"Travel Dream West" tours of Yellowstone?

Dec 13th, 2010, 01:21 AM
  #1  
Amy
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"Travel Dream West" tours of Yellowstone?

I am looking into small group tours that include Yellowstone, as I don't drive. AdventureBus looks interesting, and is certainly quite reasonably priced, but, first, doesn't necessarily include Mammoth Hot Springs (one of my reasons for going is that my grandfather was stationed with the cavalry at Fort Yellowstone) and, second, doesn't go into South Dakota on the Yellowstone trip. That's not essential to me, but was a combination that I was trying to find.

Googling led me to Travel Dream West Tours, but I haven't been able to find any independent reviews. Has anyone here used this group? It does seem like a lot of driving, but then, I realize distances in the West are quite large. Here's the link for the itinerary I was looking at; any comments or ideas would be welcome.
http://www.traveldreamwest.com/north...r-schedule.htm
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Dec 13th, 2010, 04:36 AM
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It does sound nice. Although I'm not familiar with this operator, the distances seem ok. We flew into Salt Lake City the past two years to vacation in Yellowstone and the Tetons. The drive itself might be about 1/2 day. But it sounds like they are trying to cushion you from travel exhaustion by some shorter visits on the first few days.
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Dec 13th, 2010, 12:46 PM
  #3  
Amy
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Thanks for the input! This will be my first trip west in the US (I've never been further west than Altoona, PA!) and I just don't know quite what to look for. I usually travel on my own (I've been to 40 countries or so, just for reference) and use public transportation, but that's not too easy for much of the US, I've discovered.
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Dec 13th, 2010, 03:28 PM
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Nice to see they use a 14-passenger van. It wouldn't be the cattle call that the big buses are. It would be good to hear from somebody familiar with this outfit, hopefully somebody will know them or have other suggestions. It would REALLY be great if the package included staying inside Yellowstone too, although that no doubt would be pricier.
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Dec 13th, 2010, 04:31 PM
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No idea what this company's tours are like in general. A couple thoughts:

-the price is higher than that of AdventureBus because it looks like they put you up in a motel or something similar as opposed to a "camping out" type of experience offered by the other company.

-the highlights they hit in Salt Lake City seem fine to me. Temple Square, the state capitol, Red Butte Gardens, and Great Salt Lake are well worth seeing -- and arguably the best attractions there. I personally thought the water in the lake was pretty gross (I put my hand in and left it at that), but apparently you can't do anything but float in it because of its salinity level if you want to give it a go.

-in Grand Teton. Not sure whether they let you hike past Jenny Lake to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point or not. These last two are well worth seeing, arguably some of the best parts of the park. I'd ask them about this.

-in Yellowstone. Am happy to see they'll take you to Lower Falls, which provides a respectable taste of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone part of this park. It also looks like they take you to see Old Faithful Geyser; personally, I'd hope they'll let you experience other musts in the Upper Geyser Basin such as Morning Glory Pool. I'd ask them about this.

-this trip does hit other attractions AdventureBus doesn't go to, which may be an attractive issue.

It's hard to know how much or how little hiking this trip lets you do. Personally, I like ones that allow some hiking as opposed to ones where the van or bus just drives around to everything. But different people have different preferences on this.
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Dec 13th, 2010, 04:39 PM
  #6  
Amy
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I definitely like the idea of it being small group rather than large, but I agree, bachslunch, that I'd like to do more hiking than riding around. There are some hikes and walks mentioned, but it is a bit tough to tell. One of the owners is from Switzerland, though, so that should be a good sign for the hiking!

AdventureBus definitely saves on the lodging (and I like the idea of riding through the night) but this program looks like it really takes in what I'd like to see on this trip. I'll check into the possibilities of Morning Glory Pool (etc.) if I decide that I might want to go this route. I'd be happy to hear any info on AdventureBus, too, though--likes, dislikes, etc.
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Dec 14th, 2010, 02:50 PM
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I don't want to put a damper on your plans. However, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons really aren't made for bus tours.

Yes, you'll see a bunch of them in the Old Faithful parking lot during the day as they pull in for an eruption and then leave an hour later.

There's a difference between checking off a bunch of places and experiencing a place.

In a city that's compact or with public transportation that's pretty easy. Not in YNM & GTNP.

I would almsot suggest you get together with someone who drive and offer to pay part of the rental and gas. Or some arrangement.

Morning Glory was mentioned. It's at the far end of the Upper Geyser Basin. That area deserves a good part of the day not just to walk but the timed geysers (other than OF that erupts every 90 minutes or so) don't erupt as you get there.

Grand Prismatic Spring in the Middle Basin is another with beautiful colors. And then there's an upper view that requires a few hours.

Is there another way?
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Dec 14th, 2010, 03:38 PM
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Myer, I don't think you have looked at the link. This is not a "bus tour". It's a small tour company traveling in vans. They have plenty of stops and hiking built in.

This poster has posted on previous threads and driving in not an option. She really wants to see this area and this van tour sounds like it's the closest fit.
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Dec 14th, 2010, 04:52 PM
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Myer, I can see where doing one's own driving can be more advantageous to seeing Yellowstone and Grand Teton, as one can see as much as you like and pick and choose. And there certainly are bus tours that drive by a lot of stuff and do brief stops.

One of the reasons I chose AdventureBus was that they do let one get out a hike a solid amount. The Yellowstone trip segment I took with them covered a respectable amount of ground:

-first day: in the morning went to the Fountain Paint Pots area, spent about an hour hiking around seeing the various mud pots, pools, geysers, and springs there. Drove next to Midway Geyser Basin, walked around the area about an hour to see Grand Prismatic Spring, Excelsior Geyser, and the various pools in the area. Headed next to Biscuit Basin and saw the geyser and pool areas, then hiked extensively around Upper Basin, seeing loads of geyser areas and pools as well as the Old Faithful Lodge and the small Visitor Center nearby -- total walking time in Biscuit and Upper was about 4 hours or so, the better part of the afternoon -- got to see Old Faithful erupt three times, but the timing wasn't right for eruptions for any of the other geysers in the area except the tiny and frequent Solitary Geyser.

-second day: spent much of the morning hiking a loop trail about half of which goes along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone -- saw Upper Falls, Lower Falls, Artist's Point, Clear Lake, several mud pot areas, forested sections, and open field areas along the way. Drove from there in the early afternoon to the Mud Volcano area and hiked there for about an hour or so, which included views of Black Dragon's Caldron, Sour Lake, Mud Caldron, Dragon's Mouth Spring, and Sulfur Caldron. Drove to a couple spots along Yellowstone Lake and got out for about an hour at each (one was at a camping store area, the other an access point where some of the kids in the group braved the cold water of the lake for a swim).

And the Grand Teton part wasn't bad, either:

-first day: spent pretty much the whole day at Colter Bay. Hiked the Heron Pond/Swan Lake Loop trail, Lakeshore Trail, saw all of the Native American artifacts museum, took the Jackson Lake Scenic Cruise from the marina.

-second day: spent most of the day at Jenny Lake. Took the boat ride across the lake, then hiked to Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point, and well into Cascade Canyon, then back.

There were parts of both parks I didn't get to see, such as Norris Basin or Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone, but I can't say I have any complaints about what I experienced on the trip. For me, it really depends on how much time the company in question lets you spend off the bus, and I liked my experience.
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Dec 14th, 2010, 04:58 PM
  #10  
Amy
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Thanks, starrs!

I've looked into Buntu Bus (transportation service TO the park); flying into Bozeman, MT (for the Mammoth Hot Springs area; it's my area of primary importance right now, as I'm combining history and nature here); flying into the West Yellowstone airport. I keep running into problems with getting to the places within the park; essentially, even if I could get a shuttle from the Bozeman airport to MHS (and Karst shuttles keeps coming up with "ooh, sorry, shuttle might not be available for that day") I'd still be doing van or bus tours within the park, as far as I can tell.

I do not drive due to visual impairment, and I am at the age where my friends tend to be a) married b) broke or c) both--plus, to be honest, as much as I love them, I wouldn't want to spend two weeks traveling with most of them. Okay, that's a little flip, but I'm not going to spend 10-14 days with an acquaintance just because he/she can drive; on a small group tour, you get time to yourself and the face-time per person is more...divided. (Ahem. It is just possible that I might be highly introverted; see INTJ.)

I'd love to be able to spend 4-5 nights per location in two Yellowstone and one Grand Tetons spot, but I'm just not finding feasible options. I would love to find some, though, so please feel free to post any ideas I've missed.
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Dec 14th, 2010, 05:01 PM
  #11  
Amy
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PS: Bachslunch, thanks for the rundown! (We were posting simultaneously.) AdventureBus sounds great, but doesn't get to Mammoth Hot Springs (I got a lovely email response from them today.)

Travel Dream West does from 2 to 5 hours walking/hiking each day, from some additional reading on their website, so that's not too bad. Again, I would love to be on my own, but...
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Dec 14th, 2010, 05:23 PM
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Amy, I think I mentioned this before but go here -

http://forums.yellowstone.net/

Read a lot and then post your question. These guys know Yellowstone like the back of the hands. They know where the animals are, where they will be, what litter the wolves were from, where to go to take the best pictures, everything and more than you can imagine about Yellowstone. The guys are pros on Yellowstone. I bet they can recommend some tours - I think some actually do some photography trips, etc. on the side. They don't advertise but they KNOW Yellowstone. Give it a try.
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Dec 15th, 2010, 02:52 AM
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Several years ago I helped two couples plan very similar trips to Italy at almost the exact same time.

One couple wanted to go on their own, planned and carried their own luggage. The other couple wasn't prepared to research every location nor were prepared to carry their own luggage.

When they both came back I debriefed them. Each thought they had the greatest possible trip. I know which I would do.

I guess it's a matter of setting expectations and hoping to realize them. You also have to be realistic with your own situation and limitations.

Long hikes are not something I particularly enjoy. For me it's what I see and all too often one must walk/hike to see it.

If I have to break up YNP & GTNP into segments, I would do it as follows:

YNP
Thermal (Upper Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring)
Waterfalls
Wildlife

GTNP
Scenery
Mountains/lakes
Wildlife

I would try to see as much of this as possible while enjoying myself.
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Dec 15th, 2010, 01:55 PM
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Thanks for your most recent post, Myer. Here are my thoughts on all this.

Ideally, we'd all be traveling in a perfect world circumstance. When I go to a city, my ideal is to see every possible attraction I find to be of interest there, making sure to give every attraction their fullest due in terms of time to experience it. But the reality is that reality gets in the way. Say I'm in New York on my first trip there ever and I have a week to spend. In this case, I can't have my ideal -- so I have to prioritize by choosing those attractions I want most to see, with an eye towards the chance that this may be my only chance to go there. Given this, it's very likely I'm going to include a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and forgo the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, nice as the latter is (fortunately, I've been to both).

When it came time to consider a trip that included the top of my wish list of national parks out west (Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Arches, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton), again I had to deal with realities. In this case, there were limitations to factor in:

-I cannot drive for long periods of time.
-I needed to do such a trip before I get too old to do the hiking I want. I'm not 25 anymore, sorry to say.
-I needed to stick to a certain budget limit.

But given the limitations, I also wanted to experience as much of these parks as I possibly could, and in as tangible a way as possible -- just doing a bus tour that drives to viewpoints isn't what I wanted. To this, add the fact that I'm not a camper at heart, so the idea of sleeping in a hotel room and getting a shower every day is much preferable to sleeping in a sleeping bag and having to miss a day or two on a shower.

I did a good bit of research before making the decision I did. And I decided that (at least for me), choosing AdventureBus allowed me to see all these places and an acceptable enough sampling of the options in each, allowed me to get out and hike a good bit, allowed me to meet the budget limits I had, took the driving issues out of the equation, and had availability during the time of my life I wanted to do the trip. I had to forgo some things -- most notably, accepting a "camping out" type of experience (luckily, the AdventureBus folks made the "camping out" experience as painless as possible), and not getting to see every last thing at each park my obsessively completist heart desired. I evaluated the pros and cons and decided this was how the priorities would shake out.

I'm really trying hard not to sound like a mouthpiece for any company. But for my particular needs, AdventureBus was the best choice, and I was very happy I did what I did. For the OP, TravelDreamWest may well be a better choice -- if for no other reason because it allows them to experience must-see places my trip didn't cover. The OP will need to do the research and weighing and come to their own decision.

I can indeed understand the advice folks give here to, for example, see Yellowstone for ca. 4-5 days, rent a car, and stay at in-park lodging (such as Old Faithful Inn). Or spend two full days in Arches. In a perfect world, I would have done these exact things. Alas, the world isn't perfect, and I had to compromise here. I'm just glad there was more than one option open to me, and one that fit my needs reasonably well.
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Dec 17th, 2010, 02:39 AM
  #15  
Amy
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Thanks for everyone's input! I'll still do more researching when I have more time, but this is looking like one feasible option for me, anyway. I really want to try Adventure Bus at some point, but I think I'll save that for later. I'll try dunking my toes in at the Yellowstone forum, starrs, although it is a little intimidating... They just seem to know so much!

I definitely can research locations and tote luggage around (here's one recent sample of how I travel, and I've done solo, unguided trips in both India and China, for example: http://www.fodors.com/community/sout...rip-report.cfm.) It's just that, understandably, Yellowstone doesn't seem to be one of those types of locations where solo/independent/driverless travel is feasible, so I need to indeed be realistic in both expectations and limitations. For the Atacama desert, I had a private guide/driver, but I don't think that's the way I want to go here. But there were a lot of other options available there, too.
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Dec 17th, 2010, 02:58 AM
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Well, if you can get IN the park you can SEE the park in the wonderful yellow buses -
http://www.yellowstonenationalparklo...ties-2131.html

We did this in Glacier this summer and loved taking the ride with the guide rather than driving (which I've done before).

There's got to be a way to get in from the outlying cities TO park locations. If you can drive at all, a rental car would be the way to go - even if you park it after you get there and take the yellow bus tours.
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Dec 17th, 2010, 03:26 AM
  #17  
Amy
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Nope, no driving at all. It really is the "getting to the location within the park" part (and the "going from one location to another to stay", i.e. from, say, Old Faithful Lodge to Mammoth Springs Hotel) that seems to be the biggest issue, and where I keep running into dead ends. I did see those cool yellow buses--they look great.
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Dec 17th, 2010, 03:38 AM
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Take a look at this -
http://www.brushbuckphototours.com/about-brushbuck
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Dec 17th, 2010, 03:44 AM
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Great reviews for them and they customize tours -
http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserR...e_Wyoming.html
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Dec 27th, 2010, 12:25 AM
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Several years ago, I worked for Travel Dream West as a tour guide and driver! The people were super friendly to work with, and the tours were amazing -if I hadn't gotten a wonderful little boy, I'd still be doing tours with them now. In any case, this blog is up my ally. Note: I have an environmental science degree, and this job gave me an awesome opportunity to share my knowledge of the outdoors.

Several things I'll address right away-
1. You can do a 2-day tour with someone like brushbuck ahead of time to get more out of Yellowstone and/or the Grand Tetons. Most of the people on travel dream west's tours do something before and/or after the trip.
2. You can go on PART of a trip. If you do the Wild West Yellowstone tour, which usually goes "both ways" (North to South and vice versa), you can chose which section you want.
3. The hiking is great! They absolutely adjust times so certain tours hike more than others, plus, they always give an amount of time before you return to the bus (say, 2 hours, and you can hike certain places on your own if you'd like). We hiked to some falls on the other side of Jenny Lake -gorgeous. Might vary on the tour... You'll see a lot of Mammoth Hot Springs, the trails around there are not as long as it seems. I've hiked nearly every trail around there 5 times, amazing every time, but it honestly didn't take that much time.
4. There were people of all ages on the tours, so you can't really be too young or too old.
5. We saw the cattle herding going on with big buses, and shook our heads in disbelief at how much they missed. We sometimes stopped in the middle of a drive to jump out really quick and view unexpected wildlife. If there was extra time ever, it was usually spent hiking more.
6. Money is something I can't really address. You can't do the tour they offer on your own for a reasonable price; you get all kinds of free entries and group rates. That sounds like I'm selling these tours to you, but they were seriously too honest about pricing.
7. Camping out there seems cold to me. The region you're interested in is very stormy at times. The rooms and hotels/motels/cabins were nice ones. Some places have pools and spas: hike hard, relax in a spa= nice combo.
8. The driving distances are nicely split up by visits to all types of places. These distances seem far, but you spend less time in the van than out of it.

Some thoughts: They go to some very unusual places that other tours don't. Those that are easily viewed from the road are shorter stops, and those that provide good hiking opportunities are always hiked. I think 3.5 miles was one of the farthest hikes, but I don't know what they do these days. Of all the tours, Wild West Yellowstone was my favorite, because I love the geology of Yellowstone. I never did Wildlife Expedition, but it seems nice -you wanted South Dakota, and that's in there. Hmmmm... I'd praise the other awesome places they go, but don't want to overdo it. The relationships formed on tour are often everlasting, which is great. People on tour invited me to their hometowns in Switzerland, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, etc. Small group tours are super easy-going; I would definitely recommend them, with any company anywhere in the world. Travel dream west gives you the opportunity to do several activities on your own, and it's fast to unpack 8-14 people from a van. I toured Mexico in a bus -that took an hour to unload at EACH STOP! It was still amazing though.

An idea: send every company that sounds good an email, and be specific. See who writes back, and what they write. Maybe you've already done that, but I personally like to converse with people in a place before I go there (or with a company, if they're doing a tour for me). Ask them for a review or two, that might help you.

I feel bad not knowing what the Adventure Bus company offers, and being a former employee and writing this seems somewhat ridiculous, but I hope this helps. Some things probably changed from when I worked for them. A funny thing I thought of; I would never go to London, just to see the awe-inspiring bridge. I think the tours with Travel Dream West offer you a really wide range of experiences in famous places. We always saw the most incredible things that other people missed.

Good luck finding something! 40 countries or so? Wow. I'll try to check back to this post some time. Hope you like the West, it's gorgeous. I'd never live anywhere else, because of the outdoor beauty here.
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