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Road Trip from Yellowstone to Mount Rushmore in July

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I've read several postings regarding similar trips, but nothing that answers my specific needs. Most driving routes are the Mt. Rushmore -> Yellowstone direction, or suggest forgetting Mt. Rushmore altogether, which isn't an option for us.

We are looking to get in as much as we can (and mix it up a bit, as well). The 1st 3/4 of our trip is solid, but need help/suggestions with the latter part of our trip, ie. getting from Yellowstone to Mt. Rushmore.

We begin our trip flying into Denver, CO and renting a minivan. Staying the night with friends, and then driving to Fort Collins to meet up with the rest of our group the next day. We will stay 2 nights in FC, where we will be doing brewery tours and Whitewater Rafting on the Estes River. The following morning we will drive to Thermopolis and spend 1 night there. From there, we will spend 4 nights in Yellowstone at Canyon Lodge. We plan on doing lots of hikes and the obligatory Old West Dinner Cookout.

We will then be on our own as a family of 4. My 12 year old son & 13 year old daughter have requested that we go to Mount Rushmore. We check out on Thursday from Yellowstone, and have a Saturday evening flight out of Denver. I'm looking for the best route from the NorthEast or East Entrances of Yellowstone to Mount Rushmore. Not looking to go much out of our way or add more miles to the route, but want an interesting/safe/reasonable route. We have all day Thursday for driving, would like to stop somewhere interesting for the night, and make it to Mount Rushmore by late afternoon/early evening on Friday. Where are good spots to stop along the way to stretch our legs/break up the drive/see something unique? Best place to stay the night? I would love to see Mount Rushmore in the evening on Friday, and then head out late morning to drive back to Denver.

Is Route 16 a safe/reasonable route as an alternative to a more northern route?

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