This is one of the best road trips in the USA. With 10 days, you can visit Yellowstone, Devils Tower, and Mount Rushmore, but that’s not all. You also have enough time to visit the highlights of Grand Teton, day trip out to Badlands National Park, spend some time at Wind Cave National Park, and cruise the scenic drives and spot wildlife at Custer State Park.
That’s four national parks in one road trip, not to mention two national monuments, one incredible state park, and several very scenic drives.
In this guide, we lay out a 10 day road trip itinerary to Yellowstone, Devils Tower, and Mount Rushmore, with tips on how to modify it, depending on how much time you have.
Places You Will Visit on this Itinerary:
- Grand Teton National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Cody, Wyoming
- Scenic Drive through the Bighorn Mountains
- Devils Tower National Memorial
- Spearfish Canyon, Deadwood & Lead
- Mount Rushmore National Memorial
- Crazy Horse Memorial
- Black Hills of South Dakota
- Custer State Park
- Badlands National Park
- Wind Cave National Park
Overview of this Yellowstone, Devils Tower, and Mount Rushmore itinerary, with Grand Teton NP, the Bighorn Mountains, Custer State Park, andd Badlands NP.
About this Yellowstone, Devils Tower, Mount Rushmore Itinerary
This road trip works best from May through October, when the roads in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are open. From early November through mid-April, many of these park roads will be closed due to snow. It’s still possible to visit Yellowstone in the winter, but you will get around by snowmobile or snow coach, which of course will be a much different experience than the summer months.
At the end of this article, I give the links to each national park so you can get updates on park conditions and road closures.
If you don’t have to travel during the summer months, the end of September into early October is an awesome time to visit Yellowstone, Devils Tower, and Mount Rushmore. Crowds are lower and you could see some fall colors. We have been to Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and the Black Hills of South Dakota in September and early October and love being here at this time of year. Just be aware that snow is possible in Yellowstone in October, especially the farther into the month you go.
This itinerary is a one-way, point-to-point road trip. It can be done in the order outlined here or in reverse order.
If you will be driving back to your starting point then plan on adding on an extra day and hundreds of miles of driving to this itinerary.
Yellowstone, Devils Tower and Mount Rushmore Itinerary
Day 1: Arrive in Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park
Day 2: Grand Teton National Park
Day 3: Yellowstone National Park
Day 4: Yellowstone National Park
Day 5: Yellowstone National Park
Day 6: Bighorn Mountains & Devils Tower
Day 7: Spearfish Canyon, Deadwood, Lead & Mount Rushmore
Day 8: Custer State Park
Day 9: Badlands National Park
Day 10: Wind Cave National Park & Fly Home
How to Modify this Itinerary
Important Planning Information
Yellowstone, Devils Tower & Mount Rushmore Itinerary
Arrive in Jackson, Wyoming
On the Road: 15 to 280 miles (30 minutes to 5 hours) depending upon the airport
There are three main airports near Jackson, Wyoming.
The closest airport is Jackson Hole Airport, which is located in the park. In fact, Jackson Hole Airport is the only commercial airport located within a national park. Flying into here will save you some driving today.
Idaho Falls Regional Airport is 94 miles away and is a 2-hour drive from Jackson. Salt Lake City International Airport is 280 miles away and it is almost a 5-hour drive to get to Jackson.
Spend the remainder of the day in Jackson. This is a cool town, filled with great restaurants, art galleries, and boutique shops. You can even go to the rodeo. Don’t miss the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar and the Mangelsen Images of Nature Gallery.
For dinner, the Gun Barrel Steak & Game House is a popular spot. Our favorite restaurant in Jackson is Local Restaurant & Bar. Miazga’s has a wide range of food. Persephone’s Bakery is an awesome breakfast/brunch spot in town. Other great restaurants include Café Genevieve, Bin22, Liberty Burger, and Blue Lion.
Where to Stay
Here are ideas of where to stay in and around Grand Teton National Park. You will stay here for two nights.
Inside the Park: There are numerous lodges and campgrounds available inside of the park. Click here to learn more about your options.
Jackson: From Jackson, it takes just 15 minutes to drive to Moose (the southern end of Grand Teton National Park) and 30 minutes to drive to Jenny Lake. With a large number of accommodations and restaurants, this is a great place to base yourself for visiting the park.
This is where we stay when we visit Grand Teton National Park.
Wyoming Inn at Jackson Hole. This is one of the highest rated hotels in Jackson. It is not located in the city center, so you will have to drive to the town square and park your car if you want to visit the heart of Jackson. But we loved the spacious room, excellent Wi-Fi, and comfy beds.
The Lodge at Jackson Hole. This hotel is located next door to the Wyoming Inn, mentioned above. We stayed here on our most recent visit. We had a great stay…the room was clean, very quiet, and comfortable. We liked the Wyoming Inn a little bit better but we wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again, especially since prices are a little lower. To get into the heart of Jackson, it is a short drive or a 20-minute walk.
Cowboy Village Resort. On our first visit to Grand Teton National Park, this is where Tim and I stayed. Western-style cabins come equipped with a private bathroom and a kitchenette.
The Wort Hotel. If you want an upscale experience in the city center of Jackson, the Wort Hotel gets rave reviews.
Teton Village at Jackson Hole: Ski resort by winter, outdoor playground by summer, this resort offers hotels and restaurants, plus gondolas, chair lifts, and a cable car that will whisk you up to Rendezvous Peak for stunning views over the Tetons. If you like the idea of staying in a resort town just outside of the park, this is a great place to consider.
Grand Teton National Park
On the Road: 42 miles on the scenic loop plus extra driving time and distance depending on where you are staying
This is the first of two days in Grand Teton. Today, you will visit the most popular sites.
I recommend getting an early start. Not only will you get to tour the park crowd free, at least for a little bit, but you also get to see the park at sunrise.
Visit Mormon Row at sunrise and then spend the morning driving the 42-mile scenic loop drive. Schwabacher Landing, the Snake River Overlook, and Oxbow Bend are beautiful places to visit, and photograph, in the morning hours.
Schwabacher Landing in September
As you head south, towards Jenny Lake, consider taking the detour up Signal Mountain for stunning views over the park.The park gets extremely crowded midday. Rather than joining the crowds, I recommend leaving the park for a few hours. You can either ride the Aerial Tram to Rendezvous Peak at Teton Village or have lunch in Jackson. Read our one day Grand Teton itinerary for full details on how to do this.
Spend the afternoon in and around Jenny Lake. One of the most popular things to do in Grand Teton is to take the boat across Jenny Lake and hike up to Inspiration Point. Nearby, the walk around Leigh Lake is an easy, very pretty stroll. The hike out to Taggart Lake is longer but it’s also a very nice hike.
For suggestions on how to plan your time today, read our post One Perfect Day in Grand Teton National Park.
Tonight, sleep in Grand Teton National Park, Jackson, or Teton Village.
Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks
On the Road: 140 miles, 3.5 hours
Today, spend the morning in Grand Teton and the afternoon in Yellowstone.
Grand Teton National Park
Here are several ideas on how to spend the morning in Grand Teton:
- Take your pick from one of the longer hikes in the park. Cascade Canyon, Lake Solitude, and Static Peak Divide are great hikes. These range from 10 to 15 miles, so they will take up most of the day, but if you are big into hiking, it would be worth it. You’ll have less time in Yellowstone so you will have to adjust this itinerary.
- Rent a canoe and spend an hour or two paddling around Jenny Lake. Kara and I did this at 7:30 am and we had the lake to ourselves. It was wonderful!
- Visit the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve and Visitor Center and hike to Phelps Lake.
Midday, start the drive to Yellowstone. Along the way, you can make a quick visit to Jackson Lake, since you will drive right past it before exiting Grand Teton National Park. At Colter Bay Village, there is a gas station and restaurants, a great place to refuel your car before continuing on to Yellowstone.
At Colter Bay, you also have the option to walk the Lakeshore Trail. This flat, easy trail is 2 miles long, takes about 45-minutes, and offers decent views of Jackson Lake.
Yellowstone National Park
Head north into Yellowstone National Park. It’s a relatively short drive. From Colter Bay, it is less than 20 miles to the South Entrance of Yellowstone National Park (about a 30-minute drive).
Spend the afternoon at the Midway Geyser Basin. It is here that you will see the Grand Prismatic Spring, the most colorful hot spring in the park. At Midway Geyser Basin, you can get right up to it, while walking on raised boardwalk trails.
Just a few miles away is the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook. This is a jaw-dropping view of the hot spring and a must-do on a trip to Yellowstone.
Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook
From here, you have the option to hike to Fairy Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in Yellowstone.
LEARN MORE: Grand Prismatic Spring and the Fairy Falls Hike
Where to Stay
Ideally, stay in the park. This will minimize how much driving you will do. However, reservations for the park lodges need to be made months in advance (as much as 6 to 12 months in advance!).
If you stay within the park, Old Faithful Village and Canyon Village are the two most convenient place to stay. If you can’t get a hotel or campsite inside of the park, West Yellowstone is also a great place to stay for this itinerary.
You will stay in Yellowstone or West Yellowstone for two nights.
For recommended hotels and locations, both inside and outside of Yellowstone National Park, read our article Where to Stay in Yellowstone.
Yellowstone National Park: Old Faithful, Hayden Valley & Norris Geyser Basin
On the Road: 100 miles, 2 hours if you stay at Old Faithful; 160 miles, 3 hours if you stay in West Yellowstone; 140 miles, 3.75 hours if you stay in Canyon Village
Old Faithful & Upper Geyser Basin
Old Faithful is one of Yellowstone’s most popular sights. By starting here first thing in the morning, you get to avoid the midday crowds.
There are three different ways to view an eruption of Old Faithful: take a seat on the boardwalk that surrounds the geyser, hike to Observation Point for a bird’s eye view, or grab a seat at the viewing deck at the Old Faithful Inn.
Old Faithful erupts roughly every ninety minutes, so it is possible that you can catch two eruptions while you are here.
The view of Old Faithful from Observation Point
After the first eruption, spend some time exploring the Upper Geyser Basin and Geyser Hill. Within one square mile, there are over 150 geothermal features here, making this one of the best spots in the park to see geysers, hot springs, and thermal pools. It takes about 2 hours to thoroughly explore this area.Get full details on how to plan your visit in our Guide to the Geyser Basins.
A visit to Old Faithful, combined with Upper Geyser Basin, typically lasts three hours.
Near the Old Faithful Inn, you will also find restrooms, gift shops, a convenience store, and restaurants, so this is the perfect place to grab lunch.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
Once you are finished at Old Faithful, drive east to West Thumb Geyser Basin (19 miles, 30 minutes).
This is a small geyser basin and it only takes about 30 minutes to walk through all of it. The highlight is Abyss Pool, a brilliantly blue hot spring, but it is also very cool to see the geothermal activity right along the edge of the lake.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
From West Thumb Geyser Basin, continue the counter-clockwise drive on Grand Loop Road until you get to Hayden Valley.
This is one of the best places in Yellowstone to spot bison, but they are not always hanging out by the side of the road. We have driven through here many times and sometimes you see a few bison off in the distance and sometimes an enormous herd is clustered along the road, creating a giant traffic jam.
If you aren’t lucky enough to see a herd of bison here, you have another chance in Lamar Valley.
Norris Geyser Basin
From Hayden Valley, drive north. If you need food, Canyon Village has some shops and restaurants. Skip the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and go right to Norris Geyser Basin.
A visit here consists of seeing two basins: Back Basin and Porcelain Basin.
Porcelain Basin, Norris Geyser Basin
Back Basin is the larger of the two basins. This is the location of Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser. Eruptions are unpredictable and you have to be very lucky to be here when it erupts.
Porcelain Basin is our favorite of the two basins. There is a lot more activity here, with noisy fumaroles, steaming hot springs, and blue pools of water.
If you visit both basins, a visit here typically lasts about 2 hours.
Return to your hotel, lodge, or campsite and have dinner.
Yellowstone National Park: Grand Canyon, Mammoth & Lamar Valley
On the Road (to Lamar Valley): 110 miles, 3 hours from Old Faithful Village, 66 miles, 2 hours from Canyon Village, 106 miles, 3 hours from West Yellowstone
Today, you will visit a few more sights in Yellowstone. In the evening, continue to Cody, Wyoming. There are two routes to drive to Cody, which adds another 2 to 3 hours of driving. Today is a big driving day, but it saves you a lot of time tomorrow on the drive out to Devils Tower. But not to worry, you will be choosing between two very scenic drives.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Spend the morning at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. There are two main areas to visit, the North Rim and the South Rim, and it takes 3 to 4 hours to visit both rims.
Start on the North Rim. First thing in the morning, traffic should still be light, so you will be able to drive to each overlook. Brink of the Lower Falls is a short but strenuous walk to a close-up view of Lower Falls (0.7 miles round trip and 600 feet of elevation gain). Our favorite overlooks on the North Rim are Lookout Point, Red Rock Point, and Inspiration Point.
Brink of the Lower Falls
Red Rock Point
On the South Rim, visit Artist Point (one of the most photographed spots in Yellowstone National Park), Canyon Overlook, and Uncle Tom’s Trail (if it is open).
There is a third section, Brink of the Upper Falls, which is nice, but I recommend skipping it in order to give yourself enough time to visit the other sights today.
For more details on visiting the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, read our Guide to Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs is a large complex of hot springs that is located in north Yellowstone. Hot, steaming water spills out over travertine terraces, making this one of the most unique geothermal areas in the park.
These hot springs are spread over a large area. A visit here can be quick, with a short walk to one or two viewpoints. Or, you can spend an hour or two walking the boardwalk trails and going on the scenic drive.
Mammoth Hot Springs
This is the best spot in Yellowstone to view wildlife. Elk, bison, pronghorn deer, bear, coyotes, and wolves can all make appearances. One of the best times to visit Lamar Valley is in the late afternoon and early evening.
Tonight, I recommend staying in Cody, Wyoming. By staying here, you will have a much shorter drive to get to Devils Tower on day 6.
From Lamar Valley, it takes 2 to 3 hours to drive to Cody. You have two routes to choose from.
BEARTOOTH HIGHWAY: The quicker route (94 miles, 2 hours) is to exit Yellowstone at the Northeast Entrance and drive through Cooke City-Silver Gate (if you need dinner this is the best place to get it until you reach Cody). You will drive a portion of the spectacular Beartooth Highway and then take the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway to Cody. Beartooth Highway is typically open from Memorial Day through very early October.
For full details on things to do on this drive, read our Guide to Beartooth Highway.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: If you want to go farther on Beartooth Highway, you will have to skip something in Yellowstone today. I recommend visiting Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, then driving through Lamar Valley, and spend the afternoon on Beartooth Highway. Driving out and back on Beartooth Highway to Rock Creek Vista will take about 3 hours. To get to Cody, you will then drive the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway.
BUFFALO BILL CODY SCENIC BYWAY: This is the longer route (126 miles, 3 hours) and you will backtrack through Yellowstone. From Lamar Drive, drive past Canyon Village and Yellowstone Lake and exit the park at the East Entrance. From the East Entrance, it is a one hour drive on Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway, another beautiful drive through the mountains.
Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway
Where to Stay
Tonight, sleep in Cody. You will spend one night in Cody.
The Cody. Located in Cody, this property gets some of the best reviews in town. Rooms can accommodate up to four people and there is a gym and indoor pool onsite. Rooms are large, clean, and quiet and decorated with a western theme. It was the nicest hotel that we stayed in during our South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming road trip.
Best Western Premier Ivy Inn & Suites. If you are traveling as a family and want to stay in one of the top rated hotels in town, this is one to consider. Stay in a suite or a standard room, some of which can accommodate up to 7 people. Some rooms have patios and some room have balconies.
Robins Nest Bed & Breakfast. This bed and breakfast ticks all of the boxes. Rooms are clean and tastefully decorated. The breakfast gets rave reviews. And with the gardens and interior decor, this property is beautiful.
The Chamberlin Inn. If you are looking for a bit of luxury, this is a highly-rated historic hotel in Cody. Each room comes with a flat-screen TV, organic silk linens, and fresh flowers. There is a garden, library, and on-site bar.
Cody Cowboy Village. Located in Cody, rooms are rustic and can accommodate from two to six people. There is an onsite pool and hot tub and this is one of the highest rated properties in Cody.
Bighorn Mountains & Devils Tower
On the Road: 305 miles, 5 hours from Cody to Devils Tower; if you choose to continue to Spearfish, add another 60 miles and 1 hour of driving
Today you will drive from Cody to Devils Tower. On the way, take your pick between two different scenic drives through the Bighorn Mountains.
Below we give an overview of both routes, but for more information and many more photos, read our Guide on How to Drive from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone.
The Bighorn Mountains
There are two main driving routes through the Bighorn Mountains and Bighorn National Forest. 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 scenic overlooks to visit along the way.
Both of these routes are roughly the same distance and take the same amount of time. Below are the details for both routes.
Bighorn Scenic Byway
This is our favorite of the two routes through the Bighorn Mountains.
Bighorn Scenic Byway is 57 miles long, running from Shell to Dayton, Wyoming, on US Highway 14. It is the northern route through the Bighorn Mountains.
From Cody, you will drive east to Shell, Wyoming (a one hour drive) and then take US-14 (the Bighorn Scenic Byway) through the Bighorn Mountains.
How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (points of interest and the walking 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.
Entering the Bighorn Mountains near Shell, Wyoming
Bighorn Scenic Byway
This drive starts off with beautiful views of the Bighorn Mountains. Then the road twists and turns through a canyon and climbs up higher into the mountains. Make a pitstop at the Shell Falls Interpretive Site to see Shell Canyon.
This road tops out at Granite Pass (elevation 9,033 feet) before winding down through the mountains on the way to Dayton.
From Dayton, it takes 3 hours to drive to Devils Tower (185 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 Ten Sleep to Buffalo, Wyoming, on US Highway 16. It is the southern route through the Bighorn Mountains.
The Cloud Peak Skyway tends to be more popular, since it lacks the switchbacks and tight turns that the Bighorn Scenic Byway has. It’s a nice drive but Tim and I both think that the Bighorn Scenic Byway is more thrilling from start to finish.
From Cody, it takes 2 hours to drive to Ten Sleep. Just past Ten Sleep, US-16 enters a canyon and you will drive past towering limestone peaks.
Cloud Peak Skyway reaches its highest point at Powder River Pass (9,666 feet) and then descends to Buffalo. From Buffalo, it takes 2 hours to drive to Devils Tower (130 miles). Most of this drive is on Interstate 90 which is a large divided highway.
Cloud Peak Skyway near Ten Sleep
Once at Devils Tower, you will have a few hours to spend here.
For the quickest visit, simply walk the Tower Trail, a 1.3 mile trail that loops around the base of Devils Tower. If you are doing well on time, hike the Red Beds Trail, a 2.8 mile trail that makes a bigger loop around Devils Tower.
Hiking the Red Beds Trail
There are a few restaurants and general stores located at the entrance to Devils Tower National Memorial where you can get dinner and refill your gas tank.
For more information about how to visit Devils Tower, check out our Guide to Devils Tower.
Where to Stay
Tonight, stay either near Devils Tower or you can drive one hour east to Spearfish, South Dakota. Where to stay depends on whether or not you want to do an extra hour of driving today or save it for tomorrow morning.
Where to Stay Near Devils Tower
Where to Stay in Spearfish
Spearfish Canyon, Deadwood, Lead & Mount Rushmore
On the Road: 165 miles, 3.5 hours from Devils Tower; 105 miles, 2.5 hours from Spearfish
If you stayed near Devils Tower, it is a one hour drive to get to Spearfish.
Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway
This scenic drive is 20 miles long and it takes about 30 minutes to drive it, without stops. It starts in Spearfish and ends in Savoy. Along the drive, you can see Bridal Veil Falls, hike to Devils Bathtub (2 miles round trip, 1 to 1.5 hours), and visit Roughlock Falls. Click here to read more about Spearfish Canyon and to see more photos from the drive.
Lead & Deadwood
Continue to Lead. Lead’s claim to fame is its history in gold mining. This small town was home to the Homestake Mine, the largest, deepest, and most productive gold mine in the Western Hemisphere. It was closed in January 2002.
Things to do in Lead include visiting the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center, the Black Hills Mining Museum, and the Historic Homestake Opera House.
Deadwood sits right next to Lead. Deadwood is a National Historic Landmark District, since it preserves its Gold-rush architecture. During the Black Hills Gold Rush, from 1876 to 1879, this town was in its heyday. Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane, and Wild Bill Hickok all walked these streets.
In Deadwood, walk through the historic town, Tour the Adam’s House, visit Mount Moriah Cemetery, and visit the Saloon #10 Bar. This saloon is where Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed playing poker by Jack McCall. The hand of cards he was holding (two pairs of black aces and eights) is now called the Dead Man’s Hand.
Deadwood is a great place to have lunch, depending on how your timing works out. We had a great meal at Jacob’s Brewhouse & Grocer but Cheyenne Crossing, El Jefe’s Fresh-Mex Cantina, Lewie’s Saloon & Eatery, and Deadwood Legend’s Steakhouse all get great reviews.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
From Deadwood, it takes about one hour to drive to Mount Rushmore.
A visit here can last as little as 30 minutes, if you just want to walk up and snap a selfie with Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. I recommend spending more time here, walking the Presidential Trail and learning more about the history of Mount Rushmore in the visitor center.
Mount Rushmore in early October. If you walk the Presidential Trail you get unique views like this one.
To learn what to do and how to plan your time, read our post Mount Rushmore: 10 Things to Know Before You Go.
Optional: Crazy Horse Memorial
If you are doing well on time, you have the option to add on a visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial. It’s a 30 minute drive from Mount Rushmore and a visit here can be very quick. You can simply view the monument from afar, from the terrace of the Welcome Center, or you can take a van ride to the monument for a closer view. For updated pricing and hours, visit the official website.
Where to Stay
For the next three nights, you will stay in the Black Hills of South Dakota or Rapid City.
The town of Custer is located just outside of Custer State park, on the west side. EO Bungalows is one of the highest rated properties and your room comes with a kitchenette. The Rocket Motel is a nice pick if you are looking for a budget property that gets good reviews. The Holiday Express & Suites Custer-Mount Rushmore also gets good reviews.
Keystone is located north of Custer State Park, near Mount Rushmore. This town has a very touristy feel to it but it does have a nice, central location for exploring the Black Hills. We recommend the K Bar S Lodge and the Rockerville Lodge and Cabins.
On our first visit to the area, we stayed in Rapid City at the Courtyard by Marriott. This hotel was wonderful but we did A LOT of driving to get back and forth to the Black Hills. The advantage to staying here is that you will do less driving on the day trip to Badlands National Park. Just south of Rapid City is TKTK, where you can rent a two-bedroom house, a great option for families.
Where to Eat
I highly recommend having dinner at Skogen Kitchen in Custer. This small restaurant serves gourmet food that is outstanding. It was so good that we ate here two nights in a row. Make your reservation in advance.
Custer State Park
On the Road: varies depending on what you do and your route through Custer State Park, this can range from 100 to 150 miles with 3 to 4 hours of driving
This state park has a little bit of everything…thrilling hiking trails, picturesque lakes, and an abundance of wildlife that rivals that in the neighboring national parks.
Cathedral Spires Trail
Below are two different ways to spend your time in Custer State Park. Option #1 is perfect for families and those who want to see the best of the park without doing a lot of hiking. Option #2 is for avid hikers.
#1 Highlights of Custer State Park
- Morning: Starting at the Visitor Center, drive Wildlife Loop Drive in a clockwise direction.
- Late Morning: Drive Needles Highway to Sylvan Lake. If you like the idea of doing a short hike in the park, I recommend the Cathedral Spires hike. You will pass the parking lot for Cathedral Spires Trailhead on the way to Sylvan Lake.
- Midday: Spend some time at Sylvan Lake. Consider the easy stroll on the Lake Shore Trail or renting kayaks or paddle boards here (great in the summer months). Have a picnic lunch, dine at Sylvan Lake Lodge, or grab something quick to eat at the General Store.
- Afternoon: Backtrack down the Needles Highway. If you are doing good on time, and are looking for some solitude, visit Center Lake.
- Late Afternoon: Drive Highway 16A towards the Game State Lodge. If you are visiting with kids, consider visiting the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center, just note that it closes at 5 pm. Then exit the park on Iron Mountain Road. If it is getting dark, stop by Mount Rushmore if you have not yet seen it at night.
#2 Custer State Park for Hikers
- Morning: Hike to Black Elk Peak, Cathedral Spires, and/or Little Devils Tower. This can be done from Sylvan Lake or the Cathedral Spires trailhead parking lot.
- Midday: Visit Sylvan Lake and have lunch at Sylvan Lake Lodge.
- Afternoon: Drive Needles Highway and then drive Wildlife Loop Road counter-clockwise. This drive ends near the Visitor Center and the Game State Lodge, so if you need food, drinks, or to use the restrooms, you can do this here.
- Late Afternoon: Exit the park by driving Iron Mountain Road. Consider stopping to see Mount Rushmore at night, if the sun will be setting soon.
Black Elk Peak
For a full list of things to do and many more photos, read our Guide to Custer State Park.
Badlands National Park
On the Road (from Keystone): 240 miles, 5 hours
To get to the northeast entrance of Badlands National Park, it is an hour and forty-five minute drive from the Black Hills and an hour and fifteen minute drive from Rapid City. You will start on the east side of the park and end on the west side, so it will be a shorter drive to get back to the Black Hills/Rapid City at the end of the day.
To make the most of the day, I recommend getting an early start, ideally getting on the road at 7 am.
For more information about Badlands National Park, check out our article 15 Best Things to Do in Badlands National Park. Here is the link to our One Day Badlands Itinerary, a more detailed version of what is listed below.
Places to Go in Badlands National Park
Enter the park through the northeast entrance. Immediately past the entrance station is the Big Badlands Overlook. This is one of our favorite views of Badlands National Park and one of the top spots to watch the sunrise, but it’s also great all morning long.
Big Badlands Overlook
PRO TRAVEL TIP: Sunrise is a magical time to visit Badlands National Park. If this sounds like something you would like to do, stay in Wall the night of day 8. From Wall, it’s just a 30 minute drive to get to this overlook.
For the rest of the day, you will drive Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240), visiting the overlooks along the way and taking your pick from the short hiking trails. For a complete list of what to do in the park, take a look at our post Best Things to Do in Badlands National Park.
As you drive through the park, the next place you will reach are the trailheads for several hiking trails. The Notch Trail is the most thrilling hike in the park and it is very short. If you do one hike today, this is the one that I recommend. The Door and Window Trails are very easy walks that take you up close to the rock formations.
Continue the drive on Badlands Loop Road, visiting the overlooks as you go. The Fossil Exhibit Trail and Saddle Pass are two more walks/hikes to consider doing.
Just past the Pinnacles Overlook, Highway 240 turns north and heads to Wall. At this point, you can drive Sagecreek Rim Road farther into the Badlands. This gravel road is suitable for standard cars. The views of the Badlands aren’t quite as good as they are along Badlands Loop Drive, but on Sagecreek Rim Road you have a much better chance to spot wildlife like bison, bighorn sheep, coyote, and prairie dogs (we saw all of these animals here during our visit).
Sunset at Panorama Point
You can return to the Black Hills at this point, or stick around for sunset, another magical time to be here. The Pinnacles Overlook is the most convenient, since it is located near Sage Creek Rim Road and just a short drive to Wall. Another option is Panorama Point, our favorite sunset spot in the Badlands.
From Pinnacles Overlook, it is an hour drive to get back to Rapid City and an hour and a half drive to get back to the Black Hills.
Wind Cave National Park & Fly Home
On the Road: 90 miles, 2 hours
If you can schedule a late afternoon or evening flight, you have time in the morning to visit Wind Cave National Park. This park is named for its enormous cave but there are also hiking trails on the surface that lead to viewpoints and wildlife viewing opportunities.
If you want to take a cave tour, currently tours are booked in the morning on a first-come first-serve basis. Tours typically start at 9 am and the tour schedule varies based on the season. The visitor center opens at 8 am and I recommend getting here right at 8 am, or even a little before, to make sure that you are on the first tour of the day. For more information about cave tours, visit the National Park Service website.
We took the Natural Entrance Cave Tour, which lasts 1 hour and 15 minutes. You get to see a little bit of everything on this tour, including boxwork and cave popcorn.
After your cave tour (or instead of a cave tour), explore the above ground world of Wind Cave National Park. Bison roam the park and we saw a huge herd of bison while hiking the Lookout Trail and Centennial Trail Loop.
For something quicker, hike the short but sweet Rankin Ridge Trail for panoramic views over the Black Hills. On a clear day you can also see out to Badlands National Park.
The view from Rankin Ridge
In the afternoon/evening, fly home or continue on to your next destination.
How to Modify this Itinerary
If you want to visit Yellowstone, Devils Tower, and Mount Rushmore, but have limited time or a different starting point, here are alternate versions of this itinerary.
Doing this Itinerary in Reverse Order
If you plan to do this road trip in the opposite direction, here is the itinerary in reverse order, with a few modifications.
Day 1: Arrive in Rapid City, drive to Wall, South Dakota
Day 2: Badlands National Park from sunrise to sunset, drive to the Black Hills
Day 3: Custer State Park
Day 4: Wind Cave NP, Mount Rushmore
Day 5: Deadwood, Lead, Spearfish Canyon & Devils Tower
Day 6: Drive to Cody via Bighorn Scenic Byway or Cloud Peak Skyway
Day 7: Yellowstone NP
Day 8: Yellowstone NP
Day 9: Yellowstone NP in the morning, Grand Teton NP in the afternoon
Day 10: Grand Teton NP in the morning, fly home in the evening
Flying into Bozeman, Montana
Many of our readers have written in, saying that they got cheaper flights into Bozeman than Jackson or Idaho Springs. If this is the same in your case, you can fly into Bozeman and then make some modifications to this itinerary.
Since Bozeman is a 4-hour drive from Jackson, and you will drive right past Yellowstone, it doesn’t make sense to drive to Jackson on the first day of this itinerary. Instead, go right to Yellowstone. Ideally, stay in West Yellowstone, Canyon Village, or Old Faithful Village. It is faster and easier to day trip to Grand Teton from these locations. From Gardiner or Mammoth, it will be a very long drive to Grand Teton National Park.
Stay in Yellowstone through day 5 of this itinerary and use one of these days to day trip to Grand Teton National Park.
Here is the modified itinerary:
Day 1: Arrive in Bozeman, drive to Yellowstone
Day 2: Yellowstone National Park
Day 3: Grand Teton day trip
Day 4: Yellowstone National Park
Day 5: Yellowstone National Park
Day 6 through 10: Same as the above itinerary
7 Day Yellowstone, Devils Tower, and Mount Rushmore Itinerary
You can do this itinerary with less time, but you will have to give up a few sights.
Day 1: Arrive in Jackson, spend some time in Grand Teton NP if you have time in the afternoon
Day 2: Grand Teton in the morning, drive to Yellowstone in the afternoon
Day 3: Yellowstone National Park, sleep in Cody
Day 4: Drive from Cody to Devils Tower to the Black Hills of South Dakota
Day 5: Custer State Park & Mount Rushmore
Day 6: Badlands National Park
Day 7: Wind Cave National Park in the morning, fly home in the evening
Planning Your Trip
National & State Park Fees
Here are the fees to enter each park.
Grand Teton: $35
Devils Tower: $25
Mount Rushmore: No entrance fee but there is a $10 parking fee
Custer State Park: $20
Wind Cave: Free (cave tours have an extra fee)
America the Beautiful Pass
If you have plans to visit Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Badlands, and Wind Cave National Parks and Devils Tower, it is worth it to purchase the America the Beautiful Pass. This annual park pass costs $80 and is valid for one year. Not only will you save money on park fees for this trip but you will also get free admission to any other national park or federal recreation sites that you visit within 365 days of purchasing this pass. Custer State Park is not included with this pass since it is a state park.
Purchase your pass at the first national park that you visit (in this case, at Grand Teton) or you can get it online.
Click here to learn more.
Here are the links to each national park website. Check park conditions and road closures as you are planning your trip and again just before you go.
More Information about Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Devils Tower & South Dakota
GRAND TETON: The Complete Guide to Grand Teton National Park
GRAND TETON: One Perfect Day in Grand Teton National Park
GRAND TETON: 15 Great Day Hikes in Grand Teton National Park
GRAND TETON: Best Things to Do in Grand Teton National Park
YELLOWSTONE: The Complete Guide to Yellowstone National Park
YELLOWSTONE: 18 Amazing Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
YELLOWSTONE: Where to Stay in Yellowstone: Best Locations and Hotels
YELLOWSTONE: Old Faithful: 10 Tips to Have the Best Experience
YELLOWSTONE: Yellowstone Itinerary: Best Way to Spend 1 to 5 Days in Yellowstone
YELLOWSTONE: Guide to the Geyser Basins in Yellowstone
ROAD TRIP ITINERARY: Grand Teton, Yellowstone & Glacier National Parks: 10 Day Road Trip Itinerary
ROAD TRIP ITINERARY: Yellowstone and Grand Teton Itinerary: The Ultimate Road Trip Planning Guide
MOUNT RUSHMORE TO YELLOWSTONE: How to Drive between Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone
BEARTOOTH HIGHWAY: The Complete Guide to Beartooth Highway
DEVILS TOWER: How to Plan Your Visit to Devils Tower
MOUNT RUSHMORE: Mount Rushmore: 10 Things to Know Before You Go
CUSTER STATE PARK: 8 Amazing Things to Do in Custer State Park
BADLANDS: One Perfect Day in Badlands National Park
BADLANDS: 10 Best Hikes in Badlands National Park
WIND CAVE: Best Things to Do in Wind Cave National Park
SPEARFISH CANYON: The Perfect Devils Tower Day Trip from South Dakota
SOUTH DAKOTA ROAD TRIP: One Week South Dakota Road Trip: Black Hills & the Badlands
If you have any questions about this Yellowstone, Devils Tower and Mount Rushmore itinerary, let us know in the comment section below.
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