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  1. Default Denver to Yellowstone

    Hi All,

    I'm planning a trip starting in Denver that would loop to Rapid city (for Mt Rushmore) before going to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons and down through Vernal (for Dinosaur NP), Grand Junction (for Arches NP and maybe Canyonlands) and then back to Denver. Before I work out how many days I can spend at each point and stops along the way I have two major questions;

    1. Is it worth going to Mt Rushmore or spend the extra time in YS or somewhere else? I guess with this it will be personal opinion but that is fine, I want to hear what folk think.
    2. Are we missing out anything obvious that we could fit in along this route?

    I'd like to say that I got some really useful advice on last years trip (San Fran to Grand Canyon), especially about how long a drive it was from Cambria to Kingman (that was long and hot). So thank you for help previously and I hope you can help again!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default It's all about the time in my opinion.

    Hi and welcome back.

    Yep it is a personal opinion, but you really need to work out your time first and go from there. If going to Rushmore meant you only had a couple of days in Yellowstone and the Tetons I would say it's not worth it, on the other hand if you have time for Rushmore and enough time to go around elsewhere, including Arches etc then I guess it's worth it.

  3. Default

    We have two weeks so at the moment it is looking like,

    1 Denver - Cheyenne
    2 Cheyenne - Rapid City
    3 Mt Rushmore
    4 RC - Yellowstone
    5 YS
    6 YS
    7 YS
    8 Grand Tetons
    9 GT
    10 Vernal
    11 Grand Junction (for Arches)
    12 GJ
    13 Denver
    14 Leave :-(

    I think we have left it far too late for any accommodation in YS so any tips would be useful. We could even buy a tent from Walmart and camp if required?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    Whether it is "worth it" to go to Mt. Rushmore really is a personal opinion, but a big factor will be how much time you have for this trip. If you've already got a week planned for Yellowstone, then a detour to the Black Hills makes sense, if you're only planning to be in Yellowstone for 1 night, then I'd be trying to make more time there, and that would probably mean skipping South Dakota.

    If you do go to Mt. Rushmore, I wouldn't go there just for that one stop. I'd also make sure you are exploring some of the other attractions of the Black Hills, including Custer State Park, Jewel or Wind Cave, or even out to the Badlands.

    One other note, Moab, Utah is generally the base for exploring Arches and Canyonlands - not Grand Junction.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.


    As Michael mentioned Moab is a good base for Arches whereas Grand junction isn't really. Yellowstone may have some 'first come first served' non reservable camp sites, but even they wouldn't be guaranteed and getting into the park early would help. You could look at towns outside the park and use different bases from which to explore different areas, Red Lodge, Gardiner, West Yellowstone and Moran for example. Yellowstone also has a free cancellation policy so it's worth checking back frequently and trying to grab somewhere in the park.

    Is your first day include a flight or else, you could consider going straight to Rapid City/ Badlands. For me an obvious and easier choice to choose over going all the way to Badlands and Mt Rushmore would be Rocky mountain NP where you could spend a couple of relaxed days.

  6. Default

    Thanks both for the Moab tip. As expected the parks are full so we will have to drive extra distance each day to get in, leaning towards following Dave's advice and go via RMNP in a more relaxed manner and forget the extra miles to RC. Last years trip ended up at nearly 3000 miles which is a lot in 2 weeks and while it was a great trip I'm not keen to have lots of distance this time.

    Would a few days at Gardiner/Silver Gate/Red Lodge and another few at Moran or West YS be a good plan to cover north and south sides of the park?

  7. Default

    I'd say skip Rushmore & spend the time in Yellowstone instead. A lot more to see.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    As far as Moab is concerned, if you are staying overnight in motels, you should be able to find something that isn't yet full that is reasonable. One lesser known place is the Apache Motel -- an older property, very well cared for, nice pool, located on a side street with lots less traffic, and the price is better. Moab is a central location for Arches, Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point State Park.

    Red Lodge would be a good overnight on the way into/out of the northeast gate of Yellowstone, but would not be a good place to stay a couple of nights with intentions of going into the park every day. You have to go over the gorgeous, beautiful, breathtaking Beartooth Pass to get into the park. Worth doing once, but I don't think I'd want to stay at Red Lodge and run into the park every day.

    Gardiner would be a good location to see the northern Grand Loop of the park. West Yellowstone is ideal for both sections of the Grand Loop. We stayed in Billings one night, came in the Beartooth HIghway over the Pass the next day, stopping along the Highway and in the northeast portion of the park/Lamar Valley, as well as Norris Geyser Basin, on that day. We stayed in West Yellowstone for the next 3 nights, seeing the Lower Loop on Day 2, northern Loop on Day 3, and heading for Grand Teton on Day 4.

    Don't let anyone tell you to skip Mount Rushmore if you'd like to see it. It truly is an engineering and artistic marvel. It's worth a half day of your time if you'd like to see it, walk the Presidential Trail and possibly see the artists' studio.

    Other things to see in the Black Hills area, not far from Mt Rushmore, are Custer State Park, Wind Cave, and Crazy Horse Memorial. Badlands is about 50 miles away in one direction, and Devil's Tower is about 60 miles away in the other direction (towards Yellowstone, on 212 off of the 90).


  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    There is limited lodging in Silver Gate and Cooke City. This is a lot more convenient to the northeast entrance than Red Lodge for an in and out same day. However, if possible you should either enter or leave the park for good over the Beartooth.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Public lands campgrounds.

    Quote Originally Posted by BigAde View Post
    We could even buy a tent from Walmart and camp if required?
    There are some public lands campgrounds close to YSNP, some even have electricity and water. They rarely fill. At the West Yellowstone visitor centre they can tell you exactly how many spots are left in which campground. It is also worth checking out the various campgrounds south of the park near the Tetons. All of these will involve driving in and out each day.... but never more than a few miles.


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