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Planning July trip to Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon--seeking input on this itinerary

Planning July trip to Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon--seeking input on this itinerary

Dec 22nd, 2008, 09:48 AM
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Planning July trip to Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon--seeking input on this itinerary

We’re planning a trip to several National Parks for 2 weeks in July. I have begun making reservations, so we’re already committed to some time, place, and order of travel. But I would appreciate any advice about must-sees or don’t-bothers, etc.!

1.It will be DH, 20 year old DD, and myself.
2.We will be driving probably a Suburban from deep South Texas. DH LIKES to drive!
3.We do not care about luxurious rooms at all and don’t care about fine dining on such a trip, either. Just clean, sufficient accommodations and sustenance, for the most part.
4.We are pretty good walkers but are probably not looking at strenuous or long hikes.
5.We are into taking photographs (we took over 4000 in 2 weeks in England last year!) but aren’t pros.
6. We are usually more apt to tour on our own with good maps and prior reading but are not averse to some good tour.
7.I do not care to ride anything bumpy like mules or rafts!
8.And I don’t want to even see a bear but other furry and feathered creatures would be great!

I already know that we don’t have time enough to see any of these areas in depth. But it’s DD’s first time to any of the National Parks (DH and I have been to the Grand Canyon) and so a cursory look is better than none.

So comments please? Here’s what I know so far. I have lodging reservations for every night except 1 and 13, which are going to be a decent cheap motel for sleeping purposes only!

Day 1—Drive far—maybe to some place in Kansas (which would take about 12-14 hours)
Day 2—Drive to Custer State Park (another 10-11 hours, maybe)
Stay 1 night in State Game Lodge in the state park
Day 3—Visit Mt. Rushmore
Drive to Spearfish and stay 1 night in a hotel
Day 4—Drive to Yellowstone
Stay in Canyon Cabin
Day 5—Visit Yellowstone (probably around the Canyon area)
Stay in Canyon Cabin
Day 6—Visit Yellowstone (probably around Mammoth Hot Springs and then drive toward Old Faithful)
Stay in Old Faithful Cabin
Day 7—Visit Yellowstone (picking from the numerous sites we won’t have gotten to by this time !)
Day 8—Drive through Grand Teton National Park toward Utah
Stay in Richfield, Utah
Day 9—Drive to Bryce Canyon NP and spend some time there
Stay in Mt. Carmel, Utah
Day 10—Drive through Zion NP
Drive to North Rim of Grand Canyon
Stay in a cabin on the North Rim
Day 11—Visit North Rim area and drive to South Rim
Stay in Bright Angel Lodge
Day 12—Visit Grand Canyon
Stay in Bright Angel Lodge
Day 13—Drive to somewhere—not sure how far, but maybe Las Cruces, NM
Day 14—Drive to Davis Mountains State Park, Texas (one of our favorite parks)
Stay in the Indian Lodge (camped in the park several times but never stayed here!)
Day 15—Drive home
texasbookworm is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2008, 11:04 AM
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tbw - we're used to some long drives as well, but I think your biting off an awful lot. You have several 10-14 hr days just traveling, excluding stops. We haven't been to all the places on your list, so my thoughts will be limited.

Your time in Yellowstone is doable, but we preferred to stay in one place rather than move around. As much as you're planning to do, might be less exhausting to limit those moves. I'd certainly do more than drive throught the Tetons. It's a spectacular place and certainly deserves at least a full day and night.

Considering your time, I'd skip the north rim and concentrate on the south rim of GC.

You're going to be at these places at the height of summer season, and traffic is going to slow you down - I just don't think you're going to be able to cover as much ground as you think.

Those are my initial thoughts.
dfr4848 is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2008, 02:58 PM
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I think I would skip Zion and Bryce, so I could spend at least 2 nights in the Tetons--one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited.
LindainOhio is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2008, 03:16 PM
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Thanks for input so far

dfr--We're only staying in 2 different places in Yellowstone--Canyon and Old Faitful areas. Maybe that won't be too much moving--some other Fodorite advice was to experience staying different areas in the Park, so I think 2 nights each in 2 places might be ok.

I realize we have several long driving days. But have tried to have some non-marathon days interspersed.

And too many friends have recommended the North Rim and DH and I have not been there at all (I've been to the South twice, DH once) and it's on the way.

So--not defending myself, just expounding on my thinking.

Linda--After only a teeny bit of research, I can already tell we'll have to skip something! But Bryce and Zion are on the way between Yellowstone and Grand Canyonn and they were parks that, for some reason, my DH decided he really wanted to see and have had a couple friends echo that so--we will at least drive through the Tetons, and I've kinda factored in 2-3 EXTRA hours for the driving that day for stops and pictures and such. So we'll see them if we don't explore them.

But then again, all of my reservations are cancellable (is that a word)and I'm not saying no to anything yet!
texasbookworm is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2008, 04:23 PM
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It seems like such a long, long drive to spend so little time in Yellowstone/Tetons. I'd skip Custer/Mt Rushmore and head straight to the two parks. Spend a night or two in the Tetons.

You shouldn't just drive through Zion. You can't even do that in July - the shuttle is running. Spend a night in Springdale and relax, take the shuttle into the park, hike along the Virgin River, take some pictures. Don't miss Zion. You'll regret it.

The North Rim is very different from the South Rim - way fewer people. But I wouldn't necessarily suggest seeing both on this trip, especially since two of you have already been to the GC. There are so many other incredible places in the Southwest. I'd skip one of the Rims and instead head from the Tetons to Capitol Reef NP, spend a few nights in Torrey or Boulder, Utah and drive scenic Route 12 to Bryce, then Zion, then North or South Rim.
I could easily spend two weeks (and have) exploring southern Utah or Yellowstone/Tetons but I'd never try to cover both areas in one trip. There is just so much to see and do and we like to wander the backroads and trails. Just be sure to leave enough time for some wandering of your own.
sharondi is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2008, 05:04 PM
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Will echo those suggesting you visit Grand Teton as part of any trip to Yellowstone -- well worth it. Like sharondi, am wondering if you could skip Custer State Park and Mt. Rushmore, as that's a lot of extra driving and just enough out of the way from the rest. And I'll second the idea that it's a waste of a great park to just drive through Zion.

Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion are within reasonable striking distance of each other and make sense as a group -- but I'd definitely spend at least one very full day in each. Yellowstone and Grand Teton are another logical coupling and well worth the time investment you're thinking of. These five parks make for plenty of enjoyment and easily fill out your two weeks.
bachslunch is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2008, 05:28 PM
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You are trying to do way, way too much. If you think you are doing it for DD's benefit, she's NOT going to enjoy any of it.

Skip Mt Rushmore and Custer. Even better, fly to Yellowstone and save yourselves 4 days of driving, then work your way south and fly home from where ever!

Good luck
Dayle is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2008, 06:01 PM
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WAY TOO MUCH, concentrate on either Utah/Grand Canyon or Mt Rushmore/Yellowstone/Tetons. There is not much to see in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska. I live in Oklahoma. All the parks should have at least 2 nights and 2 full days. Yellowstone should have at least 3 or 4 days. These are minimums in my thinking, you could certainly spend more time at each. You could easily stay your entire trip at Yellowstone/Tetons and not be bored. I have been to Zion, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Tetons, and other Parks in Utah. They are all great, but flying thru them is a huge mistake. Since you are going in July I would be more likely to head for Wyoming/North for great weather. About 5 years ago, we started doing the National Parks one or two at a time. We are truly experiencing them. Such as rafting the Grand Canyon, doing a lot of hiking etc.

We don't mean to sound harsh as to your way of thinking, but I have taken advice from Sharondi and Dayle and trust them, others, and myself. We just want you to have a great two weeks. As for the bears, if you do see one, you will most likely want to see another one. It is the one thing that most yellowstone people want to see, even though they don't want to see it. You should make your Yellowstone lodging ASAP. you may already be too late. I personally like the idea of moving a couple of places in Yellowstone. We liked the Lake Hotel, Old Faithful Inn, and Roosevelt Lodge the best. Mammoth area was our least favorite, but you would certainly want to go there, if just to see the elk.

Zion and Grand Canyon are incredible as well. Do not fly thru Zion or Bryce. There are several "must do's" at each.

It's kinda like this, you could go to Disneyworld and stay 2 hours. But you know the Magic Kingdom alone really takes at a minimum a full day as does each other park. It kinda defeats the purpose, just saying you were somewhere. Yeah, a glimpse of the GC is nice, but take a helicopter ride, take a raft ride, hike down in it for a mile or so. Then you are really experiencing it.

below is a link to some of our pics click on "view all"

spirobulldog is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2008, 06:24 PM
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Let me say one more thing. You say you have been to the Grand Canyon. It probably offers the single most jaw-dropping experience of shock and awe. It is the only place you mention that can be done in a single day, depending on what you want to do. The rest of them are very very different and really offer many opportunities to see a lot of different things.

For instance, if I were going to Mt Rushmore, I would include Badlands, Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, along with Custer-which you mentioned. There is a ton to do just at Custer State Park. It is probably the best State Park in the US. Definately in the top 3. So you picked a good place there.

We spent an entire day just watching Geysers at Yellowstone. By the way, Old Faithful was our least Favorite. Castle Geyser is about a mile from OF and it only goes twice per day. It is truly amazing. Riverside Geyser is a cool one as well. However, don't miss OF. I watched it 4 times. Once even in the dark at 5 in the morning. Just myself and one other person sipping coffee, watching buffalo and OF. Fantastic!!
spirobulldog is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2008, 06:49 PM
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Again thanks all.
I know that on this forum there are as many different ideas of what works as there are people--we just have to take all the suggestions and put them on top of the template of our own family's preferences so no, I don't take any of this as harsh. So far.

And I have already made the Yellowstone (and Grand Canyon and Custer State Park Lodge and Indian Lodge in the Davis Mountains in Texas) reservations and yes I found somewhat slim pickin's already!.

I don't have any idea what you mean about Zion being inaccesible to drive in in the summer so i'll have to research that.

texasbookworm is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2008, 07:25 PM
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During the summer you can't drive thru Zion. You've got to use their shuttle.

Myer is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2008, 08:40 PM
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Zion has a shuttle which goes up and down the main canyon. No other traffic is allowed into the main canyon, with the exception of those staying overnight in the lodge. However, you can drive through the rest of the park, from the east entrance to the town of Springdale on the west side. You'll see some of the park but will have to use the shuttle for the main canyon.

Of all the places you listed, Mt. Rushmore, Zion and the Davis Mountains would be at the bottom of my list for places to go. If you're in the area, go to Mt. Rushmore but I wouldn't drive that far and skip all the things spirobulldog mentioned. Zion is nice but doesn't have the wow factor of Bryce, Grand Canyon or Yellowstone/Grand Tetons. And since you've been to the Davis Mountains and of all the places you're going, that one is the closest to home and easiest to get to, I'd be more inclined to spend that day/night elsewhere (like Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico). Or leave the South Rim earlier and get to Carlsbad instead of Las Cruces so you have most of one day for Carlsbad Caverns.

If you're fairly committed to your itinerary, I'd say get up early and go see Mt. Rushmore, then hit the road and drive to Yellowstone that day. Find some lodging close to the park or inside if you can for that night, and begin your Yellowstone stay a day earlier than planned. If you can find lodging closer to Grand Teton for the night of Day 7, you would then be able to do more than just a quick drive-thru without stealing any time from Yellowstone.

Beyond that, really the only way I see that you can fit in Zion is if you push back all of your Grand Canyon lodging by one night and use that extra day for Zion. Or you could just leave things as is and get up really early, do as much in Zion as you can and head for the North Rim late afternoon. I would not even bother with a 2-3 hour drive through of Zion. Either spend most of a day (or more) or don't go at all and use that time elsewhere.
WhereAreWe is offline  
Dec 23rd, 2008, 03:31 AM
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I somewhat agree with Whereweare. I do think you should skip some things, it is a lot of driving. But Zion would be a difficult park to skip. Two of the best hikes in all of the National Park System are there. Angels Landing(somewhat strenuous 4 hours) and The Narrows (super trek through a very shallow river, easy 5 hours). These two hikes are in most peoples top 5 hike picks. They are very spectacular. Zion is a very pretty park. On the North Rim area, you are missing a lot of the attractions nearby. Lake Powell, and slot canyons at Page, Rainbow Bridge. But, yes, the rest of the places you mention are great as well.

I can just see this trip being fantastic if you would go North or South, but trying to do both is going to be next to impossible, very tiring, and you will miss 90 percent of it. I like the Yellowstone part of your trip, but that is about it.

If you haven't been to Carlsbad, I totally agree with that as a great day spent there as well. Bats are awesome, and so are the cave tours. Again, here we took a Wild Cave Tour. Something probably only 1 out of 1000 people do here. But, you truly have an understanding of the cave. We spent two days at Carlsbad and watched the bats not only exit the cave, but also their entrance in the morning. Not many people see the entrance, but it is really cool, as well.
spirobulldog is offline  
Dec 23rd, 2008, 04:11 AM
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Still enjoying the input.

We've been to Carlsbad.

Maybe part of the attraction of Mt. Rushmore for us is that Borglum has a connection to where we live, Corpus Christi--designed our seawall and family was here for some time. Anyway, it's high on my husband's list, so I started the planning from there.

Even with extra time for traffic beyond what mileage and Googlemaps looks like, my plan gives us most of a day at Mt. Rushmore, 3 entire days in Yellowstone, several hours (5-7) for Bryce [which doesn't seem like any one's pick but we'll be there], and 5-7 hours in Zion and 2 whole days at the Canyon.

I KNOW we could spend easily 2-3 times each of those times and still not see half or even a quarter of what's there. I guess we have to decide whether to see lots of things a little bit, or a couple things a lot. For a first, but hopefully not the last, trip, I guess we're leaning toward the former.
texasbookworm is offline  
Dec 23rd, 2008, 07:35 AM
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You seem determined not to drop any of the locations, and I know it's hard because they all offer so much. But to me, the one day trip to Custer/Mt Rushmore is hardly worth it. I spent almost a week in that area and loved it, so I highly recommend it as a destination, but I can't imagine driving that far to spend that little time there. As much as I loved it, I'd skip it for this trip, and go back when you can spend more time and really explore Custer and the Badlands area. Maybe do a separate trip for South Dakota and Teddy Roosevelt in North Dakota.
Travelkitty is offline  
Dec 23rd, 2008, 08:31 AM
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Although this definitely would not be our way of doing a trip like this either because we generally like to spend enough time in each area to really see what we want, I do want to give you our opinion since it differs with some others.

We spent two nights -- about a day and a half in the Mt. Rushmore area and it was plenty for us. Mt. Rushmore, itself, was way more impressive than I had anticipated. We went there during the day and at night to see it lit up. We drove the Needles Highway through Custer State Park which we really enjoyed. We drove to Badlands (I would suggest you stop there on the way if you can and want to see it). We didn't do any caves (have done them other places), stop at Crazy Horse or Deadwood although you probably could fit those in if you really wanted to. It sounds like you are actually staying 2 nights in that area. We stopped at Devil's Tower on the way from Yellowstone -- didn't take that long to see it.
maj is offline  
Dec 23rd, 2008, 09:00 AM
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OK, sounds like you are dead set on your schedule so I'll shutup about it.

I don't like to compare parks, because they are all special and unique. But, I wouldn't be suprised when you return, that you will find the Grand Canyon your least favorite park you visit. It does offer a heck of a view, but unless you are hiking into it, that's about it. I haven't been on the north side, and I so want to do that sometime as well. We did raft about the last 1/3 of it 2 years ago, and was that ever something.

If you could change from Canyon Area to Roosevelt Lodge, I would do that. Otherwise, canyon will be great for a night in yellowstone. Yellowstone is a great park. It isn't my favorite, but it is the "total package". If I had only one NP to visit it would be Yellowstone. Be sure and check Old Faithful Inn out. The best hike in Bryce is Navajo Loop/Queens Garden, try to hike it if at all possible. In Zion, check out a short section of The Narrows hike. your feet will get wet. This hike is not doable if it has rained or is going to rain. check conditions before attempting it. In Yellowstone, concentrate on the geysers around Old Faithful. There are other geyser areas, but not nearly as impessive as the geysers there are very hard to predict. There is a lot of wildlife in Lamar and Hayden Valleys near Roosevelt and Canyon. Elk are right on the lawn in Mammoth. I think your Canyon for a day, Mammoth for a day, then Old Faithful area for a day sounds pretty good.

Maybe you will make great time driving and will be able to enjoy each place as much as you can. You will certainly be seeing a lot of different places. 9 or 10 states in 14 days.

One other suggestion, cut a day from the Grand Canyon (maybe just see the North Rim) or Davis State Park and add it to Bryce or Zion. Why not stay in Bryce or Zion instead of Mt. Carmel? If there is some way to add an additional day to the start of your trip to give you one more day in Mt Rushmore area, that would be a big plus also.

Have a great time!!
spirobulldog is offline  
Dec 24th, 2008, 04:27 AM
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I'm with the rest who think you're driving too much and seeing/experienceing too little
You're not giving yourself enought time to enjoy Custer State Park so why not save it for another time? I would give those hours to the Tetons/Zion/Bryce IMHO
Also, while in Yellowstone, I would drive the Chief Joseph Highway, it's 10 miles from Yellowstone, takes an hour and is one of the most beautiful drives we have ever had! And we drive a lot. The Beartooth Hwy is also a beautiful drive! http://www.byways.org/explore/byways/2168/travel.html
cd is offline  
Dec 24th, 2008, 05:46 AM
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I continue to thank you all for your input--even if we don't alter our plans much!

cd--The input about possible drives is exactly what I'm trolling for here--what's coolest in the areas.

As we were looking to stay in the Custer area our second night out, and Custer State Park just happened to be on the way, when I heard of the State Game Lodge, it seems to be a not-inconvenient and comparably priced alternative to an area hotel for our night. The next day we may or may not explore the Park a bit, depending on when we decide we want to get to Mt. Rushmore. So that's how Custer State Park ended up on the itinerary--not a priority but it'll be on our way now.
texasbookworm is offline  
Dec 24th, 2008, 05:57 AM
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I forgot to say that given our age, our kids' ages, retirement in an iffy economy looming in a few short years, and our desire to spend our travel pennies in Europe maybe, I'm kinda seeing this trip as a once in a lifetime thing, therefore the desire to see a bunch of stuff even if shallowly--and we only have 2 weeks. So I'm not thinking there will be a next trip.
texasbookworm is offline  

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