Six adventures along the Yellowstone Loop, starting in Utah

This Old West road trip through four US states allows for numerous thrilling stops, including bobsleighing down an Olympic track, whitewater rafting between canyon walls and the chance to see one of the region’s most iconic creatures, the bison.

By The Utah Office of Tourism
Photographs By The Utah Office of Tourism
Published 29 Jun 2021, 15:00 BST
Just outside Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, travellers can whitewater raft down the Green River, where ...

Just outside Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, travellers can whitewater raft down the Green River, where mild rapids and intense whitewater sections meander between sandstone walls and green forests.

Photograph by Jeremiah Watt

With powder-bound slopes, pristine reservoirs and small towns rich in Americana, the pull of the West is strong in Northern Utah. The state is also a gateway to some of the highlights of its neighbours, including — and for some, especially — the geysers, hot springs and mud pots of Yellowstone National Park. Enter the Yellowstone Loop: starting and ending in Northern Utah, this road trip through Wyoming, Montana and Idaho takes in some of the best the Mountain West has to offer. And if it’s thrills you’re after, these six stops along the itinerary are sure to keep your heart rate up.

1. Kick things off in Salt Lake City

Start the trip in Utah’s outdoor-loving, mountain-ringed capital. Just a 45-minute drive from the centre, in the heart of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, there’s Snowbird, a ski and snowboard resort that turns into a natural theme park in the summer months. Speed freaks will love the 3,120ft Mountain Coaster, while the slightly less steep Alpine Slide is a joyful spin down the Chickadee Run. Visitors can try the Vertical Drop from the 50ft green town, a 9ft freefall bungee jump followed by an auto-belay to the ground, or have a go at climbing soaring trees. Back in the city for a cultural fix, learn about the history of the Mormon pioneers at Temple Square, home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Just a 45-minute drive from the centre of Salt Lake City, in the heart of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, lies Snowbird, a ski resort that turns into a natural theme park in the summer months.

 

Photograph by Utah Office of Tourism

2. Make like an Olympiad in Park City

Head east and get ready to get your helmet on. With the Wasatch Range, Deer Valley and Park City Mountain Resort all around, it’s no wonder Park City was chosen as the setting of the 2002 Winter Olympics, and the local Utah Olympic Park is still a year-round magnet for winter sports enthusiasts. Here, try the summer bobsleigh experience: in the warmer months, the sleds are modified to roll on concrete, and visitors can slide with professional pilots down the original Olympic track — an extreme descent that, within the space of a minute, can reach speeds up to 60mph.

The bobsleigh at Utah Olympic Park is one of the longest slides in the world, offering over 3,000 ft of fast, furious gliding and sliding.

Photograph by Audrey Livingston

3. Brave the currents at Flaming Gorge

As you reach Vernal, make a beeline for the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, a natural playground near the southwest corner of Wyoming named after the area’s fiery canyons. Just outside of the Recreation Area, travellers can experience an exhilarating brush with nature rafting down the Green River, where mild rapids and intense whitewater sections meander between sandstone walls and green forests. Vernal itself is also known as Dinosaurland; at the local Dinosaur National Monument, visitors can explore a quarry with more than a thousand dinosaur bones still lying in the spot where they were found and discover petroglyphs and pictographs on a hike around the 200,000-acre site.

Whitewater rafting down the Green River comes with views of huge red cliffs, emerald-green forests and desert canyons. Watch out for dinosaur tracks and rock art as you go.

Photograph by Jeremiah Watt

4. Take to the water at Bear Lake

A natural body of freshwater on Utah’s border with Idaho at Garden City, Bear Lake is known as the Caribbean of the Rockies for its intense turquoise shades, caused by the reflection of limestone deposits suspended in its tranquil water. It’s the perfect place for a dip before relaxing on the sandy shores after the adrenaline of the previous stops, or, if it’s more adventure you’re after, try waterborne activities like standup paddleboarding, kayaking, wakeboarding or jet-skiing. Rental boats and jet skis are available at the marina or in lakeside cities, and, before you leave, make sure to slurp a milkshake made with some of the area’s famous raspberries.

Bear Lake, also referred to as the Caribbean of the Rockies, is known for its cobalt-blue waters. Scuba diving here reveals a host of marine wildlife, including four endemic fish species: Bonneville cisco, Bonneville whitefish, Bear Lake whitefish and sculpin.

Photograph by Marc Piscotty

5. Meet the bison in the Cache Valley

To meet the country’s largest land animal, head to the American West Heritage Center (AWHC) in the Cache Valley, located just outside Logan at the foot of the Bear River Range, which reaches an elevation of 9,682ft. This 275-acre outdoor living history museum tells the history of the American West between 1820-1920 through interactive exhibits, including live re-enactment venues and demonstrations, outdoor displays and workshops. Visitors can join guided wagon rides through a bison herd and get up-close-and-personal with America’s National Mammal — and, if lucky, meet a red dog or two (as bison calves are nicknamed). After leaving the AWCH, take a detour to Brigham City for the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

The American West Heritage Center, in the Cache Valley, tells the history of the American West between 1820-1920 through interactive exhibits. Here, visitors can join guided wagon rides through a bison herd and get up-close-and-personal with America’s National Mammal. 

Photograph by American West Heritage Center

6. Take a hike through history at the Golden Spike

A turning point in the history of the United States was the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, connecting the Central Pacific Railroad from Sacramento, with the Union Pacific Railroad from Omaha. The Golden Spike — the ceremonial final spike that joined the rails — was laid in Utah, and today visitors can relive this momentous event at the Golden Spike National Historic Park. Set off on a hike of the 1.5-mile Big Fill Loop Trail, along the original Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroad grades and past original cuts, fills and drill marks that show just how challenging a feat it was. To learn more about how the country came together by rail, head to nearby Odgen, a historic railroad town, and visit the Utah State Railroad Museum, housed in the Union Station building. The town is also an outdoor recreation hub, with trekking, mountain biking and fishing available in the surrounding Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

The Golden Spike National Historical Park offers hikes along the original Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroad grades. Original cuts, fills and drill marks still showcase just how challenging the rail was to build.

Photograph by Frank Jensen

Plan your trip

Direct flights from London to Salt Lake City take 13 hours. America As You Like It offers a 14-night tailor-made itinerary through the Yellowstone Loop, beginning and ending in Salt Lake City.

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