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Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton itinerary - advice requested please!

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Hello friends,

I am planning a trip to Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton NPs for myself, my sister, and my mom and dad (mid-60s - good-spirited and up for adventure, but not really into hikes so we will be driving and taking short walks to scenic spots), ideally in late August (as this seems to be a highly recommended time, since everyone says that July is madness (?)). My parents aren't nature buffs, they just want to be tourists and see the absolute highlights in each of these parks, and then (honestly) come back home and enjoy their normal lives. My sis and I would love to see wildlife, and are all about adventure, but this trip is about quality family time, cool moments, conversation, and memories.

I realize I should have planned this out and made lots of hotel reservations well in advance through NPS.org, but life got in the way (I trust you understand). I've read as many posts as I can, for hours, to figure out a gameplan, and feel ready to ask your opinion and solicit some answers to some questions.

Fly from Orlando into Kalispell, MT, then begin driving to Glacier National Park. Visit the Visitor Center, get advice. Spend 3 nights (in Many Glacier Hotel? Get a two-room suite which is lakefront? Or SwiftCurrent Motor Inn cabins - consider boat tour of Swiftcurrent Lake, perhaps Red Bus tour at night?). Spend full day on the GTSR (Avalanche Creek, Bird Woman Falls, Weeping Wall, Hidden Lake Overlook, Jackson Glacier overlook, boat ride on Lake McDonald, Trail of the Cedars, Fishercap Lake to see moose?, etc.). Figure out a day to cover East Glacier and a day to cover West Glacier.

After three nights, drive to Great Falls, MT (spend a night there?) and then head to West Yellowstone, MT or stay at Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone Lake Lodge, or Roosevelt Lodge and explore YNP for three full days. See the highlights (OF, Norris Geyser basin, Grand Prismatic Spring area, Obsidian Cliffs, Tower Falls, Artist Point, Inspiration Point, Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River). Basically, a day at/near Old Faithful, a day doing the Lower Loop, and a day doing the Upper Loop.

After third night spent in YNP, drive the next morning to Grand Teton (is Beartooth Highway a possibility?). Go to the Visitor Center! Stay at Signal Mtn Lodge for 2 nights (or Colter Bay cabins or Jackson Lake Lodge?). Obviously try Oxbow Bend, Willow Flats, Jackson Lake Lodge to find moose (I have wanted to see a moose my whole life!). During the first full day, book a float trip down the Snake River. During second day, hit up other possible highlights (recommendations?). Fly out of Jackson Hole.

The folks want to see Utah, but they also want to visit Vegas so maybe our next major trip out West will be to fly into Vegas and explore Bryce, Zion, and Arches from that starting point.

I know this is not optimal because 1) I haven't checked into flight prices 2) I will have to deal with one-way rental car drop-off charges (is there a better loop or figure eight we can drive so we can fly into and out of the same airport to cut costs?) 3) I don't enough about the areas to determine the best overall route and gameplan; I am an East-coaster. I do, however, know what restaurants to visit, thanks to other posters! I am completely open to changing my starting point and ending point, and haven't made any reservations yet (but will prioritize this now that my life has opened up). I actually may consider VRBO rentals instead of hotels/motels, but I don't exactly know the availability of private homes/rooms within or very close to the NPs.

I'm grateful for your time and input. It's a bit overwhelming to read so many posts and pick up the nuggets of wisdom, especially for one completely unfamiliar with these states.

Thanks again.

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    You may find it cheaper to fly to Spokane and rent the car there. Drive through Sandpoint ID and use US 2 through Whitefish MT.
    Once you leave Glacier drive all the way to Gardiner MT just outside Yellowstone. Spend a night there and then get a good breakfast before heading in the north entrance. You will be impressed by the big stone entrance arch. Spend as much time as you can in Yellowstone before heading back to Spokane on I-90.
    The best hotel in Spokane IMO is the Davenport.

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    I have my opinions that may or may not coincides with those of others.

    Rather than Kalispell I would fly into Calgary. It's about a 3 1/2 hour drive from Calgary airport to the Many Glacier part of Glacier. And it's a straight, smooth road. No hills or drop-offs. There's a Walmart Supercenter about 10 minutes below the airport. You can take anything across the border except citrus and raw meat. Also, Calgary is a real airport with a good choice of flights.

    About Glacier. The place to be is Many Glacier and the east side of GTTS Road. In my opinion that's it.

    Trail of the Cedars is a hike on the west side of the park. It's nice and the lake at the end is very nice. But it's a hike.

    The places you mentioned along GTTS Rd are 5-10 minute stops and really, far from the most spectacular things you can see.

    It appears that all your parents want to do is get back home. It looks like somebody talked them into a family vacation.

    Glacier is the type of park you have to get out and "do".

    I'll turn 70 next month and I've been going to national parks for the last 8-9 years. I will probably start to shorten my hikes but that's the way to see things.

    Now that I've given my opinion I'd hate to ignore what you wrote but I think I will to a certain extent.

    Many Glacier is scenery and wildlife central.

    I'm amused when people say they want to view wildlife. In order to view wildlife you have to go to places they frequent at times that they have reason to be there. Then you have to be lucky.

    Back to Many Glacier. If you can convince them to do the Iceberg Lake hike you'll all be happy with the results. It's a little steep at the very start but then levels into a long walk in the park. It's about 4 1/2 miles each way so it will take you a good part of the day. Start around 8-9 in the morning and you'll complete it 3-4 in the afternoon.

    The scenery is spectacular and the lake at the end is one of a kind. Some people will jump in but they'll be out rather quickly. I've been on that hike twice. The first time I was with my daughter and we found ourselves walking beside a grizzly for a while.

    You mentioned Fishercap Lake. This is moose and deer central. The trailhead is located at the far end of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn parking lot. You take the trail to Swiftcurrent Pass but after about 10-15 minutes there's a sign pointing to the left. Fishercap Lake is about 100 yards to the left.

    The time to go there is early in the morning or in the last couple of hours before dark. That's when you have the best chance to see wildlife there. This lake is unique. It's very shallow so moose can walk across it with their head above water. They bend into the water for food at the bottom.

    There's always a chance to see a grizzly roadside in Many Glacier. Just jump out of the car when you see some cars on the side of the road and there's no parking lot.

    On GTTS Rd the sights such as Bird Woman Falls are very far away and really not much to see.

    The St Mary Falls hike (or continue another half mile to the more spectacular Virginia Falls) is barely a half mile. It's a double water fall. This is one of the more popular hikes in the park. There will be a number of people there.

    The other place is at Logan Pass. Get there fairly early as the parking lot can fill up. Start the Hidden Lake Overlook hike and go as far as you want. The spectacular scenery starts right behind the visitors center in all directions. Also, there many be mountain goats in the parking lot or just behind the visitors center. The view from the lake is also spectacular but you have to complete the hike to get there.

    So there's a very good chance to see grizzlies, mountain goats, deer and moose in Glacier.

    For lodging I would stay at Swiftcurrent Motor In and at Rising Sun on GTTS Rd. Many Glacier hotel look more luxurious and I'm sure the views are better. I hike with several people who stayed there and they all complained about how paper-thin the walls are. Rising Sun is rather sparse but the location can't be beat.

    I haven't driven between Glacier and Yellowstone although I've been to both.

    Yellowstone is a very big park. It takes eight hours without traffic issues or stops to drive the figure-8 thru the park.

    I'm taking my daughter and granddaughter there in late July and we're staying at Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone and Signal Mountain in Grand Tetons.

    Again my opinions.

    There are 5 predicted geysers. The easiest to see is Old Faithful. This is partly because the whole Old Faithful complex is built behind it and also because it erupts approximately every 90 minutes. Not every eruption is the same.

    You can spend a few hours walking Geyser Hill or all the way to the end of the Upper Basin where Morning Glory and its colors are located.

    Grand Prismatic Spring is a couple of miles up the road from Old Faithful. The colors are really something. But the view is ground level and not really the best. To get a great view you have to drive a mile back towards OF and park in the Fairly Falls parking lot. Then do the first mile of the Fairy Falls hike until you reach an unofficial trail up a hill. Now that's a view. Nobody said the best thing don't require some effort.

    In Canyon you've got the Lower and Upper Falls. I would spend most of my time getting good views of the Lower Falls. Several on the north and south side of the canyon.

    I wouldn't bother with Tower Fall (not Falls). A lot of people go there because it used to have a view and there's a snack stand there. There's is barely a view of the top and nothing else. The Lower Falls is it.

    Also, my opinion. Yellowstone is an event park (waterfalls, geysers, etc) and Grand Tetons is a scenery park.

    You mentioned Oxbow Bend. Great place very early or the last couple of hours of the day. There are several other places. Mormon Row barns, Schwabacher Landing and other pullouts that you can see on a map of the park.

    The most popular hike in this park is Jenny Lake (starting with a boat across the lake) to Hidden Falls and/or Inspiration Point.

    There's more but I'll wait for others to give opinions.

    You can see photos of my trips to these places at:
    www.travelwalks.com

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    If you want a round trip to avoid drop off charges look into Bozeman or Great Falls or maybe Butte. You would be back tracking both ways, but in the end that might be better than the double rate for the car to drop it off. (I have not checked that so you'd need to do some research).

    From any of those towns you could chose one route north to Glacier and another route back down to Yellowstone. Same thing back from Yellowstone.

    I'm not saying that is what would be best, only that I would look into it if it were my trip so I knew what the rate differences would be. I don't mind long drives once in awhile as it gives me a chance to see the country.

    Many Glacier is beautiful and there will be plenty of wildlife for all to see and enough to keep even non hikers happy for a while. If you want the hotel with the view then take Many Glacier. If you just want a place to lay your head then Swiftcurrent Lodge will be fine.

    I'm not as familiar with the other side of the park as it has been years since we did that side. But one hike I remember that was fairly easy and led to some beautiful scenery was the Highline trail. You don't have to take the whole thing, just go as far as you want.

    Your plans for Yellowstone and Tetons sound fine if a little open at the moment. Three days for Yellowstone will be minimum, but at least feasible. And two days for Tetons, especially with a river trip! that sounds great. I wouldn't bother with the Beartooth Highway, you have enough on your plate right now without it.

    Good idea about coming back for another trip to the Utah Parks. It would take another two weeks to cover them from Yellowstone.

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    MYER:
    I believe you are mistaking Avalanche Trail with Trail of the Cedars . Trail of the Cedars is a wheelchair accessible boardwalk trail which is 0.7 mile long and has no lake but still a nice walk around huge old cedar trees. Avalanche lake trail, which is close by, is 4 miles round trip that takes you to Avalanche lake.

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    John,
    You are correct. Trail of the Cedars is the start of the Avalanche Lake hike. Yes, the first part is all on a boardwalk and if I remember correctly it's sort of a loop.

    Unfortunately the most scenic part is the end with the lake.

    InSandy,
    The Highline trail is at Logan Pass not on the west side. It's across GTTS Rd from the visitors center and the start of the Hidden Lake Overlook trail. The Highline trail is the one that has that cable attached to the rock wall for those afraid of the heights and the 200 foot drop to GTTS Rd.

    I thought that cable part would freak me out but the trail is wider than I thought.

    As InSandy said Many Glacier Hotel definitely has lake views and Swiftcurrent is a motel. However, with Swiftcurrent I knew what I was getting and it was fine. Some people in the hotel were annoyed with the noise between rooms and paper-thin walls. I had no trouble sleeping at Swiftcurrent.

    But if you want to sit on a deck with an evening drink and a view of the lake, then Many Glacier Hotel is for you. Then again, they're only a mile or two apart so there's nothing to stop you from visiting one and sleeping in the other if you want.

    Scenery aside, Fishercap Lake (actually the lake is quite scenic) definitely gives you the best chance to see deer and moose. But early and late is the time.

    I agree with InSandy about keeping the Utah parks for another trip. This national park stuff can become habit-forming.

    About the car drop-off charges. The only time I did that was on my first national park trip. I started in Vegas and ended in Phoenix. It cost me about $100 to drop off. And the car had Arizona plates so I figured I did them a favor that they charged me for.

    When I went to Glacier I started and ended in Calgary. For Yellowstone and Grand Tetons it was Jackson both ways.

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    Actually it wasn't the Highline Trail I was thinking of, but the trail to Hidden Lake viewpoint. Short and easy and stunning. Especially when we had to share the trail with the goats.

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    InSandy,
    Yes. I mentioned Hidden Lake Overlook in my original post. It's also not on the west side but starts at Logan Pass directly behind the visitors' center.

    There's a good chance of seeing mountain goats near the start or even at the Overlook.

    The spectacular scenery begins at the start of the hike so they can go as far into the 1.4 miles each way as they want.

    Actually, because of the boardwalk and all of those wooden stairs near the start, I found that hike one of the tougher ones on my knees. But still, spectacular scenery in all directions.

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    I am going on a very similar trip in July. Braving the crowds!

    Just wanted to tell you to check with Alamo car rental you can do a one way rental between Jackson and Kalispell. I have reserved a car pickup from JAC that we will drop off at FCA (Kalispell)for a great rate. There is no drop off fee per the agent I called. The rate for one week starts at less than 400 so try looking into that. You can go online and see the rate. I am hoping by doing this we won't be having to do any back tracking and can see more this way.

    I am in a similar situation with my parents for this trip, so I totally understand where you are coming from. My only suggestion would be to go ahead and nail down a date and start reserving rooms. There have been lots of cancelations here lately and you may be able to snag something.

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    As for lodging in the parks, if the on line site says they are full, call and keep calling every day as there are always cancellations from folks who reserve rooms every year and then can't make the trip and they often don't make it to the web.

    Have a great trip!!

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    Hello all,

    First off, thank you so much for the detailed feedback. I sincerely appreciate it. You are right in that I am trying to create an opportunity for quality family time with my parents and sister. They are not exactly outdoorsy like me, but they still appreciate beautiful vistas and intriguing elements of nature. So, I'm doing what I think is best :)

    After all of the input, I am thinking that maybe it would be best to fly into Idaho Falls, ID. I looked at Calgary, and at Spokane - prices are high. Then, I would drive 90 miles (2 hours) to Grand Teton National Park for our first stop of three.

    Here, I would spend two FULL days doing stuff like a float trip down the Snake River, and the Red Bus Tour (I guess?)...whatever the highlights are (to be determined - thanks so much to Myer for the detailed and thorough input, and to tomfuller, InSandy, John, emalloy, and Kwheeleo for your kind and generous advice). To be honest, the folks will enjoy float trips and probably the Red Bus tours and short (less than a mile each way) hikes.

    Then, we would drive 164 miles or so (4 hours) to Yellowstone.

    In Yellowstone, I would spend three FULL days exploring the highlights (still to be determined) with the family.

    The next morning, I would hit the road and drive 394 miles (7 hours) to Many Glacier at Glacier National Park.

    I would spend two FULL days doing the highlights (still to be determined).

    Then next morning after those two full days, we would drive 489 miles (8 hours) to get back to Idaho Falls airport to fly back home.

    The Reservations people at NPS are very friendly and kind and helpful. They looked at my dates, and said it is going to be VERY HARD for me to get three or four nights in a row inside the park when I want them, even if I pay through my nose, and so they are going to try to get me cabins right outside each park (called "gateway lodges" as you know), preferably with kitchens so we can make a few meals ourselves instead of eating out for our entire vacation. So, while I so appreciate your lodging recommendations, I am kind of at the mercy of what is available. The Reservations person I talked to said that each morning, depending on what time I wake up and want to drive over to the park, I may have to wait in line. I don't really know what this means, maybe it's tens and tens of cars in line (hundreds?) waiting to pay admission to get through, and there are severe backups in late August because of the still-present crowds even though summer is almost over (I have no idea).

    Kwheeleo, do you know what specific highlights you will want to see with your folks at each National Park? After hearing from you and anyone else, I will take stock of Myer's suggestions and decide on a clear gameplan).

    Thank you all again! So grateful!

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    I'm not sure who you are talking to about lodging, but it sounds like to me you are dealing with a "middleman" You want to make certain you are using the CONCESSIONAIRE for each place. There are plenty of website out there that are VERY misleading.
    Can you be specific on who you are calling? There are no "pay thru the nose" The actual NPS sets all the pricing in advance.

    For Yellowstone--Xanterra
    For Grand Tetons--Grand Teton Lodging Company
    For Grand Tetons--@Signal Mountain--Forever Resorts
    For Glacier--Glacier Park Inc
    For Many Glacier---Xanterra
    For Glacier--Izaak Walton Inn
    For Glacier--Belton Chalet

    The buses in Yellowstone are Yellow not Red. In Glacier they are Red.

    I would suggest doing a lot of the boat tours(perhaps all of them even--a couple of them do have very short walks that are optional--I wouldn't call them hikes really at all--think about 15 minutes of walking). I would also do the Red Bus Tour there.
    There are a few shorter hikes that perhaps they might consider. A trip to the Canadian side for High Tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel is very nice. You will need a passport though. We stopped counting bears at Many Glacier by the road, several of them throughout our stay.

    Grand Tetons--Certainly could do a Snake River Float Trip. You could ride the Tram to the top as well. Drive Moose Road-You guessed it, your looking for moose on Moose Road.

    Yellowstone--This is one place that you don't have to do that much walking to really see a lot. Personally, I think for animals you are better in June. However, in August for Glacier you will be fine for animals. I would spend the better part of a day around the Geyser at Old Faithful. I like Riverside and Castle geysers as my favorites. The other must see is Upper and Lower Falls at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. You will want to drive through Lamar and Hayden Valley. If you run short on time, skip Mammoth area. I certainly wouldn't suggest skipping it, but if you are going to have to miss anything that is the place I would miss.

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    If your parents are over 62 and live in the US, one of them can buy a National Park Senior pass for $10 that will be good for a lifetime and let all of you into all the parks for free as long as they are with you in the car.. If they haven't reached that level of geezerhood, or live outside the US, then consider getting the $80 pass that is good for a year for all in the car, worth it if you will be going to a couple more parks in the next year.

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    spiro is correct about the lodging. It looks like you were talking to somebody who's a middleman.

    I think in Glacier Xanterra might have taken over from Galcier Park Inc since last year. I'm not sure. Make sure you're talking to the actual hotel or concessionaire.

    As emalloy wrote, since one person in the car is over 62, have them buy a Senior lifetime pass at the first park entrance and that's good for the entire car on this trip and any others they take for the rest of their lives. A great deal.

    The activities in Glacier that I would do is several boat rides, possibly the Red Bus and the following on foot.

    In Many Glacier, early morning or late afternoon the walk to Fishercap Lake (15 minutes each way). Beautiful lake but a lot of chances for deer and moose. Maybe Swiftcurrent Nature Trail (2.9 miles circle).

    On GTTS Road St Mary Falls (.8 miles each way). The start of the Hidden Lake Overlook hike. The whole hike is about 1.3 miles each way but you can go as far as you'd like. The end is spectacular but the great scenery starts immediated behind the visitors center. And there's a possibility of seeing mountain goats and/or bighorn sheep anywhere from the visitors center outward.

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    Glacier Park INC. still does operate a couple of spots that have always been associated with the park.

    They do operate-
    Prince of Wales Hotel
    St. Mary's Lodge
    Glacier Park Lodge

    Yes, these along with Belton and Izaak Walton Chalets aren't directly in the park, but all of them definately feel like a National Park Lodge and a lot of books list them as part of the park(they have always been thought of as part of the park, IMOP). That's the reason I listed both of them for Glacier. That said to me Many Glacier is the place to stay.

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    If you're planning on spending your time in Many Glacier and some on GTTS Rd then I would go for Swiftcurrent Motor Inn or Many Glacier Hotel in Many Glacier and Rising Sun on the east side of GTTS Rd.

    I haven't seen the inside of the Rising Sun motel units but I've been told they're larger than the Rising Sun cabins. The cabins are sparse and small but the location is excellent.

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