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Driving from St. Louis through Western States

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Mar 24th, 2013, 09:52 AM
  #1
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Driving from St. Louis through Western States

Hi Everyone,
We're sure there's plenty of people out there with some good ideas for us.
We are just beginning to plan our trip. Probably should have started this a year ago.
We will be driving and have about 8 weeks. We would like to start in late August or Sept.
Our interests are hiking, biking-relatively flat areas-a little fishing, a white water rafting trip,
about 50% tent camping, and visiting small towns and out of the way places.
We for sure would like to see Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon.
Any suggestions at all will really be appreciated.
Thanks a bunch!
MJ
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Mar 24th, 2013, 04:04 PM
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I take it that you are driving your own car/vehicle and live in the St. Louis area. My thought is to drive to Albert Lea MN for the first night. Camp? Next day make stops in Mitchell SD to see the Corn Palace and also Wall to see the famous drug store. Spend the night either in Rapid City or up nearer to Mt. Rushmore. You may want a quick tour through the Badlands and Custer State park as well.
See Devils Tower while on the way to Yellowstone.
Spend as much time as you can in Yellowstone.
You will also want to see a couple of the National Parks in southern Utah while on the way to the Grand Canyon.
If you still have time, spend a night in Glenwood Springs. There are 2 old hotels there next to the Colorado River. Near the hotels is the worlds largest hot spring fed swimming pool.
You might also want to swing by Rocky Mt. National Park on the way back to St. Louis.
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Mar 24th, 2013, 06:49 PM
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Camping in Badlands NP. http://www.nps.gov/badl/planyourvisit/camping.htm
With 8 weeks you will be able to see a lot. Let us know what else you want to see.
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Mar 26th, 2013, 09:02 AM
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tomfuller,

Thanks so much for your input. We're just beginning our planning so your suggestions are very helpful. We'll be fine tuning our plans over the next month and, I'm sure, asking for more help with our plans.
Thanks again,
mj
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Mar 26th, 2013, 11:47 AM
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With the amount of time you have I'd do a couple of detours between Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone to take in the Little Big Horn Battlefield and make sure you travel the Bearthooth Highway between Red Lodge and Yellowstone. And, don't miss Grand Teton Nat. Park. If you go south of of Yellowstone it is z nice route into the other Park. Should be good biking opportunities as the road system in GTNP can be pretty flat in some ares near the river and Jenny Lake.
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Mar 26th, 2013, 12:01 PM
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I would start the trip either Labor Day weekend or right after that to avoid the summer crowds. Even if you start on Labor Day weekend, it'll take a couple days to get to the Black Hills so you'd arrive as most people are leaving.

You could start by driving north along the Mississippi River and check out all the little towns along the way. That's also something you could do on a long weekend so you may want to save it for another time and just get started on your journey west.

Buy an annual National Park pass for $80 at the first park you enter.
http://store.usgs.gov/pass/index.html

South Dakota - I've drive past the SD Hall of Fame (I think at the Chamberlain exit) and wondered about it. I doubt many people stop in but it might be worth an hour or so. I found the Corn Palace and Wall Drug to be a waste of time. Badlands NP deserves a full day, you can also make reservations to tour an old missile site at Minuteman Missile NHS near the entrance to Badlands. But you'll have to make reservations ahead of time, they would probably fill up otherwise. Black Hills - drive through and camp in Custer State Park, go to Mt. Rushmore in the evening and see the lighting ceremony (not real exciting but it is different), visit one or both caves (Jewel and Wind), drive up Spearfish Canyon as you're leaving to head to Wyoming.

Yellowstone/Grand Tetons deserves about a week combined.


From there you have 3 options: 1) go south, visit Rocky Mountain NP and Colorado, 2) go west to Salt Lake City and head to the Utah parks or 3) go north to Glacier NP.

I would choose #3, spend a few days in Glacier (maybe cross into Canada and visit Waterton) and then head west through to Washington. Visit Mount Ranier, the Cascades and Olympic National Park, then drive down the Pacific Coast through Oregon and northern California. That could take a month if you wanted it to but you can do it in a couple weeks. Visit Yosemite, then decide if you'd rather drive down the California coast a ways or head over to Utah - you can take the long way around or go through the mountains and make a trip through Death Valley.

Spend a night or two in Las Vegas, then hit the trifecta of Zion/Bryce and Grand Canyon in whichever order you want. From there you have some options - you could head to Moab and then home through Colorado, or head further south. Personally, I would hit up Moab for a few days, then go through SW Colorado and spend a few days in the mountains and visiting Mesa Verde.

From there, I'd go through New Mexico and down into Texas to visit Big Bend NP for a few days before heading back to St. Louis. The Big Bend region is out of the way but beautiful and has a lot of cool places to visit, it's best done on a road trip since there aren't any major airports real close by.

So...1 week to drive to Black Hills and visit everything there, 1 week for Yellowstone/Grand Tetons, 1 week to visit Glacier, drive to Washington and visit Cascades/Mt. Ranier, 2 weeks to drive down the coast, 1 week for Vegas/Grand Canyon/Zion/Bryce, 1 week for Moab and SW Colorado and a week to drive to and visit Big Bend. That is 8 weeks right there - and obviously you can cut or add time anywhere you want to make things fit better but that's a rough itinerary.

I'm sure people will say you shouldn't miss RMNP, but I would disagree. You'll see plenty of mountains elsewhere, and RMNP is a really easy weekend trip from St. Louis (short flight to Denver, then a couple hour drive from there to the park). On the other hand, Glacier and driving down the Pacific coast take more commitment and it's easier to do them as part of a road trip with your own vehicle. So I guess I'm saying save RMNP for some other time and focus more on the harder to reach, more road trip type of places.

The one possible issue is SW Colorado may be past peak fall color at that time of year, I know RMNP typically peaks late September/early October but I don't know when it peaks in the southwest part of the state. My rough itinerary would get you there mid to late October.
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Mar 26th, 2013, 12:57 PM
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Another place that oftentimes gets overlooked is the Badlands of North Dakota and Theodore Roosevelt National Park outside of Medora, ND.

Super fun little town Medora is... You can hit the Medora Musical - an outdoor amphitheater summer show that each year draws quite the crowds. Also the Pitchfork Fondue!! Steak and all the fixens.

The park is absolutely beautiful. I am from SD and have been to the SD Badlands many times, but let me tell you - I think the ND Badlands are more stunning. And, not full of all the tourists and tourist traps. There is camping, hiking, biking there - anything an outdoor person could want. Here's a link with more info about Medora.

http://www.medora.com/
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Mar 26th, 2013, 01:18 PM
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You may qualify for a Senior Park pass if you are old enough?? Mine was 5$ several years ago and has been in use many times.. check it out..Medora is a fun and histori8cal place. TR Park is awesome. colors should be ok altho we didn't see much of them last Ocr. until we got into ND a good ways. mostly golds with red sumac the only reds seen. Poplars go gold (various shades) and last awhile along the riover/stream beds. Harvest in full swing '"amber waves of grain. the purple mountains majesty..etc, etc."
Great time to do the drive!!! Happy trails..
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Mar 26th, 2013, 02:07 PM
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The "America the Beautiful" Senior Pass for anyone over 62 is $10 and is good for the seniors lifetime.
It will pay for itself many times over. You do have to show your drivers license/ID to establish ownership of the card and proof of age.
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Mar 26th, 2013, 04:18 PM
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Tomfuller.. The rise in the cost of living hits us all. Still $10 is just a drop in the bucket to experience all the wonderful NPs on this proposed trip!!
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Mar 26th, 2013, 09:03 PM
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I meant to add that whitewater rafting is unlikely at that time of year. In the mountains, rafting is highly dependent on snowmelt to have adequate water flow and there isn't usually enough water to run whitewater.

Maybe somebody knows of somewhere out west that has whitewater that late in the season, I wouldn't count on it though.
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Mar 27th, 2013, 06:40 AM
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Talk to the experts in Colorado: http://www.coloradorafting.net/mirror/
They have many choices for whitewater rafting and even zipline.
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