Article Overview: Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone National Park Road Trip
The great outdoors are a blessing that too many take for granted. In the world we live in now, where everyone is so immersed in their digital personas that the lines between virtual reality and actual life are becoming blurred, it’s important to remember what nature has to offer.
Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore make up two of the most important natural and historic sites in America seeing millions of visitors each year between them. Because of their proximity, making the journey between the two sites has grown to become a favorite road trip itinerary for tourists and even locals alike. While the two locations at either end of this trip are fascinating, that won’t be our focus today.
In this piece, we’ll be making the journey from Mt. Rushmore to Yellowstone, highlighting all the sights and delights you’ll encounter along the way.
Overview of the Trip from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone
A typical road journey from Mt. Rushmore to Yellowstone National Park will take about 9 hours if you go without making many stops. But where’s the fun in that? You will want to make a couple of stops along the way to get the most out of this excursion.
Wondering how far Yellowstone is from Mount Rushmore? The approximate distance from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone is 500 miles, depending on the route you take (more on that below).
You have a couple of options for making this trip, all offering beautiful sights, sounds, and also experiences as well. The three main routes from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone are: the Beartooth Highway, Cloud Peak Skyway, and the Bighorn Scenic Byway. Of these routes, two make their way through the Bighorn Mountains and Bighorn National Forest.
The Routes & Sites Along the Way
The Bighorn National Forest is among the oldest and most pristine forests in the United States, while the Bighorn Mountains are a mountain chain that lies on the east side of the Continental Divide. Cloud Peak, standing tall at 13,175 feet, is the tallest among them. Cloud Peak Skyway, on US Route 16, is named so because it passes through the spectacular pass in the range, while Bighorn Byway, on US Route 14, meanders along the northern tip of Bighorn National Park. Both routes offer plenty in the way of hiking trails and scenic overlooks.
The Beartooth Highway is one of America’s most enchanting scenic drives. It starts from Red Lodge and stops close to Yellowstone National Park’s northeast entrance, making it quite a convenient route. While it is significantly longer than the other two driving options, it’s jam-packed with scenic spots. Devils Tower, an iconic scenic spot, should be a part of everyone’s Mt.Rushmore to Yellowstone itinerary.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these routes.
Mt Rushmore to Yellowstone
1. Mt. Rushmore to Yellowstone via the Beartooth Highway
Length: 520 miles
Time Required: 9 hours (approximately)
This route runs for 520 miles from Mt. Rushmore to Cooke City – Silver Gate, Wyoming. It will take approximately 9 hours to complete it if you don’t make any stops along the way (but why would you want to do that?). This is a relatively longer route compared to the others on this list, so it’s more effective to break it up into two legs by spending a night at Red Lodge, Montana, before finishing up your drive the next day.
Let’s have a look at the top stops and scenic points along the route.
Mount Rushmore to Devils Tower
Getting to Devils tower from Mt. Rushmore will largely depend on where you intend to stay (Rapid City or Black Hills City) during your visit, but whichever route you take, you can expect to take about 3 hours in order to arrive there.
Because the day will still be young, it’s probably best that you don’t spend too much time at Devils Tower. I’d say about 2 hours or so will be enough to enjoy a quick hike along the Red Beds Trail, a 2.8-mile trail making a wide loop around the Tower, or the Tower Trail, which is a 1.3-mile trail looping around more tightly along the Tower’s base.
The Red Beds Trail is better suited for fast hikers. You can refill your gas tank, grab some lunch and snacks, or use the facilities at the Devils Tower National Monument, as there are a collection of general stores and restaurants at its entrance.
Devils Tower to Red Lodge
I’d say taking the Bighorn Scenic Byway, which we will describe further down in this piece, is the best route to take as you make your way to Red Lodge, Montana.
Drive north past Hulett and take US Highway 112 to Montana where you’ll link up with the 212. From here you’ll jump on the 212 which takes you all the way to Red Lodge. All told, the trip to Red Lodge from Devils Tower runs about 320 miles and will take about 5.5 to 6 hours with minimal stops.
Red Lodge is a historic town that retains its pioneer charm and is located at the base of the great Beartooth Mountains. Alpine Lodge is a great place to stay here, from where you can sample some of the great restaurants around the town, including Mas Taco, Picola Cucina at Ox Pasture, Red Lodge Pizza Company, and the Carbon County Steakhouse as well.
Red Lodge to Yellowstone (via the Beartooth Highway)
Round off the next day by journeying through the epic Beartooth Mountains, which offer spectacular vistas. Note that the Beartooth Highway is usually shut down for the second week of October, all through Memorial Day weekend.
Also keep an eye out for the weather reports when scheduling your trip as it can be quite unpredictable. Depending on the time of year or the weather (whether or not there’s been a big snowstorm recently) you may be re-routed around the Beartooth Highway.
Worthwhile Stops on the Beartooth Highway
Stops that are worthwhile depending on your time include: Vista Point Observation Site, Welcome to Montana Sign, Beartooth Pass Vista, Island Lake Campground, Beartooth Lake, Clay Butte Overlook (20 minute detour), & the Yellowstone Overlook from Beartooth Highway.
By the time you reach Cooke City the best parts of the Beartooth Highway have come to an end. From here it’s just a 5 minute drive to the northeast entrance to Yellowstone, hooray!
2. Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone via Bighorn Scenic Byway
Distance: 441 miles
Time Required: 9 hours
This route runs for 441 miles, starting at Mt. Rushmore and ending in Cody, Wyoming. If you choose to take this route with no stops in-between, it will take you approximately 9 hours.
Start your day’s journey with a quick stopover at Devils Tower National Monument, an iconic natural formation well worth the visit. A quick hike around it will only take about two hours.
Once you’re done marveling at Devils Tower, your next stop will be Dayton. It will take about three hours to make this 185-mile leg of the journey. This part of your trip runs along good old Interstate 90. Dayton serves as the gateway to Bighorn Scenic Byway.
Sand Turn Interpretive Site
This is the route running from Dayton to Shell, Wyoming. It runs 57 miles along Highway 14 and is the upper (Northern) route passing through the Bighorn Mountains.
As you depart Dayton, you will need to take Highway 14 west into the Bighorn Mountains. Expect plenty of twists and turns here as you meander your way up the mountainside, but this only adds to the incredible scenery along the way.
One of the best stops on this route from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone is located 10 miles from Dayton and is the Sand Turn Interpretive Site. This site gives you an exhilarating view of the Tongue Valley. Once past Sand Turn, the Byway will go into a canyon region with incredible views which can be thoroughly enjoyed at any of the several pull-out stops along the way, making for great photo opportunities.
For the archaeologically inclined, this leg of your journey will give you the opportunity to gander at the mountain’s sedimentary rock layers. You can get a closer look at Steamboat Point and perhaps take a quick hike up to its top if you feel you have the time to spare. It’s a mild 1.7-mile hike and offers excellent views of the mountainside.
Once past Steamboat Point, you will move to Burgess Junction, where you will turn left to stay along the Byway. If you have the time, a great option is to move on to Medicine Wheel. You can get here by driving straight on past the junction on Highway 14A. Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark is an ancient stone circle held sacred by Native Americans. Taking this detour will add an extra hour to your journey’s total time.
The highest point of the Bighorn Scenic Byway is Granite Pass, which reaches an elevation of 9,033 feet. This is a stretch that many consider the most enchanting leg of this trip, and the entire Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone journey for that matter, as the road winds down into Shell Canyon.
Shell Falls Interpretive Site
Be sure to stop off at the Shell Falls Interpretive Site, where you can embark on any one of the numerous hiking trails that wind their way to spots overlooking Shell Canyon and Shell Falls as well. The name Shell is a result of the multitude of shells embedded within the region’s exposed granite walls.
From here, you’ll move deeper into the canyon and past the falls, where you’ll experience even better views. The Bighorn Byway proper ends as you arrive at the town of Shell. Make sure to glance back and have a look at the entire Bighorn Mountain range. It’s an unforgettable sight and one of the highlights on the Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone road trip.
Your next move will be traveling from Shell to Cody, a town located one hour from Yellowstone National Park’s east entrance. Driving from Cody to the park is an experience along the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway.
3. Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone via Cloud Peak Skyway
Distance: 428 miles
Time Required: 8 hours (without stops)
This final potential route from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone is one that I would recommend for folks who have already done the other two. There’s stunning scenery along the way but in my opinion is a clear #3 on the list.
This route runs for 428 miles and will take the average driver about 8 hours without any stops along the way. It starts at Mt. Rushmore and ends at Cody, Wyoming. Cloud Peak Skyway is located on Highway 16, the lower (Southern) route passing through the Bighorn Mountain range.
Once you leave the Devils Tower, you will need to take the 2-hour (130 miles) drive to Buffalo, Wyoming, along Interstate 90. The Cloud Peak Skyway starts at Buffalo and runs a total of 47 miles to Ten Sleep, Wyoming. It runs along Highway 16 and is considered one of the best roads to travel on in the USA in terms of sheer scenic value because of its views of the distant mountain peaks and vast ranches.
It doesn’t quite match up to the dramatic canyon views, switchbacks, and tight turns that make the Bighorn Scenic Byway such a beloved route, in my opinion. Even so, the Cloud Peak Skyway, which gradually rises into the Bighorn Mountains, offers plenty of breathtaking sights.
Loaf Mountain Overlook
Loaf Mountain overlook offers a stunning view of the wilderness surrounding Cloud Peak. You will have the opportunity to survey the over 189,000 acres that host some of the tallest mountain peaks in the Bighorn range, including Black Tooth Mountain, Cloud Peak, Dayton Peak, Bighorn Peak, and Loaf Mountain itself.
Powder River Pass
Powder River Pass is the highest point on the Cloud Peak Skyway topping off at 9,666 feet. Moving past this point and continuing westward, the road drops into a canyon.
Most travelers consider this the best stretch of the Cloud Peak Skyway, offering stunning views of the massive limestone mountains that crowd along either side of the road. This goes on for several miles, but you probably still want more once you’re out of the pass.
The Cloud Peak Skyway comes to its end in Cody, Wyoming, which is a quick 2-hour drive from Yellowstone National Park.
Snow Warnings and Road Closures
A major consideration for the Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone National Park road trip is always the weather. This part of the country experiences heavy rainfall each year, which means that the best window to travel through here is from the months of June through to September.
Heavy snows are often experienced here as early as October. As a result of heavy snow, the roads through the mountains are usually closed for safety purposes.
Road conditions and weather forecasts for Wyoming can be quickly checked on this weather update service. Your options in case of any road closures will involve a significantly longer trip around the mountains, passing through southern Montana or even Southern Wyoming. These options are, as you might imagine, much less alluring than even the mountain routes.
Summary & Final Thoughts
The three routes we’ve highlighted here from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone are all excellent road trip ideas. The trip from Mt. Rushmore to Yellowstone National Park or vice versa is a delightful one and is best enjoyed through a leisurely drive with as many stops as you can fit in.
The views along any one of these routes are utterly unique, and a great way to take in as much of them as possible is by taking one route going one way and taking another on your way back. All things considered, the Bighorn Scenic Byway is probably the best route to take, so if you only have the opportunity to drive through one of these.
Interactive Map of the Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone Route
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List of the Routes from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone
- Mt. Rushmore to Yellowstone via the Beartooth Byway – 520 miles
- Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone via Bighorn Scenic Byway – 441 miles
- Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone via Cloud Peak Skyway – 428 miles
Why Listen to Us About Driving from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone?
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues.
Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us national parks experts.
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
If you’d like to follow along our journey we’d be delighted to have you!
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