Rocky Mountain National Park to Yellowstone Road Trip

See wildlife and natural wonders on this Rocky Mountain to Yellowstone road trip starting in Denver.

Photo: Jeff Stephenson

See some of the West’s most incredible national parks on this road trip from Rocky Mountain National Park to Yellowstone. From microscopic, heat-loving bacteria that turns Yellowstone’s hot springs into colorful pools and tiny pikas that are warning signs of climate change to mighty elk, bison and wolves, this road trip is full of incredible wildlife that showcase just how diverse the states of Colorado and Wyoming are.

Start in Denver before heading north to Rocky Mountain National Park. If you hike a trail above treeline, you might spot a critter described as a “furry russet potato.” Plus you’ll learn how pikas are being studied using citizen science. From the park, cross over into Wyoming where the university town of Laramie awaits with a great craft beer scene and beautiful outdoor recreation. Don’t miss driving over the Snowy Range Scenic Byway to Saratoga where hot springs hint at what’s to come in Yellowstone. Lucky for you, you can actually soak in these waters.

Steam rising from the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone
Steam rising from the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone (Photo: NPS/Jim Peaco)

Farther north lie Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, which make up a large portion of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. It’s one of the biggest nearly-intact temperate ecosystems in the world and is home to abundant wildlife, from ungulates like elk, moose, bison and pronghorn to predators like wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions.

After exploring both parks, point your wheels back south where you can spend time in the classic Western town of Cheyenne. Home to the world class Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo, you can check out animals like horses and bulls. Back across the border in Colorado, get to know the state’s prairies with a surprising arts scene in Greeley and the stunning Pawnee National Grassland near Fort Morgan.

This is one road trip you won’t want to forget your camera on.

Road Trip Map

Start: Denver

A Denver Local’s Perfect Day in the Mile High
As more and more people discover how great Colorado is, my childhood friends and I joke that we’re unicorns, having been born and raised in the Denver area. There’s nowhere I can make recommendations on with quite as much authority as Denver.

Rocky Mountain National Park

An elk grazes in Rocky Mountain National Park near the Fall River Entrance
An elk grazes in Rocky Mountain National Park near the Fall River Entrance (Photo: Tina Stocker)

48 Hours in Rocky Mountain National Park
Only have 48 hours? Make the most of your time by following our itinerary covering both sides of the park.

When the Fridge Gets Warm
I joined a citizen science project to count pikas in Rocky Mountain National Park and it gave me hope for the future.

2-Day Eco-Friendly Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary
We’ve put together ideas for a two-day vacation to help you become a more sustainable traveler.

GuideAlong Audio Driving Tour
Download the Rocky Mountain National Park tour app that’s like having a tour guide in your car. GuideAlong automatically plays interesting and entertaining commentary as you go.

Southern Wyoming Outposts

Sunrise on Wyoming's Snowy Range Scenic Byway near Laramie
Sunrise on Wyoming’s Snowy Range Scenic Byway (Photo: Albany County Tourism Board/Laramie Area Visitor Center)

Laramie’s Top 6
Located on the edge of the Snowy Mountain Range, Laramie has a ton of outdoor and cultural attractions for travelers from great microbrews to uncrowded alpine hikes. Here are the top things to do.

Nature’s Medicine in Carbon County
Drive the 29-mile Snowy Range Scenic Byway to two different hot springs experiences, rustic towns and classic cuisine.

Grand Teton National Park

Tetons in the early morning at Schwabachers Landing in Grand Teton National Park
Tetons in the early morning at Schwabachers Landing in Grand Teton National Park (Photo: Cecil Hicks)

It took more than 30 years for Grand Teton National Park to transform from an idea to one of the country’s most stunning parks. When Congress created the park in 1929, it only included the Teton Range and six glacial lakes. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., played a key role in acquiring an additional 35,000 acres for the park under the name “Snake River Land Co.” Amid controversy the “new” Grand Teton National Park was established Sept. 14, 1950, by President Harry Truman.

With Jenny Lake and Jackson Lake at 6,320 feet and the summit of the Grand Teton at 13,770 feet, the park’s elevation ranges create one of the nation’s most awe-inspiring landscapes. Experience this majestic park by hiking, boating, wildlife-watching, rock climbing and fishing. The park’s southern end stretches a few miles short of Jackson, Wyo., a vibrant mountain town full of high-end boutiques, great restaurants and hotels for a range of budgets.

Read more about Grand Teton National Park on our website

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone's Great Fountain Geyser at sunset.
Yellowstone’s Great Fountain Geyser at sunset. (Photo: iStock)

Just a few miles along the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Parkway is Yellowstone National Park’s south entrance.

If it weren’t for an artist and a photographer, Yellowstone National Park might never have become the world’s first national park in 1872. For years rugged explorers returned from the Yellowstone region with stories of a strange landscape dotted with steaming pools. In 1871 artist Thomas Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson joined a 40-day geological survey in the area. Their paintings and photos helped inspire Congress and President Grant to create the park.

Yellowstone is a large park; it’s hard to even skim its attractions in one day. We recommend two days to a week.

Read more on our Yellowstone website

The New West

Capitol Cowboy Adventures in Cheyenne, Wyoming
In Cheyenne, Wyoming, two worlds collide. Experience the Old West on a train ride through a bison farm and at a famous rodeo. But the new West holds its own with exploding music and culinary scenes.

Plains, Trains and Art in Greeley, Colorado
This unexpected cultural oasis on Colorado’s eastern plains is undergoing a renaissance. Immerse yourself at several yearly events that draw music lovers from across the country and browse the public art on display.

Colorado Grasslands

Pawnee Buttes National Grassland near Fort Morgan-Morgan County, Colorado
Pawnee Buttes National Grassland near Fort Morgan-Morgan County, Colorado (Photo: Courtesy of Morgan County)

A Butte-iful Stop in Morgan County
Explore the buttes at Pawnee National Grassland or make a splash at Jackson Lake State Park near these historic farming towns on the Colorado plains.

Pat Craig’s Wild Idea of an Animal Sanctuary near Denver
Thirty-seven years ago, Pat Craig had an audacious idea to rescue exotic animals living in inhumane conditions in the United States. Today, you can visit more than 750 rescued tigers, wolves, bears and lions at The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado.

End: Denver, Colorado