Yellowstone vs. Grand Teton: Which National Park Should You Visit?

Yellowstone vs. Grand Teton comparison picture

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Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park are two gems of Wyoming and two of the most popular parks in the US. But even though they are right next door to each other, the experiences at these two National Parks are completely different! So which should you visit? We’re going to break down everything Yellowstone vs. Grand Teton to help you make the right decision for your trip.

I mean, we obviously recommend visiting both! But if you can’t, here’s how you can choose between the two.

Yellowstone vs. Grand Teton: The Main Differences

When it comes down to it, choosing between Yellowstone vs. Grand Teton is going to come down to personal preference. I’ll cut to the chase and go ahead a spoil it for you: I prefer Grand Teton National Park. BUT I have other family members who prefer Yellowstone.

Here is a summary of some of the main differences that might help you decide.

Yellowstone National Park

  • A MUCH larger park.
  • You really need more than one day to see it all.
  • Known for their geyser features and active wildlife.
  • You’ll likely spend more time in the car on scenic drives.

Grand Teton National Park

  • A smaller and more compact park.
  • You can easily visit the major highlights in one or two days.
  • Known for glacial lakes, craggy mountains, and breathtaking views.
  • You’ll likely spend more time enjoying the outdoors.

But let’s break all this down into some more detail!

Lamar Valley in Yellowstone

Yellowstone vs. Grand Teton: Size

Let’s start with the most obvious difference between the two parks: the size.

Both parks are located in the northwest corner of Wyoming. But Yellowstone takes up 3,472 square miles, while Grand Teton is just 485 square miles.

This means that it takes A LOT longer to see all Yellowstone has to offer. (Honestly, you could spend a lifetime here and probably still not see all it has to offer.) It also means that you’ll be spending a lot more time in your car on a Yellowstone visit, because it can take a good amount of time to get from place to place within the park.

However, in Grand Teton, you can easily drive and see all the major areas of the park within a single day.

Yellowstone vs. Grand Teton: Terrain and Landscapes

Even though these two National Parks are in the same area of the United States and in the same part of the same state, their landscapes are entirely different!

Yellowstone is especially known for their geothermal features, like geysers and hot springs. Technically, Yellowstone sits on top of a dormant volcano. And all this geothermal activity means that some areas of Yellowstone really look like a moonscape. (Which, personally isn’t my favorite. But some people love it!)

But you’ll also find a lot of variety within Yellowstone itself. Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley are huge rolling grasslands with active wildlife. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (my favorite part of Yellowstone!) is a majestic canyon with multiple waterfalls. And Yellowstone Lake offers some sweeping beautiful views.

Grand Teton, on the other hand, is known for enormous craggy mountains, glaciers, and glacial lakes. Even as a writer, it’s hard for me to put into words just how gorgeous this park is. You can walk through a grove of trees to a lake where the snow-capped mountains perfectly reflect in crystal blue water, and it’s just…unbelievable.

String Lake in Grand Teton National Park

Yellowstone vs. Grand Teton: Activities and Attractions

Both Yellowstone and Grand Teton are incredible places to hike, view wildlife, and embrace the natural wonders of the National Parks. But, they definitely have some unique activities and attractions that define them.

Here are some of the highlights for each park.

Activities at Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful

Old Faithful erupting

The Old Faithful Geyser is of course the most iconic thing to do at Yellowstone National Park. It’s the most popular geyser to see (out of Yellowstone’s more than 500 geysers) because it’s, well, faithful.

The eruptions of Old Faithful can be predicted within a 10 or so minute time range, and they post the times for the next eruption at the Visitor’s Center. There’s a viewing area within the Visitor’s Center, and there is a huge viewing platform outside next to the geyser. Get here early though because it can get crowded!

There’s also a great hiking/boardwalk trail all along the Old Faithful area where you can see other geysers and hot springs. And you’ll also want to make sure you stop to see the historic Old Faithful Inn.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring is the most popular hot spring to see in Yellowstone. You know those pictures you see with the blue tinted water with the almost rainbow edges? That’s usually Grand Prismatic Spring.

There’s a great easy boardwalk here where you can see the spring. But the best view of the Grand Prismatic Spring is at the Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail, which you can access from the Fairy Falls Trailhead (just a parking lot up from the main Grand Prismatic Spring parking lot).

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is my favorite spot in Yellowstone National Park!

This canyon was carved out by the Yellowstone River and has created what I think is the most scenic place in the park. There are all kinds of overlooks here along both the North and South Rims, and you can drive from spot to spot to see them and/or choose to do some of the hiking trails. You can see down into the canyon and also see the powerful Upper and Lower Falls.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs is in the north park of Yellowstone National Park and its a geothermal area unlike any other in the park. Here, the hot springs have created large travertine formations that truly look like something from another planet.

There are two different areas you can visit here: the Upper Terrace and the Lower Terrace. There are boardwalks and stairs to take you all around the formations. And while you are there you can also check out Fort Yellowstone, where the army once oversaw the National Park.

Lamar Valley

Wildlife Spotting in Lamar Valley Through Binoculars

Lamar Valley is the iconic wildlife area of Yellowstone! No matter what time of day you visit, you’ll likely see some kind of wildlife, but the best times to visit are the early morning or later afternoon, when the animals are more active.

Here you can see wolves, bears, bison, pronghorn, coyotes, and more. Pro tip: If you want the best chance of seeing wolves, get there at sunrise. And bring binoculars!

Usually you’ll see at least some kind of animal. But no matter what, this is also just a gorgeous area to drive though!

Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake offers yet another landscape to see in Yellowstone National Park. One of the most popular spots to visit is the West Thumb Geyser Basin, where you can enjoy a geyser boardwalk right next to sweeping lake views with mountains in the distance.

You can also take boat tours, kayak tours, or go fishing on Yellowstone Lake, too.

Activities at Grand Teton National Park

Jenny Lake

Jenny Lake is one of the most popular areas to visit in Grand Teton. It’s a beautiful glacial lake that sits at the base of the mountain range. It has a pretty big visitors complex and a Discovery Trail that’s accessible to everyone for views of the lake.

But the real magic of Jenny Lake (aside from seeing it) comes from getting out on it. There’s a regular shuttle boat you can take to the other side of the like (to hike to Inspiration Point) or you can rent a boat, canoe, or kayak to explore the lake.

You can also hike around the lake to the hiking trails on the other side of the lake.

Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls

Hidden Falls

Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls is probably the most popular hiking area in Grand Teton.

If you take the shuttle boat at Jenny Lake, you’ll get dropped off on other other side to hike up to Inspiration Point. First you’ll get to Hidden Falls, which is a beautiful waterfall that really does feel hidden in the woods.

Then you can backtrack just a bit and get back on the trail to go to Inspiration Point, an overlook that looks out over Jenny Lake.

Pro tip: If you don’t want to make the whole hike, there’s an overlook that’s almost just as nice lower on the trail. So don’t feel like you’re missing much if you stop here (like I had to do because I was still in ACL recovery). As the rest of my family said, Inspiration Point is the same view, only higher up.

When you are done, you can hike back around Jenny Lake or take the shuttle boat back. Make sure you know what time the last boat is leaving though, and get there in plenty of time because there can often be a line for the shuttle.

Jackson Lake

Jackson Lake is another popular lake, especially for boating because it’s the biggest lake in Grand Teton and there are several marinas located on it. It’s really beautiful, but to be honest I don’t think it has quite the same enchanting feel that some of the other lakes have just because it is so big.

You can also check out the Jackson Lake Lodge here, eat in their famous Mural Room, and enjoy the views from the panoramic windows.

Schwabacher Landing

Schwabacher Landing
Schwabacher Landing

This is my favorite spot in Grand Teton National Park! It’s a short, easy hike along the Snake River with all kinds of scenic vistas. And you might spot some great wildlife here too. (When we were there we saw a muskrat going back and forth gathering grass for what I presume was his house.)

Also, just know that the road to Schwabacher Landing is a little rough. It’s a narrow gravel road, so take it slow. And the parking area is pretty small. So plan to hit this early in the day. I promise it’s worth it!!!

Mormon Row Historic District

Moulton Barn at Mormon Row

In the late 1800s, Mormons settled in the area and built homesteads clustered together away from Jackson. They eventually left because life was just too hard, but what remains is a historic district of barns and homes that has become one of the most popular spots for photographers in Grand Teton.

Moulton Barn is one of the most popular photo spots, because you can easily get shots of this historic barn with the snow-capped mountains looming in the distance.

Pro Tip: Sunrise is the most popular time to take pictures. But you can also wait for the early morning crowds to clear out a bit and enjoy it. (I think we timed our stop between the early-morning photographer and the mid-morning visitors and it worked perfectly!)

Yellowstone vs. Grand Teton: Accommodations

Of course, both Yellowstone and Grand Teton have accommodations both within the park and outside the park. The accommodations at both parks are going to vary, ranging from hotel rooms to rustic cabins.

I do think that it is more important to stay inside Yellowstone National Park than it is to stay inside Grand Teton National Park, just because of how much driving is involved. BUT we have stayed outside of Yellowstone (in West Yellowstone) and it has worked out fine.

Yellowstone Accommodations

Because Yellowstone is SO big, there are lots of accommodation options. But you still need to plan 13+ months out, because these reservations go fast.

There are nine lodges and cabin areas in Yellowstone:

  • Old Faithful Inn
  • Old Faithful Lodge Cabins
  • Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins
  • Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins
  • Lake Lodge Cabins
  • Grant Village
  • Canyon Lodge and Cabins
  • Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins
  • Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabin

There are also 12 campgrounds in Yellowstone:

  • Bay Bridge
  • Canyon
  • Fishing Bridge RV Park
  • Grant Village
  • Madison
  • Indian Creek
  • Lewis Lake
  • Mammoth
  • Norris
  • Pebble Creek
  • Slough Creek
  • Tower Fall

Staying outside of Yellowstone is a viable option too. Like I said, we did this on our trip and it worked out fine. But be prepared that you will have to drive to enter the park each day (and sometimes wait in line) and also have a decent driving distance, usually of at least 45 minutes, once you enter the park to get to your destination.

  • West Yellowstone — We stayed here and it’s right outside the West Entrance. There are lots of VRBO options here.
  • Gardiner — This is right outside the North Entrance. Again, there are lots of VRBO options that cater to Yellowstone visitors.

Grand Teton Accommodations

Grand Teton National Park has a variety of accommodations you can choose from as well. Remember that these reservations will need to be made WELL in advance because they are extremely popular.

There are seven lodges to choose from within Grand Teton National Park:

  • Jackson Lake Lodge
  • Jenny Lake Lodge
  • Colter Bay Cabins
  • Headwaters Lodge and Cabins at Flagg Ranch
  • Signal Mountain Lodge
  • Triangle X Ranch (a dude ranch)
  • Grand Teton Climbers’ Ranch (VERY rustic, meant for climbers)
View from Jackson Lake Lodge

There are also seven campsites in Grand Teton:

  • Colter Bay Campground
  • Colter Bay RV Park
  • Gros Ventre Campground
  • Jenny Lake Campground
  • Signal Mountain Campground
  • Lizard Creek Campground
  • Headwaters Campground

I also think it’s super easy to stay outside of Grand Teton National Park. There are SO many VRBO options in Jackson and Jackson Hole, along with hotels. And Jackson really is not that far of a drive from Grand Teton.

Yellowstone vs. Grand Teton: Crowds

Both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are two of the most visited National Parks in the US. However, Grand Teton is less crowded than Yellowstone. Not only does it have slightly less annual visitors, but I think that people tend to spend less days in Grand Teton.

On average, Yellowstone and Grand Teton both see around 3 million visitors per year. In 2022, Yellowstone had 3.29 million visitors while Grand Teton had 2.81 million. And most of these visitors are concentrated in the summer months.

So you’ll definitely find crowds at both parks. And in general, the most popular spots (Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone and Jenny Lake at Grand Teton) are going to be the most crowded.

Line for the boat shuttle at Jenny Lake. Even though Grand Teton is less crowded overall, there are still spots that can get crowded!

Yellowstone vs. Grand Teton: Time Needed for a Visit

The time you need to visit each park can vary. Of course, it’s going to depend on your personal preference. And you can easily spend as little or as much time in each park as you want!

BUT to properly see the main attractions of each park I think you need at least 4-5 days in Yellowstone and 2-3 days in Grand Teton.

Yellowstone vs. Grand Teton: Which Park Should You Visit?

If you HAVE to choose, deciding on whether to visit Yellowstone or Grand Teton is going to be a completely personal preference.

For *me* I prefer Grand Teton. I love the mountains, the glacial lakes, and the lower crowds. But, that might not be the right choice for you.

So here’s a better breakdown:

  • Visit Yellowstone if you have time for a longer trip, want to see geothermal features and wildlife, and don’t mind more time in the car.
  • Visit Grand Teton if you want a shorter trip, love the mountains, and want a more active trip in the outdoors.

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