Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone and the National Monuments

The Great American Road trip awaits you as you travel across some of the most beautiful landscapes the American West has to offer. This trip takes you from lofty mountains to deserts where dinosaurs once roamed. Sit back, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

#thisismyroute

Prepared by:
James

States: 
Colorado, Utah, Wyoming

Start/End: 
Denver, Colorado

Total miles:
1,266

Suggested days: 
At least 14

Type: 
scenic road trip

Recommended for: 
First-timers to the United States, honeymooners, photographers, road trippers

Suggested season: 
Spring through Fall

Overview

This is a great trip for people who want to experience the best of both city life and the wilderness of Americas’s most famous national parks. This trip will take you on an extended road trip through some of the Rocky Mountain West’s most dramatic scenery. You will begin by arriving at Denver International Airport. Depending on your preferences you can choose to spend a day in the capital city of Colorado at the beginning of your trip, at the end or not at all. From here the trip will take you through Colorado’s hippest town and up over the Rocky Mountains to the western slopes and the Great Basin of Utah. Then you will turn north into Wyoming, past the exquisite Flaming Gorge Reservoir and up into Wyoming’s High Plains towns of Rock Springs through Pinedale, Jackson and into Yellowstone National Park. From the park you will head back east over Togwotee Pass into the Wind River Basin and the towns of Dubois, Lander and Riverton. Then its across the plains and the stomping grounds of the Oregon Trail and America’s earliest pioneers through Rawlins to the spa town of Saratoga, the university town of Laramie and the historic state capital of Cheyenne, ending your trip back down in Denver.

How to Prepare

We recommend approximately 14 days for this trip in order to experience each town and activity without feeling too rushed. You have a lot of miles to cover, so we suggest spending a couple of days in the Jackson Hole area and a couple of days in and around Yellowstone National Park. This itinerary is full of suggestions of some of the best places to stop, especially during your longer days on the road. So 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 can’t make that happen then we suggest visiting the smaller towns on the weekends and the National Parks, Monuments and bigger towns on the weekdays. Wintertime is still beautiful in these places, however, many roads are closed and you cannot drive into some of the parks.

DAY 1: arrival in Denver

1.5 hours/72 miles

This is a shorter day for a good reason. We suggest arriving early into Denver and renting your car from the airport and setting out east on Hwy 7 Toll Road towards Boulder, 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 if you choose. Boulder is well known as a laid back college town with plenty to do and plenty of eclectic shops and restaurants. Tucked into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, acres of vast open space roll into Boulder’s quaint cityscape. Explore pine-scented trails, taste the flavors of “America’s Foodiest Town,” tour 24 craft breweries, stroll historic Pearl Street and soak up this creative community’s lifestyle. After getting a touch of the “Boulder Lifestyle”, its time to head to Estes Park for the night. This is a great place to start your trip from, as you will be able spend some time in Estes Park and be right at the entrance to explore Rocky Mountain National Park

Best Short Hike-Boulder:

Wonderland Lake Loop Trail

Best place to shop-Boulder:

Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall

Best place to watch the sunset-Estes Park:

Hermit Park Open Space

Best haunted place to stay:

The Stanley Hotel

Best place for dinner:

Wapiti Pub

Best place for dinner:

The Egg And I

DAY 2: rocky mountain national park

4 hours/175 miles

Estes Park is a quintessential Colorado Mountain town with stunning views of Rocky Mountain National Park, which it borders. Spend the morning in Estes Park itself visiting the City Center and the great river walk along the Big Thompson River. Estes Park is full of great festivals in the Summer, so plan your trip accordingly. In the afternoon, hop back in your car for a tour through Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding Arapahoe National Forest. The route will give you views of the majestic Rocky Mountains, tumbling streams and towering ponderosa pines. The route also takes you through the great little mountain towns of Granby and Kremmerling, Colorado. Two great towns well worth the the time to stop and stretch your legs.

Best short hike:

East Meadow

Can’t miss it:

Ouzel Falls

Grab a bite on the road:

Mustachio’s On The Lake-Granby

Best place to stretch your legs-Kremmling:

Radium Hot Springs

Best place to soak your muscles-Steamboat Springs:

Strawberry Park Hot Springs

Best place to grab a drink:

O’Neil’s Tavern and Grill

DAY 3: Dinosaur National Monument, utah

3 hours/163 miles

Wake up! You are in Steamboat Springs and it’s time to take in the scenery. The first thing you should do is head to Steamboat Zipline Adventures and get your zip on. With a six segment zipline course, it’s a great way to see the Routt National Forest and surrounding mountain vistas. After your alpine adventure, head back into Steamboat and take some time to walk along the city’s main commercial district, Lincoln Street. Lined with shops and restaurants, it is vibrant and alive with activity and a great way to spend a few hours. After getting your fill of all the great things Steamboat has to offer, it’s back in the car to Vernal, Utah. You will wind your way down from the mountains and hit the western plains town of Craig. Grab a late lunch at J.W. Snacks Gulf Coast Bar and Grill. Its an eclectic little Americana Bar focusing on food from the Gulf of Mexico, smack dab in the middle of Colorado sagebrush. Any trip through this part of the American West would not be complete without a stop in Dinosaur National Monument. Located in Dinosaur, Colorado, the park is all about the dinosaurs that once roamed here. Their fantastic remains are still visible embedded in the rocks. Today, the mountains, desert and untamed rivers flowing in deep canyons, support an array of life. Petroglyphs hint at earlier cultures. Later, homesteaders and outlaws found refuge here. Whether your passion is science, adventure, history or scenery, Dinosaur offers much to explore. Upon arriving in Vernal for the night, take a moment to check out all the dino-centric art and statues around the town. It is both fun and a great way to see the more quirky side of this western town.

Best of Vernal:

Uintah County Heritage Museum

Best place for dinner

The Quarry Steak and Brewhouse

Best local bar:

Little B’s

DAY 4: Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

4.5 hours/208 miles

Today you are going to take a scenic tour through one of the most beautiful reservoirs in the Rocky Mountain West. Heading north out of Vernal, you will pick up Hwy 191 and follow it into Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. This is definitely a place to stop and spend some time, as they have any kind of recreation activity you can dream of and the village of Dutch John is a great place to start from. We recommend being up at the crack of dawn and picking up breakfast at Dutch John before you start the day at the Flaming Gorge Recreation Services Cafe. Though the name may not the most creative, the food is good and hot and you have the added bonus of this also being at a one-stop shop for any kind of information, suggestions or questions you may have about how to get the most of of your time at Flaming Gorge. From here your route continues up through the spectacular landscape south of Rock Springs. Looking to stretch your legs and get a little history? Check out the City of Rock Springs Museum. It’s quirky and fun and even has an old jail to explore. From here you continue the trip north to Pinedale for the night.

DAY 5: Pinedale to Jackson

1.5 hours/77 miles

This is a very short driving day which should give you plenty of opportunities to explore the Wind River Mountains and Jackson, Wyoming. First thing, after grabbing some provisions at Obo’s Market and Deli, you are headed to the aptly named Photographer’s Point. From US-191, Elkhart Trailhead is located approximately 15 miles northeast from Pinedale on a paved road at an elevation of 9,350 feet. Follow Fremont Lake Road and bear right right all the way past White Pine Ski Area up the narrow road to the two parking lots. Bear right at the fork to the Pole Creek Trails parking lot and your hike begins! Along this moderate day hike, hikers will capture the alpine beauty of the Bridger Teton Wilderness, abundant wildlife, and the Wind River Range’s spectacular glacial waters. You will reach Photographer Point Overlook at 4.5 miles and be awed by the largest system of glaciers in the American Rockies. After you are done being awed by the beauty of the Winds, it’s back on the road and on to Jackson. Our recommendation for Jackson is to find a place to stay and head out on the town. There is so much to do in this western town, you will not be let down.

Best place to shop for new clothes:

Wyoming Outfitters

Best place to shop for old clothes:

Forget Me Not Thrift Store

Best place to people watch:

Jackson Town Square

Best way to eat farm to table:

Local

Best sushi in the state:

King Sushi

Best place to have a drink while sitting on a bar stool shaped like a saddle:

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar

DAY 6: Grand teton National Park

We hope that you explored all you wanted to in Jackson because it’s time leave the city behind and head north for a nature-focused experience in Grand Teton National Park. You really aren’t prepared for the beauty until you actually experience these mountains up close. Today you are going to 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 you can avoid the crowds and bike on the many trails throughout the park.  After you have been blown away by the Grand Tetons, keep heading north to Yellowstone.

DAY 7-9: Yellowstone National PArk

Once you reach the Southern entrance of Yellowstone National Park don’t forget to grab a park map. In that map you will be able to see anything and everything that may spark your interest during your park journey. Remember, Yellowstone covers a huge area of land. If you want to get the best experience without a lot of driving we suggest staying one night within Yellowstone National Park.

SOME ATTRACTIONS IN YELLOWSTONE:

LAKE BUTTE OVERLOOK
FISHING BRIDGE VISITORS CENTER
YELLOWSTONE LAKE
MUD VOLCANO
SULPHUR CALDRON
VIRGINIA CASCADE
BERYL SPRING

Best place for wildlife:

The Lamar Valley

Best hike:

Storm Point Nature Trail

Best place to ride a horse:

Lodges of East Yellowstone

Best point of interest:

Lake Yellowstone Hotel

Best Iconic American Landmark:

Old Faithful

Can’t Miss it:

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Emerald Pool

DAY 10: Yellowstone National Park to Lander

4 hours/198 miles

It’s time to go back to the Wyoming roots and explore a few more small towns. As you begin to see the Grand Tetons disappear in your rear-view 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 including; mountain biking, hiking, ATV rides, 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 that take place over summer. While you are here you will discover the beauty of the untamed Wind River Mountains and the Native American history that surrounds them.

Best comfort food:

Cowboy Cafe

Can’t miss it:

Sinks Canyon State Park

Best place to try your luck:

Wind River Hotel and Casino-Riverton

Best hike:

Popo Agie Falls Trail

Best scenic drive:

The Loop Road

Best night out:

The Lander Bar

DAY 11: Lander to Saratoga

2.5 hours/166 miles

Today you are going to explore some of America’s best kept secrets in Southern Wyoming. Your first stop is the town of Rawlins. There is a particularly interesting history here, and it is home to the Wyoming Frontier Prison Museum. After you have stretched your legs in Rawlins it is 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 the night 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.

Great Coffee:

Huckleberry’s Espresso and Ice Cream Shop-Rawlins

Can’t miss it:

Hobo Hot Springs-Saratoga

Best hike:

Lake Trails

Great Museum:

SARATOGA MUSEUM

 

DAY 12: Saratoga to Denver, Colorado

Hiking in the Medicine Bow Mountain range during our Yellowstone road trip
3 hours 45 minutes/244 miles

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 plenty of  outdoor recreation. Take some time to walk around Downtown Laramie where you will find great restaurants, art shops, souvenirs and more. From Laramie, it’s off to the capital city of Wyoming. There are many great things to do in Cheyenne, but two must-do stops are the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens and the Cheyenne Depot Museum. 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

Can’t miss it-Laramie:

WYOMING TERRITORIAL PRISON

Best outdoor recreation:

VEDAUWOO RECREATION AREA

Great place to eat-Laramie:

3rd Street Bar and Grill

Best place to learn about the rodeo

Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum

Best place to learn about cowgirls:

Cowgirls of the West Museum and Emporium

Last chance to get some Wyoming memorabilia:

Cheyenne Depot and Museum

DAY 13 through 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 within one of the neighborhoods, each with its own unique style and flair. Find out more about Denver here

Historic neighborhood:

Larimer Square

Best museum:

Denver Art Museum

Haven for Art Lovers:

The Art District on Santa Fe

Shopper’s Paradise:

Cherry Creek

Can’t miss it:

Union Station

Best place to find amazing food:

South Pearl Street and Old South Gaylord