Yellowstone National Park is a must-see destination for many travelers and one of the fastest ways to get to Yellowstone is from Salt Lake City. Depending on how much time you have for sightseeing, this trip could easily be accomplished in a weekend or longer.
Drive Time From Salt Lake City to Yellowstone: approximately 4-5 hours
Distance From Salt Lake City to Yellowstone: approximately 320 miles
Best car for this trip: SUV
Day 1: Start by renting a car at the Salt Lake City International Airport. The airport is only an eight minute drive from Downtown Salt Lake City. There’s a lot to see and do ranging from Temple Square, Capitol Hill and the Great Salt Lake itself. Once you’re finished sightseeing, take Interstate 5 North toward Idaho Falls.
Idaho Falls is about a three hour drive from Salt Lake City which makes it the perfect spot to stop and stretch those legs. The Snake River flows past offering adventure-seekers the chance to go hiking, whitewater rafting or perhaps see a waterfall or two. There’s also the Museum of Idaho and the Idaho Falls Zoo to visit before finishing the final leg of your journey to Yellowstone.
Day 2: From Idaho Falls, take US-20 E for another two hours or so to reach the Idaho side of Yellowstone National Park. As soon as you enter Yellowstone, get your day pass and stop at the nearest Visitor Center to grab a map. With nearly 3,500 square miles to explore, plan your excursion but make sure to visit Old Faithful and smell the Sulphur!
Yellowstone became the first national park in 1872. The park resides in three different states: Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. It’s one of the only places in the world where you can see hot springs, mudpots and geysers. Visitors can also explore mountains, forests and lakes to watch wildlife ranging from bison, grizzly bears and gray wolves. Gray wolves are especially fascinating as they were restored to the park in 1995.
If you plan to stay the night in Yellowstone, make sure to book ahead for lodging as those spots can fill up fast depending on the time of year you visit the park.
And if Yellowstone isn’t enough for you, there’s also Grand Teton National Park which is just a ten minute drive to the south.
When you’re ready to head home, you can return your rental car at the Jackson Hole Airport or if you’d like to continue exploring head southeast to Denver and add Colorado to the list of states visited. Or head further north into Montana and check out Glacier National Park!
How can I stay informed on road conditions?
Navigation apps like Google Maps and Waze can alert you to road closures, accidents, and detours along your route. Once you approach Yellowstone, you'll want a more in-depth resource for up-to-the-minute information and details about closures.
Refer to the National Park Service website, where you can quickly find out whether Yellowstone is open and get information about road closures. The NPS site even has a live map that displays incidents, construction areas, and the status of major roads throughout the park.
Is there camping along the way?
You'll find plenty of places to camp along the route from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone. Near Logan and Ogden, Utah, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest has over two dozen campgrounds ideal for tent camping. If you'd rather camp in a cabin, you can rent the Blacksmith Fort Cabin in the heart of the forest.
Near Pocatello, Idaho, look for campsites at Scout Mountain Campground near the Cherry Springs Nature Area in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Just a short drive north, the Falls Campground is convenient to both the popular Palisades Reservoir and Idaho Falls.
In Yellowstone, you can choose from about a dozen campgrounds, most of which are only open from late May through early September. Note that you can reserve a campsite in advance at some campgrounds, but others have a first-come, first-served policy.
When does the snow melt in Salt Lake City?
In Salt Lake City, the snow typically melts completely by mid-May, as average high temperatures begin to reach 70 degrees. Keep in mind that May can be rainy, so you'll want to bring some waterproof shoes and a rain jacket along if you're planning to visit during the spring.
Are there places to visit before I leave Salt Lake City?
On your trip, be sure to visit the following attractions:
Where should I stop in Idaho Falls?
From parks to museums, Idaho Falls has a little of everything. Visit the Museum of Idaho to experience interactive science and history exhibits that visitors of all ages will appreciate. Stroll along the Idaho Falls River Walk to take in the beautiful scenery. Enjoy a peaceful moment at the Japanese Pavilion and stop by one of the many cafés for a coffee or a bite to eat. Explore the area's natural beauty at Hell's Half Acre, a geological formation located on the south side of Idaho Falls.
What is the Grand Loop?
Considered the main road in the heart of Yellowstone, the Grand Loop takes you to many of the park's attractions and most stunning sights. The entire loop stretches nearly 150 miles, but that doesn't mean you can tackle it in just a few hours. Instead, you'll want to stop periodically to take in the sights or snap some photos. You could easily plan to spend an entire eight-hour day driving the Grand Loop.
What is Old Faithful?
Old Faithful is a geyser and one of the most popular attractions in Yellowstone National Park. It's named for its frequent and relatively timely eruptions, and visitors can witness them throughout the day. The viewing area for Old Faithful has parking, seating, and even predictions for the size and timing of the next eruption. Check the NPS website to find out when the geyser is predicted to erupt. Note that rangers don't provide predictions during November and early December or from mid-March through mid-April.
Which hiking trails should I check out?
Yellowstone is home to a staggering number of hikes, and you can complete many of them in a day. In the Canyon Area, follow the Cascade Lake Trail to see wildflowers in the summer and fall, or pass by lakes, meadows, and marshes along the Howard Eaton Trail. If you're in the Old Faithful Area, don't miss the Fairy Falls Trail, which takes you to one of the park's most scenic waterfalls.
Challenge yourself to one of the toughest day hikes in Yellowstone when you tackle the Avalanche Peak Trail or see fascinating geological formations along the Natural Bridge Trail. Also in the Lake Area, Pelican Creek Nature Trail is home to countless birds that live along the shores of Yellowstone Lake. In the Mammoth Area, Osprey Falls Trail takes you to beautiful Osprey Falls and into one of the park's deepest canyons. You could spot bighorn sheep and mountain goats along Sepulcher Mountain Trail.