Salt Lake City…The gateway to so much natural beauty in and around the state of Utah. If you love the outdoors and you are looking at the map of USA, throw a pin directly at Salt Lake City and book a flight there because you won’t be disappointed. From the Mighty 5 National Parks that cover much of Utah to the breathtaking drive from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone that we are going to cover in this post, this city is the perfect spot for a getaway (and that’s not even considering the beauty that lies within the city itself!)
There are a number of alternative routes you can take from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone and depending on exactly what you want to see in between and how much time you have will determine the optimal route for you.
While the focus of this post is highlighting what we consider to be the optimal route to experience the inherent natural beauty of the locations you will pass through on this journey, Salt Lake City is undoubtedly a great hub to explore a myriad of national parks and areas of the US that you will quickly fall in love with.
We contemplated a couple of different routes which we will share with you later, but ultimately the stunning landscapes on offer albeit on one of the slowest routes was the deciding factor. As you will see, I think we made the right decision!
If you have more time to experience each of the various towns and attractions along this route, we also have a few recommendations on the best places to stay in each location.
Salt Lake City – Gateway to Natural Beauty
Before we look at the scenic drive we encountered between Salt Lake City and Yellowstone, let’s take a look at some of the alternative aforementioned routes you could take to support choosing Salt Lake City as the perfect hub for a fun-filled outdoors, adventure getaway.
- Salt Lake City to Capitol Reef National Park (217 miles) – The closest Utah national park to Salt Lake City is Capitol Reef and in just 3 hours you could be exploring this park.
- Salt Lake City to Arches National Park (229 miles) – Located in Moab, Utah, Arches National Park is only a 3 1/2 hour drive from Utah’s capital city!
- Salt Lake City to Canyonlands (241 miles) – Located close to Arches, this is a little further drive than it’s nearby counterpart but offers equally stunning scenery.
- Salt Lake City to Bryce Canyon National Park (268 miles) – In just under 4 hours, you could be experiencing the hoodoos and amphitheaters that create the beauty that is Bryce Canyon.
- Salt Lake City to Zion National Park (308 miles) – The furthest distance, yet still only just over 4 hours away is Zion National Park which offers a perfect gateway in itself to Arizona’s national park system.
Convinced yet that Salt Lake City is the perfect spot? Ok, well let’s head in a different direction and find out what we did during our drive from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone. Needless to say, you have no need to head outside of Utah for natural beauty, but given that we had already experienced 3 of Utah’s national parks we decided it was time to head north!
We arrived in Salt Lake City late in the evening and opted to stay at a hotel near the airport before waking up early and hitting the road. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express which is affordable and offers a shuttle service to and from the airport. Check out the latest prices and availability here.
Drive from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone
If you plan on making the drive from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone, you first need to determine which route you want to take. The most direct route is to take I-15 North via Idaho Falls and at just over 320 miles will likely take anywhere from 4 1/4 to 5 hours depending on traffic.
The more ambitious and adventurous travelers (of course we would fall into that category!) will opt for a route that takes you through Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park. Here are a couple of benefits of taking this route:
- If you have the annual National Park pass and want an impromptu visit to Grand Teton National Park, this is the perfect route.
- If you want gorgeous scenery along the journey, this is the perfect route.
- If you don’t mind making several stops throughout the trip (trust us, after making this trip you cannot help yourself!), this is the perfect route.
The main drawback of this route is that it is extremely time-consuming. I would also add that on a couple of occasions I was surprised by how poor some of the road conditions were, especially between Bear Lake and Montpelier. The below route on Google Maps is calculated at 326 miles with a time of just under 6 1/2 hours.
We left Salt Lake City International Airport at 7:30 AM and arrived at Yellowstone around 4:30PM…so work that one out for yourselves but we wouldn’t do it any differently if we could reenact this trip given the beauty we saw along the way. We want to share some of the key spots along this route that are worth taking some time to visit.
Stereotypically known as ‘home of the raspberry shake’, Bear Lake is a great spot to take a relaxing break a couple of hours into your drive. Unfortunately, we arrived at Bear Lake a little too early as all of the restaurants and spots where you can purchase a raspberry shake were closed!
Don’t worry though, even if you experience Bear Lake and fail to sample the infamous shake, the views across the lake are stunning enough to warrant spending some time here. The town is relatively small but I could image grabbing a shake and taking in the gorgeous scenery with the lake and mountains in the background.
As you approach Bear Lake from the south, there is an overlook which provides a view over the town and lake before you take the winding road and drop into the town center. Again, we were not very well prepared as we drove right past this hoping for another overlook.
So be warned that when you see signs for the Bear Lake Rest Area and Overlook make sure you follow them! We even captured a pretty memorable moment when we spotted a hawk taking home its prey for lunch…it’s not every day you have experiences like this, but that’s Bear Lake, Utah for you.
One of the great benefits of taking a scenic road trip is that you pass through small towns that you otherwise would probably never visit. This can be said with our experience passing through Afton, Wyoming.
At first, this may seem like any other small town with a population just under 2,000 but as you approach the heart of the town you will notice the real highlight here.
Home of the world’s largest arch made of elk antlers, yes that’s right they are woven together and create an archway that covers the entire road and is an iconic attraction that you just have to stop for!
If you are considering staying overnight in the vicinity of Afton, we can highly recommend Cabin Creek Inn in nearby Thayne, Wyoming (about 15 miles north). Check out the latest prices and availability here.
After leaving Afton and driving north to Alpine, you will take US-26 through a mountain pass that winds parallel to the Snake River. This stretch of road really is breathtaking and on numerous occasions, we pulled over on the side of the road to take in the scenery.
Whitewater rafting excursions are available along the Snake River for the really adventurous, but we enjoyed simply watching the rafters and kayakers making their way down the river.
Trailheads along the Alpine/Snake River Canyons are also available for those who wish to spend more time here before arriving at Jackson Hole (prior to entering Grand Teton country!)
It is difficult to put into words the beauty throughout the section between Alpine and Hoback Junction. Hopefully the pictures do this justice because I cannot emphasize enough how happy we were with our decision to take this route after passing through this alpine route.
Approaching the Jackson Hole valley, we were excited to see what the bustling town of Jackson had to offer. To avoid any confusion over the difference between Jackson and Jackson Hole, the valley itself is what is referred to as Jackson Hole and comprises of a number of smaller towns including Jackson, Moose, Hoback and Teton Village.
In many ways Jackson reminded me of Gatlinburg, Tennessee with Ripley’s Museums and a number of bars, restaurants and souvenir shops scattered along the heart of the town center.
Continuing the Wyoming tradition of elk antler arches, Jackson has a number of iconic arches that guard the corners of George Washington Memorial Park. The story behind these arches relates to the National Elk Refuge that is located in Jackson Hole. Every year when the elk antlers shed, groups of boy scouts collect these from the refuge and some of these are used to construct the arches.
Jackson Hole is a popular spot for visitors to stay, and if you want our recommendation we can highly recommend The Lodge at Jackson Hole. Check out the latest prices and availability here.
Grand Teton National Park
Our final adventure before arriving at Yellowstone was passing through Grand Teton National Park. You can read all about our experiences in the Grand Tetons but this is yet another great example of an American national park that oozes natural beauty.
The Teton Range with Grand Teton and Mount Moran among others are a stunningly beautiful sight as you drive through the park.
Just like any other national park, you could easily spend several days inside Grand Teton exploring and hiking the various trails that are available. Whether you want to take a stroll through the lowlands or perhaps head into the mountains, there is something for everyone here.
Frequently left in the shadow of the more infamous Yellowstone National Park to the north, Grand Teton offers an abundance of natural beauty that you will want to explore. The drive to Yellowstone through this part is the perfect tonic for what you will likely consider to be the pièce de résistance of this trip – arriving at the entrance of Yellowstone!
Ready to stay a little closer to Grand Teton National Park? There are limited options including camping inside the park while another alternative in nearby Jackson, Wyoming that we can recommend is Spring Creek Ranch. Check out the latest prices and availability here.
Salt Lake City is undoubtedly a great hub for visiting a myriad of locations both around Utah and surrounding states. We had an awesome experience driving from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone with so many cool towns and landscapes to explore along the route. Regardless of the road trip you are taking, you can always stumble across some hidden gems and this is exactly what we encountered en route to Yellowstone.
We have highlighted just a small selection of what you can see on this drive but these are certainly locations that you cannot afford to miss. Have you taken a road trip from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone?
DISCLAIMER – This post contains affiliate links. Should you choose to make a purchase via one of our links, we may receive a small commission. This income helps A Brit & A Southerner continue to explore and share inspiring stories. Also note that although we have not personally stayed at all of the hotels included in this post, we used the recommendations of friends and family as well as detailed research to bring you the very best options possible.