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 :)