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Jackson Hole WY vs Sedona AZ

Planning a trip with my husband this summer. He just had shoulder surgery and therefore we will be limited in what he will be able to do. While I would love to do a beach vacation with all the water sports, he will be limited and is not one to just sit on a beach. Therefore, we are thinking of a trip to either Sedona AZ/Grand Canyon (maybe adding in Lake Powell?) or Jackson Hole/Yellowstone. We will be able to hike, horseback ride (maybe just walking), boat (power/sail/cat), hang out on a beautiful clean and clear lake, and of course sightsee. We are planning a week, but want to make certain there are enough things to do wherever we go with some waterside relaxation. I know that both places have a ton of hiking options and nature/wildlife sightseeing, but not sure this will be enough for a week. We are not big city people. Thoughts? Really stuck here as what I really want to do is a beachy Caribbean vacation :-)
Also open to other ideas within the 48 contiguous states.

Posted by
2396 posts

You didn't mention food, but Jackson has a great restaurant scene to go with its accessibility to Grand Teton. Not crazy expensive either.

I'm not speaking against Sedona - never been there.

Posted by
6642 posts

Its a long drive from Sedona to the Grand Canyon and even further to Lake Powell. I think that would make it a road trip, not a stay-in-one-place resort vacation. Its also pretty darn hot in the summer. Never been to Jackson, but just about any ski resort area (such as Vale, Colorado, Park City, Utah, Whistler, Canada, etc.) has summer activities and outdoor attractions.

Posted by
381 posts

We spent a week in Jackson Hole at a wonderful little inn and it was a spectacular vacation. We hiked, went white water rafting, attending musical events, rode bikes, canoeing and absolutely fell in love with the Tetons!!!!! We only spent one day in Yellowstone, and glad we did, but the Tetons were by far our favorite. On the other hand we spent three nights in Sedona, before traveling to the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell, and that is a lot of driving plus Sedona was stifling hot.....

Posted by
9717 posts

If you are going to Yellowstone and/or Jackson you are a bit behind the curve on reservations but it can be done. May 1, 2019 the bookings for the entire 2020 season will open for Yellowstone.

I go to Yellowstone at least once every year but never take the time to go down to the Grand Tetons as my time is all taken in Yellowstone. As far as I can tell from Trip Advisor there is not much water activity in Grand Tetons - well kayaking, floating the Snake, but not power boats. Just to be clear - Jackson Hole is the valley in which Jackson and Grand Tetons are located. Jackson is the town.

Jackson is not a good location from which to tour Yellowstone. It's a good 3 hour drive from Jackson to Old Faithful, for example, so better to spend nights in the Yellowstone area if you want to include that. Of course people do that drive but for Yellowstone you'll avoid crowds better the closer you stay.

I find plenty to do but I love geyser gazing and wildlife watching along with seeing the other areas of major interest. My trip in June will be 10 nights just for Yellowstone. I travel solo so I don't hike on my own. I'll hike if I meet up with friends but I can manage the entire time without taking an official hike.

I'm happy to help you figure out an itinerary for Yellowstone if you get that far. If you decide to book in Yellowstone, book ONLY thru the official concessionaire, Xanterra at Do NOT book in-park lodging thru a 3rd party booker. The ones that have Xanterra listings charge a 10% booking fee and have horrible cancellations.

Posted by
958 posts

I spent a week in Sedona during summer about ten years ago and would enjoy a return. You do need to purchase a parking pass at either a visitor center or maybe gas station in order to park along the HWY or at park trailheads. Seems like we paid $12 for a 7 day pass. We stayed in a condo in the Village at Oak Creek. Having spent most of my time in the SE US I felt like I was in an alien landscape. Had to apply moisturizer multiple times a day and when I washed my tennis shoes halfway through the trip they dried outside in about three hours instead of the two days I am used to hahaha. At one point dh thought he had somehow spilled clorox on his t-shirt but it was just salt stains from where he had sweated and the salt had precipitated on his shirt.

There are many hiking trails throughout the area but my favorite hike was a ranger led night time hike in the Red Rock State Park up onto a ridge to watch the moon rise. It was one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen, watching the moon appear like a sliver of mirror just over the mountains in the distance and then BOOM - in the blink of an eye there it was, huge and in your face! Plus, I found a Javelina skull on the way up and and we got to see roadrunners. That was pretty cool! Flashlight needed for this hike and if you do this take the battery powered kind, not the wind up kind.

On another day we had intended to go to Slide Rock but it was so incredibly busy that we kept driving up 89A to the top where we found Native Americans selling handcrafted jewelry. We had packed a picnic and on the way back down spied a nice spot to stop which also had a swimming hole which was much better than sliding down the rock amongst a hundred other people. The stop was called Banjo Bill's.

Tlaquepaque Village is a fun outting - good mexican restaurant when we were there and nice, unique, cool little art shops and such. I like that the shops in downtown Sedona all seemed to have water misters installed outside so one could cool off but we only stopped in town once for a few minutes. It reminded me of Gatlinburg lol - many little shops full of junk that nobody should want, but there were a few nice stores to browse in.

A visit to the Chapel of the Holy Cross was lovely and we really enjoyed the local Palatki Heritage site.

Another day we drove down to Cottonwood and Jerome, wandering town, having cocktails and lunch.

Probably the strangest thing we did was to visit Arcosanti, a sort of experimental environmental commune. We found it quite interesting and worth the drive.

Of course we did spend a day going to the Grand Canyon south rim and on the way there detoured to see the Sunset and Strawberry Craters and lava fields. We took off from Sedona early that morning and arrived back late that night. Full day but easily doable.

I know we did many other things but this is all I can remember right now.

Posted by
796 posts

Neither Jackson Hole or Sedona are going to give you "waterside relaxation". Jackson's water is fast flowing and cold (whitewater rafting/fly fishing) and Sedona's a long way from anything you want to lay around, although there's plenty of sand. My recommendations would be Tahoe if you want the mountain sports, Pensacola if you want the beach, or Las Vegas where's there's lots to do other than the casinos. Best of all would be just go to the islands and tie him to a chair.

I've been to all of these, and, having also had an arm in a sling for some time, the last dang thing I'd want to do in that situation is try and ride a horse or hold on to a boat. That's a pretty certain recipe for another surgery.

Posted by
5262 posts

For summer I'd go with Yellowstone/Jackson Hole, much cooler than Sedona. There will be plenty to see and do for a week, though I'd be careful about horseback riding -- from what I remember, getting on and off engages pretty much all limbs and joints. As Pam noted, Jackson itself is at the south end of this area, a long way from Yellowstone. Maybe base there part of the time and see what lodging you can find in or near Yellowstone the rest of the time.

I just made some in-park reservations for September and I don't think a lot of rooms were still available. If you have to sleep outside Yellowstone, the nearby Montana towns of Gardiner and West Yellowstone have multiple motels. But get moving on reservations anywhere in the area for this summer.

Posted by
381 posts

I've been to all 50 states and honestly, Sedona freaked me out. It was not the small, cozy New Age enclave that I expected. Yes, the red rocks were nice to look at, but it was MUCH more crowded, noisy, brightly colored and commercialized than Jackson Hole. I would definitely not go back there. I disliked it almost as much as I hated Las Vegas.

If you want a restful vacation, my vote would be for Jackson Hole.

Posted by
14917 posts

My feelings about Sedona aren't as strong as Marcia's, but it is my least favorite place in Arizona (I have a good friend in Phoenix so I like being there :-)

If you want the Grand Canyon, stay there, either in the park or at one of the hotels near the entrance. Then stay on Lake Powell. You could fly into Phoenix or Las Vegas and rent a car there (Flagstaff is a lot closer, but probably fewer flight and car rental options). Check driving distances. There are other attractions in the area - Indian ruins, Petrified Forest and Painted Desert NP.

Maybe Oregon coast?

Posted by
1558 posts

It’s only a 2hr 11 minute drive from Sedona to the Grand Canyon south rim.
I love Yellowstone and Jackson Hole, and Sedona and the Grand Canyon.

Read up on each area and then decide what looks good to you.

Posted by
796 posts

After thinking this problem a little more I have another suggestion. Fly into Albuquerque, NM and drive up to Angel Fire. You'll have a nice lake to lay around on, canoes, fishing, etc...Plus you can drive into Taos or Santa Fe and the surrounding area. Nice hiking, horse, even golf if you're so inclined.

Posted by
901 posts

You can't go wrong with either. I found the drive from Phoenix up to the Grand Canyon to be absolutely gorgeous, and you go through several geological changes - you have these beautiful cacti and desert, and and all of a sudden it gets mountainous and you have these beautiful evergreen trees. Along the way, you can stop at Montezuma Castle National Monument, which was very interesting--we really enjoyed seeing the ancient cliff-dweller houses. You can make a side trip to the Petrified Forest National Park which we actually enjoyed a little bit more than the Grand Canyon. Sedona is gorgeous--will your husband be able to hike with his shoulder? We did a Pink Jeep tour there, which was super fun, but it bounced me all over the place, so beware.

Jackson Hole is one of my favorite places in the world, along with Yellowstone. There is so much to see and do. Riding the tram to the top of the ski resort, the geological wonders of YNP (which you need to devote at least 3 days to, seriously--it's a HUGE park that takes a long time to drive through, think a full day for each big loop of the figure 8). You can raft down the Snake River, go horseback riding, etc. Check out this great link of a summary of things to do near Jackson.

Whichever you decide, you need to make hotel reservations, like, yesterday. Summer is the highest of the high seasons for both YNP and GCNP, so lock those down ASAP. In Jackson we love the Homewood Suites; have stayed there 3 times now and they are solid.

Posted by
130 posts

This is overly simplistic but, do you like blue and green or brown and red? Forests vs. deserts? They're both great first time choices but for me, having been to both, I've found I'm a blue/green person firstly.

Other thoughts: I found more to do in Yellowstone than the Tetons and budgeted my time accordingly. We rented an RV and stayed in parks, though you can just as easily pull off somewhere and sleep. We rented a Jeep in Jackson and rode it around for three days, got on some single-track dirt paths very far from anywhere that was a trip highlight. Driving a circle around Yellowstone, Jackson and Cody is a very easy and wonderful week+.

Another circle drive worth doing is Vegas-Hoover Dam-Grand Canyon-Lake Powell-Bryce NP-Zion NP-Vegas, you'll see a ton of great stuff.

Posted by
38 posts

Thanks to everyone who has chimed in on this. I think we have decided to go to Jackson/GTNP/YNP!!!!!!! Now the "fun" begins in planning where to stay. I think we will stay for 4 nights in Teton Village somewhere and plan on exploring the town, do some riding, a float on the Snake, rodeo and of course hiking in GTNP. Then move to be closer to YNP and spend 2.5 - 3 days there breaking up the trip to do the various loops and see the sights (maybe with some breaks to hike or hit up a lake). We are thinking of staying close to the south entrance of the park, maybe in Moran but not sure yet. Will keep y'all posted!

Posted by
381 posts

We stayed here..... for a week and loved it. It is right in town within walking distance to many great restaurants and a brewery. They have a wonderful included gourmet breakfast and bikes for guests to use.

Posted by
901 posts

In YNP I’d recommend 2 nights in the south part and then moving to 2 nights in the north part, or renting an RV. Do NOT underestimate the size of the park and how much you’ll be driving and how much backtracking you have to do due to the roads’ circular layout.

Posted by
9717 posts

Kelly may have had good luck with an RV but it's not something I recommend for Yellowstone. The roads are narrow and it's often hard to get into a paved lay-by to wildlife watch. It scares the crud out of me to see a rental RV coming around a curve and sitting half in my lane. Yikes. NOT saying every rental RV drives like that but if there's someone taking their half out of the middle it is invariably a CruiseAmerica or ElMonte.

I'll also add that the only campground in the park with hookups is Fishing Bridge and it is completely closed for the summers of 2019 and 2020 while they upgrade.

Posted by
181 posts

To help with understanding drive times and distances and the like, I recommend two things. First is to check the website for each of the national parks of interest. There is a great deal of information contained within. Second is a copy of the National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of the United States.

As discussed above, distances are deceiving in these two parks. You CANNOT do both from a single location. We have stayed in the full hook-up campground at Colter Bay RV Village three times in our large motorhome. It takes several hours to get anywhere in Yellowstone from there, and it's an hour north of the city of Jackson (and the grocery stores and farmers markets). We'd leave the RV parked and get a room in the northern part of Yellowstone for an overnight. Please also note that you should endeavor to keep your gas tank full. There is a gas station at the Colter Bay complex, which is of course more expensive. I don't recall exactly where they are in Yellowstone, but Pam will surely know.

Timing can also be deceiving. While a "bison jam" is a delightful thing to experience, it also really messes up traffic. All manner of idiots just bolt from their cars wherever to take their pictures. Please leave extra time and exercise caution.

Attend some of the ranger programs. We like to make a point of seeing the park service video in each park. And please, do have a great time!

Posted by
166 posts

You made the right choice. A few suggestions:

For the GTNP portion:

  • One afternoon, head to Moose (about 10 miles north of Jackson), and snag a rooftop table a few hours before sunset at the pizza joint called Dornan's. Then order some drinks, have some dinner and sit back and watch the sun go down behind the Tetons.
  • Don't stay in Teton Village, unless you want a "summer ski resort/timeshare vibe". Stay in the town of Jackson (or at one of the cabins in Moose if you can get one).
  • If you're a raptor nerd like me, check out the raptor center in Wilson, a few miles west of Jackson, or catch one of their programs in Jackson
  • I think there's some boating to be had on Jenny and/or Jackson Lakes.
  • A float down the upper Snake is pretty chill (it goes about walking speed) and gives you nice views of the mountains and wildlife, as opposed to rafting on the river south of town, which is class III and IV whitewater.

For the Yellowstone portion

  • In my opinion, the best of Yellowstone from a wildlife and less-crowd perspective is the northern portion between Roosevelt and Cooke City. Not many thermal features, but way more critters, at least in our experience.
  • For a different vibe, if you have the time/interest, check out Cody. The drive out through the park's East entrance is gorgeous, and the town features one of the premier museums in the West (natural history, firearms, western history, Native American, etc.).
  • Or if you're really adventurous, it's a clear day, and you have the time, drive the Beartooth Highway up to the pass (just under 11,000 ft!), then head back down and drive to Cody through Sunlight Basin (you could loop back through to Yellowstone through the East entrance).

So much gorgeous country to see!

Posted by
370 posts

Last summer we based one night just north of Yellowstone in Gardner, 3 nights in Canyon, 3 nights in the Old Faithful area, and 3 nights at Signal Mountain Lodge in GTNP. Our favorites were the areas near Old Faithful in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, although we enjoyed it all and saw a very good sampling of both parks, but there is plenty left for us for a return, especially to the Grand Tetons. With only a week, I would not expect to see everything--read a guidebook and select what interests you most.

Posted by
3304 posts

We will be able to hike, horseback ride (maybe just walking), boat
(power/sail/cat), hang out on a beautiful clean and clear lake, and of
course sightsee....

We are planning a week, but want to make certain there are enough
things to do wherever we go with some waterside relaxation.

If water is important to you, have you considered Lake Tahoe? I don't understand why Sedona is under consideration as it's desert red rocks (gorgeous but no clear lake!). Yellowstone is not near Jackson Hole. So think about Tahoe.

Thoughts? Really stuck here as what I really want to do is a beachy
Caribbean vacation :-) Also open to other ideas within the 48
contiguous states.

"Beachy"....the Caribbean will be hot/humid in the summer and it's hurricane season through Nov 30. For a beach experience without the absymal heat, have you considered Cape Cod? Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous & Provincetown is a beautiful seaside town with great restaurants, art galleries, whale watching boats, etc.

Posted by
38 posts

Hey @Continental!

Thanks for the feedback. Have been to Tahoe, have a summer house on Cape Cod which yes, is an absolutely lovely place to vacation, and always wanted to see the red rocks and landscape of Sedona fully knowing it is a desert vacation - not a beach vacation. It's just one of those things that my husband and I are looking for two different types of vacations and I was trying to see if there was a way of combining things (ie: Sedona and Lake Powell) to make it all work.

All that being said, we have changed direction again but I do thank you for your suggestions! Have a great summer :-)