If you live in Denver and want to venture out to one of the most stunning nature parks in the world or if you're visiting and planning the drive, Yellowstone National Park is a great place to go from Denver.
The road trip from Denver to Yellowstone will take a whole day and take you along some beautiful roads. With over 8 hours of pure driving, you will want to set off early and make headway during the morning.
If you're travelling with young children or don't want to spend the whole day in the car, a stop along the way will help break up the long drive.
To help you with your planning, here is our complete guide for going on a road trip from Denver to Yellowstone.
Yellowstone National Park is 510 to 545 miles from Denver depending on the route you take and the direction from which you enter the park.
The journey takes 8 hours 30 minutes before you account for stops for gas and food. You will want to fill up before you enter the park and you really should stretch your legs at least a couple of times on the way so it is best to allow at least 10 hours to make the drive.
You could do it in one day - setting off early means you can get to Yellowstone and find your accommodation before sunset.
However, given the length of the drive, you might choose to stop over on the way. That way you can be more relaxed on your drive and not rush to make it in time to set up your tent or check into your lodge.
Driving is your only real option for getting from Denver to Yellowstone. Amtrak trains don't go anywhere near Yellowstone so will not be of help. You can only get indirect flights to Yellowstone from Denver which will not only cost quite a lot (especially for a family) but also involve making connections and still take the best part of your day.
You could fly to Jackson, the airport for the famous Jackson Hole skiing area, and drive up to Yellowstone but that still involves getting to the airport, running around with your luggage and then driving the hire car an hour and a half to get to Yellowstone from Jackson - hardly any time saving with a whole lot of extra hassle.
There are two main routes you can take on your way from Denver to Yellowstone. They both start off by heading north from Denver along the I-25 to Fort Collins. The split happens just after the hour mark.
The faster and more scenic route will take exit 271 for Mountain Vista Drive. After you drive across to Terry Lake you will join U.S. Route 287 which will take you all the way to the Yellowstone National Park South Entrance on US-191. You can take a shortcut along the I-80 from Laramie to Rawlins to speed up your progress.
The alternative is to carry on along the I-25 past Fort Collins and follow it all the way into Casper. From Casper, follow U.S. Route 20 all the way to the Eastern Entrance of the Yellowstone National Park. Your route will follow along U.S. Route 26 and Wyoming Highway 120 before heading into the park.
|Route 1||Route 2|
|Driving time||8 hours 30 minutes||8 hours 45 minutes|
|Best for||Scenery & wilderness||Better roads & stopping points|
|Yellowstone Approach||South Entrance||East Entrance|
The first route is the most direct, fastest way from Denver to Yellowstone (only by 20 minutes or so) and has better scenery along the way. The second passes through a few bigger cities and has longer stretches of Interstate.
Route 1 has the advantage of driving past the Shoshone National Forest and passing between the Grand Teton National Park and the Bridger-Teton National Forest on the way to Yellowstone. Along with the drive around Jackson Lake, this has got to be one of the most stunning drives in the United States.
From a practicality perspective, the major difference between the two routes is the direction from which you enter the park. Depending on your itinerary and place you want to stay/start your trip to Yellowstone from, one might be better than the other.
If you plan on breaking up the long drive, you'll need to find somewhere to stop for the night on the way.
Even if you're camping when you get to Yellowstone, you might not want to set up camp after a few hours on the road just to sleep one night - staying in a hotel will be a much more relaxing option.
The towns of Laramie and Cheyenne are both good options if you want to set off in the evening after work. It will take you 1 hour 45 minutes or 2 hours 30 minutes respectively to get there, shaving off a lot of the drive time for the following day.
Cheyenne is the state capital and so has a few interesting sights to see.
For those who want to split the drive into two equal days, your best bets are Rawlins and Casper depending on the route you choose. You can take a detour through Saratoga which is very pretty in the summer - head west from Denver to the Aparaho and Roosevelt National Forests and take U.S. Route 40 & Highway 125 north.
Another good idea is to do the majority of the drive from Denver on day 1 and then enter the park in the morning of the second day. That way you will get there ahead of the crowds, beat the queues and make the most of your first day in Yellowstone.
If that strategy sounds good, plan to stay in Jackson or Cody depending on your route. Jackson is a scenic town and has a lot of fantastic hotels. Cody on the east side of Yellowstone is also an amazing city to stop at and has a lot of things to do if you want to spend more time.
The best time to go on a road trip from Denver to Yellowstone is from June to September. A lot of people will tell you to go in spring or fall to avoid the crowds, but the weather in Yellowstone in April and October can be chilly.
The park is huge so even during the peak season, you won't be overwhelmed by crowds of hikers everywhere you go.
Beware that if you choose to go during the winter, all the roads leading into and inside the park will be closed. You can get to the edges of the park and stay in the Grand Teton National Park or head to the west and stay in the Island Park valley (amazing to visit in its own right).
You will need to rent snowmobiles or find other ways to get into the park from there. Some cabins and hotels around Mammoth Hot Springs are open through the winter season, but not much else will be. You might see more wildlife as animals come down from the mountains to the warmer plains below, but overall summer stays are a lot better.
Remember that even if you go at the height of summer, the weather in Yellowstone can swing massively - bring warm layers with you.
Some of the best things to see en route to Yellowstone are further along the route as you get closer to the park.
If you're taking Route 1, you will pass through some stunning scenery just before you get to the park - the Grand Teton National Park is popular with skiers in the winter - Jackson Hole is one of the most popular ski resorts in the country.
Surprisingly, the tall snow-covered peaks, valleys, lakes and a National Elk Refuge are often missed by summer visitors in favour of going to Yellowstone up the road.
Route 1 also passes through the large Wind River Reservation in central Wyoming. The Shoshone and Arapaho Native American tribes live on the reservation and U.S. Route 20 runs right across it.
The long drive from the Colorado-Wyoming border to the edge of the National Parks will pass along large plateaus and a lot of empty back country. There won't be many places to stop and see on the way other than a few mining towns in Carbon County with Rawlins the biggest in the area.
Route 2 passes through the city of Casper. There is the Platte river that meanders through the city, museums, cafes and a selection of restaurants which are perfect for a midway stop.
There are two clear ways to enter Yellowstone National Park on your way over from Denver - the South and the East Entrances. The other three entrances are on the north and west sides of the park.
There isn't too much difference between the two entrances - both allow you to get everywhere in the park and both lead to Yellowstone Lake.
However, if you're headed to the west side of Yellowstone - to Madison, West Yellowstone and Old Faithful, this is the better entrance to take. Also if you're stopping on the west side of Yellowstone Lake in West Thumb or Grant Village, the south entrance will take you right there.
If you're headed to the loop around the north of the park and see some of the taller peaks and Mammoth Lakes, coming in from the east might work better.
An alternative way in is to follow Route 1 to Jackson and then loop around towards Island Park and enter from West Yellowstone in Montana.
It's a longer route and definitely is less scenic, but it will get you to the west and northwest parts of the park the quickest.