Duration(in days): 20
From: UK - Denver
To: Denver - UK
See more ideas for: USA
Explore the natural wonders of the Rockies on this self-drive through Colorado, USA. Start by hiking through the alpine meadows of Rocky Mountain National Park before learning about Native America history in South Dakota. Next, drive through Wild West country in Wyoming, spending a few days looking for bears and beavers amongst stunning mountain scenery of Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Heading south through Salt Lake City you’ll spend a few days taking in the red rock of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks before stopping in at the resort of Aspen for one final night in the Rockies.
Depart the UK from your chosen airport. You will arrive in Denver later the same day and pick up your rental car from the airport before driving to Rocky Mountain National Park, around 1.5 hours north of the city. On arrival, you will check into your hotel for two nights.
Your first glimpse of life in the mountains will be at Rocky Mountain National Park, where you’ll spend the day hiking around turquoise lakes, watching bluebirds in the alpine meadows, looking out for beavers snuffling by the riverbanks and bighorn sheep on high passes. Take a drive along Trail Ridge Road for inspiring views of the surrounding mountains and woodland before walking one of the popular trails to Cub Lake, which becomes covered with green lily pads all summer long. This national park is truly a mountain paradise.
Today is a long driving day up to Keystone in South Dakota. Stop for lunch in Cheyenne before cracking on with the drive and you should arrive by late afternoon – the total journey takes around 6 hours. Despite the long journey, driving through the corners of Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota will give you an insight into small-town America, something that many visitors never get to see. On arrival in Keystone, you’ll check into your hotel for three nights.
On your first day in the Black Hills, you’ll head straight to Mount Rushmore for views of the iconic carved faces of four American presidents. The visitor centre here is excellent and you can learn all about the project from the initial idea to how exactly they managed to sculpt such likenesses high up into the rock. After a few hours here, head to the Crazy Horse Memorial, which has been slowly carved into the cliff since 1948 and is a fascinating glimpse into Native American lore.
Split the rest of your time here between bison watching in the lush grasslands of Custer State Park and driving along scenic byways to the Badlands National Park, where rippled rocks stretch as far as the eye can see.
This morning you’ll leave the Black Hills of South Dakota behind you and head into Wyoming. First stop will be a visit to the magnificent Devil’s Tower, made famous by Steven Spielberg’s film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” before continuing to the town of Buffalo, where you will check into your hotel for two nights.
The small town of Buffalo is tucked away in the Bighorn Mountains, with old western architecture, lots of outdoor activities and history to enjoy. The town is full of small museums dedicated to Wild West history – the town itself is only a few miles drive to the infamous “Hole in the Wall” hideout where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, along with the rest of the Wild Bunch, hid from the law.
Out of town, you’ll find an endless landscape dotted with clear glacial lakes and alpine meadows that in summer are carpeted in wildflowers. This huge area of national forest is a beautiful place to get off the grid and go hiking, fishing or horse riding and is also a haven for wildlife so keep your eyes peeled for black bears, cougars and moose.
Another long drive today but the mountain scenery that you’re driving through is worth the distance! The first part of the route follows the Cloud Peak Skyway Scenic Byway, winding through the Bighorn Mountains towards the Rockies. Stop in Cody on the way to visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West before driving through the peaks to Yellowstone National Park, the jewel in the crown of the Rocky Mountains.
Two days of exploration will barely scratch the surface of Yellowstone, so get stuck in and see as much as you can! Highlights include Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts with convenient regularity and the Grand Prismatic Spring, a rainbow coloured hot spring that steams in the cool mountain air. You could hike to the edge of Yellowstone Falls and then relax in the Boiling River, one of the only hot springs that you can bathe in. Next, why not rent a kayak and venture out onto the deep blue waters of Mount Yellowstone before heading to the lush green and yellow grasslands of Hayden Valley at dusk, one of the best places and times to see wildlife like elk, bears, bison and coyotes. There are endless beautiful sights and activities here, with hundreds of bubbling mud pools and scenic vistas to get swept up in.
This morning you’ll drive a couple of hours south to Grand Teton National Park, the often-overlooked neighbour of Yellowstone. On arrival, you’ll check into your hotel for two nights and head out to the park to start exploring.
For the best views, head into the park for sunrise and watch the pink sunshine light up the mountains behind the Moulton Barn. As the most famous view in Grand Teton, of a rugged barn surrounded by peaks, it’s the perfect start to a day of kayaking along the Snake River, hiking to Oxbow Bend to see Mount Moran reflected in the water and watch moose wading upstream. A day here will go very quickly so make the most of it!
Spend the morning in the park, enjoying one last hike in the Rockies before driving south to Salt Lake City, where you will check into your hotel for two nights.
It’s easy to see the highlights of Salt Lake City in a day – we recommend you start in Temple Square, home to the huge temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. This imposing structure receives 5 million visitors a year, as many as all of Utah’s national parks combined so spend the morning exploring and learning about its history before heading to the eponymous lake, where Antelope Island is the best jumping off point, pleasantly inhabited by a small herd of bison.
This morning you’ll drive to Moab, in the south-east corner of Utah. On arrival, you’ll check into your hotel for three nights.
Staying in Moab is the perfect base to explore two of Utah’s beautiful national parks, Canyonlands and Arches. Spend a day in each – you can go biking or hiking, ride horses or even try climbing. The beautiful sweeping red rock arches are so photogenic you’ll be there all day but try to tear yourself away and enjoy some white-water rafting on the Colorado River.
One of our favourite spots is Dead Horse State Park, where the infamous final scene of Thelma and Louise was filmed, just outside the entrance to Canyonlands. This area is an ideal place to try some stargazing – Canyonlands’ skies are particularly dark, perfect for enjoying spotting planets and magical views of the Milky Way. There are often ranger-led programmes with telescopes to help you identify the wealth of twinkling stars above you.
Leaving the red rock landscape of Utah behind you, today you’ll drive back into the Rockies, towards the town of Aspen in Colorado. Famous as a ski resort for the rich and famous, Aspen is a delightful summer pitstop on your way back to Denver, with leafy streets full of farmers markets and boutiques. May to September brings days of festivals and events, as well as endless hiking into the mountains. After crossing the Rockies twice, it seems appropriate to end your trip with a final night in the mountains, so raise a glass to a wonderful road trip through the heartland of America.
Today is your final day in the USA – drive to Denver Airport to drop off your rental car and catch your flight home.
The Rocky Mountains have long snowy winters and short balmy summers, so travelling between June and September is ideal but will be very busy. The shoulder seasons of spring and autumn are often lovely times to visit, but the weather can be less predictable and wildlife is often harder to spot compared to mid-summer.
This itinerary is purely a suggestion and can be tailor-made to your requirements, so please contact us with your dates and requests and we’ll put together a bespoke quotation for you.
18 nights in 3* standard accommodation.
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