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Want to go West from PA - looking for advice

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Jul 22nd, 2013, 08:49 AM
  #1
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Want to go West from PA - looking for advice

So, I've never taken a long road trip before (driven to the beach and back along the east coast but I'm not considering that a road trip) and I'm looking to plan a trip out west for my boyfriend and I. We live in Western Pennsylvania and would like to hit these places;

1. Badlands National Park
2. Mt. Rushmore (not life or death but it seems to be along the route)
3. Glacier National Park
4. Yellowstone National Park
5. Grand Tetons National Park
6. Rock Mountain National Park

I think I have these in the order that makes the most sense, but, that's what I'm here for, I have no idea. I think we are only going to have 2 weeks to work with.. I KNOW that's not enough time but hey, when you're young, vacation time is limited. My guess is that future trips will spawn off of this trip.. this will be a sampling of where I want to go on future vacations and spend all of my time there. I can easily see spending an entire week or more at most of the parks we want to hit.

Here are my questions;
1. It is a LONG drive from PA to the Badlands & from Rocky Mountain to PA... either way is a lose for me.. that's a 24 hour drive (give or take) for either one. There is not really anything I care to see between those parks and my home. Should we drive? Is it worth it to fly instead? If so, where do you fly to? I then have to rent a vehicle. Is there a train? What's the best method that other people have tried? Maybe it's a nice drive? I have no idea. I, personally, have never been on a plane and of course have fears but if it's going to cut my travel time and let me spend more time out west, I think I can conquer the fear.

2. Do you think my list of stops is optimum? Did I pick the right order? That seemed to be the one that made the most sense to me. But again, I'm not familiar with the area, at all.

3. What do you recommend seeing along the way and doing while we're there? Are there certain roadways we should take to see something fantastic? I've read things about Beertooth Highway, Cedar Pass Lodge, Devil's Tower, Float Trips in the Grand Tetons, Trail Ridge Road, Big Horn Mountains.. that kind of stuff.

4. If you only had 2 weeks to work with.. which parks do you think deserve the most time? I want to see Glacier & Yellowstone the most.. BF wants to see Badlands, Grand Tetons and Rocky Mountain the most. I think everyone should side with me.

Basically I am looking for any and all advice regarding this. It's something I've never done involving places I've never been.
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Jul 22nd, 2013, 09:12 AM
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Badlands may be the first "outlier" here. The other could be Glacier. And that is a LOT of parks even in two weeks.
The Tetons and Yellowstone are essentially one large area. You don't say what kind of budget you have or if you might camp some. However, camping in National Parks requires advance reservations.
If you fly and rent a car, Denver could be your cheapest choice, and that will require a good bit of driving to get to the Tetons and Yellowstone, but you could do RMNP and those parks.
Driving the whole way is a long haul, but theoretically you could drive through the Badlands and then to the Tetons and Yellowstone. But you have to get back home also so that is many days off of your 2 weeks just driving (and gas isn't cheap either).
I think you'll have to pare this down, and also give us an idea of your budget.
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Jul 22nd, 2013, 10:26 AM
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Either fly to Minneapolis or take the train (Capitol Limited to Chicago) followed by The Empire Builder to MSP.
Rent your car there to go west.
If the Capitol Limited is on time into Chicago, you have several hours to see some of the city and have a great lunch.
The Willis Tower is 3 blocks east of Chicago Union Station along Jackson Blvd.
I agree, Ohio and Indiana are not that much fun to drive through to get to the west.
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Jul 22nd, 2013, 10:34 AM
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Ha, good point. I suppose I can't very well dream up a vacation where money is no object. I would like to say our budget is $5,000. There is no way I would want to spend more money than that.. unless I absolutely had to. Is that reasonable/realistic? Once again, this is a new venture for me. IF we were going to drive, I would be all for taking a tent and camping anywhere that allows it. Is that realistic or should I assume that I will be having to make reservations at rooms/cabins anywhere I stay? I can see this all adding ($$$$$$$) up quickly in my head.. I almost feel that if we took a plane, camping would be out the window.

I would definitely be willing to cut out the Badlands.. not sure how bf would feel about it but we are looking for advice and options. I really, really want to visit Glacier but it is an obvious outlier, especially if we plan to drive the whole thing. I have ALWAYS wanted to visit Montana, I think it's absolutely beautiful (in pictures.. can't imagine in real life). I know Yellowstone would give me a taste of Montana but I guess I wanted more.
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Jul 22nd, 2013, 10:36 AM
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I'm liking the train idea Tom. It just seems that if we drove, the first and last 12ish hours would be wasted. It's just ground that we have to cover to get to where we want to go.. ground that takes up a lot of my precious time.
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Jul 22nd, 2013, 10:42 AM
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I think I'd get a map out and really look at all the places. It isn't Ohio and Indiana that aren't interesting ==try Missouri and Kansas!!
I think it is a 24 hour drive for you to Denver for example, and RMNP is not far from there. There are really budget motel chains along the interstates in the west that are quite acceptable.
That is a nice budget, I think. If you are willing to drive--and pare down a bit, you're fine. Maybe take enough camping equipment that a convenient KOA would work for you. But time could be of the essence and a motel a better stop.

If you don't fly, and do drive, then RMNP might be the outlier. Take a look at a map. I "think" Glacier is a bit of a westward ho from Yellowstone, so it might be Badlands in and Glacier and RMNP out.
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Jul 22nd, 2013, 11:10 AM
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The states in between are definitely going to be a struggle... I'm thinking you might be right. If we drive and cut out RMNP, it looks like we could gain an extra day at every other park. It would be the same for Glacier but I *really* want to go there.. I've been trying to map out several different plans since we started dreaming up this trip..

Sticking with the Home->Badlands->Glacier->Yellowstone->GrandTetons->RMNP->Home plan it would be something like this
Friday night - get a head start and drive 5/6 hours
Day 1 (Sat) - Drive ALL day (14/15 hours)
Day 2 (Sun) - Spend at Badlands
Day 3 (Mon) - Drive ALL day to Glacier (12 hours)
Day 4 (Tue) - Spend at Glacier
Day 5 (Wed) - Spend at Glacier
Day 6 (Thu) - Drive 8 hours to Yellowstone
Day 7 (Fri) - Spend day at Yellowstone
Day 8 (Sat) - Spend day at Yellowstone
Day 9 (Sun) - Drive 3 hours to Grand Tetons & spend the day
Day 10(Mon) - Spend day at Grand Tetons
Day 11(Tue) - Drive 9 hours to RMNP
Day 12(Wed) - Spend day at RMNP
Day 13(Thu) - Spend day at RMNP
Day 14(Fri) - Drive 11/12 hours
Day 15(Sat) - Drive 11/12 hours

I have Sunday available but I think after all that driving, I would need a recoop day before going back to work rather than throwing another day in at a park. However, like I said, if I cut out RMNP.. that would really reduce some stress from the trip. We would still have a long drive home but it would cut out another long day of travel and give us more rest days in between. With two of us capable of driving, I think the extreme 12/15 hour days in the car would be doable but not desirable. I just keep thinking that it's a waste to spend 4 days just to get from home to destinations and back home but at the same time, it would be nice to pack down the vehicle with everything we think we could possibly need.
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Jul 22nd, 2013, 11:47 AM
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If I cut out RMNP & Glacier, we could spend 3-4 days at each park (Badlands, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons) and have a more relaxed driving schedule.. able to make time for things like Mt. Rushmore and such and maybe take 3 days to get home instead of 2 so we don't die from being stuck in the vehicle. That might be the way to go. Thanks Gretchen!
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Jul 22nd, 2013, 12:24 PM
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I think (I don't have the map in front of me) you can stay "north" if you don't do RMNP. I love that park, but you will have had a real immersion in western parks and mountains with what you have planned.
I think it will be more economical for you to drive,and probably more comfortable over all. Getting to an airport on/in time and returning cars, etc. is not relaxing, and is a time eater. At the same time, as I've flown over Kansas en route to Denver in 3 hours, I've looked down and said, I'd be spending the night after 12 hours of driving!!
Driving in the west--once past the Mississippi, is pretty fast also, with less traffic for the most part. And don't forget the time changes--you gain some hours heading out--and it's a killer coming back east!!
I think you are on the right track.
The Badlands are interesting. Mt. Rushmore is a driveby, to me.
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Jul 22nd, 2013, 01:16 PM
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Another good train option is: Drive to Cleveland Amtrak station (plenty of free Long term parking) Get on the Capitol Limited there at about 2:45AM Saturday morning. When you get to Chicago transfer to a Hiawatha train to Milwaukee airport (MKA).
If you are on time with the Capitol Limited, you can get on the #333 Hiawatha that will get you to Milwaukee airport just before noon CT Saturday. The two of you can get to MKA for $156 or less (AAA discount 10%).
You can easily rent a car at the airport and then fly to Cleveland from there if you run out of time.
The Amtrak station in Cleveland is close to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Browns stadium.
The Capitol Limited leaves Pittsburgh at 11:59PM (sometimes late) if that is easier for you.
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Jul 22nd, 2013, 02:24 PM
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While Mt. Rushmore is a drive by, Custer State Park is lovely. We drove from the Badlands to Pittsburgh. We stayed one night on the way and then a stop in Chicago. Then Chicago to Pittsburgh. Its a lot of boring, boring driving on the Interstate.

I don't think you need 3-4 days at the Badlands. Its good for 2 days, but not sure you need the extra time. I loved it esp the night time programs, but wouldn't have enjoyed 3-4 days there.
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Jul 22nd, 2013, 02:55 PM
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I agree with Gretchen about skipping RMNP on this trip. I also love the place but I'd just stay north. Day One looks brutal as far as driving so I'd probably overnight rather than drive 15 hours. Custer State Park is gorgeous. Wind Cave and Jewell Cave are also in the Mount Rushmore area if you wanted to add a night.
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Jul 22nd, 2013, 04:51 PM
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Sorry if I missed this...but did you mention what time of year you plan on doing this trip? It could make a big difference since Glacier National Park's season can be pretty much over by mid-September depending on weather. A lot of the park facilities start to close down after Labor Day.

http://www.hikinginglacier.com/about...ional-park.htm

Rocky Mountain National Park is beautiful in late September/early October with the fall aspens and the elks will be in rut. Estes Park has a lot of hotels, restaurants and other activities to choose from.

http://www.rockymountainhikingtrails...ional-park.htm

I really think you're trying to see too much in such a short period of time. You have a LOT of driving days. Glacier and Yellowstone are both huge parks and to see any of it, you'll be spending even more time in the car. It takes about 2 to 2-1/2 hours to drive from the east side (Many Glacier) to the west side of Glacier. Yellowstone is an all-day drive.

You could save a lot of $$ on gas if you focused on enjoying one park. I've been to all the parks you list, and Glacier is my favorite. It's a hiker's paradise and the scenery is incredible. But if you're looking to go this summer, accommodations will be a problem. Many Glacier is the most scenic part of the park and has some of the best hiking, but lodging is usually booked up well in advance. You'll probably run into the same problems in Yellowstone.
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Jul 23rd, 2013, 06:01 AM
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You are all so helpful! Thanks so much.

I think we would go during the summer months - June/July/August but that would easily be negotiable. It doesn't even have to be this next summer. I would be willing to wait one more year.

I think by cutting out RMNP & Glacier (SIGH) we would be able to relax on driving and stop more often. Cutting out time at the Badlands would be helpful too - even more time for Yellowstone & Grand Tetons. I told my boyfriend last night that if we cut out Glacier, there has to be a future trip back to Montana & Glacier because that is my ultimate destination. It doesn't seem like a good fit for this trip though.. definitely an outlier on the map.

Maybe if we cut back on days at Badlands we could swing in a stop at Custer as well. I wasn't familiar with that park.
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Jul 23rd, 2013, 06:16 AM
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Custer State Park is really nice. We loved it. There are some great scenic drives such as the Needles and lots of really nice hikes. We were in the Badlands a couple weeks ago and it was HOT! That is part of the reason more than a day or two is not great there. Unless you get up at sunrise and hike then, it is unbearably hot since there are n trees for shade. Meantime, Custer State Park an hour or two away was delightful weather-wise. But you dont want to miss stargazing at Badlands -- nothing like it.

U mentioned Devil's Tower. If its on your route, I would stop and take a look. there is a mile or so walk around it that is nice, but for me, not being a climber, i didn't love it. If you are climbers, it would likely be a great place to visit. I would not go out of my way to see it.
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Jul 23rd, 2013, 08:28 AM
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I've taken my camping gear on an airplane many times, so flying does not rule out camping.

Flying to Denver and making a big loop to cover all those parks is about a 40 hour drive. That doesn't include driving in the parks or making side trips. You'll be driving that much just to get to the Badlands and back home without adding in the other parks.

Yes, road trips are cheaper than flying and renting but you're already cutting and cutting to try to make this work in your time frame. So you may want to look at your budget and put some numbers to it to see what you can realistically afford. Flights from Pittsburgh to Denver can be as low as $325, so $650 for the two of you. They don't charge for the first 2 checked bags so that's a lot of camping gear you could take. Rental car will be expensive but if you're going next summer you have plenty of time to shop around and find discounts. It'll be $700-800 without insurance or extra driver fees. So with your flights and rental car, that's $1500. Camping is cheap, usually $20-25 per night.

At this point, if you're planning a trip a year out I would not start cutting back so drastically. At least give yourself a chance to consider all the possibilities instead of just slashing and giving up on half the destinations you want to visit. 2 weeks is a lot of time. From your first post to the latest one, you've gone from visiting Glacier, Yellowstone, Tetons, RMNP and Badlands to cutting Glacier, RMNP, and less times at Badlands. And that's just 22 hours after you first posted....c'mon, back up a minute, breathe and crunch some numbers before you start gutting your itinerary.

If you are going to drive, I would skip RMNP because it is very close to Denver and it's very easy to fly there for a long weekend. Going back to the itinerary you posted that would give you 3 extra days to divvy up for everything else.

If Glacier is your dream destination, Amtrak goes directly there. I've always found Amtrak to cost as much as flying but at least you'd disembark at your preferred destination without facing a long drive ahead of you.

Badlands is great, I've been 3 times and spent 5 days camping there the last time. However it will be pretty hot in summer so I don't think you'd want to spend 3 days there. 1 is probably enough, most hiking is off-trail and I think you'd spend most of your time wondering if there was a rattlesnake lurking in the grass rather than enjoying the scenery.

Yellowstone/Grand Tetons is worth a week but you could back down to about 5 days if you had to.

Hopefully that helps.
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Jul 23rd, 2013, 10:00 AM
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Don't charge for 2 bags--choose your airline carefully and maybe not by next year!!
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Jul 23rd, 2013, 12:00 PM
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Sorry, I was looking at Southwest for those flight prices and neglected to put that in my comments, they are the only airline that allows the first 2 checked bags for free.
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Jul 23rd, 2013, 12:20 PM
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Yes, but,,,, They are talking about that going away also.
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Jul 24th, 2013, 12:29 PM
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I like your post WhereAreWe.. I definitely need to shop around. I would lovelovelove being able to hit up Glacier! I guess I shouldn't rule anything out just yet. So glad I found this forum though. We have a lot to figure out.
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