TRAVEL THROUGH THE AMERICAN WEST AND SEE EVERYTHING FROM HIGH PLAINS TO MOUNTAIN PEAKS. FROM THE SACRED BLACK HILLS TO THE SPLENDOR OF YELLOWSTONE, Explore THE AMERICAN WEST on this Yellowstone Road Trip Itinerary.
OVERVIEW OF THE YELLOWSTONE ROAD TRIP ROUTE
This route is perfect for those who want to experience the beauty of the open road and some of America’s most untamed areas. Your Yellowstone road trip can include so much more than just national parks! Experience a true American road trip with old western towns, intriguing culture, and unbelievable scenery. Arrive at Denver International Airport, and depending on your preferences, spend a day in Colorado’s capital city either at the start of your trip or at the end. From Denver, head north for a quick stop in the “Craft Beer Capital of Colorado,” Fort Collins. Later, head further north to Wyoming. This is where you get to go to Yellowstone and beyond—Wyoming’s Wind River Country. See the Black Hills, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, Devils Tower, and more! After all the excitement of Jackson and the parks, slow down and enjoy the small towns of southern Wyoming. Don’t rush through the middle of this itinerary, the towns you’ll experience in Wind River Country will make it easy—enticing—to slow down.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR YELLOWSTONE ROAD TRIP
We recommend taking approximately 14 days for this trip so you can experience each town and activity without feeling rushed. With so many miles to cover, we suggest spending a couple of days in the Black Hills and a couple of days in and around Yellowstone National Park. This itinerary is full of suggestions for some of the best places to stop during a Yellowstone road trip especially during the longer days on the road. Plan your trip accordingly so that you experience the places that spark your interest the most. These areas can be crowded in the summertime, and for good reason! There are multiple events and the weather is beautiful. If you want to avoid crowds we suggest traveling at the end of spring or the beginning of fall. If you are visiting at peak season in the summer, we suggest visiting the smaller towns on the weekends and the national parks, monuments, and larger towns on the weekdays. Wintertime is still beautiful in these places; however, roads may be dangerous or closed, and you cannot drive into some of the parks. Always check for road closures if you’re planning a visit in winter.
DAY 1: Arrive in Denver and head to Fort Collins
1.5 HOURS/72 MILES
We suggest arriving early into Denver and renting your car from the airport. Head north on I-25 towards Fort Collins, Colorado. It is the perfect town to get prepared and excited to start your road trip! Don’t worry, you will have a chance to explore the mile high city at the end of your trip!
Travel Tip: drink tons of water! The elevation in the Rocky Mountain West is high, and if you’re heading from lower elevation, increased hydration will help you stave off altitude sickness, keep your energy up, and prevent headaches.
Fort Collins, Colorado
This vibrant town is full of activities, but it also offers the tranquility of nature just a few miles away. If you want to walk on cobblestone streets next to historical buildings, you will love Old Town Fort Collins! Boutiques, pubs, galleries, events, local eateries abound in this downtown area.
DAY 2: Fort Collins to Cheyenne, Wyoming
50 MINUTES/47 MILES
Grab breakfast and get an early start towards your first stop in Wyoming. Cheyenne is the perfect town to get a real feel for the American West. It is famous for its cowboy culture, rodeos, and trains.
After you take in all the entertaining events, historic museums, steam engines, and western-themed attractions, take a day trip east on I-80 to nearby outdoor recreation areas like Vedauwoo and Curt Gowdy State Park. Here you will discover beautiful views, world class climbing, mountain biking, and hiking. Cheyenne is also known for its art and the beautiful botanic gardens.
DAY 3: Cheyenne to Hot Springs, South Dakota
3 HOURS/240 MILES
Today is going to be a longer travel day, so rise and shine, grab your morning bagel, and hit the road. Head north on I-25 for a little over an hour until you reach Wheatland. This small Wyoming town is a good place to stop. Explore the quaint shops and murals. Then head northeast on Highway 26 towards Guernsey. Another very interesting part of American history lies just a ½ a mile south of the town, where some of the best examples of the Oregon Trail ruts are still visible. After a bit of American history and a relaxing picnic in Guernsey State Park, head northeast for about 2 hours toward Hot Springs, South Dakota.
If you make it before 8pm, end your day in the relaxing hot springs of Evans Plunge, the oldest attraction in the Black Hills.
DAY 4: Hot Springs to Rapid City
2.5 HOURS/100 MILES
You will have an action-packed day exploring the gems that surround the Black Hills! Evans Plunge opens early if you want to get some relaxation in before the day begins.
Visit the Mammoth Site, which boasts the largest concentration of mammoth fossils in the world. Then make time for the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. Afterwards, drive up north toward Wind Cave National Park.
After the visiting this unique national park, head up the quintessential old west town of Custer. Grab a bite to eat and then head to Custer State Park to explore granite peaks and rolling hills. It’s a great stop if you want to hike, bike, swim or see the buffalo herd.
After some time in the park, come face to face with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln at Mount Rushmore. This national monument teaches the story of America’s birth, growth, and development. Venture northeast for a night in Rapid City. Here you will find a vibrant town with great places to eat, drink and stay.
DAY 5: Rapid City to Gillette, Wyoming
3.5 HOURS/220 MILES
Rapid City is a fun town, so wake up to enjoy a walk through downtown with a coffee in hand. Then head up Highway 90 toward Spearfish.
It doesn’t matter when you visit, this town has year-round adventure. There is an abundance of hiking, fishing, camping, hunting, climbing, and biking. The art and history surrounding the area is an attraction in and of itself.
If you want some final Black Hills views, drive through Spearfish Canyon to Interstate 90 towards Gillette, Wyoming. When you hit Highway 14, go north towards Devil’s Tower National Monument. This landmass is America’s first national monument for a reason: it is one of the most striking, naturally-formed landscapes in the country. After seeing Devil’s Tower, make your way to Gillette. This town will get your taste buds buzzing with all kinds of delicious culinary options.
DAY 6: Gillette to Cody
4.5 HOURS/250 MILES
As you make your way across eastern Wyoming, there are a few quiet stops to make before reaching the bustling eastern gateway of Yellowstone National Park.
Your first stop is Buffalo, a cute town nestled in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. A dozen historical buildings, ice cream shops, art galleries, and restaurants line Main Street.
Head towards Ten Sleep, a unique, small western town that hippies, hunters, cowboys, and climbers alike call home.
Next, stop is Worland, home of the Washakie Museum.
Now it’s time to head for the lively western adventure town of Cody, Wyoming. The best way to get a taste of the Wild West is by watching bucking broncos and fearless cowboys at one of the nightly rodeos. For more country western culture, walk around Sheridan Avenue and follow the noise of live music and dancing boots. Before you leave for the namesake of your Yellowstone road trip itinerary in the morning, don’t forget to learn about the man the town is named after, Buffalo Bill Cody, at the Buffalo Bill Museum of the American West.
DAYS 7-9: Yellowstone Itinerary
Wake up early and hop on the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway that connects Cody to Yellowstone National Park. Called one of the most beautiful drives in America, the rushing Shoshone River, amazing rock formations, and the mountains views abound. If you want to get out and stretch your legs, there are multiple scenic vista pullouts along the highway.
Once you reach the eastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park, don’t forget to grab a park map! Remember, Yellowstone covers a huge tract of land. If you want to get the best experience without a lot of driving, we suggest staying one night within Yellowstone National Park.
YELLOWSTONE ROAD TRIP ATTRACTIONS:
Lake Butte Overlook
Fishing Bridge Visitors Center
DAYS 10-11: Grand Teton National Park & Jackson
3.5 HOURS/165 MILES
We hope that you explored all you wanted during your Yellowstone itinerary, because it’s time to leave the geothermal natural wonders behind and head south.
For a more relaxed experience, Grand Teton National Park is a gorgeous paradise. You really aren’t prepared for the beauty until you witness these mountains up close. Explore crystal-clear lakes, flowing rivers, and great spots for photography, all with the rugged Grand Tetons next to you. If you really want to enjoy Grand Teton National Park, avoid the crowds and bike some of the many trails. Post Grand Teton grandeur, head to Jackson Hole. As you approach the famous tourist town of Wyoming, look left at the National Elk Refuge, which offers activities to explore if you want to get up close with the herd.
Once you get to Jackson it’s time to enjoy the art culture, cowboy bars, delicious restaurants, and vibrant vibes! If you want to see it all from above, we suggest taking a ride up the Aerial Tram! It really doesn’t matter what time of year you are in Jackson, you will definitely have a great time!
DAY 12: Jackson to Lander
3 hours/160 Miles
Take your time and enjoy your morning in Jackson Hole. Then it’s time to go back to the Wyoming roots, escape the crowds, and explore a few more small towns.
As you begin to see the Grand Tetons disappear in your rearview mirror, you will reach the town of Dubois. This charming hidden gem is one of the last real Old West towns. This small town is surrounded by outdoor activities like mountain biking, hiking, ATV riding, kayaking, and much more. If you are here in the winter you can’t miss out on the snowmobiling!
Afterwards it is time to get to know the Wind River Mountain Range. Drive along the mountains toward Lander, one of the most underrated towns in Wyoming. This small mountain town is worth an overnight stay. If you are lucky you may just be here for one of the many events.
While you are in Lander, you will discover the beauty of the untamed Wind River Mountains and the Native American culture and heritage that surrounds them.
DAY 13: Lander to Denver, Colorado
6.5 HOURS/385 MILES
Today you are going to explore some of America’s best-kept secrets in Southern Wyoming. It is a long trip, so break it up however you like. Your first stop is the town of Rawlins. There is particularly interesting history here, as it is home to the Wyoming Frontier Prison Museum.
After you have stretched your legs in Rawlins, it’s time to hit Saratoga. Your drive down will have vast open spaces and the towering peaks of the Snowy Range. Saratoga will be a good stop for lunch before you head west on Highway 130 for Medicine Bow National Forest. This area is full of lakes and peaks with many spots to sit by the water and relax. After you have enjoyed one of the best outdoor areas in Southern Wyoming head for Laramie.
Laramie is an idyllic American town with rich history, fun local happenings, and tons of outdoor recreation. If you didn’t get a chance to visit Vedauwoo the first time, this is your second chance. Take some time to walk around downtown Laramie, where you will find great restaurants, art shops, souvenirs and more. For some, this may be the last stop of your trip before heading back to the airport. For others, you may be heading down to Denver, Colorado for a taste of the city life.
DAY 14: Denver
Exchange your country boots for your city shoes, because you are now in the Mile High City. Denver is known for its foodie paradise, vibrant neighborhoods, music scene, thriving beer culture, amazing art, and sporting life. During your visit you may hear many expressions such as LoDo, SoDo, RiNo and many more. That is because Denver is broken up into ten different neighborhoods. So whatever you are looking for during your vacation, you will find it in one of the neighborhoods, each with its own unique style and flair. And with that, you conclude your Yellowstone road trip itinerary!