Yellowstone Road Trip
Itinerary for a 3 week round trip from Denver
Our three week circular Yellowstone Road Trip began and ended in Denver and covered a grand total of 3131 miles by road and 100 miles on foot. Three weeks was just about the right amount of time to explore some of the Wild West USA’s greatest national parks – Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone – at a fairly leisurely pace. We crossed six State borders on our journey: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and South Dakota.
Best time to visit Yellowstone
We visited in late August/early September. The weather was glorious and the parks were not too crowded. Visiting Yellowstone in the Summer is definitely best avoided – it is way too hot.
All the National Parks quieten down significantly after Labour Day at the end of August, so then is a good time to go, as long as you don’t leave it so long that the snow arrives – it is a small window, RMNP is definitely the busiest park (people per square mile), so I would leave that as late into the season as possible.
The parks close up later in September in preparation for deep snowfall that engulfs the area for the whole of the long Winter in Yellowstone. There are a couple of lodges that open in Winter though and if you are brave enough to cope with the snowfall and cold, it could be a wonderful trip. You would still see much of the wildlife that makes the national parks exciting places to visit and the thermal springs would look all the more spectacular emerging through the snow I imagine. There probably wouldn’t be anything like so many people around either, so if “do different” is your style of holiday, then it is worth thinking about visiting in the Winter time.
Yellowstone Road Trip from Denver
Top Ten “Must-Dos”
- Watch Old Faithful do her thing
- Tick Mount Rushmore off your bucket list
- Drive the jaw dropping Beartooth Highway
- Take your best shot at Artist’s Point, Grand Canyon
- Visit the Battle of the Little Bighorn battlefield site.
- Have your photo taken under the Jackson Elk Antler Arch
- Sing “Rocky Mountain High, Colorado” as you enter the RNMP
- Soak up the atmosphere at Devil’s Monument
- Explore the Badlands and marvel at how people actually lived there
- Stroll around the beautiful Botanic Gardens at Denver
Where I Stayed
Links to Accommodation Reviews for all the hotels where we stayed on our trip are listed below:
Flora and Fauna
This is just a checklist of what I actually saw – to inspire you to go – but there is potentially so much more to see here!
Posts about flora and fauna – one of my special areas of interest – are highlighted with the Tag “Flora and Fauna” which you can search for using the tag cloud on the sidebar.
- Desert Rockcress
- Prickly Pears
- Pinyon Pines
- Utah Juniper
Tasting new things is part of the real thrill of travel for me. I use the tag “Foodie Firsts” to highlight these and make it easy for you to search for them and try them out for yourself.”Foodie Firsts” to discover more about the Wild West’s Foodie scene.
- White Lady Cocktail – Oxford Hotel, Denver
- Shrimp Kisses – Grand Union Station, Denver
- Key Lime Martini – Like cheesecake in a glass?! – Mackenzie’s Pizza Restaurant, Billings
- Make your own Waffles – Country Inn and Suites by Carlson, Billings
- Chico Hot Springs Hotel
- Berry Margarita
- Beer with names as creative as the delicious brew itself: Rusty Nail and Moose Drool
- Elk & Beef Chilli
- Artisan Cheeses – Bin 707 – Grand Junction
- Enstrom’s Candy Store – Grand Junction
- Cliff Bars
- The Cheesecake Factory – Denver
Yellowstone - What I'm Packing
Don’t Leave Home Without:
Hat/scarf/gloves – early mornings and late evening can be cold here, even in Summer
Pepper spray – you might not be able to take it on the aircraft, so it might be something you need to buy – or rent – when you are there.
Mosquito repellent – I got badly bitten in Grand Teton NP.
A more complete list of what I packed is on this post:
I also bought a couple of head torches, because I read in the Lonely Planet guidebook that a must do thing was a canoe trip at sunrise to the middle of a lake in Grand Teton where you should see moose around the lake as the sun comes up. It sounds magical – and I didn’t want to be prevented from doing it by lack of a head torch!
Yellowstone - What I'm Reading
Lonely Planet Guidebook Yellowstone & Grand Teton
Yellowstone has Teeth – A Memoir of living in Yellowstone by Marjane Ambler
Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park by Lee H. Whittesley
The Spirit of Indian Women – edited by Judith Fitzgerald and Michael Oren Fitzgerald
Letters from Yellowstone
Wilderness and the American Mind
Read reviews on my post “Yellowstone – What I’m Reading”
Tips for Future Travellers
Hindsight is always a wonderful thing. These are my top tips to help you plan your own perfect trip to the Wild West.
- The National Park annual pass is great value at $80. Buy one as soon as you arrive to get the best value from it.
- Time your visit to Mount Rushmore at sunset if you want to see the lighting ceremony and experience the full patriotic fervour of this site.
Flagg Ranch might have made a good stop – pitched between South Yellowstone and North Grand Teton, you could go either way, depending on your mood. Gardiner is a good place for the north end of Yellowstone and Red Rocks is potentially a good alternative to Billings en route.