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Help narrowing Itinerary: Yellowstone, RMNP, Utah NPs

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Help narrowing Itinerary: Yellowstone, RMNP, Utah NPs

Old Sep 24th, 2023, 11:56 AM
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Help narrowing Itinerary: Yellowstone, RMNP, Utah NPs

Starting to plan a road trip for next year and I need help narrowing down where to focus our itinerary.

Weíre a family of four (kids will be 8 and 10) travelling from UK, this will be a ďonce in a lifetimeĒ trip. We can stay for at least 2 weeks, can possibly push it towards 3 weeks. Probably mid October, though could consider August or April.We are used to busy holidays but want some time to hike etc, not just see a viewpoint and dash.

My original thinking had been Grand Circle / Mighty 5, which I am very keen to see. However having run this plan via my husband heís not that moved by desert and red rock and would like to see the Rockies (or similar - basically he likes jagged mountain peaks and pine forests).

So Iíve been looking at an alternate plan starting in Denver, via Rocky Mountain NP, throw in Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park for the kids (maybe other stops in this area, then highlights of Utah and Grand Canyon before returning home via Las Vegas. But Iím not convinced, as someone who has travelled to the European Alps and Dolomites that RMNP is that unique?

So my third option is to start in Yellowstone and Grand Teton before driving down to Utah and picking up the NPs and GC. Yellowstone seems to offer something unique/is more raved about but is harder/more expensive to reach and involves rather more driving to combine with Utah NPs. And mid October seems to be the very tail end of the season in Yellowstone.

Original thinking had been to hire a small RV/camper but can consider hotels or a mix (hiring an RV for part of trip).

Any thoughts? Should we embrace the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Yellowstone even if itís harder to reach and adds a lot of distance? Should I compromise on adding RMNP and Glenwood Caverns for my husband and kids? Or stick to my original plan and convince them of the wonders of red rock? Or any other better ideas?

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Old Sep 24th, 2023, 04:24 PM
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Yellowstone is amazing for its geysers and its wild life, but not for its Alp like scenery.



Try to convince your husband to step out of his comfort zone for a tour of the Southwest, combining amazing high desert scenery with fascinating ruins.







Last edited by Michael; Sep 24th, 2023 at 04:34 PM.
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Old Sep 24th, 2023, 06:20 PM
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I have to admit Iím not immediately grabbed by Yellowstone - I donít know whether I need to have faith that it has a magic that isnít captured in a single photo, or whether itís ultimately not our thing. I can see however itís not an experience weíd easily replicate in Europe.

weíve both been to Yosemite before which we loved and would return to in a heartbeat. Weíd both love to visit the Canadian Rockies too. So Iím trying to scratch a bit of that itch on this trip (not least because I might need that compromise to convince my husband!).Maybe Rocky Mountain NP does that? But I do really want experiences that are worth travelling to another continent for, not landscapes that look similar to what we could see in Europe with relative ease.




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Old Sep 24th, 2023, 07:53 PM
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Instead of RMNP do Glacier which is on the Canadian border, and you can do Jasper and Banff in the same trip.


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Old Sep 24th, 2023, 07:59 PM
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I live near RMNP, have been there often, and have traveled (just a little) in the Swiss Alps. While the glaciated Alps are arguably more dramatic than what you'll see in RMNP or Yellowstone, what they have that the Alps don't is: a large expanse of wilderness. To me it's a different feeling, hard to describe perhaps, than what you get in Europe.

I like your Denver - RMNP - Utah - Vegas idea. Your husband will almost certainly be wowed by the red rock country. Start early in October when Trail Ridge Road should still be open, then later in the month is prime time for Utah. October is getting late for Yellowstone (I've been snowed on in that area a couple times in late August - early September), but is generally still nice RMNP, though you never know.

Here are a some RMNP shots taken last week.


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Old Sep 25th, 2023, 12:58 AM
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Thanks for the inspiring photos!

Iím definitely warming to Denver > Las Vegas. Iím looking at other destinations at the Colorado end we might want to consider in addition to RMNP. Ouray looks appealing, or the children might be excited by Dinosaur NM. Any other suggestions welcomed!

I think this route might give us a diversity of landscapes and activities that means thereís something for everyone.

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Old Sep 25th, 2023, 10:42 AM
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The Yellowstone-Teton region may have more beautiful natural features than any other place in Continental US other than Yosemite. Besides Old Faithful, the main attractions are the Lamar Valley which has roaming herds of bison and elk plus wolves feeding on them (guided tours are available) and the Great Canyon of the Yellowstone which has a steep, deep canyon with waterfalls and hot springs. Grand Teton National Park has mts. that compare with the Alps and are uber-majestic.
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Old Sep 25th, 2023, 10:44 AM
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Tetons:

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Old Sep 25th, 2023, 03:57 PM
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Grand Teton would tick the box for jagged peaks/forest if you decide that you do want to go to Yellowstone but yes, mid-October is getting very late season for that part of the country. The east side of Glacier also ticks that box but of the three possible dates you mentioned, August would be the only one that would work.
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Old Sep 26th, 2023, 06:33 AM
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Originally Posted by FelixFamily
Thanks for the inspiring photos!

Ouray looks appealing, or the children might be excited by Dinosaur NM. Any other suggestions welcomed!

I think this route might give us a diversity of landscapes and activities that means thereís something for everyone.
Thanks. In 40+ years living in Colorado I've never made it to Dinosaur NM, so can't say, but it could be great for the kids. Another place kids like is Great Sand Dunes NP, which is in the diagonal opposite side of the state. Also nothing like what you'd get in Europe, but not in the direction of Utah. Have a look a see what you think. October is usually nice there - I'll be there in a couple of weeks for a night en route to some other places.

I agree that Yellowstone / Tetons is one of the most amazing places on the planet, but I'd be worried about October. It could be fine, just risky. (Same is true of RMNP, but less risky.) If you can push it a bit earlier then Yellowstone is really something to see.
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Old Sep 26th, 2023, 07:16 AM
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Look at this trip and think about doing it in either direction depending on availability of lodging and costs. This would work best in June through August.

get a big map and sketch out this route

1 Fly into Bozeman Montana, connecting through whatever hub works best. Some less expensive airlines like Southwest do not show up on the flight programs but do service Bozeman.

2. drive to Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park (about an hour and a half drive)

3. Explore YNP for 2 to 4 days from north to south perhaps change lodging if you want to eliminate backtracking

4. Head south towards Jackson Wyoming through Grand Teton National Park 2 days

5. Head south towards Moab Utah perhaps with a stop in Salt Lake City to break up the drive (8-9 hours drive)

6. Explore Arches and Canyonlands National Parks 2 -4 days

7. Head to Bryce NP (4+ hours) 1 day to explore

8.Head to Zion NP (1-2 hours) explore for 1-3 days

9 Go to Las Vegas about 3 hours drive, fly home

Some things to consider:

Rental companies may charge extra for picking up a vehicle in one city and returning in another, so check going to Vegas first as well as going to Bozeman first.

RV rental May charge extra if you exceed the mileage for the day they allow. On the plus side there is BLM land, National Forrest’s, Walmarts etc where you can spend a night free or very low cost and you can make more meals when you are not near places to buy food. Reserve a spot in the campgrounds in the parks as soon as you can.

if you decide to rent a car, make reservations for lodging now. Buy an inexpensive cooler and fill it with ice drinks,cheese, deli meats, etc before you leave a city. Fill your gas tank when it gets to half as some areas the stations are few and far apart.

Enjoy the trip
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Old Sep 26th, 2023, 08:14 AM
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How are you about driving on curvy mountain roads in possibly icy conditions? October can start to get iffy, but you could spin the wheel of luck.

I am a fan of red rock country but if you are okay with the driving, I'd vote for the RMNP/Red Rock Combo. If you head north toward Grand Junction, it isn't that far to Moab and Arches National Park. Plus in Grand Junction you can take the kids to Enstrom downtown for ice cream at their candy factory. https://enstrom.com/pages/grand-junction-factory/

From Moab, head down to Mesa Verde National Park and then if the weather is still good you can visit Ouray/Silverton etc, take Monarch Pass if the highway across the northern rockies is closed down due to weather and come back up the front side. Grand Canyon of the Gunnison is worth a detour if you have time.
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Old Sep 26th, 2023, 10:26 AM
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Timing

Timing is everything. Others have hinted at it but mid October is not a matter of being lucky. It is the beginning of the winter season in the mountains. The probability of winter conditions is high. We have already had snow in the mountains and trail ridge road through RMNP was briefly closed due to snowy conditions. We are nearing the peak of the leaf changing season and locals tend to jam the roads making travel in the mountains other than the interstate a bit more challenging. Obviously the further south you go the less chance for snow. Southern Colorado around Mesa Verde, Durango, Black Canyon of the Gunnison are all almost unique areas and better choices at that time of year. You could fly into Denver and do a loop or continue to Santa Fe and return from that area.

Last edited by fmpden; Sep 26th, 2023 at 10:29 AM.
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Old Sep 26th, 2023, 11:55 AM
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Lots to consider, thanks so much for the input so far.

I think what I've taken from this so far is that October is too late in the season to get the best from Yellowstone, and August would just be too hot for the children in Utah so combining Yellowstone and Utah in a single trip doesn't seem to be workable. Given that the Canadian Rockies are also on our bucket list, I'll consider the possibility of a future summer trip from Yellowstone northwards taking in Glacier NP and up towards Calgary....will leave that for another time!

Curvy mountain roads in icy conditions, possibly in an RV (albeit we'd go for a small class B if we did go for an RV)...I've got to say that's not a prospect I'd relish! My current thinking is to plan a Denver > Las Vegas route over 3 weeks (which allows us to travel from 2nd week of October, the earliest we can manage due to school holidays), but keep plans for the first week as flexible as possible to allow for the possibility of bad weather. There seems to be no shortage of beautiful places to see in the area, and presumably if we stick to lower altitudes in Colorado we should fine in October, it's only the high mountain roads that are likely to be challenging? Could we run into any major problems with conditions in Utah/Grand Canyon?
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Old Sep 26th, 2023, 12:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Nelson
Thanks. In 40+ years living in Colorado I've never made it to Dinosaur NM, so can't say, but it could be great for the kids. Another place kids like is Great Sand Dunes NP, which is in the diagonal opposite side of the state. Also nothing like what you'd get in Europe, but not in the direction of Utah. Have a look a see what you think. October is usually nice there - I'll be there in a couple of weeks for a night en route to some other places.

I agree that Yellowstone / Tetons is one of the most amazing places on the planet, but I'd be worried about October. It could be fine, just risky. (Same is true of RMNP, but less risky.) If you can push it a bit earlier then Yellowstone is really something to see.
I was looking at Great Sand Dunes which looks amazing...it is somewhat in the wrong direction though!
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Old Sep 26th, 2023, 12:10 PM
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Late to chime in here, but with kids I think Dinosaur NM is a great place to put on your itinerary. We (4 older adults) visited in 2021 but found it an underrated gem of a park. Not only are there the fossils, there is fantastic rock art, the interesting Josie Morris cabin, etc. I assume October is too late for river trips.

Anyway, I love the Utah parks more than, for example, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and having been to many deserts all over the world, think that Utah's parks (as well as some neighboring sites in the neighboring states) top just about all of them for amazing formations and colors, and your husband might be surprised how much he ends up liking it. Zion is a combo of desert and Yosemite, although gets quite crowded. Of course you might see if Colorado National Monument, Monument Valley or Antelope Canyon fit in with your plans.
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Old Sep 26th, 2023, 12:52 PM
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I'm still weighing up dilemma of whether to hire an RV, and had the thought of splitting the trip into two: hire an SUV for a week and do a loop from Denver round Colorado. Then switch the SUV for an RV back in Denver and head straight down I-70 into Utah. Might actually work out cheaper given cost of RV, would allow us to visit Grand Sand Dunes on a loop round. Might be mad?

There's an argument for not bothering with an RV at all of course...
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Old Sep 26th, 2023, 12:56 PM
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Originally Posted by traveler318
Late to chime in here, but with kids I think Dinosaur NM is a great place to put on your itinerary. We (4 older adults) visited in 2021 but found it an underrated gem of a park. Not only are there the fossils, there is fantastic rock art, the interesting Josie Morris cabin, etc. I assume October is too late for river trips.

Anyway, I love the Utah parks more than, for example, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and having been to many deserts all over the world, think that Utah's parks (as well as some neighboring sites in the neighboring states) top just about all of them for amazing formations and colors, and your husband might be surprised how much he ends up liking it. Zion is a combo of desert and Yosemite, although gets quite crowded. Of course you might see if Colorado National Monument, Monument Valley or Antelope Canyon fit in with your plans.
Not late at all! I'm baffled at my husband's lack of excitement about Utah. But it's always been one of the places in the world I've most wanted to visit so I will make whatever compromises I need to make to get him on board!
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Old Sep 26th, 2023, 05:00 PM
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Originally Posted by FelixFamily
I'm still weighing up dilemma of whether to hire an RV, and had the thought of splitting the trip into two: hire an SUV for a week and do a loop from Denver round Colorado. Then switch the SUV for an RV back in Denver and head straight down I-70 into Utah. Might actually work out cheaper given cost of RV, would allow us to visit Grand Sand Dunes on a loop round. Might be mad?

There's an argument for not bothering with an RV at all of course...
Look into flying into SLC and renting the small RV and go from there to Yellowstone if the weather is good. Early October would probably be better than mid to late October. Return the RV to SLC and then rent a car or SUV and then go south to see at least 3 of the "Big 5". My favorite of the 5 is Arches. One of the great hikes there is out to Delicate Arch. Another good hike is out to Landscape Arch. Return your rental vehicle where you rented it in Salt Lake City. Take the eastbound Amtrak California Zephyr (early morning departure) to either Grand Junction or Glenwood Springs Colorado. The ride though the Ruby Canyon along the Colorado River from Utah into Colorado is very scenic. You should be able to rent a car in Colorado if you want to see more of Colorado. There is a good bus service up from Glenwood Springs to Aspen and Maroon Bells. If you wanted to fly home from Denver you can take the train to Denver and take the light rail out to the airport from Denver Union Station
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Old Sep 27th, 2023, 04:45 AM
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Originally Posted by tomfuller
Look into flying into SLC and renting the small RV and go from there to Yellowstone if the weather is good. Early October would probably be better than mid to late October. Return the RV to SLC and then rent a car or SUV and then go south to see at least 3 of the "Big 5". My favorite of the 5 is Arches. One of the great hikes there is out to Delicate Arch. Another good hike is out to Landscape Arch. Return your rental vehicle where you rented it in Salt Lake City. Take the eastbound Amtrak California Zephyr (early morning departure) to either Grand Junction or Glenwood Springs Colorado. The ride though the Ruby Canyon along the Colorado River from Utah into Colorado is very scenic. You should be able to rent a car in Colorado if you want to see more of Colorado. There is a good bus service up from Glenwood Springs to Aspen and Maroon Bells. If you wanted to fly home from Denver you can take the train to Denver and take the light rail out to the airport from Denver Union Station
Oh don't start tempting me with trains, I love trains! From my initial research Salt Lake City flights seem much more expensive than Las Vegas or Denver so unless that changes I'm loathe to fly into SLC as the flights would sink our budget.

The more I look into it the more I can see that's really appealing around the Colorado mountains - the mining towns in the San Juan mountains definitely couldn't be mistaken for anywhere in Europe. I'm keen to try to get to Great Sand Dunes as that's like nothing I've ever seen before and Black Canyon of the Gunnison looks like the kind of landscape that my husband would really enjoy. I've also made note of Dinosaur Ridge right by Denver as a little stop that the kids would love and they'd be absolutely thrilled by the mountain top rides at Glenwood Caverns. Will definitely be trying to get to a hot spring too. So I'm convinced there's the makings of a great week or so in Colorado there.

I'm assuming mid October is generally fairly quiet/end of season and we could book last minute for lodgings or camping so we can adjust the itinerary depending on the weather? I'll try to remember to take a look at what late reservations are looking like in the area in a couple of weeks to get a feel for what we might expect next year.
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