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  1. Default Last Minute Trip- Chicago through Tetons and Yellowstone HELP!

    Hello Everybody,

    My fiancÚ and I just graduated from college and have a few weeks before we both start work. Long story short, we have about a 10 day window starting Wednesday 6-22 until Friday 7-1 during which we would like to take a road trip. This is totally last minute, which is why I would love to hear suggestions for the trip.

    Though we are open to any and ALL ideas, here are the bare bones plans that we just brainstormed:

    We both enjoy the outdoors and decided we wanted to go through the Rocky Mountains, including Denver, the Tetons, and Yellowstone. While we love the Great Plains, we want to put almost all of the emphasis on these areas, so we were thinking of driving straight from Chicago to Denver in one shot (~15 hours) where we will stay with family for a night. From there, we heard great things about the scenic drive through Estes Park westward from which we would head back north to I-80, and catch US 191 into Jackson. The rest of the trip would be a northward journey through the Tetons and Yellowstone. After the 8th day, we would then exit Yellowstone and spend the last 2 days travelling back to Chicago via I-90E with a stop at Mt. Rushmore along the way.

    As I said, this is literally something we just brainstormed tonight. The backbone of the trip seems good but the details are where I am lacking. What should we do with the 7 days that we have between Denver and exiting Yellowstone? We have hiking and camping gear including a tent, packs, and a portable gas grill. Everything is fair game but I have no knowledge of that area and wanted to make this as memorable of a trip as possible. Where are some good camping spots along the way? Any good day hikes? One big concern that I had was finding camping spots in Yellowstone- is that even possible to do given how last minute this trip is? If you have any input or suggestions it would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks in advance,

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    Chicago to Denver isn't really a 15 hour drive - - Google maps or Mapquest may tell you it is, but they don't figure on traffic, bathroom stops, eating stops, and if-I-don't-stretch-I'll-die type stops either. You're best off taking that one in TWO days if you can - - perhaps stop in Kansas City the first night and make Denver the second night.

    Camping in any national park is going to be a gamble. There are others in this forum who have tried doing this more recently than I, so I'll let them give advice on that.

    In the time you have, I'd pick either RMNP or Yellowstone/Tetons and stick with that. Especially if you have to make it back and want to stop at Mt Rushmore on the way back! You may not enjoy yourself trying to rush through all the things.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Maybe too ambitious for a last minute trip

    Chicago to Denver, at over 1000 miles, is definitely a two day trip. Trying to do this in one day could torpedo the rest of your trip. Just not worth it. I'd have to agree on RMNP and the many other attractions in CO. You will also find that it could be a lot easier to find last minute camping vacancies, than what you would in Yellowstone/Tetons (both of which really need more long term planning).

    If you were to take two days from Chicago to Denver, six days exploring CO and three days on the return journey, via Mt Rushmore, you could have a fantastic holiday.

    So what is there in CO?

    Mesa Verda, Colorado MN, Estes Park, Trail Ridge Road, Million Dollar Highway, Great Sand Dunes NP, Pikes Peak, Royal Gorge... to mention only a few. Have a look around the forums, the RTA map centre, and get a good map of CO to see the dozens of other things to do there. Heck! you could spend a month there, and not see it all.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    I-70 is not the fastest way to Denver. I would recommend 2 days, take I-80 to I-76 to US-34 through Loveland and into RMNP. You can spend the first night somewhere in Nebraska - there is no need to beat yourself to death the very first day. My mapping software recommends somewhere between Lincoln and Grand Island - I've personally stayed in York before. Then you can spend the second night in Loveland (cheaper) or Estes Park.

    The fastest way from the west side of RMNP is US-34 to US-40 to Craig, then CO-13/WY-789 to I-80, then US-191 to Jackson. This is just a bit too much to do in 1 day, so plan on an overnight somewhere in there depending on what time of day you leave the park. If you leave by the afternoon, you could stay in Steamboat Springs or Craig and spend most of the next day getting to Jackson. There is very little lodging to choose from between I-80 and Jackson on 191.

    When you leave Yellowstone, take the northeast exit and take US-212 (Beartooth Highway) to I-90. That's one of the greatest scenic roads anywhere.

    A rule of thumb - if driving point-to-point on Interstate highways, limit your daily drive to 600 miles.

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