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sjk Aug 4th, 2007 05:49 PM

Planning trip to Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and Glacier NPs
I've been planning to visit some of the national parks in the western US for a while and am finally going to commit and go the week following labor day. I've just started looking into it in detail (the original plan was to go the the NPs in Utah and I know a bit more about that). The somewhat crazy plan I've come up with is outlined below and I would really appreciate some input.
9/1 - fly from LGA to Billings, drive to Yellowstone
9/2 - YNP
9/3 - YNP
9/4 - GTNP
9/5 - Craters of the Moon NM
9/6 - Drive to Glacier NP
9/7 - GNP
9/8 - GNP / drive halfway to Billings
9/9 - drive to Billings, fly home
Doable? If you had to do this in the amount of time i have, what would you suggest? Is YNP going to be a zoo over the labor day holiday and should i start out at GNP? I am continuing to gather info here but would appreciate some early guidance.
Thank you!

bob_brown Aug 4th, 2007 08:18 PM

I think a good analogy would be that of a man with a $300.00 bottle of wine and drinking it like it was a bottle of water.

You can do it. If that is all the time you have, treat it as a scouting trip for your next visit.

Having been to Craters of the Moon, I think it is a real trade off between taking that long detour and spending more time in the 3 major parks.

The hot spot craters are interesting. No doubt about it. But in the context of this trip I wonder about what they will subtract from your experience in the other 3 parks.

utahtea Aug 4th, 2007 11:08 PM

I take it you like a fast pace vacation? You're looking at driving around 1500 miles in a nine day period...and also in those nine days fly to and from NY.

I don't know what time you will land in Billings or where in Yellowstone you plan to stay, but starting from Billing the most scenic entrance to the park IMHO would be on the Beartooth Highway (Hwy 212) This is not a drive you want to do after dark, because the drive itself is a destination. You also don't want to be to tired to from your flight to do this drive.

I agree with Bob_Brown that Crater's of the Moon would not be a location I'd take away from the National Park.

In all honesty, with the limited time you have, I'd spend it in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.


gail Aug 5th, 2007 01:12 AM

Have never been to Crater of the Moon nor Glacier - and that is because when we traveled from Boston to that part of the country with 10 days to spend, we went for quality rather than quantity.

Coming from the East US it is easy to get sucked into "but we came this far and it is so close" and keep adding to your trip. In your plan, you will essentially stay in the car and wave at some magnificent parts of our country.

We flew into Jackson (same cost as Billings but timing and location was better for us). Spent first night and 2 more near Jackson for GTNP. Then onto YNP where we spent 2-3 nights at 2 different places (for us West Yellowstone and Gardiner - but other possibilities exist both in and out of Park).

We are not hikers or campers, but merely drove along the figure 8 YNP road and stopped, got out and walked at various sights as we were interested. Animal jams were pleasant roadblocks, slowing our travel.

Travel whatever way works for you - but you will miss most of what is beautiful and fascinating in these Parks if you follow your "somewhat crazy" plan.

sjk Aug 5th, 2007 05:58 AM

Thank you for the responses. I'm not too excited about the 800+ miles of driving through MT to get to/from Glacier NP; as gail said... so close. And the scenery and pictures I've seen really appeal to me - maybe next time.

Couple of other questions -
I'm taking an early morning flight that gets me into Billings by 1:00 pm. Logistically to make the most of my time, should I drive straight to GTNP or start off in YSNP? I spent some time at Borders yesterday looking through guidebooks and more time online, but are there any guidebooks that Fodorites recommend? Aside from the natural beauty of the Parks, what else is there that should be included in this trip (now that i plan not to include Glacier NP).

gail Aug 5th, 2007 07:01 AM

First, get a real paper map - look at where you are going - I do the mapquest thing, have a GPS, but sometimes I just need to look at the whole picture in paper.

We had a National Geographic guide to YNP that was wonderful - it described various sights/stops in a roadway oriented order - so one of us drove and the other checked out the next possible stop. It listed distance of walk, if any, where to park. etc.

We enjoyed talking to some "locals" in both West Yellowstone and Gardiner. Happened upon a local rodeo in West Yellowstone. Spoke with local merchants in Gardiner. The Parks are beautiful, but the lifestyle and experiendces of year round residents are so different than that of Boston area where we live, that this was also a fascinating part of the trip.

Maybe a float trip (most often out of GTNP/Jackson) or a white water rafting trip (we did one out of Gardiner on Gardner River - yes town and river have name spelled differently).

Some things you may not think of. Bring warm clothes (not winter coats, but layer fleece, etc.) It is likely to be quite cool ion AM and warm up later.

When you get there, buy a cheap cooler and fill it with lunch stuff and drinks every day.

We had an extra day while in Jackson so we drove thru a mountain pass to Idaho - no real reason other than it was there. Ended up in Driggs, ID at a small airport with a fantastic restaurant and small museum of historic old planes.

Not as much to see and do in evening, and it will get dark earlier at that time of year - so try to adopt an early to rise... pattern. Likely to see more big furry animals in Parks in early AM hours.

justme22 Aug 5th, 2007 07:20 AM

i LOVE glacier but combining it with ysnp and gtnp i wouldn't do it. a better combo is glacier with banff and jasper (a wow trip even just driving ) and gail has it right, you are soooo close to something and you are so tempted to squeeze it in... but unfortunately a western vacation requires disapline!

I plan on gtnp and ysnp for 10 days starting labor day weekend. just the way things work out... i doubt anything will seem as crowded as the barrier islands of NJ....

i am flying into jackson because, rental cars have limited miles in most of the smaller airports like billings and boseman - your first proposals might break the bank with the rental car. (check your rental company)

i am driving directly to ysnp for 3 days, gardiner for 4 (a day on the beartooth and lamar valley wolf spotting) and then 3 in jackson.

I like less driving at the end of the trip so that's why i finish at jackson. I also may want a little more civilization by then (i like going to galleries and the like...)

maj Aug 5th, 2007 08:23 AM

You have already decided, but in case you have second thoughts, I definitely wouldn't do the YNP to Glacier and back trip. We flew into Kalispell and out Rapid City on a trip through that area a few years ago. Although it worked well for us at the time, it took pretty much a whole day to go from Glacier to Gardner and although the scenery was nice, I wouldn't need to see it twice.

Are you planning the trip for this year? If not, we are going around that time and can tell you more about how crowded it may be over the Labor Day weekend. I was told that although the visitors aren't around as much at that time, that the weekend can be crowded with locals. Still can't believe that it will be as crowded as during the summer months.

I would probably plan on staying somewhere in YNP or Cody if that works out with your plans instead of driving all the way to the Tetons the first night.

Got the following book recommended by HowardR ("I'd recommend to get a copy of Frommer's pocket guide "Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks." It includes a plethora of helpful information and is $11 well spent!")
and also Yellowstone Treasures by Janet Chapple. I checked them out of the library first to see what I thought of them and ended up buying both.

There are also 2 web sites that I know of that have great information on that area if you haven't already found them.

Have fun planning!

GP Aug 5th, 2007 10:58 AM

Yes it is doable. In the summer of 2004 we did all 3 parks in 10 nights here is what we did.
1 fly from ACV via Portland to Idaho Falls overnight (Red Lion)
2 GTNP Signal Mt. Lodge
5 YNP Canyon motel
7 Drive to Glacier NP Overnight Great Fall
8 GNP Cabin at The St Mary’s Lodge
10 drive to Missoula overnight Doubletree
11 fly home

Great trip we did not rush, but we only could fit the highlights. Float trip in GTNP, cocktails watching Old Faithful. Moose sightings in Glacier. The only thing I would do different is more time in Glacier.

Have Fun

RedRock Aug 5th, 2007 11:50 AM

You are going to be busy driving.

If you are going to the Craters of the Moon NM stop by and take the tour of EBR-1.

utahtea Aug 5th, 2007 11:57 AM

Where you can get lodging might play a big factor in what order you do things! You might want to check what's available and then work around that.

Glad to see you have cut this trip down to just Yellowstone and Grand Tetons.


bob_brown Aug 5th, 2007 02:17 PM

In the final analysis, it is sjk's trip and his (her) money. We can only offer an opinion. To a large extent it is a function of personal style. The driving would not deter me. It is the time to see the beauty that is my concern.

See a lot on the surface or investigate a little in depth? That is always the question. My dad measured success by miles per day. I guess I grew up hating that approach.

I do concur with the paper map idea. I would not go anywhere without one. I get times and distances from MapQuest, but to see the whole picture nothing beats a good regional map.

Yellowstone will have many people in it until the lodges start to close in September.
When I was last there shortly after Labor Day, there were many international visitors - Germans and Italians mainly.

tnmikey Aug 5th, 2007 02:51 PM

having done all three and done it in a hurry i plan to go back to one at a time and slow down....the beartooth highway is one of the most beautiful drives one the planet...right up there with the icefields parkway

sjk Aug 5th, 2007 03:21 PM

Thanks for the responses. Bob_brown, you're right in that it is my $ and time, but I've found that my travel habits have a lot in common with other Fodorites which is why I keep coming back here when I start planning a new trip :) I always seem to start out with a theme, add waaaaay too much then cut back again to something doable. The driving distances - living in NY I just don't appreciate them anymore, so my expectations are a little unrealistic at times. Quantity vs. quality - it's a balance for all of us and thanks for everyone's help here in trying to help me figure it out for this trip. I ordered a couple of maps and guide books from Amazon and looked at some region maps at google - love their new feature of adding destinations much better than Mapquest's. The only way I'll be able to make it to Glacier is if I'm utterly bored with YS and GTNPs (heresy to some I'm sure - no offense intended as I do not expect to be).

Lodging is going to be a problem... nothing in YS inside the Park. I stayed inside Grand Canyon and preferred that to always having to leave/come back. Am looking at inexpensive options in West Yellowstone. Anyone stayed at the Youth Hostel?

maj Aug 5th, 2007 03:57 PM

We stayed in West Yellowstone and Gardner and didn't find it a hardship at all to drive into the park each day. The park entrance is right next to the town and some of our best animal sightings were on the way in and out of the park (in the AM and at dusk). I wouldn't want to stay outside of the Grand Canyon and drive in and out each day either. Again, just my opinion. Tetons is the same. You don't need to stay inside the park if you can find accommodations around Jackson. Don't know anything about the Youth Hostel.

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