- Find out info on popular sites and services within the park
Phew, I think that covers the essentials of a Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip. If you have any questions or if this was helpful, please, let us know in the comments below.
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