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Plotting a National Parks trip...resources/advice?

Plotting a National Parks trip...resources/advice?

Old Jun 28, 16, 8:53 am
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Plotting a National Parks trip...resources/advice?

Contemplating a western roadie in late Spring 2017. Rushmore, Yellowstone, maybe Glacier depending on how long we want to make this trip. Maybe other destinations in the Utah/Wyoming/Colorado area. Probably in a regular rental minivan, likely booking hotels or cabins where possible. (We do tent camp a couple times a year but we'd prefer to avoid it on the long roadtrip. This would be last resort if nothing else is available.) Using points is of minimal consideration...if we stumble upon a Hampton Inn, great, but we don't have to build the trip around hotel points or status.

I know FT isn't exactly the place for this, but I'm wondering what the best sites/resources are to map out the trip and start booking accommodations. Since we're slightly inside 1 year I imagine some things are already sold out, but I also hope by finishing the entire trip before the warmest summer months avoids *some* of the crowds... (Thinking late May / early June here.)

Ideas?
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Old Jun 28, 16, 9:11 am
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An older thread has some ideas:
http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/west/...solidated+utah

And this is a good resource for Yellowstone ideas:
http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/west/...ht=yellowstone
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Old Jun 28, 16, 12:01 pm
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I doubt if things are sold out already, but it would behoove you to book space now if you're planning to stay inside Yellowstone, especially at one of the iconic places like Old Faithful Lodge.

"Late spring" in the high elevation areas can mean different things. The Going to the Sun Road (GTTSR) in Glacier seldom opens before the end of May, and can still be closed as late as early July. Without the GTTSR I don't know that I'd extend the trip to Glacier.

Here's a simple loop - https://goo.gl/maps/UuLsruTXiG52 - that might appeal. Start and end in Billings; head east on I-90 to the Little Bighorn battlefield site - very, very evocative, then pop down to Devil's Tower to see if the nice spacemen have come back. Then over to the Black Hills - Deadwood, Lead, "the Faces," Crazy Horse... and out to the (don't-miss) Badlands NP.

Then back across Wyoming to Grand Teton NP, and end in Yellowstone, having given the weather some additional time to improve.

I could easily see this loop consuming two weeks; adding additional national parks in Colorado or Montana would require a significant additional amount of time and hours on the road.
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Old Jun 28, 16, 12:15 pm
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Cool...thanks for the links. I have a lot to learn in this area.

Trip will likely start around Memorial Day weekend and last 10-12 days. Thinking Glacier might need to be its own trip towards midsummer, one where we fly into YYC or wherever and just do that area. Looking at the drive up there as part of this bigger roadtrip, we'd spend a *lot* of additional time on the road.
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Old Jun 28, 16, 10:02 pm
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If you are going to drive this it will be one day to black hills and 2 days to Yellowstone. Look at :

1 day drive to black hills
2 days black hills
1 day to Yellowstone
3 days yellowstone
1 day yellowstone then late afternoon to grand teton
1 day grand teton
2 days driving back home
11 total days....


Glacier will be an additional day from Yellowstone and you need 4 days to see the place. Generally the park main part of going to the sun road is at higher elevations and usually doesnt open till mid June if not later. snow doesnt clear at high elevations till around mid July.

With Yellowstone you want to stay in the park at the lodging if possible. You need to start planning now because getting lodging there is usually planned out way ahead. 2017 lodging opened up for booking on May 1st this year. With yellowtone with it being large you want to try and move around to different areas to limit the driveing . You could do 2 nights in the north part of the park (Roosevelt, Mammoth, Gardiner, Canyon) then do 2 nights in old faithful area or do 1 night in Canyon, or LAke, one night in Roosevelt or Mammoth and one night at old faithful. Canyon is the most central of lodging option if you want to stay at one place.
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Old Jun 29, 16, 7:52 am
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Awesome...thanks. I was actually shocked to find rooms available at the Old Faithful Inn (albeit in what appears to be the oldest building with no en suite bathrooms). But it sounds like basing there for 3 days wouldn't be ideal because we'd be driving in the park too much? Other lodging also had rooms...luckily, it appears we *are* ahead of the biggest crowd by about 3-4 weeks.
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Old Jun 29, 16, 8:20 am
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Originally Posted by pinniped View Post
Awesome...thanks. I was actually shocked to find rooms available at the Old Faithful Inn (albeit in what appears to be the oldest building with no en suite bathrooms). But it sounds like basing there for 3 days wouldn't be ideal because we'd be driving in the park too much? Other lodging also had rooms...luckily, it appears we *are* ahead of the biggest crowd by about 3-4 weeks.
People have very different approaches to visiting Yellowstone. Personally I actually prefer staying outside the park - Gardiner, West Yellowstone - and driving in, because accommodation is cheaper and dining choices way, way better. Yellowstone is very big, and being in the car is just a fact of life if you want to see various parts of the park. The Old Faithful Inn, like other "historic" concessions in other national parks, is picturesque and gorgeous in the common spaces, not so much in the guest rooms.

If you're limiting yourself to 10-12 days, and starting in some place with an airport and rental cars, like Billings, Bozeman or Rapid City, I'd probably allocate 3 days for driving, 1 in Grand Teton, 3 in Yellowstone, and 3-4 in the Black Hills - Badlands area, which - just in my view - has huge appeal because of its diversity.
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Old Jun 29, 16, 9:19 am
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I've heard there can be queues of cars to enter Yellowstone. It seems like this would make multiple entries/exits to the park rather painful...or not?? Is this something that gets overdramatized and/or only applies to the max-peak dates? Once you have a National Parks pass, is entry to Yellowstone easier? I figure we'll probably get an annual pass for this trip, as we sometimes also find ourselves in a National Park one or two other times per year.
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Old Jun 29, 16, 11:48 am
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Originally Posted by pinniped View Post
I've heard there can be queues of cars to enter Yellowstone. It seems like this would make multiple entries/exits to the park rather painful...or not?? Is this something that gets overdramatized and/or only applies to the max-peak dates? Once you have a National Parks pass, is entry to Yellowstone easier? I figure we'll probably get an annual pass for this trip, as we sometimes also find ourselves in a National Park one or two other times per year.
I've certainly not been overly delayed entering; maybe I'm just lucky. Go early enough during the day and I can't imagine it will be very bad, especially early in the season. Most of the traffic holdups I've had at Yellowstone have been due to road construction and/or cars stopped because some animals are in the road or next to it.

You can watch the traffic lineups on the NPS' webcams - https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/photo...ia/webcams.htm
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Old Jul 1, 16, 8:35 pm
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Quick thoughts and reactions:
--3 nights is not too long in the Old Faithful area, IMHO. There are a number of good trails for day hikes (a few work for biking). It is also very convenient for a lot of the Southern portion of the park.
--From SD to YNP, detour to Devil's Tower. You might also aim for a night in Cody, and do the Buffalo Bill museum in the morning before heading to the park.
--I have visited the area over Memorial Day and ran into light snow in Jackson and in the park. No new accumulations, but some trails did have snow in parts or were soggy due to the snow melt.
--I saw more bears (big and baby) on that Mem'd Day trip than all others to the park combined. Often there will be rangers keeping the crowd a safe distance. But if you are into that, I suggest you allow time.
--IIRC, the "old" part of OF Lodge is from around 1907 and the "new" part is from around 1912. Some of the rooms in the old part share bathrooms, as do some of the rooms at Mammoth.
--Near GTNP is Togwotee Lodge, where I have had some good visits. And because GTNP is more narrow than deep, it is easier to "commute" in than it is in YNP.
Cheers,
TRRed
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Old Jul 2, 16, 12:34 pm
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We just finished a several weeks road trip that is similar:

- Started in Rapid City (Badlands, Rushmore, Custer SP, etc)
- Deadwood
- Headed to Devil's Tower
- Up to Theodore Roosevelt in ND
- Into Montana (Little Bighorn, some state parks) to Billings
- Took Beartooth into YS (recommend Lake Hotel over the other areas)
- Down into Tetons (recommend Jackson Lake Lodge)
- Into Idaho (City of Rocks, Craters of the Moon)
- Down into Northern Utah (Golden Spike and tons of hiking)

HIGHLY recommend doing this. Wanted to add in Glacier but it was just too much driving.
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Old Jul 2, 16, 2:53 pm
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If you're going to Mount Rushmore, may I also suggest Wind Caves while you're there? I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I did Mount Rushmore.

https://www.nps.gov/wica/index.htm

It's right near it too. Also, if you're looking for a good meal in that area, Wooly's Western Grille in Hot Springs, SD does an amazing steak.
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Old Jul 3, 16, 8:19 pm
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Originally Posted by pinniped View Post
I've heard there can be queues of cars to enter Yellowstone. It seems like this would make multiple entries/exits to the park rather painful...or not?? Is this something that gets overdramatized and/or only applies to the max-peak dates? Once you have a National Parks pass, is entry to Yellowstone easier? I figure we'll probably get an annual pass for this trip, as we sometimes also find ourselves in a National Park one or two other times per year.
If you stay in west yellowstone or gardiner you will run into lines coming into the park in the morning and leaving int he evening.

If you go in early like before 8am you wont run into the lines you would at 9am-11am.

The reason in staying in the park is in the evening and early morning you will have the park more to yourself without so many cars and people around. Old faithful area is a 1 hr drive from west yellowstone without gate entry waits.

In the park about 30 miles= 1 hr drive time and it could be longer when factoring in traffic and the slow doens that happen when wildlife are near the roads.

With a park pass their generally isnt a faster line or a separate line dedicated to returning visitors who dont have to pay.
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Old Jul 18, 16, 2:49 pm
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So far, I've booked 1 night at Lake Yellowstone and 1 night at Old Faithful. Most room types were booked up, but I did find what appear to be rather spartan "frontier cabins" available.

I'm wondering what the catch is though. The cabins are in the $150-160/nt range. They appear roughly similar to cabins I've booked in Missouri state parks for $100-120/nt., so $150-160/nt. in the middle of Yellowstone seems fairly reasonable. They include linens and en suite toilet/sink/shower. They do *not* have air conditioning, but in late May that won't matter. In short, they seem adequate for our needs...and surprisingly available at a decent rate.

The hotel rooms were already mostly sold out at extremely high rates - $300, $400, or even $500+ per room. So I'm not sure if I should be asking "why are the cabins so reasonable?" or "why are the hotel rooms so expensive?" Are the cabins OK and the hotel rooms truly at the Four Seasons level of luxury? Or are the hotel rooms more like a Marriott and the cabins a lot grittier than the images would suggest?

After the 2 Yellowstone nights, we're considering a night or two in Grand Teton...there are some interesting looking cabins/lodges there as well.

I believe we will have about 4 days from the start of the trip until the Yellowstone checkin. That'll be Rushmore, Badlands, Devil's Tower, etc. Figure I can book that stuff later since it's mainly HIX, Hampton, etc. type places.
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Old Jul 19, 16, 11:17 am
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The catch is just that May is still early season and if the cabins aren't heated it will get rather chilly. In May the night lows will still dip below freezing, although the days will be hopefully in the high 50s, perfect hiking weather. I know in Yosemite this accounts for the price difference between cabins/tents and the lodges, at least until it heats up.

Grand Teton is wonderful, if you want a more luxurious stay the Four Seasons there is very nice and in April/May they often have 4th night free or other specials since the June tourist season hasn't peaked. We were able to stay at a very nice B and B there that had 2nd night free, so those may be worth looking into as well.
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