This road trip from Louisville to Denver promises a country and western experience! With stops at some of the most iconic music landmarks as well as unique roadside attractions and the chance to spend time amongst the beautiful wilderness.
If you were to drive directly, the journey would take just over 16 hours, along the most direct route via the I-70 W at 1, 107.7 miles. However, this trip is expected to last seven days, and it could easily be extended by staying for longer at any of the points of interest along the way. Learn about a country music legend at the Johnny Cash Museum or find out more about the King of Rock and Roll at Graceland. See your favorite animals at Jacksonville Zoo and ride the rollercoasters at the Wild West-themed Frontier City.
Concluding your journey with a stop at the picturesque Garden of the Gods provides the opportunity to rest and relax before you arrive in Denver. From the ethereal subterranean Mammoth Caves to the arid terrain of the Great Sand Dunes Park, this quintessential Western adventure would be ideally suited to a group of friends or a couple. Camping along the way has been chosen for RV suitability, with some sites needing to be reserved in advance. It should be noted that these regions can get hot in the summer months, so remember to pack the sunscreen and extra water to avoid dehydration. We hope you enjoy your trip!
The first stop on your journey is a visit to the world’s longest known cave system just nine miles northwest of I-65. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1981 when Native American remains were recovered, there are 400 miles of natural and historical passageways to explore as part of the Mammoth Caves State Park.
The National Park Service offers several informative guided tours through the subterranean world as well as several ‘wild’ tours. Taking you into undeveloped and less explored areas - if you choose this option, be prepared to get a little muddy! Above ground, you will find 53,000 acres of stunning green forest and picturesque riverlands, with 70 miles of nature trails and opportunities for watersports. There is a range of biodiversity and you may get to see a herd of White-Tailed deer or some of the several species of bats in the caves. If you are planning to spend more than one day here, there are 13 backcountry campsites and 3 campgrounds that have basic amenities.
Located in downtown Nashville, the second stop on your trip will take you on a fascinating insight into the extraordinary life of Johnny Cash. Discover more about the story of the Man in Black and explore a vast chronological collection of Cash artifacts and memorabilia.
The museum contains everything from stage costumes to handwritten lyrics, letters, and notes, as well as interactive exhibits and film from his childhood, his Air Force Career and those legendary prison concerts. A popular exhibit in the museum is devoted to the famous Memphis label, Sun Records, which managed the early careers of American music legends such as Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and many others.
If you’re looking for a bite to eat, you can find dinner and drinks as well as live music next door at Johnny Cash’s Kitchen & Saloon. Alternatively, Cash's personal chili recipe is served at the onsite café.
Discover over two thousand animals over 115 acres at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Here you’ll find creatures from every part of the planet. With a variety of activities for all ages and attractions, this is the perfect Jacksonville adventure. Trek through the Range of the Jaguar, or spot crocs, cheetahs, warthogs, and rhinoceroses in the Plains of East Africa as well as many other exciting zones.
This site also includes the spectacular Jacksonville botanical gardens which house over 1,000 types of plants. This area is split into the Savanna Blooms and the Gardens of Trout River Plaza. There are various tickets available but if you want the full experience, the Total Experience ticket for a slight extra fee includes admission to the Park, Dinosauria, Carousel, 4D Theater, the train, and Campground Critters. Plus, a dollar from each admission ticket goes to save wildlife.
The fourth stop on this quintessentially American road trip is the iconic Graceland attraction. Graceland was the private home to the legendary King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. Selling over a billion records and starring in over 33 films, his music was inspired by pop and country music of his time as well as the gospel music he had heard in church.
Since opening to the public in 1982, over 20 million visitors from the states and around the world have flocked to the once residency of the famous heartthrob. In 1957, upon its purchase, the 13-acre estate was just a cattle farm and since has become the second most visited domestic site in the US.
The attraction is also home to Elvis’ personal automobile collection including the legendary pink Cadillac as well as his jets, such as the Lisa Marie jet and Hounddog II planes. However, viewing certain sections of the estate is only possible with certain tickets, and we advise checking the website to see the various options they have available.
The fifth stop on your journey is Hot Springs National Park. Situated in Garland County, Arkansas, this picturesque site is built upon 47 natural hot springs. Since its federal protection in 1832, this area has become a successful spa town. The town hosts many informative and guided tours of its historic bathhouses including the Fordyce Bathhouse which was constructed in 1915. Alternatively, the vast green forested lands and clusters of natural geothermal pools are some of the most beautiful sights in the State. Also, there are two concentrated areas of hiking trails, varying in length and difficulty, through the Ouachita Mountains. The 8.9-mile Sunset trail is definitely recommended for a moderate trek.
If you are hoping to stay an extra day to take in the views, camping facilities are available at Gulpha Gorge with full hookups for both tents and recreational vehicles. Several pleasant driving routes also provide an alternative chance to see the picturesque scenes of the park. One of the most celebrated is Hot Springs Mountain Drive, with its 200-foot lookout tower on top of Hot Springs Mountain.
Frontier City is a western-themed amusement park in Oklahoma City run by Six Flags Entertainment Corporation. The park was established in 1958 as a western town replica, most of which is still there today. However the park now also includes some rootin’-tootin’ thrill rides such as the Silver Bullet steel looping coaster and the freefall Geronimo Sky Coaster.
If you are traveling with children, the park also contains a number of family rides such as the Rio Grande or the Flying Dragons, or perhaps a ride on the Old 89’er Express. If you are looking for a bite to eat after all the excitement of the Wild West, Frontier City has several saloons and eateries such as the Best of the West Cafe, Buffalo Bills or the Chuckwagon Foodcourt. The park also holds exciting live entertainment, action-packed shootouts, saloon shows, and musicals. There are a range of ticket options available but the Frontier City Season pass also grants you access to the White Water Bay waterpark
A great pit-stop if you are driving on Route 66 is the National Route 66 museum, just by Elk City. Take a road trip through time as you walk through the histories of all eight States with realistic scenes and vintage automobiles from across the decades.
This immersive experience into the recorded histories of Route 66 delves into themes of the dust bowl and the Great Depression and the lives of the many people that have traveled along this legendary road. The museum is one of six museums that make up the Elk City Museum Complex. This also includes an Old Town Museum which depicts early pioneer life and a Native American gallery, as well as a cowboy and rodeo exhibit. Alternatively, the Farm and Ranch Museum features a vast collection of early farming tools and antique tractors, and this may be worth a visit.
This 1974 public art installation by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels is located just off I-40 on Frontage road. It consists of ten Cadillacs dating from 1949-1963-spanning the successive evolutions of the car. All of which are randomly arranged and sticking halfway into the ground.
Since their erection, the cars have been repainted various colors. For example, in 2012, they were painted the colors of the rainbow for LGBTQ+ pride. Since then, they have been painted black and graffiti on the cars is encouraged so come and leave your mark! The ranch has also been featured in popular culture such as the music video for ‘Ain't No Rest for the Wicked’ by Cage the Elephant and it is depicted in Pixar’s 2006 movie Cars as a mountain range.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is home to some of the biggest dunes in North America with some towering up to 229 m tall. Sandboarding and sandsledding are popular activities and dedicated equipment can be rented from the park’s entrance. Alternatively, hiking is permitted if you are feeling brave enough to climb the 750 foot tallest summit which takes approximately five hours.
If you are planning to spend an extra day at the Dunes, the Piñon Flats Campground provides tranquil respite beneath the night’s stars. The Park’s combination of high elevation, dry air, and minimal light pollution makes the site perfect for viewing the Milky Way. If you are staying overnight, make sure you safeguard yourselves as bears are potential visitors in the campground area. Food must be stored in bear-proof containers and please try to minimize food odors. Due to the preserve's high elevation, temperatures tend to be relatively cool all year round, although it is still recommended that you plan to explore the Dunes during the morning or evening during Summer.
Located in Colorado Springs, CO, the Garden of the Gods is your final stop on this road trip. Designated as a National Natural Landmark, the site is home to dramatic views of imposing and impressive rock formations that stand as a result of a geological activity along a natural fault line in the distant past.
The Visitor & Nature Center is the most visited attraction in the region and it contains a Flora & Fauna Gallery, which hosts some of the Garden’s native biodiversity as well as a People & History exhibit. Archaeological evidence suggests that prehistoric people once roamed the Garden in 1330BC and the area was once inhabited by Native Americans in 250BC who camped in the overhangs in the rocks. With over 21 miles of trails, the Garden of the Gods is also extremely popular for hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, and biking.
As you arrive in Denver, hopefully, you will be looking back on an All-American adventure that has provided the opportunity to create long-lasting memories. The capital of Colorado has lots to see and do! If you are visiting with children, a trip to Denver Zoo or the Downtown Aquarium is definitely recommended. Alternatively, check out the Denver Museum of Nature and Science or one of the many State Parks in the area.