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  1. #1

    Default Western Road Trip - CO, AZ, UT, WY, SD

    Hi everyone! I've lurked for a while, and everyone here seems very knowledgable about road-tripping. I'm in the process of planning an 18-day road trip for just my husband and myself. My major problem is that I won't know exact dates until my husband can bid on his vacation weeks at work in late April. Obviously, his company has no experience in trying to plan big summer road trips, or they'd move their bidding process to January! ;) So, this trip could take place anytime between late May and late September.

    At this point, I have an itinerary with estimated driving times and sight-seeing times (if anyone's interested, I'll post the itinerary), and I'm working on finding possible campgrounds and hotels. We plan to do some tent camping and some nights in budget-friendly hotels. I'm learning that not all the campgrounds I'm looking at offer reservations for sites, which makes me (the person who always has a plan in advance!) super nervous.
    -the Mitten View campground in Monument Valley
    -the Sunset campground at Bryce Canyon (minimal sites available to reserve - I'm afraid these will be booked up before I have dates ready to book)
    -all the campgrounds in Grand Teton
    -the campgrounds in the Badlands

    I've read that the Badlands campgrounds "rarely fill" and that Gros Ventre and Colter Bay in Grand Teton fill late in the day, if at all. Is this true? And does anyone have experience getting campsites at Monument Valley and/or Bryce Canyon? We're looking at arriving at all of these places in mid-late afternoon. If these places fill, any suggestions for nearby campgrounds that might have sites available when we arrive?

    Also, any tips or info on the following, reservable campgrounds would be great (along with any alternative, nearby campgrounds in case these are filled by the time I get to make reservations):
    -Morefield campground at Mesa Verde
    -any of the campgrounds in Custer State Park, SD - Sylvan Lake looks especially interesting to me
    Has anyone ever had trouble getting reservations for any of these campgrounds?

    I know I'll have a hundred other questions to ask, so I'll stop here for now! Thanks in advance for any suggestions and tips.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Going prepared for any eventuality

    Quote Originally Posted by morgail View Post
    If these places fill, any suggestions for nearby campgrounds that might have sites available when we arrive?
    My experience with the campgrounds you mention is limited. But if it makes you nervous to think that you may not have anywhere to go, may I suggest a strategy I have. Only had to use it once. That was the time I got to Zion and there was not a place to be found..... anywhere. Fortunately I make a habit of printing out (or noting) all the places I find on the web which are within 'a bull's roar' of where I want to be. Then, rather than driving all over the place looking, I get on the phone and call them. At Zion, I eventually found a (not so cheap) place in Virgin.

    Not being familiar with the USA holidays, I was not aware that I had struck a holiday weekend.

    Lifey who never books anything more than a day or two ahead

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    I have an itinerary with estimated driving times
    If you are getting those from a computer program, add 20% to reflect reality, please.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Tough job, not knowing when !

    Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !

    At this point, I have an itinerary with estimated driving times and sight-seeing times (if anyone's interested, I'll post the itinerary),
    If you would like a second [third, fourth, fi.........] opinion and the possibility of some suggestions please feel free.

    With regards to the camping reservations [I agree his company are not that helpful in that respect] you will need to book the popular places asap after you get your date. I don't know if you have a preferred travel time but Sept is a great travel time in my opinion and a lot of the parks will only just have opened the reservation window in April for that time. [It would be handy if the holiday dates were interchangeable between colleagues ,Lol].

    If you are left with a "high season" date I wouldn't want to risk getting a spot without reservation in Bryce and Monument valley etc and would be worth searching for alternatives. Check out "Rubys Inn" for Bryce canyon and "Gouldings lodge" for MV as they are both in good locations. Morefield campground is a nice campground and the best location for Mesa Verde, if reservations are not available for any site just type in the park or town where you are staying plus "campgrounds" and you will find the alternatives. We travel in an RV so you will have to check if Rubys [and others offer tent sites]

    The "Watchman campground" [NP] at Zion is in a lovely setting and convenient for the free shuttle bus service into the canyon and nice little town of Springdale.

  5. #5


    Lifey - Excellent idea! Thank you.

    glc - I've rounded times up, in general, to account for fuel stops, road congestion, and meals. 20% sounds like a good guideline. I'll go back & double check my times. I used Google Maps, so I could indulge in the "street view" option. ;)

    SW Dave - I'll try to post the itinerary tonight. I agree that Sept sounds like a good time to go, especially to avoid crowds. Thanks for the recommendations for Ruby's Inn and Goulding's lodge. I'll check those out. I was hoping to make it to Zion, but it looks like we won't have the time. It's so hard determining what to cut out of the trip!

    I was looking more into hotel options in and around Yellowstone today. I'm overwhelmed with all the options and the steep prices. I think I've narrowed it down to either staying within the park or in Cody (because it looks like a cute little town & it has some fun-looking attractions.). If we stay in the park, we're looking at staying in one of the rustic sorts of cabins (ie. the ones without private bathrooms). If we go to Cody, we're looking at one of the locally-owned hotels. It may end up we'll get whatever's left once I can make reservations, but does anyone have any suggestions for one place over the other?

  6. #6


    Reservations are great for weekends in the "hot" places, but aren't usually necessary for weekdays (in my experience). Even at Yosemite when there were a million people there in July last year, the ranger station had plenty of recommendations for same-day campgrounds (none in the valley of course).

    I stayed at Legion Lake at Custer SP and it was pretty cool, although a little expensive for a campsite without much privacy (they have showers, which is a plus, and bison are likely to roam into your campground, which may be a plus depending). I was there in September and all the campgrounds were 100% full on the weekend (but none of them were full on the Thursday night I was there). BTW, fwiw, my favorite part of SD was the Norbeck Byway which runs through Custer.

    I think you might be better off getting a hotel in West Yellowstone rather than Cody if you plan on spending most of your time in the park -- I think it'll be more convenient. I love Cody though -- it's a very friendly little town, the Buffalo Bill museum is easy to recommend, and there was a surprisingly good New Mexican restaurant on the main drag (it's the only one in Cody).

    For Bryce, you might look at the state parks around there as attractive options for camping -- Calf Creek is a little up the road, but it's in a cool setting and the hike up to the falls is easy and great. You might also look at staying in Escalante or one of the other towns there. I stayed at a B&B in Escalante (Rainbow Country Inn iirc) that was affordable ($60 off-season) and had one of the best breakfasts of my trip. Bryce isn't a big park, so it's not one you necessarily need to bunker down in in order to conveniently reach all points inside it.



  7. #7


    I live in the Black Hills of South Dakota, so I can help you with a couple of your questions. Sylvan Lake Campground is very cool. It's also the trialhead for the shortest route to the summit of Harney Peak. A couple of hours and you're atop the highest peak east of the Rockies. I think you have to reserve in advance. (800) 710-CAMP (2267) or Another good, isolated Custer State Park campground is Center Lake.

    Badlands National Park campgrounds don't fill up often, especially when the weather is hot. The one at the east end of the park near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center has a few more amenities, but no showers. The Sage Creek primitive campground has outhouses and no water. Any time you camp in the Badlands, I highly recommend ditching the tent and sleeping under the stars. The night sky is absolutely amazing.

  8. #8


    Thanks so much for the tips! Sleeping under the stars in the Badlands sounds wonderful.
    bkd- thanks for the tips on West Yellowstone and Bryce. And I'm relieved to hear that weekdays aren't quite as busy as the weekends.

    We're thinking of this trip as something of a sampler trip, since neither of us has been west (with the exception of flying to Los Angeles). If all goes well, we hope to return to the places we like best for longer stays in the future. Any suggestions are welcome. We may still cut a stop or two, in order to have more sightseeing time and less driving. Here is the current itinerary:

    Day 1: Louisville, KY to somewhere in Kansas, all interstate. Hotel. Est. 10-12 hours driving.
    Day 2: Somewhere, KS to north of Denver (Boulder or Longmont), all interstate. Hotel. Est. 8-10 hours of driving. [If we can get an extra day off, we'll do this entire drive in 3 days with a detour to Dodge City.]
    Day 3: Spend morning/early afternoon in Rocky Mountain NP. Drive to Great Sand Dunes NP via US24/US285. Hotel. Est. 8 hours driving.
    Day 4: Spend morning in Great Sand Dunes NP. Leave late morning & drive to Mesa Verde NP, via US160. Camp. Est. 7 hours driving.
    Day 5: Spend morning in Mesa Verde NP. Leave around noon & drive to Four Corners, via US160. Est. 1 hr 15 min driving. Then drive to Monument Valley, via US162/US163. Camp. Est. 4 hours driving.
    Day 6: Either take a tour into Monument Valley or drive up to see the Mokee Dugway. Leave early afternoon and drive to Grand Canyon NP, via US160. Hotel. Est. 6 - 6 1/2 hours driving.
    Day 7: See Grand Canyon. Same hotel.
    Day 8: Leave Grand Canyon early and drive to Bryce Canyon NP, via AZ64/US89/UT12. Camp. Est. 8 1/2 hours driving.
    Day 9: See Bryce Canyon in morning. Leave around noon and drive to Arches NP, via UT12/UT24/I-70/US191. Hotel. Est. 7 hours driving.
    Day 10: See Arches NP in morning. Leave early afternoon and drive to Salt Lake City, via UT128/US6/US191/I-15. Hotel. Est. 5-6 hours driving.
    Day 11: Leave SLC early. Drive to Grand Teton NP, via I-15/US89. Camp. Est. 7 hours driving.
    Day 12: See Grand Teton. Drive to Yellowstone or nearby town for night. Hotel.
    Day 13: See Yellowstone. Same hotel.
    Day 14: Leave Yellowstone early. Drive to Devil's Tower, WY, via US14 and I-90. Hotel. Est. 7-8 hours driving.
    Day 15: See Devil's Tower in morning. Leave by mid-morning and drive to Deadwood, SD, via WY24/SD34/US85. Est. 3 hours driving. See town. Leave by early afternoon and drive to Mt. Rushmore. Est. 1 1/2 - 2 hours driving. See Mt. Rushmore. Leave and drive to Custer State Park via Needles Hwy. Est. 1 1/2 - 2 hours driving. Camp.
    Day 16: See Custer State Park in morning. Leave by noon and drive to Badlands NP, via US16/SD36/SD79/I-90. Est. 3 hours driving. See Badlands NP. Camp.
    Day 17: Leave Badlands early. Drive to De Smet, SD, via I-90. See town. Hotel. Est. 6 hours driving.
    Day 18: Leave De Smet early. Drive home.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default A thought or two

    Reading through your itenary brought back just so many memories..... I drove the whole route with you.

    Just a thought or two for you to consider.....

    Quote Originally Posted by morgail View Post
    Day 2: Somewhere, KS to north of Denver (Boulder or Longmont), all interstate. Hotel. Est. 8-10 hours of driving. [If we can get an extra day off, we'll do this entire drive in 3 days with a detour to Dodge City.]
    Whereas both Boulder and Longmont are lovely places, don't dismiss Loveland. It is a little closer, and the drive through the Big Thomson Canyon is amazing. Stop at the small roadside shrine which commemorates the big flood. It contributes so much to one's appreciation of the area, and those who dwell there. Very moving.

    Quote Originally Posted by morgail View Post
    Day 5: Spend morning in Mesa Verde NP. Leave around noon & drive to Four Corners, via US160.
    To really appreciate Mesa Verda you need to do at least one of the ranger guided tours - two if you can manage it. I would put at the top of the list the Cliff Palace, though the Balcony House is equally impressive. When I arrived all were booked out, and I had to wait till the next day. Considering your tight schedule, it may be prudent to book these ahead of time. Not sure if these tours can be booked online, but I would definitely explore that and book as soon as you are sure of your dates.


  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Your last day is beyond a killer. Nearly a 1000 miles (18 hours) on the road is not how you want to end your trip. That's too much in any circumstance, but you're going to be tired after a packed full trip like this, and that's going to make such a drive really unsafe. You really need to get to at least Rochester MN or LaCrosse WI for a very long but manageable last day. I would probably skip DeSmet unless it is very important to you, since your time is limited and its a 45 minute detour each way off of I-90. If you do swing through there, you really can't afford to stop there for the night unless you add another day for the trip home.

    The rest of your trip is very packed full, but you know that. There is no single thing that's really too much, but I think the overall effect of doing so much in so little time may wear on you. The key really will be to stay flexable and focus on having fun more than watching the clock - making changes on the fly if they will improve your trip even at the expense of "missing" something.

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