Day 1: Arrive in Jackson, Wyoming
Start your Rocky Mountain getaway in the world-class resort town of Jackson. Serviced by more airlines than any other town in the state, Jackson is relatively easy to get to and a comfortable launching pad for a Montana/Wyoming vacation. Check out Town Square, with its famed antler arches, and the downtown area for window-shopping and lunch, before heading up to the National Museum of Wildlife Art for the afternoon. In the evening, drive to Teton Village or nearby Wilson for dinner, perhaps with a stop to fish on the Snake River en route, or if time permits, a ride up the tram at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Take your pick of lodgings in and around Jackson.
Day 2: Grand Teton National Park
But of course you didn't come to Wyoming for the civilization. Get up early and head immediately for Grand Teton National Park. Stop at the visitor center in Moose before catching a boat across Jenny Lake to the trail leading up Cascade Canyon; take it at least to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, but you'll get away from most of the crowds if you continue up the canyon for another mile or two. Either bring lunch with you or come down to one of the numerous eateries in the park. Spend the afternoon ogling the majestic mountains from the numerous overlooks, and take a stroll around Willow Flats and look for moose or hike up Signal Mountain (you can drive to the summit as well) for a magnificent perspective. For hungry, budget-minded types, I love the nachos at Deadman's Bar in Signal Mountain Lodge. Spend the night in one of the park's lodgings or campgrounds.
Day 3: Arrive in Yellowstone National Park
You got a taste of the in-your-face grandeur of the Tetons, now it's time for the subtler, wilder confines of Yellowstone National Park and its amazing amalgam of wildlife, geysers, and hiking trails. You'll drive out of Grand Teton National Park through the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway before entering Yellowstone, and will soon arrive at the trail head to Lewis River Channel to Shoshone Lake, the largest backcountry lake in the Lower 48. Pack a lunch or plan for a late lunch at Old Faithful, where you'll spend the night after a stop at West Thumb en route. In the evening, watch the famed geyser erupt, and then stroll the boardwalks for a glimpse at some of the lesser-known thermal features here: Castle, Grand, and Riverside geysers are all awe-inspiring sights to behold. Stay at one of the myriad lodging options at Old Faithful; eat here as well.
Days 4 & 5: Yellowstone National Park
Now that you've whet your Yellowstone appetite, you've got 2 full days to get your fill of hiking, wildlife-watching, sightseeing, or whatever else might tickle your fancy. I recommend visitors spend the first half of Day 4 exploring the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone area, gawking from the overlooks but also hiking one of the rim trails, visiting Clear Lake and Lily Lake, or walking down the metal staircase known as Uncle Tom's Trail for an unbeatable perspective of the base of Lower Falls. Drive up to Tower-Roosevelt in the afternoon to unwind on the porch at Roosevelt Lodge, where you'll sleep in a dinky cabin after enjoying a cookout on the trail. The next day, you're in prime position for an early start of wildlife-watching in the Lamar Valley -- "the Serengeti of North America." Have lunch in Cooke City and perhaps do a little fishing in Trout Lake or Soda Butte Creek before reversing course for Mammoth Hot Springs. After walking the boardwalk here, have dinner at Pedalino's in Gardiner, Montana, or have a quick bite at Mammoth before heading to Boiling River for a soak before the sun sets. Stay in either Mammoth or Gardiner.
Day 6: The Paradise Valley & Bozeman, Montana
From Mammoth or Gardiner, drive north on U.S. 89 up the idyllic Paradise Valley to Livingston, Montana. Wander downtown Livingston, visiting one of the town's three museums, check out a gallery or two, and have a bite to eat. Next, drive west on I-90 to downtown Bozeman, Montana, for the evening. Spend the afternoon strolling Main Street, and settle on a restaurant downtown -- there are plenty to choose from -- and perhaps a watering hole for an after-dinner drink. As for accommodations close to downtown, I can't recommend the Lehrkind Mansion enough.
Day 7: Bozeman, Montana
After breakfast at the Lehrkind or one of the noshing spots on Main, head south to the Museum of the Rockies, on the campus of Montana State University. This top-flight museum offers a view into one of the best and brightest paleontology programs in the country and a look at the largest collection of American dinosaurs in the world. Either have lunch at the museum cafe or head back downtown before venturing south into the Gallatin National Forest for an afternoon hiking or fishing expedition. For dinner, try Montana Ale Works or the Mint in nearby Belgrade, a very Montana kind of place.
Day 8: Butte, Helena & Great Falls, Montana
This is a big driving day, covering about 80 miles on I-90 W. and another 150 miles on I-15 N. But it also puts you within a relatively short drive of Glacier National Park and gives you an opportunity to visit one or both of Great Falls's terrific museums: the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center and the C. M. Russell Museum Complex. I'm also a sucker for the Sip 'n Dip Lounge, the kitschiest watering hole in the West. En route from Bozeman, stop for a peek at the Berkeley Pit in Butte and lunch on Last Chance Gulch in Helena.
Days 9, 10 & 11: Glacier National Park
Visit another museum in Great Falls or head directly to Glacier National Park. Before ascending Logan Pass on Going-to-the-Sun Road, stop at Sunrift Gorge for a hike up toward Siyeh Pass, where there's a nice view of a hanging glacier. Camp or stay at one of the many nice hostelries in the park; eat in the park as well. The next day, take your pick of activities: rafting out of West Glacier; hiking to Avalanche Lake or another trail; or sightseeing in Glacier's many nooks and crannies. Stay in the park again on night 10, or take your choice of one of the hostelries in the gateways of East Glacier, West Glacier, St. Mary, Essex, or Polebridge. Explore more of Glacier by car or foot on Day 11 before leaving the park for Whitefish. In Whitefish, stay at the Garden Wall Inn and walk downtown for dinner.
Days 12 & 13: The Flathead Valley
Use Whitefish as a base for exploring the Flathead Valley. After breakfast, take a scenic cruise or fishing charter on Flathead Lake, then spend the remainder of the day in Bigfork, shopping, strolling, and having dinner at one of the terrific eateries. Perhaps take in a play at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse. Stay at one of the many lodgings in or around Bigfork for the evening. On the next day, drive south to Missoula for a peek at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Visitor Center and the University of Montana campus before getting in one last hike in the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area just outside of town. In the evening, venture into downtown Missoula for dinner and drinks.
Day 14: Explore Montana's Gold West Country
You might end your trip in Missoula and spend the final day enjoying a slow start and a good breakfast. But if your schedule allows, take the day for a scenic drive through the Bitterroot Valley, south of town via U.S. 93, and over Lost Trail Pass. From there, you'll have an opportunity to visit one of Montana's historic mining towns: Virginia City, Nevada City, or Bannack. (The latter is a ghost town that's now a state park.) From any of these, you're in a good position to get to Salt Lake City (if you arrived by air) and I-15 (if you're driving home).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.