I first became captivated by Yellowstone watching a BBC documentary.  It charted the dramatic seasonal changes to the park’s ecosystem, including majestic elk migrations,  hibernating bears, and the ever-changing foliage.  Animals fought the harsh perils of winter.  Not all survived.  The geothermal landscape struck me as hostile and wild.  With a land mass larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined, and sitting on top of a super-volcano thought powerful enough to cover the continental US in ash, Yellowstone sky-rocketed to the top of my bucket list.  But America’s first National Park is not the most convenient place to reach from the UK, so we put it on hold until we had the time to take a big trip.

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The rainbow-hued Grand Prismatic Spring is Yellowstone’s largest hot springs

Our chance finally arrived in September 2015.  In-between jobs we took 21 days to explore a chunk of the wild west, flying into the mountain town of Bozeman Montana via Denver.

Our plan was long but simple.  Hiring a car and beginning with Yellowstone, our route to Vegas would transport us south through 5 National Parks, 3 State Parks, and a National Monument.  It would span 4 states – technically 5 but I’m not counting Idaho’s 44 miles – with most of the driving distance concentrated in Utah.  We would stick to the scenic, off-beat roads wherever possible, aiming to avoid the dreaded interstates at all costs.  Thanks to the ever-changing scenery and epic natural wonders dotted along almost the entirety of the drive, I can truly say this trip was the most memorable, completely awesome of all time.  I only wish we had longer.  I thought I’d share our itinerary along with some highlights for anyone hoping to visit this part of the US.

The High-level Itinerary

Day(s) Key Locations Rough Driving Route
1 Bozeman to Gardiner – Yellowstone North Entrance I-90 & US–89
2-4 Yellowstone N. Park Mainly Grand Loop Rd
5-6 Grand Teton N. Park US-20, US–191/ US–287, Teton Park Rd
7 Jackson, WY [via Mormon Row] Teton Park Rd, Moose Wilson Rd, US-26, Antelope Flats Rd, Mormon Row, Gros Ventre Rd
8 Logan, UT US-26 & US-89
9-10 Salt Lake City [+ side-trip to Cottonwood Canyon] US-89
11 Richfield, UT [Via Park City] UT-224 [Guardsmen Pass Scenic Byway], US-189 and US-89, UT-24 & UT-118
12-13 Bryce Canyon N. Park [Via Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument & Capital Reef N. Park] UT-119, UT-24 [short detour], UT-12 [Scenic Byway 12]
14-17 Springdale, UT – Zion N. Park UT-12, US-89 S & UT-9
18-21 Vegas [Via Valley of Fire S. Park] UT-9, I-15, NV–169 & I-15S
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Map created on Roadtrippers
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Catching views of the mighty Yellowstone Canyon from North & South rims
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The view from the Fairy Falls trail – after a brief scramble up an adjacent hill
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Staying for 2 nights in the historic Yellowstone Lake Lodge the animals came to us
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Making it to Yellowstone sights early and having them to ourselves: West Thumb Geyser
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The Colter Bay Nature trail, giving us this screen-saver worthy view of the Tetons
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When a lone elk crossed our path on the String & Leigh Lakes trail releasing an echoing cry
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Watching the sun go down from the bar of Jackson lake Lodge

 

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Catching these frisky moose at it whilst driving near Jackson Hole
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White Water rafting on the Snake River: FREEZING but beautiful

 

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Taking a bike tour of Sat Lake City and learning all about this quirky place

 

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Hiking in Big Cottonwood Canyon outside SLC where we saw even more moose

 

 

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The scenic overlooks of Bryce Canyon

 

 

 

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Attempting to reach the top of Angels Landing in Zion [before loosing my nerve!]
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Meeting friends in Vegas

 

A parting word of advice:  A week before our trip commenced I was glancing over the Yellowstone N.P website and discovered – to my horror – that a section of the grand loop road (the only road through the park) would be closed for construction works during our visit.  This changed some of our plans and might be the reason why our route looks a little disjointed.  I would recommend checking out this kind of information on the park’s website long in advance – ops!

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Regional View of Yellowstone & Grand Teton Parks. [Click on map for detailed park maps]
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Channeling my inner park ranger

 

 I hope to write some separate posts containing more details once I get around to sorting out the hundreds of photos!

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