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.
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|
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!