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Road trip beginners back from Grand Circle, Yellowstone and California

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Oct 17th, 2011, 10:20 AM
  #1
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Road trip beginners back from Grand Circle, Yellowstone and California

First of all I would like to thank you all for helping me plan this trip. We had a wonderful time!

OK, so here it is:

Day 1: Paris – LV with XL Airways. Our flight was two hours late at departure because someone checked in their luggage but never showed-up at the gate. Why would anyone do that? They kept calling and calling this passenger before deciding to take his checked luggage from the plane = two hour delay... Add to that getting through customs and picking up our rental car. We checked in to our hotel at midnight local time.

Day 2: Las Vegas. Despite jet lag and general fatigue from the day before, we went to LV Premium Outlet North for a couple of hours (not a good idea for the reasons mentioned, plus the Nevada heat), and then spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool.

Day 3: Got a cooler, ice, water and some other supplies from Walmart before driving to Springdale (Zion NP). Once we got to Zion we bought our annual park pass and took the park shuttle tour of Zion NP, to get an overlook of the park and the different hikes. That day they had had a helicopter rescue for someone on the Angels Landing hike and we decided not to do Angels Landing. Afterwards I regretted that decision. It was the ONE hike I had actually put in our planning.

Day 4: Zion NP: Got up early in the morning to do the Emerald Pools Trail combined with the Kayenta Trail, which was a great first hike on our vacation. The park didn’t feel crowded and the scenery was amazing. After lunch at Blondie’s in Springdale, we spent a few hours relaxing by the pool (stayed at the Desert Pearl Inn). Later in the afternoon we returned to Zion to do the Riverside Walk and the Weeping Rock Trail. In the evening we had enchiladas and wine-margaritas at Oscar’s in Springdale – very nice ending to an excellent but very full day!

Day 5: Had a slow morning getting packed and checking out before going on to the Canyon Overlooks hike which is one of our favorite hikes from this trip. We then took the very scenic Mount Carmel Highway going west from Zion. After lunch in Kanab, we continued on to Page where we checked in to our hotel, got some supplies before driving to the Horseshoe bend hike (which is more like a walk). We walked as close to the rim as we dared, and stayed there to admire the sunset. Highly appreciated by all members of the family.

Day 6: Had our first “breakfast included” and we especially enjoyed the waffles. Overall we liked getting up in the mornings and discover the breakfast of the day. After breakfast and check out, we drove to the Lower Antelope Canyon. Got tickets at the ticket booth and hiked down the canyon with 10 other visitors and our guide, Val. Absolutely loved this visit! Also loved getting into our air conditioned car afterwards! We then drove to Cameron where we had late lunch – Navajo tacos. After lunch we entered the Grand Canyon NP (east entrance) and stopped at all the viewpoints along this road. Lots of WOWs! I have to say my husband and I enjoyed GC more than the kids did. For sunset we returned to Lipan point, close to the east entrance.

Day 7: My husband and I got up at 5 in the morning to see the sunrise; I think it was at Yavapai point, or maybe Yaki point. Personally I think sunrise was more spectacular than sunset. Afterwards we went back to our room to sleep some more, and then spent the morning driving from the different viewpoints in GC before exiting the east entrance. We had lunch in Cameron – once again Navajo tacos - before driving on to Monument Valley where we arrived in time for a beautiful sunset.

Day 8: We started the day with a horseback ride in Monument Valley, only the five of us together with a guide. Everyone loved horseback riding in the desert! The fact that it was only our family gave us a certain liberty, and it didn’t feel like a trail ride. We could even let the horses gallop. We then did the scenic drive through the valley, had lunch in Mexican Hat, before we continued on to Cortez in the evening.

Day 9: Drove up to Mesa Verde NP in the morning, booked two ranger tours at the VC, and visited Spruce Tree House (self guided), Cliff Palace and Balcony House. This park is beautiful, and the ranger tours are very informative. We found out however that archeologists don’t know very much about the history of these dwellings, and there are several different theories on how people lived on these cliffs.
We then did the scenic drive and stopped at all the viewpoints before returning to Cortez through a thunderstorm. The park had been ravaged by several fires, all started by thunderstorms. As we drove out of the park we saw lightning followed by fire, but it looked like it was put out pretty fast.

Day 10: Drove from Cortez towards Moab in the morning, stopped by Newspaper Rock on the way to the Needles District of Canyonlands NP. Stopped at the Visitor Center for some guidance and they told us that they were expecting thunderstorms that day, and that we should be careful. We hiked the “cowboy camp” trail and drove around to the different viewpoints before it started raining and we continued to Moab.

Day 11: Had a late start in the morning, and it was already hot when we entered Arches NP. Got some advice at the Visitor Center on how to organize our two days in Arches, and decided to start with the Windows section. We stopped at all the viewpoints on our way to the Windows section of the park, and then hiked the Windows trail. Went back to Moab to have lunch in town, and returned to the hotel to cool off and rest.

Day 12: Got up early to hike Devils Garden. We all loved this hike. At one point we followed footprints instead of the rock cairns, got lost and had to back track. This made the hike even more exciting for the kids (we were never really “lost”, just a bit off track). I think we spent 4 hours on this hike. We then had pizzas in Moab and a siesta at the hotel before we went back to Arches in the evening to for a sunset hike to the Delicate Arch. Very beautiful indeed.

Day 13: Drove from Moab to Goblin Valley. It didn’t look like much from the parking lot (we just came from Arches after all…), but once we went down and walked around the goblins we loved it! You can climb them and jump around on them and we took lots of photos. One of our kids’ favorites. We then went to the Little Wild Horse Canyon, found the parking area, but couldn’t figure out where the trail started, or how to get to the slot canyon. At this point it was really hot and we were all tired, so we decided to continue on to Capitol Reef, found our hotel in Caineville, and spent the afternoon by the pool. Went to Torrey for dinner, and the drive Caineville – Torrey in the evening sun was absolutely amazing.

Day 14: Woke up to find the car covered by giant green bugs! Went to the Visitors Center in Capitol Reef NP in the morning for some advice, and decided to do the scenic drive followed by the Capitol Gorge hike. They advised us to take insect spray. The drive was nice, but when we arrived at the trail head and experienced the swarms of small, but insistent, insects we decided to skip this hike and drive on towards Bryce Canyon. Had lunch at the very cool Burr Trail Grill in Boulder run by a very hippie-stylish crew that looked like they came straight from Amsterdam! We stopped to hike the Mossy Cave Trail before checking in at our hotel in Bryce Canyon City. Went to the Bryce Canyon Lodge to book the horseback trail for the next morning, but it was already fully booked.

Day 15: We hiked the combined Navajo Loop Trail/Queens Garden Trail in the morning. It was slightly cloudy and the colors in the photos came out great. Bryce Canyon truly is spectacular, the most beautiful of all the canyons we visited. It was very crowded though, and not as fun to hike as the other canyons or parks in our opinion. This was the last canyon on our trip, and in the afternoon we drove north to Salt Lake City to start part Two of our vacation - Yellowstone.
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Oct 17th, 2011, 10:41 AM
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Sounds like you all covered a lot of ground and had a great trip! I'm looking forward to reading the rest.

Lee Ann
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Oct 17th, 2011, 03:04 PM
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Even the 2nd time I did Little Wildhorse- I struggled a bit to find the entrance. I had to ask someone. You were probably looking right at it and didn't realize it.

Now on to Yellowstone!!
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Oct 17th, 2011, 04:36 PM
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Great first part of the trip.

Yellowstone is many parks in one. Can't wait to hear about the rest.
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Oct 18th, 2011, 01:54 PM
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Part Two: Yellowstone

Day 16: There was nothing planned for this day other than to arrive in Yellowstone NP as early in the afternoon as possible, to enjoy the fact that we had managed to get reservations at the Old Faithful Inn.
On the web site they conveniently give you the GPS coordinates for OF Inn, and that’s what we used driving out from Salt Lake City in the morning. We stopped for lunch and supplies in Idaho Falls, and followed the GPS to Dubois, Idaho where we got gas. At this point, the GPS told us to make a right turn on to a smaller road, and we followed without questioning.
After a long drive with no other traffic, the road turned into a dirt road full of cows. You could tell by the way the cows were resting in the middle of the road that they hadn’t been bothered by cars or other vehicles in a while. We still kept going, slowly making the cows move out of our way. After yet a while we happened upon the “private property - no trespassing” signs and had to admit we were lost.
After some back tracking and driving in circles we finally arrived in West Yellowstone, hours later than planned, and entered the park. Almost as soon as we drove through the entrance, there was an enormous buffalo grazing at the side of the road, on our side! We stopped right next to him and took lots of photos. A bit further in, there was a group of pronghorn (or maybe they were mule deer?). A very nice start to our Yellowstone visit!

Day 17: We only had one night in Old Faithful Inn, so next morning we checked out and went to the Visitor Center to get some advice on how to organize our stay in Yellowstone.
We waited for the eruption of Old Faithful before we started the day walking the trails of the Black Sand Basin and the Biscuit Basin, admiring the geysers and the colors of the hot water pools. In the Biscuit Basin area we started walking the Mystic Falls Trail when I had to give up and walk back. I had strained a muscle in the back in the morning trying to lift the cooler from the trunk, and it was starting to hurt. I needed to get to a pharmacy, and we decided to go to West Yellowstone.
I had my first ever web-cam consultation with a doctor (!) and got my pain killers and a cold/hot pack for my back. We also had late lunch and got some supplies before returning to the park.
We had reservations in a Mammoth Frontier Cabin, so we first went to see the terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs. I stayed in the car with the cold pack on my back, but the rest of the family walked the trail.

Day 18: My kids spent the morning playing with the almost domesticated squirrels outside the cabin before we checked out and spent some time around the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel where there was a large group of pronghorn. We took lots of photos and we were amazed at how close we could get to these wild animals. There were a couple of rangers there also to control the situation.
Our plan was to drive along Lamar Valley towards the north-east entrance in hope to spot some wolf. But we turned around when we got stuck in a traffic jam due to roadwork. Instead we drove to Canyon Village where we had reservations for a cabin.
We had late lunch before we did all the trails and walkways along the rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This was such a surprise! To stand atop the Lower Falls was one of the biggest WOW on this trip. What a feeling to be so close to a waterfall and feel the power of nature. The other trails were also really nice, and the late afternoon light and colors added to the splendor.

Day 19: In the morning we drove south from Canyon Village. There were lots of buffalo walking around, and some in the middle of the road, stopping traffic in both directions. We all loved it!
In Hayden Valley there were hundreds of buffalo grazing, resting and swimming, and we took lots of photos. From a distance we also saw a mother bear and her two cubs climbing a tree.
Next we walked the mud volcano trails, and the trail guide was right – there really is a “pungent odor of rotten eggs”.
Our drive continued out the east entrance through the Shoeshone forest before arriving in Cody. Here we checked in to our hotel, had an early dinner, watched the street show of the Cody shoot-out, and went to the Cody Stampede Rodeo in the evening. We really liked the rodeo; it was not as glitzy as expected and we found it very impressive.

Day 20: We had a slow start this morning. After several days of no internet connection in Yellowstone, my husband had some work related e-mails and calls to take care of.
We had considered going to the Buffalo Bill museum in Cody, but the morning passed by too quickly and we had a long drive ahead.
We drove back to the east entrance of Yellowstone the same way we had come the day before. It would have been nice to explore some of the Shoeshone forest (we passed by several ranches and saw people fly fishing in the river) but had nothing planned and didn’t feel like improvising.
We entered the park and drove along the Yellowstone Lake towards the south entrance, stopped for picnic before exiting Yellowstone and continuing through Grand Teton NP where we stopped for photos of the sun shining on the mountains through the clouds - spectacular!
Arrived in Jackson late in the afternoon, checked in and took a walk around this charming little town.

Day 21: This day some serious road trip fatigue kicked in... We cancelled our mountain horse trail ride in Jackson, took it really slow, got some supplies and started driving west towards Twin Falls, Idaho.
The first part of the drive was very scenic as I remember it. We arrived in Twin Falls in the afternoon, checked in, worked out in the hotel gym and watched TV until falling asleep.
The only adventure of the day was seeing the guest who checked in before us wearing a real gun in his belt!

Part Three - California - coming up
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Oct 19th, 2011, 04:50 AM
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I'm loving reading your report and reliving some of our trips "out west", keep it up! Thanks.
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Oct 19th, 2011, 11:11 PM
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Thanks emalloy, and thank you again for all your valuable tips and comments during the planning!
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Oct 20th, 2011, 11:11 AM
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makes me wanna go back to Yellowstone. Yellowstone is my wife and daughters favortie. Yosemite is mine. I assume that is next.
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Oct 20th, 2011, 09:50 PM
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These are pronghorn antelope:
http://www.google.com/search?q=prong...w=1440&bih=781

These are elk:
http://www.google.com/search?q=elk&h...w=1440&bih=781

These are mule deer:
http://www.google.com/search?q=mule+...w=1440&bih=781

Which did you see in Yellowstone? We saw a lot of elk around Mammoth, but I only saw pronghorn in Grand Teton.

Lee Ann
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Oct 21st, 2011, 05:32 AM
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Loving your trip report -- thanks for posting! Glad my earlier suggestions helped you a little here.
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Oct 21st, 2011, 07:00 AM
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Great trip!!! WOW!!!

Now, how are going to see all of those photos.

I see another trip to Yellowstone in my future.
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Oct 22nd, 2011, 10:23 AM
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Thanks for your comments!

Lee Ann, in the area around Mammoth hotel we saw pronghorn - I double checked with our photos. I don't know if their presence was exceptional or not, there were at least 50 of them in the grass around the buildings. We got photos of two male "fighting". Two rangers made sure the situation was under control.
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Oct 22nd, 2011, 10:43 AM
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Day 22: When we woke up this morning we were supposed to be in Elko, ready to hit hwy 50 and make several interesting stops on our way to South Lake Tahoe. And that was supposed to be our starting point for two full days in Yosemite NP.

But we woke up in Twin Falls Idaho, and my husband and kids started questioning the plans for the next few days… “What’s in Yosemite?” I have never been to Yosemite either, but I was the one who had done some research (with your help). So I said: “great scenery, great waterfalls, great hiking, great wildlife…” Of course, we had had nothing but great scenery, great hiking, great wildlife and great waterfalls for the past 21 days.

“Can we just go someplace where we can relax and swim instead?”

So change of plans. We started driving west through the Nevada desert. We actually enjoyed this drive! You realize how vast the country is. Apart from the roads, it probably looks pretty much the same as when the first settlers came, so we spent the drive imagining what their conditions must have been like.

In the afternoon we came to Reno. We had no reservations here, so we just drove up to the Peppermill casino hotel and checked in. This room was the most luxurious we had during our trip, and yet it was cheaper than our cabin in Canyon village in Yellowstone.


Day 23: So now we had our relax-and-swim day, and for that purpose the Peppermill casino resort in Reno was perfect. Two different pools with different temperatures and under-water speakers. We don’t usually do resort vacations, so we enjoyed this day of feeling pampered by the omnipresent waitresses.

For dinner we went down-town Reno to look for Indian food. When your kids say “anything but hamburgers” you know you have over-done it with the steak houses. Down-town Reno was unexpectedly funky from what we could see driving around - lots of restaurants, gyms and tattoo parlors.

The city was preparing for “Hot August Nights - the largest classic car and nostalgia festival in the United States”. No one in our family is really passionate about cars, but for those who are it looked like it could be lots of fun.


Day 24: We woke up in Reno, and had to choose between spending one more day by the pool and continuing our trip driving west. We decided to drive to San Francisco via Lake Tahoe. We packed a picnic brunch and started driving west, up in the mountains to Kings Beach by Lake Tahoe. The drive and the picnic turned out very pleasant. In Kings Beach there is a part where people take their dogs to swim, and we stayed there for a while to look at the dogs playing. We really missed our dog (a two year old black lab) that we had had to leave behind for this trip.

The rest of the drive was nice but uneventful. We enjoyed the changes in scenery, and finally arrived in San Francisco in the afternoon. There was a thick fog covering the city, and it was cold! We checked in to our hotel and went out to have dinner – thai food near Union Square.


more to come...
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Oct 22nd, 2011, 12:40 PM
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Oh no...you missed Yosemite? It is such a special place, and nothing like Yellowstone or the Tetons. Another trip, perhaps...it is worth it.
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Oct 22nd, 2011, 01:28 PM
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azzure, I know.... After all the great tips I got here I felt like I was letting you all down when we skipped Yosemite.

I am already putting together another trip in my head - not sure when we will be able to go back, but there is a list of things I would like for us to discover or re-live.
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Oct 22nd, 2011, 06:27 PM
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I took my daughter and granddaughter to Yosemite this past June.

While it's beautiful, I would have a hard time convincing myself to go back.

The traffic was impossible as I was stuck in a traffic jam in the park for four hours. Out of parl lodging is way too far. We had in-park lodging and the parking lot in front of our building was reserved for tour busses. Also, it's the most commercial park I've been to. There are ticket counters everywhere selling tickets to something.

I've been to Bryce Canyon 3 time, Zion twice and Arches and Yellowstone once each. I could go back to any of those again.
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Oct 22nd, 2011, 06:28 PM
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Yosemite is my fav.
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Oct 22nd, 2011, 09:30 PM
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Yosemite can be pretty hectic in peak tourist season (summer). I prefer late spring (my family used to have a tradition of going there every Mother's Day) or fall. Winter can be pretty great too.

OTOH, I was in Yellowstone on a summer weekend in 2009 and could barely find a parking place at any of the major sights.
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Oct 23rd, 2011, 11:39 AM
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Great report! I think it is great that you were flexible with your schedule. It seems like your "relaxing" day was fun. Can't wait to see your pictures!
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Oct 23rd, 2011, 01:44 PM
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Great report, and I applaud you for listening to the kids and taking a break to relax. Of all the NP's I've been to Yosemite is one of my least favorites. To be fair we were there in April, so only the valley was open. The waterfalls were lovely, but not any nicer than some in Yellowstone or Hawaii and the crowds were a turn off even in April.

Thanks for reporting and post some picures!
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