Salt Lake City To Yellowstone: Complete Road Trip Guide

January 18, 2024
The Yellowstone River curving around the bend between two mountains

A road trip from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is one of the quickest road trips in the country that has some of the biggest payoffs. The quickest route takes just over four and a half hours, while the best route, in our opinion, is a seven hour drive from the metropolitan center of Salt Lake City to Yellowstone.

This itinerary details a flexible schedule that can be done over a range of days depending on how much time you have to spend, however we suggest taking at least four days.

We’ll also talk about what you need to bring, safety considerations, as well as restaurant and lodging recommendations. Highlights include Bear Lake, Antelope Island, Grand Teton National Park, and of course Yellowstone.

How Far Is Yellowstone From Salt Lake City?

The fastest route between Salt Lake City and Yellowstone National Park is 396 miles which takes roughly 4 1/2 hours. It’s easy, straightforward, and gets you from point A to point B quickly. This is a great route to take if you only have a few free days. You will have enough time to explore the heart of Salt Lake City and still arrive in Yellowstone by early evening with enough energy to do some sightseeing at sunset.

While you will miss out on a number of beautiful attractions between the two points, it is still a worthwhile drive and provides you with numerous opportunities to see wildlife.

The Ideal Route To Take

Ok let’s get into the details of our favorite route to take from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone National Park. First, a map is needed to give you an overview of the drive.

Ideal route for a Salt Lake City to Yellowstone road trip

With the addition of a couple of small detours off the main route (the biggest culprit being the stop off at Antelope Island) our suggested itinerary roughly covers 357 miles in seven hours and twenty minutes of total driving time between Salt Lake City and Yellowstone.

After checking out all that Salt Lake City has to offer, you will start the drive by going north on I-15 before turning west to cross the Great Salt Lake and arriving at Antelope Island State Park.

Continuing north on I-15 after you’ve hiked around the island and spotted its herds of free roaming bison, you will then turn off onto US-89. On this smaller highway, enjoy being in the valley of rolling mountains that turns into beautiful, vast farmland before reaching Logan, Utah.

Driving on past Logan, you will soon arrive at Bear Lake, also known as the Caribbean of the Rockies, thanks to its deep turquoise hues. I-89 continues north still, taking you through Jackson, Wyoming, past Grand Teton National Park and ultimately into Yellowstone via the south entrance.

Places To Stop During Your Road Trip From Salt Lake City To Yellowstone National Park

The reason why we love this route and think it’s worth the extra time in the car is because it takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of the United States in such a condensed amount of mileage. It is also highly customizable to best suit your preferences; while we suggest taking at least 4-5 days, you can shorten or lengthen your trip as needed!

The skyline of downtown Salt Lake City on a sunny day with the Wasatch Mountains in the background

You can easily do this trip in one day, granted with minimal lollygagging (which we are all for when it comes to this road trip) or you can stretch it out to a week or longer. We want to give you a list to choose from and pick the destinations that best fits the experience you are looking to get out of this road trip.

1. Salt Lake City, Utah

Whether you are flying into SLC airport or are just starting out in Salt Lake after a longer trip, we suggest taking day one to walk around the city. If you choose to stay overnight, stay at a lodging either in the heart of or within walking distance of downtown. This will allow you to get the most out of your time here.

Whether you are religious or not, take a walk around Temple Square, which is a five block area home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The temple architecture is stunning and the surrounding grounds and gardens are pristinely maintained.

From Temple Square head one block south to downtown Salt Lake where you can go shopping at City Creek Center or walk north to tour the Utah State Capitol building. From here you get a fantastic view of the city and the Wasatch mountain range.

A white ornate church made of quartz against a deep blue sky

If you’re looking for indoor activities, check out one of the many museums. We really enjoyed the national history museum that has a large collection of dinosaur bones (many of which were found in Utah) and really unique rocks and minerals. You even get to see into the laboratories where fossils are cleansed and prepared!

For food we cannot recommend Red Iguana enough! They serve some amazingly mouth watering, delicious Mexican food and are known for their mole sauce. We highly suggest getting reservations because this restaurant is so popular and known for its long wait times for walk-in customers.

If Mexican isn’t your thing, try Skewered Thai that offers fresh, modern Thai food in a cute older house with brick walls.

Locations and Websites

2. Antelope Island State Park

Antelope Island (it’s actually a peninsula!) is a 54 minute drive north of downtown Salt Lake yet looks like a different world. If you’re a nature lover and animal enthusiast, make time for Antelope Island in your itinerary! This state park is located on the biggest of the fifteen islands in the Great Salt Lake and is home to free range bison herds, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and antelope.

A trail on Antelope Island, Utah leading up a grassy mountain whose top is covered in snow

It is a vast expanse of mountainous grassy meadows that dissolve into sandy beaches leading into the Great Salt Lake. People come here to hike, bike, swim, horseback ride, and appreciate the wildlife. This is a popular place for birding as millions of birds call this island home.

Antelope Island is open every day except for Thanksgiving and Christmas with longer hours between the months of March and October. The entrance fee is $15 per car, however if you are a Utah resident, you can use an annual Utah state park pass to gain entrance for free (plus the $2 causeway toll).

The absolute best beaches and swimming areas in the Great Salt Lake are in Antelope Island. Bridger Bay Beach is located on the northern end of the island and has an absolutely beautiful white sandy beach. You can choose to swim in the lake if you want however here is some important information to know about before you dive in:

  • The salinity of the Great Salt Lake is high enough that you could float, however most of the lake is 15 feet or less deep and generally in the middle of the lake. To get there, you’d be walking and walking for at least ½ mile through ankle deep water. The upside to the shallow water? It’s usually quite warm!
  • Due to the salinity, you will have to clean up after drying off because salt will cling to your skin. Also because of the high salt content, any cuts or scrapes will likely sting.
  • It can get super buggy. Brine flies are always around the water and can get a bit annoying.

There are numerous trails for hiking and biking. These are two great ways to see fantastic views and a variety of wildlife. There is very little shade so be sure to bring sunscreen, hats, and plenty of water.

Fray Peak is a medium+ hike that covers 7.1 miles and climbs 2,142 feet in elevation. The 360 degree view is totally worth the effort. Buffalo Point Trail is an alternative and easy hike that is about 1 mile long. It ends on a rocky peak with large boulders and a great view of the Great Salt Lake.

A portrait of a bison walking across yellowed grass

Because there is free roaming wildlife, I want to point out some considerations to keep you and the animals safe. It is extremely common to come upon a bison or two (or even a herd) while driving and hiking. Incidents involving humans and bison are very rare however we suggest you keep the following in mind:

  • Be aware of the bisons’ reactions. If the animal doesn’t stop what it’s doing to look at you, you’re likely at a safe distance. If you happen upon a bison and it sees you, then you are too close. Slowly back away. If this encounter happens on a trail, back track or leave the trail, giving the bison a wide berth, to pass.
  • If you encounter a bison crossing the road, let it pass. Do not get out or approach.

Location and Website

3. Bear Lake State Park

Located in the southeastern corner of Idaho, Bear Lake State Park offers a wide range of activities. Its namesake lake is located partially in Idaho and partially in Utah and is a stunning turquoise blue.

An expansive lake with gradually deeper blue colors the farther away from shore

Bear Lake has a day use area if you want to pop by for a picnic lunch and quick dip in the water. If you have time to stay the night, there are 155 campsites ranging from primitive to ones with full hookup.

There are ample activities available for all seasons, including boating and hiking during the summer and snowmobiling and cross country skiing in the winter.

Location and Website

4. Minnetonka Cave

Positioned a 27 minute drive west of Bear Lake, Minnetonka Cave is a seasonal natural attraction that opens Memorial Day Weekend and closes on Labor Day. If you happen to embark upon a Salt Lake City to Yellowstone road trip during this time period, we think it’s worth the extra driving to take a tour down into the limestone caverns.

The dark inside of a cave with stalagmites and stalactites illuminated by an orange glow

The hour plus guided tour leads you through nine individual cave rooms and up/down a total of 888 stairs. No matter what month you visit, bring a jacket as the cave temperature hovers around 40° year round.

Location and Website

5. Jackson, Wyoming

Jackson, Wyoming is home to roughly 11,000 residents and is perfectly positioned to be a base for all things nature in this part of the country. It’s a fantastic place to spend the day shopping, eating, and exploring the mountains.

Jackson is situated close to three ski resorts: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Snow King Mountain, and Grand Targhee Resort. It is a 20 minute drive to the southern part of Grand Teton National Park and a 55 minute drive to the northern entrance (we’ll go into detail about everything Grand Teton later!). Here is our list of things to check out in and around Jackson, Wyoming.

Jackson Town Square

This is the heart of Jackson known notably for its large arches made of elk antlers. These naturally shed antlers are gathered from the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole to create the four 12,000 pound arches! Centers for the arts.

An arch large enough for multiple people to walk through that is made of thousands of antlers

The Town Square is surrounded by good food, coffee, art galleries, and museums. We think it’s totally reasonable to allot at least half a day exploring the town, followed by some physical activity in the afternoon and a good dinner back in Jackson to end the day! Check out some of our food suggestions:

Persephone Bakery 

A French inspired bakery that pushes the limits of creativity in the creation of their pastries. They source their ingredients from local farms in the close vicinity. Everything is fresh and delicious! Grab a coffee and a treat to start your day.

Picnic

A three minute drive from the Jackson Town Square, Picnic is a sister store to Persephone Bakery serving a selection of dishes for breakfast and lunch. Again, we love that everything tastes super fresh here. Picnic is great for either meal, especially if you are looking for something light and healthy.

Liberty Burger

For well priced, tasty burgers check out Liberty Burger. They offer a range of specialty burgers with a good combination of ingredients!

Art Fair Jackson Hole

For three days in both July and August, the Art Association of Jackson Hole hosts two outdoor art fairs. If you are traveling through Jackson during this time, check out the local and national artists that flock here to sell their artwork.

Consider checking out some of the art galleries close to the town center if you aren’t in town during the six days the art fair occurs. Two nice ones are Gallery Wild and Altamira Fine Art Gallery.

Teton Village, Aerial Tram, and Bridger Gondola

The Aerial Tram takes you up just over 4,100 feet high in a 12 minute ride. The windows from the tram offer vast views of the surrounding Jackson Hole Valley. At the top of the peak, enjoy an impressive view of the Tetons.

A gondola on a cable making its way down a grassy mountain

At the top of the Aerial Tram, there are a number of fabulous hikes such as the Rock Springs Loop (3.2 miles long, 1,066 feet elevation gain) and the Cirque Trail (3.8 miles long, 1,387 feet elevation gain).

The Bridger Gondola ride also lasts about 12 minutes and takes you up more than 2,700 feet above the valley. At the top, check out The Deck at Piste for casual dining with fantastic views. If you prefer, hike up the Wildflower Trail (3.8 miles long, 2,741 feet elevation gain) to the top of the gondola and ride it back down to Teton Village.

Walk around Teton Village which sits at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. It’s a small ski town with things to do all year round.

6. Grand Teton National Park

The Grand Tetons are one of our favorite mountain ranges; the mountains feature tall, spiky alpine peaks that rise suddenly and dramatically high above the valley floor. We suggest spending as much time here as you can! Our shortest visit to the Tetons was two nights and we left feeling like we needed more time.

A panoramic view of the Teton mountain range on a cloudless day with Jackson Lake in the foreground

That being said, this post is all about a road trip so maybe you don’t have all the time in the world to spend here; if that’s the case, here are just a few highlights that we suggest:

Cascade Canyon Trail

This is a moderate 10 mile out and back hike that leads you up 1,110 feet up into the mountains featuring amazing views of the peaks of the Cathedral Group, including the highest (and the park’s namesake), Grand Teton.

We like this trail because it includes numerous stopping points with scenic views. Because it is an out and back trail, you can stop at any time and turn back. The trail starts at the southern edge of Jenny Lake and takes you around the bottom quarter. After a bit of climbing you will encounter Hidden Falls and slightly further up, Inspiration Point.

The trail continues up along Cascade Creek. We saw numerous Pikas, which are an absolute delight to listen to and watch, running among the granite rock slides.

A river with grassy banks winding through multiple mountain peaks in the Grand Tetons

The Cascade Canyon Trail ends at a fork 5 miles in. You can choose to turn back here or continue on another 2 or so miles to Lake Solitude. This adds a total of 4.7 extra miles and an additional 1,285 feet of elevation gain, making this a much steeper climb than just hiking the Cascade Canyon Trail.

Parking, especially during the summer months, is quite limited. Do get there early (like 6-7 am early for the least number of people). The South Lake Jenny Parking Lot is located at 43.75114, -110.7238. Another parking option is at String Lake Parking Lot.

REMEMBER: There are grizzlies in and around Grand Teton National Park. We saw one just off the side of the road. Because of this, bring bear spray and make frequent noises while on the trail to alert any wildlife to your presence.

Taggart Lake Loop

This is an easy, mellow hike along a well groomed trail that takes you to the southern portion of Taggart Lake. It offers a stunning view of the Teton range while wending through a pine and spruce forest.

Since Taggart Lake Loop is only 3.8 miles with minimal elevation gain, consider continuing on to Bradley Lake via the Valley Trail. This adds an additional 3 miles and takes you along the eastern side of both Taggart and Bradley Lakes heading in a counter-clockwise direction.

We suggest heading back the same way you came once you meet the bridge at Bradley Lake. Retrace your steps until you continue on the Taggart Lake Loop. 

Parking is at the Taggart Lake Loop trailhead located at these coordinates off of Teton Park Road: 43.697327829021724, -110.73547735872832.

Goodwin Lake Trail

Another moderate out and back hike clocking in at 6.4 miles is the trek to Goodwin Lake. This hike is actually not located within Grand Teton National Park so is significantly less crowded. It also allows dogs who are not allowed on any trails within the national park. We also suggest Goodwin Lake Trail because it gives you a panoramic view of the mountain range.

Ending in a pristine lake, this trail offers numerous shady areas which are great to keep cool during the warmer months. Because of all the trees and vegetation, there are a lot of bugs so be prepared.

The trailhead is at the end of a long dirt road with numerous switch backs. It can be super bumpy so drive slowly. The trailhead and parking are just off of Forest Road 30440 at 43.5028, -110.6282.

Scenic Drives

The Tetons are picturesque from any angle and taking a drive on the scenic roads will give you ample opportunity to take the perfect picture. Signal Mountain Summit Road takes roughly 30-60 minutes and offers panoramic views of the peaks.

A stunning view of the snow capped Grand Teton mountains as seen from a dirt road

Another great drive is the Teton Park Road that follows the base of the Teton Range running north and south. This road offers a handful of stopping points and pull-offs. It’s not uncommon to see wildlife!

Get Out On The Lakes

Seeing the Tetons from one of the many lakes is breathtaking, especially when the water is still and mirrors a crystal clear reflection of the peaks. You can bring your own boat or choose from one of the rental companies within the park.

If you bring your own boat, you will need to purchase and display a permit. Check out the nps site for more detailed information about this and how to prevent the introduction of invasive species into the waters.

7. Yellowstone National Park

The final stop of this road trip is of course Yellowstone National Park. Entering the park through the southern entrance, the drive from the Tetons to Yellowstone is about an hour. Yellowstone is a huge national park, covering over 2.2 million acres of land, and one can spend days upon days discovering both the popular attractions and hidden gems.

The blue/green Grand Prismatic Hot Spring in Yellowstone National Park, ringed with layers of yellow and red as seen from above
This picture is taken from the Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail.

Since this post is focused on the road trip from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone, we just want to highlight a brief overview of things to do!

The Grand Prismatic Spring

This is the largest hot spring in the U.S. and one of the most photographed features in Yellowstone. It’s not hard to wonder why this is the case. It is about 10 feet longer than a football field and around 121 feet (or 11 stories!) deep.

The colors are vibrant, especially on clear sunny days. In the right light, the mist rising up from the spring lightly reflects the colors from the water.

A ground level view of the multi-colored steam coming off a hot spring
Look at the colors of the hot spring reflect in the steam rising off the water!

You can walk around the Grand Prismatic on a raised, wooden walkway, however for a better view follow the Fairy Falls Trail to the Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail. If you have time, we suggest following the Fairy Falls Trail all the way to the end to view the waterfall.

Old Faithful

A list of the highlights of Yellowstone wouldn’t be complete without a stop by Old Faithful. This highly predictable geothermal geyser erupts about every half hour to two hours, shooting thousands of gallons of water up to 180 feet in the air. Eruptions last for anywhere between 1.5 and 5 minutes.

There are eruption predictors so you don’t have to waste time waiting for the next showing. We suggest planning to arrive 30-45 minutes before an estimated eruption time and take a walk around the entire geothermal field. This is part of the Upper Geyser Basin that contains so many other beautiful and colorful geothermal features. You will note that crowds thin out significantly just a minute’s walk away from Old Faithful!

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon Of Yellowstone is a massive 1,000 foot deep, colorful geological feature carved out by the Yellowstone River. It features two large waterfalls, the Upper and Lower Falls. You can simply stop at the numerous overlooks or take a hike partially into the canyon itself.

A deep, richly colored canyon carved by the river at the very bottom with numerous white rapids

Lamar Valley, Hayden Valley, and The Tower-Roosevelt Area

The Lamar Valley, Hayden Valley, and The Tower-Roosevelt Area are some of the best places to regularly observe wildlife. The animals are such a treasured part of the park so take time to view the bison, bears, moose, wolves, pronghorn sheep, and so many more.

Mammoth Hot Springs

This is an incredibly cool place to visit in the northernmost portion of the park. It is an enormous collection of hot springs that sits on large, natural sculptures of travertine. You can’t soak in these springs but there are walkways throughout this feature.

Places To Stay When Driving From Salt Lake City To Yellowstone

You will likely want to have a few accommodations in mind when booking this road trip, especially if it is going to be a multi-day excursion. We’ve gathered some unique places to stay between SLC and Yellowstone National Park.

Ellerbeck Bed & Breakfast – 140 North B St E, Salt Lake City, UT 84103

Instead of staying at a hotel, consider staying the night at this bed and breakfast that is only a five minute walk to Temple Square and downtown SLC.

Housed in a beautifully restored 1892 Victorian mansion, Ellerbeck has 6 different rooms that are thoughtfully decorated. Breakfast, tea, and coffee comes with every reservation!

Conestoga Ranch – 427 N Paradise Pkwy, Garden City, UT 84028

For a unique glamping experience in high end tents and wagons, check out Conestoga Ranch located near Bear Lake and Bear Lake State Park. They have a variety of options. All accommodations include electricity and heat. Others include en suite bathrooms while the lower priced options have access to private toilets and showers located in the main lodge.

While pets are unfortunately not allowed, Conestoga Ranch does offer a handful of amenities including laundry, complimentary bikes, an on-site restaurant, a general store, and what they call ‘campfire valet service’ (they start your campfire and bring all of the necessary goodies).

Mountain Modern – 380 W Broadway, Jackson, WY 83001

Located four blocks west of Jackson Town Square, Mountain Modern is a boutique motel with an outdoorsy, hipster vibe, decorated with plaid accents and wood paneling. They offer guest rooms, bunk rooms, and suites. There is one restaurant directly on site, with two others within a short walking distance.

Fireside Resort – 2780 North, WY-390, Wilson, WY 83014

This resort sits between Jackson and Teton Village. It offers three different luxury cabin plans and RV sites. Dogs are allowed in both the cabins (for an additional fee) and in the RV park, which has full-hook up and electric only sites. Both the cabins and RV spots are on the pricey side, however fairly comparable to the other resorts in the area. What we love is how close it is to the mountains as well as town.

Colter Bay Village; Campground and Cabins -101 Jackson Lake Lodge Road #250, Moran, WY 83013

Colter Bay Village is located right on the shores of Jackson Lake. It is a small community made up of a campground, both RV and tent, and a collection of cabins. The campground has 324 sites and 112 full hookup RV sites. It offers the most amenities out of all the Teton campgrounds run by the NPS. This is a VERY popular campsite so book early (up to 6 months in advance).

Old Faithful Snow Lodge – 2051 Snow Lodge Ave, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190

This lodge offers a cozy place to stay right next to Old Faithful. Its location is “fairly” central, which I say in quotes because traveling between places in Yellowstone can take a lot of time.

The Best Time Of Year To Road Trip From Salt Lake City To Yellowstone National Park

When deciding what time of year is best to road trip from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone, consider what you want to do. Neither Pierce nor I know how to do any winter downhill sports, so we prefer the summer/fall months because the hiking trails are open.

A snow-filled valley with pine trees and table top mountains in the background

However there is so much to do all year round that the biggest thing to consider is weather. This whole area can get heavy snowfall during winter which can impede and/or delay your travel. This route is on main roads, however once you get north of Jackson, very few places are open and road maintenance may be poor.

Another thing to consider is that both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks essentially close down in the winter. In the Tetons, all campgrounds and amenities close, as do most roads. The road between the North and Northeast entrances of Yellowstone is open all year round; all other roads are closed and require over the snow transportation, such as snowmobiles. This does, however, provide you with a very intimate look at the park during its most quiet season.

Wrapping Up

Phew! Thanks for sticking with us, this was a long one, but there is just so much between Salt Lake City and Yellowstone National Park that can be done during a road trip. The distance between Salt Lake City and Yellowstone National Park on this road trip is 357 miles.

The landscape in this part of the county is undeniably beautiful and attracts outdoor lovers from all over. This road trip itinerary caters to both these people and those who prefer city life and sightseeing nature from a distance.

Have you done this road trip? Where were your favorite places to stop?

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