How to Plan a National Parks Road Trip in Montana and Wyoming

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Glacier National Park road trip

How to Plan a National Parks Road Trip in Montana and Wyoming

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You can see all three of Wyoming and Montana’s thrilling, wild National Parks with one perfectly planned road trip.

Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park feature diverse landscapes, unbelievable access, and unique vibes that make this national parks road trip…well, a trip.

 

National Parks road trip

 

With crowd control measures and COVID-19-inspired visitor restrictions in place, planning a road trip through the three National Parks can be a daunting task. But if you do your homework and lock in reservations, seeing these three crown jewels of our continent is a breeze.

Here is everything you should consider when planning a similar national parks road trip, including some suggested itineraries based on how long you hope to spend in the great west.

 

Questions To Ask Yourself

Fly or Drive?

Just because it’s a road trip, doesn’t mean you have to drive the entire way. We drove from our home base of Minneapolis, Minnesota through the great state of North Dakota en route to our National Parks destinations. But if you don’t want to burn a day of vacation getting there and back, flying and renting a vehicle could be a good option, too.

Read More: Cheap Flights We’ve Found to National Parks!

Here are the airports you should consider and their proximity to the parks:

 

Glacier National Park

  • Glacier Park International Airport  (FCA) – 30 minutes to the west gate of the park
  • Missoula County International Airport (MSO) – 2 hours, 31 minutes to the west gate of the park
  • Great Falls International Airport (GTF) – 2 hours, 10 minutes to the east gate of the park
  • Helena Regional Airport (HLN) – 3 hours to the east gate OR 3 hours, 45 minutes to the west gate of the park

We recommend using our favorite flight search engine Google Flights to look at flight options. Just put in your origin city and search the calendar for the lowest fares.

 

Yellowstone National Park

  • West Yellowstone Airport (WYS) – 7 minutes from the west gate of the park
  • Yellowstone Regional Airport – Cody, WY (COD) – 1 hour to the east gate of the park
  • Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) – 1 hour, 30 minutes to north gate OR 1 hour, 45 minutes to the west gate of the park
  • Idaho Falls International Airport (IDA) – 1 hour, 45 minutes to the west gate of the park

We recommend using our favorite flight search engine Google Flights to look at flight options. Just put in your origin city and search the calendar for the lowest fares.

 

Grand Teton National Park

  • Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) – 7 minutes from the Moose entrance
  • Idaho Falls International Airport (IDA) – 2 hours from the Moose entrance

We recommend using our favorite flight search engine Google Flights to look at flight options. Just put in your origin city and search the calendar for the lowest fares.

 

Rental Cars

Upon arrival in the mountains, you’ll have to find a car, which is easier said than done, especially lately.

Check out our guide on tips to save on rental cars, which includes using tools like Autoslash, Turo (Airbnb for cars), and renting off-airport.

It’s possible, but exceedingly difficult to see these parks without driving. Yellowstone and Glacier both have shuttles that can take visitors around the park for a fee, but they run on limited hours and can’t get you everywhere. Trust me, you’ll want the home base of a vehicle after a day of adventuring.

Looking for another National Parks adventure? How about Utah!

 

How much time?

The number of days you have to explore will determine much of what you can do in these parks. If you have a long weekend, consider just going to one or two parks.

If you have a week, all three parks are possible, but it’s still a sprint. You should also take into consideration how long it will take you to travel to and from the parks.

 

Yellowstone National Park road trip
Grand Prismatic Spring – Yellowstone

 

If you can take more than a week, you can comfortably see the sights of all three parks.

Our advice: No matter how much time you have allotted for the trip, under-schedule your days. It takes a long time to move around the American West and a day of driving, hiking, and sightseeing in the mountains can leave the most proficient and fit traveler exhausted.

When we planned our trip, we had at least one activity on the itinerary every day that we skipped. We never regretted it, either.

 

What activities do you want? Sightseeing? Hiking?

If you’re trying to choose which parks would be best for you, or how much time to dedicate to each of them, consider what you want to accomplish on the trip.

Do you want a driving tour of all the wildlife, geysers, pools, and vistas? Then Yellowstone is going to offer you the most bang for your buck.

Would you rather get high into the alpine on a day hike? Grand Teton and Glacier are going to be more your speed.

 

Grand Teton National Park road trip
Jenny Lake – Grand Teton

 

Yellowstone features a lot of accessible, developed areas that allow tourists to get up close and personal to some of the biggest attractions. (I was blown away by how close the viewing area is to Old Faithful, for instance.)

Grand Teton and Glacier offer some of the best views on the continent, but some of the parks’ gems are off the road and a few miles away via a hiking trail.

On a budget? When you can get into the National Parks for free!

An honest assessment of what you hope to do during your adventure will determine much of your itinerary.

 

At What Speed Do You Like to Travel?

How early is early for you? Is 8 a.m. early? Or is 5 a.m. early? Your answer to this question is going to be important because getting a move on in the morning is our number one recommendation for beating the crowds at the National Parks.

Some travelers want to be in vacation mode. (Slow mornings, an activity or two, happy hour, and dinner) Some want to get up and get after it during their precious few vacation days.

We recommend under-scheduling your days, but that could mean different things to different travelers. If you see this as a hiking trip, there are hundreds of worthy trails in all of these parks. How many of them do you really want to do?

 

West Yellowstone entrace webcam
(National Park Service)

 

Also, if you start hiking at 6:30 a.m., are you really going to start off on a different trailhead that afternoon at 3:30 or 4 p.m.?

Meal planning is also a bear during National Parks visits. These wild, remote parks don’t offer much as far as in-park dining (and you’re paying in-park prices). There are restaurants dotting all three parks, but they are often busy and are very much on the beaten path.

Why you should save time and money and buy a National Parks Pass

Do you require a sit-down or hot lunch during your days? Or is a soggy sandwich and trail mix going to sustain you?

 

How/Where Do You Want to Stay?

This is another important style consideration. If the hotel life is what you need, there are 5-star accommodations in Whitefish and Jackson (near Glacier and Grand Teton, respectively). There are also budget hotel options and plenty of chains outside all three parks.

If you’re traveling with a group, want a kitchen to work with, and prefer something a little more private, consider the plentiful Airbnb options in these areas. We stayed at an Airbnb in West Yellowstone that was the perfect launchpad for our early morning adventures in the park.

Are four walls not important to you? How about camping? You’ll need the space in your car for all of your gear, but camping is the single best way to get to know the parks and get lost in their true beauty. Campsites at the parks, however, go extremely quickly online. There are always first-come, first-serve campsites, but some of those are very competitive too.

 

Under Canvas

 

Want to split the difference? Consider glamping! Glacier and Yellowstone both feature Under Canvas locations.

On Lake McDonald, in the west part of Glacier National Park, the Sprague Creek Campground sites are usually reserved by 8 a.m. or earlier. Campers line up as early as 4 or 5 a.m. to get those coveted sites.

Finally, as you drive through the parks, you will see thousands (literally) of RVs, campers, and camper vans. These are a great way to see the parks with your lodging and transportation wrapped into one cost. Plus, campers are great road trip tools.

Pull off a National Parks trip on points and miles

Companies like Cruise America have vehicles dotting all of the roads of the parks. (Note: Large vehicles are not allowed on the Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier.) Also very noticeable around the parks were rental campervans, which allow you a vehicle the size of an SUV with a bed inside.

 

National Parks Road Trip Itineraries

Long weekend (1 or 2 parks)

If you only have 3-5 days for your visit to these National Parks, it’s best that you only explore one or two parks. If Glacier is your choice, spend the whole long weekend there and avoid the 6-8-hour drive between it and the Wyoming parks.

If you prefer visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton, you can do both of those in a long weekend easily.

 

Glacier Long Weekend Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival, Sunset at the park

Check in to your accommodations. Once you are settled in, head into the west side of the park and watch the sunset over Lake McDonald from one of the dozens of viewpoints on the east side of the lake. From the west gate, it won’t take you more than 20-30 minutes to get into the park, especially late in the day.

Find a late dinner in West Glacier or at any of the lovely stops along Hwy. 2. (Glacier Grill and Pizza in Coram was fantastic!)

 

Day 2: Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road

Today, you’re going to drive the entirety of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which offers the most incredible views of any road on the continent. Be sure to make some stops to see the sights, but don’t venture too far from your car until the end of the drive at St. Mary Lake on the east side of the park.

 

Glacier National Parks road trip
Going-to-the-Sun Road – Glacier

 

Here, take your first hike of the trip to see some waterfalls. Feeling adventurous? Park at Sun Point Nature Trail and hike west along St. Mary Lake until you reach St. Mary Falls, which is 2.3 miles away. If you don’t want the 4.6-mile roundtrip excursion (I’d argue the lake views are worth it), you can park at a trailhead above St. Mary Falls and take an easier, 2-mile roundtrip to see it.

Drive back along the Going-to-the-Sun Road to your accommodations west of the park and find dinner before heading to bed early.

Day 3: Hike the High Line Trail/Dinner in Whitefish

Wake up between 5 and 6 a.m. and start your ascent up the Going-to-the-Sun Road so you can park at the Logan Pass Visitor Center. Parking typically fills up by 7:30 or 8 a.m., so an early start is a must. (Dress warm! Even in July and August, temperatures dipped into the low-40s as we parked at Logan Pass.)

Your goal for the day: The High Line Trail.

From Logan Pass to a sharp curve in the Going-to-the-Sun Road called “The Loop” stretches 12 miles of mostly downhill, alpine trail, the brunt of which can only be described as breathtaking. The first 3-4 miles is carved out of the mountains and offers unmatched, sweeping views of the park.

 

High Line Trail Glacier

 

If you’re feeling good, finish off the 12-mile trek and get a shuttle bus (reservations required) back up to Logan Pass. If you don’t think 12 miles are in the cards, turn around after 3 miles and head to the Hidden Falls overlook at the Logan Pass visitors center, which is a short, easy walk from the car to another vista.

You deserve a nice dinner after your hiking exploits, so head into town and get a dinner reservation at Tupelo Grille. Nothing fuels the alpine spirit of northern Montana more than…Cajun-inspired fine dining? It’s an odd fit, but was the perfect meal to cap off our most strenuous day.

Day 4: Glacier/Depart

Enjoy your final morning in the mountains before heading home. Before you leave, though, another wondrous walk in the woods awaits.

Drive up to the Avalanche Creek parking area (30-40 minutes from West Glacier) and choose one of two hikes. The first is called the Avalanche Trail, which takes hikers up to Avalanche Lake. It’s about 1.7 miles to the lake one way, so be ready for a close to 4-mile hike for this one.

The other option is the Trail of the Cedars, which is a relatively flat, easy walk through some stunning Cedar trees and over creek-cut gorges.

 

Yellowstone/Grand Teton Weekend Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive at Yellowstone/Sunset in the park

Check in to your accommodations and get straight to the park on your first night. Make the approximately 1-hour drive to Old Faithful and catch it during the evening after the crowds have dissipated for the day. The Park Service makes pretty accurate predictions (+-20 minutes) on when Old Faithful will erupt.

 

Yellowstone National Park road trip
Old Faithful – Yellowstone

 

After that, hurry towards the Fountain Paint Pot Trail Parking Lot to see the sprawling, west-facing Lower Geyser Basin for sunset. The geysers are extremely active in this area, making for some stunning images of the sun setting over the mountains with geysers erupting in the foreground. Don’t forget your camera.

Day 2: Explore Yellowstone

Yellowstone is an enormous park and is nearly impossible to explore in a day, but these are some can’t-miss attractions.

Start your day (early) in the north side of the park at Mammoth Hot Springs, where you can see the pink hues of sulfuric runoff cascading down the mountain. A trail of boardwalks help you get up close and personal to this natural oddity.

Then drive south and east to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which offers the best views of any feature in the park. Drive along the north edge of the canyon and stop frequently to take in the views. Be absolutely sure to stop at the aptly named Grand View. You also won’t regret the steep, but short walk down to the Lower Falls viewpoint or the longer, flatter walk to the Upper Falls area.

From there, drive down to the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake. If you’re brave, take a dip in the icy waters of the lake at one of its beaches accessible from the road. Otherwise, head to the West Thumb Geyser Basin, which showcases geysers erupting right on the shoreline of the vast lake.

 

Yellowstone National Park road trip
Yellowstone Lake – Yellowstone

 

Then make the long drive back to your lodging. Chances are, you’ll be stopped by some wildlife at some point. Buffalo traffic jams are a right of passage for the park.

 

Yellowstone National Park road trip

 

Day 3: Explore Grand Teton National Park

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are connected. In fact, there is no southbound park entrance to Grand Teton as you head that way for another day of exploring.

Make sure you get a seat on the right side of your car as you drive into the park, facing the beautiful Jackson Lake and the Teton Mountain Range.

Make a few scenic stops to check out the park and its unreal scenery on your way to Moose-Wilson Road, which will wind you south toward the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve parking area. The small, off-the-beaten-path, parking, and nature area serves as a trailhead for your day’s hike.

1.5 miles from the trailhead is the crystal clear Phelps Lake. You can continue around the lake for a few extra miles of hiking, but 3 miles roundtrip will also get you a perfect place for a late, lakeside lunch. (Note: Bring bear spray! We encountered a busy little black bear near this trail in late August. No threat was posed and no spray was deployed.)

 

Grand Teton National Park road trip
Phelps Lake – Grand Teton

 

After Phelps Lake, take the long road home on Moose-Wilson Road. Stop in to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on the way. A skier’s paradise in the winter, the resort operates some of its lifts and its Aerial Tram in the summer months too. You can buy a one-time pass up the tram, which takes you up 4,100 vertical feet in 12 minutes to the top of Rendezvous Mountain, which offers some of the wildest views of Jackson and the Tetons.

Head to your lodging for the night and rest up for another early morning of hiking in the park.

Day 4: Grand Teton/Depart

You’re heading out the door by 6 a.m. to visit one of the park’s best, but busiest locations in Jenny Lake. (May we recommend Cowboy Coffee Co. in Jackson for a breakfast burrito and a coffee to make 6 a.m. less awful)

Park at Jenny Lake Visitor’s Center and start your 8-mile loop around this pristine mountainous lake. (Tip: From the Visitor Center, head northeast to start your hike so you will be looking at the views of the mountains while walking along the trail.)

Inspiration Point, on the far side of the lake, is worth hiking up to as well.

Not feeling the full 8 miles? Cut it in half by taking the Jenny Lake boat shuttle back across to the Visitor Center. Make sure to buy tickets ahead of time at the Visitor Center, though.

 

7-day Itinerary

The more time, the merrier at the National Parks, so we recommend spending a week at least if you hope to hit all three parks.

Day 1: Arrive in Jackson, Wyoming

No matter how you are getting there, start your 3-park journey in Jackson and begin at Grand Teton National Park. Jackson is full of lodging options from 5-star accommodations to camping and everything in between. Have a nightcap at the world-famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, where the bar stools are saddles.

Day 2: Explore Grand Teton National Park

Spend your morning hiking around Jenny Lake, but make sure it’s an early one! Jenny Lake Visitor Center’s parking fills up by 8 a.m.

The 8-mile trek around the alpine lake takes hours but can be cut short by taking the boat shuttle back to the visitor center. (See day 4 of the long weekend itinerary for more details)

 

Grand Teton National Park road trip
Jenny Lake – Grand Teton

 

Finish your day with a leisurely ride up to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Aerial Tram, which takes guests up 4,100 vertical feet in 12 minutes, revealing sweeping vistas of the Teton Mountain Range.

Day 3: Grand Teton/Yellowstone

Your last morning at Grand Teton National Park will be spent with a much shorter hike to a more remote lake called Phelps Lake. (See day 3 of the long weekend itinerary for more details)

After that, drive north through the park toward Yellowstone. If it’s not smokey, make the short drive up Signal Mountain Road to the summit, which offers expansive views of Wyoming.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway takes you into the south end of Yellowstone National Park. Drive straight to Old Faithful in the early evening to watch the incredible geyser erupt without the daytime crowds. Then hurry up and get to Lower Geyser Basin for sunset (See day 1 of the long weekend itinerary for more details). Check in to your Yellowstone accommodations.

Day 4: Yellowstone National Park

Spend the whole day in Yellowstone National Park! Get going early to avoid crowds and drive straight through the middle of the park to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. (If it’s early, make a quick stop at the on-the-way Norris Geyser when there are no crowds.) At the canyon, check out both the north and south rims and explore the short (but sometimes steep) trails to the Upper and Lower Falls. Take your time and check out all the viewpoints, especially the Grand View.

Then, head to Yellowstone Lake and don’t be afraid to take a dip in the freezing cold waters along the way. The West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake features some surreal lakefront geysers and more. (See day 2 of the long weekend itinerary for more details)

Day 5: Yellowstone/Drive to Glacier National Park

Head to Mammoth Hot Springs right away in the morning on the north side of Yellowstone National Park. There, you can see the pink hues of sulfuric runoff cascading down the mountain. A trail of boardwalks helps you get up close and personal to this natural oddity.

 

Yellowstone National Park road trip
Mammoth Hot Springs – Yellowstone

 

From there, exit the north gate of the park and head up through Montana to Glacier National Park. Drive through Bozeman, Butte, and Missoula, Montana on this 7-hour journey. If a mountainy college city is your scene, take a long lunch in Missoula.

If you make good enough time, consider heading into Glacier National Park to watch the sunset over Lake McDonald.

Day 6: Glacier National Park

Spend your day driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which gives you sweeping views of the park from this mountain pass road, which is a true marvel of engineering. Driving the entire road one way takes about two hours, so dedicate almost a whole day to seeing it slowly. Stop at the viewpoints and soak it all in.

If you are game for a hike, visit St. Mary Lake on the east side of the park. Park at Sun Point Nature Trail and hike west along St. Mary Lake until you reach St. Mary Falls, which is 2.3 miles away. If you don’t want the 4.6-mile roundtrip excursion (I’d argue the lake views are worth it), you can park at a trailhead above St. Mary Falls and take an easier, 2-mile roundtrip to see it.

 

Glacier National Park road trip
St. Mary Lake – Glacier

 

Drive back to your lodging and rest up for your toughest, but certainly most thrilling hike of the trip the next morning. We recommend you head into town and get a dinner reservation at Tupelo Grille. Montana might not be known for its Cajun-inspired fine dining, but Tupelo might change your mind.

Day 7: Glacier National Park/Depart

Wake up between 5 and 6 a.m. and start your ascent up the Going-to-the-Sun Road so you can park at the Logan Pass Visitor Center. Parking typically fills up by 7:30 or 8 a.m., so an early start is a must. (Dress warm! Even in July and August, temperatures dipped into the low-40s as we parked at Logan Pass.)

Your goal for the day is hiking the High Line Trail. From Logan Pass to a sharp curve in the Going-to-the-Sun Road called “The Loop” stretches 12 miles of mostly downhill, alpine trail. The first 3-4 miles are carved out of the mountains and offer unmatched, sweeping views of the park. It’s a can’t miss part of the park.

If you’re feeling good, finish off the 12-mile trek and get a shuttle bus (reservations required) back up to Logan Pass. If you don’t think 12 miles are in the cards, turn around after 3 miles and head to the Hidden Falls overlook at the Logan Pass Visitor Center, which is a short, easy walk from the car to another vista.

 

Glacier National Park road trip

 

10-day Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Jackson, Wyoming

We think it’s best to start your 3-park journey in Jackson and begin at Grand Teton National Park. From there you’ll head north to the other parks, but Jackson is full of good lodging options from 5-star accommodations to camping and everything in between.

On your first night, have saddle-up at the world-famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar (where the barstools are literally saddles).

Day 2: Grand Teton National Park – Phelps Lake/JHMR

Your first morning of exploration is spent at the glassy, scenic Phelps Lake. Moose-Wilson Road will wind you toward the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve parking area. The small, off-the-beaten-path, parking, and nature area serves as a trailhead for your day’s hike.

1.5 miles from the trailhead is the crystal clear Phelps Lake. You can continue around the lake for a few extra miles of hiking, but 3 miles roundtrip will also get you a perfect place for a late, lakeside lunch. (Note: Bring bear spray! We encountered a busy little black bear near this trail in late August. No threat was posed and no spray was deployed.)

After Phelps Lake, take the long road home on Moose-Wilson Road. Stop in to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on the way. A skier’s paradise in the winter, the resort operates some of its lifts and its Aerial Tram in the summer months too. You can buy a one-time pass up the tram, which takes you up 4,100 vertical feet in 12 minutes to the top of Rendezvous Mountain, which offers some of the wildest views of Jackson and the Tetons.

After exploring the resort, stop in at the famous Mangy Moose Saloon at the base of the resort. You’d be hard-pressed to find a night they don’t have live music, good beer, and mountain vibes.

Day 3: Grand Teton National Park – Jenny Lake

Get up and out the door by 6 a.m. to visit one of the park’s best, but busiest locations in Jenny Lake. (Check out Cowboy Coffee Co. in Jackson or its drive-thru location south of town for a breakfast burrito and a coffee.)

 

Grand Teton National Park road trip

 

Park at Jenny Lake Visitor’s Center and start your 8-mile loop around this pristine mountain lake. (Tip: From the Visitor Center, head northeast to start your hike so you will be looking at the views of the mountains while walking along the trail.)

Inspiration Point, on the far side of the lake, is a short detour from the lake trail, but is worth hiking up to as well.

Not feeling the full 8 miles? Cut it in half by taking the Jenny Lake boat shuttle back across to the Visitor Center. Make sure to buy tickets ahead of time at the Visitor Center.

After your hike, if you have any energy left, consider renting some kayaks from the Jenny Lake Visitor Center to explore the lake on your own.

If not, head back into town for dinner and grab an enormous slice of Pinky G’s Pizza before calling it a night.

Day 4: Yellowstone National Park – Signal Mtn (Teton), Old Faithful, Sunset Lower Geyser Basin

 

Yellowstone National Park road trip

 

Today, you’re heading toward Yellowstone National Park, but you have to drive through the entirety of Grand Teton Park to do so. On your way, make a quick stop at Signal Mountain Road and drive to the top for one last big view.

Then, make your way up the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway until you reach the Yellowstone National Park entrance. Take your time and make a few stops along Jackson Lake before you get there.

Once inside Yellowstone, head north toward Yellowstone Lake. Stop in at Thumb Geyser on the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake to see some geyser activity right up against the vast lake. If you’re brave, drive north a few miles and find a beach to swim in the freezing lake.

From there, head west to Old Faithful and plan to arrive by early evening to avoid the crowds. The Park Service makes shockingly accurate predictions (+-20 minutes) on when Old Faithful will erupt.

 

Yellowstone National Park road trip
Lower Geyser Basin – Yellowstone

 

After that, hurry towards the Fountain Paint Pot Trail Parking Lot to see the sprawling, west-facing Lower Geyser Basin for sunset. The geysers are extremely active in this area, making for some stunning images of the sun setting over the mountains with geysers erupting in the foreground. Don’t forget your camera!

Day 5: Yellowstone National Park – Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

In your first full day in Yellowstone, you are heading to its crown jewel: the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

But first, make an early morning stop at the Norris Geyser basin before the crowds swarm in. Norris offers some of the park’s most unique geysers and pools and is on the way to the canyon.

The Yellowstone River cuts a deep, deep canyon through the park, leaving behind a stunningly colorful vista and a series of breathtaking waterfalls.

 

Yellowstone National Park road trip
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

 

This area of the park could take an entire day to explore. Don’t miss the short, but steep hike down to the Brink of the Lower Falls and also the slightly longer, but less steep walk to the Upper Falls.

On the north rim of the canyon, stop and check out the views. If you have to pick one, choose the Grand View. It’s aptly named.

If you want to mix in a hike, head down the south rim drive and park at Artist Point. From there, head east on the trail toward Point Sublime, which offers even more crazy canyon views. It’s about 4 miles there and back. (Bring bear spray! We ran into a little juvenile black bear who couldn’t have cared less about us, but it’s always smart to have the spray handy.)

Day 6: Yellowstone National Park – Mammoth Hot Springs, Drive to Glacier

Today is a travel day up to Glacier National Park, but you’ve got one more Yellowstone destination on your way out. It’s called Mammoth Hot Springs, and it’s worth a quick stop in the morning before you head out. There, you can see the pink hues of sulfuric runoff cascading down the mountain. A network of boardwalks and even a one-way driving loop help you get up close and personal to this natural oddity.

Then, you are making the 6-hour drive to East Glacier or the 7-hour drive to West Glacier, before settling into your accommodations. (We will use West Glacier as our home base for the rest of the itinerary)

As for accommodations, consider glamping! Under Canvas-Glacier is just about 10 mins from the park entrance in Coram. It’s a sweet spot between camping in the mountains and a plush hotel suite.

Day 7: Glacier National Park – Lake McDonald, Lodge, Avalanche Creek

Spend your first day in Glacier close to the park’s west entrance, where there is plenty to explore in the Lake McDonald area.

Take in the views as you drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road (reservations required) along the east bank of the lake. Drive up to the Avalanche Creek parking area (30-40 minutes from West Glacier) and choose one of two hikes. The first is called the Avalanche Trail, which takes hikers up to Avalanche Lake. It’s about 1.7 miles to the lake one way, so be ready for a 3+ mile hike for this one.

The other option is the Trail of the Cedars, which is a relatively flat, easy walk through some stunning Cedar trees and over creek-cut gorges.

 

Glacier National Park road trip
Lake McDonald – Glacier

 

After your hike or walk, stop in at the historic Lake McDonald lodge for a quick meal. (We highly recommend the Huckleberry Margarita!) Then, head down to the boat dock and buy a 1-hour cruise around Lake McDonald. The Glacier Park Boat Company operates this tour that runs at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and 7 p.m. for just $22 for adults. The DeSmet is a truly impressive old wooden boat.

Head out of the park after your boat cruise and head to Glacier Grill and Pizza in Coram, Montana for pizza.

Day 8: Glacier National Park – Going-t0-the-Sun Road, St. Mary Lake

Spend your day driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which gives you sweeping views of the park from this mountain pass road, which is a true marvel of engineering. Driving the entire road one-way takes about two hours, so dedicate almost a whole day to seeing it slowly. Stop at the viewpoints and soak it all in.

If you are game for a hike, visit St. Mary Lake on the east side of the park. Park at Sun Point Nature Trail and hike west along St. Mary Lake until you reach St. Mary Falls, which is 2.3 miles away. If you don’t want the 4.6-mile roundtrip excursion (I’d argue the lake views are worth it), you can park at a trailhead above St. Mary Falls and take an easier, 2-mile roundtrip to see it.

Drive back to your lodging and rest up for your toughest, but certainly most thrilling hike of the trip the next morning.

Day 9: Glacier National Park – Logan Pass, High Line Trail, Tupelo Grille

Wake up between 5 and 6 a.m. and start your ascent up the Going-to-the-Sun Road so you can park at the Logan Pass Visitor Center. Parking typically fills up by 7:30 or 8 a.m., so an early start is a must. (Dress warm! Even in July and August, temperatures dipped into the low-40s as we parked at Logan Pass.)

Your goal for the day is hiking the High Line Trail. From Logan Pass to a sharp curve in the Going-to-the-Sun Road called “The Loop” stretches 12 miles of mostly downhill, alpine trail. The first 3-4 miles are carved out of the mountains and offer unmatched, sweeping views of the park. It’s a can’t miss part of the park.

 

Glacier National Park road trip
High Line Trail – Glacier

 

If you’re feeling good, finish off the 12-mile trek and get a shuttle bus (reservations required) back up to Logan Pass. If you don’t think 12 miles are in the cards, turn around after 3 miles and head to the Hidden Falls overlook at the Logan Pass Visitor Center, which is a short, easy walk from the car to another vista.

To wrap up your trip, head to a nice dinner downtown Whitefish, Montana at the popular Tupelo Grille. If you’re skeptical about northern Montana Cajun-inspired fine dining, don’t be! This place is a true gem.

Day 10: Depart Montana

Today you’ll pack up and depart Montana. If you’re feeling adventurous, get up and watch the sunrise one last time. If not, you’re on your way home.

 

Bottom Line

There are thousands of ways to approach visiting these parks, but all three are doable in a week. Take your time, make the requisite reservations, and prepare to get up early in the morning to maximize your time in Wyoming and Montana!

 

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

4 Responses

  • I’ve driven the loop you highlighted (without the hikes) in segments because we’ve always driven to from the LA area (where I used to live). I adjusted it based on flying into Bozeman, it’s all beautiful scenery.
    Bozeman Airport
    Red Lodge MT
    Beartooth Pass (a must drive)
    Mammoth Hot Springs
    Yellowstone Lake
    Jackson, WY
    Victor, WY
    Ashton, ID
    West Yellowstone
    Three Forks, MT
    Seeley Lake, MT
    Whitefish, MT
    East Glacier, MT
    Bozeman Airport

    • Would love to know if you stayed in Bozeman and traveled to each of these places then came back each night to Bozeman or if you stayed in a different place each night? I have purchased my round trip tickets to come into Bozeman. I would love your itinerary as I plan our trip to know how to split each day up so the trip will be enjoyable. Thanks!

  • Thanks for the article, and thanks for your itinerary Ronald. My wife and I arrived home last night from a 17-day road trip in UT and AZ, hitting all the National Parks and many of the State Parks. We were saying on the flight we need to do this again. This morning I see this timely article. I’ve tucked it away to use for planning the next road trip!

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