National Parks adventure: Yellowstone and Grand Teton

Planning an epic road trip through Yellowstone and Grand Teton

When I was growing up, my dad had a very demanding work schedule. Often, he didn’t get to spend as much time with us kids as he wanted to. He would sometimes miss the little moments and other times the big ones. To make up for this, he promised each of his three daughters a trip for their 16th birthday. The activities and destinations were our choice. The catch: It would just be dad and daughter.

For my eldest sister, it was a camping excursion. For my middle sister, it was a biking adventure through the countryside. For me? Well, by the time I turned 16 my dad’s work hours had shifted. At that time, there was no need for a trip to find quality time—we had it in spades. We were very close. So we never got around to taking a special trip. Over the years, we talked about where we would go and what we would do. But it never came to fruition. That is, until this spring!

Viewfinder Tip: When visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton learn the basics of bear and wilderness safety by asking questions at the visitor’s centers.

This year is kind of a big deal when it comes to travel in the United States. And that’s because it is the centennial of the U.S. National Parks Service. To honor the parks, Expedia challenged me—and all my fellow Expedia Viewfinders—to design a road trip through our National Parks on a budget of $2,250. My pick was the duo of Yellowstone and Grand Teton. And I immediately decided to share this experience with my dad—to finally have our father-daughter trip. And so, it was time to get cooking on the details.

Stage 1: The Overview

With only five days to experience these two magnificent parks, deciding on our route felt a little daunting at first. But now that I have done it, I realize you can’t really go wrong when visiting these parks. The stunning landscapes enrapture. And their neighboring gateway cities provide an opportunity to experience a charming and rustic view of American life.

The simplest plan seemed to be starting from the north of Yellowstone in Bozeman, Montana, and then paving our way southward through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, stopping a night in West Yellowstone along the way, and ending in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. See photos from our outstanding adventure here.

To maximize our time, and avoid having to retrace our path too much, it seemed most efficient to fly into Bozeman where we rented a car. Then the easy choice would be to fly out of Jackson Hole on our final day.

Stage 2: The Ingredients

When booking this trip I was happily surprised by all the options available for lodging. The choices listed on Expedia ranged in each of our designated cities from budget accommodations to high-end lodges. Because this trip was so short and so close to my heart, I opted for the latter. I wanted to wow my dad. And the hotels I chose did not disappoint.

In Bozeman, we luxuriated at the secluded Gallatin River Lodge. In West Yellowstone, the Explorer Cabins at Yellowstone are lovely little homes that have all the essential creature comforts and more. In Jackson Hole, we stayed two nights with The Lodge at Jackson Hole.

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If you are not comfortable sharing but don’t want to spend more, there are tons of lower budget options on Expedia. Attractive lower budget options include The Lark Bozeman in Bozeman, The Stage Coach Inn in West Yellowstone, and the Elk Country Inn or the Snow King Resort Hotel in Jackson Hole.

As for booking activities, we opted for a Self-guided tour from Jackson Hole to see beautiful scenery and wildlife that provides a map and app downloaded onto our phones. This same company runs many private and group tours in the area but this self-guided option was a great way to explore independently.

Stage 3: On the Ground

Below is a play-by-play itinerary for this trip so that you can plan your adventure with ease. Admittedly, it wasn’t this polished at the outset as I didn’t have all the on-the-ground savvy. But lucky you, here is each step of an ideal five-day trip to experience these two magnificent parks that includes where to eat and other tips from the road. Of course, don’t forget to gas up when you can.

For highlights about Bozeman, click here.

On the last leg of the trip, while based in Jackson Hole and exploring the Grand Tetons check in with the visitor’s center where you can get all the specific information about where it is safe to hike and explore. There are many options. Around Jenny Lake there is a loop that is quite popular and not too strenuous. If you are traveling in numbers three or greater, the adjacent Grand Teton National Forest can provide trails less trafficked by other park goers. And you may want to spend the remainder of your budget on a local guide for a hiking tour.

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What is your ideal National Park road trip?

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Travel with Kate

Kate Thomas is the host and producer of the web-series Travel with Kate, a show that follows her around the world connecting with passionate locals. She is a cultural travel journalist finding out what's trending in popular destinations. And whether she’s leading you to the best local foodie finds, showing off exciting, lesser-known attractions, or revealing the scoop on local etiquette – she’s got your insider perspective. Kate has been featured as a travel expert on Afar.com, Huffpost Live, and AOL, and as an on-camera journalist for TripAdvisor.

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