Yellowstone National Park is out in the middle of nowhere. That’s one of the things we like about it. In fact the ironically named Thoroughfare region is farther from a road than anywhere else in the continental United States. It does make getting to Yellowstone a little harder than some other places. I recommend stopping along the way to the park to enjoy some of the other towns and wild areas in Utah, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
Check out our itineraries and planning guides for the Yellowstone portion of your trip!
Park City, Utah
When you fly or drive into Salt Lake City you’re just a hop, skip, and a jump from the mountains. To start your vacation off right, book one of the many homes for rent in Utah and kick back and relax. In places like Park City, you can hike in the summer and ski in the winter, often right from your rental home.
Whether you choose lift-served mountain biking at Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley Resort, or Canyon Resort, or something a little mellower, you can ride some of Park City’s more than 400 miles of mountain bike trails.
Utah Olympic Park
Utah Olympic Park was built for the 2002 Winter Olympics, but you don’t need to be an über-athlete to enjoy the facilities. Attend an event, or participate in year round activities. In snow-free months, there are ropes courses and ziplines, summer bobsled, extreme tubing, scenic Nordic chairlift rides, hiking and mountain biking, and more. In winter, you can try out bobsledding for beginners, cross-country skiing, or peruse the visitor center.
From the famous Sundance Festival to symphonies to ski festivals to the Park City Food and Wine Classic… there will probably be a local event going on while you are there. Check the calendar before you go.
When you are good and relaxed, take the scenic route to Yellowstone.
Jackson, Wyoming, often called Jackson Hole, is a quintessential Western town turned tourism hot spot. Stay downtown to take advantage of shops and restaurants (and even a hike or two) without having to find parking. Or stay farther out to feel the solitude and wildness of this corner of Wyoming.
Grand Teton National Park
In my vacation coaching sessions I often recommend a visit to Grand Teton National Park. The Tetons rise up without and foothill preamble making them seem even more dramatic.
Explore the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, hike to Taggart Lake, sip sodas at the Jackson Lake Lodge, swim in Leigh Lake, and stop at pullout after pullout to gaze at those magnificent mountains. End the day with dinner or a drink at Doran’s for the best view around.
Jackson Hole Playhouse
This small dinner theater is housed in the oldest building in Jackson and features full-staged, professional Western comedies. Enjoy dinner and a show or just the show.
National Museum of Wildlife Art
See more than 5,000 pieces of art featuring wildlife from around the world at this wildlife museum overlooking the National Elk Refuge. The museum seeks to inspire an appreciation for people’s relationship with the wild. The building is pretty cool, too.
From in-town hikes up Snow King to treks through the Gros Ventre Mountains, there is a hike for just about everyone. Grab a map and start walking, or hire a guide from Hole Hiking Experience to get you on the trail winter or summer.
Idaho Falls, Idaho
If you fly into Idaho Falls, you may want a day to grocery shop and get your bearings before heading to Yellowstone. I wrote about visiting the Tautphaus Park Zoo and walking along the Snake River Greenbelt, but there is more to do in Idaho Falls.
Museum of Idaho
The Museum of Idaho is a history and science museum related to the natural environment and cultural history of Idaho and the intermountain west. It features both temporary and permanent exhibits and the museum is a great introduction to the area.
Idaho Brewing Company
Sometimes you just want to sip a locally crafted beer after a day at museums, zoos, and walking along the river. The Idaho Brewing Company has cute tasting room for enjoying an IPA, pale ale, or one of the other 12 beers on tap.
You’ll find plenty to do in West Yellowstone, the western gateway to Yellowstone National Park. Watch the video for some of our favorite places.
I couldn’t leave out our hometown – the Original Gateway to Yellowstone. If you are flying into Bozeman, it’s a scenic drive over Bozeman Pass to charming, Western, Livingston.
Livingston and the Yellowstone River is known around the world for its Blue Ribbon fly fishing. Cast your line from the bank or hire a guide and a drift boat to take you on the river. You’re sure to catch a cutthroat, brown, or rainbow trout, or at least have a good time trying.
For a small town of 7,000 people, you’ll be wowed by the food selection. From gourmet meals, to wood fired pizza, to rustic comfort food, there is a cornucopia of restaurant selections.
You have to visit in the winter for this, of course, but both Absaroka Dog Sleds and Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures will take you into the woods with husky power. It’s surprisingly peaceful being pulled along a sled track by all those pups.
Named for Buffalo Bill Cody, this town east of Yellowstone is filled with Western fun. In addition to the five museums in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and the Irma Hotel, check out the activities below the video.
Sleeping Giant Zipline
Soar over the Shoshone National Forest in five sections of zipline at Sleeping Giant Zipline. You’ll love the views of the Absaroka Mountains (one of my favorite ranges!) and the dual lines makes it fun to zip with your friend.
From June 1 through mid-September (Mon-Sat) you can watch a Wild West gunfight in front of the Irma Hotel at 6 pm. There are four shows that rotate throughout the summer, so you can go more than once. Rent a chair for the 30-minute show and avoid fighting the crowds for a peek.
That will get you started on planning your trip to Yellowstone National Park. Let me know if you need help planning your vacation in and around the Greater Yellowstone Area!