Iconic national forests, unique scenery, and quaint mountain towns await those who adventure from the Mile High City into the heart of Yellowstone National Park.
The most direct route from Denver to Yellowstone National Park travels just over 500 miles which takes roughly 8-9 hours to drive. However, it also brings you through some of the most boring parts of the Rocky Mountain West. There are a few good places to stop if you take the most direct route like Fort Collins and Cheyenne, but there is a better road trip to take.
Trust me: After living in Colorado for a handful of years, I’ve learned this the hard way!
Although it might take longer, heading west from Denver first brings road trippers on some of the most beautiful landscapes the country has to offer. The route suggested below will take you over four hours longer than the most direct one but it’s well worth the trouble. Let me show you why.
Denver to Yellowstone National Park Road Trip Section by Section
You won’t regret taking the more scenic route when you leave behind the Denver trails and skyline and head west for mountains, national forest, and more.
This grand adventure to one of the country’s most beautiful national park includes:
- Over 700 miles
- Almost 13 hours of driving
- Two national parks
- One national monument
- One national recreation area
- Endless unique landscapes
Your journey will begin at Denver International Airport (or DIA as the locals call it). You can see the complete route on Google Maps and follow along as you read our guide below. If you do the entirety of the trip (not including the side trips), it will take around four days to complete. However, if you don’t want to miss a thing and are ready for all the main and side adventures, it’ll take you upwards of eight to nine days to finish. There is no wrong answer to what you choose and don’t choose to do – just relax and enjoy the incredible beauty.
Segment 1: Denver to Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Distance: 180 miles
Drive time without stops: 2 hours and 50 minutes
This first leg of the journey to Yellowstone takes you only a few hours from Denver. The reason Glenwood Springs is a good place to stop is because there is so much to do on this little leg of the trip that you’ll need to take it all in.
Segment 1 Highlight: Grab a beverage in Georgetown, Colorado
It might only be about an hour from Denver, but Georgetown is one of the cutest towns in the state so it would be wrong not to stop. It’s just off I-70 as you make your way west and provides a quick detour to get out any last-minute wiggles before your road trip.
If you’ve left early in the morning from Denver, grab a coffee at Georgetown Coffee and Tea. Their atrium is a perfect place to sit down and enjoy a cup of joe before getting back in the car. After coffee, walk along 6th Street to window shop or pop in to grab some souvenirs to remember your trip. If you left Denver after work and make it to Georgetown mid-afternoon, feel free to pop into Guanella Pass Brewery for a quick pint before walking around downtown.
Segment 1 Highlight: Hike to Hanging Lake
Once you’re back in the car, you’ll head west on I-70 for another hour and forty-five minutes of driving. This is one of the most scenic drives along I-70 as you snake your way through Glenwood Canyon. Steep cliffs tower over both sides of the highway which runs along the Colorado River. This area can get quite backed up with traffic depending on the time of day you go because speed limits are reduced due to the curving nature of the road. It’s also an area that has frequent rock and mud slides so there is a chance the road can be closed during your trip.
Before you head into Glenwood Springs, though, hike the famous trail up to Hanging Lake. Reservations are required and parking is only available going east on I-70. This means you’ll have to go past the parking lot traveling on I-70 west and backtrack to get to the trailhead parking lot by getting onto I-70 east. Once there, the trail to Hanging Lake is short and steep. Take heed especially during inclement weather and turn around if you need to. Once you make it to the top, you’ll be rewarded with a magical teal pool clear as day with trickles of water coming off the cliff.
Segment 1 Side Trip: Ride a 4×4 or hike to Crystal Mill
About an hour south of Glenwood Springs lies the small town of Marble. Named after the bedrock that was mined there, Marble is a quiet and sleep community with banging barbecue and epic outdoor experiences.
Crystal Millsits along a rugged, dirt and rock-ridden road about six miles from the town center. Some choose to hike it, but it’s a long slog on a forest road with vehicles smoking by you. There are also Jeep tours available. I suggest renting an ATV from RPS rentals (the only one in town) and take a leisurely ride out to the mill. It’s especially beautiful in the fall with the golden aspens and snow-topped mountains in the background.
Segment 1 Where to Stay: Glenwood Springs, Colorado
There are several different places you could rest your head before the longer leg of your journey the following day. If you want to have easy access to the hot springs that the town is named after, look no further than Glenwood Hot Springs Resort. The hotel boasts the largest hot springs swimming pool in the world and you’ll get unlimited access to it if you stay there.
Segment 2: Glenwood Springs, CO to Vernal, Utah
Distance: 170 miles
Drive time without stops: 3 hours and 10 minutes
This next segment gets you off I-70 and on some less-traveled paths. The road travels through the heart of White River National Forest and spits you out onto the dusty desert roads of western Colorado and eastern Utah.
Segment 2 Highlight: Walk the path of dinosaurs
You’re only on I-70 for about 25 miles before you get off the exit at Rifle and head north on Route 13. These backcountry roads traverse through sagebrush hills and past dozens of working ranches. You’ll eventually cross over into Utah where your first stop will be Dinosaur National Monument. If you explore the Monument on the Colorado side, it’s mostly deep canyons and ravines that are far from most roads. The Utah side holds all the dinosaur tracks and is where you should set your sights on.
The best part of the Monument (and easiest part to access) is Dinosaur Quarry. This also happens to be where the Visitor Center resides. Make sure to have directions readily available since if you type the Monument into your GPS system, it’ll put you in the middle of the park far away from your intended destination. The Quarry has approximately 1,500 dinosaur bones that visitors can easily view along the Exhibit Hall. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can head out on a hike to several spots including Hog and Box Canyon, Fossil Discovery Trail, and the Sound of Silence Trail. Or take a scenic drive to Gates of Lodore or Tilted Rocks.
Segment 2 Highlight: Get your creative juices flowing at Fantasy Canyon
Have you ever dreamed of being plucked out of reality and into a fantastical story that you’ve just read? No? Just me? In case life is getting the best of you and you need to escape from your real life, consider stopping at Fantasy Canyon. Although it’s 40 miles south of Vernal, don’t let the mileage steer you away from this gem.
It has one of the most unique landscapes that seems to change the more you walk around this loop. Some of the otherworldly geography looks like mini badlands complete with multi-colored hills. Other parts give a more medieval castle vibe with naturally weathered sandstone monoliths that look as if the rock is melting. It’s truly something you have never seen before.
Segment 2 Side Trip: Taste the famous Palisade peaches
Before getting off I-70 to make your way north, consider staying on the highway to reach Palisade. This lush valley is known for its rich soil that allows farmers to grow grapes and peaches the region is famous for. Peach season usually occurs in August with a large, annual festival every late August. You haven’t truly lived until you’ve tasted one of these exquisite fruits.
Segment 2 Where to Stay: Vernal, Utah
Vernal is full of unique places to stay no matter your budget. Stay at the adorable and low-cost Dinosaur Inn (complete with a brontosaurus statue). For more luxury, opt for the beautiful Ledgestone Hotel where rooms are spacious and contemporary. If you’re looking for something even more private, grab a reservation at this cozy cottage or this very unique converted silo.
Segment 3: Vernal, Utah to Pinedale, Wyoming
Distance: 210 miles
Drive time without stops: 3 hours and 30 minutes
The next leg of your journey passes through more desert and sagebrush-coated landscapes. It’s also when you finally reach your final state: Wyoming. During this segment, you’ll get a taste for the west with dozens of ranches and cowboys riding horses along the roads you travel. Stop by the dozens of farm stands along the way and enjoy the views.
Segment 3 Highlight: Take a boat out on Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area
Named after the vibrant red canyon walls that flank the reservoir, Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area should not be missed. The road you take to head north towards Wyoming skirts you just east of the area. You should definitely stop and, at the very least, take some photos. But there are tons of activities to take part in while you’re there.
You can choose from fishing (both on the shore and on a boat), boating (bring your own or rent), kayaking, and so much more. You can extend your road trip if you want to recreate more in this area. Campgrounds are dispersed along the 360 miles of shoreline as well as a few tons offering places to rest your head.
Segment 3 Side Trip: Hike to the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range
Listen, this is a big ask for this road trip but one that I don’t suggest lightly. The backpacking in the Wind River Range is incredible, and the trek to the Cirque of the Towers is one of the most beautiful mountain destinations in the country. It’s very well-known through the rock-climbing community, but you don’t have to love that sport to experience the beauty of this hike. Most don’t know that you can day hike to the Cirque of the Towers which requires way less gear and an easier time on the trail. You don’t need permits or reservations to day hike or camp overnight within this section of the Wind River Mountain Range.
Segment 3 Where to Stay: Pinedale, Wyoming
Pinedale is one of the smaller towns along your journey to Yellowstone but still chock full of quaint and beautiful inns and hotels. Pick from the Best Western Pinedale Inn or Hampton Inn and Suites where you’ll get typical hotel amenities and comforts. Or opt to stay in a converted barn like this one for a cozier vibe.
Segment 4: Pinedale to Yellowstone National Park
Distance: 135 miles
Drive time without stops: 2 hours and 40 minutes
The last day of your journey brings you straight into the western part of Wyoming and into the state’s signature national park. You’ll drive through Grand Teton National Park and the glitzy, vacation town of Jackson Hole.
Segment 4 Highlight: Get yourself a cowboy hat in Jackson, Wyoming
There is no shortage of cowboy shops within the city of Jackson’s borders. A good choice is the Jackson Hole Hat Company where I proudly bought a hat 13 years ago and still wear today. For the most elegant hats, head to Encounter Hat Co. If I was to buy another hat in the area, I’d pick JW Bennett. This female-owned and operated company prides itself on crafting high-quality hats for any type of personality. The hats have a whimsy and magic to them that I have yet to see with any other company.
Segment 4 Highlight: Take in the views of Grand Teton National Park
You can’t really go wrong with any of the places you stop along the road as you leave Jackson and head up to Yellowstone National Park. But I’d argue each one of the pull-offs within Grand Teton National Park gives a different view of the aforementioned mountains. So give yourself plenty of time to drive (and stop) along this section of the road before you end your journey in Yellowstone.
There are a few scenic drives within the park other than the main road that brings you to its northern national park neighbor. You can also choose to stop for a long while and hike to some incredible places like Taggart Lake, Aspen Ridge to Boulder Ridge, and Death Canyon.
Segment 4 Highlight: Take a hike in Yellowstone National Park
You’ll want to stay a few days in this area so you can soak in all the views of Yellowstone National Park. There are several areas to the Park and always allow extra time to travel from section to section. The speed limits at Yellowstone on average are lower due to the massive number of tourists as well as the myriad of wildlife seen throughout the Park.
The park is comprised of two loops – the Lower and Upper Loop – which make up the Grand Loop. The Upper (and northern) Loop includes Mammoth Hot Springs, Roosevelt Lodge, and Obsidian Cliff. The Lower Loop is much more popular and includes the majority of the geysers are including Old Faithful, Lone Star Geyser, Grand Prismatic Spring, Artist Paintpots, and Yellowstone Upper/Lower Falls.
Segment 4 Where to Stay:
Glamorous hotels, unique cabins, and beautiful bed and breakfasts are dispersed all throughout this region. The closer you get to Jackson Hole, the more likely the price of a hotel stay will go through the roof. Same goes for those wanting to stay within Yellowstone. But if you stay at any of the places within the Park you have the best (and earliest) access to the beauty that surrounds you. Old Faithful Inn provides some incredible views of its most famous geyser. While Roosevelt Lodge brings tourists away from the main attractions for some beloved peace and quiet.
If you want to rough it, there are several campgrounds you can choose from including Grant Village, Madison, Canyon, and Bridge Bay. Or opt to stay at a private residence outside the Park or one of the many glamping spots in the region.