Yellowstone itinerary questions

Nov 22nd, 2010, 11:49 AM
  #1  
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Yellowstone itinerary questions

We are planning a roadtrip from DC to Yellowstone National Park for next September. We are planning on leaving after work on August 30th and want to be in NY (to visit family) by September 23. On the way there we will likely spend the night in and around Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Eau Claire, Minneapolis, Bismarck, Billings and then driving to the north entrance (Gardiner) to Yellowstone.

Now, this is our first time in Yellowstone, and I am figuring we can spend 5-6 nights in the park. Does it make sense to enter through the North entrance and exit, at the end of our stay in the park, the East entrance towards Cody? I am thinking we can spend one night in Mammoth, one night near the Canyon, two nights near Old Faithful, and one night near Fishing Bridge before exiting East. Is it possible (or advisable) to drive from the Canyon area to Old Faithful in one day? Is Mammoth, Tower Falls, Canyon, Old Faithful and Fishing Bridge a good order in which to see those sights? I am working off of this map:

http://www.nps.gov/archive/yell/inte...emap/index.htm

There is so much to see and do! We are interested in doing a couple of short hikes, seeing the geyers, but our number one priority is the wildlife! We, being from big cities, do not get to see a lot of stars in the sky. I would imagine that the stars over Yellowstone are beautiful. Is there are guides/seminars about the stars in Yellowstone, like a program with a ranger or something? Not sure if I am explaining myself clearly.

I was looking at lodging in the park just to get an idea of pricing--a lot seems to be sold out already!! Is this common? Will more rooms open up as time goes on?? I really would rather not book hotels in advance, I'd rather just drive and stay where we want, but it doesn't look like this is a possibility in Yellowstone, unless maybe you are camping...which we're not.

Thank you for any advice--
MissZiegfeld is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2010, 11:52 AM
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Oh, and should have said, we are a couple, no kids. Money isn't a HUGE object, but we're not looking to go broke either...

after exiting Yellowstone, we are going to drive through South Dakota (Mount Rushmore, etc), Nebraska, Iowa, before spending a couple of nights in Chicago before going to NY.
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Nov 22nd, 2010, 12:34 PM
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Your plan sounds excellent. You should have no problems driving the Yellowstone route you've outlined, provided there are no road closures. (The road's a giant figure eight, so there's always a way to get from north to south and from east to west, but needing to detour can add on a bit of time to your drive). Unless you're driving an RV you won't be able to stay in the Fishing Bridge area, though; look for lodgings at Lake Yellowstone instead.

The stars in Yellowstone are indeed gorgeous, provided you get away from the lights around the buildings. I don't know if there will be any ranger astronomy programs. Why not take a pair of binoculars (7x35, 8x40, or 10x40 work well for astronomy) and a star atlas, and have fun exploring the sky on your own?

It is indeed common for Yellowstone lodging to book up this early, but don't panic. Cancellations are common! CALL Xanterra every day and see what's opened up. DO NOT rely on the website; reservations change so quickly that a lot of the cancellations never show up there. Be persistent, and there's an excellent chance you'll be able to get the lodgings you want on the dates you want them. You do pretty much have to book all your Yellowstone lodging well in advance, though. Book now; you can always cancel later, should you need to. If you find you want or need to stay outside the park, West Yellowstone is convenient to west side of the park (but a bit too touristy for my tastes); in the north, Gardiner and Cooke City/Silvergate are also very close to the park, and a bit quieter.
Moongoddess is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2010, 12:39 PM
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Well, I'm not that excited with your plan.

I think you are planning to stay in too many YNP locations.

Two should be enough. Maybe Old Faithful and either Tower or Canyon.

You don't want to be spending all of your timing packing and moving.

Also, you made no mention of Grand Tetons. Very different and beautiful.

I would allocate at least two days to GTNP.
Myer is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2010, 01:08 PM
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Driving from Billings, you can take the beautiful Beartooth Highway to the NE entrance of YNP. Then I would stay at Roosevelt Lodge. The cabins are bare bones, but this area of the park (the Lamar Valley) has the most wildlife. There is also an enjoyable cookout you can either ride to on horseback or take a stagecoach to from this area.

The Mammoth area is my least favorite area of the park. The Hot Springs are here, but they have not been as beautiful in recent years. You are sure to see elk near the hotel, but you can also see them elsewhere in the park. The hotel here is VERY bare bones. It used to be an army barracks, I believe.

After Roosevelt, I would stay at the Lake Hotel and visit the Canyon and the Hayden Valley. Visit the Fishing Bridge area on your way to Old Faithful, and spend at least 2 nights at the Old Faithful Inn.

I agree with Myer that you should not miss GTNP. I think they are the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen.
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Nov 22nd, 2010, 01:30 PM
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My first impression is that your trip is over three weeks long, and less than a third of it will actually be in YNP, so you actually have a lot of other planning to do as well. But your Yellowstone lodging will be the thing that you should try to get ironed out first.

I agree with Digbydog. Try to take the Beartooth Highway to the northeast entrance, rather than using the north entrance. I actually have never done the north entrance, but the Beartooth Highway is a pretty spectacular road. Charles Kuralt called it "the most beautiful highway in America," or something like that. The Northeast entrance would be doable from Billings, or you could sleep a little closer, in Red Lodge. I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Red Lodge. It was a nice town, charming but with all the services I needed too.

The parts of YNP that are most known for wildlife are Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley. Lamar Valley is located near the Tower/Roosevelt area, along the Northeast entrance road, and Hayden Valley is between Canyon and Fishing Bridge. The animals tend to come around around dawn and dusk, so you may want to sleep near these areas, if viewing wildlife is a priority.

I was actually kind of disappointed by the stargazing in Yellowstone. The stars were much more impressive at Badlands National Park, which I visited just before I went to Yellowstone. The Milky Way was so bright it looked like a cloud., There was a great nighttime ranger talk about astronomy at the little amphitheater near Cedar Pass Lodge in Badlands. It seems to me that you should really fit Badlands into your stay, either on the way out, or on the way back again. The route from Badlands to Yellowstone could also include Mount Rushmore, some nice scenic driving in Custer National Park in the Black Hills, Wind Cave if you're so inclined, and you could also drive the Bighorn Scenic Byway, which I quite enjoyed. Seeing these sites would fit nicely with taking the east entrance to YNP, via Cody. If you were passing through the Bighorns in both directions, you could go on the Bighorn Scenic Byway in one direction, and Chief Joseph Scenic byway in the other direction.
hawksbill is offline  
Nov 23rd, 2010, 05:06 AM
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Ok, we will definitely take the Beartooth highway to the NE entrance--thanks for the tip! I think we are going to move our trip to a week earlier (because it seems like things start to close in mid-September), and then, as Digbydog suggested, I am going to look into the Roosevelt Lodge, Lake Hotel and the Old Faithful Inn. Probably two nights in each.

Hawksbill, thank you so much for your suggestions!! After doing a little research we decided on spending some time in the Badlands. It looks absolutely BREATHTAKING! We'll spend two nights in the Badlands after leaving Yellowstone.
MissZiegfeld is offline  
Nov 23rd, 2010, 06:22 AM
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Roosevelt lodge is closed the days we'll be there Any other suggestions? Thanks!
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Nov 23rd, 2010, 06:36 AM
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MissZiegfeld, I'm glad that you're going to see Badlands! I just noticed your second post, mentioning that you're going to go through South Dakota on the way back, so it won't even be out of your way. Two nights is about the right amount of time, I think. A few thoughts about Badlands:

1. See if you can stay in the Cedar Pass Lodge cabins. They're not luxurious, to say the least, but they're clean enough, and they have beds, heat, air conditioning, and hot water, and there's no substitute for sleeping right in the park. There are lots of cute critters hanging around the cabins to keep you company. Note that Badlands Inn is also run by Forever Resorts, but it's a different property that's outside the park somewhere.

2. Besides the main scenic road through Badlands, be sure to drive out and back on Sage Creek Road. As you like wildlife, you may even want to do it several times on different days. This is where I saw my first up-close buffalo, along with bighorn sheep and the biggest prairie dog town I've ever seen.

3. One of my favorite things was hiking out on the Door Trail at dawn. The last part leaves the boardwalk, and there's no real trail, just some spikes that have been driven into the ground. You walk from one spike to the next until you get to the end. There are signs warning about how dangerous this is and how easy it is to get lost, but really, it's no big deal. The whole thing takes about ten minutes, and there were plenty of out-of-shape people in their 60's doing it in sneakers. As always, just be sure you bring some water.

Here are some more thoughts about your eastward route from Yellowstone to Badlands:

1. I didn't pass through Cody, WY, but you will, and people like the Buffalo Bill museum there.

2. There's a restaurant called Lisa's in Greybull, WY that seems to get good reviews. You'll be going right by it. It was closed when I stopped by.

3. There's an interesting little place to stop, just east of Greybull, called Devil's Kitchen. It's a canyon with some very nice geological features to look at. I enjoyed it just as much for the complete and utter solitude as for its natural beauty -- it's barely marked, and I never would have known about it if a friend who grew up in Wyoming hadn't told me about it. There was not a single person around for miles. Do you have GPS navigation? The easiest way to tell you where it is is to give you coordinates:

Waypoint 1 (first turn off US-14 onto a haul road): N44 31.386 W107 55.476
Waypoint 2 (next turn onto another haul road): N44 32.178 W107 56.019
Devil's Kitchen (just off of the southern side of the haul road): N44 32.240 W107 58.289

4. East of Greybull, as you go through Bighorn National Forest, you'll be on the Bighorn Scenic Byway. It's a beautiful drive, especially the western part, where there are some fantastic rocks. Make sure you do it in the daylight. And consider stopping to stretch your legs at Shell Falls.

5. After leaving Mount Rushmore, you'll probably head south on US-16A, which is the Iron Mountain Scenic Road. It's a nice drive, but the Needles Highway Scenic Drive was better, IMHO, and it has the Cathedral Spires trail, which is a nice hike. The Needles drive is out of your way, though. This is all in Custer State Park, so you can look on the Park's web site for a map. I spent a night in a cabin in the park, which was fun. You'll be very close to Wind Cave National Park, which people love, so you may want to stop there.
hawksbill is offline  
Nov 23rd, 2010, 06:57 AM
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Thank you so much, hawksbill! We love scenic drives...we drive the NJ Turnpike often and drive the Beltway daily, so needless to say, we welcome scenic drives! We're also "foodies" and love road food, etc, so I appreciate the restaurant recommendation. We love to find "hidden" gems so I look forward to using your GPS coordinates! Neither one of us has ever been to this part of the country, so we are very excited. I wish we had three months instead of three weeks!

For Yellowstone, we're now thinking 2 nights Canyon, 2 nights Old Faithful, and 2 nights Lake before exiting East, spending a night somewhere near Mount Rushmore (perhaps another night somewhere near Greybull/Bighorn on the way, should we get distracted!), and then 2 nights at Cedar Pass Lodge in the Badlands. After that, just exploring the area some more, so I will look into your suggestions.

This sounds like a really wonderful area to explore.

Ah, one more important question--is it easy to find last minute lodging in this part of the country?? Other than Yellowstone and the Badlands, we plan on just finding a hotel when we get tired. This has worked for us on shorter roadtrips on the East coast, where almost every rest stop has 3-4 hotel/motel choices to choose from, but as found on a recent trip to Vermont, this is not the case all over the country! Do you think we'll have trouble finding lodging without any notice? Doesn't have to be fancy, just clean and sage!
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Nov 23rd, 2010, 07:06 AM
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Has anyone ever visited the Bear Lodge Resort in Big Horn? I'm wondering if it might be worth it to stay the night there after leaving Yellowstone and before heading to Mt. Rushmore, that way we can take our time a bit...

http://www.bearlodgeresort.com/Lodge/Lodging/motel.aspx
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Nov 23rd, 2010, 07:21 AM
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Other than lodging in the parks, I think pretty much any hotel along your route will have last-minute vacancies available. So you shouldn't need reservations. However, for east-coasters like you and me, the towns to tend to be rather far apart out there. You also may have issues with cell phone reception in some areas. So a little advance planning might be in order.

My strategy was to look at my itinerary in advance and pick towns where I thought I might get tired and want to sleep. I then looked at Tripadvisor reviews, made a list of hotels that seemed like adequate choices, and entered them into my GPS. That way, after nightfall, I could just punch up my list of pre-selected hotels on the GPS, look at the estimated arrival times, and decide how far I felt like driving, without having to worry about running out of options on some long deserted highway, or accidentally choosing some horrible dive.
hawksbill is offline  
Nov 23rd, 2010, 08:09 AM
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That's too bad that Roosevelt Lodge will be closed. Canyon and Lake are fairly close together so I think I might do 3 nights at Old Faithful and 3 nights at the Lake Hotel. It doesn't really seem necessary to move between Canyon and Lake.

Also, don't miss Devil's Tower on your way from YNP to Mount Rushmore. It's pretty amazing and was featured prominently in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
Digbydog is offline  
Nov 23rd, 2010, 09:11 AM
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I would go for 3 nights each in Old Faithful and Canyon. Lake is too close to OF and you may want something closer to the northern part of the park.

You still haven't mention GTNP. I guess you have little interest in beautiful mountain/lake combinations.
Myer is offline  
Nov 23rd, 2010, 01:40 PM
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Myer, I do, I just don't think we have the time on this trip. Next time, and I'm sure there will be a next time! Thank you.
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Nov 23rd, 2010, 09:07 PM
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MissZiegfeld, I wouldn't rule it out. With six nights in Yellowstone, I think you'll have time for a day trip to GTNP. It's at least worth a drive-through. The idea would be to head out the south entrance of YNP, take US-191 south to Jackson Lake Junction, turn right onto Teton Park Road, take it down to Moose Junction (where you might stop for lunch at Dornan's), and then come back up on US-191, planning quick viewing stops at Mormon Row, Schwabacher Landing, and Oxbow Bend along the way. Just do a google image search for any of those three places if you need some motivation! Speaking as a fellow New Jersey Turnpike traveler, this would be one seriously scenic drive. Just be sure you do it on a clear day. I think that whole round trip might take six hours, including lunch and plenty of stops to ooh and aah at the views. Maybe more time if you wanted to really get out and hike a little.
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Nov 24th, 2010, 03:54 AM
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hawksbill,
You mentioned the three highlights on the "outside" road. Most people bypass Schwabacher Landing as it doesn't have a pullout on the road. You have to drive about a qwuarter mile on a dirt road.

But, was it worth it worth the view!!! The Tetons reflecting in the stream was amazing!!!

Same with Mormon Row. Since you have to get off the road and make a few turns few bother. The view of those two old barns with mountains behind and "above" them was truly spectacular.

Oxbow Bend is actually near the junction of the inside and outside roads. Again early and late for wildlife.

The best time to see these is as early in the morning as you can so that the sun is relatively low and behind you.

I notice that wildlife is a priority. In GTNP we saw moose, deer and on Signal Mountain a black bear.
Myer is offline  
Nov 26th, 2010, 02:35 PM
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""Milwaukee, Eau Claire, Minneapolis, Bismarck, Billings" I was just wondering why you are planning so many days of travel to get to Yellowstone? You could get from Milwaukee to Fargo in one day and Fargo to Billings in one day.
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Nov 29th, 2010, 05:44 PM
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Myer is correct that Canyon is a better location for seeing the NE part of the park. However, I like the accommodations and restaurant at the Lake Hotel much better than those at Canyon. Also, I don't think that Lake is close to Old Faithful.
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Dec 20th, 2010, 11:41 AM
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Ok, we are going to add a day trip to Grand Tetons!! You have twisted my arm...I know I won't be disappointed!

ziggypop, you have a good point. Our trip, unfortunately, had to be shortened by a few days (rules at my new job, blaah), so I think we may do that (but maybe spend a night in Minneapolis, since we've never been).
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