After a week of adventuring in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, you might feel the urge to leave the crowds behind and find a bit more solitude. Fortunately, you won’t have to go too far. Just head west to eastern Idaho’s Yellowstone-Teton Territory, where the rugged terrain rivals that of the national parks, and travelers have much more elbow room.
The Yellowstone-Teton Territory is not only massive, spanning 7,500 square miles, but also remarkable. As the 13,000-foot mountains fade into foothills, alpine creeks merge into fully realized rivers and the harsh tundra gives way to aromatic pine forests. The same underground heartbeat that fuels Yellowstone’s geothermal activity creates relaxing hot springs that maintain consistent 96 - 105° F temperatures year round. And a vast playground of rolling sand dunes present an ever-changing landscape where 300-foot mounds rise from swirling sands.
When you hike the backcountry of the Yellowstone-Teton Territory you’ll hardly see another soul. And, when you depart the trail to enjoy a bit of civilization, you won’t have to contend with bumper-to-bumper traffic. In opposition to the national parks, the Yellowstone-Teton Territory spreads out its attractions, leaving plenty of room to roam. Sprinkled throughout are communities where visitors can enjoy true mountain-west hospitality and find a comfortable room or campsite, as well as good places to eat.
It’s remarkable that the Yellowstone-Teton Territory remains a hidden gem, as it lies only a half-day’s (only 3 ½ hours) drive from Salt Lake City. Plus, it has plenty to offer throughout the year, especially in the autumn and spring, when the mountains display their colorful canopy of fall leaves, and the meadows shine with vibrant spring wildflowers.
The territory is not only easily accessible, but also attractive for the whole family. In several towns there are guide services that will take groups fishing, backcountry skiing, or horseback riding into the deep wilderness. Plus, there are two ski areas—Grand Targhee and Kelly Canyon.
When you’ve had your fill of outdoor adventure, you’ll find plenty of other entertainment in the territory. Many small towns host rodeos, bluegrass and folk music festivals, and concerts year round. You can even visit interesting museums that showcase all sorts of things, including the historical archives from the early days of television, air combat, and of course, Idaho’s best-known tuber, the potato. There are also Family History Centers for visitors to trace their roots in the region. Add in the local flavor of restaurants and bars, and lodging that ranges from modern to rustic, and you have all the ingredients for an ideal getaway.
The Best Outdoors Destinations & Cultural Events
One of the best-known destinations in the Yellowstone-Teton Territory is Grand Targhee Resort, located in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. While technically in Wyoming, the entrance to the resort is through Driggs, Idaho, which is only five miles away. In the winter and spring, skiing is king, whether it be downhill, backcountry, or cross-country. In the summer and autumn, mountain biking, music events (including the yearly bluegrass festival), and hiking are in-season—and much cooler, thanks to the high elevation over 7,000 feet. Kelly Canyon Ski Resort is a family-friendly alternative located in Ririe, Idaho, and features 740 acres of skiing, snowboarding, fat biking, and snowshoeing—not to mention the only night skiing in the region.
The town of St. Anthony is the gateway to the amazing St. Anthony Dunes, a 10,600-acre area where the white quartz sand creates a pristine and expansive desert of glistening hills. Because temperatures rarely exceed 90 degrees, the dunes are accessible—and enjoyable—year round. You can just imagine cruising around the dunes on an ATV or a dune buggy, and then hanging out at night around a bonfire and gazing at the vast, dark sky. Come winter, people dash through the snow-covered hills on snowmobiles. Large herds of elk, moose, and deer settle in for the season in late August, wintering in the area until spring migration. After the herds have moved on, many people like to collect the shed antlers.
Of all the areas you can explore in the the Yellowstone-Teton Territory, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is arguably the most unique. Eerie caves and barren, knobby hills formed by ancient lava flows have transformed the land into a collection of twisted outcrops and black, bulbous crags. Old lava tubes cross the ground like petrified roots. The overall primal atmosphere truly feels like another world, but thankfully, there are plenty of well-developed trails to see it all. If you plan a trip to visit the preserve, try to go in the shoulder seasons or winter, when the summer sun isn’t beating down.
While Craters of the Moon is a stark landscape, much of the Yellowstone-Teton Territory is rich with rivers, lakes, and even hot springs. Heise Hot Springs in Ririe and Green Canyon in Newdale both offer relaxing, naturally heated pools to soak tired muscles any time of the year (and they are both family-friendly). If you love to fish or paddle, you’ll love the wealth of lakes and rivers to explore. Fly fishermen can cast for trout at Henry’s Fork in Island Park, one of the most beautiful and healthy rivers in Idaho. If you’re traveling with the family and you’d like to get out and paddle on a placid mountain lake, head to Blacktail Lake in Idaho Falls, where you can also bring a picnic and enjoy an autumn afternoon.
R&R in the Yellowstone-Teton Territory
People who visit this area especially appreciate that they can find a wide range of quality places to stay the night, whether they prefer an affordable hotel room, a cabin, mountain lodge, or RV park. If you want to feel close to the land, you can stay at a ranch property like Hansen-Silver Guest Ranch in Swan Valley. If you’re thinking about hiring an outfitter for a wilderness outing, lodges like the Teton Valley Lodge in Driggs offer a one-stop locale to set off for adventure and return to a warm bed after a day in the wilderness—it’s also a great place to stay in the winter for trips to Grand Targhee Resort.
Restaurants and bars in the area offer a variety of great dining options, many with dishes focused on fresh local fish, berries, and in-season game. A great option is the Lakeside Lodge, which has eights hotel rooms as well as six cabins that are nestled in the surrounding pines. After a day outdoors, you can sit down to a nice meal in the lodge, which offers everything from fine dining to burgers. Afterward you can relax with a cocktail in the rustic Lakeside Bar, or head outside to the lodge peninsula to sit by a fire and watch the sun setting behind towering peaks.
Another popular place to stay is the Snake River Roadhouse in Swan Valley, where you can bed down in a comfortable hotel room or choose from a number of RV campsites. Plus, the laid-back Roadhouse restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating, and it’s the perfect place to get a beer and a burger, plus tasty thin-crust pizza.
If you’re planning a visit to the Yellowstone-Teton Territory, keep in mind that it’s not as crowded as some western parks, but it is a popular destination in the summer months, drawing locals and travelers who are continuing on to the nearby national parks. Come autumn, the crowds dissipate, but the beauty of the land comes alive. Autumn is a wonderful time to plan a family outing among the colorful forests or get out for a well-deserved fishing vacation. Winter means fun in the snow, from resort skiing to snowmobiling, all set in the wonderful winter palette that transforms the land and makes cozying up to a warm fire at the end of the day a treat. And when spring blooms, rivers run high and the land shakes off its snowy coat and welcomes the longer days with brilliant displays of wildflowers.
The family-friendly vibe combined with majestic natural setting make this region the perfect place for a weekend getaway or, even better, a longer trip exploring the wilderness, museums, ski resorts, rivers, and mountains. Whether you are tuned into backcountry escapes or want to share a trip with the kids that they’ll never forget, the Yellowstone-Teton Territory has all the ingredients for fun and memorable adventures.
Written by James Dziezynski for RootsRated in partnership with Yellowstone- Teton Territory and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.