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  1. Default 3 Week Denver-Moab-Idaho Falls-Yellowstone-Denver Loop : Advice Please?

    Hi all,

    Lengthy post, hopefully I've made it a worthwhile read enough to get some solid advice :)

    My wife and I just concluded our first trip to the USA about 2 months ago. On that trip we toured Virginia, the Carolinas and Tennessee. We've decided we'd like to go back again next year, but visit a completely different part of the country.

    Our current plan is to spend 3 days in Houston (closest direct flight, we stayed there on the way back last time and liked it), then fly to Denver and spend 3 weeks (appx) doing a road trip in a big loop. I've started working on a rough plan, which currently looks like this (route travelled clockwise) :

    There are only a few things that are on our 'Must See' list on this trip - Moab, Yellowstone & Thermopolis. The rest, we are entirely flexible around, as long as we start and finish in Denver.

    As a general rule, my wife and I are 'explorer' types, so we are happy to take back roads, staying in small towns, etc. Tourist hot spots and big crowds are definitely not our thing. However, it is likely that given the distance and cost, this may be the only time we will visit most of the stops, so if there are 'Must See's that aren't on our list, we'd love to know them.

    For reference, general travel plan (very open to change) is as follows :

    Day 1 - Arrive @ Denver, drive direct to Colorado Springs. Stay @ Colorado Springs
    Day 2 - Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak.
    Day 3 - Drive to & stay @ Glenwood Springs
    Day 4 - Drive to & stay @ Moab, taking the Colorado River Scenic Byway.
    Day 5 - Moab, Arches National Park.
    Day 6 - Drive to & stay @ Salt Lake City
    Day 7 - Salt Lake City & environs (maybe Park City).
    Day 8 - Drive to & stay @ Idaho Falls
    Day 9 - Idaho Falls & environs.
    Day 10 - Drive to & stay @ Jackson WY
    Day 11 - Drive to & stay @ Gardiner MT (via Grand Teton & western Yellowstone)
    Day 12 - Drive to & stay @ Billings (via Yellowstone & the Beartooth Pass)
    Day 13 - Billings & environs.
    Day 14 - Billings & environs.
    Day 15 - Drive to & stay @ Thermopolis (via Devils Canyon Overlook & Cody WY)
    Day 16 - Thermopolis - hopefully spend the day soaking in the hot pools!
    Day 17 - Drive to & stay @ Cheyenne.
    Day 18 - Cheyenne & environs.
    Day 19 - Drive to & stay @ Denver
    Day 20 - Denver & environs.
    Day 21 - Denver & environs.
    Day 22 - Denver & environs.
    Day 23 - Fly home.

    With all that in mind, I'd like to ask some advice on specific sections from those wiser and more experienced than me :)

    1) Denver to Glenwood Springs - I understand I70 is very pretty as it is - after we depart Colorado Springs is there any tangible advantage taking a longer more circuitous route through one of the back mountain roads (e.g. SH24 or SH50) vs just sticking to I70?

    2) Moab to SLC - is the quickest road (through Price) a worthwhile trip, or would following I70 and then coming up through Nephi be more scenic?

    3) Salt Lake City - I've had conflicting feedback on SLC. Some people say it's worth a visit, others say it's as interesting as watching paint dry. So I'm a bit torn here - if we stopped we'd want to stay two nights, so am I better doing so, staying somewhere nearby instead, or just making it a long day and gunning straight to Idaho Falls?

    4) Billings - worth spending a few nights there? We want to visit Devil's Canyon Overlook and Billings is nearby, plus after a few days of long driving it might be nice to settle down for a few days. I've got no idea if Billings has much going for it though - thoughts? If we don't go there it would free up 3 nights, which we would probably split between either Cody WY or Red Lodge MT (as we'd have to stay at least one night after doing the Beartooth Pass) and an extra night somewhere else on the route.

    5) Final 2-night stayover before Denver - have this pencilled in for Cheyenne, but Casper is more geographically convenient. Thoughts on Casper vs Cheyenne?

    Thanks for taking the time to read this far, and again, any advice gratefully accepted :)

    Last edited by BlackrazorNZ; 11-17-2019 at 01:45 AM. Reason: Spelling

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Welcome to the RTA forum!

    When will this trip take place?

    My biggest observations of your plan world involve Yellowstone. It is a huge place, and I don't think you're planning nearly enough time there. Billings is a fine place but spending as much time there as you'll spend in Yellowstone doesn't make any sense to me.

    That said, you also put this in the fall/winter section, and as winter comes very early to Yellowstone, the time if year may make some of this plan impossible due to traffic closures.

  3. Default

    Thanks for the reply. Intended travel dates are from approx 25th August to approx 15th September :)

    We’re not planning on doing much in the way of big hikes or the like, so what in Yellowstone do you recommend would occupy the extra days? We were mostly planning on just driving through for the scenery etc and staying a couple places along the way.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    Yes, I-70 is very scenic. However, so is US-50. Take US-24 out of COS to US-285 to US-50, rejoining I-70 at Grand Junction.

    US-6 from Green River to Spanish Fork is a good way to go. So is I-70, but keep in mind that there are no services or cell service between Green River and Salina.

  5. Default

    Thanks for the reply. I’ll look a bit more into the US50 option.

    I just edited my original post to correct some spelling and it vanished? Hope just temporary 😬

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Quote Originally Posted by BlackrazorNZ View Post
    I just edited my original post to correct some spelling and it vanished? Hope just temporary ��
    Your edit sent the post back into moderation - after the fact edits sends up a "red alert" for our anti-spam software, especially when there are images like your maps in the post.

    As far as Yellowstone, even without significant hikes, it takes 2.5-3 days just to see the highlights of the park - and Grand Teton also deserves a day or two. The park is basically laid out in a figure 8 - I'd give at least day for the lower loop, including Yellowstone Lake, Old Faithful, and surrounding thermal areas, another day for the upper loop, including Canyon and Mammoth Hot Springs, and then a day for the Lamar Valley and onto Beartooth.

    I think you've got plenty of places where you can add a couple days to Yellowstone - You're planning 5 days to get from Moab to Jackson - even if you spent 3 days on that section, you'd still have quite a bit of time to explore both SLC and Idaho Falls. Similarly, a full day (2 nights) in Billings would be plenty for most people. If you're looking for a place to settle down for a couple of days, I'd certainly rather do that in the Greater Yellowstone area than Billings.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    At SLC, there is the Great Salt Lake to see and behold, one of few salt lakes in the US. There is also much to see if you are interested in the history of the area, mostly the Mormons. Nearby is also Golden Spike National Historic Park, regarding the historical meeting of the railroads from the east and from the west back in the 1800s.

    At Idaho Falls, you can go a bit west on US-20 to Craters of the Moon National Monument, where lava flows resemble the surface of the moon. As a matter of fact, the astronauts practiced there, in the 60s and 70s, to see what it might be like for them.

    I agree with the statement about spending more time in Yellowstone. We did 3 days there a few years ago, and now want to go back. We missed quite a few things the last time, including an entire large geyser basin, and didn't spend enough time on other things.


  8. Default

    Thanks again for the feedback.

    Based on the above and a couple other bits of advice I've read, I've modified the plan a bit by taking out Billings and Salt Lake City (will just do a long drive from Moab to Idaho Falls instead) and sinking that time into extra nights in Jackson and Gardiner.

    Plus I've tweaked the return leg to stay a couple nights in Cody and then Casper; Thermopolis was all about the hot pools and if i stay at Cody and Casper we'll have plenty of time on the drive down for a decent soak at Thermopolis.

    One more quick question - 2 nights at Glenwood Springs vs 2 nights at Aspen??

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.


    One more quick question - 2 nights at Glenwood Springs vs 2 nights at Aspen??
    It's a bit like asking whats best, Apples or Oranges ? ;-) I'd probably opt for Aspen when combined with the drive to either place. Having said that I would add a night at Moab so yyou could explore part of Canyonlands and Dead Horse point. It's always a personal choice so the decision is yours (of course) but another couple of suggestions would be>

    Instead of going to Cheyenne and then spend days in Denver consider going to Estes park to 'chill out'. It's a lovely town with an opportunity to visit some of Rocky mountain National park which is quite stunning.

    As SLC is no longer in your plans, have you considered heading north from Moab to wards Vernal and up through Rock Springs on US191 to Jackson WY. With an overnight on route you could visit Dinosaur NM and/or Flaming Gorge Res and it's a lovley drive.

    As has been said, Yellowstone is huge and the going is slow so consider more time there. If you don't plan to stay in the park then you could also look at West Yellowstone for a night to explore the nearby attractions, although you can get reasonably priced cabins in the park which is well worth it imo.

  10. #10


    My gut reaction would be to reverse course to counter clockwise as some of the spots you which to travel are high elevation AND northern latitudes, such as Yellowstone and the Beartooth Highway (great choice!).

    To or from Pike's Peak/Colorado Springs, the US 50 option is a great scenic drive although I might suggest staying on US 50 and see Black Canyon of the Gunnison, then turn south on US 550 at Montrose south through Ouray to Durango. From Durango, drive west on US 160 there visit Mesa Verde National Park to the west and then north on US 191 to Moab.

    An alternative to US 50 would be going south from Colorado Springs to US 160 and west via Great Sand Dune NP, Durango, and Mesa Verde NP.

    The Vernal, UT to Rocky Springs via the Flaming Gorge is a beautiful drive where you also reach some altitude 9,000 ft comes to mind, a route I just traveled this past October. Dinosaur National Monument is an easy visit that doesn't require a lot of hiking, just a few hours and an overnight in Vernal.

    Yellowstone IS huge. Three full days are easy to spend there without even going on any hikes. One of the most diverse areas around.

    Billings and Cheyenne might be good for overnights, but not much longer. I'd probably opt for Red Lodge over Billings.

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