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  1. #1

    Default 48 States / 3 to 4 months

    Hi,

    I'm planning a solo 48-state round trip road trip beginning in New Jersey on July 15 this coming summer and going into October or November. I've been reading this great site for awhile and I've picked up a lot of useful information so far - definitely feel like I have the basics down (budget, driving limits, appropriate places to camp, etc.). I'm still finalizing my circuit, but I've got a tentative plan. I'm sure I'll be posting my final itinerary and other questions as the date of departure approaches.

    The one question I have now relates to reserving campgrounds in national parks. From what I've read these fill up quickly. I'd prefer not to book anything ahead of time and be flexible, but I don't want to get shut out of any of the national park campgrounds. Here are my tentative dates that I plan to be in specific national parks:

    July 17/18 - Acadia NP
    July 29 - Teddy Roosevelt NP
    July 30/31 and August 1 - Badlands NP
    August 3/4 - Grand Tetons
    August 5/6/7 - Yellowstone
    August 9/10/11 - Glacier
    August 18/19 - Olympic
    August 23 - Redwood
    August 30/31 - Yosemite
    September 2/3 - Death Valley
    September 11/12/13 - Grand Canyon
    September 14/15/16 - Zion/Mt. Valley/Arches?
    October 17/18 - Great Smokey Mt

    And here are my questions:

    1. Should I reserve NP campgrounds for all those dates above? I feel pretty confident that I can keep to the dates in the first 6 weeks of my trip, but I'm not sure after that. I imagine July/August will be busy. At the same time, it seems like big parks like Yellowstone at least allow for first-come, first-serve campgrounds in addition to reserved slots. Can I just wing it after Labor Day (even in a place like the Grand Canyon)?

    2. When do the campgrounds open for reservations? It doesn't seem like there is a unified website and I guess I'll just have to regularly check back to the individual websites. It seems like I can get a reservation for Acadia already but I haven't looked into all the sites yet.

    3. I want to explore much of Southwest South Dakota and I figured that Badlands NP would be a good home base to do that from for 3 nights, with road trips to Pine Ridge Reservation, Mt. Rushmore, etc. Does that make sense?

    4. I'm planning to do 2 nights in the Grand Tetons and 3 in Yellowstone. Does that seem like a balanced mix? I know I could stay in many of these parks for a long time, but I figured I wasn't going to stay in any place for more than 3 days on this trip.

    5. For southern Utah, I want to go to all the national parks. Is it infeasible to do this over 3 nights? I plan to go from Zion to Bryce Canyon to Monument Valley to Arches. Any recommendations on where I would stay if I tried to do all those parks over three nights? I was thinking one night in Zion, one night in Monument Valley and one night in Arches.

    Any other suggestions/tips are greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance for your help.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default

    If you decide to make campground reservations, recreation.gov handles pretty much all of them, for national parks, forests, blm lands, etc. Speaking of which, keep those other public lands open for a possiblity too. Many times there are national forest lands with camping that surround a national park - and often times those facilities are less used.

    Badlands wouldn't be my choice as a base for exploring SW SD, as it really is a long way from the black hills. You're looking at an 80 mile drive each way from the Badlands to Mount Rushmore, and most of the other things you'd want to see in the area are even farther away. I'd look at Custer State Park, for an option that would be a little more centrally located. Also note that the Sturgis rally is in early August (you'll have to check for exact dates), so you could start seeing some pretty large crowds by the time you are there.

    I think 3 days in Utah would be quite rushed - and it should be noted that if you want to visit all of the national parks in southern Utah, you forgot about Capital Reef and Canyonlands.

  3. #3

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    Thanks for the tips, Michael. Custer State Park does look centrally located. Maybe I will break that time up.

    Quote Originally Posted by Midwest Michael View Post
    I think 3 days in Utah would be quite rushed - and it should be noted that if you want to visit all of the national parks in southern Utah, you forgot about Capital Reef and Canyonlands.
    Yes, thanks for pointing that out. I have never been to many of the places on this road trip (hence the reason I am here asking questions), but I am especially hazy on southern Utah as it seems like there are so many parks near each other. I'm not sure which ones will appeal to me more. This is probably an area I need to research more and I know there is lots on this site about that area.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    10,748

    Default Time.

    If you want to camp in the National parks [recommended] then you would really have to book in advance to make sure you got a spot. If you managed to find a place outside of the parks, some of the journeys in can take quite a lot of valuable time up. If the worse case scenario would be to lose the cost of one or two bookings while playing catch up, I think it would be worth it to have the security.

    5. For southern Utah, I want to go to all the national parks. Is it infeasible to do this over 3 nights? I plan to go from Zion to Bryce Canyon to Monument Valley to Arches. Any recommendations on where I would stay if I tried to do all those parks over three nights? I was thinking one night in Zion, one night in Monument Valley
    and one night in Arches.
    It just wouldn't be worth trying to do these 3 in 3 nights, by the time you add travel time on, you will have little time for exploring. To see all of those mentioned I would head to Zion from Death valley then to Bryce, down through Page to the South rim of GC and through Monument valley to Arches NP. As for time, my recommendation to be able to explore more of the parks would be Zion 2 nights [one full day] Bryce 1 night, Grand canyon 2 nights MV 1night and Arches 2 nights, but of course you have to make things fit to your time table.

    Don't forget to buy an annual pass to visit that number of parks it will be cheaper than individual fees.
    Last edited by Southwest Dave; 02-01-2010 at 11:58 AM. Reason: brain malfunction !

  5. #5

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    I did a similar trip last summer. Would recommend not locking yourself in with reservations whenever possible. You just don't know what's going to appeal. Also, after Labor Day everything really empties out, so you may not need them anywhere at that point. Of the places you mention, I'd worry about Yosemite and Great Smoky 2-3 months in advance, but none of the others. In fact, if it were me and I were expecting to be there mid-week, I don't know that I'd ever bother with reservations (so long as I thought I could get into the park before noon or so during high-season).

    Also -- wondering if you've considered visiting Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota. You'd need reservations a month or two in advance for that, but if you haven't spent much time canoeing and portaging on pristine lakes, it's pretty unbelievable (I did this solo, so it can definitely be done).

    If you've never been, Southern Utah deserves at least a week. You might also just choose one or two areas and concentrate on those instead (e.g., Zion + Bryce Canyon). The amazing thing about the parks in Southern Utah is that, while they all have red rocks of some sort, they're all utterly unique. I was surprised to find that I couldn't just go to Zion and feel like I'd seen everything that was in Canyonlands or Monument Valley or Grand Staircase.

    Also, just from my pov, a combined five days in Grand Teton and Yellowstone may be too long. The geysers are the important part of Yellowstone and you can do those in half a day. You can see the falls in another half-day. I mean, the whole place is beautiful, but if you need to find time for other activities, this might be a place you could pull from.

    bkd
    Last edited by bk949; 02-03-2010 at 12:03 PM. Reason: Typos, clarity.

  6. #6

    Default

    Thanks, bkd and Dave. Both of your advice is very helpful and I think I'm going to change my plans to spend close to a week in Southern Utah. I am definitely trying not to lock myself in to a set schedule, but trying to balance that with the concern about being locked out of NP camp sites. The idea of focusing on particular areas makes a lot of sense. I want to spend a lot of time in Southern Utah and have never been there so I feel the urge to hit every park, but maybe I will try to focus on specific parks like Arches, Bryce and Zion. Really, the only reason I am picking specific days now is because of the NP camp site reservations. Otherwise I want to be pretty open ended, which is a great luxury to have and exactly the point of this trip.

    I've traveled a lot on the East Coast and West Coast, but not much at all in the middle so almost all of the places I mentioned are new to me. Never been to Boundary Waters Canoe Area, but it is one of my tentative stops really only because the name sounded cool. I definitely will have to check it out.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,270

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    If you do wind up shut out of campgrounds, if your budget can handle it you can simply start looking for hotels in the area. Example - Bryce Canyon. Ruby's Best Western is right outside the gate (can be pricey though), then there's the town of Panguitch about 20 minutes down the road, it has several independent roadside type motels. There's also private campgrounds near most attractions.

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