If you are looking to get out, and possibly get active, there’s no better place to do that than in Wyoming. Fishing, skiing, mountain climbing, hiking and whitewater rafting are among the activities you can partake in at the entrance to the Grand Teton National Park. But you also can experience nature as the Grand Tetons tower above and you are less than two hours by car from Yellowstone National Park, considered the first national park in the world. AAA even offers Yellowstone and Grand Teton Audio Driving Tours to hit all the highlights and not miss a thing, all at your own pace.
Located between the Gros Ventre Mountain Range and the Teton Mountain Range, Jackson Hole is a valley about 48 miles long and between 8 and 15 miles wide. With plenty of lodging options, restaurants, shopping choices and the largest commercial airport in Wyoming, it makes it the perfect place to set up camp for your adventures, much like the settlers and pioneers of the Old West.
Believed to be the youngest of the Rocky Mountains, Grand Teton rise to 13,775 feet, making it the second-highest peak in Wyoming. The national park operates year-round with plenty of activities, including bird watching and other wildlife viewings, fishing and horseback riding. The park also offers backcountry camping and, during certain times of the year, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Up the road to the north, more nature awaits at Yellowstone. Whether it’s waiting for the next eruption of Old Faithful or grabbing a gander at the wildlife wandering the park, make sure you plan to make the most of your trip. Yellowstone has nine lodges and 12 campgrounds within the park, as well as plenty of restaurants.
As you enter Yellowstone, you will see the beauty that has been thrilling visitors for more than 150 years. Approximately half the geysers in the world are located in Yellowstone, as well as fumaroles and bubbling mud pots. But the star of the park is Old Faithful, so named because officials can predict the next eruption of the cone geyser within 10 minutes. There will be plenty of time to explore the area, see an eruption of Old Faithful and check out the geyser basin before returning to West Yellowstone.
Visit the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center to learn about Yellowstone’s top two predators, the grizzly bear and grey wolf. Want a chance to see these predators? As the sun begins to set, even if you have been active all day, keep your eyes open because this is the best time to see the fauna. Elk, bison, moose, wolves and bears have all been known to make an appearance.
If you are planning on visiting both national parks, you might consider purchasing a National Parks Service Annual Pass. A tour also is an excellent option for getting the most out of the time you have in this scenic destination.
You don’t need a passport or take a 12-hour flight to go on a wildlife safari. In fact, on a AAA tour, you will see predators in their natural habitat. On the Yellowstone Wildlife Safari, professional guides who have a formal education in wildlife biology lead smaller groups through Yellowstone National Park.
Known as The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Upper Falls and Lower Falls are where the Yellowstone River carved a 1,200-foot deep and 4,000-foot wide canyon. Down below, in scenic Hayden Valley, keep an eye out for large herds of buffalo and other wildlife.
As you leave Yellowstone and enter Grand Teton National Park on your return to Jackson, you will see the Tetons, Jackson Lake and Snake River from Oxbow Bend and the Snake River Overlook.
And since you’re there, don’t forget to explore the town of Jackson, Wyoming, home to plenty of art galleries, shops, attractions and restaurants. A Scenic Float Trip down the Snake River will showcase the beauty of Grand Teton National Park. You also should visit Jackson Lake Lodge, named a National Historic Landmark because of its architecture.
As your journey comes to a close, besides the souvenirs and photos you took, you will take home memories of an adventure of a lifetime — all without having your passport stamped.
John T. Garcia is the managing editor of AAA Magazine.