Off The Beaten Path In Yellowstone And The Tetons
There are plenty of reasons that Yellowstone and Grand Teton National park are both in the 10 top most visited national parks. Each one has something unique and wonderful about it. Despite being among the most trafficked parks, people tend to stay within range of the most iconic attractions. One guide we met in Yellowstone told us that 90% of park visitors never experience anything outside of the short boardwalks from the parking lots.
I was lucky enough to grow up just 2 hours from both of these parks but had never really explored either in depth so last month we took the opportunity to see both parks and get off the well-worn path of Old Faithful and Jenny Lake. Instead, we explored some incredible hidden gems and found that we liked them better than the main attractions. So whether this is your first visit to the parks and you are looking to avoid crowds or you are a park veteran looking for some new experiences, here are a few classic attractions and our favorite off the beaten path alternatives.
Yellowstone Canyon VS Lewis Canyon
Yellowstone Canyon is home to the absolutely incredibly Yellowstone Falls, but it is also among the most visited sites in Yellowstone. This trip was my first time (in memory at least) seeing Lewis Canyon and I found myself in awe at how surprisingly beautiful it was. We followed the canyon up from Grand Teton National Park and the whole way I just kept exclaiming about how impressive it was. It is a gorgeous drive and in my opinion one of the most under-rated parts of the park.
Midway Geyser Basin VS Grand Prismatic Overlook
The Midway Geyser Basin is home to one of the most photographed features of Yellowstone, the Grand Prismatic Spring. While the boardwalk at the Grand Prismatic Spring takes you on a walk next to the spring, there is also a short trail to an overlook which allows you to have a view of the entire site. The first portion of the hike is relatively short and gives you a spectacular view of the geysers below. Once you've made it to the overlook, you can continue on to Fairy Falls. The portion of this hike from the overlook to the falls is uninteresting (to be honest). If we had stopped at the falls I would have been really disappointed with our experience but luckily we decided not to stop there. From Fairy falls we hiked the Imperial Geyser trail where you can find not one but TWO incredible geysers hidden in the forest. This area is gorgeous and while we were there, we were able to see both of these geysers going off.
Upper geyser basin VS West Thumb geyser basin
The Upper geyser basin is probably the most visited part of Yellowstone because it is home to Old Faithful. While this area is incredible, trying to navigate around Old Faithful is miserable. While it isn't necessarily "off the beaten path", I had never been to West Thumb geyser basin before our most recent trip and I was surprised at how gorgeous it was. This set of geysers is right along the edge of Yellowstone Lake which makes it both unique and gorgeous.
Grand Teton National Park
Jenny Lake VS Taggart Lake
Based on personal experience, Jenny Lake is bound to be the #1 result that comes up online when you are searching for suggestions of things to do in the Tetons. We started our day in the park with plans to go there, but after stopping at the visitors center we were convinced by a ranger to head to Taggart Lake instead. Our time at Taggart Lake was probably the best part of our trip. The hike was short, featured a wide array of scenery, and ended at a secluded lake with incredible views of the Tetons. We relaxed by the lake for quite a while (and could have stayed longer) before we left to see what Jenny Lake was all about. Ultimately, Jenny Lake didn't live up to the hype for me. It felt like it took forever to get away from the endless parking lots surrounding the lake and the constant sound of boats reduced the peaceful feeling of a mountain lake.
TA Moulton Barn VS Oxbow Bend
While it may be the "most photographed barn in America", basically every visitor to the park has a picture of the TA Moulton Barn. We decided not to make the stop here and instead, hit up Oxbow Bend for our Teton sunrise view. I know that the Oxbow Bend isn't exactly off the beaten path, but it was a place I had never heard of before we went. Even if it is popular, it falls in the "worth it" category for me.
Tell me about your favorite spots in Yellowstone and the Tetons in the comments below!
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