Dreaming of Travel: Explore the Magical Beauty of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks
Check these Two Beauties off your National Park Bucket List
Whether your wanderlust is on hold, fulfilled by dreaming up your next journey, or your pursuits are becoming a potential reality through cautious and safe day trips or RV touring, we are excited to continue our travel series to keep us all inspired and grateful for the natural beauty that surrounds us (while respectfully wearing a mask and social distancing, of course).
Happyly was founded in Jackson Hole and we are blessed and inspired by the outdoor adventures and active family life available in our backyard. Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks are two of the most adored and popular national parks, just a stone throw away from Jackson, Wyoming.
They are also just four hours south of Bozeman, Montana through West Yellowstone and also accessible through the Beartooth Mountains in the Northeast, Gardiner, Montana in the North, and Cody, Wyoming from the East. The parks are just five hours north from Salt Lake City, an hour and a half east of Idaho Falls, and eight hours from Denver
Our National Parks are beginning to reopen so it’s an ideal time to highlight two magnificent beauties! Beyond the necessary reminder to bring bear spray, we expect the tips we’ve learned from our many opportunities to explore these special places will be helpful when you visit, or just help you daydream for a future visit. In a few days (or for a longer time period if it's an option) you can unlock some of the wonders of both Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
For a magical and well-rounded adventure, we suggest beginning in idyllic Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park. Next, indulge for a night or two at the Turpin Meadow Ranch before embarking on your Yellowstone leg of the journey.
Summer in Jackson offers everything an outdoor enthusiast may dream of, much of which is kid-friendly. With dozens of hiking trails, biking with Teton views, and a number of exceptional restaurants, you can experience so much in Jackson alone.
Local Hiking and Biking
Walk, scooter, stroller jog, or bike along on this paved trail system that winds all the way from the post office to South of Town.
The most popular hike in Jackson brings you to the best views of town. It’s steep and best for kids in backpacks or older kids that can handle an hour-long hike with a pumping heart.
A moderately challenging three and a half mile out and back local hike that boasts amazing views of the town.
Jackson's most accessible trail system boasts amazing snowshoeing, dog walking, mountain biking, hiking, stroller walking, and more! Hike for a half-mile or several!
Ski Lake is a four-mile out and back hike that offers great views, wildflowers, and a great payoff at the top, right outside of Wilson on the pass.
The Iconic Town Square
Take a stroll after brunch around the town square and officially commence your visit with the classic photo in front of the unforgettable antler arches. Lee’s Tees is our favorite place for authentic Jackson gear and Teton Toys is right downstairs in case you desire legos, crafts, or a keepsake.
Check out this Jackson favorite if your trip happens in the warmest months; it’s available from 4 pm - 7 pm every Wednesday from June 10th to September 23rd. Immerse yourself in one of the most beloved local experiences. Expect live music, tasty treats, homemade local goods, and deliciously fresh food.
Don’t miss the delicious Momo Shack dumplings, popcorn from Pop and “sloshies” for the adults (a local staple). The kids will love the playground right beside it as well. Don’t forget to bring a cup for some beer on tap! This is a waste-free event so bringing your own reusable cutlery is recommended.
On Saturday mornings, head to the town square from 8 am-noon for the Farmers Market where you can stock up on fresh veggies and local treats before heading to your next adventure. (It is still unclear if this is happening this year.)
For organized fun, Snow King offers The Big King Pass that includes access to the family-friendly Treetop Adventure Challenge Course, Cowboy Coaster, Alpine Slide, Mini Golf, Amaze'n Maze, Bungee Trampoline, and Scenic Chairlift all day long!
Animal Sightseeing Tours
Sightseeing animal tours are available with Jackson Hole Eco Tour Adventures.
We’ve listed a few, but the truth is, we love all of the amazing dining spaces in town. Check out our favorite Take-Out options and more of our favorite dining experiences on the website or find them on our app.
A family tradition since first visiting Jackson eight years ago, our first stop was and will always be Cafe Genevieve. Brunch is truly wonderful with the world’s best macaroni and cheese, tomato soup, eggs benedict, and so much more. You’ll always feel welcomed and at home here!
There are great burgers in the bar area, wild game, and other simple options available. The popular spot is often very busy but worth the wait! They have the best veggie burger in the world!
With a location in Wilson and Jackson, Pearl Street Bagels can meet all of your on the go breakfast needs. Fresh bagels, local coffee, delicious lunch sandwiches, baked goods, and smoothies all help to make Pearl Street the popular destination it is.
A now world-famous local bakery, Persephone stands up to all of the praise. Delicious pastries, coffee, salads, sandwiches, and more. Both spaces are as inviting as expected, with a creative vibe and indoor and outdoor seating options.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village
There are endless ways to pass the time at the resort, but one of our consistent go-to’s is the playground next to Osteria (a super Italian restaurant) in Hotel Terra. The playground challenges kids’ ability to balance and climb; there are also a few slides and a (weather permitting) spray park. For parents, the views are spectacular and Osteria is right there in case there’s a need for snacks, a drink, or a tasty cocktail.
A trip to JHMR isn’t complete without a visit to Corbet’s Cabin for waffles and the most extraordinary views of Jackson. What adds to the fun is that the only way up is to take the ten minute, educational tram ride. The altitude change from 6,311 feet to 10,450 feet is impressive and the temperature change is dramatic. Tip: Even in the summer, you should take a coat up top.
The Bungee Trampoline
The Bungee Trampolines at the base of the village is great fun. Everyone can experience the activity at their own comfort level – with little ones and cautious adults lingering very low to the ground, and the more agile and adventurous seen to launch all the way to the sky.
There’s no better way to end your village experience than with outdoor seating, an amazing view, a savory burger, and more outstanding mac and cheese at The Handle Bar before setting out on your park adventure or a delicious and simple slice of pizza at South Cable Cafe.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park may always remain my favorite place in the world. The views of the Tetons are magnificent and look different in every light (google Jackson Lake and you’ll be hooked). Biking, relaxing at the beach, hiking, boat rides, water sports, camping, just driving around - it’s all spectacular.
Grand Teton National Park is manageable for day trips and is also wonderful for camping or in-park cabin stays.
The Colter Bay campground on Jackson Lake is one of my favorites and such a special place. It’s a popular spot so you generally need to arrive before noon to get a spot. We preferred the E loop because it’s closest to the beach area. There is a grocery store on-site that is surprisingly well-stocked and reasonably priced. They also have ice cream and a coffee bar.
Hiking and Exploring on Foot
Head to Jenny Lake for a spectacular, toddler-friendly combination of hiking and boat-riding to the Hidden Falls. This is one of Jackson’s most popular hikes for a reason. There are a variety of ways to access all the sights, making this the perfect place to go for any occasion or all skill levels. You can choose from a variety of distances with varying terrain-difficulty.
This family-friendly hike never disappoints. The two and a half-mile round trip hike is super kid-friendly and mostly flat. The out and back option on the Woodland Trail was a crowd pleaser with cool rocks and one that even looked like a lion’s head, and they helped keep everyone entertained and motivated until we reached the glorious Phelps Lake.
Enjoy this popular six-mile loop with a 761-foot elevation gain. You have the option to hike it as a ‘there and back’ when you get to the lake to reduce the distance. Starting at the Taggart Lake trailhead, this beautiful rolling hills hike has consistent views of the Teton range and provides ample walking time along both exquisite lakes.
If you’re carrying a little one in a backpack, prepare for a solid workout. While the loop has a bit of flat and downhill terrain, there is vertical gain. Prepare with layers for the elevation shift, and pack plenty of water and snacks.
This two and a half-mile hike is mostly flat and a nice way to move the legs and enjoy beautiful views of Jackson Lake and the Tetons. We like the option to make it longer or shorter (the first part of the island is 0.4 miles so you can easily do one mile out and back, which is also stroller-friendly). There is little to no elevation gain and you also have the option to hang out at beautiful Jackson Lake for a picnic following your hike.
Rent a boat at Signal Mountain Lodge in the park, or at Rendezvous River Sports in town. Your options range from kayaks, canoes, rafts, stand up paddleboards or a boat to experience the beauty of the Tetons from the water. It is a truly spectacular way to enjoy the park. Bring your non-motorized crafts to String and Leigh Lake or your motorboats to Jackson Lake.
Kayak, canoe, and motorboat rentals at Jackson Lake in the Marina at Colter Bay Campground are available for anywhere from $25-$48 per hour. The rentals have a 2 hour minimum and you can explore close or far, along the shore or gain some distance.
The views are incredible and the relaxation of just sitting on the water enjoying the sounds of nature and exquisite views are beyond measure. For little kids, it can get windy so it’s important to check the weather in advance and consider wind and wave status.
Note: Life jackets, radios, boating instructions, and maps are provided with your rental. Charged on an hourly basis (with a 2 hour min.) and are weather dependent. Boat rental hours change in our early and late season.
Admission Fees for Grand Teton National Park
Option A) You can pay $35 per car for a seven-day pass
Option B) $70 for an annual pass
Option C) $80 for an annual National Park Pass that includes all of the parks for a year.
If you are planning to explore Teton and Yellowstone for more than seven days opt for option B, but if you have even more National Parks in your plans, C seems like the obvious choice!
There is more information on Grand Teton National Park available on our app both in free search or you can also access our curated plans by downloading the happyly app.
Turpin Meadow Ranch
After exploring the incredible Grand Teton National Forest, for something a little different, check into Turpin Meadow Ranch, one of the most beautiful places in the world. When you arrive, you immediately feel a sense of peace and relaxation. The team is accommodating and service-oriented in a friendly, ‘when you’re here you’re family’ kind of way. The food is excellent and the space is incredibly kid-friendly. From the books and lawn games to the board games, there’s so much to enjoy.
Horseback Riding at Turpin Meadow Ranch feels like a world-class experience. The ranch team proved patient and warm throughout. We had three early riders and they introduced the horses, safety rules, and games with an abundance of experience and enthusiasm. We can’t wait to experience their fly-fishing excursions during our next visit! Every detail feels like it was meant to slow you down to a state of relaxation and it’s the perfect luxurious segue into another rugged camping adventure!
You can visit overnight or plan to visit for lunch or dinner (reservations are needed). It’s a truly special place where time feels slow in the best way.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is one of nature’s many miracles with a wide array of topography, colors, and wildlife. While Old Faithful is fascinating and often top of visitors list, Yellowstone offers so much more. It is potentially worth seeing, but be aware, especially if you are trying to avoid crowds, it can be very congested at times. If your time is limited, do not feel it must be prioritized over other attractions.
Where to Stay
Located less than a mile from the Lake Yellowstone Lodge overlooking Yellowstone Lake, this spot is spectacular. The campground has four stars on Dyrt but we would call it a five out of five. The campsite has bathrooms and showers on-site with space for tent and RV camping.
We were in the F loop, which is strictly for tents, and our site overlooked Yellowstone Lake. Since I forgot to pack breakfast food (oops), we ventured to the Lake Yellowstone Hotel for breakfast. They had a solid children's menu with an extraordinary view. The Lake Yellowstone Hotel is also a beautiful, historic building and worth a quick visit for that reason alone.
On another stay, we checked out Under Canvas Glamping and loved every minute. The location is fifteen to twenty minutes outside of Yellowstone in West Yellowstone. The main lodge is lovely with modern boho decorations and a warm feel. They have various seating options and board games to enjoy as you unplug together.
Most impressive is the outdoor space to relax next to the fire-pit with unlimited S' mores and hammock swings. The amenities are top-notch. They have several room variations offering something for everyone. You can opt for a more low key vibe with twin beds and a wood-burning stove, or something that feels a bit more like a hotel with the Stargazer Tent (restroom and shower in the room).
They have a great restaurant on site where breakfast is served, complimentary with your stay. Dinner is wonderful as well with fresh fish, pasta, and burger options. It's picturesque and special in a million ways.
Where to Play
If you're going to Old Faithful, this is a worthy stop along the way, and, in my opinion maybe even more impressive. Grand Prismatic Spring is only a few miles north of Old Faithful. There are two ways for your family to go about it. You can either pull in at the first entrance, Fairy Falls TH, park, and hike out and back to the overlook, or drive a bit further to the viewing area and follow the boardwalk-like structure. We opted for the hike and it was well worth it, providing a unique view looking over the top of the Grand Prismatic Spring.
The hike gradually rose 105 feet over a distance of 0.6 miles. You can continue on to Fairy Falls, but it's a further hike and sadly we didn't have time. Our little ones happily trotted alongside us and sometimes even raced ahead as the terrain was mostly flat. It took us no more than twenty minutes to reach the viewpoint and was so worth it. The Grand Prismatic Spring and Midway Geyser Basin exploded with color and steam, a phenomenon I’ve never experienced before.
We left feeling satisfied and overwhelmed by the absolute unfathomable nature of our country's very first National Park. It's worth noting that there's no room for error when it comes to viewing these beautiful hot springs, they are beautiful but also very dangerous. I'm a nervous Nelly so I warned my daughter multiple times, almost always held her hand, and brought a backpack for carrying when needed.
The West Thumb Geyser Basin is an incredibly interesting and beautiful viewing area on the way to Old Faithful if you're driving from Jackson and Teton National Park. It's a great alternative to Grand Prismatic, or an addition worth considering. The geological features are magnificent. It’s the smallest of all of the geyser basins in Yellowstone, but it’s located next to Yellowstone Lake which adds to its aesthetic appeal.
It has the most to offer in terms of hot springs, pools, mud pots, fumaroles, and lakeshore geysers. Be sure to walk around the full loop to experience it fully. We recommend going right from the parking lot and looping around and finishing with the most dramatic scene, overlooking the massive Lake Yellowstone.
If you're strapped for time, I would recommend the Lower Falls. It's spectacular and we enjoyed the moderately challenging hike as part of the excursion. Thanks to a great tip from a friend, we found our way on our final Yellowstone trip of the season to the incredible Grand Canyon of Yellowstone via the Lower Falls, North Rim is a lookout point where you can view the canyon and waterfall at the same time (beautiful). The Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River is the largest and most famous in the park at 308 feet tall!
We chose to embark on the Red Rock Point Hike (a half-mile out and back). The hike to the Red Rock Point viewing area is a zig-zag downhill, mostly paved (but bumpy) and then a long set of boardwalk-like stairs down to a grand viewing spot where you see the powerful waterfall flowing.
Tips: Wear proper hiking shoes or footwear as there are many loose rocks and a steep downhill/uphill to access the hike.
If you want to feel like a National Geographic photographer, Hayden Valley will surely meet your needs. The safari like bison viewing in Hayden Valley along the Yellowstone River between the lake and canyon is something people travel to see from all over the world, and you’ll see why when you get there. Check out thousands of Bison along both the road and Yellowstone River.
You can’t miss it, cars all slow appropriately to respect the Bison, take pictures, and soak in the beauty. We enjoyed it twice on our out and back trip and it was marvelous from all directions. It almost looked like a new place seeing the difference in lighting early in the day versus at dusk. If you want to enjoy it for a longer period of time, bring a picnic and watch the bison from the Nez Perce picnic area before you get into the heart of the bison traffic.
Walking distance from the center of town, the town of Mammoth Hot Springs is a great place to grab an ice cream or a snack for your walk to the incredible Mammoth Hot Springs (there are two locations at the hotel and general store that are both great). There are no words to describe just how incredible this place is, but it does remind me of the ice castles Disney’s Frozen.
The colors, the shapes, and the fact that it’s been created over thousands of years in nature are all awe-inspiring. You can walk along the lower portion or make a day of it and hike the full three and a half mile loop (check out this route on AllTrails.)
Boiling River Hike & Water Activity is five minutes from Mammoth Hot Springs and is worthy of a visit. The hike is less than half a mile from the parking area (you may need to wait for a spot). It's a mostly flat path along the river winding to the Boiling River (where you'll normally see many people out enjoying).
This very interesting and fun one mile(ish) round trip excursion, along a mostly flat path next to the river is perfect for a family hike and soak. A Yellowstone favorite, it has about a hundred yard stretch of hot spring access (clearly marked).
When entering the river the water can be very warm so it is important to have parents check the temperature first because it can be startling if one is not prepared. You can elect to only experience the cold part on hot, sunny days or spend time in the warmer area mixing the two temperatures.
Take in a longer hike at Mammoth Hot Springs to optimize the enjoyment of where the water comes from and the chance to ‘earn’ your soak and relax time. Bring your own towel and water shoes. No alcohol or skinny dipping is permitted and it is closed during springtime due to runoff.
A Few Gems in West Yellowstone
Cliff & Wade Lakes
Just an hour outside of Yellowstone in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, are Cliff and Wade Lake. Wade Lake was a wonderful idea shared with us by our friends from Under Canvas. It is spectacular with colors on a par with Glacier National Park. It is remote, so a less-traveled location with options for paddleboard rentals and canoes.
We headed here during one of our trips to Yellowstone. It’s just outside of West Yellowstone and there is an interpretive nature trail worth checking out too. Cliff Lake is a little more tucked away and less accessible so while we stuck to Wade, Cliff is another option for further isolation. We loved the beach area at Wade, it’s a great spot to bring a picnic, beach toys, and hang for the day. There are rental options as well. It's the best during winter and fall but still accessible in winter!
Cascade Creek Lake
Thanks to a great tip from a park ranger in Yellowstone, we were pointed to the Cascade Creek Waterfall Hike. It’s a four-mile hike with some great options for shorter routes which include a great beach area and a lower flow waterfall area.
Option 1: The first play area is a beach area, about a half-mile in. This beautiful area is perfect for a picnic or some splash time with little ones.
Option 2: The second area, which we ultimately enjoyed for picnic time was three-quarters of a mile. The area had several small water holes and a slow running waterfall.
Option 3: Continue past the beach and the first waterfall for a total of four miles out and back. You will see cascading waterfalls that get larger as you climb up and down a mostly easy to moderately challenging hike. To see the falls, you’ll need to go a few feet off the trail. The drops down to the falls are very steep in most places so extra caution should be exercised. At the end of the hike, the trail naturally ends at a great spot for a picnic.
Driving directions: It can be a bit tricky to navigate. From the Flagg ranch ranger station entrance from Rockefeller Parkway (in between the entrances to the Yellowstone and Teton National Parks), it is a fun stretch of the park worth exploring.
Make a right and follow the road for twelve miles. This is a dirt and gravel road, so be prepared to drive slowly and enjoy all the beauty. You will wind past several primitive campgrounds along the Snake River, through previously burned woodland and then the Grassy Lake reservoir and over the dam on a bridge.
Grassy lake also has primitive camping spots which are first-come, first-serve. The trail is less than a mile from the dam and you’ll see a sign and possibly a few cars parked. When you park, it looks like there are two trailheads. Go to the one on the far left of the lot to access the full hike.
The beauty and experiences that Jackson, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Parks all share are spectacular. If they weren’t yet a bucket list item for your family, hopefully now they are. As you’re planning, if you have any questions, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love hearing from you and are eager to help!
Let us help you get outdoors with Hiking WIth Kids: Tips & Tricks, Ten Tips For Hiking Responsibly in the days of COVID-19 or seek inspiration from the safety of your home in Dreaming Up Your Next Adventure.
Explore more of our Dreaming of Travel series in Make Nature Your Focus in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, or check out the recent blogs by Colin Boyd to further fuel your wanderlust - Dreaming of Safe Travel: Dry Tortugas and Why Mojave National Preserve is Our Favorite Park.
If you have a perfect getaway or a favorite landscape, please share with us at email@example.com and we will be excited to cover it!