Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone National Park is an attraction-heavy road trip route from South Dakota’s Black Hills to northwest Wyoming. You should plan for 4 days in the Black Hills, one day for the long drive and 5 days split between Yellowstone and Grand Teton. If you follow our 10 day itinerary exactly, you’ll cover 1,283 miles which will require 31 hours and 25 minutes of driving time.
In this guide we’ll help you plan every step of your Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone National Park road trip itinerary, based entirely on our own personal experiences.
Our Road Trip Experience
We’ve driven from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone twice, and we’ve spent a lot of time exploring South Dakota’s Black Hills, Yellowstone and Grand Teton. We think 10 days is the perfect amount of time to see the best of each region, keep costs down and not feel too rushed. Read more about us.
Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone are both US bucket list juggernauts. We’ll show you where to visit in the Black Hills, your route options to Wyoming and how to make the most of your time in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. This is one of the best road trips in the US and we hope it will surpass your expectations.
Yellowstone is around 450-500 miles drive from Mount Rushmore depending on the route, and it takes about 8 hours to drive without stopping. There are several routes you can take from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone, including Cloud Peak Skyway (US-16), Bighorn Scenic Byway (US-14) and I-90.
Cloud Peak Skyway and Bighorn Scenic Byway are more picturesque and cross the Bighorn Mountains. Both lead to Cody and Yellowstone’s east entrance. Whereas I-90 is a longer and less scenic route, but it leads to Cooke City and Yellowstone’s northeast entrance, or Gardiner and Yellowstone’s north entrance.
Our preference is to drive Cloud Peak Skyway to Cody. The route has beautiful scenery and it means beginning Yellowstone at east entrance, which is more efficient for this particular itinerary. You’ll see how to make this route work later in our itinerary walkthrough.
Places You’ll Visit
If you follow our 10 day Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone itinerary, your road trip will consist of 5 major areas:
- Mount Rushmore
- South Dakota’s Black Hills
- Drive from the Black Hills to Cody
- Yellowstone National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
Let’s take quick look at what you can expect from each area.
1. Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is one of the most iconic and recognizable landmarks in the world. And it’s simply unmissable on your visit to South Dakota. We’ve seen the famous granite sculpture at sunrise in October and covered in snow in April, and it’s an impressive spectacle.
What you need to know:
- You don’t pay to enter but you do pay $10 to park (pass is valid for one year)
- Pick up a ticket as you enter and pay at a machine before leaving
- Your America the Beautiful Pass does not cover entry
- The sculpture is southeast facing so the light is best at sunrise
- We recommend walking the Presidential Trail boardwalk
- You can watch an evening lighting ceremony May-September
- You only need 2-3 hours at the most to see Mt Rushmore
Further Reading: How to visit Mount Rushmore
2. South Dakota’s Black Hills
South Dakota’s Black Hills are beautiful and shouldn’t be missed when you plan your road trip. There’s lots of fun things to do near Mount Rushmore and after two extended trips of our own, we’d go as far as saying the Black Hills region is one of the most underrated places we’ve visited in the US so far.
Here’s just some of the things you can do:
- Custer State Park
- Needles Highway
- Iron Mountain Road
- Sylvan Lake
- Black Elk Peak Trail
- Wind Cave National Park
- Jewel Cave National Monument
- Spearfish Canyon
- Badlands National Park
Further Reading: South Dakota’s Black Hills road trip itinerary
3. Drive From The Black Hills To Cody
Your drive from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone is actually going to be a drive from Spearfish, SD to Cody, WY via Cloud Peak Skyway (US-16) if you follow our itinerary. It’s a 332-mile drive and it would take around 5 hours 30 minutes without stops, but you will stop a few times on the way.
Here’s the route:
4. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most unique and extraordinary landscapes in the world. We’ve spent a total of 8 days in Yellowstone across visits in April and October. Both were amazing experiences but each came with its own set of challenges, including weather and logistics.
Here’s a few top tips for visiting Yellowstone:
- May and September are the two best months on balance
- Yellowstone is very expensive and overcrowded in summer
- Hotel rooms book up a long way in advance
- You can see the park in 3-4 days
- It’s more efficient to stay in different areas each night
- The park is bigger than you might imagine
- Weather is unpredictable in spring and fall
- Animals are most active at dawn and dusk
Further Reading: The best things to do in Yellowstone
5. Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton is one of our favorite US national parks because it’s small, easy to visit and incredibly photogenic. Even if Yellowstone is your top priority, we recommend you plan for at least one full day in Grand Teton. Trust us, you won’t regret it!
Here’s what you need to know:
- Grand Teton is less crowded than Yellowstone
- Mormon Row and Schwabacher Landing are top photo spots
- You can stay in Jackson, Teton Village or Moran
- It’s a very easy going park to visit
- You can see the highlights in 1-2 days
Further Reading: How to spend 2 days in Grand Teton
Important Itinerary Information
The three most important things you need to consider when planning your road trip from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone are your start and end points, hotels and weather.
1. Start/end – Our itinerary below assumes you begin in Rapid City, SD and end in Jackson, WY with 10 full days available. You might need to add on another day if Jackson doesn’t work for you as an end point, so you can drive to Salt Lake City or back to Rapid City to catch a flight.
2. Hotels – You shouldn’t have any problems booking hotels around the Black Hills or in Jackson, but Yellowstone is a different beast. We recommend you book your Yellowstone hotels as far in advance as possible. We’ll cover the best hotels for each night in the itinerary below, and we’ll give you tips on alternatives for each night after the itinerary.
3. Weather – If you plan this road trip for summer you shouldn’t have any issues with weather. But if you want to avoid the crowds and keep costs down by visiting in late spring or early fall, you might run into some problems with snow and road closures. It’s important to stay on top of live conditions throughout your trip. We’ll cover the best time of year to plan this road trip near the end of the guide.
Need help planning your road trip? Our popular travel guidebooks are filled with expert advice, tips and information to help you make the most of your time and money.
* Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone road trip itinerary (45+ pages)
* Yellowstone National Park (60+ pages)
Day 1 – Badlands + Keystone
After arriving into Rapid City the evening before, either stay in Rapid City or drive to Wall which is the nearest town to Badlands with food and hotels (here’s our guide to the best hotels near Badlands). On the morning of day 1, enter Badlands via west entrance below Wall and drive the loop road heading east.
Our favorite viewpoints in Badlands include Yellow Mounds, Panorama Point, White River Valley Overlook and Big Badlands Overlook. Door and Notch are the two best hikes in Badlands for you to consider. The Door Trail is easy and picturesque, whereas Notch Trail has a few adventurous elements.
Leave Badlands via east entrance and stop at Minuteman Missile Visitor Center to learn about the Cold War. Honestly, we didn’t expect much but it was a fantastic museum. Once you’re done, drive to Keystone and check into a hotel. Consider going to see the Mount Rushmore evening lighting ceremony if you’ll be visiting between May and September. And keep your parking pass safe so you can use it the next morning.
Top rated Keystone hotels:
Further Reading: The best places to stay in Keystone SD
Day 2 – Mount Rushmore + Custer State Park
Get an early start from your Keystone hotel and drive 2.5 miles to Mount Rushmore (use the same parking pass as the night before). We recommend arriving for sunrise to beat the crowds and to see the sculpture glow pink and orange, but we know getting up early isn’t for everyone! Walk the Presidential Trail and visit the Sculptor’s Studio.
Head back towards Keystone but turn right onto US-16A, which is better known as Iron Mountain Road. It’s a fun and scenic drive with curves, tunnels, hairpins and even pigtail bends. Turn right at the end to arrive at Custer State Park visitor center and watch the welcome video narrated by Kevin Costner.
You’ll pay $20 to enter Custer State Park and your pass is valid for 7 days. Keep your pass because you’ll need it for Sylvan Lake and Needles Highway later in the week. Next, drive the 18 mile one-way Custer Wildlife Loop to see animals like bison, burros, coyotes and eagles roaming freely in the wilderness. Turn left at the end heading for dinner and your hotel in Custer.
Top rated Custer hotels:
Further Reading: The best places to stay in Custer SD
Day 3 – Custer State Park + Wind Cave
Get another early start and drive back through Custer Wildlife Loop because animals are more active in the morning. But instead of completing the loop, you’ll turn left onto SD-87 for 7.5 miles to Rankin Ridge Trail within Wind Cave National Park boundaries.
Hike the 1 mile roundtrip loop trail for far reaching valley views from an old fire tower. After the hike continue to Wind Cave visitor center. Cave tours can be booked in advance or bought on the day first come first served. We strongly recommend you book any cave tours in advance at this official recreation.gov page. If you can’t get on a tour, try nearby Jewel Cave instead.
After your cave tour, drive back to Custer for a late lunch. Head up SD-89, turn right onto the incredibly picturesque Needles Highway and hike the awesome Cathedral Spires Trail (using your Custer State Park pass for entry). Cathedral Spires Trail a short hike through ponderosa pine forest ending at granite needle-like rocks. Spend a second night in Custer.
Top rated Custer hotels:
Day 4 – Black Elk Peak + Spearfish Canyon
After breakfast, drive up to Sylvan Lake and hike the amazing Black Elk Peak Trail, which we’ve included in our guide to the 50 best US hikes (again, your pass will get you into Sylvan Lake). Black Elk Peak is a moderately difficult 7 mile roundtrip hike with magnificent summit views that should take you around 4-5 hours. We recommend you go up trail #9 and go down trail #4. Add a spur hike to Little Devils Tower near the end. Strong hikers might also want to hike Sunday Gulch Trail on the west side of Sylvan Lake.
Drive west on Needles Highway heading for Hill City and stop at Crazy Horse Memorial. Next, drive north through the Black Hills to Deadwood and spend an hour walking the historic main street to learn about famous wild west gunslingers and cowboys.
At this point you can either take 14-ALT through Lead to Cheyenne Crossing and Spearfish Canyon or you can stay in Deadwood and begin with Spearfish Canyon the next morning. Deadwood is a lively and vibrant casino town, whereas Spearfish is very quiet. You can stop at Roughlock Falls, Eleven Hour Gulch, Devils Bathtub Trail and Bridal Veil Falls on your way down through Spearfish Canyon.
Top rated Spearfish hotels:
- Budget – Best Western Black Hills
- Mid range – Fairfield Inn + Suites
- Luxury – Spearfish Canyon Lodge
Further Reading: The best places to stay in Deadwood SD
Day 5 – Devils Tower + Cloud Peak Skyway
You’ll drive from the northern Black Hills to Yellowstone on day 5. By leaving from Deadwood or Spearfish, you’re already close to Devils Tower and I-90 for the journey west. We recommend taking US-85, SD-34 and WY-24 to Devils Tower because it’s quieter and more scenic than I-90. It should take just over an hour.
Walk the flat paved path leading around the base of Devils Tower, then drive to Joyner Ridge Trailhead for the best views looking back over America’s first national monument. Get on I-90 and stop for lunch in Buffalo, Wyoming. You now have a choice between driving Cloud Peak Skyway or Bighorn Scenic Byway to reach Cody.
Do you want to visit Little Bighorn Battlefield? It’s an hour north of the turn for Bighorn Scenic Byway on I-90, so you can add in a side trip. Otherwise, drive Cloud Peak Skyway from Buffalo to Ten Sleep. It climbs the southern Bighorn Mountains then drops into a dramatic narrow canyon. We’ve driven it twice and it’s a lot of fun, we even got our drone up for a few photos the second time. Arrive into Cody for dinner and check into your hotel.
Top rated Cody hotels:
Further Reading: The 8 best hotels in Cody Wyoming
Day 6 – East Yellowstone
Grab an early breakfast in Cody and head west to Yellowstone Lake via east entrance. A little known secret is that east entrance has a lot of active wildlife, so keep your eyes peeled. If you’re a very strong hiker, you might want to take on Avalanche Peak on the way in. Otherwise, walk the easy trail to Storm Point for views over Yellowstone Lake.
Turn right onto Grand Loop Road to begin your Yellowstone adventure. Your first stop is Mud Volcano and Dragon’s Mouth Spring. Next, you’ll drive through Hayden Valley, one of the best wildlife spotting areas in the park.
Continue north towards Canyon, but turn right onto S Rim Drive so you can see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Stop at Upper Falls View and Artist Point at the end of the road. Next, you’ll take N Rim Drive on the other side of the river for more views but from different perspectives. Stop at Canyon Village for lunch.
If you’re into hiking, you should definitely hike Dunraven Pass to Mount Washburn. Afterwards, take a short walk to see Tower Fall and Yellowstone River Overlook. If it’s getting close to dusk, you should definitely head into Lamar Valley for the best chance of seeing wildlife. Drive to Gardiner for dinner and your hotel.
Top rated Gardiner hotels:
- Budget – Yellowstone Big Rock Inn
- Mid range – Yellowstone Riverside Cottages
- Luxury – Yellowstone Gateway Inn
Further Reading: The 8 best hotels in Gardiner MT
Day 7 – North + West Yellowstone
If you didn’t have time for Lamar Valley the evening before or seeing wildlife is your top priority in Yellowstone, you should wake up early and drive into the valley for sunrise or as early as you can. It’s widely accepted as the best place to see wildlife in the park and animals are most active at dawn.
Head back to Mammoth Hot Springs to walk around the lower and upper terraces, potentially stopping to hike Lava Creek to Undine Falls. It’s not ideal driving back on yourself, but it’s part of visiting Yellowstone. Mammoth usually has lots of bison roaming around the roads, and we got stuck in a bison jam nearby.
Next, you’ll head south until reaching Norris Geyser Basin which is split into two distinct sections. Walk around both, and don’t miss Steamboat Geyser and Echinus Geyser. Pass by the beautiful Gibbon Meadows but don’t miss Artists Paintpots Trail, which lead to bubbling mud pots and colorful pools. Stop at Gibbon Falls before leaving the park via west entrance to spend your evening in West Yellowstone.
Top rated West Yellowstone hotels:
Further Reading: The 8 best hotels in West Yellowstone
Day 8 – Southwest Yellowstone
Your eighth day is dedicated to enjoying what makes Yellowstone so famous; unique geysers and vibrant hot springs. Start with Lower Geyser Basin and Fountain Paint Pot Trail. Next, make your way down to Midway Geyser Basin to see Excelsior Geyser, Opal Pool, Turquoise Pool and Grand Prismatic Spring.
Drive to Fairy Falls Trail parking lot and hike the first 0.7 miles to reach Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook so you can take the most iconic Yellowstone photo. If you’re into hiking, continue the trail until you reach the stunning Fairy Falls waterfall. Next up is Biscuit Basin (with a potential hike to Mystic Falls) and Black Sand Basin.
Finally, you’ll reach Upper Geyser Basin, which is where you can watch the world famous Old Faithful Geyser blow almost exactly on schedule throughout the day. Don’t miss the short hike to Old Faithful viewing area and make sure you walk around all of Upper Geyser Basin, as far as Morning Glory Pool. Head back to West Yellowstone, but stop on Firehole Lake Drive for a stunning sunset reflecting in Great Fountain Geyser.
Top rated West Yellowstone hotels:
Day 9 – South Yellowstone + Grand Teton
After breakfast in West Yellowstone, you’ll drive back through Lower, Midway and Upper Geyser Basins, and you’ll pass over the Continental Divide, before reaching West Thumb Geyser Basin. Spend an hour exploring the colorful pools and geysers around West Thumb, then drive one hour down John D Rockefeller Jr Memorial Parkway to northern Grand Teton.
Turn right onto Teton Park Road and take a sharp left onto Signal Mountain Road. Climb the winding road for 4 miles until you reach Jackson Lake Overlook. Walk a few hundred feet down the trail and soak up special views over the Teton Range.
Back on the loop road, stop at the turnouts and take a right turn after Mountain View Turnout onto Jenny Lake Road. Pull into String Lake for quick walk, then carry on to Jenny Lake Overlook for stunning views. Continue to Chapel of the Transfiguration to see the famous “mountains through the church window” view, then drive 12 miles to Jackson for dinner and your hotel.
Top rated Jackson hotels:
Further Reading: The 8 best hotels in Jackson Wyoming
Day 10 – Grand Teton
If you’re into photography like we are, you simply can’t miss John Moulton and TA Moulton barns on Mormon Row at sunrise (see photo above). It’s one of our favorite photo spots in the US. The problem is that nearby Schwabacher Landing has an equally special sunrise scene with pristine mountain reflections and we saw a moose there at dawn, so you have a decision to make!
Whichever you choose, visit the other one straight after. Next, you can stop at Snake River Overlook and Oxbow Bend before returning to Jenny Lake. You could relax on the shores, take a swim, float on an inflatable or paddle. But we recommend hiking Cascade Canyon Trail instead.
Either walk around Jenny Lake or take a ferry service to west shore boat dock to cut a few miles from the hike. From there it’s a short trail up to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. Stronger hikers should continue into Cascade Canyon for stunning views and wildlife spotting. Finish the trip with a celebratory beer back in Jackson!
Top rated Jackson hotels:
When planning your Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone road trip, you’re going to run into issues with hotels. Don’t worry, this is natural. You shouldn’t have any problems getting a good hotel at a reasonable rate anywhere in South Dakota, but that all changes when you start booking in Yellowstone.
We recommend you find and book your Yellowstone hotels first, then book the rest of your trip.
In our 10 day itinerary above, we have you staying at hotels in towns around Yellowstone. But you absolutely don’t have to follow those recommendations. You can instead stay in national park lodges within the park boundaries. They book up fast, they’re expensive and they have limited dining options, but they are more convenient and you’d get a more authentic experience.
Here are alternative places you can stay inside park boundaries if you follow our itinerary:
- Night 5 – Lake Yellowstone (instead of Cody)
- Night 6 – Mammoth (instead of Gardiner)
- Nights 7 + 8 – Old Faithful Inn or Old Faithful Lodge Cabins (instead of West Yellowstone)
- Night 9 – A park lodge (instead of Jackson)
When To Drive This Road Trip
Yellowstone’s roads are fully open between early May and the end of October. If you plan to follow our road trip itinerary from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone in shoulder seasons, you must make sure the east entrance road and the roads leading to Old Faithful and Grand Teton in the south are open. Here’s the opening and closing dates for the various roads around Yellowstone.
In May, June, September and October you’d benefit from less overcrowding and traffic, more hotel availability and cheaper prices, and higher animal activity. But the weather can be unpredictable, especially earlier and later in the season.
In July and August you’d benefit from warmer temperatures and a better chance of clear weather. But the park is heavily overcrowded and traffic is a problem, hotels are booked up and expensive, and animals are less active.
How Much Will It Cost?
It’s not easy to give an exact figure on how much a road trip like this will cost you because we don’t know if you’ll book cheap or luxury hotels, if you prefer to eat sit down meals three times a day or how many attractions you want to visit in the Black Hills. But from our experiences, we’ll try to give you a ballpark figure based on what we think the average couple will spend.
Hotels will be your biggest expense, especially once you reach Yellowstone and Grand Teton. You should book hotels in advance to get better rooms at cheaper prices, particularly if you plan to stay in park run lodges. We think you should aim for somewhere around $200-250 USD per night on average (depending on seasonality).
Food is harder to break down because it’s so subjective. Let’s say you’ll be eating three meals a day but lunch won’t be a sit down restaurant meal. We think a couple should aim for around $80 per day total. Then you have to factor in attractions (entry prices total $210 without national parks pass) and gas (1,283 miles at an average of $2.90/gallon and 25mpg).
All in, a couple is likely to spend something along the lines of $3,000 – $3,500 total for 10 days, excluding flights and hire cars. That’s for mid range hotels, eating out twice a day and entry to national parks, state parks and monuments. You could book cheaper hotels, eat at fewer restaurants or skip certain attractions to bring that number down.
More Yellowstone + Grand Teton
- Where to stay in Yellowstone
- What to do in Yellowstone
- Best airports near Yellowstone
- Visiting Yellowstone in April
- Mormon Row at sunrise and sunset
- Salt Lake City to Yellowstone road trip
- 2 days Grand Teton itinerary
- 4 days Yellowstone itinerary
- Schwabacher Landing at sunrise
- Visiting Yellowstone in October
More From South Dakota
- What to do in Badlands
- Best hikes in Badlands
- Guide to visiting Mount Rushmore
- Things to do in Custer State Park
- How to hike Black Elk Peak
- Where to stay near Mt Rushmore
Want more Wyoming content? Head over to our Wyoming Travel Guides to explore Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and beyond.
We hope this Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone and Grand Teton road trip guide helps with planning your itinerary!
Please let us know if you have any questions or need help planning your road trip in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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Mark and Kristen Morgan are travel, hiking and photography experts. Over the last 6 years traveling full time, they have explored more than 40 countries and 30 US states.
Where Are Those Morgans has been featured in USA Today, Gestalten, Get Your Guide, CityPASS and Condé Nast Traveler along with various other publications. Read more about us.