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  1. Default Booking accommodation in national parks ahead of time

    Hi, I'm planning my epic three-month tour of thirteen national parks out West starting in September. I've got a list of places to visit, and I'm figuring out driving times and how much time to spend in each park, so I'll have approximate dates. But do I have to book accommodation in parks far in advance? The thing I like about a road trip is that while I have a plan, I also have a ton of flexibility. As soon as I book dates, I have a schedule and have to be in certain places at set times. Can't I just wing it?

    One thing I think I will book in advance, if it's not too late, is a Grand Canyon rafting trip. I hear this is a trip of a lifetime.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Booking well ahead is essential.

    It is nice to be able to wing it, and have the freedom of going where and when the wind blows. But reality is that when it comes to the National Parks, places are few and much sought after. As soon as the booking window opens, they fly off the shelf. For September you may find that you will already be too late, but if you keep checking on the National Parks website as often as you possibly can, there is a chance you could pick up a cancellation.

    If you want to stay within NPs then really you need to have a reasonably tight plan... winging it between NPs and making sure you are at the parks on the days booked. Of course it is possible to stay near the parks as well, but it does mean travelling in and out of the parks. Often sunset and sunrise are the most special times, watching the sun paint the earth as it rises or falls over the horizon.

    That said, for all the reasons you mention, I have never stayed inside a NP.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    To be honest, we haven't stayed in lodging inside national parks -- only campgrounds. Even those were booked ahead most times. Most of the time, we stay just outside a park. Not all parks even have lodging inside them.


  4. Default

    I think I'll be mainly camping outside the parks. My itinerary is coming together, so I'll try to book Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default There are other ways to get a spot.

    Quote Originally Posted by TerryTreks View Post
    I think I'll be mainly camping outside the parks. My itinerary is coming together, so I'll try to book Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.
    Of those two, I would say, concentrate on Yellowstone. It is the largest and takes a long time to get around in, and get through. You could spend two hours getting in and out each day. Yellowstone also has some 'first come, first served' camp grounds, so if you miss out you could try getting there very early one day (the park is open 24hrs) to secure one of these camp spots. I am not sure of the terms of staying there, but I am sure you can find that on the NP website.


  6. Default

    That's what I'm discovering, Lifemagician. I'm visiting a lot of minor National Parks, where I think I can wing it, but the big ones like Yellowstone and Grand Canyon I am going to plan a bit. But even if I can't book camping and get backcountry permits ahead of time, I think the fact that I'm one person, I'm flexible, and I will have a lot of time will help.

  7. Default 82 days, 19 national parks, 7,000 mile epic trip

    Hi, I have a first cut of my epic road trip itinerary, focusing on camping in national parks. I'm trying to go slow and spend a lot of time in fewer places. I want to have lots of time to set up my tripod and take pictures. But there are do many stops. I might end up cutting some of the stuff later in the trip out. There's good camping availability in Yellowstone, so I'll book that soon. A big variable is if I can book a rafting trip on the Colorado River. If I can I'll rearrange to plan around that. But this is what I have so far. It's pretty overwhelming.

    3-Sep Drive 9 hours from Indiana
    4-Sep Drive 9 hours
    5-Sep Day in Badlands NP
    6-Sep 2 hr drive to Mt. Rushmore. A couple hours there. Four hour drive to Devil's Tower. See sunset.
    7-Sep 5 hr drive to Bighorn Natl Forest.
    8-Sep 3 hr drive to Yellowstone. Yellowstone day 1.
    9-Sep Yellowstone day 2
    10-Sep Yellowstone day 3
    11-Sep Yellowstone day 4
    12-Sep Yellowstone day 5
    13-Sep Yellowstone day 6
    14-Sep Yellowstone day 7
    15-Sep Grand Teton NP day 1
    16-Sep Grand Teton NP day 2
    17-Sep Grand Teton NP day 3
    18-Sep 8 hr drive to Moab, UT.
    19-Sep Arches NP
    20-Sep Canyonlands NP
    21-Sep Capitol Reef NP
    22-Sep Moab, UT
    23-Sep 3 hr drive to Mesa Verde NP day 1
    24-Sep Mesa Verde NP day 2
    25-Sep 3 hr drive to Monument Valley. Monement Valley day 1. See sunset.
    26-Sep Sunrise at Monument Valley. 6 hr drive to Bryce Canyon NP. Stop to see slot canyons in Page, AZ.
    27-Sep Bryce Canyon day 1
    28-Sep Bryce Canyon day 2
    29-Sep 1 hr drive to Zion NP. Zion day 1
    30-Sep Zion day 2
    1-Oct Zion day 3
    2-Oct Zion day 3
    3-Oct Zion day 4
    4-Oct 5 hr drive to Grand Canyon north rim
    5-Oct Grand Canyon north rim day 1
    6-Oct Grand Canyon north rim day 2
    7-Oct Grand Canyon north rim day 3
    8-Oct Grand Canyon north rim day 4
    9-Oct 6 hr drive to Las Vegas, NV
    10-Oct Las Vegas relaxation day
    11-Oct Hoover Dam
    12-Oct 3 hr drive to Death Valley. Death Valley day 1.
    13-Oct Death Valley day 2
    14-Oct Death Valley day 3
    15-Oct 4 hr drive to Yosemite. Yosemite day 1.
    16-Oct Yosemite day 2
    17-Oct Yosemite day 3
    18-Oct Yosemite day 4
    19-Oct Yosemite day 5
    20-Oct Yosemite day 6
    21-Oct 3 hr drive to Sequoia NP. Sequoia day 1.
    22-Oct Sequoia day 2
    23-Oct 2 hr drive to King's Canyon NP. King's Canyon day 1.
    24-Oct King's Canyon day 2
    25-Oct 4 hr drive to Los Angeles
    26-Oct Los Angels relaxation day
    27-Oct Los Angels sightseeing
    28-Oct Channel Islands National Park
    29-Oct 3 hr drive to Joshua Tree NP. Joshua Tree day 1.
    30-Oct Joshua Tree day 2
    31-Oct Joshua Tree day 3
    1-Nov 6 hr drive to Flagstaff, AZ
    2-Nov Sedona, AZ
    3-Nov Sedona, Flagstaff, or relaxation day
    4-Nov 2 hr drive to Grand Canyon south rim. Grand Canyon day 1.
    5-Nov Grand Canyon day 2
    6-Nov Grand Canyon day 3
    7-Nov Grand Canyon day 4
    8-Nov 3 hr drive to Petrified Forest National Park
    9-Nov Petrified Forest National Park, 7 hour drive to El Paso, TX
    10-Nov El Paso
    11-Nov White Sands
    12-Nov 2 hr drive to Carlsbad Cavers NP
    13-Nov 5 hr drive to Big Bend National Park
    14-Nov Big Bend day 1
    15-Nov Big Bend day 2
    16-Nov 6 hr drive to San Antonio, TX
    17-Nov San Antonio
    18-Nov San Antonio
    19-Nov 1 hr drive to Austin, TX
    20-Nov Austin, TX
    21-Nov 3 hr drive to Houston, TX
    22-Nov Driving
    23-Nov Driving
    24-Nov Return rental car in Lafayette, IN

    Moderator Note: Please keep all questions about this trip in the same thread.
    Last edited by Midwest Michael; 06-29-2014 at 02:40 AM.

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

    Default Mega trip !

    That's quite an incredible adventure !! One part that stands out to me is going from Moab to Capitol Reef and back again. It's quite a back track and you would miss out on UT scenic 12 between CR and Bryce. I'm not 100% sure if it would be an actual advantage in mileage or not, but I think it might be. You could look at going from the Tetons to Zion to North rim to Bryce to Capitol Reef to Moab to Mesa Verde to Monument valley and then visit the Petrified forest and the GC south rim on route to Vegas. Then after Joshua tree you could stay south for Sedona and White sands etc.

    Or another option would be to go from the Tetons to Mesa Verde with an overnight stop on route, Flaming Gorge Res is great for some photography. You would also have the option of driving the spectacular 'Million Dollar Highway' [US550] and 'grabbing' another NP, Black canyon of the Gunnison'. Then from M Verde to Moab Capitol Reef, Bryce etc following your original route. Then you could visit Monument valley after the south rim and before White sands etc. What you have is just fine, but thought I would share a couple of thoughts/alternatives.

    Don't forget to purchase the annual NP pass for $80, it will save you a small fortune.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Local information.

    May I suggest you contact the tourism departments of all those States, and ask about their Scenic byways and backways publications. I have just become aware of these in a few States, and they are amazing with the information they have in them. Scenic routes and Byways which are not on maps or in other publications. Some States publish maps of their parks and scenic byways.

    Last edited by Lifemagician; 06-29-2014 at 07:26 PM.

  10. Default

    My rental car is booked! Only $1,300 for unlimited mileage (plus gas will probably be another grand). Thanks for the routing ideas, Southwest Dave. There's so much stuff in Utah, figuring out the best route has been tough. Maybe I should cut out Mesa Verde, since that's a side trip. I've always wanted to see that though. But I'm worried I might get burned out trying to hit every national park. I might try to be more strategic, and cut some of the less famous ones out.

    That's a good idea about scenic routes, Lifemagician. I certainly don't want to spend all my time on the interstates. I did that once driving from Maryland to Colorado, and it was so boring!


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