When it comes to planning an epic vacation getaway, the first thing that pops into everyone´s mind are the most well-known national parks that get all of the attention. From Yellowstone to the Grand Tetons, to the Grand Canyon, it is pretty hard to go wrong with one of these places. What few people ever think about, however, are the other nearby attractions from state parks to national monument areas that also offer some pretty spectacular opportunities for adventure.
Imagine the following scenario: After having saved up for months, you finally are ready to take your family to Yellowstone National Park, a place you´ve dreamed of visiting for years. You´ve done your research, planned out everything you´re going to see, and made reservations at the best campgrounds.
Only a couple days into your supposed vacation of a lifetime, however, your oldest son begins to drag his feet. “Another hot spring today?” he asks sarcastically.
Shortly afterwards your youngest daughter refuses to put her boots on to go and watch the bison at Yellowstone Lake. Even your spouse begins to make not so subtle suggestions that it might be a good idea to check out something outside the boundaries of the park.
The problem, of course, is that you have absolutely no idea what other attractions the state of Wyoming has to offer. The Grand Tetons are at least half a day away, and for all you know, the rest of the state is nothing more than red rocks, wind turbines, and a rodeos.
Fortunately for you, we´ve done our research and have all the information on everything that the state of Wyoming has to offer. From the 2 most well-known national parks, to the 12 state parks, 5 national forests, 4 national wildlife refuges, and 2 national recreation areas, we´ve put together a guidebook on the best that Wyoming has to offer.
Below we´ll offer a succinct but thorough review of the two Wyoming National Parks while also giving you some other ideas about nearby attractions should to complement the wonder and natural beauty of both Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.
Bison, Geysers, and Fishing at Yellowstone
Without a doubt, the main attraction for most travelers to the state of Wyoming is Yellowstone. While Yellowstone actually has land in three separate states, the vast majority of the national park and the main attractions are within Wyoming territory.
As one of the first national parks worldwide, and also one of the largest, there is definitely a lot to explore at Yellowstone. The unique geology of the area was formed by a massive volcanic eruption over half a million years ago. Today, Yellowstone is still brimming with geothermic activity, and one of the main attractions that people go to see are the dozens of geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and other unique geothermic formations that make you thankful for the thin crust of earth that separates us from our earth´s boiling innards.
The Geothermic Route
If you do make your way to Yellowstone, you absolutely cannot miss going to see Old Faithful. This massive geyser erupts regularly, and the park has set up grandstands where you will be able to catch the glimpse of a mini-volcano in action.
The Midway Geyser Basin is another spot you shouldn´t skip. Home to the world´s largest hot spring, the brilliant turquoise colors will remind you of a Caribbean beach, minus the hot sulfur-laden air, that is.
The Wildlife Route
Another major attraction at Yellowstone is the abundance of wildlife. From deer to grizzly bears to the majestic herds of bison, as soon as you step away from the crowds, you´re almost guaranteed to find some sort of wildlife that call the home park.
The massive herds of bison that used to roam freely over the Great Plains actually almost went extinct during the arrival of the frontiersmen to the western part of the United States. Today, however, they´re beginning to make a comeback and one of the best places to catch a glimpse of the bison is at Yellowstone.
Head out to the infamously named “Mud Volcano” on the Yellowstone River. Here you will be able to catch glimpses of bison warming themselves over the warm air escaping from a small geyser on the river´s edge. While slightly more strenuous, the Lava Creek Trail also offers a great chance to come upon a herd of wandering bison and even the solitary grizzly bear.
The Backcountry Route
The vast majority of tourists and vacationers who come to Yellowstone never actually see the vast stretches of wilderness and the backcountry. The park service has done a great job organizing a family friendly tourist circuit which, while worth seeing, doesn´t do justice to the rest of the marvels that the park offers.
If you are up to challenge, the Sky Rim Trail offers a unique perspective into the wilderness of Yellowstone. During the course of the 21 mile roundtrip trail, you´ll hike up to the almost 10,000 foot summit of Big Horn Peak while also enjoying panoramic vistas that might allow you to spot the distant Grand Tetons which we´ll explore in more detail below.
Once in the backcountry, Yellowstone National Park also offers dozens of opportunities for quality fishing. Finding your own Shangri-La spot to go angling on the Yellowstone River is about as close you can get to paradise.
If you really want to explore all of the many wonders that Yellowstone has to offer, check out our complete guide to Yellowstone National Park here.
40 Miles of Mountains at the Grand Tetons
There are few sights that will leave you with your jaw dropping to the ground like the massive 40-mile-long mountain front that makes up the main attraction of the Grand Tetons National Park. Along this postcard like view, eight peaks rise majestically over 12,000 feet in the air and their jagged, rocky surface not only resembles the mountains you drew in your first grade art class, but also will leave you mesmerized by both fear and admiration.
Located near the luxurious mountain town of Jackson Hole, one of the most unique aspects of the Grand Tetons is that you can go from a 5 star hotel or plush mountain lodge in Jackson Hole to camping on the jagged rocks of a forsaken wilderness in almost no time at all. From pristine mountain lakes, to quality hiking, to adrenaline pushing extreme sports, there is plenty to explore at the Grand Tetons.
The Relax Route
For many people, simply enjoying the view of the 40 mile front of jagged peaks is more than rewarding. One of the best sights in the entire park is found at Jenny Lake, an otherworldly beautiful mountain lake surrounded by the characteristic jagged peaks of the Tetons.
The 7.5 mile Jenny Lake Loop hike is definitely doable, and is mostly flat which makes this relatively easy trail the best way to get your nature fix while not scaling any of the towering mountains in the horizon. A day resting by this unique lake will get you all the relaxation you need.
The Adrenaline Route
With so many towering mountains and granite cliffs, of course the Grand Tetons would be a place for mountain climbing and rappelling junkies to flock to. If you like the thrill of hanging off the side of the mountain with nothing holding you from a certain death than a thin rope, then the Tetons are for you. There are dozens of places to go climbing and mountaineering, but you´ll need to check in with the visitor´s center to see which places are currently open to climbers.
The Solitary Route
Lastly, the Tetons also offer a great opportunity to camp out in the backcountry. You would be hard pressed to find a place with more spectacular night sky views than from the summit of the Grand Teton or any of the other massive, craggy peaks you can explore.
You will need a permit to explore the back country of the Tetons, and a bear canister is probably a good idea as well. But if you´re up for the challenge, there are few places on earth where you can feel more lost in the wildness of the natural world than at Grand Teton National Park. You can check out all of your backcountry options at the Grand Tetons here.
The Road Less Traveled: State Parks and Others in Wyoming
Like we said at the beginning of this article, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons certainly have a lot to offer. You could theoretically spend a month at each place and still not even scratch the surface of different things to do. But as human beings, our attention spans or short and our continued need for adventure and new horizons is always a temptation.
Fortunately, the great state of Wyoming has several beautiful state parks and other natural areas in close proximity to both of the Wyoming National Parks. A change of scenery never hurt anyone, and though not nearly as famous as the Yellowstone or the Tetons, the following state parks are definitely worth exploring.
Bear River State Park
Just outside of Salt Lake City, Bear River State Park offers a quick nature getaway for urban dwellers. After several days braving the backcountry of Yellowstone or the Grand Tetons, this park offers much more civilization. The paved and gravel trails are great for biking or rollerblading and you can even catch a glimpse of some bison and elk that roam the park.
Buffalo Bill State Park
Near the border with Montana, Buffalo Bill State Park is another great spot nearby Yellowstone where you can enjoy the mountain vistas of the Absaroka Mountains and some great fishing along the nearby reservoir. If you didn´t have much luck catching anything at Yellowstone Lake the Buffalo Bill Reservoir is a good second option.
Sinks Canyon State Park
This state park features a pristine mountain river named the Popo Agie. While the river is an attraction in itself, the real prize here is the mysterious “disappearance” of the river as it sinks into a large cavern only to miraculously reappear as a beautiful, crystal clear pool a half mile down the canyon. While you can´t fish at this pool, there aren´t many other places in the world for a more refreshing swim.
Bighorn National Forest
This beautiful area often gets overlooked because it is “only” a national forest. Nonetheless, the forest ecosystem here is incredible diverse with alpine meadows, towering mountains, and glacier carved valleys, and so much more. There are a couple of great campgrounds to stay at, and the area has several miles of quality hiking and backpacking trails.
Planning Your Escape to Wyoming
There is no shortage of adventure in Wyoming. While many vacationers make the obligatory stops at Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, there is so much more to see and explore. We hope that this brief guide peaks your interest to explore the endless wonders that Wyoming offers.