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Smart Tips for a Safe Road Trip to Yellowstone and Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

This blog was written in June of 2020 in the height of the pandemic, however, many of the suggestions and tips still apply!

Eager to take a break from many months of our “shelter in place” life, our family planned a road trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Keeping health and safety in mind, our “quarantine crew” stocked up on masks, hand sanitizer, wipes and a cooler stocked with favorite snacks, and then we hit the road for our 13-hour drive from Seattle area to Wyoming.

Planning a road trip during these uncertain times? We hope you benefit from these travel tips that we learned on our adventure to this beautiful part of our country.

Road Stops and Overnight Stays

Keep in mind that many roadside businesses are in a state of flux and may not be open, so be sure to plan ahead for restroom road stops. During our drive, we were happy to take advantage of the low gas prices and finally dine at our first restaurant in three months.

Tip: If you plan to stop for dinner while on the road, call before you stop to make sure the restaurant is open and can accommodate you. Many establishments are operating with 50% indoor occupancy rates to follow social distancing rules, but your safest option is to choose a place with outdoor dining.

During these times, many hotel services may not be available or may be limited during your stay. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman, which, like many hotels now, has implemented high standards of hotel cleanliness and disinfection. The breakfast buffet wasn’t open, but we were happy to pick up a pre-made sack breakfast from our hotel lobby. We learned from our hotel concierge that many people who booked online at the hotel across the street, which was closed, were being reshuffled to our hotel which was operating at full capacity with minimal staff after reopening. Our hotel staff did an amazing job, considering the circumstances.

Tip: If you need to stay for an overnight stop on your road trip, make reservations ahead of time and try to make a reservation over the phone in person to guarantee you have a room. Look for a hotel that offers contactless check-in and enforces face mask wearing. Expect some services, such as gyms and pools, to operate with limited capacity.

Yellowstone Adventure, 6 Feet Apart

After a quick lunch stop in the quaint town of Gardiner, Montana, an ideal place to stay with its fantastic Yellowstone museum collection (not open at the time we visited), we entered Yellowstone National Park at the north entrance. We were lucky to visit Yellowstone with minimal crowds as it has just re-opened to the public in early June of 2020. Note that the park is not allowing big buses to minimize visitors.

Tip: Download the Yellowstone NPS App to plan your visit.

Our first stop in the park, we spent time exploring the fascinating geology at Mammoth Hot Springs terraces, where the interactions of water and limestone create chalk-white travertine.

Tip: Consider hiring a private naturalist in the Park or in Jackson Hole to help you see the things and understand the geographic formations of Yellowstone NP.

Next, we took a lovely hike around the North Geyser Basin, which has the hottest, oldest, and is most dynamic of Yellowstone's thermal areas, with evidence of features from 115,000 years ago.

Tip: The road between Roosevelt and Canyon Village is currently closed, so check ahead if you do visit Yellowstone in the next few months.

Old Faithful Village and Upper Geyser Basin

And, we certainly couldn’t miss seeing two of Yellowstone’s main attractions:

The Midway Geyser Basin has a 0.8-mile boardwalk around Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. An easy loop also passes Excelsior Geyser, a steaming pool of vibrant blue water.

Erupting a column of steam and scalding water, Old Faithful explodes more than any of the other big geysers on a schedule that is normally posted in the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center. You can also watch it from the live-stream webcam.

Tips: To follow social distancing rules, the Education Center is controlling the flow of crowds, so make sure to build in plenty of time for this worthwhile stop, or even consider an overnight if you can find available accommodations.

No matter what time of year you visit, be prepared for any kind of weather. Even though we visited in June, it snowed briefly while we were there! If you have time, don’t miss the beautiful Lamar Valley in the northeastern corner of the park, where you can see larger herds of bison, wolves and bears.

Wildlife in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are home to a large variety of wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, bison and elk, and we certainly saw plenty of wildlife. As we exited the park at the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park at the junction of Grand Teton National Park, we even saw a grizzly bear foraging in the light of the early evening. Many people were also gathered to see one of the park’s oldest grizzly bear, 399, and her four cubs. (For families, you can learn more about this famous in this children’s book: Grizzly 399: Environmental Hero’s Series.)