Top 3 Reasons to Drive to Yellowstone National Park

Written by Eliana Riley
Published: September 14, 2023
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Many visitors to Yellowstone prefer to drive to America’s first national park, discovering sights and attractions along the way. If you enjoy road trips, natural beauty, and unique landmarks, driving to Yellowstone National Park might become the journey of a lifetime. Not only do the routes to Yellowstone feature incredible sights and stops, but the drives themselves are picturesque and majestic, like something from a fairytale. Discover the top three reasons to drive to Yellowstone National Park this summer and learn about not-to-be-missed attractions.

Yellowstone National Park

The drive to Yellowstone National Park is a life-changing journey that everyone should embark on!

©Jess Kraft/Shutterstock.com

1. Scenery

The scenery along the route to Yellowstone is exquisite, no matter your point of origin. Utah’s incredible landscape stun those who pass through it, and Oregon’s national forests provide a diverse assortment of flora and fauna. Canada’s rich pine trees and mountains are sure to please, and South Dakota’s shocking sunflower fields cloak the roadside in vibrant yellow hues.

Overall, the roadside landscape on the way to Yellowstone National Park is gorgeous. Perhaps the most remarkable sights are the Black Hills, Badlands National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Beartooth Highway. Below, we describe areas with the most amazing scenery.

Black Hills

Black Hills National Forest spans South Dakota and Wyoming, measuring around 70 miles wide. The area of the Black Hills totals around 1.2 million acres. The name “Black Hills” derives from the Lakota phrase “Paha Sapa,” meaning “hills that are black.” The Black Hills originally belonged to the Lakota people group before the U.S. government took control of the region.

While the Black Hills features beautiful mountains and trees, it also includes other natural and man-made wonders. For instance, sunsets around this region showcase vibrant orange, pink, and purple hues that cascade behind the mountaintops. In addition, Mount Rushmore lies in the Black Hills. This famous American monument features the carvings of four U.S. presidents’ faces on a mountainside. Driving through the Black Hills will surely spark appreciation of nature.

Black Hills

The Black Hills presents a stunning landscape, national memorials, and impactful historical narratives.

©iStock.com/John_Brueske

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park features fascinating fossils and rock formations; the site is a geological wonder. Found in Southwestern South Dakota, Badlands National Park is not only stunning but serene. The entrance to the park is practically silent, excluding the occasional chirping bird or light breeze. This is a great place for visitors searching for absolute peace and quiet. Tourists can drive through the expansive park or stop at various sites along the route to view rock formations and wildlife.

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park displays incredible and one-of-a-kind geological formations.

©EQRoy/Shutterstock.com

Grand Teton National Park

Due to its proximity to Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park features similar landscapes and wildlife to those of Yellowstone. Located in Wyoming, Grand Teton features over 200 miles of trails for hiking and exploration. The drive through Grand Teton will stun visitors, as the picturesque pine trees, mountains, rivers, and lakes make for an incredible sight. Finally, sunrise and sunset in this park provide an amazing view, as the night sky descends slowly on the steep mountains and rolling hills.

Schwabacher's Landing, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Grand Teton mountains are seen at dawn reflected in the still water of the Snake River.

The Snake River in Grand Teton National Park beautifully reflects the surrounding landscape.

©R K Sewell Photography/Shutterstock.com

Beartooth Highway

Beartooth Highway is perhaps the most scenic drive in the United States. Starting near the city of Red Lodge, Montana, the road winds through majestic mountains and ends near Yellowstone National Park. In addition, the road ascends over 10,000 feet in elevation. Several pullovers reside on the roadside so that drivers can rest or take pictures. Other features on Beartooth Highway include waterfalls, streams, overlooks, lakes, and Shoshone National Forest.

Beartooth highway through Wyoming, Montana. The most scenic drive in the US on the way to Yellowstone National Park surrounded by lush greenery and mountain peaks

Beartooth Highway is considered by many to be the most scenic drive in the United States.

©Sam Spicer/Shutterstock.com

2. Attractions

The type of attractions a tourist may encounter on the way to Yellowstone National Park depends on where they are coming from. For instance, those traveling from the South, including states like Utah or Colorado, may want to stop at Temple Square in Salt Lake City to discover the influence of Mormonism on music.

On the other hand, those traveling from the West, including states like Oregon or Idaho, may want to visit the Old Idaho Penitentiary or Idaho Botanical Garden in Boise. However, some of the most unique attractions are found coming from the East in states like Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

Attractions in Missouri

One must-see attraction in Missouri is Hannibal, the hometown of author Mark Twain. The town features The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, which pays homage to one of the greatest writers of the 19th century. Another amazing Missouri attraction is the Pony Express National Museum, found in St. Joseph. This historical museum tells the complicated and fantastic story of how mail was carried across the United States by horseback. St. Joseph also showcases the site where outlaw Jesse James was shot and killed.

The Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse in Hannibal stands as a reminder of Mark Twain’s literary legacy.

©K. Bradley Washburn/Shutterstock.com

Attractions in Nebraska

In Nebraska, the city of Omaha features the Nebraska Furniture Mart, one of the nation’s largest furniture stores. From appliances to electronics, this store has everything you could want. It hosts incredible deals and savings alongside a variety of home décor and furniture that will fit your budget. Nebraska Furniture Mart is not just a store on the way to Yellowstone, it’s an experience in and of itself.

Nebraska Furniture Mart is a labyrinth of home goods, electronics, and appliances.

©Lectrician2 / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

Attractions in South Dakota

Finally, South Dakota showcases the best and most unique attractions on the drive to Yellowstone. A must-see in this state is the Corn Palace, located in Mitchell, South Dakota. The Corn Palace contains an indoor basketball court that praises the most important crop of the Midwest: corn. In fact, the outside of the palace is decorated with murals and art made of corn! These murals are often replaced over time by other artistic ventures made from this desirable crop.

South Dakota also features Wall Drug, a massive convenience store and tourist attraction in the town of Wall. Driving through the state, tourists will see an array of billboards and signs leading to the attraction. Just outside Wall Drug stands an 80-foot-tall dinosaur sculpture! This market features souvenirs and food for visitors to enjoy.

The last and perhaps most historical attraction in South Dakota is 1880 Town. This site features several original buildings from the 1800s. Even most of the relics within the buildings are from the 1800s! Visitors can see what an original Western saloon looked like and hear live music within. Finally, 1880 Town features costumes and set pieces used in the award-winning film Dances with Wolves, released in 1990.

Mitchell Corn Palace

Check out the impressive Mitchell Corn Palace on the drive to Yellowstone National Park!

©Peder Digre/Shutterstock.com

3. Must-See Cities and Towns

The drive to Yellowstone from any region features incredible cities along the way. For example, Denver showcases a unique downtown area with various hotels and restaurants. In addition, visitors can see a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, with music against a backdrop of incredible rock formations that glow red in the sunlight. Some other prominent cities and towns on the way to Yellowstone National Park are listed below.

St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis, Missouri sits on the famous Mississippi River. Once known as the gate to the West, St. Louis claims an incredible history. The St. Louis Union Station Hotel puts on a light show in the evenings in order to celebrate various artists and important historical figures who helped shape St. Louis’s culture and economy.

This famous city also showcases the Gateway Arch, a well-known structure that unites the city’s buildings, resulting in an incredible skyline. Tourists flock to visit the Gateway Arch every year. Activities around the Arch include museum tours, riverboat tours, and theme nights.

St. Louis, Missouri, USA downtown cityscape on the river at dusk.

The Gateway Arch of St. Louis, MO is the city’s most recognizable feature.

©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

Rapid City, South Dakota

Rapid City, South Dakota sits between Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore, making it the ideal stop on the way to Yellowstone National Park. Despite its small population of less than 80,000 residents, the city has much to offer. For example, downtown Rapid City hosts music nights every Thursday during the summer. Bands play live music, while patrons enjoy drinks and food.

In addition, Rapid City hosts various events throughout the year that honor Native American people groups belonging to the Great Plains region. These groups bring their artistry and customs to Rapid City to celebrate their heritage and share their gifts. Lastly, Perhaps the most amusing event near Rapid City is the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Located just 30 minutes from Rapid City in a town of the same name, the Sturgis rally welcomes motorcyclists from across the country. Each year, the event brings hundreds of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts together.

A toy motorcycle pictured with a map of Sturgis, South Dakota.

Motorcyclists from across the nation ride to Sturgis, SD for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

©Jacqueline Dickens/Shutterstock.com

Red Lodge, Montana

Red Lodge is a small town in Montana that sits outside of Yellowstone National Park. While many tourists flock to Red Lodge to journey along Beartooth Highway, the city is also worth exploring, featuring various shopping and dining experiences. Downtown Red Lodge has a quaint, small-town feel, but still sees a bustling nightlife. As people shift in and out of bars, live music penetrates the night, inspiring a community feel.

In addition, restaurants in Red Lodge are extremely delicious. Piccola Cucina is a highly praised Italian restaurant that only exists in Spain, New York City, and Red Lodge. Fine dining is a staple of this town, but casual cuisine also exists. For instance, various bakeries, bars, and pizza places line Broadway.

Visitors can partake in shopping on Broadway, too. Stores on this main street of Red Lodge display souvenirs, home goods, jewelry, and clothing. The best part about shopping in Red Lodge is that most stores downtown are small businesses. In this way, tourists can purchase quality items and gifts while supporting the town’s economy.

Finally, the nature and wildlife around Red Lodge are exquisite. Various hiking trails display the natural beauty of Montana and invite adventurers to experience the uniqueness of Custer Gallatin National Forest. Also found in Red Lodge, Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary rehabilitates injured or abandoned animals from in and around Yellowstone. Animals within the sanctuary are too vulnerable to be released back into the wild. Some animals on-site at this sanctuary include bobcats, black bears, bison, owls, wolves, foxes, and coyotes.

Red Lodge, Montana, USA. The foothills of the Bear Tooth Mountains at dawn as seen from the Bear Tooth Mountain Pass Highway on a fine summer morning near Red Lodge, Montana, USA.

Red Lodge features an expansive and stunning view of the Beartooth Mountains.

©Daniel J. Rao/Shutterstock.com

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Tiffany Noel Videography/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Eliana Riley is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on geography, travel, and landmarks. Eliana is a second-year student at Miami University majoring in English Education and Spanish. A resident of Tennessee and Ohio, Eliana enjoys traveling to national and state parks, hiking, kayaking, and camping.

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