The nearly 2,000km scenic Yellowstone Loop starts and ends in Salt Lake City in Utah, winding through Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Here, we show you how to drive Utah's sections of this iconic road trip...
Every minute of the nearly 2,000km scenic Yellowstone Loop makes you stop and stare: cloud-reflecting lakes bordered by undulating mountains, never-ending skies polka-dotted with infinite stars, cliffs hiding fossilised dinosaurs. The 13-night journey begins in the capital of Utah, Salt Lake City, and winds through Idaho, Montana and Wyoming via the volcanic Yellowstone National Park, before looping back to the start. Here we shine a light on the places you can visit on Utah’s adventure-filled segments of the loop...
This mountain-flanked capital acts as the start and end of the route. Its highlight is Temple Square. Now part of the city’s downtown, Temple Square was once the capital’s centre, when Salt Lake City was first founded in 1847. To this day, the square remains a hub of activity. Stroll the flower-filled gardens, marvel at the architecture and visit the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints. The steepled, white-washed building dominates the entire area and casts elongated reflections in the pool at its feet.
Stroll the rest of the compact and art-filled downtown to enjoy views of the Wasatch Mountains before stopping for dinner in the restaurant-stuffed city centre. SLC Eatery makes a good choice and offers up tasty modern twists on traditional dishes using locally sourced ingredients.
If you want to escape the city, head to the Utah Olympic Park where you’ll find the starting point for over 700km of cycling and walking trails. These will take you high into the mountains, across grass-flanked paths sprinkled with wildflowers.
Also worth visiting is Clark Planetarium. Here you can learn about Utah’s many International Dark Sky Places - places where the lack of pollution means stars shine particularly bright. In fact, Utah has more International Dark Sky Places than anywhere else in the world, so it’s worth learning about where and how to see them.
Around an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City lies the rugged beauty of Antelope Island State Park. Hike, bike, or horse ride the 25km-long park to see free-ranging antelope and one of the USA’s largest herds of buffalo. Enjoy views across the mountains and over lakes with surfaces so smooth they look like a layer of ice. The true magic happens after sundown, when this recognised Dark Sky Park is lit from above with tightly-packed stars.
Your next stop will transport you back to the wild west when you walk Historic 25th Street. You’ll pass the rickety railway station (now a civic centre and museum), the Senate Saloon (now a coffee shop) and the Bigelow Hotel, first built in 1891 and at that time one of the grandest hotels in Utah. (You can still spend the night there today!) As well as historic sites, the famous street is filled with galleries, boutiques and antique stores which make for a pleasant browse.
Later, swap history for a scenic drive by heading into the Upper Ogden Valley. Get out of the car to enjoy a hike past trout-filled streams and rustic houses.
Just a 40-minute drive from Ogden will take you to the 2,600 ha park, another of Utah’s Dark Sky Parks. With its beautiful byways, this is a perfect spot for those in a motorhome. Park up and get ready to explore. Hike the mountain trails by day and at nightfall, get comfy outside your motorhome and look up at the astrological display taking place above you.
Head to the spot where the Bear River flows into the Great Salt Lake near Brigham City to discover more than 32,000 hectacre of marsh, open water and mudflats. Here you will find the largest colony of white-faced ibis in North America along with many other birds.
On your way back to Bringham City, be sure to visit the Golden Spike National Historic Site, where the transcontinental railway was completed.
An hour's drive north of Ogden will take you to Logan, a city which sits within the rugged greenery of the Cache Valley. This is a playground for adventure lovers, and the mountains surrounding the town are great for hiking, mountain biking, horse riding and canoeing. Birdwatchers should head to the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest to see hummingbirds, warblers and kingfishers among many other species.
The arts are a huge part of life in Logan, so take time to walk around the many art museums. The Artist’s Gallery is a cooperative, showcasing the work from the 26 local artists involved. The Logan Fine Art Gallery is the biggest in the area and displays the work of artists from all across the Cache Valley.
A visit to the American West Heritage Center is like stepping back in time. Discover the wild western life of the 1800s, with costumed interpreters helping to make the experience more real. Visit the mountain men encampment, pioneer cabins and a turn of a century farm.
This 20km long and 12km wide lake is so blue it looks as though it's been Photoshopped. In fact, the intense colour is a result of calcium carbonate suspended in the water, giving it its nickname as 'the Caribbean of the Rockies'. The vast, silky space makes it perfect for water sports. Stand-up paddleboard, kayak or sail across its surface, or opt for more of an adrenaline-inducing sport such as kitesurfing or jet-skiing. If you head to Cisco Beach on the east side of the lake, you can go scuba diving, where depths of 200ft reveal a whole host of marine life, including four endemic fish species: Bonneville cisco, Bonneville whitefish, Bear Lake whitefish and the Bear Lake sculpin.
Outside of the water, make your thighs sigh by climbing the surrounding mountains, pausing every so often to see the sun twinkling on the surface of the lake below. All of this adventure is a lot to fit into one day, so spend a night or two glamping at Conestoga Ranch. Their luxury wagons are surrounded by nature and parked nearby the lake, so you can come and go between activities easily.
Drive north for around three hours through Idaho and across the Wyoming border to visit Grand Teton National Park. The peaks of Grand Teton National Park rise and fall like a castle’s turrets, and are an ever-present sight on the 320kms of trails that wind through this green-drenched park. Paddle Jenny Lake and watch out for wildlife as you walk through the miles of forest before overnighting in nearby Jackson.
After exploring Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park, loop back into Utah to see the rock-strewn landscape of Flaming Gorge and its Red Canyon. This park may be famous for its fish - with nearly 15,000 fish per mile on the Green River – but the waters throughout Flaming Gorge are perfect for adventure. Paddle on the glassy reservoir or enjoy rafting along the muddy expanse of the cliff-flanked Green River.
There are hundreds of hiking trails to choose from; a great way to see the dramatic and diverse landscapes on display. Choose the Dowd Mountain hiking trail to be taken up to one of the best viewing platforms over Flaming Gorge. On a clear day you’ll even be able to see as far as Wyoming. The more challenging Elk Park trail offers completely different scenery as you trek under the shelter of the Ashley National Forest.
On the Utah border with Colorado near a town called Vernal, you’ll find the nearly 800 sq km Dinosaur National Monument. This site is famous for being the final resting place of dinosaurs, and you can marvel at the artistic way nature has arranged the 1,500 fossils in the Wall of Bones.
The adventure doesn’t end there, with seven hikes in the park helping to deepen your understanding of the prehistoric site. The Discovery Trail, for example, will take you on an hour-long walk where you can marvel at the 80 million-year-old geology on display. Or spend time learning about the culture of the area’s early settlers, such as the Ute.
Just a few miles north of Vernal, you will find Red Fleet State Park, where you can enjoy more dinosaur sightings, as the park is home to a giant fossilised foot. Flanked on all sides by sandstone cliffs, this slice of the outdoors offers wild swimming, hiking, paddling, biking and star-lit camping.
If you’re still feeling energetic, Park City, in the Rocky Mountains, offers year-round adventure. Ski, snowboard and snowshoe through winter and bike and hike through 700km of trails in summer. Year-round thrills can be had at the Olympic Park, where you can enjoy bobsleiging and ziplining. Or, up your heart rate with some white-water rafting.
One activity you can enjoy year-round is stand-up paddleboarding on the warm cobalt blue waters nearby the Homestead Crater. The incredible beehive-like shelter is a result of melted snow from the mountains seeping into the earth, then being heated by the planet’s interior and rising upwards for 10,000 years. The hole at the top allows the natural phenomenon to be lit naturally.
The Yellowstone Loop wouldn't be complete without a visit to it's namesake park. Located in the north of Wyoming near the boarder with Montana, Yellowstone National Park quite literally looks like it's from another planet. With 60% of the world's geysers letting off dramatic steam, surrounded by pools of turquoise water and boiling mud. Don't miss a wander in the mountainous forests, too, to spy elk, moose and even the odd bear.
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