National Park Itinerary -pls comment

Old Feb 3rd, 2004, 02:59 AM
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National Park Itinerary -pls comment

I will be traveling during the month of July following this itinerary. Please comment on content and sequence. I'm going with my husband and 11yr old daughter. We're renting a car in Denver and taking off from there on. We are planning on doing the long drives at the begining of the trip and another long stretch the last day. We have 20 days scheduled.

1. Colorado: Arrive in Denver and go/stay for 2 nights in Estes NP.
2. South Dakota: Mt. Rushmore/Custoc 1 night
3. Halfway to Yellowstone, probably Cody 1 night
4. Yellowstone - 3 nights. Pls recommend places to stay, I am planning on 1 night Mammoth Springs and 2 nights around Old Faithful (I know I'm late with reservations...), exit southwest and drive through Grand Teton
5. Idaho - Craters of the Moon 1 night
6. Utah: Salt Lake City or further south - 1 night
7. Utah: stay somewhere central and go to Arches and Bryce- 2 nights
8. Utah: Relocate to stay near Zion
9. Nevada: Las Vegas 3 nights (there is only so much nature you can appreciate without a break)
10. Arizona: Grand Canyon - 2 nights
11. Colorado: Mesa Verde (Cortez) 1 night
12. Drive to Denver and stay overnight
13. Fly home
marigross is offline  
Old Feb 3rd, 2004, 05:59 AM
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That is wonderful country out there, and I have enjoyed visits there many times. I do however have some reservations about your trip plan mainly because I think visits to national parks should be enjoyed, not endured.

First I think you are trying to do too much. It is a trip that reminds me of the guy at Yosemite who told his kids to get back in the car, they could look at the pictures at home. Unfortunately, I saw no camera.

Secondly, I think you are allowing too little time for many of the premier attractions such as Arches, Bryce and Mesa Verde. Furthermore, there is no mention of two other major attractions: Capitol Reef and the Grand Tetons.

Also I am not sure you are considering some of the distances in full perspective. As a result, I don't see this being a fun trip. You are planning to spend a lot of time sitting in a car roaring frantically down the road trying to get to the next motel. By the end of the second week it will turn into a misery journey.

I know you probably want to see Rushmore, but I react to it with the feeling that somebody took jackhammers and dynamite and defaced a perfectly good mountain. Hence I would exclude and spend more time elsewhere.

The Craters of the Moon are perhaps interesting if you have never seen a basalt flow and cinder cones before.
Other than that, the flat plain is wind blown sage bush and not much else. I suggest skipping it because it is a long drive out there from Yellowstone and you have other more attractive destinations on your menu that you are short shrifting.

For example, if you go as planned, by the time you drive from the Grand Canyon to Mese Verde, you will not have time to see much at all if you plan on being in Denver the next night.

Also, finding good accommodations in Yellowstone is going to be difficult if you don't reserve soon. Many of the nicer cabins and lodge rooms are long gone for July. Out of curiosity I looked at Old Faithful Inn on the Xanterra website. Mostly what is left are rooms without a bath.

A couple of "back side" premium rooms with one queen bed were left on a few July dates.

I suggest you call rather than trying to book on line and hope you stumble into a cancellation. Or, you might be able to book one of the rooms that are not put on line. These tend to be the more expensive ones, such as the suites that go for $350 a night.

Some of the Frontier Cabins at Old Faithful are still available, but most of these have 1 regular double bed in them. Not my idea of good sleeping accommodations for 3 people. I frankly find some of the cabins at Yellowstone to be abominations. (Try the Roughrider Cabins at Roosevelt - just a short hike to the bathhouse. I don't know if it is still like the old days, where the water supply in your room came from a bucket and the heat was from a wood stove that you tended yourself. Of course last July, there was plenty of heat from the weather. Our room at Old Faithful was miserable.)

In brief, this itinerary is similar to one I just saw on the European forum that Dr. Rex, one of our most experienced and knowledgeable travelers, labelled a train wreck. I am not sure he would apply that term here, but I would.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2004, 06:31 AM
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Since you are planning to go to so many national parks your best deal would be to buy a National Parks Pass. Cost $50 for a calendar year. It allows you and all in the car entrance to the parks and monuments. Otherwise you will have separate entrance fees at all the parks, $20 Yellowstone and Tetons, $10 at Arches, $5 at Craters of the Moon, $20 Bryce etc. You can get it at the first park you visit or order online at This web site will also you detailed information about each park or national monument.
I too think you are over extending yourself. Pick out a few parks and enjoy them rather than trying to see as much as possible. For instance you could fly into Bozeman or Billings, Mt. and be in the center of three great parks - Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons as well as National Bison Refuge and one of the best scenic roads in country- Beartooth Hwy.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2004, 06:58 AM
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You have a lot of good places on this list, but I agree that this is too much, or maybe just too long in some places (Vegas) and too little in others. Arches and Bryce are not convenient to each other. Moab is a good base for Arches and Canyonlands; Bryce and Zion are somewhat close together, so people tend to visit them both on the same trip.

Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon are barriers as you cross Utah.

I don't know how far it is from Estes Park to Mount Rushmore, but I don't think I'd want to drive it in one day.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2004, 07:49 AM
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As others have said, much too much time in the car!
And just a comment on one aspect of your itinerary: It would be almost criminal to limit your experience in the Grand Teton to a mere drive through!
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Old Feb 3rd, 2004, 08:03 AM
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I love the west! I didn't examine your itinerary in minute detail, but do be concerned about too much time in the car. You didn't mention where you are from, but if this is your first trip out west, distances may be far greater than what you are used to. We drove from Moab,UT to Ouray, CO, about a 2 1/2 hr drive. On the way we passed only one town that could be considered actually as a town. My son was appalled that the only place that had ice cream only had vanilla. Of course, not all of the west is like this, but it is BIG. And you really do have to allow more than just mere driving time. There can be construction, picture taking opportunities, etc. After driving for 5 hours, a construction delay can make you want to cry!

I would say that there really is no central place convenient to Arches and Bryce - they are pretty far apart. Plan on a stay in Moab and a stay in Bryce and a stay in Zion. They are all worth it. And do be realistic about the drive from Mesa Verde to Denver - I believe that would be more than 8 hours!
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Old Feb 3rd, 2004, 08:25 AM
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karens - I know what you mean about construction delays making you want to cry after a long day of driving. We ran into a delay in Colorado on a long trip like that. We had been on the road for about a week, we were near the end of a fairly long day, we were all tired, people were getting on each others nerves a bit, but we were good sports and hanging in there - you know, standard family road trip dynamic. Then BAM - construction delay. ACK!
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Old Feb 3rd, 2004, 09:03 AM
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Actually, barring road construction delays, it IS about 8 hours from Mesa Verde to Denver. You could stay at Mesa Verde till noon, and plan on getting into Denver around 8pm, while it's still light. But any route you take to Denver will be incredibly scenic; you'll likely want to stop a few times. I live 25 minutes east of the Mesa Verde entrance station, and I take 160 east to 285 to get to Denver. It takes around 7 hours if we don't stop a lot.
travellyn is offline  
Old Feb 3rd, 2004, 09:55 AM
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A couple of comments:

Cody is not a half-way stop to Yellowstone. It is right outside the East gates. Not a bad place to stay.

Moab in July is HOT. I live in Eastern Utah and in July I head for the high country. Maybe restrict your Utah travels to Bryce and Zion for this trip.

Also, I probably would forgo Craters of the Moon. As an alternative, Lava Hot Springs, Idaho is a great place for a family to spend a day or two. A huge public swimming pool as well as a couple of spas. Good luck.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2004, 11:47 AM
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Thanks to all for the feedback. I will split up Arches and Bryce at a night stay at each. I will evaluate the Mt. Rushmore trip and maybe scratch Vegas off. We have driven long distances before and consider the scenic driving part of the vacation (not with the daughter, I'm sort of worried about that part). Keep your comments comming, they are really appreciated.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2004, 03:24 PM
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We did a trip out west 2 years ago and included Denver/Yellowstone/Grand Tetons/Jackson/Rocky Mountain National Park and then back to Denver. We stayed at least 3 days in each place and didn't get to see all that we wanted to see. From reading your itineray I'd say that you're going to spend most of your time in the car with very little time to enjoy the parks. I strongly suggest that you eliminate some of the destinations, you'll have a much more enjoyable trip and you'll actually see some beautiful places. Dixon gives you some good advice.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2004, 09:26 PM
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I'll join the rest and say you're trying to pack way too much in.

I'd probably cross off Mt. Rushmore, it's a long way from everything else for (basically) one thing. Also, while Estes Park is beautiful, compared to some of the other parks, it falls a little lower on the list of fabulous places.

Consider adding more time in Yellowstone. It's a park like no other. Our family really enjoyed the geysers, hot springs and hot spots, and would have visited every one if we could. Grand Tetons deserves a bit more time, too, though not as much as Yellowstone.

If you're interested in Buffalo Bill, the museum in Cody is very good. As I recall, there's a rodeo in Cody during the summer (or am I thinking of another city in Wyoming?) We couldn't make that one, but attended a much smaller weekend rodeo in Jackson (outside of Grand Tetons); it was great fun!

Use the National Parks websites to come up with a tentative list of things your family might want to do in each park. That may help you decide which places you want to spend more time in. (For example, if you want to visit three of the bigger sites at Mesa Verde, you may decide to devote more than one day there.)

There are places in between your destinations that would qualify as scenic drives. Other parts are hundreds of miles of desert-like high plains terrain. Those parts can make the long drives seem longer....
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Old Feb 3rd, 2004, 11:32 PM
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I would divide this itinerary into two trips-- (I hope you don't mind so many of us thinking that this is too much in a little under 3 weeks-- it is a long vacation but can be overwhelming)
Denver to Estes Park (I love Rocky Mtn national park and definitely recommend it. My family has been to most of the national parks out west and while it doesn't have a singular dramatic view or location it is the one place we have returned to several times.) and then north to Wyoming (Grand Teton/Jackson Hole and Yellowstone-- white water rafting on the Snake River would be lots of fun for your family and you don't have to paddle yourselves if you don't want to) and then to Mt Rushmore/the Badlands and maybe a Laura Ingalls Wilder town (can't remember the name) if your daughter would be into that. There would be plenty of changes in scenery and stuff to do.
-You could also focus on Colorado- Denver to Estes Park- and then west toward Grand Junction (Dinosaur national monument is worth a few hours)- south to Cortez and Mesa Verde (really hot but incredibly interesting to hike through some Anasazi ruins). You could also go white water rafting near Canon City. (I don't have a map nearby so I know that order is off here) This itinerary should allow time for the 4 corners region, Monument Valley and maybe one of the Utah parks (I have no idea how I'd choose between Bryce, Zion and Arches but Arches and Bryce are the hottest and strangest visually)
-You could also combine the Utah parks with the Grand Canyon and Vegas which would be really hot but varied.
There are lots of possible combinations but I think the consensus is that you have too many places with too few nights in each place- do you really want to spend so much time packing and unpacking and driving?
Whatever you decide, have a wonderful trip! You can't really go wrong whatever you choose.
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Old Feb 6th, 2004, 07:30 PM
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DH and I enjoy driving to our destinations. Infact, on the trip to Alaska....the driving was as much of the trip as the destination....but you also need to have time at the destination to enjoy and explore. Your shedule really doesn't give you enough time at some of the places you are planning.

When you leave Estes Park and go to Rapid City area you will be looking at about 7 hours of just driving the 390 miles. Then you also have to eat and make bathroom stops, which takes up time. This will be a LONG day if you also explore Mt. Rushmore, Custer and it wouldn't give you enough time to see Badlands National Park which is so close.

I would also skip Craters of the Moon National Monument. There are so many more interesting places on your itinerary to use the time at.

Miles wise, Cody, WY isn't half way but driving times it's probably is pretty close.

The day you leave the Grand Canyon, you are looking at 300 miles that will probably take you about 6 hours. This DOES NOT leave enought time to scratch the surface of Mesa Verde. The next day you are looking at an 8 hour drive to Denver so there's not much time that day either.

I found it amusing that you titled this thread "National Park Itinerary" and then have 3 nights at Las Vegas...LOL! I see you are considering dropping Las Vegas. This time could best be used at Yellowstone, Moab area and Mesa Verde. If you drop Craters of the Moon you could spend a second night in Zion-Bryce area. It will make the trip much more are still going to be seeing a lot of beautiful & scenic countryside!


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