In the Northern Rockies, you’ll come across young mountains, a steaming supervolcano, and fast-melting glaciers. With a weeklong road trip, you can see all of them by stitching together three national parks: Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier.
In each park, aim for three activities: tour a visitor center, drive a scenic road, and tackle a trail. For a 24/7 adventure, stay overnight in National Historic Landmark lodges (but keep in mind, reservations will have to be made a year in advance). For last minute road trippers, roll the dice and snag a cancelled reservation, or stay in border towns surrounding the parks.
From Jackson, Wyoming, launch your road trip in Grand Teton National Park. Here, the young mountains truly show their age, with rugged horns that tower above Jackson Hole.
To let your senses attune to the sounds, sights, and feel of the Tetons, start at the visitor center at Lawrence S. Rockefeller Preserve. Extend your exploration of the 1,106-acre refuge by hiking to Phelps Lake. A two-mile gentle walk leads you to the lake; a seven-mile trail loops around it.
Afterwards, drive Teton Park Road, stopping to stare up at the sky-scraping 13,776-foot Grand Teton. For a reflection view from Jenny Lake Overlook, take a short detour onto Jenny Lake Drive. To absorb the Tetons by sunset, overnight at historic Jackson Lake Lodge, where the full sweep of the toothy peaks lines the horizon above the water.
On the next day, head north through John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway to enter Yellowstone National Park. Its landscape perches over a hot spot of magma that makes geysers blow, mud pots bubble, fumaroles steam, and hot springs boil.
Driving counterclockwise, circle Lower Grand Loop Road to embark on multiple short walks to geothermals. Tour the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center to learn about this active landscape, and watch Old Faithful Geyser erupt. Take in the multi-hued splendor of Grand Prismatic Spring in Midway Geyser Basin and the creamy colors of Porcelain Basin in Norris Geyser Basin. Looping eastward into Hayden Valley, you’ll steer into a couple bison traffic jams before ending the day with a stay at the historic Lake Hotel.
After catching the morning sunrise on Yellowstone Lake, reverse your route through Hayden Valley to look for trumpeter swans and moose. At the valley’s north end, take North Rim Drive to hike into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Drop the half-mile of switchbacks down to Brink of the Lower Falls, where water plunging over the lip mesmerizes with its power. Afterwards, stop at Lookout Point to take in the full sight of the 308-foot falls and depth of the canyon.
Going north, drive the curvy mountain road over Dunraven Pass to see wolves in Lamar Valley, nicknamed America’s Serengeti. Then, take in the travertine colors of Mammoth Hot Springs and elk on the lawns before tucking into a nearby cabin for the night.
To leap to Glacier National Park, plan for seven hours of driving north through Montana. Going west on I-90 and north on I-15, aim for historic Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier for two nights. Bring binoculars for watching grizzly bears from the deck.
In the morning, take in the pink alpenglow on the jagged Continental Divide. Hop on the first tour boat to hike to fast-melting Grinnell Glacier. The 7.5-mile round-trip trail climbs into an icy basin harboring one of the last glaciers in the park.
For your road trip finale, drive the dramatic Going-to-the-Sun Road across Logan Pass. The route cuts through cliffs, under waterfalls, and past mountain goats. At the summit, tour the tiny visitor center and walk the boardwalk among wildflower meadows. It’s a top-of-the-world experience you won’t forget.