Need help with National Parks trip in 2017

Old Jul 22nd, 2016, 03:01 PM
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Need help with National Parks trip in 2017

My husband and I are both retired; we are in our 60's. We are from New England, and want to visit as much of the U.S. as we can before we get too old! We initially hoped we could drive across country for 2 months; however, due to commitments and responsibilities for our elderly parents, that won't be possible. We now plan on exploring a different region of the U.S. for a month at a time. For example, do a month-long trip every 6 months or so, something like that, or maybe yearly. For September 2017, we would like to visit the Rockies and surrounding states, primarily including the national parks. Before I continue any more planning, it would be helpful to know if it is possible to visit the following states in one month. We would fly from Boston to perhaps South Dakota first, rent a car, and then fly home from Denver.

These are the states we have in mind:
South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado.

Briefly, we would be interested in visiting the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore in S. Dakota, TR National Park in North Dakota, Glacier National Park in Montana, Craters of the Moon in Idaho, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons in Wyoming, Salt Lake City and National Parks in Utah, and Rocky Mountain National Park and Denver in Colorado, and perhaps Durango area if we have time.

We are interested in scenic drives, wildlife, and easy hikes/walks.

Is it necessary to make lodging reservations a year in advance since we are going in September?

Thank you so much for any help/advice you can give.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2016, 04:33 AM
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As you can see nobody has replied. I'll tell you a few things and you may want to focus your trip and request somewhat.

The good part is that you described your interests; scenic drives, wildlife and easy hikes.

For wildlife is it just viewing or is it photography?

In general the lodging close to or inside parks is quite limited so the closer you hope to be the earlier you have to book.

The good part about booking is that many people dream of a trip, book lodging a year ahead and then as the dates approach reality sets in and the trip gets cancelled.

Most people will have trouble getting their heads around a month long trip. That's because most people don't plan trips that long. There are various reasons for this but if you are able to you should plan relaxing days mixed in to rest your body and mind.

I'm 72 years old. I started national park trips about 10 years ago (too bad I discovered them that late).

Typically, my trips have been anywhere from 3 days plus travel (with my daughter) to almost 2 weeks. Depending upon the trip I once went alone, I've also gone with my wife, my daughter or a friend.

For this trip you have selected several places I've never gone to. I have been to Glacier National Park in Montana (twice) and Yellowstone and Grand Tetons in Wyoming (also twice).

What I would do is read about each place individually to get an idea of how much time you should spend in each place. Then, if none of them fall off your list draw a travel plan to see how much travel time you'll realistically need. Again, I would make sure you allow enough relaxation time along the way.

Wow!!! I just took a look at a map. Your plan is to take a pretty large chunk out of the map.

Have you been on a national park trip within the last 5-10 years? The reason I ask that is because our bodies change somewhat as we age. If not, you may want to localize the first one just to see how you handle it and decide on the style you'd like to use.

My last national park trip was 2014 when I took my daughter and granddaughter (we're all photographers) to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons for a week. That was a good length for us.

Hopefully I've helped you start planning.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2016, 04:47 AM
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Myer, thank you so much for your detailed reply. We are planning a month-long trip because this will replace the 2-month cross-country trip we were originally planning on doing. We now have the time for lengthier trips because we are retired. Because we have to spend money on airline tickets, we would like to travel for a month instead of a week or two, which is what we have always done in the past.

One of my goals is to also see every state before we get too old, so that is why I included the states I did. But obviously, based on your reply and another person's reply, we are trying to cover too much.

We have not been on a national park trip in the last 5 - 10 years. It's been many years, I am sad to say. That is why I mention easy hikes/walks.

Does this make more sense? Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Glacier NP, and perhaps the Badlands and/or Rocky Mountain NP. We will eliminate Idaho, North Dakota, and Utah.

And I agree about needing to include some relaxation days, which I assume we will have time for because we will be gone a month.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2016, 06:15 AM
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KarenWoo, last fall we did a loop that included Yellowstone and the Utah Parks. It was approximately 2-1/2 weeks. In some areas we were not able to spend sufficient time (I am not yet retired), but it might be helpful to read my trip report. Since you have longer, you have the ability to linger where we could not. Note that we did not go to Glacier or the Badlands, though.

http://www.fodors.com/community/unit...ellowstone.cfm
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Old Jul 23rd, 2016, 06:38 AM
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Karen,

I replied last night but for some reason it didnt post. Really, even with a months time,you are grossly overestimating what you can do. You should cut your destinations by half. Next trip do the more southern parks in Oct.

Also consider that Sept is still peak tourist season these days and you will definitely need lodging res in advance. Consider too that the more northern and higher altitude parks will be shutting down starting mid Sept. Check specific dates for lodging and other park services such as food services, ranger programs, for Sept!
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Old Jul 23rd, 2016, 06:42 AM
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Well now I see you have two threads.

Things that start shutting down are some of the tour activites, some ranger campfire programs, riding, food services, some lodges, campgrounds. Each will vary by weather and by park. You need to check the nsp.gov web site for each park.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2016, 11:17 AM
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I'm not sure why I left out Utah. I've been there 3 times.

Dayle brings up a good point. The weather can be very different in September in one place than another. For instance, I was in southern Utah with my daughter for 3 days. Bryce Canyon and Zion are about 90 miles apart. But Zion is 4,000 ft lower and quite a bit warmer.

When I was in Bryce for the first time (mid May) I got up in the morning to a covering of snow (which melted in the first couple of hours). We saw a few people who had just come from Zion and they told us the temperature was in the high 80s or low 90s.

I could easily go back to Glacier and Yellowstone because they both have wildlife. Wildlife makes every trip to the same place a different trip.

You mentioned "easy hikes". Well I now like fairly easy as well but I can pretty much go all day. So that's a difference.

I've never been one for scenic bus tours or scenic boat rides. So I have trouble recommending them. I pick my locations and hike them. I don't care if it takes most of the day.

Glacier is one of my favorite parks. In my opinion the places where the open buses go do not compare with what you see even near the start of some hikes. But some people go on those red bus tours and the open lake boat rides. To each his/her own.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2016, 07:05 PM
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Of the ones you mentioned, I've only been to Yellowstone and Grand Teton. If you love wildlife, you will see plenty of them in Yellowstone. I do think it will take at least 4 days to "glance" at all the attractions. You will do a lot of driving and walking around at Yellowstone as it is a very big park.

Grand Teton will not require as much time but it is breathtakingly beautiful. I'd still recommend at least 2 days here as there are many activities (kayaking, horseback riding, etc.) offered at this park.

Of the parks in Utah, I've only been to Bryce Canyon and Zion. I only spent 1 day at each and left feeling I needed to go back and see more. I'd love to return to Zion and do some real hiking next time.

Since you're going in September, you will not need to reserve rooms 1 year in advance. 6 months in advance will be plenty of time even if you are booking a room inside the park.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2016, 07:21 PM
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Please keep Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, CO on you list. It is a beautiful place, and not crowded in September as in the summer. You won't need to make reservations a year in advanced, but I would at least 3 months in advance if you want your top pick in lodging. There are alot of beautiful cabins and rustic condos. RMNP is magical in the Fall with the aspens turning gold and the Elk everywhere in the park (and in town). You will love it.
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Old Jul 24th, 2016, 07:38 PM
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Thank you so much everyone for your helpful hints. I have two threads because I wanted to include all of the states and Fodors will only allow you to select 5 states at a time. So I hope I didn't make this more confusing.

jdaniell, your description of RMNP in the fall sounds spectacular! What is the minimum amount of time you would recommend?

Myer, bus tours are not normally our style. I have planned all of our trips to Europe, Costa Rica, etc. and we never do bus tours. I guess for this trip that will depend on what kind of physical shape we are in, and what the trails are like. We used to hike and backpack when we were in our 20's but that was a long time ago, and we haven't kept up with the hiking. So I hope we can find easy trails that will still take us to beautiful places. I plan on getting guide books for the parks we decide to visit, and hopefully will find some easy hikes. If not, bus tours would be our last option.

sludick, I will read your trip report. Thank you for including it.

Dayle, thanks for the info on what starts to shut down in September. I will check the site you mentioned.

I am thinking this itinerary could be a good possibility:
Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Craters of the Moon in Idaho, and Rocky Mountain National park. I'd like to include Idaho if possible because I'm not sure what other trip we could include it in. We've been to Washington, Oregon & California, so don't know when we would return. I think Utah, Arizona and New Mexico could be a separate trip some day, and then the Dakotas some other time.
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Old Jul 25th, 2016, 08:29 AM
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If you're going to include Idaho, I would include the Sawtooth National Forest in addition to Craters of the Moon. Look at Ketchum, Stanley, etc. We spent time in this area plus visited Craters of the Moon on our way to Yellowstone this year. I wouldn't detour into Idaho just to visit Craters of the Moon.
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Old Jul 25th, 2016, 11:05 AM
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You would be fine with including Salt lake City, but not the southern Utah national parks.

And if you do that, Craters of the Moon is not really out of the way coming from either Yellowstone or Glacier.

1 week in Yellowstone/Grand Tetons, 1 week for Glacier plus the drive to/from the park (you could include Craters plus SLC in that drive time), then a week for Colorado/RMNP. You could fit in the Dakotas if you really want to - 2 days for Theodore Roosevelt and the rest of your time for Black Hills/Badlands.
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Old Jul 25th, 2016, 03:59 PM
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Karen,

I agree that heading into Idaho just for Craters of the Moon isn't really worth it. I would definitely visit the Sawtooth mountains/Stanley/Sun Valley/Ketchum area. It's really beautiful!
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Old Jul 25th, 2016, 04:49 PM
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I like MidwestHiker's suggestion except that I might omit the Dakota's from this trip, and add Dayle's and Patty's suggestions to visit Idaho (Sun Valley, Sawtooth Mountains,etc.)

So a good possible itinerary would be:
one week for Glacier NP; one week for Yellowstone/Grand Tetons; then Sawtooth Mountains/Sun Valley; then 1 week for RMNP/Colorado, and then fly home from Denver.
Of course, looking at the map, and depending on our route, we could stop in Salt Lake city for a few days (but omit Utah's national parks for this trip).

How long does it take to drive from Glacier to Yellowstone? I definitely have to map out drive times for this trip. It seems that what I have listed above would be the maximum number of destinations. And maybe omit Idaho if we don't have time.
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Old Jul 26th, 2016, 08:15 AM
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Glacier Park to Yellowstone is about 425 miles or around 7 hours drive.
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Old Jul 26th, 2016, 04:29 PM
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Thanks, John. so that means we have to include a day just for driving from Glacier NP to Yellowstone.
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Old Jul 27th, 2016, 01:08 PM
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I think if you compare the size or Glacier versus Yellowstone & Grand Tetons, you may want to plan a day or so more in Yellowstone.
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Old Jul 27th, 2016, 01:27 PM
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As I said before, I think a week for Glacier is good (including the drive to/from). If you aren't doing big hikes I don't think you would want to be there for 7 full days - 5 days may even be too much.
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Old Jul 27th, 2016, 11:14 PM
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I agree totaly with the above respons.
All depend on your ability and wih(or not..) to hike...
If you want to hike, Glacier park will be your paradise and for a first visit 7 days is a minimum...
We explore this region for now 10 years and when we are in Glacier it's 10 days minimum but we hike every day...

If you are not hikers 5-6 days are enough( 1-2 in the west part : one for Apgar ane the small hikes there and one for the north fork, one day in Two medecine and 2 days in many glacier).
Then you have effectively a day of transition beteen GP and Yellowstone but there are some ghost towns which can be seen( Virginia city...).
Yellowstone/Grand Teton need at least one week( 5 in Yellowstone and 2 in Grand Teton). In Yellowstone there are more "attractions" than real hikes (as in GP or Grand Teton). You will be more time in your car awith some buffalo, bear...jams and you have to be patient...
If you are hikers 5 days in yellowstone are ok but you need more in Grand Teton(4 days minimum...).
Typically when we are there we pass 3 weeks : 3 days to exercise before the parks( in Bigfork for Jewell basin before Glacier, in Red Lodge and Beartooth highway before Yellowstone) and then 2 weeks or in Glacier or in Yellowstone/Grand teton, before relaxing 2 days and then flight back to France.

In conclusion, you have to know what you want to do and if hiking is important then organise your time with it. Galcier Park and Grand teton are to be favorised
Erik
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Old Jul 28th, 2016, 08:48 AM
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I haven't done it but a drive on the Beartooth Hwy is high on my list (we've never been in the area when the highway was open).
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