Here is your epic road trip to Yellowstone guide if you are leaving form Southern California or the Phoenix area. We will take you through some of the must-see places and a few off the beaten path places on this road trip. I have to admit that my family has been road-tripping to Yellowstone for many many years. It’s a family favorite road trip.
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- Length: 7-14 days
- Best time of year: March to October
If you were to drive this straight through, it will take about 16 hours. But you don’t want to drive this road trip straight through. There are so many excellent places to stop along the way. Besides Yellowstone National Park, you will be stopping at 2 other national parks.
Road trips are a great way to social distance and to take a safe vacation, but there will be times you need to stop at a gas station to run in for some road trip food, or into the grocery store. It is still a good idea to wear a mask when entering these stores and places with other people. Here is a mask that I love, it’s good enough for exercising so it is comfortable for a few minutes in a store. Here is one that I love for my kids.
Best Road Trips in the USA
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Renting a car for your road trip
Road trips are awesome however they are hard on your car. The wear and tear a road trip put on your car is enough to consider renting a car for your trip. I have always found great rates at RentalCars.com they compare rates across the board for you and make it so easy!
From Phoenix or Los Angeles make your way to Las Vegas. Both from Phoenix and LA the drive to Las Vegas is about 4 to 5 hours depending on traffic.
You might want to consider spending the night in Las Vegas. If you pass through during the week, hotels in Las Vegas can be very reasonable, whereas the weekend rates can double or triple.
Road trips can be amazing but you need to make sure you have everything you need. The last thing you want to do on a long road trip is to add additional time by having to stop too many times. Here is your road trip essentials checklist.
Starting from Las Vegas
Although you have already been in the car for at least four hours we will begin our road trip to Yellowstone in beautiful “Sin City” Las Vegas.
So grab your favorite road trip snacks and turn up your best road trip playlist and let’s hit the road!
Stop #1 – Hoover Dam and Lake Mead
Hoover Dam and Lake Mead are short 30 minutes from Las Vegas. You will want to consider doing a tour of the Hoover Dam, spend some time walking around. You’ll need about 3 hours.
History nerds will geek out at the history of Hoover Dam, built-in 1936, and Lake Mead is considered the largest reservoir in the United States, thanks to Hoover Dam. Take a tour (Tickets here) of the Dam and learn about history. Lean out over the edge and get a rush for how large this is dam really is.
After a visit to Hoover Dam, if you are not spending the night in Las Vegas, you will head north toward our next recommended stop on our for lunch or dinner road trip to Yellowstone; St. George.
St. George sits in the heart of the red rocks and makes for a great spot to set up camp for the next few days if needed. If you are camping on this road trip here are some camping essentials that you will want to have before you go.
Stop #2 – St. George, Utah
If you are looking to extend your trip a couple of days on your road trip to Yellowstone, or on the way back, add St. George to your list. St. George has plenty of hotels to pick from and it is close to some of our road trip destinations, such as, Zions National Park (41 miles), Bryce Canyon National Park (141 miles), Grand Canyon National Park (150 miles), and more.
Road Trip Off the Beaten Path Stop: St. George Narrows
Just a short distance off Interstate I-15. You can experience your own hike through a Slot Canyon and a great short family adventure to stretch the legs. The required time is about 1 hour.
Bonus Destination on the road trip to Yellowstone- Snow Canyon State Park
Snow Canyon State Park is only 20 minutes from St. George and off of Interstate I-15. There is so much to do in this hidden gem of a natural park. Hike the lava Tubes. (Don’t forget to pack a flash light to explore).
Play in the Snow Canyon sand dunes, the soft red sand is warm and inviting. One of the most beautiful places in the canyon is the Petrified Sand Dunes. This is a short hike but the dunes look like waves frozen in time. If you choose to visit Snow Canyon State Park you will need at least 3 hours to enjoy the park.
Stop #3 – Zion’s National Park
Zions is one of the most visited national parks in the United States. It is well known for its picturesque red cliffs and slot canyons. This is our first National Park stop on our road trip to Yellowstone. If you are a rock climber this is probably at the top of your list of places to visit. But for most of us, we can still take advantage of wonderful hiking trails.
The Best Hikes in Zion’s
You will want to make sure you pack some hiking shoes. As well as some shoes that can possibly even get wet. There are two famous trails you will want to consider hiking.
The first will be Angles Landing. If you are afraid of heights you will want to avoid this trail as you have to hang on to chains and ropes (already in place for you) as you ascend to the top of the mount. This is an extremely hard climb, not recommended for small children, but no equipment is required. You will climb 1,500 feet to a narrow strip of land the drops off on both sides. This is a bucket list hike, comparable to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
The other infamous hike is the “Narrows.” The Narrows trails start with hiking up the Virgin River. This is the quintessential slot canyon hike. The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zions Canyon.
The Hike starts at the visitor’s center and you hike up the Virgin River. You must get your feet wet. If you have small kids they will enjoy playing in the river but it is still a difficult hike for young kids. There are times this hike is closed due to flash flooding. The rangers and visitors center will advise you if there will be any danger.
If hiking isn’t your thing you can still enjoy much of Zions from your car or opt for many of the wonderful leisurely hikes. One of the best views and drives on your road trip to Yellowstone is in Zions.
Take the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway as you will go through a 1-mile long tunnel at about 2,000 feet above the canyon bottom. Take in the views from this peak you will be amazed! Zions is also bike-friendly if you happen to have your bikes with you.
Stop #4 – Bryce Canyon National Park
Only about an hour north of Zion’s National Park (40 miles) you will find Bryce Canyon. Bryce Canyon is known for its massive collection of hoodoos. If you don’t know what a hoodoo is the best way to describe them are large alien-looking rock formations. Something that you would see out of a Sci-fi movie or from another planet.
The Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon are the results of thousands of years of erosion. Here you will see some of the most photographed national parks there is with the largest number of hoodoos in the world, and their subtle shades of pink, white, yellow, orange and red colors make for stunning photos.
Top Things to See in Bryce Canyon National Park
- Sunset Point – Great at any time of the day to visit but try to save this one for when the sun is setting. You won’t regret it.
- Queens Garden Trail– Hoodoo resembling Queen Victoria
- Inspiration Point- Enjoy the thousands of Hoodoos of red and white rock
- Natural Bridge – Beautiful Natural Arch
- Fairyland Point – Hike the river bottom
- Navajo Loop Trail – If you didn’t get enough slot canyons, you need to check out this hike. This might be one of the highlights of your road trip to Yellowstone.
For Zion’s and Bryce Canyon National Park you will want to stay in St. George or Cedar City Utah on your road trip to Yellowstone. Both cities have plenty of hotels, places to eat, and things to do. Another notable place to consider stopping that is close to Zions and Cedar Breaks is Bryce Canyon.
Stop #5 – Salt Lake City and Park City
If you’ve never been to Salt Lake City, or if you haven’t been for several years, you will be pleasantly surprised with all the city has to offer! Salt Lake is surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains with a vibrant, compact, clean, and safe downtown area. Making this a great destination to stop on your road trip to Yellowstone.
Salt Lake is well known for having the greatest snow on Earth and the epicenter of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as Mormons.
Salt Lake has really become more of a tourist destination since it hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics. American’s and International travelers now make Salt Lake City a travel destination, with it’s great access to 5 National Parks and minutes away to world-class ski resorts.
Make sure to check out historic Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City is, indeed, an emerging dining destination, with its close proximity to Park City and hosting the Sundance Film Festival every year.
If you are looking for a place to eat in Salt Lake or Park City, try a local chain, Vessel Kitchen. Vessel takes seasonal ingredients, nonprocessed, make from scratch meals. They source as much as possible from local growers and have a great menu, check out their Whole 30 approved meals.
Side destination on your road trip to Yellowstone – Park City
A short 45 minutes from Salt Lake City is the old Mining town turned posh ski town, Park City. If visiting in the summer you will want to take advantage of the summer activities at the largest ski and snowboard resort in North America, Park City Mountain Resort.
Rent a mountain bike and head down the trails, or try the zipline, Alpine Slide, or the Alpine roller coaster. Head close by to historic main street and stroll into the local store and find yourself a place to have a bite to eat. We recommend staying in Park City on your road trip. You might want to consider a vacation home to get that real mountain feel.
Spice up your Road Trip
If you want an adrenaline rush or need something different from hiking, check out the Utah Olympic Park in Park City. Here you can try your hand at the bobsled. Try rushing down the track at 70 miles an hour. If that’s not enough try out Extreme Tubing. This is unique to Park City, but lets you zoom down the Olympic Nordic Ski Jump track. Don’t worry you don’t have to do the jump but you will get going pretty fast down this steep hill.
If you are visiting during the winter, spend some time on the slopes enjoying the greatest snow on Earth. The Park City resorts are part of the Epic Pass, making Park City another great place to ski on your pass!
Salt Lake City to Yellowstone
From Salt Lake City or Park City, you will want to continue on Interstate 15 North to Idaho Falls, ID. You will probably want to stop here for lunch or dinner. Idaho Falls gets its name from the beautiful falls in the heart of our city. Flowing down the Snake River, these falls are man-made but make for a great place to view and stretch your legs.
From Idaho Falls there are two ways to get to Yellowstone. One way is to head to West Yellowstone, which sits on the western border of Yellowstone. The other is to head to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. For our road trip, we recommend starting your Yellowstone adventure going to West Yellowstone.
Bonus Stop: On your way out of Idaho Falls if you want another place to stop and see some Bears and other animals up close. Make a stop at Yellowstone Bear World just outside of Idaho Falls, ID.
This will take you through Island Park, Idaho. On your way, you will want to make a short stop at Mesa Falls. There is a scenic byway to a couple of amazing waterfalls. It will add about 15 more minutes of driving but well worth the stop. This will also get you ready for Yellowstone sites!
Stop #6 – Mesa Falls Scenic Byway
Mesa Falls Scenic Byway: There are two falls on this byway, the Upper and Lower Mesa Falls. These falls are the last two prominent waterfalls on the Snake River to not be obstructed by human control. Both are worth a quick stop but the Upper Mesa Falls is about 10 stories high and very dramatic.
Island Park, is a very popular summer and winter mountain for horseback riding, fishing, and snowmobiling area for visitors and is only about 20 minutes from Yellowstone.
Stop #7 – Yellowstone
You’ve finally made it to Yellowstone! As you might know, there are not many hotels or lodges in Yellowstone National Park. There are plenty of camping locations in the park and just outside the park. If you need a hotel or accommodations, West Yellowstone and Jackson Hole have plenty of accommodations for hotels to vacation home rentals.
Yellowstone is best known for Old Faithful and its natural geysers like the dramatic Grand Prismatic Spring. But there is so much more. One thing I love the most about Yellowstone is the chance to see animals in their natural habitat. Bison are a common cause of traffic in the park. There is probably a good chance that you will have a bison walking along with your car.
It is common to see black bears, but mostly from a distance, and in 1995 Yellowstone reintroduced grey wolves back into the park. They have grown and it is now possible to see a grey wolf or two on your visit. Mostly in the early morning or evening.
Yellowstone also has great hikes to some great views of waterfalls, but if you go for a hike they recommend taking bear spray. You can purchase in the park but it will cost you around $50. You can get it here with a carrying case for $35,
Camping in Yellowstone
Yellowstone has some amazing places to set up camp. You can stay close to many of the popular sites in the park. By camping in the park it will save you about an hour or an hour and a half to drive in from outside the park. If you opt for camping in the park make sure that you have all your essentials to spend a couple of days. Here is your camping essentials checklist!
Top things to see in Yellowstone
Top Waterfalls In Yellowstone
- Tower Falls – Short easy walk
- Gibbon Falls – Few steps from the parking
- Kelper Cascades – Overview
- Undie Falls – Short easy walk
- Upper & Lower Yellowstone Falls- The most famous waterfall in Yellowstone National Park, the Lower Yellowstone River Falls are an impressive 308-foot drop. Brink of the Upper Falls is a dramatic drop of 109 feet into the storied Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Top Animals to see in Yellowstone (Checklist)
- American Bison – Common
- Rocky Mountain Elk – Fairly Common
- Mule Deer – Fairly Common
- Pronghorn – Fairly Common
- Black Bear – Moderately difficult
- Grizzly Bear – Very difficult to see
- Grey Wolf – Moderately difficult
- Bald Eagle – Moderately difficult
- Bighorn Sheep – Difficult
- Mountain Goat – Difficult
- Trumpeter Swan – Moderately difficult
- Canada Lynx or Bobcat – Very difficult
Top Hikes in Yellowstone
- Lone Star Geyser Trail: 4.8 miles, erupts about every 3 hours, water reaches 45 feet high.
- West Thumb Geyser Basin: 0.6 miles, Easy and wheelchair-accessible.
- Natural Bridge: 2.5 miles, Easy- 51-foot rhyolite cliff that carved into an arch.
- Fairy Falls: 6 Miles, Easy but long. 200-foot Fairy Falls are widely considered the most beautiful.
- Avalanche Peak: 4.2 miles – Very Difficult – incredible and sweeping view of Yellowstone Lake below and the tallest peaks in the park.
Best Geysers in Yellowstone to see
- Old Faithful & Upper Geyser Basin: The largest geyser basin in the park and the world’s largest concentration of hot springs. There is over 150 geyser in this small area. You will want plenty of time to explore this area as there are a number of geysers to walk to from Old Faithful and the Lodge. Old Faithful erupts about every 92 minutes and shoots water 135 feet into the air
- Mammoth Hot Springs: Hot water ascends through ancient limestone deposits. The result is a landscape of terraces sculpted by a travertine limestone staircase.
- Midway Geyser Basin with Grand Prismatic Spring: The Instagram worthy geyser is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone. This is one of the most colorful pools with emerald green-blue water yellow-red limestone, which appears more like a rainbow.
- Crystal Geyser: This is an interesting geyser because about every 15 minutes it steams and roars like a train. It does have an eruption but it is only every 11-13 hours but water shoots 70-80 feet in the air.
- Riverside Geyser: This geyser is unique as it erupts over the river. Water shoots about 80 feet into the air. The eruption lasts 20 minutes and erupts every 6 hours.
Stop #8 – Jackson Hole
Heading back south out of Yellowstone head to Jackson Hole. Welcome to the wild west. Located near Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons National Park; Jackson Hole welcomes both outdoor enthusiasts and the posh. You might want to indulge your inner cowboy or cowgirl and put on your boots and cowboy hat. Jackson Hole offers you your wild west experience.
Continue your road trip to Yellowstone by starting your visit to Jackson Hole at the old town square. Then you’ll know when you find Jackson Hole town square when you see the four elk antler arches on each corner of the square. Don’t worry, no elk were injured or hurt in creating these arches.
Enjoy the old town square and the boardwalk around this area. There are many art galleries, but you will also find cowboy bars and great barbecue.
Jackson Hole Free Tip
Close by you will find Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. In the winter you can hit the slopes, but in the Summer you will want to take the free gondola ride to the “The Deck @ Piste.” Here you will be able to get a great view of Jackson Hole, but at 4:30 pm they have happy hour on the deck.
Top things to do in and around Jackson Hole
- Spend time in the Tetons – If you have the time or want to extend your road trip to Yellowstone, you’ll want to add some stops in the majestic Tetons National Park.
- White Water Rafting down the Snake River – This might be my favorite activity to do around Jackson Hole. White water rafting the snake river is not only scenic but exhilarating and extreme. Some of my favorite rapids are the Big Kahuna and Lunch Counter. The kids will love the bubbly champagne rapids.
- Mountain Bike – Head to Snow King Mountain Resort or Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for some downhill thrills. There are plenty of bike paths along rivers and through beautiful neighborhoods that you can enjoy for more of a leisurely ride.
- Horseback riding – why not try your hand at managing your inner cowboy. Take a half or a full-day trip through the mountains.
- Enjoy the wildlife- Try some fly fishing or visit the Elk refuge.
- Take a Scenic Drive- There are tons of beautiful drives to continue on our road trip to Yellowstone. Here are a couple of dives you might want to add to your trip.
- Teton Pass
- Jenny Lake Scenic Loop
- Kelly Loop
- Moose Wilson Road
The return trip home
Feel free to visit any of our recommend stops in reverse order or to make it fit your agenda. These are some of our family’s favorite places that we have visited. There are so many other places to explore and see along this road trip to Yellowstone. Here are a couple more recommendations for stops on the road trip back.
Return trip recommended stops
- Bear Lake Utah – Stop here for a famous raspberry milkshake. Plus enjoy this beautiful resort lake.
- Bridal Veil Falls, Provo Canyon, Utah – Bridal Veil Falls is a beautiful natural waterfall in scenic Provo Canyon.
- Grand Canyon National Park –Do I need to say more!
- Death Valley National Park – Why not visit the lowest point in the United States, and one of the hottest and driest places in the western hemisphere int the middle of the summer.
Wrap up on road trip to Yellowstone
This road trip is packed with stops and amazing sites to see all along the way. You can make this a quick trip or take your time and stop at each site enjoying all the National Parks have to offer. Don’t forget a thing and use the road trip essentials checklist.