Denver-Arches-SLC-Grand Tetons-Yellowstone-Black Hills-Denver
We're thinking of taking 3 weeks in September to do this circut: Denver to Arches NP to Salt Lake City to Grand Tetons NP to Yellowstone NP to Black Hills area in S. Datoka and back to Denver to see Rocky Mountain NP.
My questions are:
Is this itinerary doable in 3 weeks?
Is it possible to do this route and not make any reservations ahead of time? We'd be staying in hotels, but they don't have to be nice, just clean.
Most importantly, besides the big attractions I've listed, what suggestions do others have to see along the way? Thank you for any ideas!
3 weeks is plenty of time!
You have a really nice route planned. On the way to Arches exit Interstate 70 at Cisco and take scenic Hwy 128 into Moab. The first part of the route isn't much, but once you cross the Colorado River the canyon you are driving in gets narrower and narrower until you reach Moab. Very scenic. You will also pass Fisher Towers.
I recommend 3 or 4 nights in Moab. Arches is amazing. Lots of hiking to do. Also in the area is Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District and Dead Horse State Park which is worth another day. The Potash Road and Kane Creek both travel along the Colorado River on opposite sides of the banks west of town. You can find many petroglyphs on both sides. If you have a 4 wheel drive vehicle or if you don't you can rent one in town for the day and take the Shafer Trail up to Canyonlands and then take Long Canyon back to Moab. This is a real adventure! I doubt you will need reservations in Moab.
On I-70 after you leave Green River, Utah you will drive though the San Rafeal Swell area. Very scenic.
I don't know about the Grand Tetons, but if you want to stay in Yellowstone, you will need to make reservations as soon as possible. If you don't want to, then I recommend staying in West Yellowstone, MT. This will be the easiest location outside of the park to see the park. I recommend 4 or 5 nights in Yellowstone. There's a lot more than just Old Faithful and the park covers a lot of miles.
After you leave Yellowstone and are on the way to the Black Hills, make a little detour off of Interstate 90 in eastern Wyoming and go see Devils Tower National Monument. This is where they filmed Close Encounters.
In the Black Hills area you have the town of Deadwood. Nearby to Rapid City there is Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park and Badlands National Monument. Also Walls Drug. As you get close to South Dakota you will see sign, after sign, after sign about Walls Drug. It's a BIG tourist trap!
Have fun...it sounds like a great trip.