SEA -> JAC by Air and Land
August 18, 2012 9:33 AM   Subscribe

What's the most scenic way to make a combined flight / drive to Jackson, Wyoming from Seattle?

Three of us from Seattle are headed to Jackson in late September for a wedding. It's going to be a weekend trip, two or at most three days, so we don't want to spend too much time traveling.

The flight options are unappealing - very expensive and multiple layovers or short connections. Driving from Seattle is a bit too far for just a weekend trip - something like 13 hours each way.

So the option I've been considering is to fly somewhere nearby and then drive the rest of the way. There are direct and relatively inexpensive flights to Boise (least expensive), Salt Lake City, and Bozeman (most expensive), where we could rent a car and then make a four to six hour drive to Jackson.

Is this a realistic plan? And if so, which of these drives are the best in terms of ease, safety, and scenery? Knowing nothing about the area, it seems like coming down from Bozeman gives us a good chunk of Yellowstone and Grand Teton, but if the drives from Boise or SLC are just as pretty and save us some money, we'd go for one of those.
posted by bbuda to Travel & Transportation around Jackson, WY (5 answers total)
On way to suss this out is to look at the terrain map. Boise > Idaho Falls is frankly pretty boring. OTOH, it's relatively fast because you're taking the Interstate, not windy mountain roads. OTOH, it's the fucking interstate. You may as well just fly.

I don't know much about the route from SLC. But it skips the Grand Tetons, which I think is a serious, serious mistake. Just... don't even bother going if you're going to do that.

I lived in Bozeman for four years, and I have driven south to Yellowstone and Jackson Hole. It's scenic ALL THE WAY. There is no "yawn, I'll just nap in the backseat" part. It's not too terribly slow until you get into Yellowstone. Google says 4.5 hours from BZN to Jackson, but I think that's a little optimistic. You will almost definitely run into traffic jams in the park, usually caused by bison but sometimes by stupid tourists. The tourist season is definitely winding down by that time, though.

Watch your weather and road condition reports! It is not unusual to have snow in the mountains in September (although the weather this year has been wacky...). Plan your timing so you're not driving through the mountains in the dark.
posted by desjardins at 10:34 AM on August 18, 2012

Oh, and I'm not sure what you mean by "safety" but you do not have to worry about crime at all in Bozeman.
posted by desjardins at 10:45 AM on August 18, 2012

Seconding desjardins' recommendation to fly to Bozeman and drive from there. I can attest that the Boise to Idaho Falls interstate drive is far from scenic, and is too frequently punctuated by the smell of what we locals call "dairy-air." The drive through the park will take you awhile (yes, longer than 4.5 hours, though again desjardins is right about there being far fewer folks that time of year) but it will be more than 4.5 hours of AWESOME.

Same advice for safety - check road conditions, take your time, and whoever's driving needs to commit to watching the road rather than the scenery and/or wildlife. I'm sure the park also has information available about animal encounters in the park (repressed childhood memory of being in a car surrounded by bison begins to surface...)

Enjoy, and safe travels!
posted by amy lecteur at 1:24 PM on August 18, 2012

Best answer: Considering your very tight timeline, I'd be less worried about scenery then just getting there. Yes it'd be a shame to miss some awesome scenery. But for me, I trust an interstate over a two-laner just to get there, have fun, and get back to the airport in time.

I have no idea what the highways are like between Jackson and Bozeman or SLC. But that's what would seal the deal for me. Based on a glance at a Google map, those secondary roads look harder to traverse in a hurry, and as mentioned you don't know what kind of hills / RV's / critters might slow you down. Or what hours you're driving, as in day or night.

This is just my opinion but I'd take the Boise flight (cheapest), drive as much as I could on an interstate, get there, have a fabulous time, and go home in the most expedient manner possible. I appreciate that you want to enjoy the most beautiful views along the way, who wouldn't? But I sense that isn't the primary motivator here. In any case, once you get close to the Tetons, you'll forget the "dairy-air" part of the trip.

Go fast, have fun, go fast back.
posted by wallabear at 9:19 PM on August 18, 2012

And in retrospect, I should have paid more respect to your question. My "primary motivator" comment was off-base. Sorry. My suggestions still stand, but I might have come off a bit dismissive. I didn't mean to do so.
posted by wallabear at 9:55 PM on August 18, 2012

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