12 Days Road Trip through Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas, & Wyoming

Teddy and I took the road trip of a lifetime in the late summer of 2022. We headed to five states that were new for the two of us to visit together – Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming. I’d been to each of these before, but some were brand new to Teddy. We wanted to see National Parks and Monuments, small towns, the open range and mountains, wildlife, and beautiful scenery of more rural parts of the United States. We accomplished all of that and so much more. This was also the trip where Teddy proposed and we were able to enjoy our new engagement in some of the most beautiful areas of the United States.

Below you’ll find suggestions on what to do each day if you plan to do some portion or all of this trip. I’ve linked both blog posts to a deeper dive into some of the areas as well as posts to business or location websites to help you in your research. Teddy and I don’t mind driving and being in the car for 3-6 hours a day to get places. We call these trips our “Scouting Trips” so that then we know where we’d like to go back to and where we’d don’t necessarily need to visit again. While some places like Glacier you may know ahead of time you’d like to visit for a few days, others like the Black Hills or the Bitterroot National Forest area you may not realize until you’re there. After each trip, he and I write down what we would like to revisit in the area and for how long and what we’re okay to not do again. We also include anything we missed or just didn’t have time for along the way. So by the end of each trip, we have a few additional trips planned in our minds for the future.

I’ve also included a map at the bottom of the post to show. you where exactly we went in each state. It doesn’t include every single stop but includes most of them. We drove about 3000 miles in 12 or so days which is about 250 miles a day or 4 hours of driving on average per day. If you’d like to travel slower than that, cut out some of the stops or add more days to your trip. We are fully aware that our travel style is not everyone’s travel style.

DAY 1 – Boise & Southern Idaho

  • Fly into Boise. Depending what time your plane lands, grab lunch or coffee in town before beginning your exploration of southern Idaho.
  • Visit Box Canyon. Go for a hike on the Box Canyon Springs Trail. We did part of this trail but the heat was quite awful the day we were there so we opted to just get a few looks over the trail, and not finish it completely.
  • Drive 30 minutes east to Twin Falls. Check out the Perrine Bridge and see if you can spot any base jumpers. We saw so many the afternoon we were there.
  • Walk under a waterfall at Perrine Coulee Falls. I’ve never been able to do that at a waterfall before, so this was a stop we both have as a highlight of our trip.
  • Drive over to the 900 foot wide falls at Shoshone Falls. I do think it’s worth a look, but keep in mind it is man made because of the hydroelectric plan there. It’s not a fully “natural” waterfall.
  • Head to South Market in town for dinner. It’s a food hall and you have an opportunity to try an array of food and ice cream!
  • Stay overnight along I-84 (We stayed in Blackfoot)

DAY 2 – Tetons National Park

  • Get up early the next morning and begin making your way to Wyoming. Try to get up early enough that you’re able to see sunrise in Teton National Park.
  • Drive to Mormon Row and check out the various old barns along the dirt road.
  • Check out the Snake River Overlook and Oxbow Bend
  • Take the boat across Jenny Lake and then hike to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point
  • Get lunch in Jackson Hole downtown where there are quite a few options or grab coffee at Cowboy Coffee Co. in town. Stretch your legs and walk into some of the shops.
  • Head back into the park and go on the hikes from String Lake to Leigh Lake. This is one of the most peaceful ares that’s easy to get to in the park. (And a special place for us since Teddy proposed here)
  • Find a spot for dinner in the park at one of the Restaurants or back in Jackson. We enjoyed the sunset view at the Mural Room in Jackson Lake Lodge as an engagement celebration dinner. We probably would have eaten somewhere a little lower key if it hadn’t been for us celebrating.
  • Check into your lodging for the night within the park or in Jackson. We stayed in a small cabin at Colter Bay which was perfect for us.

DAY 3 – Tetons & Yellowstone National Parks

  • Get up early and go to Schwabacher Landing for sunrise. It’s one of the most magical experiences in the park. Try to get there 30 minutes before sunrise.
  • Head into Jackson for Breakfast. Bonus points if it happens to be their farmer’s market day like it was when we went.
  • Head back into the park and hike one of the trails like Taggart Lake or Moose Ponds. We opted to hike the other direction at String Lake which we didn’t see the day prior and because we wanted to take some photos of where got engaged.
  • Drive north into Yellowstone National Park. It’s a pretty drive but not a lot along the way until you get into the park.
  • Take the left at the branch to drive into the West Thumb toward Old Faithful. Since we both saw Old Faithful before, we skipped it, but if it’s your first time, it’s worth a stop.
  • Head to the parking lot for the Fairy Falls / Grand Prismatic Overlook trail. Depending on how much energy you have, at least hike to the Grand Prismatic Overlook. If you want, you can head a few miles further to Fairy Falls. Our intention was to go to both on our trip but we had a thunderstorm roll in when we were hiking so we headed back to the car after the Grand Prismatic.
  • Drive to West Yellowstone for dinner. We loved our food at The Buffalo Bar and highly recommend the Bison Queso and the Huckleberry Margarita
  • Drive toward the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone area and check out some of the scenic stops along the way. We were able to see a bear along our drive!
  • Stay overnight inside the park. We picked Canyon Village since it was a good location for us.

DAY 4 – Yellowstone National Park, Cody, & The Big Horns

  • Get up early and try to go see some wildlife. We went to the Hayden Valley to hopefully see some wolves. Unfortunately no wolves but quite a few bison.
  • The next stop was Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. While I appreciate the waterfall, I thought the view looking the other way with the red rocks into the canyon was even more spectacular.
  • We grabbed breakfast at one of the lodges before heading out of the park through the east entrance. Teddy and I have both been to Yellowstone on previous trips, so we intentionally planned our time here to be just one day, especially since some portions of the park were still closed after the flooding earlier in 2022.
  • Drive to Cody and stop in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Teddy and I are not really museum people but we went to this one for a few hours and loved it. It is 5 museums in one so I checked out the Plains Indian Museum and Teddy visited the Cody Firearms and part of the Natural History museum. To see this whole museum would probably take days, so choose 1-2 areas you’d really like to see.
  • Have lunch in Downtown Cody. We ate at the Proud Cut Saloon. We loved the decor and the food was our vibe. Walk around some of the shops in town before heading further toward Ten Sleep.
  • If you’re hungry, grab a bite to eat in 10 Sleep before heading into Big Horn National Forest. There’s the Sleepy Coyote Cafe & Bar and 1 Cow.
  • Go for a hike in the Bighorns. We loved the James T. Saban Lookout hike. It’s short but steep and had beautiful views. We were also the only ones there during our visit.
  • Stay overnight in Buffalo.

DAY 5 – Devil’s Tower, Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, Crazy Horse Memorial

  • Drive to Devil’s Tower National Monument. Like most other days, this is a great one to get up early to not only beat the crowds, but to see Devil’s tower in a beautiful bluish purple light in the morning.
  • Hike around the base of the Tower. You can choose either the Devil’s Tower Trail at 1.7 Miles or the Red Beds Trail at 2.8 miles. Or both! It’s really hard to describe our experience here but it felt a little magical, very peaceful, while also feeling like you were part of something bigger that happened there. Again, really hard to describe, but it was one of my favorite places on our entire trip and we were only there for about 2-3 hours.
  • Head toward Rapid City, South Dakota.
  • Take a cave tour through Wind Cave National Park. You’ll need tickets for this one since you can only do a guided tour, but worth it. It’s very different than other caves I’ve visited like Luray, Carlsbad, and Mammoth.
  • Drive north after your tour into Custer State Park. On the way, check out the fire lookout hike to a firetower on Rankin Ridge.
  • Drive the scenic Wildlife Loop in Custer. This one does cost an entrance fee, but is good for 7 days and you’ll use it the next day. Hopefully you will see bison, wild burros, and other unique animals along your drive!
  • Drive into Custer for dinner. Go to The Begging Burro. Teddy loved his meal so much he wanted come back the next day. He got a Mezcal Steak and it was incredible.
  • Watch the Light Show at Crazy Horse Memorial. While you wait for the show, visit the museum and learn about the individuals who lived in this area initially as well as the development and meaning of the Crazy Horse structure. This was another favorite stop.
  • Pick a spot in the Black Hills to stay overnight. We opted to stead in Hill City because of it’s location to what we were doing in the area.

DAY 6 – Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Badlands National Park, Spearfish Canyon

  • Walk the Presidential Trail at Mount Rushmore. Did you know the park opens at 5 AM? If you get there at first light, again no crowds, and yes beautiful light on the faces of the rock, but also you can see an incredible sunrise over the parking deck.
  • Drive to Sylvan Lake. Again, another perk of this being first thing in the morning is that the sunlight on the rocks and lake is beautiful but also it is not packed full of people. This was another really special place to use on our trip. It was peaceful, surprising, and majestic. The 1 or so mile walk around the lake is worth the stop. If you want, check out the Sunday Gulch Trail that starts at the back of the lake for a more epic hike.
  • Since it’s still early, drive the Needles Highway and go through the tunnels with again, pretty much nobody else on the road. If you have time, stop at the Cathedral Spires hike. We wished we would have done the hike as it looks incredible.
  • Wall Drug & Badlands National Park is the next stop. It was about lunch when we got there, so we ate at the Badlands Saloon & Grill after checking out the famous Wall Drug. We also picked up coffee at Wall Stompin Grounds Coffee House before heading into the park.
  • Drive the Scenic Road from west to east in the park. Stop at the various pulloffs and if you can, download the GyPSy guide to learn about the park while you’re driving.
  • Hike the Windows, Doors, or Notch Trail (or all 3) and visit the Ben T. Reiffel Visitor Center and learn about the wild and mind blowing animals that used to live in this park millions of years ago.
  • Drive back toward Rapid City and check out Spearfish Canyon – both the waterfalls and the wildlife. We did a short waterfall hike and on the way saw mountain goats along the stream.
  • Stay overnight in the northern part of the Black Hills.

DAY 7 – Theodore Roosevelt National Park

  • Stop at Blackbird Espresso for coffee and breakfast in Spearfish before your drive to Theodore Roosevelt National Park
  • Make the 3 hour drive north to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Grab a picnic lunch in Medora or sit down to eat prior to heading into the park as there aren’t options inside.
  • Choose a few hikes in the park you’d like to do as you drive the scenic route. We opted for the Wind Canyon Trail which was short and ideal for a very hot day. We stopped at Buck Hill as well as the Coal Vein Trail area.
  • Go to the Medora Musical. We didn’t get a chance to do this as we were tired and wanted to get more sleep rather than stay up for the musical.
  • Overnight in Medora or Glendive

DAY 8 – Glacier National Park

  • Pack your snacks and drinks and get ready for a long day of driving. Depending where you stay overnight, you will have about 8-9 hours of driving ahead of you to get to Glacier.
  • We stopped at Milk River Mocha for coffee along the way, and then grabbed gas and snacks at a gas statoin, but other than that we just kept doing so we could get to Glacier by late afternoon.
  • We stayed in Apgar Village because they had 2 nights of availability and it was within the park which meant we didn’t have to get passes for those days into the park.
  • We relaxed at our cabin along the river before heading into Columbia Falls for dinner at Gunsight Saloon and to watch the Penn State Game.

DAY 9 – Glacier National Park

  • Time to get up early again. To get a parking spot and beat the crowds, you will want to get to the trailhead for Avalanche Lake early. We got there before the sun even rose and were able to see that bluish purple light again on the mountains and lake. We even got to see a bear from a safe distance at the lake. This 6ish mile hike is a must do on the trip. The waterfalls in the background of the lake are beautiful as is the trail.
  • Drive to Polebridge Mercantile for a Bearclaw. Be prepared as the roads to get there are more country stone/dirt roads than paved but it’s worth it. You can even grab lunch there too at the food truck or cafe.
  • Relax by Lake MacDonald in the afternoon before getting dinner in Columbia Falls, Apgar, or somewhere else in the park. Then drive up to Logan Pass to watch the sunset.
  • Then back down the Going to the Sun Road to your accommodations for the night.

DAY 10 – Glacier National Park

  • Another early morning. Get up before sunrise so you can get to the trailhead for either the Highline Trail or Hidden Lakes Overlook Trail in the morning. They both depart from Logan Pass. While we wanted to do part of the Highline Trail, heights aren’t really our thing and neither are crowds, so we opted for the shorter and less crowded hike.
  • We drove down the other side of the mountain with the attempt to go to Many Glacier. It was already full by the time we got there, but if you are able to get in, please go. So many people told us it was their favorite part of the park.
  • Otherwise, grab lunch in St. Marys at the Snowgoose Grill & Gift Shop. We had a bison quesadilla which was divine.
  • Go back into the park and hike the St. Mary’s, Virginia, and Baring Falls Hike. We only made it to Baring Falls because of where we parked and the heat, but would have loved to make it to all of them.
  • We were tired, so we headed to our lodge in East Glacier for the night. We had intended to do another hike in the evening, but decided dinner and relaxing at the lodge sounded more appealing.

DAY 11 – Missoula & Hamilton

  • Drive 3.5 toward Missoula stopping in Columbia Falls on the way for breakfast at coffee at Copper Mountain Coffee. Make a short stop at Great Gray Gifts along the drive.
  • Grab lunch in downtown Missoula and walk around the city. We enjoyed our lunch at Tamarac Brewing Company and had hoped for ice cream at Sweet Peaks but it was closed the day we were there. We walked around town for a bit before heading just outside of town.
  • Hike the “M” Trail. We didn’t get to as the smoke was coming in from the wild fires in the area but plan to next time we’re in the area.
  • Drive to Hamilton and hike Blodgett Canyon. This was another we didn’t get to do because the smoke was awful further south and it was not a good idea to be outside for longer periods of time.
  • Enjoy dinner downtown and check out some of the spots where scenes from Yellowstone were filmed.
  • Stay overnight in Hamilton.

DAY 12 – Red Fish Lodge, Stanley, & Craters of the Moon National Monument

  • Continue the drive south toward Red Fish Lodge in Stanley, Idaho.
  • Hike the Fishhook Creek Trail. You’ll start off by taking a boat over to the trail. This is another one we didn’t get to do because of wildfire smoke. The road we planned to take to even get to this area had intermittent closures so we ended up detouring over to Craters of the Moon National Monument.
  • Get your permit at the Visitor Center to go into a cave at Craters of the Moon or just enjoy a hike like the Devil’s Orchard Trail in the park. Check out the splatter cone and Inferno cone along the Scenic Loop.
  • Head into Ketchum for dinner and walk around the cute shops.
  • Stay overnight in the Ketchum and Sun Valley area.

DAY 13 – Homeward Bound

  • Drive to Boise for your flight. If you’re from the east coast, stop at Dutch Bros. one last time before you leave. Don’t forget to dispose of your bear spray at a local recycling facility or check with your hotel if they take them.

Below is the map of about what we drove on our 3000 mile trip.

Happy travels!

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