Enjoy a spectacular Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone Road Trip
In this article we’re going to describe a spectacular road trip in the western United States, from Mount Rushmore in the “Black Hills” of South Dakota to spectacular Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
This road trip starts in Rapid City, South Dakota, and ends in Bozeman, Montana. Along the way, we’re going to visit all of these great places:
- Mount Rushmore National Monument
- Crazy Horse Memorial
- Jewel Cave
- Wind Cave
- South Dakota State Railroad Museum and 1880 Train
- Badlands National Park
- Minuteman Missile Site
- Wall Drug
- South Dakota Air and Space Museum
- DC Booth Fish Hatchery
- Devils Tower
- Frontier Auto Museum
- Cody, Wyoming
- Yellowstone National Park
Suggested Itinerary – Mount Rushmore Yellowstone Road Trip
We suggest you fly into Rapid City, South Dakota to start the road trip. Use Rapid City as your “base camp” for the first few days before heading west. Rapid City has an airport with connections to cities all over the United States. Pick up a rental car at the airport and check into your hotel and you’re ready to go!
Rapid City Regional Airport (IATA code: RAP)
After Rapid City, you’re going to follow Interstate Highway 90 west into the state of Wyoming, seeing more sights and places along the way. Then, you’ll follow Wyoming state highway 14 west to Cody, Wyoming, and then into Yellowstone National Park.
After a few days enjoying the beauty of Yellowstone, drive north to Bozeman, Montana which is the end of the trip. Drop your rental car and head home from Bozeman.
Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (IATA code: BZN)
Let’s hit the road!
Mount Rushmore National Monument
Your first stop should be Mount Rushmore National Monument, nicknamed “America’s Shrine of Democracy”. Mount Rushmore National Memorial features the 60-foot faces of four great American presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln – carved into the side of a majestic mountain. The presidents immortalized here represent the birth, growth, development and preservation of the United States.
Besides looking at the Monument itself, be sure to enjoy the Avenue of Flags with flags of all 50 states on display. There is a walking trail (Blackberry Trail) that will give you some great views and photo opportunities. Visit the “Sculptor’s Studio” which is the place where the monument’s sculptor Guzton Borglum worked from 1939 to 1941; there is a 1/12th scale model of Mount Rushmore in the studio. If you can stay into the evening, there is a lighting ceremony that you can watch.
The Monument is open year-round. There is no fee to enter the park, but there is a fee for parking.
For more information, click here: https://www.nps.gov/moru/index.htm
Crazy Horse Memorial
Not too far from Mount Rushmore is another ambitious mountain carving called “Crazy Horse Memorial”. Started in 1948, this vast, unfinished mountain carving pays tribute to the Native American people who originally lived in the Black Hills area of South Dakota.
Here, you can view the partially finished Memorial of “Crazy Horse”, visit a Native American museum, or enjoy a native American cultural show. If you can stay after it gets dark, there is a “Legends of Light” laser light show in the evening.
The Memorial is open year round and admission is $12 to $35, depending on how many people are in the car.
For more information, click here: https://crazyhorsememorial.org/
Jewel Cave National Monument
Keep driving southwest from Crazy Horse Memorial and you will come to Jewel Cave National Monument. Jewel Cave is enormous, and is third longest cave in the world, with over 200 miles of mapped and surveyed passages. Inside you will find fragile formations and brilliants colours in the passages that are open to the public.
Jewel Cave is normally open year round but be sure to check the website for your specific dates and times. The only way to enter the caves is on a guided tour with a park ranger, so be sure to check in to join a tour.
For more information, click here: https://www.nps.gov/jeca/index.htm
Wind Cave National Park
Keep driving south and you’ll find yourself at Wind Cave National Park. This is a beautiful place, with an intact prairie on the surface, and Wind Cave, one of the longest and most complex caves in the world, underground.
Wind Cave is named for the strong winds that you will experience at the entrance. Inside, there is a maze of passages and some rare formations called “boxwork” on the walls. There are a number of guided, ranger-led tours available, which are 60 to 90 minutes long. If you just want a quick visit, you can enjoy a 20 minute self-guided tour to the cave’s natural entrance.
The Park is also a great place to view some of the wildlife that live here. Head to “Bison Flats” on Highway 385 to see the enormous bison that roam around the park. Be sure to stay in your car as the bison can be dangerous. The park is home to a herd of about 500 bison, so they should be easy to find!
Much smaller, and less dangerous, are the black-tailed prairie dogs that live in underground burrows throughout the park. Ask the ranger where you can see one of the “Prairie Dog Towns” where these animals live.
For more information, click here: https://www.nps.gov/wica/index.htm
South Dakota State Railroad Museum and 1880 Train
Another great place to visit in the Black Hills is the South Dakota State Railroad Museum and 1880 Train. It’s not far from Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse so you could combine these into a single day trip.
The museum itself has a few interesting artifacts from the era of steam locomotives, including an old water tower, steam engine and some railroad cars that you can see. Inside the museum you’ll find some storyboards and relics from the steam era, along with a model railroad. Entrance to the museum is just $7.00.
The real experience here is next door at the 1880 Train, which is an operating steam railroad that you can ride. If you choose the “shootout” train, you will experience a re-enactment of an old west shootout aboard the 1880 Train! The shootout begins at the Hill City Station where a few bad guys board the train and hide their treasure. The train is stopped by cowboys and “held up” halfway between Keystone and Hill City. It’s a good thing the sheriff is in town! A round trip ticket is $32.00 for adults.
For more information, click here: https://www.sdrm.shop/
For more information, click here: https://www.1880train.com/
Badlands National Park
Our next four sights are all located east of Rapid City along Interstate Highway 90, so you may want to combine some or all of these into one or two day trips.
First up is Badlands National Park. The park gets it’s name from the rugged beauty of the terrain, which draws visitors from around the world. The hills and valleys are made of rich geologic deposits which contain one of the world’s most productive fossil beds; ancient ancestors of horses and rhinos used to roam here. Badlands National Park is huge, with 244,000 acres of prairie where bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets live today.
The best way to enjoy the sights of Badlands National Park is by driving its most popular road which is called “Badlands Loop Road” (also known as South Dakota Highway 240). This is about a two hour drive and along the way you’ll see beautiful landscapes, informational exhibits, and glimpses of wildlife. There are lots of scenic overlooks where you can stop the car you take in the views and get some photos.
Badlands has eight official hiking trails if you’d like to explore on foot. The shortest trails are just a quarter of a mile long, while the longest is 10 miles, and they vary from easy to strenuous, so be prepared.
The park has lots of wild animals to see, if you know where to look. Bison are best seen from Sage Creek Rim Road, which overlooks the Badlands Wilderness Area where they live. Bighorn Sheep are often seen on the rocky precipices of Pinnacles Overlook and in Cedar Pass areas like Castle Trail and Big Badlands Overlook. Prairie dog towns exist throughout the park and can be viewed from the road at Burns Basin Overlook, Roberts Prairie Dog Town, and Sage Creek Campground. Locations for other wildlife (such as deer, coyotes, or snakes) are variable, so keep your eyes open, they may be just around the corner!
Badlands is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is an entrance fee pf $30.00 per vehicle, which is good for 7 days.
For more information, click here: https://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Just across the highway from Badlands east entrance you will find the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.
This site protects two “Cold War” era facilities which were part of a “Minuteman” missile field that was spread over the western portion of South Dakota starting in the 1960’s. Minuteman missiles were Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) that were equipped with nuclear warheads. There were 15 Launch Control Facilities that commanded and controlled 150 Launch Facilities (Missile Silos) holding Minuteman ICBMs.
The Historic Site preserves two of these facilities in their historic state: Launch Control Facility Delta-01, along with it’s corresponding underground Launch Control Center and Launch Facility (Missile Silo) Delta-09. These two sites, along with the Minuteman Missile Visitor Center, comprise Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.
In order to go inside the Delta-01 Launch Control Facility site, you need to make an advanced reservation and pay an amenity fee of $12.00. A park ranger will lead you on a 45 minute tour.
The Missile Silo site Delta-09 consists of a silo 12 feet in diameter and 80 feet deep made of reinforced concrete with a steel-plate liner. The door to the silo has been welded and fitted with a glass roof, and an unarmed missile placed inside. For safety reasons, tours are not conducted underground. In addition to the missile and silo, visitors will see support structures such as antennas and motion sensors. There is no reservation required and no fee to visit this site.
There is also a Visitor Center where you can see exhibits and learn about these weapons.
For more information, click here: https://www.nps.gov/mimi/index.htm
Across the highway from Badland’s west entrance is one of America’s most curious tourist attractions, Wall Drug. You will likely see billboards along the highway promoting Wall Drug as you drive around.
Wall Drug Store, often called simply Wall Drug, is a roadside attraction and tourist stop. Inside, you’ll find a collection of cowboy-themed stores, including a drug store, souvenir and gift shop, several restaurants, and a Western-themed art gallery. Outside are an 80-foot brontosaurus sculpture and a large “jackelope” (jackrabbit/antelope) sculpture that you can sit on. It’s a curious place, some people will say it’s crude and gaudy while others will say it’s a charming throwback to the old days. Check it out and decide for yourself! Parking and admission are free.
For more information, click here: https://www.walldrug.com/
South Dakota Air and Space Museum
Just to the east of Rapid City you’ll find the small but interesting South Dakota Air and Space Museum. It is located just north of Interstate 90 at the entrance to Ellsworth Air Force Base.
Indoors, the museum has a small collection of aviation and space related items but it’s really the outdoor displays that are worth the visit. There are many vintage military aircraft and missiles on display. Check out the website below for a complete list. Admission and parking are free at this museum.
The museum sometimes offers bus tours of the adjacent Ellsworth Air Force Base which an active base. For security purposes, the tour is open to U.S. citizens only. There is a small fee to take the bus tour.
For more information, click here: https://www.sdairandspacemuseum.com/
Are you ready to hit the road and start driving towards Yellowstone? If so, you can enjoy this next destination as a side trip as you head west on Interstate 90.
Deadwood is a city in South Dakota known for its “Wild West” and “Gold Rush” history. Settlers came here in search of finding gold and “striking it rich”. Many did, but the region was undeveloped at the time, with little law and order, and so there were many conflicts between the “good guys” and “bad guys”.
The town has been very well preserved, and it’s main street will remind you of the old days as you visit. There are a few sights worth seeing. Mount Moriah Cemetery has the graves of Wild West figures like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Exhibits at the Adams Museum include a huge gold nugget and a plesiosaur dinosaur fossil. The 1892 Historic Adams House is a Victorian mansion with original features. South of town, you’ll find the George S. Mickelson Trail which leads through the Black Hills National Forest, and the “Broken Boot Gold Mine” with guided tours available.
The main street itself is now lined with old time “saloons” (bars) and about 25 small casinos if you’d like to try some gambling. Occasionally, some actors will stage a Wild West shootout re-enactment right on the main street to entertain the tourists.
To get to Deadwood, follow Interstate 90 to the Sturgis exit and then take South Dakota Highway “Alternate 14” west to the town of Deadwood. After your visit, take South Dakota Highway 85 north and you will rejoin the Interstate for your journey west towards Yellowstone.
For more information, click here: www.deadwood.com
D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery
Keep heading west and you’ll soon find yourself in the small town of Spearfish, South Dakota. Here you’ll find a great little tourist attraction that some people will love, and some people will “fail to appreciate”.
It’s the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery, which was established here in 1896. This hatchery was built to introduce and establish populations of trout into the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. It is one of the oldest fish hatcheries in the United States. The hatchery is still in business and spawns and releases about 20,000 to 30,000 rainbow trout each year.
There are a number of historic displays to see, including the original “fish runs”, and you can see and feed the hatchling fish by hand. The Hatchery is open 365 days a year, and admission and parking are free. Fish on!!!
For more information, click here: https://dcboothfishhatchery.org/
After all that excitement at the Fish Hatchery, it’s time for some more scenic beauty. Head west from Spearfish on Interstate 90 and you’ll soon cross into the state of Wyoming. Near the town of Sundance, exit the Interstate and drive north on Wyoming State Highway 14 towards Devils Tower.
About 30 minutes north of Sundance, you’ll see Devils Tower. It is an extraordinary geologic feature that protrudes out of the prairie surrounding the Black Hills, and is considered sacred by Northern Plains Indians and indigenous people. Hundreds of parallel cracks make it one of the finest crack climbing areas in North America. You may recognize the tower from many movies, including the blockbuster 1977 film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.
If you like, you can simply drive the car around the main Park Road, and stop at some of the scenic overlooks to enjoy the views. If you prefer, you can hike some of the 5 trails in the park. Check out the official NPS website below, they have suggested hikes for one hour, half a day, or a full day. Many people like to stay in the park after dark to enjoy viewing the night sky around the tower.
The park is open most of the year, check out the website for specific dates. There is an entrance fee, a 7 Day Vehicle Pass, which costs $25.00. Parking is free.
For more information, click here: https://www.nps.gov/deto/index.htm
Frontier Auto Museum
After Devils Tower, keep driving west on Interstate 90 until you reach the town of Gillette. There aren’t a lot of exciting activities in central Wyoming, but Gillette has something for folks who enjoy nostalgia and vintage items.
The Frontier Auto Museum is filled with classic cars and old fashioned neon signs, porcelain signs, gas pumps, and gas station memorabilia. The museum is about 13,000 square foot museum and is configured as 2 vintage “towns”. The museum will transport you back in time to the 1900s thru 1950s. There is even an indoor “Drive-in theater” that displays classic movies and commercials you and your family can sit and watch during your visit. There is a “mining” room with a model railway, and a soda fountain where you can sit and enjoy ice cream, pinball machines, and classic music. Admission is $10.00 for adults.
For more information, click here: https://www.frontierautomuseum.com/
It’s a long, 4 hour drive from Gillette to our next stop which is Cody, Wyoming, but in Cody you’re really going to experience the wild, wild west. You can visit museums which showcase the frontier life, enjoy a chuck wagon dinner under the stars, attend a real rodeo, ride a horse, and shoot some old time weapons.
Buffalo Bill Center of the West
Our first recommendation is the Buffalo Bill Center of the West which has 5 museums under one roof: the Buffalo Bill Museum, Plains Indian Museum, Cody Firearms Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, and Whitney Western Art Museum. There are also temporary special exhibitions that you can enjoy.
Here you can also enjoy a chuck wagon dinner at “Cowboy Rich’s Chuckwagon Dinners”, available Tuesday and Saturday evenings at 6:00 pm.
You can also try an hour long western trail horseback ride from the Center’s corrals down to the Shoshone River. These are arranged by “Buffalo Bill Horse Rides” and are available every day from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Next, you can watch saddle and leather craftspeople create beautiful belts and other premium leather goods in an authentic 1920s saddle shop at “Scout Saddle Company”. This is open Monday to Friday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and is free with admission to the museum.
Finally, enjoy a “birds of prey” demonstration with golden eagles, acid-spitting turkey vultures, owls, and other birds of prey. It’s a free show every day at 1:00 pm.
For more information, click here: https://centerofthewest.org/
Old Trail Town
Just down the street from Buffalo Bill Center of the West, you’ll find Old Trail Town. This is a unique attraction, maybe not as exciting as a fish hatchery (what is?), but if you’re interested in history you might enjoy a visit. This place has collected 27 historic and authentic buildings from the 1890s and created a village that you can visit.
It is located on the original site of historic Cody, Wyoming, and includes the historic cemetery, Jeremiah Johnston’s Grave, and Butch Cassidy’s “Hole in the Wall Cabin”. Old Trail Town is open from June 1 through September daily from 8am-6pm. Entrance will cost $10.00 for adults.
For more information, click here: https://www.oldtrailtown.org/
Cody Firearms Experience
Directly across the street from Old Trail Town you’ll find the Cody Firearms Experience. Here, you can shoot a wide range of firearms in their private shooting range. The staff will provide you with shooting and safety training prior to entering the range so you can enjoy the experience safely.
They have a wide range of guns to choose from, including “black powder” rifles and pistols, shotguns, and modern handguns, rifles, and machine guns. They even have a Gatling Gun from 1865 that you can fire! Prices start at just $39 and no prior experience or license is required.
For more information, click here: https://codyfirearmsexperience.com/
Cody Stampede Rodeo
Finally, you can’t leave the Rodeo Capital of the World without experiencing a rodeo! Next door to Old Trail Town you will find “Cody Nite Rodeo”.
A real rodeo is held in this open air stadium every evening during the summer and delivers two hours of real wild, western, family-friendly rodeo action. Come early and you can meet the cowboys and bull-fighters, or get your picture taken on Mongo the bull.
Show time is 8:00pm and grandstand admission is $20.00 for adults. Parking is free.
For more information, click here: https://www.codystampederodeo.com/
Yellowstone National Park
It’s time for the final destination of this road trip – Yellowstone National Park!
When you leave Cody, you’re going to head west on Wyoming State Highway 14-16-20. About 25 miles west of Cody, the road is known as the “Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway” which is filled with wildlife and stunning views. The Byway runs for 27 miles and at the end you will find yourself at the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone is an enormous park at approximately 2,221,766 acres. It holds 10,000 hydrothermal features, including hot springs, mud pots, fumaroles, travertine terraces and geysers. The park is home to 300 species of birds, 16 types of fish, 67 species of mammals and it’s the only place in the U.S. where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. So, if you happen to visit and find yourself stuck in traffic because bison are crossing the road, be patient, you’re in their home after all.
You will need to plan ahead if you’re going to see all of your top sights. Luckily, all of the most popular tourist attractions can easily be reached by car, and there are parking lots, boardwalks, and trails so that you can see them all easily. There are two main roads, or “loops”, in Yellowstone.
The “Upper Loop” is in the northern part of the park, and forms a circle connecting Norris, Mammoth, Tower-Roosevelt, and Canyon. You will need an entire day to tour the Upper Loop.
The “Lower Loop” is in the southern part of the park, and forms a circle connecting Norris, Canyon, Lake Village, West Thumb, Old Faithful, and Madison. You may need to budget 2 days to see all of the sights on the Lower Loop.
“Upper Loop” Sights
Here is our suggested itinerary for touring the Upper Loop, starting in Norris and driving clockwise on “Grand Loop Road”.
Norris Geyser Basin
The first stop is in the Norris Geyser Basin, which has two areas worth visiting: Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin.
Porcelain Basin is barren of trees and provides a sensory experience in sound, color, and smell. A 3/4-mile trail and boardwalk trail provide easy access. Back Basin is more heavily wooded with features scattered throughout the area. A 1.5-mile series of trails and boardwalks encircles this part of the basin. Make sure to see Steamboat Geyser, the tallest geyser in the world with eruptions up to 400 feet high.
Park in the Norris Geysers parking lot and walk north for Porcelain Basin or walk south for Back Basin.
Drive north from Norris and you will come to Sheepeater Cliffs, which are a series of exposed cliffs made up of columnar basalt. The lava was deposited about 500,000 years ago during one of the periodic basaltic floods in Yellowstone Caldera, and later exposed by the Gardner River.
Park in the Sheepeater Cliffs parking lot and you’ll see the cliffs right in front of you.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Continue north and the next stop will be Mammoth Hot Springs. The springs formed when, over thousands of years, hot mineral rich water bubbled up and formed layered pools and waterfalls. There are upper and lower terraces to explore.
There are parking lots on Grand Loop Road and on Upper Terrace Loop Drive.
Follow Grand Loop Drive as it curls east, and the next major attraction is Tower Fall. The falls can only be seen from just outside the car park, but there’s a nice hike leading down to the river if you have time. Be prepared to stop for a ‘natural traffic jam’ where the roads fill with bison or elk adding to the drive time.
There is a large parking lot at Tower General Store and from there it’s just a short walk to the top of the trail leading down to the falls.
“Lower Loop” Sights
Here is our suggested itinerary for touring the Lower Loop, starting in Norris and driving counter-clockwise on “Grand Loop Road”.
Your first stop will be the Artist Paintpots. The name comes from the vibrant coloured pools of water that look like an artist has swirled watercolour paint in the ponds. Nearby is the “Blood Geyser” which spews a red fluid that may look like blood!
Park in the Artist Paintpots parking lot on the east side of the road and from there you have a short hike to the paintpots and Blood Geyser.
Keep driving south and your next stop should be Gibbon Falls. This is a beautiful, fan-shaped waterfall with an 84 foot drop.
There is a large parking lot on the east side of the road which is just a short walk from the overlook.
Lower Geyser Basin and Fountain Paint Pot
Continue south on Grand Loop Drive, making the left turn at Madison. Your next stop will be the “Lower Geyser Basin”, where the main feature are the “Fountain Paint Pots”. This basin has fumaroles, geysers, hot springs, and mudpots. Here you’ll see Fountain Paint Pot, Jelly Geyser, Fountain Geyser, Red Spouter and more.
Park in the “Fountain Paint Pot Trail” parking lot and follow the circular trail and boardwalk around the basin.
Firehole Lake Drive
When you exit the “Fountain Paint Pot Trail” parking lot, instead of returning to Grand Loop Drive, take Firehole Lake Drive. This detour will take you off the Grand Loop briefly, then circle around to rejoin the main road.
You can just drive around Firehole Lake Drive, or if you’d like to stop the car and wander around, there is a small parking lot at the easternmost end of Firehole Lake Drive. From the parking lot, there are boardwalks on both sides of the road. Walk east to see Firehole Lake and Artesia Geyser or walk west to see Hot Lake and Bead Geyser. Keep driving and you will see another small parking lot where you can see Great Fountain Geyser.
Midway Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic Spring
Returning to Grand Loop Drive, continue south and you’ll soon be at the Midway Geyser Basin, home to perhaps the most photographed hot spring: Grand Prismatic Spring. Next to Grand Prismatic Spring is the massive steaming crater of Excelsior Geyser, which back in the late 1800s was still erupting over 300 feet (91 m) into the air. Today, Excelsior Geyser is considered dormant.
Park in the “Grand Prismatic Spring” parking lot.
Biscuit Basin and Mystic Falls
Continue south and you’ll arrive at Biscuit Basin. Park the car and cross the Firehole River pedestrian bridge to see Sapphire Pool, Black Opal Pool, Jewel Geyser, Black Pearl Geyser, and a number of other cool features. You can also hike to Mystic Falls, which is just a short, easy walk. Look for the trailhead at the end of the boardwalk.
From the same parking lot, if you cross Grand Loop Drive you will see the start of the Artemisia Trail which will take you to Cauliflower Geyser, Mirror Pool, and Biscuit Basin.
Old Faithful Geyser, Upper Geyser Basin, and Old Faithful Inn
Continue driving south and the next stop is Old Faithful! This is the iconic attraction in Yellowstone and always draws large crowds. Old Faithful is a cone geyser, named in 1870 during the Washburn–Langford–Doane Expedition and was the first geyser in the park to be named. It is a highly predictable geothermal feature and has erupted every 44 minutes to two hours since 2000. Eruption height ranges from 106 to 185 feet and lasts 290 seconds.
The Upper Geyser Basin is home to the largest numbers of this geysers in Yellowstone. Within one square mile there are at least 150 of these hydrothermal wonders. Of this remarkable number, only five major geysers are predicted regularly by the naturalist staff. They are Castle, Grand, Daisy, Riverside, and Old Faithful. Other highlights in this basin include Solitary Geyser, Observation Point, Morning Glory Pool, Grand Geyser, and Castle Geyser.
The lodge itself is also worth a look. The Old Faithful Inn was designed by Robert C. Reamer, who wanted the asymmetry of the building to reflect the chaos of nature. It was built during the winter of 1903–1904. The Old Faithful Inn is one of the few remaining log hotels in the United States. It is a masterpiece of rustic architecture in its stylized design and fine craftsmanship. Its influence on American architecture, particularly park architecture, was immeasurable. The building is a rustic log and wood-frame structure with gigantic proportions: nearly 700 feet in length and seven stories high. The lobby of the hotel features a 65 foot ceiling, a massive rhyolite fireplace, and railings made of contorted lodgepole pine. Stand in the lobby and look up at the exposed structure, or walk up a gnarled log staircase to one of the balconies. Wings were added to the hotel in 1915 and 1927, and today there are 327 rooms available to guests in this National Historic Landmark.
There are large parking lots just south of Old Faithful, just walk north to see Old Faithful Geyser, Inn, and the rest of the Upper Basin.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Continue south on Grand Loop Drive and the road will begin to loop around to the east and then to the north. It’s a long drive to the next (and final) attraction which is called the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”. The canyon is approximately 24 miles long, between 800 and 1,200 feet deep, and as much as 3/4 of a mile wide.
The main attractions here are two beautiful waterfalls. The 109-foot Upper Falls can be seen from the Brink of the Upper Falls Trail and from Uncle Tom’s Trail. The 308-foot Lower Falls can be seen from Lookout Point, Red Rock Point, Artist Point, Brink of the Lower Falls Trail, and from various points on the South Rim Trail.
There are parking lots on both the north and south sides of the canyon, and we suggest you park in both of them. From the parking lot on South Rim Trail you can hike Uncle Tom’s Trail and get great views of the Upper Falls. From the lot on North Rim Trail you can walk to Lower Lookout Point and Inspiration Point for more spectacular views.
For more information, click here: https://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm
When to Go
The most popular months to visit this area are July and August, when the weather is ideal and children are out of school. You can expect large crowds at all of the popular tourist spots, and sold out hotels in the summer.
The spring and fall (April thru June, and September thru October) will still see nice weather, although people who aren’t used to cold climates may find the evenings to be uncomfortable cool. The crowds will be much smaller, and you should find it easier to get hotel accommodations, especially in Yellowstone’s very popular lodges.
If you visit this region in the winter (November thru March), be prepared for cold days and nights, and snow for much of the season. Many of the tourist attractions, hotels, and even some of the roads will be closed during the winter.
There is a very popular motorcycle rally at Sturgis, South Dakota every summer. The rally draws tens of thousands of motorcyclists. Some people love it, while others would prefer to be somewhere else! For more information, click here: https://www.sturgismotorcyclerally.com
Where to Stay
For the first part of this road trip, we recommend staying in Rapid City, South Dakota and using your hotel as a base for day trips to all of the sights and attractions. There are many hotels next to Interstate 90 which will make to quick and easy to drive around the region.
For the drive to Yellowstone, you will be driving on Interstate 90 west until you reach Wyoming State Highway 14, which will take you to Cody. You will find hotels in the cities along the way, including Sundance, Gillette, Buffalo, and Sheridan.
For the final leg to Yellowstone on Highway 14, you’ll find hotels in Greybull and Cody.
Yellowstone National Park Lodges operates nine lodges (hotel- and cabin-style) in the park with more than 2,000 rooms. All are open from late spring through fall, but only two are open in the winter: Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.
Lodges inside Yellowstone
- Canyon Lodge and Cabins: 400+ guest rooms spread across 5 hotel-style lodges, with 100+ cabins being more rustic accommodations.
- Grant Village Lodge: 300 guest rooms spread across 6 two-story, hotel-style lodges.
- Lake Hotel and Cabins: Large lodge that has hotel room-style and cabin accommodations.
- Lake Lodge Cabins: 186 cabins.
- Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins: Large lodge that has hotel room-style and cabin accommodations.
- Old Faithful Inn: Rustic lodge with hotel room-style accommodations.
- Old Faithful Lodge: Cabin accommodations.
- Old Faithful Snow Lodge: Large lodge that has hotel room-style and cabin accommodations.
- Roosevelt Lodge: Cabin accommodations.
Staying outside Yellowstone
If there are no spaces available at the lodges, you can always stay in a hotel just outside the park. At the North Gate, there are hotels in the towns of Gardner, Electric, and Corwin Springs. At the East Gate, there are hotels in the town of Wapiti and along Highway 14 leading into the park. At the West Gate, there are a lot of hotels in the town of West Yellowstone. At the South Entrance, there are a few hotels on Highway 191 which is also the road to Grand Teton National Park.
Heading Home / Wrapping Up
From Yellowstone, drive north to Bozeman, Montana for your flight home. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this once-in-a-lifetime road trip!