With two stunning national parks, four gorgeous western states, and incredible locations to savor along the way, the Yellowstone Loop may be the ultimate summer road trip.
If you’re looking to combine a unique road trip with two of America’s most epic national parks, look no further than the Yellowstone Loop. While many visitors to Yellowstone National Park fall into a rush-rush routine—flying into Salt Lake City, UT, renting a car, and racing straight to the park—the Yellowstone Loop invites you to slow it down and take a scenic and enjoyable path to the park. It’s the ideal way to experience everything this region has to offer. Here are our favorite nine stops between your arrival in Salt Lake City and the loop up to Yellowstone and back.
1. Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Brigham City, UT
Detour into the Bear River Wild Bird Refuge for the 12-mile driving tour. This 74,000-acre National Wildlife Refuge is an important resting, feeding, and nesting area for migrating birds. Depending on what time of year you visit, you’ll get to see American avocets, white-faced ibis, Tundra swans, American white pelicans, Snowy plovers, and Black-necked stilts.
2. American West Heritage Center, Logan, UT
Photojournalist Amanda McCadams hones her axe-throwing skills. (Courtesy Amanda McCadams)
Step back in time 100 years and take your turn at hatchet throwing, spinning wool, or have tea while playing parlor games. This living history museum inspires visitors to learn, live and celebrate what life was like in the Cache Valley between the years of 1820-1920. Spread across nearly 300 acres of open space are a historical farm, pioneer settlements, native American exhibits, a mountain man camp and more.
3. Bluebird Candy Company, Logan, UT
The Bluebird Candy Company has been creating hand-dipped candies and treats in their factory since 1914. Walk through the door and immediately the sweet smell of chocolate will beg you to start looking for the samples (FYI: they are by the register). After you’ve grabbed a taste, turn your attention to the picture window and watch the chocolates being hand dipped. Their irresistible clusters, caramels, truffles, and chocolates are made using locally sourced ingredients, which don’t have any preservatives or waxes, and their candy centers are made daily. Each are hand dipped then given a unique signature.
4. Lava Hot Springs, ID
When you are ready to relax, head to the natural thermal springs of Lava Hot Springs. Every day over 2.5 million gallons of natural, chemical-free water courses through five soaking pools before being diverted in the Portneuf River. The pools range in temperature from 102 to 112 and are laden with minerals. And, thank goodness, this mineral water does not contain sulfur, so you won’t have to endure the rotten egg smell while you unwind from being on the road. The springs are open year-round except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
5. Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, West Yellowstone, MT
You might not see a grizzly during your visit to Yellowstone National Park, but you can get up close to one at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, MT, just a short drive from the park’s western entrance. All of the grizzlies, wolves, owls, eagles, and hawks that reside here are unable to survive in the wild, so instead they serve as ambassadors to their wild counterparts. Throughout the day naturalists on staff lead a variety of demonstrations, including how to properly use bear spray (hint: you DON’T spray it on like bug spray) and general bear safety. Kids-only programs include helping a naturalist hide food in the bear habitat, then watching how a bear uses the sense of smell to find food.
6. Yellowstone National Park, WY, MT, ID
You could spend weeks in Yellowstone National Park and never still see it all. Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Springs, herds of buffalo, are all the high-points you’ll definitely want to see. Our advice here is to drive slowly through the park, take your time and visit during shoulder season (it’s also beautiful in winter, though most roads are closed). Following this advice, you’ll see more, the crowds will be smaller, and the cooler temperatures will have the wildlife still at a lower elevations, along the primary roads.
7. Grand Tetons National Park, WY
Grand Tetons could be an entire, epic trip all by itself, but if you are thinking of “saving it for another time,” while you focus on Yellowstone it’s a good idea to just drive through it on your way back to Salt Lake City. The scenery is breathtaking and it’s no wonder this park is a magnet for photographers, painters and landscape enthusiasts. Along your route you should definitely make a stop where Ansel Adams made his famous “Tetons and Snake River” photograph. There is even a marker there, so you too can test your photography skills and shoot where the master did.
8. Bear Lake, Garden City, UT
Bear Lake is known as the Caribbean of the Rockies. After seeing the stunning turquoise water and white beaches, you’ll understand why. There is no shortage of recreational activities that happen year-round here. There are thousands of square miles of fun that include beaches, boating, fishing, water sports, hiking, snow skiing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, exploring, history, and so much more.
9. Conestoga Ranch, Garden City, UT
Located on 18 acres along the shores of Bear Lake is Conestoga Ranch. This is glamping at its finest. Stay in a modern version of a covered wagon (with a plush king-sized bed and electricity), or a traditional (yet very roomy) tent. Each spot comes with campfire valet service (s’mores kit included) and there is resort-wide wifi. Some tents have their own shower and bathroom facilities, but if yours doesn’t, there are private shower rooms available 24/7 (none of that public bathhouse stuff with a flimsy curtain and lukewarm water). The on-site Campfire Grill restaurant offers upscale yet casual dining and a wine and craft beer list to go along with it.