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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.

    Terry

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
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    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.

    Lifey

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
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    4,509

    Default

    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.


    Donna

  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
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    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.

    Lifey

  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. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
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    Default Get the right visitor centre.

    Don't go to the Tetons NP Visitor Centre. Go to Yellowstone Visitor Centre in Jackson, northern end of town, on the main drag.

    [Keep all your empty drinking water bottles. You can fill them there.]

    Lifey

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
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    Default

    FWIW, None of the campgrounds inside Grand Teton NP accept reservations, so as long as you show up relatively early in the day, it's usually not hard to find a site within the park. There are signs up posting which campgrounds are filled/open along the main road between Yellowstone and Jackson. Worst case, within the park, is Gros Ventre, which is the farthest removed from the park's main features, but rarely fills up. There are also lots of National Forest service campsites along the Snake River just south of Jackson.

    We stayed at Colter Bay and it worked well. Found a spot around 3-4 in the afternoon, had to wait for a Moose to walk through the campground before we could set up!
    Last edited by Midwest Michael; 08-15-2014 at 10:15 PM.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
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    Default If you want to wing it... you can.

    Terry, if it will help you. A couple of days ago I was in Yellowstone. I did not plan to stay in the park, in fact, I had no idea where I was going to stay. Same for the Tetons.

    At the Visitor Centres in Jackson and West Yellowstone (on different days) I asked the ladies behind the desk what my options were for camping. Told them to start with BLM, then State Forests, State Parks, National Forests and as a last resort RV Park.

    In both cases I got onto fantastic campgrounds and had the option of electricity as well. (Didn't take it.) Both offices told me of lots of options of campgrounds which they knew were not full. The campgrounds call in with how many spots they have left. All were within 6 or 8 miles of the park entrances.

    In the Tetons it was actually in the NP, but not after you have paid your entry. Six miles south of Moose Jnctn, and 12 miles out of Jackson.

    For Yellowstone I was a mere two miles north of West Yellowstone, and a simple and quick drive into the park.

    Lifey

  10. Default

    I like the idea of going with the flow in Yellowstone, and leaving my four days open. Going late, or early to big sites is a good idea. That is an impressive report, Dave.

    Thanks for tip on asking about camping at visitor centers, Lifey. I think I'll try that in the Tetons, since I don't have a plan for my first night there. I though Jenny Lake, but I heard it's too crowded. For Yellowstone, I'll stick to my plan of Canyon on the first night, then get to Norris early the next day.

    Now I can do some more detailed planning on the Utah part of my trip. So, much planning, I can't wait until I can just go!

    Terry

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