Yellowstone and the Black Hills Route

The Great American Road trip awaits you as you travel through the American West and see everything from high plains to even higher mountains. From the sacred Black Hills to the splendor of Yellowstone, this trip will be the experience of a lifetime.

#thisismyroute

Prepared by:
Erika

States: 
Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming

Start/End: 
Denver, Colorado

Total miles:
2,000

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 route is perfect for those who want to experience the beauty of the open road and some of America’s most untamed areas. In other words, you will get to experience a true American road trip that includes old western towns, intriguing American culture and unimaginable 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. Then head north for a quick stop in the “Craft Beer Capital of Colorado”, Fort Collins. It’s a fun, happening town that will get you excited to explore much more to come. Afterwards you will enter Wyoming, with your first stop being the capital city and one of the most well known western towns around the world. Afterwards you will head towards South Dakota with a few fun stops on the way. During your time in South Dakota you will experience the Black Hills, monuments, memorials, national parks, and old western towns! Then you will bring yourself back into Wyoming where much more western fun is to be had. You will visit at least 10 more western towns along with Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park, Devils Tower and so much more! After all the excitement of Jackson and the parks, you will slow down again and enjoy southern Wyoming. As you make your way back to Colorado you can decide if you want to spend some time in Denver or head to Denver International Airport

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 Black Hills 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 to Fort Collins

1.5 hours/72 miles

We suggest arriving early into Denver and renting your car from the airport and setting out 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 if you choose!

Fort Collins, Colorado
This vibrant town is full of never-ending activities that offers the tranquility of nature just a few miles away. If you want to walk on cobblestone streets and next to historical buildings than you will love Old Town Fort Collins! Boutiques, pubs, galleries, events, local eateries and so much more draw people from all over to the downtown area

Best Short Hike:

Kimmons Trail

Best place for breakfast:

Silver Grill Cafe

Best place to watch the sunset:

Cathedral Tree Trail

Best place to stay:

Old Town Ft. Collins

Best swimming hole:

Cache La Poudre

Best place for local brew:

New Belgium Brewery

DAY 2: FT. Collins to Cheyenne

cheyenne_compilation

50 minutes/47 miles

Grab breakfast and get an early start towards your first stop in Wyoming. Cheyenne, Wyoming is the perfect town to get a real feel for the American west. It is known around the world for its cowboys, rodeos and trains. After you have experienced all the entertaining events, historic museums, steam engines and western themed attractions you can dig deeper. You can take a day trip east on Interstate 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.

Read more here.

Best experience for the whole family:

Terry Bison Ranch

Can’t miss it:

Cheyenne Depot and Museum

Must see it:

Big Boy Steam Engine

Best place for a hike:

Curt Gowdy State Park

Best burger in town:

2 Doors Down

Best morning grab and go:

Mort’s Bagel

DAY 3: Cheyenne to Hot Springs, South Dakota

hot-springs-south-dakota-architecture-sandstone
3 hours/240 miles

Today is going to be a longer travel day full of some intriguing history. So rise and shine, grab your morning bagel and pack the car. You will start north on I 25 for a little over an hour until you reach Wheatland. This small Wyoming town is a good rest point and as you walk around Wheatland you will find quaint shops and murals covering the buildings. Each mural has a story behind it related to the town’s long and interesting history. Now 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 can be seen. 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 than go end your day in the relaxing hot springs of Evans Plunge, the oldest attraction in the Black Hills.

Best place for a picnic:

Guernsey State Park

Best place to stay: 

Historic Log Cabins in Hot Springs

Can’t miss it:

Oregon Trail Ruts

Where to soak:

Evans Plunge Mineral Springs

Best place for dinner

The 1891

Best place for a hike:

JH Keith Park and Whitney Preserve

DAY 4: Hot Springs to Rapid City

hot-springs-south-dakota-mammoth-site
2.5 hours/100 miles

Today you are going to 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. If you have time in the morning, two great things to do in Hot Springs are the Mammoth Site, which boasts the largest concentration of mammoths in the world and the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. Afterwards drive up north toward Wind Cave National Park. After the 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 join the buffalo herd. After some time in the park it’s time to be face to face with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Mount Rushmore will teach you the story behind the birth, growth, development and preservation of this country. Venture northeast for a night in Rapid City. Here you will find a vibrant town with great places to eat, drink and stay.

Read more about Hot Springs, South Dakota here.

DAY 5: Rapid City to Gillette Wyoming

Gillette, Wyoming
3.5 hours/220 miles

Rapid City is a fun bustling town, so wake up to enjoy a walk through downtown with a coffee in hand. Then head up Highway 90 towards Spearfish. This town is another that is surrounded by unmatched beauty. 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 also brings people from all over to visit. If you want some final scenery of the Black Hills we suggest taking Spearfish Canyon to Interstate 90 towards Gillette, Wyoming. Then once you hit Highway 14, go north towards Devils Tower National Monument. This landmass is America’s First National Monument for a good reason. It is one of the most striking naturally formed landscapes in the country. Once you have been awed by Devils Tower, make your way to Gillette. This town will get your taste buds buzzing with all the delicious culinary options.

Read more about Gillette, Wyoming here.

Best scenic drive:

Spearfish Canyon

Best history:

Crazy Horse Memorial

Can’t Miss it:

Devils Tower National Monument

Best place to get dinner:

Pizza Corrello

Best place to stay:

Arbuckle Lodge

Best place to grab a local brew:

Gillette Brewing Company

DAY 6: Gillette to Cody

4.5 hours/250 miles

As you make your way across eastern Wyoming there are a few less hectic stops to hit before reaching the bustling eastern gateway of Yellowstone National Park. Your first stop is Buffalo, which is nestled in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. As you walk down the main street you will discover over a dozen historical buildings, ice cream shops, art galleries, restaurants and beautiful views. Then set out towards Ten Sleep, a unique, small western town where hippies, hunters, cowboys and climbers reside. Next up will be Worland, an area known for its archeology and geology. You can check out the history of the area at the Washakie Museum. When you are ready to hit the road again we invite you to visit another small western town called Greybull. The activities here range from a museum of flight and aerial firefighting to interesting rock formations like Devil’s Kitchen and track sites of dinosaur fossils. 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 Ave and follow the noise of live music and dancing boots. Before you leave for Yellowstone in the morning don’t forget to learn about the man that the town is named after, Buffalo Bill Cody, at the Buffalo Bill Museum of the American West.

Read more about Cody here.

Best place for a local brew:

Ten Sleep Brewing Company

Best hike:

Gooseberry Badlands

Best place to take the kids:

Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracks

Best spot for a steak:

Cassie’s

Best scenic Byway:

Cloud Peak Skyway

Best night out:

Cody Stampede Rodeo

DAY 7-9: Yellowstone National PArk

Some Attractions in Yellowstone:

Lake Butte Overlook
Fishing Bridge Visitors Center
Yellowstone Lake
Mud Volcano
Sulphur Caldron
Virginia Cascade
Beryl Spring

Wake up early and if you didn’t have time the day before then try to hit the Buffalo Bill Museum of the West before you leave. Hop on the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway that connects Cody to Yellowstone National Park. One of the most beautiful drives in America you will experience the rushing Shoshone River, amazing rock formations and the mountains views. If you want to get out and stretch your legs there are multiple spots along the highway. Once you reach the eastern 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.

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

Cant’s Miss it:

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Emerald Pool

DAY 10-11: Grand Teton National Park and Jackson

3.5 hours/165 miles

We hope that you explored all you wanted to in Yellowstone National Park because it’s time leave the geothermal natural wonders behind and head south for a more relaxed 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. We have attached a map below of the park so you can plan your trip to its full potential. After you have been blown away by the Grand Tetons let’s head towards Jackson. As you approach the famous tourist town of Wyoming, look left. That is because the National Elk Refuge is right here, which offers tons of 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

Take your time and enjoy your morning in Jackson Hole. Then 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 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 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 13: Lander to Denver, Colorado

laramie-wyoming-hiking-snowy-range-medicine-bow-mountains
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, 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 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 so much outdoor recreation. If you didn’t get a chance to visit Vedauwoo the first time here 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. 

Read more about Southern Wyoming in these blogs:

visitusaparks.com/carbon-county-wy-2/

visitusaparks.com/carbon-county-wy/

visitusaparks.com/laramie-wyoming/

Great Coffee:

Huckleberry’s Espresso and Ice Cream Shop-Rawlins

Can’t miss it:

Hobo Hot Springs-Saratoga

Great Museum:

Saratoga Museum

Best hike:

Lake Trails

Can’t miss it:

Wyoming Territorial Prison-Laramie

Best outdoor recreation:

Vedauwoo Recreation Area

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 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 hotspot for food and culture:

South Pearl Street and Old South Gaylord