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  1. #1

    Default Michigan to Seattle (and back!)

    Hi Folks, Getting ready to head out on a trip from Southeast Michigan to Seattle and back with my wife, 12 year old daughter, 9 year old son, and 1.5 year old labradoodle. Total time budgeted for the trip is 22 days.

    I have a couple questions about the first portion of our planned itinerary leading from Michigan to Mount Rushmore, in particular, but greatly appreciate eyes and thoughts and advice about the rest, as well!

    Specifically, we're looking at two options for the route to Mount Rushmore, and would very much appreciate advice on which would be better. We want to get to Rapid City by the end of Day 2, but if one is more scenic or interesting than the other, then that's what we'd pick. Here are the two options we're thinking about:

    Option 1:

    Day 1: Ann Arbor, Michigan - Rochester, MN
    Day 2: Rochester, MN - Rapid City, SD
    Day 3: Mount Rushmore

    Option 2:

    Day 1: Ann Arbor, Michigan - Des Moines, IA
    Day 2: Des Moines, Iowa - Rapid City, SD
    Day 3: Mount Rushmore

    After we arrive at Mount Rushmore, we're planning as follows:

    Day 3: Mount Rushmore in the morning, and then drive to Sheridan, WY
    Day 4: Sheridan, WY to Jackson Lodge at Grand Teton National Park, via Bighorn National Forest and Yellowstone
    Day 5: Grand Teton National Park to Butte, MT via US 191 and Yellowstone
    Day 6: Butte, MT to Hermiston, OR
    Day 7: Hermiston to Portland, OR, via the Columbia Gorge
    Days 8 - 17: Around Portland and Seattle vising family
    Days 18 - 22: Back to Michigan via I-90/I-94

    Thanks everyone!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,067

    Default changes strongly suggested

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    Getting to Rapid City, I'd take the I-90 route and stop in Rochester. I personally like the drive better, but more importantly its much closer to the halfway mark. Stopping in Des Moines would mean a real difficult drive of nearly 650 miles on day two. However, either way, you're going to be on the road for 10+ hours both days, and while it's not impossible, its a harder drive than we recommend when traveling with children and pets. You won't have time to do anything other than drive and make the minimum stops for gas and restrooms.

    Having said that, your following days really need to be worked on. Day 4 and 5 are close to impossible. When you factor the extremely slow drives through Yellowstone and the Tetons. They are more days where all you'll be doing is driving, driving, and driving, barely having time to even get out and take a picture. Keep in mind, Yellowstone is a huge place, where just to take a quick look at the highlights of park takes a pretty full 2 days.

    I think if you want your family to have a good time, Grand Teton really has to be thrown out of the picture, and really, I'd try to cut down your drives in general so you have time to actually get out of the car and have some fun!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,546

    Default

    Jackson Lodge is NOT a good place to center for both the Tetons and Yellowstone. You are better off staying at Flagg Ranch to do that.

    We were just at both those parks, about 3+ weeks ago. Your average speed through Yellowstone will be 30mph. You will be stopped in places for "Animal jams", to see wildlife that is on or near the road, and you may not be able to get by this if the animal/s is actually ON the road. To see almost anything worthwhile in YNP, you have to get out of your car and take a walk of at least 200+ yards. This is especially true if you get to some of the more popular attractions later in the day and have to park far away. Want to see Old Faithful? If you arrive after it recently has gone off, you will have to wait 90 to 120 minutes to see it go off again. Want to see any of the other thermal features? Be prepared to walk on a boardwalk for a 1/2-1 mile. That takes time.

    Here was our experience: We came out of Billings, MT early one morning. It took us 4 hours to go from Billings, MT to Cooke City, because Beartooth Highway is slow. Worthwhile??? YESssssssssssss!!! To go from Cooke City to West Yellowstone took us another 4 or 5 hours, crossing Yellowstone from the NE entrance, through Tower Junction, over the pass, to Norris Geyser Basin, to Madison Jct, and out the west entrance. We didn't stop much -- we tried to stop at Tower Falls and couldn't get parking, we stopped at several viewpoints in the Lamar Valley first, stopped at a few around the pass area, and took a walk through the Norris Geyser Basin. In short, YNP is NOT a drive through.

    Grand Teton is a bit different....not quite so much walking is needed. But getting out of the car for photos, to soak in the beauty, to walk into the Chapel of the Transfiguration or see the little Menor historical village, is definitely worth doing.

    Do your family a favor: Make the time, or eliminate something from the schedule. You will be glad to say you actually SAW something besides what can be seen from the windshield/windows of your vehicle.


    Donna

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,937

    Default Times?

    Are you taking your times from a computer based program? If so, are you aware that they are pure fantasy. That it is impossible to achieve anything like them. Computer mapping programs do not live in the 'real' world. They do not need food or bathroom breaks. They never see road construction, congestion or even a red light. Furthermore, they travel at or over the speed limit for 100% of the time... never ever needing to slow down. And of course, they do not have children or pets to take into consideration.

    To get a little closer to the real world, add at least 20% to times quoted.

    Looking at your itinerary, you have only a few days for the sightseeing part of this roadtrip, when taking into account that almost four days are needed to get from point A to point B. The return journey is going to be four full days in the car, without sightseeing. That is tough on kids and a dog. With that in mind, I would look at making the first seven days as enjoyable and interesting as possible.

    For instance, you have not allowed any time for the childrens' activities. I am thinking in particular of the Junior Ranger program in Yellowstone, and any other NP you may visit. Badlands?? These worthwhile programs are both enjoyable and educational for everyone. But there is very little time in your schedule.

    If it were me, with children, I would focus on two specific destinations at which to spend quality time, with other points of interest along the road treated as pure photo opportunities.

    Lifey

  5. #5

    Default Thanks for the advice

    Thanks Lifey (and everyone!) - some great advice! I didn't realize the speeds would be so slow through Yellowstone, or that the sites in Yellowstone were largely off the road a ways. We did use a computer mapping tool to estimate drive times, we but we plan 3 hours for every two hours of drive time. E.g., a 8 hour drive should take 11 hours (the last hour, well, you're already there). We were hoping to push hard through the first couple days to make more time for Days 4-5. I really like your idea of focusing on two items... for us it would be Grand Teton NP#1 and Mount Rushmore #2.

    Our purpose is primarily to visit family in the Pacific Northwest, and we simply want to make that drive out West as interesting and scenic as possible - whether that means a trip through Yellowstone or not is really OK either way since we're not looking to "do Yellowstone", per se. Your (you all) advice really rings true that this is probably more grueling than intended. Boy, I wish we had another week! :)

    On a related note, from what I've read about pets in Yellowstone, it sounds like we wouldn't be able to get off the road much even if we had more time, as it seems our dog will not be allowed more than a short distance from the road. Given this, my instinct is to cut out Yellowstone if it will make the journey overall more enjoyable. But, we still need to get from Rapid City, SD to Grand Teton somehow. Would you recommend any of the options below?

    1. Also scrapping the route from Sheridan to Jackson through the Bighorn National Forest and instead going via Thermopolis and the Wind River Indian Reservation
    2. Sticking with the route through Yellowstone to Jackson, but just plan on not stopping much
    3. Scrapping Mount Rushmore altogether in order to make more miles when we leave Rapid City (really do want to stop at Jackson Lodge in Grand Teton NP) - but still, which route there?


    Either way, once we leave Grand Teton, which of the two options below would you recommend?

    A. Heading up US-191 to Bozeman (which would go through YNP) and *maybe* go as far as Butte if it's not too late, or
    B. Just ducking south through Pocatello and Boise on our way to the Columbia River Gorge?

    Thanks again - I really appreciate everyone sharing their thoughts and giving us a little "reality check" on this itinerary. I thought we were being conservative when we sketched it out, but there's a lot we don't know!
    Last edited by Midwest Michael; 08-09-2014 at 08:27 AM. Reason: Removed Quote of entire previous post

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,937

    Default Avoiding all of Yellowstone.

    I would ditch Yellowstone completely, if it is not a major focus of this trip. There simply is no way of driving through Yellowstone without stopping. Wildlife on the road - a frequent occurance - gets priority. You could be sitting there for 15 minutes, cooling your heels and getting more and more frustrated. That could happen more than once. Then there are those who park just anywhere on both sides of the road, leaving little room for others to get through. It is a fact of Yellowstone. US-191 goes right through some of the most congested area.

    Leave I-90 in Buffalo and take US-16 through the southern part of the Bighorn Forrest. It is a little faster than 14. Pick up US-20 at Worland, then US-26 to the southern entrance of the Tetons. I have not driven US-20 in this area, but I know on US-26 everyone drives pretty fast, even on the two lane sections. Similarly when leaving, head for Pocatello and Boise. These may add a few miles, but you will get to Grand Teton and avoid all the holdups in Yellowstone.

    Lifey

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,067

    Default

    If the Tetons and Rushmore are your two priorities, have you considered visiting one on the way west and the other on the way back?

    It would be quite a bit easier just to take I-80 all the way into Wyoming and then head up to the Tetons, then continue onto Oregon by heading out towards Idaho Falls.

    On the way back, you could stick to I-90, which would take you right to the Black Hills, so you could easily see Mt. Rushmore.

    It would save you time and miles, and give you the chance to see different things on your return trip.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,546

    Default

    I hope you already have reservations at Jackson Lodge? Also -- another reason to avoid Yellowstone -- the road between Norris Junction and Mammoth Hot Springs (AKA 191) is under construction until end of August. There's a pilot car in use, and you can wait up to a half hour.


    Donna

  9. #9

    Default

    Thanks everyone for the great advice! Back at home now, and just wanted to post an update on how things went... e.g., our actual route, overnight stops, about how long between our starting time for the day and our ending time for the night, and a few other notes. With two kids and a young dog, we planned for about 150% of actual driving time to accommodate frequent stops.

    Day 1: Detroit, Michigan to Rochester, MN. 13 hours. Started late, and came in late, so missed some supposedly nice views coming into Minnesota after crossing the Mississippi River.

    Day 2: Rochester, MN to Rapid City, SD - 12.5 hours. Spent about 90 minutes at the Badlands. Very worthwhile. Also stopped at the Jolly Green Giant in Minnesota, which was somewhat less impressive. :)

    Day 3: Rapid City, SD to Sheridan, WY. 11 hours. Spent about 4 hours at Mount Rushmore and in Keystone, SD. Wish we got an earlier start (or moved more quickly through Mount Rushmore itself) to make time to drive through Custer State Park in SD, but a fun, easy day after two long ones without too many sites.

    Day 4: Sheridan, WY to Jackson Lodge, Grand Teton National Park, WY. 11 hours. Jackson Lodge was the only hotel we booked before we left. We made it just before sunset, and it dinner on the terrace watching the changing light on the Teton was amazing. Passing through the Big Horn Mountains was a beautiful start to the day. We entered Yellowstone through the east entrance and stopped to swim in Yellowstone Lake. If you've never done it, it's awesome - clear, beautiful, and surprisingly (to me) warm. We were expecting a long trip through the park, with slow traffic and frequent stops for animals on the road, etc. Surprisingly, traffic was great all the way through Yellowstone, and we were a little disappointed not to see any notable wildlife in the park. Super day.

    Day 5: Jackson Lodge, WY to Butte, MT. 12.5 hours. Back to Yellowstone through the South Entrance and exiting at the west entrance, then heading North to Bozeman through the Gallatin Mountains. We did stop for construction for 15 minutes or so, but otherwise traffic was great the whole way. We stopped in Yellowstone to wade in the Fire Hole River (again, nice and warm!), and also view geysers. Only had time to see them from a distance. Cars were overwhelming the parking areas in a couple places and tons of people were on the boardwalk... we just passed right by these places.

    Day 6: Butte, MT to Hermiston, OR. 11 hours. Stopped in Coeur D'Alene, ID for some amazing grilled cheese sandwiches.

    Day 7: Hermiston, OR to Portland, OR. 9 hours. Stopped at Horse Tail falls in the Columbia River Gorge, and hiked to the Upper Horse Tail falls, as well. Short (1/2 mile), but steep. Dog loved it. The upper falls has a pool at the bottom people were wading in, and the trail cuts behind/under the falls so you can easily lean out into spray of the falls to wash the trail dust off. Also stopped at Multnomah Falls for some ice cream. More facilities here, but quite crowded with people taking off early on a Friday.

    Day 8: Stayed around Portland visiting family.

    Day 9: Portland to Cannon Beach and back to Hillsboro, OR. 12 Hours. Great day at the beach!

    Day 10: Hillsboro, OR to Tacoma, WA. 5 hours. Stopped to have a picnic lunch and explore the park and waterfall at the old Olympia Brewery facility in Olympia, WA.

    Days 11 - 19: Tacoma and Seattle visiting family and friends, seeing the sites. Space Needle, the Great Wheel at the waterfront, Pike Place Market, Mount Rainier National Park, etc. Mount Rainier National Park was incredible - the perfect weather and beautiful views. Walked through the Grove of the Patriarchs to see some enormous Western Red Cedars, Hemlock, and Douglas Firs.

    Day 20: Tacoma, WA to Missoula, MT. 12 hours. Stopped at the Petrified Forest near Vantage, WA. Nice views from the bluff over the Columbia River and some interesting information on geology of the Columbia River Basin.

    Day 21: Missoula, MT to Miles City, MT. 12 hours. Man, Montana is big.

    Day 22: Miles City, MT to St. Cloud, MN. 10.5 hours. Saw the North side of the Badlands this time, but no significant stops.

    Day 23: St. Cloud, MN to Schaumberg, IL. 13 hours. Drove south an hour to see the Biggest Ball of Twine (by one person), and then east to meet up with I-90 again south of St. Paul. Construction and Chicago tourist traffic coming back from Labor Day weekend in Wisconsin slowed us down.

    Day 24: Schaumberg, IL to Detroit, MI. 6 hours and back at home!

    Things we would do differently if we could do it over:

    1. Add another week! We saw a lot, but there is so much to see! An extra 3-4 days in the Tetons and Yellowstone would've been awesome.
    2. More time in the Badlands, and less time at Mount Rushmore. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad we visited Mount Rushmore, but an hour or two less there would make more time for Badlands.
    3. Skip the biggest ball of twine altogether.
    4. This is an obvious one, but I'll include it anyway: It can be tough to get family, kids, dog, etc. out the door in the morning on schedule, but it really helps. Starting just an hour late several days in a row can force you to add an extra day.

    All in all, a great trip -- thanks in part to the generous wisdom of the people in this forum! Thank you!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,937

    Default So good to read.

    Thank you for coming back with that report. Great to hear the trip was a good one.

    Your *Things we would do differently if we could do it over* are especially valuable, for those planning roadtrips with children and pets.

    I too left Yellowstone at the Wes Entrance and drove north through the Gallatin Mountains. A beautiful drive beside the river.

    Lifey

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