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Itinerary Help? 16-nights around Yellowstone/Glacier/Black Hills

Itinerary Help? 16-nights around Yellowstone/Glacier/Black Hills

Oct 15th, 2018, 05:23 PM
  #1  
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Itinerary Help? 16-nights around Yellowstone/Glacier/Black Hills

Hi there!

My family (grandparents x2, parents x2, kids 14 & 9) is planning a 16-night trip in May/June 2019. We're flying in and out of Denver. As of right now, the only thing we have booked is 2 nights in Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone. Tentatively, we're thinking 2-3 nights in Jackson Hole before heading into Yellowstone, and then spreading out the rest of the nights between Glacier, Black Hills area, and Denver. We all have passports and could go up into Canada, but I can't really find a good reason to (but if someone can give me one, I'd appreciate it). I'd like to go to Banff but it feels like it should be a separate trip.

So my current rough draft is as follows with Yellowstone as the only unchangeable element.

Nights 1-3 Jackson Hole (Jackson Hole, Grand Teton)
Nights 4-5 Yellowstone (Yellowstone South Loop/Yellowstone North Loop)
Nights 6-9 Whitefish (Glacier National Park)
Nights 10-13 Black Hills (Badlands, Mt Rushmore, Jewel/Wind Cave, Custer, Bear Country)
Nights 14-16 Denver (Zoo, Rocky Mountain National Park)

Any suggestions on the itinerary? Any hotel recommendations? Can't miss food stops? We'll have to stop somewhere between Denver and Jackson Hole, and I'm thinking Rawlins. We'll also have to stop somewhere between Glacier and Black Hills. I realize this throws off my night count. In case it helps: my daughter (9-year-old) loves animals. She knows she wants to see any and all the wildlife possible. My son (14-year-old) likes aviation and astronomy. My parents are in good shape though they don't have the energy of 30-year-olds. We're all experienced travelers and everyone is okay with the idea of moving hotels regularly. Any feedback is appreciated! Thank you!!

Last edited by Liadan; Oct 15th, 2018 at 05:27 PM.
Liadan is offline  
Oct 15th, 2018, 07:28 PM
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Personally I would decrease Jackson hole in favor of more nights in Yellowstone. Have you checked the distances for travel. Not knowing your flight schedule to Denver, you could be hard pressed to get to Jackson Hole the first day. Second it is a long slow drive from the Black Hills to Denver. You will not do anything else that day. Think you have too much driving in this schedule. Unless you all like to spent long periods in a car. RMNP is a full day trip from Denver in itself. You will not do anything else that day.

You indicate May/June. Trail Ridge Road in RMNP is always scheduled to be open by Memorial Day weekend. Somethings CDOT doesn't make because of heavy or late snows. Keep that in mind. If spending time in the mountains bring some winter clothes - true for Jackson Hole also.

Last edited by fmpden; Oct 15th, 2018 at 07:32 PM. Reason: editing
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Oct 15th, 2018, 07:33 PM
  #3  
 
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Search under my username for a trip report that covered Idaho/Jackson Hole/Yellowstone/Badlands. If it were me Id add more time to Yellowstone and drop time at either Tetons or more likely, the Glacier portion of your trip. If your daughter loves animals you must do Bear Country in Custer area. Also Id recommend Canyon Lodge area in Yellowstone - lots of animal activity in that area and some flatter hikes if the grandparents are up for it. Also in SD check into Mammoth excavations south of Rapid City - very cool for adults and children. Enjoy the trip - it will be amazing!!!!
capecod73 is offline  
Oct 16th, 2018, 06:02 AM
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Originally Posted by fmpden View Post
Personally I would decrease Jackson hole in favor of more nights in Yellowstone. Have you checked the distances for travel. Not knowing your flight schedule to Denver, you could be hard pressed to get to Jackson Hole the first day. Second it is a long slow drive from the Black Hills to Denver. You will not do anything else that day. Think you have too much driving in this schedule. Unless you all like to spent long periods in a car. RMNP is a full day trip from Denver in itself. You will not do anything else that day.

You indicate May/June. Trail Ridge Road in RMNP is always scheduled to be open by Memorial Day weekend. Somethings CDOT doesn't make because of heavy or late snows. Keep that in mind. If spending time in the mountains bring some winter clothes - true for Jackson Hole also.
I'll see if I can get another night in Yellowstone. I'd assumed it would probably be too late?

We've checked driving times. 37 hours total! One possibility is that we'll make as few reservations in advance as possible to give us a little more flexibility to stop when we want to stop for the day. We'll also have 4 drivers, which will help.

The possible day for Rocky Mountain National Park would be near the end of the trip in mid-June.

Thank you!!
Liadan is offline  
Oct 16th, 2018, 06:07 AM
  #5  
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Originally Posted by capecod73 View Post
Search under my username for a trip report that covered Idaho/Jackson Hole/Yellowstone/Badlands. If it were me Id add more time to Yellowstone and drop time at either Tetons or more likely, the Glacier portion of your trip. If your daughter loves animals you must do Bear Country in Custer area. Also Id recommend Canyon Lodge area in Yellowstone - lots of animal activity in that area and some flatter hikes if the grandparents are up for it. Also in SD check into Mammoth excavations south of Rapid City - very cool for adults and children. Enjoy the trip - it will be amazing!!!!
Thank you, I'll search for your trip report!

I'm going to see if I can get another night in Yellowstone. We have about 2.5 days in Yellowstone right now. Our last night in Jackson Hole leads to the south Yellowstone loop the next day. Then another full day. Then half or two-thirds of a day before we head out towards Glacier.

Thank you for the Bear Country suggestion! I showed my daughter a few pictures and she's so excited. Especially about the Babyland area with cubs.

My inner history nerd is really excited about the mammoth excavations. Last year we went to La Brea, and it was cooler than I thought it would be.
Liadan is offline  
Oct 16th, 2018, 06:40 AM
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My general rule of thumb for road trips is: the farther you travel, the more time you should spend at the destination, and conversely, less time at destinations that are easy to get to.

In this case, focus on Glacier, Yellowstone and Black Hills since you're driving quite aways to get to all of them. You can visit RMNP on the way between Black Hills and Denver - the fastest route takes you to Cheyenne and then south through Fort Collins on I-25. Just head west on 34 and spend a half day or so in RMNP. Either stay in Estes Park or Grand Lake (Grand Lake would make for a longer drive back to Denver). Minimize the time in Denver.

I think you have the wildlife part for your daughter covered. For your son, consider the Air and Space Museum in Rapid City, the Minuteman Missile site near Badlands, and the Air and Space Museum in Denver. You'll need to plan ahead for the Minuteman Missile site to get tour tickets.

SD Air & Space | Things to Do in the Black Hills
https://www.nps.gov/mimi/index.htm
https://wingsmuseum.org/
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Oct 16th, 2018, 06:51 AM
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Originally Posted by Liadan View Post
One possibility is that we'll make as few reservations in advance as possible to give us a little more flexibility to stop when we want to stop for the day.
I don't think this is realistic. You'll need reservations for Yellowstone and Glacier. Black Hills is fairly spread out - you're going to want to map out an itinerary for that area which minimizes backtracking. I'd say first night near Wall/Badlands to cover that area, then the rest of your time around Custer/Keystone. Stop at Bear Country and the Air/Space Museum on your way between Badlands and Custer.

That part about the Black Hills will make more sense if you print a map and plot all your potential stops in the area. Add in summer tourist traffic and you'll realize why you want a plan that minimizes backtracking.
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Oct 16th, 2018, 09:52 AM
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Definitely try to add more nights in Yellowstone. This is where you'll have your best wildlife viewing. That time of year is early for Glacier so the Going to the Sun Road may not be fully open https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/gtsrinfo.htm
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Oct 16th, 2018, 11:06 AM
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Originally Posted by WhereAreWe View Post
I don't think this is realistic. You'll need reservations for Yellowstone and Glacier. Black Hills is fairly spread out - you're going to want to map out an itinerary for that area which minimizes backtracking. I'd say first night near Wall/Badlands to cover that area, then the rest of your time around Custer/Keystone. Stop at Bear Country and the Air/Space Museum on your way between Badlands and Custer.

That part about the Black Hills will make more sense if you print a map and plot all your potential stops in the area. Add in summer tourist traffic and you'll realize why you want a plan that minimizes backtracking.
Thank you for the space and aviation recommendations! I added them to my spreadsheet. I'm also looking at Wyoming Stargazing for him.

We do already have 2 nights reserved at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone. Based on the advice I'm getting here, I'm going to try and add a third night if I can. I'm also looking at airbnbs in Glacier/Whitefish.

I'll definitely plot everything out beforehand. My husband was (gently) mocking me over the weekend for saying I think we needed a laminated map so that I could lay it out and draw on it. By the time we leave, I'll have hour-by-hour breakdowns of every day. I've spent an embarrassing amount of time already researching Black Hills base options. But I think on the longer driving days that are nothing more than getting from Point A to Point B, I'd like to have more flexibility rather than less. We had a ton of success in the New England area two years ago making hotel reservations on the fly with anchor points in Montreal and Niagara. I realize this is a different part of the country, though.
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Oct 16th, 2018, 11:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Patty View Post
Definitely try to add more nights in Yellowstone. This is where you'll have your best wildlife viewing. That time of year is early for Glacier so the Going to the Sun Road may not be fully open https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/gtsrinfo.htm
Thank you, I definitely will! I'm going to see if I can find a couple rooms in the southern part of the park.

I'm a bit worried about road closures. We've managed a lot of off-season travel, so it's often weighing slightly lower crowds against missing things closed for the season.
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Oct 17th, 2018, 05:03 AM
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Originally Posted by Liadan View Post
But I think on the longer driving days that are nothing more than getting from Point A to Point B, I'd like to have more flexibility rather than less.
That should be fine. I was just referring to the Yellowstone/Glacier/Black Hills part where you need reservations. You could probably find something last minute in the Black Hills (and Estes Park) but your choices may be limited and might not be the best location for efficiency. But between the parks on your long driving days, I think you're fine to book at the last minute.
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Oct 17th, 2018, 06:35 AM
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We also do last minute bookings on long driving day stopovers. But a potential gotcha is the possibility that hotels are unexpectedly full due to energy development in the area, or because of some local event. It's happened to us a couple of times in the last 2 or 3 years. It could even happen in a place like Rawlins.

You might be fine but it's not a bad idea to check the hotel sites a few days in advance and get a sense of what's available and at what cost.
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Oct 17th, 2018, 08:46 AM
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When you plan a trip like this you need to look at more than just nights. Most of day 1 will be spent getting from Denver to Jackson Hole, and getting from Yellowstone to your next venue will eat up time there.

I do agree, more time in the parks, especially Yellowstone, less time in the car. That said, there is some fantastic scenery out the windows of the car.
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Oct 18th, 2018, 06:01 AM
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Originally Posted by WhereAreWe View Post
That should be fine. I was just referring to the Yellowstone/Glacier/Black Hills part where you need reservations. You could probably find something last minute in the Black Hills (and Estes Park) but your choices may be limited and might not be the best location for efficiency. But between the parks on your long driving days, I think you're fine to book at the last minute.
Where would you plan hotel nights around Black Hills? I was originally interested in Deadwood, but then I read a few posts suggesting it wasn't ideal for families.

Thank you again!
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Oct 18th, 2018, 06:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Nelson View Post
We also do last minute bookings on long driving day stopovers. But a potential gotcha is the possibility that hotels are unexpectedly full due to energy development in the area, or because of some local event. It's happened to us a couple of times in the last 2 or 3 years. It could even happen in a place like Rawlins.

You might be fine but it's not a bad idea to check the hotel sites a few days in advance and get a sense of what's available and at what cost.
You're so right. I've learned my lesson about local events the hard way, too.

It would be nice if hotel sites could show you those kind of data points when you search specific dates. Or if Google maps would show events or potential closures when you provide a day/time that you plan to travel from Point A to B.

Thank you for the reminder!
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Oct 18th, 2018, 06:26 AM
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Originally Posted by emalloy View Post
When you plan a trip like this you need to look at more than just nights. Most of day 1 will be spent getting from Denver to Jackson Hole, and getting from Yellowstone to your next venue will eat up time there.

I do agree, more time in the parks, especially Yellowstone, less time in the car. That said, there is some fantastic scenery out the windows of the car.
You're right. I used nights and combined things like that in an attempt to simplify. It takes at least 8.5 hours to get from Denver to Jackson Hole. And it will take about 6.5 hours (at least) to get from our north Yellowstone hotel to the Whitefish area.

I'm not sure how to reduce the time in the car without dropping one of the parks. We're definitely going to try to minimize travel time and avoid unnecessary back tracking. One thing I need to work on is comparing routes when there are 2 or more reasonable options. I'm definitely hoping for some scenic drives!

Thank you!
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Oct 18th, 2018, 11:55 AM
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Originally Posted by Liadan View Post
Where would you plan hotel nights around Black Hills? I was originally interested in Deadwood, but then I read a few posts suggesting it wasn't ideal for families.

Thank you again!

If it was me and I was coming from Glacier and headed to RMNP/Denver afterwards, I would do this:
Stay in Wall (or even Interior) the first night in the area, knock out Badlands and Minuteman Missile right away. Then drive back to Rapid City, hit Bear Country/Air and Space Museum (or do one/both of those on your way to Badlands). For everything else you've listed in the Black Hills, Custer or Keystone make a lot more sense than Deadwood.

This is where I think you should get a map for that area, plot all your destinations and look for clusters. Deadwood is over an hour from Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, both caves...so whether its family friendly or not is irrelevant. The time you'd waste driving back and forth every day would be dealbreaker for me, and that's why I would choose Custer or Keystone. That's also why I would try to do Badlands/Minuteman/Museum/Bear Country as one cluster of attractions and then move on to the other big attractions with a different lodging location.
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Oct 20th, 2018, 07:30 AM
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Originally Posted by WhereAreWe View Post
If it was me and I was coming from Glacier and headed to RMNP/Denver afterwards, I would do this:
Stay in Wall (or even Interior) the first night in the area, knock out Badlands and Minuteman Missile right away. Then drive back to Rapid City, hit Bear Country/Air and Space Museum (or do one/both of those on your way to Badlands). For everything else you've listed in the Black Hills, Custer or Keystone make a lot more sense than Deadwood.

This is where I think you should get a map for that area, plot all your destinations and look for clusters. Deadwood is over an hour from Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, both caves...so whether its family friendly or not is irrelevant. The time you'd waste driving back and forth every day would be dealbreaker for me, and that's why I would choose Custer or Keystone. That's also why I would try to do Badlands/Minuteman/Museum/Bear Country as one cluster of attractions and then move on to the other big attractions with a different lodging location.
Thank you! I'd been playing around on Google Maps but decided to buy a hard copy road atlas as well. Custer looks pretty ideal.

I have terrible spatial awareness (and no sense of direction), so I struggle with this part of the planning process.
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Oct 21st, 2018, 05:35 PM
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We found the Holiday Inn in Custer to be a great place to base from for that area. Id stay there 2-3 nights and work in the various SD activities. And I am so mad we didnt book Missileman tour of control room in advance - as another poster recommended above DO THIS. We met random folks in Badlands who raved about it.

bottom line (and Ive done 8 road trips with the kids now) try to not drive a large distance more frequently than every 3rd day. Base out of somewhere and travel from that spot 1-2 hours a day to see the sites. InYellowstone book another section of the park for your 3rd (maybe 4th) night. Ive never experienced anything like YNP...the diversity within that one park is insane. Enjoy your trip!!!!!
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