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  1. Default Please help me shorten my National Parks trip

    I have a 6 week camping trip itinerary below that needs to be cut back to 3 weeks. I would appreciate some advice on what to cut and what to keep. We don't have much in the way of specific goals - just a family trip to see these incredible parts of the country and natural wonders, including short walks/hikes, some fun clambering for the kids, and a few 'experiences' e.g. rodeo, rafting, etc. Yellowstone and Grand Canyon are must-see. Also probably Arches and Powell. Different family members have expressed specific interest in Craters, Sand Dunes and Badlands. Kids are 9-13. Suggestions, anyone?

    1. Arrive Salt Lake City
    2. Wake up Salt Lake Drive 5 hours to Craters of the Moon – 3-4 hour visit
    3. Wake up Craters - Drive 4 hours to Grand Teton
    4. Awake in Teton – 9am snake river trip 6pm shootout in Jackson
    5. Awake in Teton drive 1hr to Yellowstone
    6. Yellowstone
    7. Yellowstone
    8. Yellowstone
    9. Drive 2hrs to Cody - cliff jumping, rodeo
    10. Drive 6hrs devils tower –drive thru? Sleep where”
    11. Awake in Black Hills/Badlands
    12. Jewel Cave
    13. Black Hills/Badlands
    14. Awake in Black Hills drive 4 hrs to Chimney Rock drive through drive 2.5 hours to Cheyenne
    15. Wake up in Cheyenne - a day around here?
    16. Wake up in Cheyenne again and drive 6 hours to Great Sand Dunes national monument
    17. Wake up in Sand Dunes and spend one day
    18. Wake up in Sand Dunes and drive 5 hours to Mesa Verde
    19. Wake up in Mesa Verde, tour pueblos
    20. Wake up Mesa Verde (drive 45min to Durango for rodeo rodeos weekend of 7/28 in Durango??)
    21. Wake up Durango 5 hours to Lake Powell
    22. Wake up Powell
    23. Wake up Powell
    24. Wake up Powell - Drive 3 hours to Grand Canyon
    25. Grand canyon
    26. Grand Canyon
    27. Grand Canyon drive 5hours to Zion
    28. Zion
    29. Zion
    30. Zion drive 3 hours to Bryce
    31. Bryce
    32. Bryce drive 4 hours to Capitol Reef
    33. Capitol Reef
    34. Wake up Capitol Reef drive 3 hours to canyonlands
    35. Wake up Canyonlands
    36. Wake up Canyonlands drive to Arches
    37. Arches
    38. Wake up Arches drive 4 hours to Salt Lake
    39. Wake up Salt Lake – fly home

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default the axe

    Welcome to the RTA forum!

    When you need to cut a trip basically in half, you can't start small -you have to chop off big sections. The easiest place to start is to get rid of the places that add the most miles.

    Considering your primary goals are Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, I'd start by getting rid of everything that's not in between them - namely everything in South Dakota and much of Colorado.

    From there, you can work on saving more time by making your trip more efficient, and by trimming time from other stops.

    In terms of efficientcy, I think you'd be looking at a loop that would take you from Yellowstone/Tetons down to Moab, Mesa Verde, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Zion, Bryce, and back to SLC to save some miles.

    Even that still probably won't be enough, so that leaves you with trimming what you have left, and in your case, that means spending less time at places. Right now, you've almost got 2 full weeks dedicated just to the Lake Powell-GC-Zion-Bryce section of your trip. That would be great if you had that kind of time, but on a 3 week trip, you just don't. Most of these places you can explore quite nicely in a day or two, certainly not seeing everything, but still having time to do some hiking and have a good time.

    The one place I would not cut any time from, however, is the Yellowstone section. That is a huge area that really does need at least a few days to see the high points. I'll also highly recommend Mad River Tours in Jackson if you are looking for a guide for rafting on the Snake - something your kids will love.

  3. Default Denver/Badlands/Yellowstone.Utah/Grand Canyon/Denver

    Thanks SO much for the wise words. Based on family talks and feedback here and elsewhere, here is what we have cut down to so far. We are still a couple of days over. Do you see anywhere we can thin? Or, anywhere we are on the wrong track? Also, if anyone has any rec's for specific campgrounds, experiences, etc. I think we are about ready to start feeding those in to the plan...

    1. Arrive Denver
    • Hotel
    • Car/Gear
    2. Wake up Denver
    • Drive 7 hours to Badlands
    • Tent
    3. Awake in Badlands
    • Badlands Park
    • Tent
    4. Awake in Badlands
    • Drive 2.25 hours to Bear Country
    • Drive 45 min to Jewel Cave
    • Tent
    5. Awake in Black Hills
    • Drive 6 hours to Cody
    • Rodeo/Cliff Jump?
    • Hotel
    6. Awake Cody
    • Cliff Jump
    • Drive 2 hours to Yellowstone
    • Tent
    7. Yellowstone
    • Tent
    9. Yellowstone
    • Tent
    10. Yellowstone
    • Tent/1 hour to Jackson Hotel?
    11. Awake in Yellowstone/Jackson
    • Grand Teton
    • 9am snake river trip
    • 6pm shootout in Jackson
    • Hotel
    12. Awake in Teton
    • Drive 9 hours to Capitol Reef
    • Hotel
    13. Wake up Capitol Reef Hotel
    • Tent
    14. Wake up Capitol Reef
    • Bryce Canyon?
    • Drive 6 hours to Grand Canyon
    • Tent
    15. Grand Canyon
    • Tent
    16. Awake Grand Canyon
    • Drive 3 hours to Lake Powell
    • Tent
    17. Awake Lake Powell
    • Boat
    • Tent
    18. Awake Lake Powell
    • Drive 5 hours to Moab
    • Hotel
    19. Awake Moab
    • Canyonlands
    • Tent/Hotel
    20. Awake Moab
    • Tent/Hotel
    21. Awake Moab
    • Drive 5+ hours to Denver
    22. Fly home

  4. Default Same

    Hi. You are almost doing the same loop as us, except we loop back to Denver from Jackson and then fly to Vegas. I am interested in the cliff jumping at Cody. Where can I research this please. Steve

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Looks good.

    Your trip looks quite manageable and you are in for an amazing trip !

    Presumably you are heading to the North rim of the Grand canyon and then on to Lake Powell/Page AZ. On route to Moab you can take US163 that will take you right by Monument Valley tribal park. I see you have put a question mark next to Bryce canyon, well I would recommend you take the time to visit the park, it's quite amazing !

    For camping I don't think you can beat using the NP campgrounds where possible, the main problem being the limited availability during the summer months. There are some first come first served options but if you are looking to 'nail things down', I would get onto securing places asap.

  6. Default National Parks Trip

    Thank you for all the tips, everyone. You really are life-savers and we would love to hear anything and everything you have to say about where to stay in each location, what to do/not to do, which location to skip, etc. Your thoughts are truly invaluable.

    Steve, I'm not sure where I read about the cliff jumping. I think it was in the National Parks Fodors -- a great resource. These 2 sites also have good Cody info:

    The tripadvisor page mentions cliff jumping from the Buffalo Bill Dam -- a little high for my kids, though!

    I hope that helps!

  7. Default

    UH OH -- I tried to cut and I ended up adding. I am 2 days over again!!

    1. Arrive Denver [7/24]
    • Car/Gear
    • Hotel TBD

    2. Awake in Denver [7/25]
    • Drive 5 hours to ???
    3. Awake in ??????
    • Drive 3 hours to Badlands
    • Tent @ Badlands KOA or Cedar Pass NP Camping Ground

    4. Awake in Badlands [7/26]
    • Badlands Park
    • Drive 2.5 hours rushmore, custer, Jewel Cave
    • Tent @ Custer KOA or at Rapid City KOA

    5. Awake in Black Hills [7/28]
    • Drive 6 hours to Cody
    • Rodeo
    • Hotel @ Sunrise Motor Inn or Best Western; OR Tent @ Cody KOA

    6. Awake in Cody [7/29]
    • Cliff Jump/ buffalo bill
    • Drive 2 hours to Yellowstone
    • Tent @ Yellowstone KOA or Norris NP Camping Ground

    7. Awake in Yellowstone [7/30]
    • Tent @ Yellowstone KOA or Norris NP Camping Ground

    8. Awake in Yellowstone [7/31]
    • Tent @ Yellowstone KOA or Norris NP Camping Ground

    9. Awake in Yellowstone [8/1]
    • Tent @ Yellowstone KOA; OR Hotel @ Golden Eagle Inn in Jackson (1 hour drive)

    10. Awake in Yellowstone/Jackson [8/2]
    • Grand Teton
    • 9am snake river trip (Mad River Tours)
    • Jackson Alpine Slide
    • 6pm shootout in Jackson
    • Hotel @ Golden Eagle Inn

    11. Awake in Teton [8/3]
    • Drive 4.5 hours to superior
    • 1.5 hours to Flaming Gorge
    • lodging?
    12. Awake in Flaming Gorge
    • Swim
    • Drive 4.5 hours to arches,
    • Tent
    13. Awake in Arches
    • Arches/Canyonlands
    14. Awake canyonlands
    • Drive to capitol reef
    • Tent @ Fruita NP Camping Ground
    15. Awake Capitol Reef
    • Drive 3 hours to Bryce Canyon drive-thru?
    • Drive 3 hours to
    16. Awake Bryce
    • Drive 3 hours to Grand Canyon
    • Tent @ North Rim NP Camping Ground
    17. Awake in Grand Canyon [8/6]
    • Drive 3 hours to Lake Powell
    • Tent @ Wahweap Camping Ground
    18. Awake in Lake Powell [8/8]
    • Boat
    • Tent @ Wahweap Camping Ground

    19. Awake in Lake Powell [8/9]
    • Drive 5.5 to silverton

    20. awake Durango
    • soaring treetops tour
    • drive to 3.5 to sand dunes
    21. Awake in sand dunes [8/12]
    22. Awake in Sand Dunes
    • Drive 4 hours to Denver
    • Hotel TBD
    23. Awake in Denver
    • Fly home

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Possible solution[s]

    At least you are getting closer to your goal !

    You need to decide what activities or places are a priority and work back from there. What could work if you don't mind one full day on the road would be to cut out Flaming Gorge and Capitol Reef and take a straight shot from Jackson to Bryce on day 11. [You could shorten it by travelling a couple of hours south on day 10?]

    Day 12 look around Bryce and head to GC.

    Day 13/14/15 > GC and to Lake Powell.

    Day 16/17 Lake Powell to Arches.

    Day 18 Moab to Durango via Silverton. US191/UT46/CO90/141/145/62/US550 [Which happens to contain the spectacular 'Million dollar Highway]

    Day 19 Durango to San dunes.

    Day 20 Sand dunes to Denver

    Day 21 Home.

    From Denver you could also go straight to the Black Hills area, such as Hot springs or Custer for a night, [2] next day, sightsee and head to Badlands for the night, [3] and arrive in Cody on day 4. You could 'bite the bullet' and drive direct to Badlands on day 2, or not go at all. It's a wonderful place that I have yet to visit, but taking out that 150 mile plus detour and sight seeing time could go a way to catching up on your 'missing' days.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Is there a reason you're very focused on KOA campgrounds? They're not necessarily bad, but they tend to be rather expensive, and more focused on people with RVs who want resort style amenities.

    To start your trip, I think I would try to drive from Denver to Custer State Park, and use that as your base of operations for South Dakota, including taking a daytrip out to the Badlands. Custer SP is one of my favorite spots in the Black Hills, and I think you'd enjoy camping there far more than any of the KOAs. If you do camp at the Badlands, and don't stay in the National Park, the Badlands Ranch and Resort is a place I've stayed that was in a good location with a very nice family running the place.

    Yellowstone I would absolutely recommend staying within the National Park, and I'd recommend that you go with one of the campgrounds that accepts reservations, because walk-in sites fill up so early in the day. I enjoyed Canyon, and have heard good things about Madison as well. The park is big enough that you could consider staying in different campgrounds on opposite sides of the park.

  10. #10


    I second the suggestion of staying at the National Park campgrounds when you can. Not only do they save you money and driving time, but they also offer ranger talks in the evenings and you often can't beat the scenery. Many of them take reservations ahead of time (highly recommended for popular parks such as Yellowstone).

    I also second at least a drive-through of Bryce Canyon with a stop at a couple of the overlooks. The shapes and colors of the hoodoos are amazing & beautiful. If you have time for a hike down into the canyon, I don't think you'd regret it.

    Also wanted to add that it will take MUCH longer than 1 hour to drive from Yellowstone to Jackson. Traffic is very slow through both Yellowstone and Grand Teton, especially when there's wildlife on the road (which is often).

    Don't know if you've decided on lodgings for Great Sand Dunes. The lodge outside Great Sand Dunes is cozy, not particularly upscale, but comfortable and clean from what I remember. Each room has a sliding glass door to a patio that overlooks the dunes and the mountains. There's also a nice campground within the park, which I'd love to try on my next trip there.

    Sounds like a great trip!!

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