Embark on this road trip from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone National Park to experience some of the most impressive outdoor environments in the USA. Be sure to tick off the gems of your starting point first, then head north ready to be wowed by scenic nature in not one but two awe-inspiring American national parks.
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- Total distance: 347 mi / 558 km
- Total driving time: 7 h
Route info: This itinerary is perfected for a summer drive, when all park roads are open. Typically from early November to late April, only Yellowstone’s North Entrance is open for cars. You can check the current Yellowstone road status before traveling.
1. Salt Lake City
Good proximity to Yellowstone is far from all Salt Lake City, Utah’s capital founded by Mormons in 1847, has to offer. Feel the city’s cultural pulse and marvel at its tall and salty surroundings before you get going.
Soak up the vibe at Temple Square
The heart of Salt Lake City, Temple Square is both the worldwide headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the city’s number-one attraction, one that goes way beyond religion. Take a guided tour to plunge into the Mormon history or just let the area’s beautiful appearance wash over you.
Temple Square abounds with photo opportunities: Admire the architecture of its buildings, such as the centerpiece Salt Lake Temple with six eye-catching quartz monzonite spires, and leisurely stroll through large gardens with hundreds of plant species — all backdropped by the imposing Wasatch Mountains.
Feel the Great Salt Lake
Salt Lake City is named after the adjacent Great Salt Lake. With a jaw-dropping salinity ranging between 5% and 27% — compare that to the ocean’s 3% — it’s the saltiest lake in the Western Hemisphere.
To experience it, drive 20 minutes west from Downtown Salt Lake City to Great Salt Lake State Park. Alternatively, stop at Antelope Island State Park, also offering bison watching opportunities, as you head north towards Bear Lake (adding an hour to your itinerary total).
Where to stay in Salt Lake City
Your two best bets are: Stay in Downtown Salt Lake City to have the city’s best at your fingertips, or bed down near the airport if you fly in and want to get going to Yellowstone sooner rather than later.
- Hyatt Regency Downtown – Five-star downtown luxury.
- TownePlace Suites by Marriott – Three-star downtown comfort.
- Tru by Hilton – Sleep near the airport, then go.
2. Bear Lake
- Driving distance: 122 mi / 196 km
- Driving time: 2 h 15 min
The drive from Salt Lake City to Bear Lake is a stunner. Enter Logan Canyon Scenic Byway, leading you east from Logan, to find yourself tracing Logan River brilliantly framed by towering limestone cliffs.
Stretch your legs at Bear Lake Overlook
Stop at Bear Lake Overlook, located towards the end of Logan Canyon Scenic Byway, for a breathtaking first impression. Enjoy vistas of the unusually blue 20-mile lake, for that called the Caribbean of the Rockies, straddling the Utah-Idaho line.
Get a raspberry shake in Garden City
On Bear Lake’s shore, Garden City is famous not only for its good views but also for its sweet raspberry milkshake. Take your pick from an array of eateries offering the signature beverage.
Prepare for antlers: The sleepy town of Afton, which you cut right through on your way from Bear Lake to Grand Teton, greets you with what’s claimed to be the world’s biggest elk-horn arch, consisting of over 3,000 antlers. Further on, the gateway to Grand Teton, Jackson has four arches guarding its Town Square.
3. Grand Teton National Park
- Driving distance: 150 mi / 241 km
- Driving time: 3 h
Driving north from Bear Lake on Highway 89 is highly scenic — especially the part tracing Snake River (allow time for stops) — but it’s in the great national parks that the scenery culminates. First out is Grand Teton, where the soaring Teton Range makes your jaw drop.
Watch Jenny Lake splash
The adventure awaits at Jenny Lake, one of two centerpiece lakes (the other is Jackson Lake) in Grand Teton National Park. Discover the splashing lake by hiking, boating — or why not both.
A shuttle boat service takes visitors from the Jenny Lake Ranger Station area, at the lake’s southern end, to the Cascade Canyon Trailhead, at the lake’s western end, in 15 minutes. Not only is the cruise scenic and enriching in its own right, but it also cuts off over 2 miles (3.2 km) each way for those who hike to popular Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point.
Tip: You can also rent a canoe or kayak to enjoy Jenny Lake at your very own pace.
Picture being a settler at Mormon Row
History buffs and photographers come together at Mormon Row, where settlers built 27 homesteads, a church and school during the 1890s and early 1900s. As you walk through the abandoned but once vibrant community, picture what it would have been like to live here.
Be sure to take pictures of the Moulton Barns — the John Moulton barn and T.A. Moulton Barn — with the towering Teton Range in the background.
Where to stay
Stay with eateries and shops on your doorstep in the gateway town of Jackson, just a 35-minute drive from Lake Jenny. Or, opt for the in-park lodging available, putting you at nature’s heart.
- Cowboy Village Resort – Cool, comfy cabins in Jackson.
- Signal Mountain Lodge – Varied Jackson Lake lodging.
- Jackson Lake Lodge – Iconic views at Jackson Lake.
More info: Where to stay at Grand Teton
4. Yellowstone National Park
- Driving distance: 75 mi / 121 km
- Driving time: 1 h 45 min
Cruise through Grand Teton one last time, saying goodbye to the Teton Range, and head north on John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway. A mere 8-mile (13 km) stretch after exiting Grand Teton, you’re there: Welcome to Yellowstone!
Marvel at geysers and hot springs
It’s fair to say that there’s no shortage of geysers and hot springs in Yellowstone: More than 10,000 hydrothermal features call the park home. Be sure to tick off the big-ticket items.
- Old Faithful – Reflect on the power of Earth while you sit down on a wooden bench waiting for the Old Faithful to erupt. You won’t have to wait long: It on average erupts once every 1.5 hours, proving that it has been appropriately named time after time.
- Grand Prismatic Spring – You might think someone has photoshopped this one, but rest assured that Grand Prismatic Spring really is that colorful. Be awestruck by the deep-blue center ringed by vivid bands of green, yellow, orange and red in all possible shades.
Goggle at roaming wildlife
Amid animals migrating across the park, you feel closer to Mother Nature than ever in Yellowstone. Nearly 70 kinds of mammals live here — many with unique concentrations — including ungulate species, such as bison and elk, and large predators, with black bears, grizzly bears and wolves some of the stars.
Head to Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley for exceptional wildlife watching opportunities. Stop at pullouts to scan the landscape carefully — bison is usually easy to spot while the local wolf packs keep a much lower profile.
Where to stay in Yellowstone
While there’s both lodging inside and outside Yellowstone, we highly recommend opting for in-park accommodation. Keep in mind that Yellowstone, spanning over 2.2 million acres, is bigger than some small states, and you don’t want to add lengthy in-and-out drives to the already extensive drives required inside the park.
- Lake Yellowstone Hotel – Base yourself by the lake.
- Canyon Lodge & Cabins – At Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
- Old Faithful Inn – Walk to memorable eruptions.
More info: Where to stay in Yellowstone
Which route back from Yellowstone to Salt Lake City?
While the scenic route between Salt Lake City and Yellowstone via Bear Lake is as rewarding south-north as north-south, you might want to consider an alternative course for the way back to Salt Lake City, making the road trip a loop.
You can exit Yellowstone at West Yellowstone and then continue south through Idaho Falls. Although it’s a less scenic drive, it compensates you by being shorter — covering 321 miles (517 km) in just under 5 hours.
To break up the return drive, stop after 3 hours at Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, and soak in natural hot pools while reflecting on what a great journey you have experienced, maybe picking a very favorite moment.
Frequently asked questions
This ultimate SLC to Yellowstone road trip is 347 miles (558 km) long, taking 7 hours. Add extra time for the stops you make along the way.
Pause at Bear Lake and Grand Teton on your way from SLC to Yellowstone. If you want somewhere to stay between SLC and Grand Teton, consider the towns of Garden City, Afton and Alpine.
Take Highway 89 via Bear Lake and Afton to maximize the scenery as you drive from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone. This route includes the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway and a highly scenic stretch along Snake River between Alpine and Jackson.
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