West Yellowstone To Jackson: US 20, ID 32, ID 33


If you’ve decided to explore the Tetons and Yellowstone, then return to your “home base” in Jackson every night, you’ll soon discover that there’s no quick way to get back to your comfy bed.  Driving through the National Parks is painfully slow, when you’re not sightseeing.  Inevitably, you end up behind an RV, and the next passing lane is miles away. Yes, driving back from Yellowstone to Jackson can take hours, and while there’s no freeway that can take you there, there is another alternative.

Here’s the fast(er) way back to Jackson: exit Yellowstone National Park at West Yellowstone, Montana.  Take US 20 out of town (it heads west before turning south).  After 55 miles, you arrive in Ashton, Idaho.  Take Idaho Route 32 towards Tetonia and Driggs.  When it dead-ends, take Idaho 33.  Rte. 33 will eventually cross over into Wyoming, and becomes Rte. 22. After you cross Teton Pass, Rte. 22 drops down and dead-ends just south of downtown Jackson.
Don’t bother with Idaho Rte. 47, which is marked as Mesa Falls Scenic Byway.  This road is labeled scenic, in my opinion, only because it provides access to Mesa Falls (which is not visible from the road).  Aside from the falls, all you see is trees and curves, so unless you have enough spare time to visit Mesa Falls, you’re probably better off staying on US 20.

The highway between West Yellowstone and Ashton offers a few places to gas up and eat, and several RV/Camping sites — about one every 10 miles or so, it seems, each with its own speed limit signs.  This is not the most interesting part of the drive back to Jackson–that comes after you pass Ashton.

Take a look at the bag of potatoes in your kitchen, and there’s a pretty good chance they were grown in or around Ashton, Idaho.  Once you make the turn onto Rte. 32, you’ll be driving past those farms.  In the distance is the “backside” of the Teton Range, beautifully illuminated by the setting sun.

I found this road to be a delight.  After winding through forests all day, and being stuck behind other cars, this road was wide-open and almost entirely free of traffic.  The pavement twisted and turned, dipping into valleys and peaking over rolling hills, one after the next.  Farm equipment and potato barns appeared at random.  It was, quite simply, a delightful drive.

At Ashton, the Tetons are far in the distance (and may not be visible at all, if the sky is hazy).  As you continue, the mountains get closer…

… and just when you think the view is perfect, this old grain elevator appears by the side of the road.  Turn off on a side road about 1/4 mile before it, for this great view.

I spent so much time photographing the mountains and the grain elevator, that before I knew it, the sun had set…

… and in an instant, the mountain peaks that were brilliantly lit became very boring and dark.  My disappointment faded a mile or two down the road, though…

… when I found some farm equipment by the side of the road, just begging to be photographed.

This was a beautiful sunset, even after the sun was gone.  The high, wispy clouds laced the entire sky with orange and red.

There are a couple of towns along Route 33–Tetonia and Driggs.  Both are well-positioned for a great view of the Tetons.  You’ll find all the necessities in Driggs, as well as some motels, which can be cheaper than Jackson.  The town of Alta, Wyoming is just up the road from Driggs, and just beyond it, Grand Targhee Ski Resort.

I took this route back to Jackson on both of the days I visited Yellowstone, and both times, it was dark when I reached Teton Pass.  I didn’t actually see what the pass looked like until I was leaving Jackson for the last time.

This route provides a good way to get back to Jackson, and it will save yousome time–not a lot, but some.  But if you travel this route after sunset, you will definitely miss out on the area’s beauty.  Timing is critical: you should leave West Yellowstone at least 90 minutes before sunset, in order to arrive in Driggs before all the day’s light is gone.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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