The Ultimate National Park Road Trip: Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah
By the VanCraft Team | August 13, 2021
So you’re looking for an epic, once-in-a-lifetime, road trip? One filled with the perfect mix of awinspiring mountain peaks, vast desert landscapes, and crystal clear lakes? You’ve come to the right place. This route kicks off in Denver, Colorado, VanCraft’s newest location, and takes you through some of the country’s most photo-worthy scenery and diverse terrain including 5 National Parks, ranging from Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons to Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon, before closing the loop via Lake Powell, Moab, and Arches National Park to bring you back to the Mile High City.
The ideal length for this route would be two to three weeks to really soak up everything it has to offer (which, spoiler, is a lot).
Day 1: Denver, Colorado → Yellowstone National Park
With eyes on the prize, it’s time to crank out some miles to get up to Yellowstone National Park. A quick disclaimer: doing this trip in 10 days is not for the faint of heart. We’d recommend baking in a few extra days on the front end to explore the 9-hour stretch up to the northern entrance to Yellowstone. If you are cranking out the drive though, don’t forget to slow down for a commemorative shot with the Wyoming state sign to mark the official start of the multi-state road trip, and if you’re itching to get the tires a little dusty, be sure to check out Chugwater Basin Road (41.785533, -104.811882) to quench your thirst for dirt and get you amped for what’s to come on this route.
Want to ease into vacation mode and experience the greater Denver before hitting the road?
● Take an extra day in Denver to take in the plethora of breweries, local hikes, and unparalleled bites before starting your journey North.
● Looking for a thrill to kickstart the trip? Give rafting a go.
● See who’s playing at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
● Head to Coors Field for a game
● Explore Rocky Mountain National Park. For more information on Colorado’s National Parks: https://www.colorado.com/articles/quick-guide-colorado-national-parks
Start your day at camp (campsite options below!), coffee in hand, overlooking the mountains of Yellowstone National Park. After whipping up a hearty breakfast on the VanCraft two-burner stove, hit the happy trails and head out for your first taste of what Yellowstone has to offer.
First up is Mammoth Hot Springs, a martian-like terrain boasting terraces of steaming travertine pools. This boardwalk trail is just the warm-up you’ll need for today’s adventure.
Once you’ve taken in every last drop of the springs, start the journey to Canyon Village, stopping to stretch your legs for the quick 100-yard walk to the Tower Fall Overlook to take in one of the most popular waterfalls in the park, cascading down 132 feet.
Next stop was a hike down to the top of Lower Falls. A few must-see vantage points to fully appreciate the scale of these falls are:
● The Brink of Lower Falls
● Red Rock Point Yellowstone
● Inspiration Point
Pro Tip: While you’re in Canyon Village, near Lower Falls, stop by the village store and grab yourself a mix of local beers for camp later.
Round off the day with a drive through Hayden Valley, one of the most popular spots for spotting Yellowstone’s infamous Bison, Elk and Deer, and a scenic snack spot at Yellowstone Lake, before heading back to camp.
Wind down with tacos (a camp favorite), a well-deserved ice cold beer, and a shower off the back of the van before curling up for the night.
● Epic wild-camp spot just outside of Gardiner, MT. (GPS Coordinates 45.07225, 110.67154)
● Eagle Creek Campground: First come, first serve.
● Rocky Mountain RV & Campground. Great showers! (Gardiner, Montana)
● For the latest information on Campgrounds inside Yellowstone check out this page https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/campgrounds.htm
● Pro-tip: Want to stay inside Yellowstone National Park but don’t have a reservation? Check out Indian Creek Campground first thing in the morning to nab a first come, first serve spot if there’s any available, or pop by other reservation-only campgrounds in the early morning to see if there’s been any day-of cancellations.
Day 3: Yellowstone National Park → Grand Teton National Park
As you head South, take in these noteworthy hikes and iconic Yellowstone sights:
● Norris Geyser Basin
● Artists Paintpots
● Grand Prismatic Spring
● Fairy Falls hike to see it from above
● And last, but certainly not least, Old Faithful (be sure to look into the time predictions: https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/geyser-activity.htm)
After catching the show at Old Faithful, take in the sunset next to Jackson Lake with the Grand Tetons towering in the background, before heading to camp for the night.
Grand Teton National Park Campgrounds:
● Colter Bay Campground
● Jenny Lake Campground
● Gros Ventre Campground (our team stayed here and loved it!)
● Kudar Log Cabins and RV in Jackson, Wyoming
For more information: https://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/camping.htm
Heads up: Keep an eye out for Bison, Elk, and Deers! If you’re lucky, you may even see an entire herd traveling up the road like the VanCraft team did.
Day 4: Grand Teton National Park
● Roadside breakfast/lunch at Glacier View Turnout
● The Moulton Barn on Mormon Row: an infamous spot for photographers
● Jenny Lake Scenic Drive: a favorite for it’s close proximity to the Tetons and expansive lake with jumping rocks for those who fancy a dip.
● Signal Mountain drive with panoramic views at the top
● National Museum of Wildlife Art on the way into Jackson Hole
● Shopping, bite and brews in Jackson Hole
● Set alarm for sunrise in the Tetons
Interested in staying in town instead of in the park? Check out Kudar Log Cabins and RV in Jackson to be in walking distance from the shops and restaurants.
Day 5: Grand Teton National Park → Zion National Park
Sunrise in the Grand Tetons is something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. If you’re not an early riser, fear not! The beautiful thing about having a van is you can quite literally roll out of bed and drive to your viewpoint of choice in your pjs, before coffee and breakfast even enter your mind.
Here’s some of the best places to watch the sunrise in the Grand Tetons:
● The Moulton Barn: If you’re into photography, you’ll probably recognize the barns of Mormon Row, known as one of the best places to take in the sunrise of the Tetons.
● Snake River Overlook
● Schwabacher’s Landing
● Turnouts along Teton Park Road
After taking in the Sunrise, sipping on freshly-brewed coffee, and enjoying a home cooked breakfast in the fresh morning air, it’s time to start the journey south to Zion National Park.
Optional Detours (If you have time):
● Park City is worth a detour. Grab a bite on Main Street, spend a day on the mountain (Lake Catherine Via Brighton Lakes Trail is a great 4 mile hike and worth the drive), and stay on any of the surrounding BLM land (queue iOverlander again).
● Bryce Canyon: You’ll thank us later!
When you make it into Springdale (the town at the entrance to Zion), treat yourself to a meal at King’s Landing. A classy, yet casual, spot with come-as-you-are vibes, mountain views, and outdoor seating. A perfect place to take in the sunset with Zion’s signature red peaks in the background.
● BLM land: There’s no shortage of free camp options around Zion, with miles and miles of BLM land surrounding the park. Check out iOverlander, and take your pick. A favorite of mine was at the top of the Smithsonian Butte pass. It’s one of those spots that makes you truly thankful for public land.
● Watchman Campground (in Zion)
● South Campground (in Zion)
Need a night to refresh after the drive or a place to escape the heat if it’s the heart of summer? There’s plenty of hotel options in Springdale and surrounding areas that hit every price point and taste (the Driftwood Lodge definitely lived up to the hype).
Day 6: Zion National Park
Today’s the day to see what Zion is all about! It’s time to stretch the ol’ legs and hit the happy trails again, but this time with a twist. You’ll be hiking through water. The Narrows is one of those must-do bucket-list hikes. Pack a lunch and get ready for a one-of-a-kind, out-and-back, trail!
Other hikes that are worth the effort:
● Angel’s Landing: If you’re feeling adventurous and up for the challenge
● Canyon Overlook Trail (see Day 7)
Post hike head over to Zion Canyon Brew Pub for some locally brewed craft beers and classic pub food.
Pro Tip: In the warmer months most people arrive at the park around 8am attempting to beat the crowds and the heat…if you want to feel a little more “out there” and a little less like you’re in Disneyland, you’ll either going to need to be at the Zion Shuttle 30 minutes before the first shuttle heads out, or hold off on heading out until early afternoon when everyone else is calling it quits for the day.
Day 7: Zion National Park → Grand Canyon National Park
Along the way consider stopping off at some of these:
● Moqui Cave. A quick 1-mile round trip hike up to the caves is a great pitstop.
● The Wave: 6.7 mile out and back trail to sandstone feature known as “The Wave”
● Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch Trail: 5.6 mile trail to Slot Canyons
● Cameron Trading Post – a Grand Canyon classic for souvenirs
You’re camping at Desert View Campground tonight, mere steps away from the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. On your drive down, stop at Walmart in Page, AZ to restock and treat yourself to something sweet for a sunset picnic. Once you’ve settled into camp and cooked up a feast, head on over to the Watch Tower parking lot with a bottle of wine and dessert. Follow the rim all the way to the left until the crowds disperse, and pick your favorite secluded spot to take in the sunset and enjoy your treat.
Enjoy a campfire back at Desert View Campground before hitting the hay for the night.
Day 8: Grand Canyon National Park → Lake Powell
Much like the Grand Tetons, a sunrise over the Grand Canyon is also a must-see at least once in your life. There’s a .25-mile trail from the campground that leads straight to the edge, close enough to bring your coffee with you for the trek. Soak it up and take it all in, before heading back to camp for an early breakfast.
If you have an extra day it’s definitely worth heading to the Grand Canyon Village to hike down into the canyon, but if you’re strapped for time pack up and head to Lake Powell. Today you’re going kayaking. This ain’t your average summer-camp paddle, this 7-mile round trip paddle will take you from Antelope Point Marina to Antelope Canyon, one of the area’s most impressive slot canyons, where you’ll be able to explore on foot before returning to the water.
If you have time, check out Horseshoe bend while you’re in the area as well!
- Beehive Campsites, 6 established sites for $14/night, overlooking Lake Powell. First come, first serve. (GPS Coordinates: 36.936710, -111.497730)
- Wahweap RV & Campground
- Plenty of off-grid spots as well around the lake (see iOverlander)
Day 9: Lake Powell → Arches National Park
Day nine is all about detours and deserts. As you head north, take some time to take it all in:
● Grey Mesa: Fun network of dirt trails to break up the drive.
● Monument Valley: A must!
● Valley of the Gods: Great network of dirt trails for lunch.
In Arches National Park there’s countless must-sees, but if time is limited pick a few of these to take in:
● North Window, South Window and Turret Arch – 1.0 round trip
● Double Arch – 0.5 miles roundtrip
● Delicate Arch – 3.0 miles roundtrip
● Park Avenue Overlook – 20 yards from parking lot
More time? Check out Moab and Canyonlands while you’re in the area.
Campsites: There’s plenty of options around Moab and Arches, but if you’re interested in starting the journey back to Denver today, head to “A Trail Through Time” (GPS coordinates: 39.196220, -109.027600) for an awesome mountaintop campsite, with mesa and mountain views, to ring in your last night on the road.
Day 10: Arches National Park → Denver
It’s that time, but the adventure isn’t quite over. As you wind your way back to Denver, take in the mountainscapes and rushing rivers as your cruise down I-70 through Vail, Breckenridge, and Idaho Springs, before cruising into the Denver VanCraft depot.
Have a little time to kill before your flight? Check out Station 26, just around the corner from the VanCraft depot, for some local beers to cap off this trip of lifetime!
We said it, and we’ll say it again. This route is one for the books. And there’s nothing quite like having the comforts of home and the peace of mind that a VanCraft provides, as you hit the road for this 2,500-mile, jam-packed, adventure.
Happy adventuring and don’t forget to tag #vancraft on your own epic adventure. We can’t wait to see where it’ll take you!