A two to three-day Denver to Yellowstone road trip is ideal for travelers looking to escape to the wild western parts of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana with plenty of chances to stop along the way. Yellowstone National Park became the world’s first of its kind in 1872, just one year after scientists had first explored and documented the area and its hydrothermal features.
Today, Yellowstone remains one of America’s most popular national parks—and with good reason, as it’s home to more than half of the world’s hot-water geysers, including the famed Old Faithful and Grand Geyser.
But the hot springs aren’t all Yellowstone has to offer, as anyone planning a Denver to Yellowstone road trip will realize once they see the beauty of this national park. Depending on the time of year, visitors to Yellowstone are likely to see all sorts of wildlife, crashing waterfalls, dense lodgepole pine and douglas fir forests, and bubbling “mudpots” where acid from underground is dissolving the surrounding rock.
Read on for more ideas and things to do in between Denver and Yellowstone.
Planning a Denver to Yellowstone Road Trip
When planning a Denver to Yellowstone road trip, seasonal weather conditions are probably the biggest thing that will have an impact on everything from the clothes you pack to the car you drive.
Most standard two-wheel-drive vehicles will do fine on this road trip twelve months of the year, assuming you have newer tires and are keeping mostly to the paved roads and highways.
But if you’re driving across the windblown stretches of Wyoming’s Interstate 80 between roughly October to March, you’re better off in a four-wheel or all-wheel-drive vehicle, and traveling with chains and extra supplies like warm layers isn’t a bad idea in the dead of winter.
Any trucks or vans with a high profile should be wary of conditions out here too, as this part of the western US is notorious for high winds in excess of 80 to 100 miles per hour at the worst.
As long as you’ve planned for weather conditions and checked for any possible highway closures, another thing to think about when planning a Denver to Yellowstone road trip itinerary is where you’re going to stay. In the summertime, Yellowstone has excellent opportunities for all kinds of camping, whether it’s easygoing car camping or backcountry adventuring.
The national park gateway of West Yellowstone also has a nice array of options when it comes to lodgings, and towns like Pinedale and Jackson can be good for an overnight stop if you’re looking to break up the drive.
If you need to rent a car for this trip, browse Rentalcars.com which aggregates results across many major car hire companies. Alternatively, you can also rent an RV or campervan from Outdoorsy if combining this drive with other road trips such as from Yellowstone to Seattle or want to detour to Salt Lake City.
How Far is Denver to Yellowstone?
There are several routes that anyone making the Denver to Yellowstone National Park drive should consider. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on a slightly shorter (at least in terms of mileage, at some 500 to 600 miles in total) route across western Wyoming via Interstate 80 and Highway 191.
Depending on where you initially access Yellowstone, this drive can take as little as eight hours or more than ten hours. An alternate, roughly 720-mile option is to take the more directly northern route on Interstates 25 and 90 that hooks you all the way north past Bozeman, Montana.
Though the former route across western Wyoming can take something like 15 to 20 minutes longer due to slower speed limits for some of the drive and depending on weather, it’s arguably more scenic, and there are lots of attractions and stops like Jackson, Wyoming, on the way.
Another benefit to taking this route is you’ll have the opportunity to see some parts of Idaho, such as the town of Driggs and Harriman State Park, depending on your chosen route.
The wilderness areas of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, the Bridger-Teton National Forest, the Custer-Gallatin National Forest, and the rest of the “Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem” that surrounds the massive Yellowstone Lake, are truly among the most beautiful parts of the country.
A Denver to Yellowstone Road trip will have you on the highway for something like nine to eleven hours in total, but it’s guaranteed to feel shorter given the constant stretches of beautiful scenery and numerous possible stops along the way.
Best Denver to Yellowstone Road Trip Stops
Fort Collins and Red Feather Lakes, Colorado
This might be your only stop in the state of Colorado since you’ll be passing into Wyoming within the first hour or so no matter which route you choose, but the town of Fort Collins—with its nearby natural areas like the Cache la Poudre Canyon and Red Feather Lakes—is worth considering.
Some would say Fort Collins has even more of a classic “college town” feeling than its often-glitzier cousin Boulder, Colorado, and its main street is fun for shoppers and diners looking to stretch their legs and explore.
For anyone looking to get some outdoor time before the long drive to Yellowstone, Red Feather Lakes is a fun area for hiking, sightseeing, fishing, and more. Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, is actually a census-designated community of its own, but the lakes located about 45 miles west of Fort Collins are the main attraction.
Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, Wyoming
Once you’ve crossed the border heading north into Wyoming on your Denver to Yellowstone National Park drive, making a short detour to any of the many trailhead accesses to the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest is worth considering if the weather allows.
This wilderness area is full of wildflower blooms, alpine lakes, and wildlife such as moose, elk, and bighorn sheep, to name a few—all of which can be seen via relatively easy day hikes.
Some of the most popular trailheads in “the Medicine Bow,” as Wyoming residents usually call it, include the Medicine Bow Peak Trail, the Lakes Trail, the Browns Peak Loop, and the Lookout Lakes Trail.
Some of these trails in the Medicine Bow Forest and Snowy Range require a $5 fee for day use or an annual interagency pass.
Rock Springs, Wyoming
Rock Springs is a great rest stop on any Denver to Yellowstone road trip itinerary thanks to its solid array of services and attractions and convenient location right at the juncture of I-80 and Highway 191. This is a good opportunity to be sure your car is in shape and full of gas before you drive the stretch of highway to Pinedale.
What’s more, Rock Springs has plenty of activities for families and travelers who are looking for an opportunity to have some fun on the road.
Like a lot of towns in Wyoming, Rock Springs thrives economically thanks to strong connections with the state’s oil and gas industry, so its downtown is full of great dining and shopping options, as well as attractions like the Rock Springs Historical Museum.
Pinedale stands as a gateway to the Wind River Mountains and the greater Jackson Hole area in Wyoming, and the town itself has a lot to offer in its scenic location near Willow, Fremont, Half Moon, and Boulder lakes.
Fremont Lake and its Skyline Scenic Drive are among the most popular local attractions, along with the Museum of the Mountain Man and White Pine Ski Resort. For travelers looking to stretch their legs without venturing too far from the car on their Denver to Yellowstone road trip, the Elkhart Park hiking trail is a local favorite of moderate difficulty.
Anyone who makes the effort on this hike will be rewarded with striking views of Island Lake and the Titcomb Basin.
A must-visit if you’re passing through western Wyoming on your Denver to Yellowstone National Park road trip, Jackson—along with the greater Jackson Hole valley—might be Wyoming’s most famous city besides Cheyenne.
In the wintertime, this valley is a winter sports paradise, with ski areas like Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Snow King Mountain Resort that are renowned for their steep, rugged terrain and excellent powder conditions.
If you’re passing through in the spring, summer, and early fall, other favorite activities include rafting, fly fishing, mountain biking, and hiking. There are a lot of great outfitters and shops that can help you prepare and even guide you to the best local spots.
The town of Jackson itself is also a fun place to stop and relax for a few hours during a drive. Local coffee shops and breweries like Cowboy Coffee Co and Snake River Brewing are worth considering for a road trip break.
Keeping things to a shorter Denver to Jackson Hole road trip is a great option too, as Denver to Jackson is a little more doable as a one-day drive.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park is undoubtedly one of the most worthwhile detours for anyone looking for things to do in between Denver and Yellowstone, particularly if you have enough time on your trip to ensure you don’t need to choose between visiting Grand Teton or Yellowstone.
Grand Teton is a titan among America’s national parks, though its 200-plus miles of trails don’t harbor the same unique hydrothermal features that you’ll find in Yellowstone.
What you will find, however, are some of the state’s most rugged peaks and beautiful vistas. A favorite image of photographers is to capture the sunset as the blood-red light falls on the snowy peaks of the Tetons in the background.
Some of the top trails that are best-suited to casual hikers stopping through on a road trip include the Taggart Lake Loop, the Hidden Falls Trail, and the Phelps Lake Trail.
Driggs is located in the Teton Valley near the Teton River’s headwaters and serves as an excellent opportunity to check a stop through Idaho off your list as you continue north toward Yellowstone.
Driggs is a significantly smaller town than others where you may have stopped, such as Jackson, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in the availability of activities like skiing and snowboarding, fly fishing, wildlife watching, and hiking.
Since Driggs is just a couple of hours or less from the town of West Yellowstone (and even closer to certain access points to Yellowstone National Park), this could be a last stop before you’re on the final stretch to Yellowstone, depending on how you’re structuring your trip.
For anyone interested in a horseback riding excursion, local businesses like Leigh Creek Outfitters are a good bet.
Harriman State Park, Idaho
Harriman State Park is among the state of Idaho’s proudest natural features, with roughly 16,000 acres of protected refuge land for wildlife such as moose, elk, sandhill cranes, and trumpeter swans. Wildlife-watching is probably the biggest draw here, but mountain biking, horseback riding, and fishing are all very popular as well.
Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking are also commonly done here in the wintertime. One of the more unique features that sets this state park aside is the availability of overnight lodgings, such as yurts and a Ranch Manager’s House.
During the summer, tours of the historic Railroad Ranch buildings and guided nature programs, led by park rangers, are available on weekends and holidays.
Hebgen Lake, Montana
One of the things to do in between Denver and Yellowstone that’s sure to appeal to anyone who enjoys watersports is making a stop at Hebgen Lake. This lake, located in Montana, is also famous as the site of a 1959 earthquake that measured 7.2 on the Richter scale and resulted in the downstream formation of Quake Lake.
Nowadays, Hebgen is known as one of Montana’s best lake fisheries, with excellent populations of trophy rainbow and brown trout. Kirkwood Marina, on the north shore of Hebgen Lake, is a great option for travelers who need to rent equipment for all types of water activities in every season.
You can rent a pontoon, ski, or fishing boat for a half or a full day here. Tubing, sailing, kayaking, sightseeing, and birdwatching are also popular activities in and around Hebgen.
West Yellowstone, Montana
West Yellowstone, Montana, is essentially the westernmost option out of Yellowstone’s five available entrances (Gardiner, Montana, is home to the park’s North Gate—the only entrance that’s open year-round).
Depending on how you’ve planned your trip, West Yellowstone might be your basecamp where you choose to stay during your visit to Yellowstone National Park. In town, the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center and the Yellowstone Historic Center are two of the main attractions for visitors looking to get excited for their upcoming visit to the park itself.
Keep in mind that, if things are done in reverse, West Yellowstone also serves as a good starting point for a Yellowstone to Denver road trip, as do Yellowstone’s other de facto “gateway” towns of Gardiner, Cody, Island Park, Cooke City, and Jackson.
Where to Stay on a Denver to Yellowstone Drive
If you want to make even a few of these stops on your way from Denver to Yellowstone, you’re going to need to find a place to spend the night. The town of Rock Springs, Wyoming makes for a great halfway point on this road trip. If you’re looking for a great place to stay while on this drive, have a look at these suggestions:
Hampton Inn Rock Springs – If you’re after a consistent chain that offers a bit of predictable comfort, then this Rock Springs hotel is a good option. They have a number of clean and comfortable rooms available, an indoor swimming pool and jacuzzi and they even allow pets if you happen to be traveling with them. Click here to see their availability
My Place Hotel – A great, mid-range option in Rock Springs, this hotel is an excellent place to get some good rest before continuing on your Denver to Yellowstone road trip. They have a range of great rooms available, 24-hour reception and free parking on site. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Rock Springs hotels!
Bentwood Inn – Located in Wilson, WY, this luxury hotel is a fantastic option if you’re looking for a place to stay that is within easy reach of both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. They have a range of plush rooms on offer, breakfast included each morning, and they even offer wine and cheese for guests in the evenings. Click here to see their availability
Yellowstone Park Hotel – This West Yellowstone, MT hotel is a fantastic choice for those on the hunt for a mid-range hotel located within a stone’s throw of the Park entrance. They have countless clean and comfortable rooms available, have a lovely swimming pool on site and there is an option to include breakfast. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – If you’re looking for your own private rental near Yellowstone, there are lots of properties to choose from close to the National Park. A place like this condo close to the Park’s west entrance is just one of countless options available. Click here to browse private rentals near Yellowstone!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Yellowstone hotels!
The beauty of planning a Denver to Yellowstone road trip is how many options you truly have in terms of both the route you take and how you spread out your stops. Heading north and west across Wyoming is a nice scenic way to do things while also including a stop in the famous town of Jackson.
From there, the decision between a longer route through eastern Idaho and on up to West Yellowstone or proceeding directly to the south entrance that’s only 60 miles from Jackson is up to you.
Are you planning a road trip from Denver to Yellowstone National Park? Have any questions about this route? Let us know in the comments!