Rockies Road Trip – The Ultimate Family 20-day Adventure

A USA Rockies Road Trip. The stuff dreams are made of. It has always been on the bucket list, particularly after our jaw-dropping trip to the Canadian Rockies. This time, we are going all out for the most amazing USA Rockies Holiday.

The dream I refer to is about to become a reality. In the summer of 2024, we are heading off to the USA Rockies, on a monster 2,000-mile, 20-day Road Trip.

Towering mountains, mirror smooth lakes. Moose, elks, bears and a plethora of other wildlife we can only hope to see. A family consisting of a 9-year-old, a dad who’s a photographer, and a mum who just loves to travel, this Rockies Road Trip will be one of the best we have ever taken! I am pretty certain there is going to be so much inspiration for great photographs.

Flights, Car Hire and Accommodation have all been booked by me. We earmarked destinations we wanted to see, and places of interest, and tried to get decent accommodation as close to all the hotspots that the books insisted we visit.

Below is our itinerary, routes, hotels and sights we are going to see.

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Rockies Road Trip Highlights

  • When: Summer 2024
  • Where: USA Rockies and around
  • Specifically: Colorado, South Dakota,
    Montana, Wyoming, Utah
  • How long: 20 nights
  • Trip highlights: Mount Rushmore, Cody, Yellowstone,
    Grand Teton, Aspen, Rocky National Park, Denver
  • Estimated miles: 2,000+ with detours
  • Ave cost per person: £2,200 (incl Flights, Car, Hotels)
  • Number of Hotels: 12

The Full Itinerary for our Rockies Holiday

Our Rockies Road Trip starts and finishes in Denver, Colorado. The highlights are Denver, then up to Mount Rushmore to explore. We then head West, spending a few days exploring Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Parks. We then head south, towards Vernal.

At Vernal, we turn East to head for Rocky Mountain National Park, via Glenwood Springs and Aspen. Our trip culminates back in the city of Denver.

Map created using Wanderlog, a trip planner app on iOS and Android

Day 1 – London to Denver (then on to Lovedale)

Estimated Driving Miles: 55 miles
Tonight’s Hotel: Microtel Inn & Suite, Lovedale

Day 1 starts with a rather civilised flight from London Heathrow, out to Denver International Airport. We then pick up our hire car, and head to Loveland, which is really just a place to crash after what will be a very long day.

We anticipate it being around 9pm when we get to this first hotel.

Day 2 – Lovedale to Custer

Estimated Driving Miles: 300+ miles
Tonight’s Hotel: Best Western Buffalo Ridge Inn

Today is our first big drive of our Rockies Holiday. We love making the most of the jet lag mornings.

Up usually before dawn. On the road by dawn, and most of our driving is done by lunchtime.

Around Custer State Park are things like Pigtail Bridge, Wildlife Loop Road and Sylvan Lake.

There is also the Needles Highway, which has the Needles Eye Tunnel to negotiate.

Day 3 – Custer to Lead, via Mount Rushmore

Estimated Driving Miles: 80
Tonight’s Hotel:
Hampton Inn, Lead

Today is largely spent exploring Mount Rushmore.

We expect to be up early again, and with a relatively short drive, we should be able to do all we want in and around Mount Rushmore.

On the way, we may go via Iron Mountain Road, and check out the Norbeck Overlook.

We then go onto Lead, for another stopover before heading East as our Rockies Road Trip continues.

Day 4 – Lead to Sheridan

Estimated Driving Miles: 250
Tonight’s Hotel: Comfort Inn & Suites Sheridan

Another long drive today, but we are sure to break it up with a few stops.

One of note will be Devils Tower National Monument and a visit to Devils Tower Gulch, a restaurant and a potential lunch stop after a visit to the tower. It will then be back on the road for the main leg of our trip to Sheridan.

Day 5 – Sheridan to Cody

Estimated Driving Miles: 170
Tonight’s Hotel: Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel

After a hopefully restful night, we hit the road again, with Yellowstone on the horizon, as our Rockies Holiday continues.

Before that though, we have a historical stop-off in Cody, home of Buffalo Bill.

Things to do today include Old Trail Town and the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West.

Rockies Road Trip

Day 6 – Cody to Gardiner

Estimated Driving Miles: 180
Tonight’s Hotel: Absaroka Lodge, Gardiner

Today, we visit one of the most anticipated stops on our entire Rockies Road Trip. Yellowstone National Park.

On the list are Lake Butte, Artist Point, Lower Falls, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and so much more.

It is our first of 3 days in this glorious park, and surely the start of some jaw-dropping highlights.

Day 7 – Gardiner to Canyon Village

Estimated Driving Miles: 117
Tonight’s Hotel: Canyon Lodge & Cabins, Yellowstone

Our second day exploring Yellowstone, and is expected to be the busiest, craziest day of our holiday in the Rockies.

Just a few items on the list are Norris Geyser Basin, Firehole River Swimming Area, Grand Prismatic Spring and of course the well-known Old Faithful!

But we also fully expect things to take longer than we think, due to crowds, cars, and endless the ‘Buffalo Jams’ we have read about!

Rockies Road Trip

Day 8 – Explore Yellowstone

Estimated Driving Miles: ??
Tonight’s Hotel: Canyon Lodge & Cabins, Yellowstone

Rockies Road Trip
Yellowstone Stock Photo

If all goes to plan, we would have seen (perhaps fleetingly) all the sights and wonders of this park we wanted to on our drives to our hotels on the previous two days.

However, we are fully expecting plans to change, new sights to see and delays on those first two days.

So, we do have a whole day to catch up on what we may have missed.

Day 9 – Yellowstone to Jackson

Estimated Driving Miles: 160
Tonight’s Hotel: Four Winds Motel, Jackson

We wave goodbye to Yellowstone National Park today, as our Rockies Road Trip head slightly south, and we have the grandeur of Gran Teton National Park to explore.

There are no fewer than 12 stop-offs to explore today, which include Jackson Lake, Snake River, Glacier View and Mormon Row.

We also have tomorrow to explore the park, so we hope we have enough time to see all the things we would like to!

Rockies Road Trip

Day 10 – Explore Grand Teton

Estimated Driving Miles: 65
Tonight’s Hotel: Four Winds Motel, Jackson

Rockies Road Trip
Grand Teton Stock Photo

We hope to have made a lot of stop-offs on our drive yesterday, but, this being Grand Teton, there are still lots more to see.

We will try and be up early to get to Jenny Lake, as we have heard this is a popular place to visit, and we would like to avoid the daily crowds.

Other highlights will include Teton Glacier, Taggart Lake, Moose Wilson Road, and we hope to finish the day at Jackson Winery.

Day 11 – Jackson to Pinedale

Estimated Driving Miles: 100
Tonight’s Hotel: Jackalope Motor Lodge, Pinedale

After the last couple of days, we feel we will need an easier day today, so it is a slow drive south. A more relaxing day as we rack up the miles on our holiday in the Rockies.

Pinedale is the chosen town for tonight’s stop, with just a couple of things to see on the way.

Granite Creek Hot Springs and an overlook at Fremont Lake are on the agenda, prior to reaching our motel in Pinedale.

Day 12 – Pinedale to Vernal

Estimated Driving Miles: 250
Tonight’s Hotel: Dinosaur Inn and Suites, Vernal

We continue South, before heading West, as we make our way back to Rocky National Park.

Our next stop is Vernal.

On the way, we may stop at Centennial Park, a recreation area with a playpark, and then Flaming Gorge Dam Overlook.

However, this is flexible as the drive today could be the best part of 5 hours. On arrival at Vernal, we want to check out the Dinosaur National Monument.

Day 13 – Vernal to Glenwood Springs

Estimated Driving Miles: 170
Tonight’s Hotel: Glenwood Springs Inn, Glenwood Springs

We leave Vernal, heading as East as we can, with Glenwood Springs as our next stop.

Glenwood Canyon, Glenwood Hot Springs and the Glenwood Caverns Gondola and Adventure Park are all on our list.

Time may be the deciding factor in what we do here.

Day 14 – Day Trip to Aspen

Estimated Driving Miles: 82
Tonight’s Hotel: Glenwood Springs Inn, Glenwood Springs

We have a day free here and no holiday in the Rockies can be complete without a trip to Aspen. Accommodation can be very expensive here, although more so in the winter months. In any case, we have decided to stay in Glenwood Springs and take a day trip to Aspen.

The Colorado Ski resort, in addition to the Ski scene, is also famous for luxury shopping and fine dining.

But, and this is more our scene, it has walking trails and hikes that we can explore to enjoy the breathtaking views.

Day 15 – Glenwood Springs to Estes in the Rockies

Estimated Driving Miles: 220
Tonight’s Hotel: Blue Door Inn, Estes Park

Today’s drive is going to be another Rockies Road Trip classic.

We head past Grand Lake, and further north we have the opportunity to do a short hike on Coyote Valley Trailhead.

We should now be on Trail Ridge Road, which takes us into Rocky Mountain National Park, entering the park on the west side at the Kawuneeche entrance.

Trail Ridge Road, at its highest point, hits 12,183 feet (3,713 m) in elevation.

The drive from the park entrance, to our hotel for the night, although only 45 miles, is expected to take 2 hours at least.

Day 16 – Explore Rocky Mountain National Park

Estimated Driving Miles: 100
Tonight’s Hotel: Blue Door Inn, Estes Park

Rockies Road Trip
The Canadian Rockies

We only have one full day to explore Rocky National Park, but unfortunately, this is all our schedule allows. On the list are Bear Lake Road, leading of course to Bear Lake. Time permitting, we can take a walk to Alberta Falls. In and around Estes, there is Devils Gulch Road, Lake Estes, and the Peak to Peak scenic byway.

Travelling the other way, and for those who like a bit of excitement, why not try out the Old Fall River Road? A one-way dirt road that also rises to almost 12,000ft, and from what we have seen, requires total concentration.

Time will prevent us from doing this, as it may well be a 2-hour drive back again on the Trail Ridge Road.

Day 17 – Este to Denver

Estimated Driving Miles: 70
Tonight’s Hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites, Denver Downtown

The final drive of note on our Trip, as our holiday in the USA Rockies draws to a close.

We head into the city of Denver to explore for 3 days/3 nights.

But, we have a few things to check out first. The pretty-looking Saint Catherine’s Chapel on the Rock. and the drive along South St Vrain Creek.

A lunchtime stop-off in Boulder, with perhaps a visit and a swim in Boulder Reservoir.

Time permitting, a small detour to the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre and the nearby Trading Post Trail.

Day 18 and 19 – Explore Denver

Estimated Driving Miles: Unknown!
Tonight’s Hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites, Denver Downtown

Rockies Road Trip
Denver Stock Photo

Lots on the list, not limited to: Denver Central Market, Elitch Gardens, Big Blue Bear, and perhaps a trip to Denver Zoo.

There are plenty of restaurants, and breweries to explore.

Slightly out of town is the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre and the nearby Trading Post Trail if we didn’t get to do this yesterday.

Summary of our Rockies Road Trip

This trip and route and our entire Rockies holiday has been researched, booked and planned all by ourselves.

We have scoured the internet, watched countless YouTube videos and thumbed through a few Lonely Planet and Rough Guides travel books.

Yes, it took hours, but it was enjoyable, and we probably saved over £3,000 booking it ourselves. Plus, I enjoy sitting down and investigating all the great things we can see.

For me, this is when the trip starts.

Of course, I appreciate doing it this way is not for everyone, but you do tend to learn so much in the process, and it gives you a great headstart on what to expect, what to see, and what to be aware of.

I now know we will need Bear Spray. I know that small, cheaper motels offer so much more than the big expensive ones (breakfast and free wifi!) In addition, we need to plan for a timed entry into Rocky Mountain National Park, and that there will be crowds. Lots and lots of crowds. As a result, I am already prepared for the fact things will take longer than we expect

Come with us on our 2024 Rockies Road Trip

Really? Well, no. But you can travel with us vicariously. Each day (I hope) I will be writing a Daily Journal of what we do, and what we see, along with photos from the road.

Check out our last Road Trip, back in 2019 by clicking here and you will get the idea.

If you are interested in getting daily updates on our Rockies holiday, then just click the below button, or click here, and sign up. There will be no spam, just blog posts straight to your inbox whenever one is released.

See you on the road!!

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