3 Days 560 Miles
Chasing Waterfalls in the Rockies: Unlock the Magic of 3 National Parks
TLC warned us when they said, “Don’t go chasing waterfalls,” but lucky for us, we’re not rule followers. If you’re a waterfall fanatic, we’ve got the best three-day road trip through the Rocky Mountains for you! It has a decent amount of driving, but the route will be broken up by so many breathtaking scenes that you won’t even notice.
Get ready to explore three National Parks that are so magnificent it’s hard to remember they’re real: Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Not only will you find some of the best waterfalls in the country, but you’ll witness stunning mountain peaks, natural turquoise thermal pools and plenty of mountain wildlife.
Pro Tip: Before starting out on this trip, we highly recommend purchasing an Annual National Park Pass. On this epic tour, the pass will pay for itself in one weekend and remain valid throughout the year.
Day 1 – Yellowstone National Park
Our first day begins in Yellowstone National Park. If the drive is too long from your homebase, fly into Bozeman, Jackson Hole, Idaho Falls or Yellowstone’s small airport. From here, you can rent a car to handle the rugged mountain roads. Each airport is an hour or more from the park, so we recommend arriving the night before and getting an early start to day one.
Once you arrive, you’ll be completely enchanted by the vast, mountainous landscape. With so much just waiting to be explored, we’ve gathered the highlights so you can make the most of your one day in Yellowstone.
Lower Falls & Upper Falls
Nestled in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, these two separate waterfalls are both marvel-worthy in their own way. At just about 310 feet tall, Lower Falls crashes into the rocky canyon, surrounded by deep green trees on both sides. It’s an iconic Yellowstone image that visitors have to see. Upper Falls is about a third of the height but offers stunning views of the river.
Lunch at Old Faithful
Though its water shoots up instead of flowing down, Old Faithful cannot be missed if you’re in Yellowstone. This natural geyser shoots off regularly as crowds gather around, hoping to take in the grand eruptions. After walking through the paths of the thermal pools in the area, stop at the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room for a wide array of options to fill you up.
Kepler Cascades & Firehole Falls
Both located on Yellowstone’s Firehole River, the Kepler Cascades and Firehole Falls are a must-visit. Kepler Cascades gently flows over multiple rock formations, towering nearly 150 feet tall. This magnificent waterfall is easily accessible from a viewing platform south of Old Faithful.
After admiring the beauty here, take a drive through Firehole Canyon to see Firehole Falls. Located on a different section of the river, this 45-foot waterfall thunders down over lava rock.
Where to Eat and Stay near Yellowstone National Park
After a day exploring Yellowstone, you’re sure to be hungry and tired. There are plenty of fantastic dining options and accommodations in the area. Stay in West Yellowstone at the Explorer Cabins at Yellowstone or Gray Wolf Inn & Suites for a good night’s rest.
Day 2 – Grand Teton National Park
Before hitting the road to Grand Teton National Park, stop at Ernie’s Bakery and Deli for one of the best breakfast sandwiches in all of Montana. The drive to the park’s entrance takes about an hour, leaving you plenty of time to explore and get on the road for the longer stretch of drive to Colorado.
Jenny Lake Scenic Drive
This one-way road will take you to the Jenny Lake Overlook, which has one of the best views in all of Grand Teton National Park. Soak up stunning views of the magnificent mountain peaks and shimmering high-alpine lake—this is one of the most-visited destinations in the National Park. The paved road is accessible for most of the year and takes about 30 minutes to complete.
Hidden Falls & Inspiration Point
If you want to explore further, check out the variety of hiking trails that begin near Jenny Lake. Take the 5.5-mile trail to Grand Tetons’ only accessible waterfall, Hidden Falls. Alternatively, you can catch a boat across the lake to see this spectacular sight. If you choose to hike, you can also hit Inspiration Point, another amazing viewpoint.
Where to Eat and Stay Near Grand Teton
Grand Teton National Park is a smaller park, so driving on the main road through the park showcases many of the famous landmarks. Pass through Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where you can grab a bite at Roadhouse Pub & Eatery to keep you full for the drive ahead to Estes Park, Colorado.
You’re going to want a full day to explore Rocky Mountain National Park. After your long drive, curl up in bed at the Ridgeline Hotel Estes Park—you’ve earned it!
Day 3 – Rocky Mountain National Park
After seeing the mountains of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, you might be convinced that you’ll never see scenery that can live up to their beauty. But Rocky Mountain National Park will serve as a reminder that the world has no shortage of awe-inspiring views.
You could easily spend a lot of time in this iconic Colorado National Park, but since we’re keeping this exploration to one day, we’ll hit on some of the most sought-after sights and activities, and of course, waterfalls.
Trail Ridge Road
Revered as the highest paved road in the country, Trail Ridge Road offers visitors 48 miles of incredible scenery. It even crosses the Continental Divide and sits above the treeline in many spots, allowing for interrupted views that will take your breath away. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep, elk and other mountain beasts.
Probably the most popular waterfall in all of Rocky Mountain National Park, Alberta Falls is a short 1.7-mile hike from the Glacier Gorge parking lot. If you have some extra time, venture into some of the side trails near the falls to catch multiple views of it. This is also a great lunch destination, so pack some sandwiches in the morning!
Old Fall River Road & Chasm Falls
Only open in the summer, Old Fall River Road is a one-way gravel road that leads to some of the Rocky Mountain National Park’s hidden gems. One of the best parts about this drive is the 0.2-mile walk to Chasm Falls along the way.
Where to Eat Near Rocky Mountain National Park
Closing out the three-day extravaganza is sure to leave everyone happy and tired. There are a ton of restaurants to choose from in Estes Park, but one of the best is Claire’s Restaurant. Serving a menu that has something for everyone and focusing on classic dishes with unique flair, Claire’s is the perfect place to grab lunch or dinner.
After three days of absolute magic, we have no doubt you’ll be heading back to each of these National Parks on the hunt for more adventure. As it turns out, sometimes chasing waterfalls will take you to some of the most magnificent places Earth has to offer.