Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > United States
Reload this Page >

Best Travel Options for visiting National Parks

Best Travel Options for visiting National Parks

Old Mar 1st, 2010, 10:59 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 21
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Best Travel Options for visiting National Parks

I want to plan a visit from UK to the main National Parks including Yellowstone and Glacier, Monument etc. Travelling solo and with inexpensive accommodation in hostels and B&B and the option of bivvying (wild camping). Duration: 4 weeks. Transport- coach, bus, hire car (provider must allow drivers over 70). No concerns about solo travel as travelled all my working life with over 500 visits to US many more than 20 years ago.
Can someone help suggest the best options.
Thanks
Elenydd is offline  
Old Mar 1st, 2010, 11:28 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 282
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I don't know the area very well, but a few suggestions. Consider if you want to start your trip in either North or South Dakota. North Dakota has the relatively lesser known Teddy Roosevelt National Park with some nice, small canyons and great wildlife viewing (lots of buffalo). There's not a lot else in the area, but it's an interesting part of the country. In South Dakota consider Custer State Park and Badlands National Park. Custer has some nice cabins which are relatively cheap and also has lots of good wildlife viewing. Plus Badlands is interesting from a geological standpoint.

I'd pick one or the other and not do both North and South Dakota.

For Glacier, my tip is that the Park is big and the drives among the different lodging areas can be long because the roads are smaller and windy. I love Swiftcurrent Lodge - definitely old and not in any way luxourious, but so close to the trails. Plus one night I was in my room and a moose walked right by my window.

The Swiftcurrent area has a lot of nice hikes. I'd start there for a few days (there is camping also), and then head down to St Mary's but not stay there. I'd do a small hike or two, but then take the Going to the Sun Road over to Lake Mcdonald and stay there for a few days. Lovely lake area and convenient access to some other parts of th Park.

In summer, it can be very hard to get around Yellowstone. Given you have a fairly long time, I'd try to split the stay into some of the various regions (a few days by the Canyon region, and a few more by the Old Faithful/geyser area)

I can't see doing this trip without a rental car, but others may know better options than I do.
Travelkitty is offline  
Old Mar 1st, 2010, 11:53 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 5,905
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Do you have a time of year to do your visit yet? This makes a big difference in terms of when to go where. The northern parks, like Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier have snow and limited access from October to June, and some of the southern ones like Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches, and Canyonlands may be hot and more crowded in the summer.

It might be a good idea to start with the National Park Service site, www.nps.gov and look at the information there, then pick a time to visit and then plan your route.

There are companies that do these trips and you might check elderhostel for a place to start. I do prefer to go at my own pace, but that would require a car rental.

As Travelkitty said the distances between the parks is great, but I would still want to see Yellowstone and Grand Teton as well as the Grand Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, and Zion.

Give us a bit more information about what are must see things for you and what time of year you would want to visit.
emalloy is offline  
Old Mar 1st, 2010, 12:38 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,315
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Elenyyd-
Like you, I have a great love for the national parks (all around the world), having been to 56 for them -- including 41 in the U.S. As noted above, it will help us in giving suggestions if you specify WHEN you will be visiting and WHAT are your priorities for the visit. A good time for visiting some Parks may be a bad time for visiting a different one. And a Park that is excellent for one kind of experience may or may not be very good for a different kind. The Grand Canyon, for example, is un-surpassed for magnificent desert canyon beauty, but is mediocre for wildlife.

And I'm not certain what you mean by "Monument." If you mean "Monument Valley," be aware that not only is it not part of the National Parks System, it isn't even part of any U.S. government administration. It's completely under the control of the Navajo Nation.
PaulRabe is offline  
Old Mar 1st, 2010, 12:47 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 13,128
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
For inexpensive camping, check out national forest campgrounds. Many national parks border national forest land and because national forest land is not as tightly controlled as national park land, there is more flexibility. The campground fees tend to be lower than in national parks. Wild camping (outside a proper campground) is allowed on national forest land with certain restrictions about distance from roads, fires, etc. You can look up the specifics online.
november_moon is offline  
Old Mar 1st, 2010, 02:22 PM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 3,242
Received 33 Likes on 2 Posts
The "main" National Parks is very subjective, although most would probably include Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite - which is a ton of driving to take all those in on one trip, especially if you want to add Glacier (and Monument Valley, which as another has mentioned isn't a National Park, although it's beautiful).
This recent thread may give you some ideas:
http://www.fodors.com/community/unit...ppreciated.cfm

Agree that renting a car is the best way to go, although it's an awful lot of driving for someone traveling solo.

Have you considered which city you'd fly into? If you want to see mountains but also want to take in some of the more southern parks (Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion), you may want to consider Rocky Mountain National Park as an alternative to Glacier.

Tell us more about your expectations.
althom1122 is offline  
Old Mar 1st, 2010, 03:57 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,315
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
> Wild camping (outside a proper campground) is allowed
> on national forest land with certain restrictions

The restrictions are, unfortunately, pretty restrictive. For the most part, you can't camp anywhere within one mile of a road, even a dirt one. Or within one hundred yards of a stream. For someone trying to see national parks all over the west in four weeks, walking a mile between your campsite and your car can take up a lot of time.

I agree national forest developed campgrounds CAN be the way to go when camping near national parks. You have a lot of quiet for not a lot of money, but you won't have (1) quick access to the Park itself or (2) much in the way of amenities. Don't expect anything more than a hand pump for water and an outhouse for toilet facilities. If you can handle camping like that, national forests campgrounds are fantastic.
PaulRabe is offline  
Old Mar 1st, 2010, 07:35 PM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 67,314
Likes: 0
Received 50 Likes on 7 Posts
Just time for a couple of general comments right now

besides what others have mentioned (especially WHEN the trip will be):

• "provider must allow drivers over 70"
That will not be a problem. Unlike in the UK and Ireland, agencies here don't penalize senior drivers. However one issue may be very high drop off charges for a one-way hire.

• "inexpensive accommodation in hostels and B&B"
B&Bs are not generally budget accommodations. In the UK a B&B is a bed and breakfast and the cheapest way to go other than basic hostels. Here a B&B can be posh/pricey 'destinations' w/ wine tastings in the afternoon. Other than camping which has some special issues in national parks, for budget travel, you'll mostly be looking for motels and hostels. Motels are MUCH more numerous.
janisj is online now  
Old Mar 3rd, 2010, 09:20 AM
  #9  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 21
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Sorry that I have not been very specific. Grand Canyon and Bryce and the areas in Arizona I have done and many times in the past. However my focus would be the parks nearer Montana/Utah and Idaho and then the Canadian border. I would allocate the whole month of June before working my way to Ottawa and Halifax in Canada. I am used to driving long distances 500 miles in a day is OK. Accommodation, yes I realise the B&B aspects and would more than likely stick to motels ( done 5* and that jazz when travelling with my husband now want a more solitary trip for ME).
Can you get around using the shuttle buses in the park(s) and with other bus/coach transport otherwise I would hire a car.
Elenydd is offline  
Old Mar 3rd, 2010, 10:17 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,315
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
> Can you get around using the shuttle buses in the park(s)
> and with other bus/coach transport

Unfortunately, without a car, it is difficult to either get to or get around national parks, at least in the U.S. (can't say specifically about Canada).

> my focus would be the parks nearer Montana/Utah
> and Idaho and then the Canadian border

Since you're coming in June, the parks in the Northern Rockies should not be a problem as long as you didn't need to walk on any long trails. Amongst my favorites in these areas are:

Yellowstone
Glacier/Waterton
Banff/Jasper
Grand Teton
Arches/Canyonlands

Although you didn't mention Colorado, I have to mention that Rocky Mountain NP is another favorite of mine.

What I would recommend is to fly into Salt Lake City, rent a car there, do a loop around U.S. parks, return the car to SLC, fly to Banff, see that place, then take the train back towards Ottawa.
The problem is drop-off fees for rental cars. If you plan to rent a car, avoid picking it up at one location and dropping it off at another, if at all possible.

For a cheap roof over your head (and not much more), check out camping cabins like these:
www.koa.com/facilities/kabin
If you plan a week or so ahead of time, you can often find a private campground with such facilities in the area at which you want to stop. At public facilities, you will have to use a tent or sleep in a van.
PaulRabe is offline  
Old Mar 3rd, 2010, 12:27 PM
  #11  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 21
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
PaulRabe
Many thanks for the information.
I now have the Rough and Lonely Planet guides ( arrived today from Amazon) and a whole pile of brochures with web site details. I have also looked at some of the other threads in different forums and that has given me some more ideas. I have most of the maps now and this will allow me to focus on the schedule and itinerary. If I get stuck I will come back.
New to Fodor so think this is great for information.
THANK YOU ALL for your help and experiences.
Elenydd is offline  
Old Mar 3rd, 2010, 01:22 PM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 1,456
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Many of the services in the northern parks are not open for business in the ealier part of June. Check the www.nps.gov site for dates.
RedRock is offline  
Old Mar 3rd, 2010, 01:54 PM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 21,394
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
For budget travel, camping is the way to go. California State Park rates have increased considerably, but are still less than even the cheapest motels. If one is willing to cook, this is another considerable savings. For $200 an individual can probably buy the basic necessities for camping (tent, mattress pad, sleeping bag, cooking equipment, lantern) which will pay for themselves within 10 days. However, rather than going to outdoor stores such as REI, it would be better to purchase the equipment at Target, K-Mart, the Sports Authority and other similar stores. I do not know if one must be a U.S. resident to get the Golden Pass. It costs $10 for seniors and allows free entry in all national parks and forests, with half price for the camp sites.

Click on my name and you will find a couple of trip reports that include camping, although these reports are not directly related to your trip since they are on the west coast and the Cascades.
Michael is offline  
Old Mar 3rd, 2010, 03:17 PM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,315
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
> I do not know if one must be a U.S. resident to get the Golden Pass

You must be an American citizen or permanent resident to get the Golden Age Passport. HOWEVER, anyone with $80 can get the America the Beautiful Pass.
www.nps.gov/fees_passes.htm

As Michael notes, you can purchase all of the equipment you will need for camping VERY inexpensively at any US discount store. At the end of your trip, just donate what you don't need to a local charity, like Salvation Army or Goodwill.
PaulRabe is offline  
Old Mar 5th, 2010, 02:30 PM
  #15  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 21
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Many thanks again for the helpful information. I am gradually building up a dossier of details and costings.
The Lonley Planet guides have given me some help
Elenydd is offline  
Old Mar 6th, 2010, 08:18 AM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 216
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
"The restrictions are, unfortunately, pretty restrictive. For the most part, you can't camp anywhere within one mile of a road, even a dirt one. Or within one hundred yards of a stream."

That's not true at all. You can car camp (bivvy) all over the place in National Forests no problem. Here is a typical rule from the Teton NF, which is generally the same/similar everywhere.

"Dispersed camping includes any camping on the National Forest, with the exception of Designated Wilderness and developed/fee campgrounds. Camping is free in the remote areas of the Forest as long as you select a site at least 200 feet from water and 100 feet off trails and roads. This will protect water sources and give you and fellow recreationists more privacy."

Some areas will be off limits here and there (and there will be signs saying so), and you have to be at least a mile from a developed campground, but generally you can just drive a little ways down the gravel/dirt FS roads, find a nice spot, and camp right there. The idea is to use an existing spot vs making a new one. This is not just allowed, but encouraged by the FS, and you will see many people doing it.
You wouldn't want to this the whole time, but mixing this in with some fee campgrounds with showers and some motels will be a fairly cheap way to go.

http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/map/state_list.shtml

Click on a state, then a particular unit, then recreational activities on the left and go from there.

I'd encourage you to get off the beaten path and explore some of these areas a bit vs just going from one NP to the next. There's a lot more to see than just that.

For maps, I'd also suggest getting a DeLorme Atlas and Gazetter of a couple states, say Montana, Idaho and Utah. They are $20 each and are topo maps on top of road maps (incl all the small back roads and FS roads) with a wealth of information about campground sites, unique geographic/natural features, historic sites, scenic drives, etc. You wouldn't even need another map of the state.

This is a good site to scope out scenic drives in each state as well.

http://www.byways.org/

For car rentals, Hertz often has fairly low rates if you pick up away from airports. Plus they have no restrictions on driving on the gravel/dirt FS roads (regularly maintained). Others will limit you to just paved roads, which you don't want if you want to be able to bivvy.

The notorious Walmart is a good place for cheap, but reliable, camping gear. You could order it ahead of time online and pick it up when you arrive. You don't need a lot of gear to camp comfortably. Tent/inflateable bed/camp chair/portable charcoal grill/cooler/flashlight won't be much more than $100. You could bring blankets/quilts, etc in a stuff sack with you vs buying it here.
weimarer is offline  
Old Mar 6th, 2010, 10:25 AM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 21,394
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
National Forest camping rules outside the designated campgrounds are controlled by the states in which they are found, or at least that is my impression. But if the OP's main interest are the National Parks, camping outside designated campgrounds in National Forests is probably not as interesting. For one thing, there isn't even an outhouse, a table or potable water (even that may be missing in some campgrounds), amenities that are appreciated when one is not back packing.
Michael is offline  
Old Mar 6th, 2010, 10:40 AM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,315
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Weimarer is completely correct. My statement that you must camp "a mile" from all roads is completely false. The rules vary from forest to forest, but back-country camping generally means you must be out of sight of the road and trail, not a mile from it. My mistake.
PaulRabe is offline  
Related Topics
Thread
Original Poster
Forum
Replies
Last Post
hiki08
United States
27
Apr 29th, 2019 09:00 AM
jvsnyder2
United States
11
Jun 22nd, 2015 10:45 AM
juleclod
United States
13
Jun 23rd, 2010 08:43 PM
stdnttravler
United States
10
Apr 13th, 2009 11:34 AM
RW
United States
5
Aug 28th, 2002 04:30 AM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information