14-Day Road Trip: The Greater Yellowstone Loop

With Yellowstone National Park at its heart, this generous two-week itinerary starts and ends in Bozeman, Montana, never exceeding 200 miles of travel in a single day. See and experience this breathtaking region without getting stuck behind the wheel.

Day 1: Bozeman

Start your trip in Bozeman, equal parts college town and mountain town. Fit in a trip to the Museum of the Rockies to see where dinosaur guru Jack Horner does much of his work. Throw in a hike up the M or Drinking Horse Mountain, just northeast of town, and end with a shopping stroll on historic Main Street. Enjoy a game of pool, a local brew, and an excellent meal at the popular Montana Ale Works. Bed down for the night practically across the street at the Magpie Guest House.

A striking sunset with darkening clouds on a violet sky in Bozeman, Montana.
Sunset in Bozeman, Montana. Photo © Jesse Newland, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Day 2: Bozeman to Red Lodge (about 174 miles)

Start your morning with a quick jaunt up Peet’s Hill, then walk a few blocks for breakfast at the Western Café. Head east toward Red Lodge, a much smaller but equally historic ski town. Along the way, stop in Livingston to peruse art galleries, look for celebrities, or even fish or raft the Yellowstone. Continue on to Big Timber for a late lunch at the Grand Hotel. Arrive in Red Lodge in time for a quick meal at the Red Box Car and a downy bed at the historic Pollard Hotel.

Day 3: Red Lodge

After a leisurely breakfast, stroll by the shops up and down Broadway, and check out the critters at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. Later, grab some picnic supplies at Café Regis and head out on a scenic hike in the Beartooths, perhaps the Basin Creek Lakes Trail. Back in town, enjoy a sumptuous meal at Bridge Creek Backcountry Kitchen and Wine Bar.

Day 4: Red Lodge to Cody (about 114 miles)

Experience two of the most breathtaking drives in the region. Pack a picnic lunch and head up and over the Beartooth Highway (U.S. 212), and be sure to make plenty of stops along the way. Look for mountain goats at the summit. Consider an alpine hike: The Clay Butte Fire Lookout Tower, only a mile from the highway, puts you above 11,000 feet; the eight-mile scenic loop around Beartooth Lake offers level terrain with spectacular scenery. Stop in Cooke City if you need a shot of civilization (or espresso), or continue to the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (Hwy. 296) south to Cody. Arrive in time for a fantastic dinner at Geyser Brewing Company and a cozy room at the Chamberlin Inn.

Travel map of Cody, Wyoming and Vicinity
Cody and Vicinity

Day 5: Cody

After breakfast, head out on the hour-long Cody Trolley Tour, which can include tickets to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Spend most of the day exploring its five museums. Before dinner at the celebrated Irma Hotel, grab a cocktail and step outside to watch the Cody Gunfighters. After dinner, head over to the Cody Nite Rodeo for a two-hour action-packed show with local cowboys and cowgirls.

A rider being bucked off the back of a horse at the Cody Nite Rodeo.
At the Cody Nite Rodeo in Cody, Wyoming. Photo © CGP Grey, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Day 6: Cody to Tower Junction (about 111 miles)

On your way out of town, stop by Old Trail Town and the Museum of the West. Then head farther west on the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway toward the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Stop for a bite at Buffalo Bill Cody’s historic Pahaska Tepee resort. Once inside the park, check out the phenomenal Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the wildlife-rich Hayden Valley on your way to Tower Junction and the classic Roosevelt Lodge. Arrive in time to ride horseback (or travel by covered wagon) to the Old West Cookout Dinner. Then retire to your rustic cabin under the stars.

Day 7: Tower Junction to Paradise Valley (about 59 miles)

Early birds will delight in a sunrise drive through the famed Lamar Valley for amazing opportunities to spot wildlife, including wolves and bears. Consider a hike up to Trout Lake or maybe meander along the trout waters of Slough Creek. Turn around and head back north to Mammoth Hot Springs, where you can amble around the colorful geothermal features. For lunch, try the mini trout tacos at the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room and Terrace Grill, just below the geothermal terraces. On your way out of the park, perhaps you’ll want to soak in the Boiling River between Mammoth and Gardiner, or just wait until you arrive at Chico Hot Springs Resort to enjoy the naturally heated waters. After a gourmet dinner, settle in to Chico for the night and listen for Percy, the resident ghost.

Terraced rock at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone.
Travertine Terraces in Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs. Photo © pngstudio/123rf.

Day 8: Paradise Valley to Lake, Wyoming (about 91 miles)

Backtrack through the park’s northern entrance. River rats should take a morning raft trip on the Yellowstone River through Yankee Jim Canyon. Inside the park, head to Norris for another education in geology and supervolcanology. Then head to Canyon—check out the canyon or the falls from another angle, or even on a trail like Uncle Tom’s Trail, which will take you to the spectacular Lower Falls. Wind up your day with a cocktail on the porch and a relaxing dinner at the idyllic Lake Hotel.

Travel map of Jackson Hole, Cody, and the Wind Rivers in Wyoming
Jackson Hole, Cody, and the Wind Rivers

Day 9: Lake to Jackson (about 95 miles)

After a morning stroll at water’s edge, head down to West Thumb Geyser Basin, an incredible selection of geothermal features. From there, continue south to Grand Teton National Park. You’ll pass this way again in two days, so don’t feel pressured to stop at every scenic turnout. Grab lunch along the way and try a hike along the gentle Lakeshore Trail at Colter Bay. Continue down to Jackson and settle in at the Anvil Motel. Walk just a few blocks for dinner at the Snake River Grill, and perhaps a nightcap at the famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.

Day 10: Jackson Hole

Hit the local favorite—The Bunnery—for a hearty breakfast. White-water enthusiasts will have no shortage of options on the Snake River. Mountain bikers and hikers can hit the alpine slopes at either Snow King in town or off the fabulous gondola at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, or consider horseback riding. If you have the energy in the afternoon, visit the National Museum of Wildlife Art before grabbing a margarita and some Mexican fare at Pica’s. Wednesday and Saturday nights you can catch the Jackson Rodeo.

Day 11: Jackson to Old Faithful (about 98 miles)

After breakfast, head north toward Grand Teton and Yellowstone. Stop at Jenny Lake for a hike to Hidden Falls or Inspiration Point, a boat ride, or just a picnic. Continue north through Grand Teton, checking out the sights you missed on the way down. Once in Yellowstone, drive north and west to Old Faithful and stay at the Old Faithful Inn for the night. There are great trails along the way, including an easy jaunt to Lone Star Geyser. Explore the area before settling in for dinner and a bed at the inn. If you can keep your eyes open, Old Faithful eruptions in the moonlight are pretty unforgettable.

Travel map of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park

Day 12: Old Faithful to West Yellowstone (about 32 miles)

After a leisurely morning, head north and then west to the town of West Yellowstone. Enjoy this small but dense section of the park on your way out. Don’t miss the opportunity to swim in the thermally heated waters of the Firehole River. In West Yellowstone, check out the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center and the adjacent Yellowstone IMAX Theatre. Grab a bison burger at Buckaroo Bill’s Ice Cream or a gourmet meal at Bar N Ranch before calling it a night in a cozy safari tent at Yellowstone Under Canvas.

Day 13: West Yellowstone to Big Sky (about 51 miles)

Head over to the Freeheel & Wheel to rent a bike and then hit the famous Rendezvous Trails, where Olympic Nordic skiers have trained. After lunch, continue north through the scenic Gallatin Canyon toward Big Sky Resort. There are countless hiking trails and fishing spots along the way. Plan on spending the night at Big Sky Resort; head to dinner in the dining room at the nearby Lone Mountain Ranch.

Day 14: Big Sky to Bozeman (about 44 miles)

Start your day with a short hike to scenic Ousel Falls and then jump in a Geyser Whitewater raft to white-knuckle it down the Gallatin River canyon. Then head back to Bozeman to enjoy the mountain vistas and toast your trip over a bison steak or burger at Ted’s Montana Grill or a rustic Italian meal at Blackbird Kitchen.

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