The Five Closest National Parks to Jackson Hole
Jackson Hole is a gateway to two of America’s greatest and most scenic national parks, Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Here, you can witness nature in its most eye-popping glory, from roaming bison and explosive geysers to jagged mountains that seem to slice open the sky. But those two national parks, treasures as they may be, are far from the only natural gems America has to offer. In fact, there are no fewer than ten national parks within a day’s drive of Jackson.
For the purposes of this post, we’re defining a day’s drive as 500 miles, or about 8 or 9 hours. We’re aware that many people will manage to drive a lot further in the day, especially those who consider speed limits to be fun suggestions to be heeded when you’re in the mood. However, 500 miles, in addition to being half as far how far I’d be willing to walk just to fall down at your door, is a nice cutoff point.
We’ll break this post into two parts, so here, in brief, are the closest five national parks to consider visiting while you’re vacationing in Jackson Hole (or if you live remotely close to these parts). The next five nearest parks (and a few bonus destinations) will follow in the next post. We’ll start with the two national parks we mentioned above, the ones most easily reached from Jackson Hole.
Grand Teton, Wyoming
Distance from Jackson: About 5 miles (closer if you stay at Flat Creek Inn!)
Lonely Planet calls the Grand Teton “the birthplace of American mountaineering,” and it’s easy to see why the dramatic silhouette of the largest peak of the Teton mountain range makes for such a thrilling climb. However, if that’s not quite your speed, the national park is still a hiker’s paradise of waterfalls, wildflowers, and wonders.
Yellowstone, Wyoming (and slices of Idaho and Montana)
Distance from Jackson: 50 miles (note: this may not be true in winter, when many roads are closed)
Yellowstone is home to the world’s most famous geyser, Old Faithful, which erupts, well, faithfully every 90 minutes or so. The historic and scenic Old Faithful Inn is always worth a stay if you want to hang around after seeing the geyser from a few angles, or you can keep going through the park and see countless other hot pools and geysers. And don’t forget the bison, bears, and other wildlife that tolerate visitors’ presence in the park to varying degrees. Just keep a respectful distance unless you want a bison to introduce you to its horns.
Wind Cave, South Dakota
Distance from Jackson: 474 miles via US-26 E and US-18 E)
At least 20 native tribes have ties to the cave that gives the national park its name. Lakota oral tradition, for instance, speaks of a passage to the spirit realm where you can hear the earth breathing. You’ll experience the caves through a guided tour, stepping through a narrow entrance into part of an extremely dense cave complex, with more passages per cubic mile than any cave in the world. If caves make you a little claustrophobic, there’s plenty above ground to see.
Capitol Reef, Utah
Distance from Jackson: 475 miles via US-89 S
Utah has a whopping five national parks. In any other state, a place with rugged desert scenery like Capitol Reef would be at the top of everyone’s list, but here it tends to get overshadowed by more well-known parks like Zion or Bryce Canyon. However, that’s great for you, because Capitol Reef is Utah’s second-largest and perhaps least crowded national park. Fruita Historic District is the most accessible part of Capitol Reef, full of scenic drives, petroglyphs carved into the red rock, and old Mormon homesteads.
Distance from Jackson: 476 miles via US-287 N)
The most famous part of Glacier National Park is the loftily named Going-to-the-Sun Road, a thoroughfare whose scenery can give the Alps in Europe a run for their money. (Before you go, check if any parts of the road are closed.) Glacier also has more than 700 miles of hikes, pristine mountain lakes, and historic chalets.
What’s that? You’ve already road-tripped your way through these five parks? Stay tuned next week for the next five closest national parks to Jackson Hole.
Disclaimer: Distances are distances, but routes may change according to conditions.
Ryan Kunz is a copywriter and freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics, including media, the outdoors, and whether or not Darth Vader could beat Batman in a fight. (The answer is yes.) He has been to about half the national parks on this list and can safely say that every one of them will make a good Instagram post.
1 The Travel Atlas, authors of Lonely Planet, 2018.
Frank Kovalchek from USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
IIP Photo Archive, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Wolfgang Staudt, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons