We just returned from an early September trip that followed, independently, the routes of established tour companies closely. Denver to Denver 12 nights 11 days. Two couples.
2. Drive to Rapid City (stay 3 nights) visiting Wind Cave National Park (tour the cave) and Custer State Park (see buffalo, donkeys etc) on the way. Check in and drive to Rushmore for night ceremony (quite nice)
3. Drive thru Bear Country Park. (Lots of bears, elk and other local animals close up. Well done park). Rushmore by day. Walk the base trail , Then Crazy Horse.
4. Drive to Minuteman II decommissioned site take tour (very good for we who lived thru the deployment), see Wall Drug (could have spent more time here) and drive thru the Badlands (desolate, no trees, and spectacular. See Robert’s Prairie Dog village)
5. Off west to Devil’s Tower. Pass on I-90 a coal seam being mined. Should have allowed time to visit one of the mines outside Gillette WY. Devil’s Tower is quite a sight. We walked the base trail looking up at climbers, marveling at their daring. Arrive in Sheridan WY for one overnight.
6. Off to Custer’s Last Stand on the Little Bighorn River. This was quite interesting. The park shows with markers where the troops met their end. Clusters of markers are scattered along the barren hillsides. No place to hide. No place to run. Wow!. Continue long drive to West Yellowstone for first of 3 nights.
7. After breakfast next day we visit Yellowstone NP. Drive the North loop, Norris basin, Mammoth terraces, Lamar Valley buffalo.
9. Leave Yellowstone this AM On way to Grand Teton stop at West Thumb basin at edge of Lake Yellowstone. Do a short hike at Jenny Lake in Grand Teton NP and walk the wooden walks in western styled Jackson. Overnight in Jackson.
10. Off this AM to Steamboat Springs for an overnight. It’s another long drive across Wyoming. Lots of sagebrush and pronghorn antelope, but… too much sagebrush.
11. Today we leave Steamboat and head to Rocky Mountain National Park for a lot of great scenery. On the way we took a scenic detour to go thru Gore Pass and see lots of aspen changing to Fall colors. In RMNP we walked a bit at the high altitude (11,000 feet or so) above the treeline, catching sight of marmot and pika. On way out of east end in Estes Park we encountered handfuls of elk along the roadside. Tonight we stay in Loveland
12. Today we drive to Denver and catch our flights home.
We got to see a lot of great scenery at our own pace, at what we consider to be less cost, and more leisurely, than an organized tour. I would suggest spending an extra overnight in Rapid City and another in Yellowstone to allow additional time in each of these areas.