Road to Yellowstone

I am also interested in going to Yellowstone this summer,but as I have never been to Wyoming,I'm concerned about what roads to take.The map indicates some very high areas and some winding two lane roads.My truck and trailer are in good shape,but I would appreciate any advice as to the best roads,and any precautions I should take.Thanks.
Road to Yellowstone


Wow! It has been a month and no one has replied to your question.

I am a Wyoming Native and live in Colorado. I have visited Yellowstone about 15 times over the last 30 years and have traversed all roads into and out of the park.

I'm sure that I can help answer some of your questions but I need more information. Where are you coming from? What is your truck including year, engine size, differential gear (if you know it) and transmission? What is your trailer length and weight? How experienced are you in mountain driving? How confident are you that you can handle difficult mountain roads? If you can answer these questions I can help you pick roads that most meet your requirements.

Roads through Wyoming to the park range from moderately easy to downright scary depending on the rig you drive and you. Please answer the questions and I will respond.

Road to Yellowstone

Larry,thanks a lot for the reply.I am in NC,but plan to come into WY via SD.I have a 98 Ford Supercab with 4.6,factory tow pkg.3:55 rear,E40D auto trans pulling a 21' Sunline with a total weight of 3781 without water.I have never been to WY before so I dont really know what to expect.I have towed mainly along the East coast,so the only real mountains I have experienced have been in VT.Rt 14 looks kind of scary so I was going to stay on I-90,then on the return,take I-15 down to I-80.Would appreciate your comments or suggestions.Thanks.
Road to Yellowstone


From your response I am presuming that you will be most comfortable with the least mountainous route. I am going to suggest 2 routes in and one out. The first has only the mountains at the East Gate of Yellowstone and the second has more challenges. Keep in mind that the scenery is directly proportional to the amount of mountains. More mountains, more great things to see!

I preface everything by saying that all the roads I suggest here are relatively wide, sparsely traveled (by east coast standards) and have moderate grades and few sharp turns. I'm presuming that you already have the Black Hills section of your trip planned so I won't go into that.

The least mountainous route from Rapid City is as follows: South out of Rapid City on SD79 to US18. US18 West to Mule Creek Jct. US18/US85 South to Lusk, WY. US20 West to Orin Jct, WY. Go North on I25 (labeled north but the road is actually running east and west here) to Casper, WY. At Casper continue west on US 20 to Shoshone, WY. In Shoshone turn right to continue on US20 to Thermopolis, WY. The road from Shoshone (say "show-show'-nee") goes down through a spectacular canyon. The grade is not steep and the road is wide and curves gentle. In Thermopolis turn left to go west/northwest on WY120 to Cody, WY. In Cody pickup US20 again and go west into Yellowstone. Your first really good grade is the pull up out of Thermopolis. I wouldn't call it mountains but it is a good grade that goes on for a long time. The next challenge is US 20 from Cody to Fishing Bridge in the Park. This is a mountain road but has been widened and straightened in recent years. It is definitely no worse that some of the Smokey Mountain roads back east.

A more challenging but more scenic route is West on I90 from Rapid City to Buffalo, WY. In Buffalo take US16 to Worland. Be prepared, this is a real mountain road. The road climbs about 5000 ft from Buffalo to the top of Powder River Pass and then drops about 5000 ft to Worland, WY. It is steep on both sides, the west side is the steepest and has the sharpest curves (and is the prettiest). From Worland go to Thermopolis and on to Yellowstone.

I strongly suggest that you have reservations for your campground in Yellowstone. Go to I might suggest Canyon or Madison Campgrounds. They are both centrally located and minimize travelling to see the sights. If you are most interested in Yellowstone Lake/River things stay in Canyon. If thermal features and wildlife are more interesting to you then go on to Madison. Either way you can day trip in your truck anywhere in the park. The internal park roads are formed in a rough figure 8. The northern loop has places where the road is in poor condition, steep and winding. The Southern Loop roads tend to be much wider, smoother and less winding. All can be negotiated with your rig but you probably won't want to, especially the road from Canyon through Tower to Mammoth.

I'll take this opportunity to give some advice on mountain driving. I don't believe that your rig will have ANY problems if it is driven appropriately. Pulling grades in a lower gear with higher RPM's (less than redline) at part throttle is less stressful on the engine and transmission than a higher gear and lower RPM's. You won't hurt your engine if you are pulling these grades at 4600 RPM. You might hurt it if you pull for MILES at full throttle and 2000 RPM. This is the reason that Ford recommends that you take the truck out of overdrive while towing. You need to gear down manually to second or first if the grade is steep enough. If you are full throttle or near full throttle and the RPM's are low shift'er down! NEVER let the transmission 'hunt' for the right gear. If it is doing that then shift it down until the grade gets less and it pulls willingly in the next gear.

On the down hill side your truck and trailer brakes are inadequate to keep you at a safe speed on the LONG, STEEP grades. The gasoline engine in your truck however is an excellent brake for this purpose. Manually shift the transmission to a lower gear until you find the one that holds you at a safe speed with minimal or no braking. If you must brake (this will get pot shots from some who prefer another technique) apply the brake with just enough pedal pressure to hold your speed or reduce it for corners. Avoid heavy braking if possible.

I presume that the automatic transmission in my 32' motorhome is too stupid to know when to shift so I ALWAYS shift manually. By being the brain for my transmission I avoid situations where the engine, transmission or brakes are overstressed. It is twice as heavy as your rig and has 1/3 bigger engine. It has NO problems on any of these roads. You and your truck won't either if you do it right! ;-)

Unless you have some reason to go to Idaho I would suggest that you avoid I80 in Wyoming. This road traverses a high rolling plain. It has endless 3-4% up and down grades. The wind always blows! Truck traffic comprises 75-80% of the volume and the trucks run 90+ MPH on the downhill sides of these grades and 30-70 on the uphill sides. With your rig you will be continually passing slow trucks going up and being past by 90 MPH juggernauts on the way down. You haven't fully lived until you have had an 83K lb eighteen wheeler pass you at 90 MPH while you are going 60!! ;-(

I suggest that you exit Yellowstone south to the Tetons. Spend some time there if you can. Leave the Teton NP going east on US26. This is a mountain road but by now you will be experienced ;-). It is not nearly as entertaining (steep, winding) as US16 from Buffalo to Worland. Take US26 to Shoshone and US 20 on to Casper. From Casper find your way home. Either back the way you came or south to Cheyenne and east on I80 or on south to Denver and east on I70. I70 East to St. Louis is OK, I have no opinion on I80 in Nebraska.
Road to Yellowstone

Larry: Wow,you should get a job with Wyoming Tourism.This is great information for the trip.I never realized what driving through WY.would be like,but you sure gave me an education.Never realized I-80 was so bad,think I'll follow your advice and return through Denver.Thanks again,you've been a big help. Will.
Road to Yellowstone

You are welcome Will. Please note my email address and give me a trip report after you get home. I am always interested in others opinions on these roads.

Be sure to plan a stop in Thermopolis. Thermop is a small town with a very interesting and unique feature. Thermal springs abound in the area and there are two hot springs spas. We always make a point to spend the night in Thermopolis and a few hours at one of the spas. We prefer Star Plunge. Then we go on to Cody early the next day and spend a few hours in the Buffalo Bill Museum. There is a nice Wy state park just west of Cody. Spend the night there and then go on into Yellowstone the next morning. Just a suggestion. ;-)


PS. I LOVE Yellowstone. Of all the places we have visited, Yellowstone is the place we return to over and over again. Every National Park I have ever visited has been interesting but there is something SPECIAL about Yellowstone!
Road to Yellowstone

Great info Larry!! I was curious why you didn't mention Devil's Tower?? We drove from Yellowstone to the Badlands, and just HAD to stop by Devil's Tower. I consider it a must see of Wyoming. I wasn't sure how the roads are up that way. We had a small truck w/ a camper when we were up there.

For Sale 2000 Ford Ranger w/ Slide in Camper
see at

Edited by - dbkennel on Mar 30 2002 03:30:17 AM
Road to Yellowstone

I agree with Larry. We did the yellowstone trip last summer and went over powder river pass. I had it if first gear heading up the hill (3800 RPM) and 1st gear heading down the hill (3800 RPM). Living in western PA, I thought we had hills...We'll you haven't seen anything yet. It was a 35 MPH up and Down and hardly ever had to hit the brake. The views are great. If you get a chance, head to the grand tetons (we like this better than yellowstone). We camped in West Yellowstone and the area was still recovering from the forest fires from 1990 (?). Although we did some great day hikes while in yellowstone, we found the teton hiking to be much more to our liking. Every where you looked it looke like a picture postcard. If you don't camp their, at the very least head that way for a few day trips. However, talking about SD, I strongly recommend custer state park, and the mammouth site (just south of Hill City). We stayed at Rafter J Ranch for a week and had a great time. Also, drive Needles Highway (leave camper at camp site). The view are breath taking.

Pittsburgh Dave
Road to Yellowstone

Right about the wind blowing in WY. We came through the day after a major blow and saw a couple of 18-wheelers on their sides (they had closed down sections of the interstate because of the wind). And it was still windy when we came through (not towing anything) and it was interesting to come up behind 18-wheelers that were actually leaning away from the wind by several degrees. Never saw anything like that in my life before. I remember thinking a few times how a typical RV trailer rig might fare in those conditions.
Road to Yellowstone

wow, what wonderful information. we traveled to yellowstone two years ago and stayed at the north end at yellowstone edge campground right on the river.........had full hookups and was very nice campground. we were towing a TT with a SUV and were worried about the roads inside the park. we have upgraded to a Tundra and will be staying in the park at fishing bridge.......has anyone stayed there .....can you share any info as to the sites, scenery, bear situation, facilities, etc.
Road to Yellowstone

Larry, great information for visitors to Wyoming. I grew up in Billings, so like you have spent many a happy camping trip in and around Yellowstone. Just a couple added thoughts from the daughter of a retired trucker!

My dad taught me that whatever speed you travel up one side of a pass, that should be the speed you travel down the other side. It is real easy to just let the gravity move you! Avoid this! Slow and easy going down! Also, in addition to using your engine speed to control your vehicle speed by shifting down, when pulling a trailer, rather than using your tow vehicle's breaks to slow you down, very gently use the trailer breaks (the electric break controller mounted on your dash) to slow your descent. Caution - don't ride the breaks! Some of our mountain passes are really long! Watch your speed and if you are gaining too much forward momentum, an occasional gentle smooth touch on the trailer brakes will help to keep the engine from winding too high and will keep you traveling at a slow even pace down far side of the mountain.

I also agree with Larry, Thermopolis is a wonderful stop. We always plan one night, and usually end up spending more.

Suggest you might want to make your reservations at a campground in the park and then make a few daytrips and back to your campsite each night.

Also, even though it is quite a "tourist trap", Jackson Hole is worth stopping at if you're in the area. Gunfights in the street, melodramas at the local theater, and all the fixin's that go with a true western tourist trap make it fun as long as you keep in mind that it really isn't the "old west that really was"!
Road to Yellowstone


Being an expert of Yellowstone, you can probably help a brasilian woman, tring to plan the family trip:
We're arriving at Salt Lake at the end of MArch. I would love to visit Yellowstone, and I thing I could even loss a son there, running though all those wonderfull nature. But, everything I read discourage me due to the weather. Do you think we can have a good time visiting it during this season? What we can do there, considering we have just two days? And what about the drive condicions ? Remember we never have snow here in Brasil. Could we find some dificulties in driving?
Thank you for the attencion. And , excuse my English!
Road to Yellowstone

I find your English very good. :) Much better than I write or speak ANY other language.

Welcome to the USA. I hope your visit is very enjoyable.

Late March and early April are not good times for auto touring in Yellowstone. See National Park Service. Park interior roads are not open until at least April 19. It may snow in March and April and there will still be large quantities of snow on the ground. Although Yellowstone is very beautiful in the winter it is not a tourist friendly place at that time.

Might I suggest that you consider visiting the GRAND CANYON National Park and Mesa Verde National Park . These parks are south of Salt Lake City and not as far as Yellowstone. Both are accessable in the March and April. You can see the same website above for information on these parks. There are several interesting national parks in Utah as well.

Road to Yellowstone

Hi Larry!

Thank you for answering me!

I was just thinking of that: visiting Grand Canyon NP. In fact, We're driving from LA to Las Vegas and than to Salt LAke. But I couldn't find a map informing me the distances, so I don't know if it's possible drive from Vegas and return at the same day. MAybe you can sugest me a website... Or maybe you must say that a day it's not at all enough!
I thougth a trip using a RV would be cool, a new experience, but we're afraid about driving it, leading with eventual problems in a foreign country and language. What do you think? Our money don't worth too much, so we're looking for the less expensive solution. Considering all things, what would be better? A economical car and "motel6" or an RV for two nights maybe?
It's nice to find friends all around the world! :cool:

C Nash

Senior Member
Road to Yellowstone

Hi achoairy,
Don't think you will be able to do this in two days and a car and the motel might be better even though I don't like that. Can't beat most of the people you find in campgrounds. You can put Mapblast or Mapquest in search and find the distants for most anywhere.
Road to Yellowstone

I really enjoyed Larry's posting in this TOPIC. It was very helpful and easy to follow on a map. We are planning on visiting the area the second week of August 03 and will be coming up from St Louis and onto Sacramento California.

We would like to travel into Rapid City and are debating when we should pop up to Hwy 70 (Illinois or farther west). We will have 1 week of travel from St Louis to Sacramento and would like to spend 2 days in Yellowstone.

Once we clear Yellowstone, any suggestions on easy routes to Jackson Hole and then onto Ogden Utah?

I have a 97 Suburban, 5.7, w/tow package, 3.73 gears, tranny cooler, Prodigy brake controller.
TT is '04 Rockwood 2601, 4300+ lbs

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thank You in advance, Chris H.
Road to Yellowstone

Many thanks to Larry for the excellent info- I will try his east route out to the Black Hills in 2 weeks. We will be coming into Yellowstone from the north after a trip to ND to visit relatives. I've done Beartooth Pass 12+ years ago( station wagon & heavy pop-up), would anyone have recommendations for the mild route in from the north?

Our current package is a Chevy Astro 2WD van w/ towpak, tranny cooler, weight distributing hitch w/antisway and a 3000 lb. ultralite TT- 4 wheel electric brakes & Reese controller.
Road to Yellowstone

Great Thread.
We plan on going full timing next year and Yellowstone will probably be one of our first destinations. I am so impressed with this thread that I am first printing it and than bookmarking it for future use.
Road to Yellowstone

we were looking at coming in to Yellowstone from the west on 191

leaving out of Yellowstone headed east on 191/287 and 20 to Sheridan

from Sheridan along 14 and I-90 to Mt. Rushmore

will have a 4x4 Ford Explorer Sport w/ small trailer

is that a good route to take???
Road to Yellowstone

Charley and Donna,

It sounds as though you have a great trip planned. Highway US14 from Greybull, WY to Sheridan is a challenging mountian road. I prefer making my way to Worland, WY and taking US16 to Buffalo then picking up I90 there to go east. US16 is a less challenging road but still has great scenery.

You might consider going from Cody to Thermopolis on WY120 and spending the night. Thermopolis has 2 great hot spring spas that are fun places to take kids and old kids like me. The Star Plunge has a great water slide too. :)