Julie United States 5 Comments

At first you might be wondering, why write a post about how to drive from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone? Sounds easy, right? Just connect the two points on a map and pick the quickest route.

But what if I told you that you had several options and each of these included a different but very scenic drive.

Two scenic drives cut through the Bighorn Mountains in northern Wyoming: Bighorn Scenic Byway and Cloud Peak Skyway. If your road trip from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone is point to point, you will have to choose which one to drive. In this guide, we have lots of photos and information to help you make the best choice. 

In addition to driving through the Bighorns, you can also add on the spectacular Beartooth Highway. 

In this guide, we cover three different ways to drive from Yellowstone to Mount Rushmore with tips to have the best experience.

Overview of the Drive

In general, it takes 8 hours to drive from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone National Park. That’s without stops. With stops, it can take 10 hours or longer.

Two of these driving routes go through Bighorn National Forest and the Bighorn Mountains.

The Bighorn National Forest is one of the oldest protected forests in the USA. The Bighorn Mountains is a chain of mountains that lie to the east of the Continental Divide. At 13,175 feet (4,020 meters), Cloud Peak is the tallest of these mountains.

There are two main driving routes through the Bighorn Mountains. Cloud Peak Skyway (US Route 16) crosses the highest pass in the mountains. Bighorn Scenic Byway (US Route 14) cuts through the northern section of Bighorn National Forest. Along both of these routes, there are short hiking trails and many scenic overlooks to visit along the way.

You also have the option to drive Beartooth Highway, which is one of the most scenic drives in the USA. This drive starts in Red Lodge, Montana and ends at the northeast entrance of Yellowstone. This route takes longer and is best spread out over two days, but you also get to drive Bighorn Scenic Byway.

On the drive, you also have the option to add on Devils Tower. This is a detour adds on about an hour of driving and 60 additional miles. But it’s worth it since it is such an iconic sight in the USA.

At the end of the drive, it is best to stay in Cody, Wyoming (a 1 hour drive east of the east entrance into Yellowstone). Alternatively, you can also stay at Lake Yellowstone (1 hour beyond Cody) or Old Faithful Village or Canyon Village (2 hours beyond Cody), inside of Yellowstone National Park. Just note that staying in the park adds an additional one to two hours of driving time to the the day.

Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone: Driving Routes

Here are three different ways to drive from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone and each of these include a quick visit to Devils Tower.

For each of these routes, I recommend getting an early start, no later than 8 am. This gives you plenty of time to visit Devils Tower and other scenic stops along the drive.

Route #1: Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone on Bighorn Scenic Byway

Distance: 441 miles
Driving Time (without stops): 7.5 hours

This driving route starts at Mount Rushmore and ends in Cody, Wyoming.

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (places to go and the driving route). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
 
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Mount Rushmore to Devils Tower

To get to Devils Tower from Mount Rushmore, there are several different driving routes. The best route depends on where you will be staying in the Black Hills or Rapid City. You can use Google Maps to map out the quickest route. But in general, it takes 2 to 2.5 hours to get to Devils Tower.

Visiting Devils Tower

Since you still have a lot of driving to do today, you won’t have much time to spend at Devils Tower.

I recommend spending just an hour or two here. This gives you enough time to hike the Tower Trail (a 1.3 mile trail that loops around the base of Devils Tower) or the Red Beds Trail if you are a fast hiker (a 2.8 mile trail that makes a bigger loop around Devils Tower).

There are a few restaurants and general stores located at the entrance to Devils Tower National Memorial where you can get lunch and refill your gas tank.

For more information about how to visit Devils Tower, check out our Guide to Devils Tower.

Devils Tower

Devils Tower to Dayton, Wyoming

From Devils Tower, it takes 3 hours to drive to Dayton (185 miles). Most of this drive is on Interstate 90 which is a large divided highway. Dayton is the gateway to the Bighorn Scenic Byway.

Bighorn Scenic Byway

Bighorn Scenic Byway is 57 miles long, running from Dayton to Shell, Wyoming, on US Highway 14. It is the northern route through the Bighorn Mountains.

From Dayton, take US-14 west into the Bighorn Mountains. There are a lot of twists and turns on this part of the drive, as the road snakes up into the Bighorn Mountains.

Stop at Sand Turn Interpretive Site (about 10 miles from Dayton) for a great view over the Tongue Valley.

Sand Turn Lookout

View from Sand Turn Interpretive Site

 

Sand Turn Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone

Closer view of Highway 14

Beyond Sand Turn, Bighorn Scenic Byway enters a canyon and the views are beautiful. There are several pull outs along the road if you want to stop for photos. You can also see the sedimentary rock layers of the Bighorn Mountains.

Scenic Drives in Wyoming

Sedimentary Rock Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone

For a view of Steamboat Point, pull off at the small parking lot on the right hand side of the road (GPS coordinates: 44°48’8.808″ N 107°21’52.355″ W). You can also hike to the top of Steamboat Point (1.7 miles, moderate difficulty) but only if you are doing great on time.

Steamboat Point

Steamboat Point

At Burgess Junction, turn left to continue on Bighorn Scenic Byway. If you are doing well on time, you can continue straight to drive US-14A to Medicine Wheel, an ancient stone circle that is sacred to Native Americans. This detour takes about one hour.

The Bighorn Scenic Byway reaches its highest point at Granite Pass (9,033 feet). And then comes the most thrilling part of this scenic byway.

Granite Pass

 

The road winds down into Shell Canyon. Here is the view along this part of the drive.

Bighorn National Forest

 

At Shell Falls Interpretive Site, several walking trails lead to overlooks of Shell Falls and Shell Canyon. This canyon gets its name from the shell fossils that are embedded in the granite walls.

Shell Falls

 

Beyond Shell Falls, the road continues to descend into the canyon and the views keep getting better.

Driving through Wyoming Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone

Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone

Bighorn Scenic Byway

 

On the western edge of the Bighorn Mountains, the Bighorn Scenic Byway ends once you arrive in the town of Shell. Here is a view looking back at the mountains.

Bighorn Mountains Wyoming

How to Drive Yellowstone to Mount Rushmore

Shell to Cody

It takes just over an hour to drive from Shell to Cody on US-14.

If you have plans to stay in Yellowstone National Park, you will have at least one more hour of driving once you reach Cody. The drive from Cody to the east entrance of Yellowstone is also a very scenic drive on the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway.

Driving to Cody

Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway

Route #2: Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone on Cloud Peak Skyway

Distance: 428 miles
Driving Time (without stops): 7.5 hours

This driving route starts at Mount Rushmore and ends in Cody, Wyoming.

Mount Rushmore to Devils Tower

To get to Devils Tower from Mount Rushmore, there are several different driving routes. The best route depends on where you will be staying in the Black Hills or Rapid City. You can use Google Maps to map out the quickest route. But in general, it takes 2 to 2.5 hours to get to Devils Tower.

Visiting Devils Tower

Since you still have a lot of driving to do today, you won’t have a lot of time to spend at Devils Tower.

I recommend spending just an hour or two here. This gives you enough time to hike the Tower Trail (a 1.3 mile trail that loops around the base of Devils Tower) or the Red Beds Trail if you are a fast hiker (a 2.8 mile trail that makes a bigger loop around Devils Tower).

There are a few restaurants and general stores located at the entrance to Devils Tower National Memorial where you can get lunch and refill your gas tank.

For more information about how to visit Devils Tower, check out our Guide to Devils Tower.

Devils Tower to Buffalo, Wyoming

From Devils Tower, it takes 2 hours to drive to Buffalo (130 miles). Most of this drive is on Interstate 90 which is a large divided highway.

Cloud Peak Skyway

Cloud Peak Skyway is 47 miles long, running from Buffalo to Ten Sleep, Wyoming, on US Highway 16. It is the southern route through the Bighorn Mountains.

From Buffalo, US-16 gradually ascends into the Bighorn Mountains. It doesn’t enter the Bighorns as dramatically as the Bighorn Scenic Byway, since it lacks the switchbacks, tight turns, and canyon views. But it is still a very scenic drive, with views of ranches and the mountain peaks off in the distance.

Wyoming Road Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone

Cloud Peak Skyway Sign Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone

How to Drive Cloud Peak Skyway

 

At Loaf Mountain Overlook you get a great view of the Cloud Peak Wilderness. This 189,000 acre wilderness is home to some of the tallest peaks in the Bighorn Mountains, including Cloud Peak and Black Tooth Mountain. In the photo below, you can see Loaf Mountain, Bighorn Peak, and Dayton Peak.

Loaf Mountain Overlook

Loaf Mountain Overlook

Cloud Peak Skyway reaches its highest point at Powder River Pass (9,666 feet).

Powder River Pass Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone

Powder River Pass Summit

As you continue west, the road drops down into a canyon. This was our favorite part of the Cloud Peak Skyway. Massive limestone mountains tower over the road. US-16 winds through this canyon for several miles and the views are beautiful.

Cloud Peak Skyway in October

Bighorn National Forest

Cloud Peak Skyway

Cloud Peak Skyway comes to an end in Ten Sleep.

Ten Sleep to Cody

From Ten Sleep, it takes just under two hours to drive to Cody (100 miles).

USA Road Trips

Route #3: Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone via Beartooth Highway

Distance: 520 miles
Driving Time (without stops): 9 hours

This driving route starts at Mount Rushmore and ends in Cooke City – Silver Gate, Wyoming.

Mount Rushmore to Beartooth Highway

If you want to enter Yellowstone National Park on one of the most scenic drives in the USA, Beartooth Highway, this is a route to consider. This is a longer route and there is a lot to see and do on Beartooth Highway, so this driving route takes two days.

Starting at Mount Rushmore, visit Devils Tower and continue on to Red Lodge, Montana. Spend the night in Red Lodge. On the following day, drive Beartooth Highway in the morning and spend the afternoon in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park.

Mount Rushmore to Devils Tower

To get to Devils Tower from Mount Rushmore, there are several different driving routes. The best route depends on where you will be staying in the Black Hills or Rapid City. You can use Google Maps to map out the quickest route. But in general, it takes 2 to 2.5 hours to get to Devils Tower.

Visiting Devils Tower

Since you still have a lot of driving to do today, you won’t have a lot of time to spend at Devils Tower.

I recommend spending just an hour or two here. This gives you enough time to hike the Tower Trail (a 1.3 mile trail that loops around the base of Devils Tower) or the Red Beds Trail if you are a fast hiker (a 2.8 mile trail that makes a bigger loop around Devils Tower).

There are a few restaurants and general stores located at the entrance to Devils Tower National Memorial where you can get lunch and refill your gas tank.

For more information about how to visit Devils Tower, check out our Guide to Devils Tower.

Devils Tower to Red Lodge, Montana

There are several ways to drive from Devils Tower to Red Lodge. The most scenic is driving the Bighorn Scenic Byway.

From Devils Tower, drive the Bighorn Scenic Byway as it is written out earlier in this guide. Drive through Shell, Wyoming and then take US-310 north to Montana. Then take US-72 south to State Highway 308 to Red Lodge. The drive on this route from Devils Tower to Red Lodge is 360 miles long and takes 6 hours without stops.

Spend the night in Red Lodge. This is a quaint, historic town that is located at the foot of the Beartooth Mountains. We stayed in the Alpine Lodge and had dinner at Prerogative Kitchen. Other recommended restaurants are Carbon County Steakhouse, Piccola Cucina at Ox Pasture (Italian), Mas Taco, and Red Lodge Pizza Company.

On the following day, drive Beartooth Highway in the morning and spend the afternoon in Yellowstone National Park.

Beartooth Highway Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone

Beartooth Highway in October

Scenic Drives in USA

For more information about what to see and do along Beartooth Highway, and for lots more photos, check out our Guide to Beartooth Highway.

Our Favorite Route through the Bighorn Mountains: Bighorn Scenic Byway

Out of the two routes through the Bighorn Mountains, the first route, Bighorn Scenic Byway, is our favorite. The scenery along the drive is more spectacular along the entire length of the drive.

However, if you don’t like driving tight hairpin turns, the Cloud Peak Skyway has a gentler grade and fewer switchbacks, making it easier to drive.

If you plan to drive out and back between Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone, you can drive Cloud Peak Skyway to Yellowstone and return on Bighorn Scenic Byway.

Adding on Beartooth Highway is highly recommended if you have the time. You can either add it by following Route #3 or you can day trip out to the Beartooth Highway during your visit to Yellowstone.

If Roads are Closed Due Snow

It is best to drive these routes from June through September. Both the Bighorn Mountains and Beartooth Highway can get their first significant snowfalls in early October.

Beartooth Highway is typically closed from the second week of October through Memorial Day.

After heavy snowfalls, routes through the Bighorn Mountains can also close.

If you plan to do this drive from October through May, you will not be able to do the route that includes Beartooth Highway. It might be possible to drive through the Bighorn Mountains but you will have to keep an eye on the weather forecast and road conditions. You can get updated road conditions here.

If the driving routes through the Bighorn Mountains are closed, you will have to make a big detour. You can either drive through southern Montana or drive through southern Wyoming. This makes the drive longer and less scenic.


If you have any questions about how to drive from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information about Yellowstone, Wyoming, and South Dakota

Here are more articles to help you plan your trip to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, and South Dakota.

ROAD TRIP ITINERARY:  Yellowstone, Devils Tower & Mount Rushmore 10 Day Road Trip Itinerary
THINGS TO DO IN YELLOWSTONE:
18 Amazing Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
YELLOWSTONE ITINERARY: How to Plan the Perfect Yellowstone Itinerary
WHERE TO STAY IN YELLOWSTONE & CODY: Best Locations and Hotels in and around Yellowstone National Park
GEYSER BASINS: Complete Guide to the Yellowstone Geyser Basins
YELLOWSTONE & GRAND TETON: How to Plan the Perfect Yellowstone and Grand Teton Road Trip
GRAND TETON NP: The Complete Guide to Grand Teton National Park
DEVILS TOWER: How to Plan Your Visit to Devils Tower National Monument
MOUNT RUSHMORE: Mount Rushmore: 10 Things to Know Before You Go
THINGS TO DO IN SOUTH DAKOTA: 15 Things to Do in South Dakota near Rapid City
SOUTH DAKOTA ITINERARY: One Week in South Dakota: Black Hills & the Badlands
BADLANDS NP: One Perfect Day in Badlands National Park
WIND CAVE NP: 6 Amazing Things to Do in Wind Cave National Park
CUSTER STATE PARK: 8 Great Things to Do in Custer State Park

United States Travel Guide

You Might Also Like:

 

Yellowstone to Mount Rushmore Scenic Drives

 

Note: This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these affiliate links, we get paid a small commission at no extra cost to you.

All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.

Comments 5

  1. Avatar for Paulo
    Paulo

    RE Route #3, your GoogleMaps printout does not match the itinerary you described. It is a 30 miles / 20 minutes shortcut that misses on Granite Pass and Shell Canyon but follows the Medicine Wheel Scenic Byway and unsurprisingly passes very near Bighorn Medicine Wheel.
    Furthermore, it is in my opinion good enough for a fourth option: forks out from Route#2/Bighorn Drive midway and go due west to Cody passing by Lowell and Powell.
    Route#3 actually works best as a variant to Route#1, Route#2 or the new route suggested here: fork out from each route’s intersection with US310: Basin, Grewolf or Lowell respectively. Or… drive Route#1, 2 or Medicine Wheel Byway all the way to Cody, then deviate north to Red Lodge, the Beartooth Highway and Yellowstone.

  2. Avatar for Victor
    Victor

    Planning on Driving an RV from Mt. Roushmore to Yellowstone the second week in September. Would like to take the Bighorn Scenic Byway. Assuming no snow or ice, Is this a difficult drive?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      It’s a very easy road to drive. The road is wide and in great condition. There will be a few hairpin turns but we found it to be a very safe road, with guardrails and lots of wide turns in case you need to stop for any reason. Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Andy
    Andy

    Going west from Dayton to Red Lodge along the Bighorn Scenic Byway, once you get to Burgess Junction, which route do you think is more scenic, Burgess Junction to Shell (the continuation of the Bighorn Scenic Byway) or Burgess Junction to Lovell (along the Medicine Wheel Passage Scenic Byway)? Or are they basically the same in terms of scenery?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      We only did the drive from Burgess Junction to Shell (we did not do the drive to Medicine Wheel), so unfortunately I can’t answer that question. But there is a chance that another reader might be able to, if they read these comments. Cheers, Julie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.